Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sachiko Murakami: No sense is good sense

I'm at home, sick, feeling rather sorry for myself and not having much of a phenomenal blog post in me. To cheer myself up, I am watching this over and over again. Trust me, it is extremely relevant to contemporary poetry. Oll raigth!


Sachiko Murakami wrote The Invisibility Exhibit. You can read new poems by her at Forget and The Puritan. She bellyaches from Toronto.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Literary Sleaze (Part 2 of 3)

One of the most time honoured sleazy stereotypes about writers has something to do with a dark, dank pub and a bottle of whiskey. High-profile bingers like Dylan Thomas have done much to cement this ‘drunk as a poet on payday’ image. For some contemporary evidence of writerly drunkenness, keep an eye out for Matrix Magazine’s upcoming Drinking Issue ( Sadly, many well-known writers have suffered from alcoholism—some said they couldn’t write without drinking, and some stopped writing because of their drinking. Alcohol and the Writer by Donald W. Goodwin, M.D., explores the link between alcoholism and writing, focusing on American writers of the first half of the 20th century. The book’s introduction presents some interesting anecdotes from writers, along with some shocking statistics. For example, Goodwin tells us that after bartenders, 20th century American writers died of cirrhosis of the liver, a disease closely related to alcoholism, more than any other group. Goodwin asserts that about 70% of Americans who won the Nobel Prize for Literature were alcoholics, the highest rate of alcoholism among any defined social group. Goodwin also tells us that, when compiling a list of famous American writers from the 20th century, about one third could be considered alcoholics.

After establishing that alcoholism among 20th century writers constitutes a kind of pandemic, Goodwin performs eight case studies, examining the biographical details of Poe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Simenon, Faulkner, O’Neil, and Lowry. Goodwin tells us that this selection was meant to provide an overview of the many different paths a writer might take to the bar. Though each of the writers discussed begins their path to alcoholism differently, each of their stories ends in rum, tequila, or whiskey soaked misery.

Though Alcohol and the Writer is an interesting exploration of the link between writing and boozing, driving at the question of why writers seem so likely to abuse alcohol, the book is also problematic. First published in 1988, the text’s leaning towards Freudian analysis is somewhat painful, especially in the case of Poe who had more than a few complexes where sex was concerned. These passages present an antiquated, stereotyped view of both female and gay sexuality, and are quite annoying to read. The book also tends towards using him/he/his when referring to ‘the writer,’ which can be more than a little irritating to a contemporary audience.

Though it’s favouring of Freudian analysis and sexist use of pronouns date Alcohol and the Writer, the book remains a sobering look at alcoholism and writing. In the conclusion of the book, however, Goodwin tells us that alcoholism no longer endears a writer to the public, and that alcoholism among writers has been on the decline since the first half of the 20th century. While writers might still be spending a lot of time in the pub, according to Goodwin, it no longer seems to be ruining our lives on a pandemic scale. I’ll drink to that… but always in moderation, of course.

Helen Hajnoczky recently completed her BA Honours in English and creative writing from the University of Calgary, where her research focused on feminist avant-garde poetics. Her work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She is the current poetry editor of fillingStation magazine. Her first book of poetry, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is forthcoming from Snare Books.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Up to the Aether (guest post by Kaplan Harris)

I adore when poets & scholars devote themselves to making available the work of some elder poet. I'm thinking of Peter Gizzi's The House that Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, Kristin Prevallet's Helen Adam Reader, Kevin Davies & Larry Fagin's edition of George Stanley's A Tall, Serious Girl: Selected Poems 1957-2000, & Patrick Durgin's Hannah Wiener's Open House. These projects may not carry the institutional/academic clout of a monograph, but they have a lasting value for readers.

So I have a fantasy about someone assembling a similar collection for the late Steve Abbott (1943-1992). There is a lot to say about Abbott, whose life was cut short by AIDS, but whose activity & interventions, even in a short period, make enough to fill a very long biography. He was "a radical, a father, a lover, an ex-monk, a cartoon-artist, a hedonist, a romantic & more," according to one reviewer back in 1979 -- when he was just getting started. Any "Steve Abbott Reader" or "Portable Steve Abbott" would need a table of contents with 5-6 generous sections for his poems, narrative prose, comics, letters, editorial work, & criticism. A bibliography of his published writing is already available on the wonderful website that his daughter Allyssa Abbott created for him. See also his journal excerpts which are quoted throughout. Gary Sullivan has a post on Abbott's comics here (which also includes other links).

Abbott's editorial work is a long story that greatly interests me right now. I see him first appearing in the mid-70s not long after his move to San Francisco when he published poems, reviews, essays, & interviews in Gay Sunshine. In 1980 he founded an essential magazine for New Narrative writing called Soup (some details about it here & more soon in an essay for Jacket by Rob Halpern).

Lately I've been taking notes on his turn in the editor's seat for the long-running SF-based
Poetry Flash. Since the newsletter's inception in late 1972, the front page had been solely devoted to a calender of local readings & poetry-related events. The brief columns that were positioned after the calender tended to shrink & grow over the years depending not only on the budget, but also on who was in charge & who had time to compose or collect material. Jon Ford, for example, was the prolific editor of a section called "Speaking Up" that included reviews & reading reports, & Tim Jacobs was in charge of a small section of announcements called "Rambles." But when Abbott came on board in February 1979, the calender was moved to the middle section, & each issue now began with a front-page column of gossipy newsbites called "Up to the Aether" (after Jack Spicer's Heads of the Town up to the Aether). The newsletter also raised its circulation to 5000 issues per month -- that's a lot of poetry news.

Abbott took a lot of heat for "Up to the Aether," but readers also praised the energy that he brought to each issue. Here's sample excerpts from several installments of the column dated 1979-1980. Recognize any names?

  • “Non-smokers can look forward to a new series R. Silliman and B. Perlman are starting at Tassajara Bakery (only other non-smoker location I know of is Bound Together).”
  • “Gregory Corso’s back from Europe. I know because he came to my reading with Jack Mueller at the Grand Piano & tried his best to disrupt it. Didn’t succeed of course. ‘Well Jack,’ I said afterwards, ‘When the big guns come after us it must show we’re starting to get somewhere.’"
  • On a recent MLA: “Academic critics continue to get fat spinning webs of Confucian pedantry while the real movers and shakers of poetry live at the edge of poverty.”
  • From a year-in-review column, on Robert Glück’s Family Poems & Bruce Boone’s My Walk with Bob: “provocative essays on love, media manipulation, etc.”
  • From the same year-in-review column: “Those who think most language-centered writing obscure & non-political should check out Rae Armantrout’s The Invention of Hunger. Very accessible yet most elegant, this chapbook is one of my favorites from Tuumba Press so far. Other new Tuumba books are Percentage by Carla Harryman & Observatory Gardens by Ray DiPalma….” He also praises Susan Howe’s Secret History of the Dividing Line (“enjoyed reading and re-reading”).
  • “Carla Harryman’s started QU1… with 2 exquisite poems by S. Benson. Reread this cover to cover several times & not just because 7 pages easier to get thru than 132 either.”
  • From an April Fools issue: “L. Ferlinghetti has just accepted a $10,000 NEA grant to do a study on SF Language-Centered writers.”
  • After praising the international focus of the 4th Annual International SF Poetry Festival: “Elsewhere in town, I see the moral guardians are at it again: Should Kathy Acker write this or should Bruce Boone talk that way summed up questioning at 80 Langton poetry and politics forum. It’s the same old saw that separated Duncan & Levertov years ago. Theories are fine but one must go where one’s poem or novel takes one (a passivist view?) and if you can’t say what you want in your own writing, as Kathy pointed out, then where, pray tell, can you? Which isn’t to suggest that questioning certain modes of discourse isn’t beneficial (here columnist does a dance of Subtle Distinction, trying to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes)."
  • On Talks: Hills 6/7, edited by Bob Pereman: “These talks on writing rank with Benjamin, Barthes and Auerbach... so important it deserves a separate review.
Abbott's correspondence could also find a happy place in a collection of his work. Consider his letter published in the 10-year anniversary issue of Gay Sunshine: "When I first became aware of Gay Sunshine in 1970-71, I was organizing anti-war work in Atlanta, Georgia. The impact it had upon me, along with documents such as Carl Whitman's Gay Manifesto, was immediate and phenomenal. I'd long been aware of my own homosexual feelings but had felt they were a private concern to be subordinated to other political work. Here, at last, were arguments that up-front homosexual liberation was equally important and complimentary to the women's and Black Liberation movements."

Note that Abbott was the
student government president at Emory during this time: "In a column I will never forget, I made my 'coming-out' a public event. Over the next two years I helped organize Atlanta's Gay Liberation Front and, for a year, was the Gay Lib editor of The Great Speckled Bird. I vividly remember the first National Gay Liberation Conference in Austin, Texas, where I was able to meet several members of the Gay Sunshine Collective whose writings had influenced me so much." His letter continues: "Over subsequent years, Gay Sunshine continued to provide crucial information and support toward my own formation as a Gay person and a poet.... The Allen Ginsberg interview was particularly influential to me as were pioneering essays on the traditions of homosexuality in the Middle East, Russia and Japan. I began to see how writers and poets were often at the forefront of the Gay movement in all countries, and when Winston [Leyland, editor of Gay Sunshine] accepted my first poem for publication, brief as it was, I felt I'd received an important stamp of approval."

(Btw, if you're in the Buffalo area on March 17th, I'll be giving a talk touches on the above material for the Poetry Collection's Small Press in the Archive Lecture Series. Details here. My talk mainly addresses the later reverberations of New Narrative writing after c1980-1985, but my attention is also on the founding figures, like Steve Abbott, who wrote, argued, & rallied their way through the mid to late 1970s.)

UPDATE/CORRECTION: The original version of this post featured a picture of Steve Abbott interviewing Gore Vidal in Central Park. But the interview was in fact conducted by a second Steve Abbott who was also contributing to Gay Sunshine during these years. My thanks to Kevin Killian for catching the mistake & letting me know about it. Apparently many people get confused by the two Steve Abbotts.


Kaplan Harris is guest blogging on Tuesdays in January & February. His work appears in American Literature, Artvoice, Contemporary Literature, the EPC, Jacket, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. He is also editing, with Peter Baker & Rod Smith, The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley for the University of California Press.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nikki Reimer: Olympics, Still

Was going to write about poetry for a change this week but I’ve prorogued that post in favour of a continued rumination on the 2010 Winter Festival Thing, and more talk about Olympicism and Art.

Yesterday we attended the live taping of CBC’s Cross Country Checkup, where the topic was Olympic fever. “For years Canada's best athletes have been focused on these 17 days in February. The city of Vancouver has been working flat out too. British and American media are now criticizing the result. What do you think? Have the Games been a Canadian success so far?”

Listen to the podcast here.

The show was hosted Rex Murphy and featured guests Jane Roos(CEO, CanFund), CBC Sports broadcaster Steve Armitage, and a few Olympic athletes past and present.

Beyond the expected patriotism and self-congratulatory rhetoric, some of the Games discussion centred around the financial conditions faced by Canadian elite athletes throughout the years of training it takes to become a contender in an Olympic games. In contrast to the millions of dollars per year that elite athletes from other countries can earn (hint: look for those nations with the highest medal counts) most Canadian athletes are self-financed and can receive, at most, about $15K per year from the Canadian government. (It’s worse than that for retired Olympians; listen to the show to hear how they have been entirely passed over by VANOC. No invitations to participate in ceremonies. No free tickets to games. Nothing.)

Since I am entirely obsessed with the abysmal cuts facing BC’s arts sector, I couldn’t help but compare the dedication and financial poverty of Canadian Olympic athletes to the dedication and financial poverty of Canadian artists. Sandra Garossino has already posted on the similar struggles faced by artists and athletes:

“The vast majority of athletes, even Olympians, toil in obscurity throughout their sports careers. No televised draft ceremony, sponsorship deal, or six-figure signing bonus awaits them. Most struggle financially, if they aren’t utterly and completely broke.

In spirit and temperament, they share so much with artists...If they do manage to enter, sans the imprimatur of celebrity--the only real currency of our age--no one will know who they are. Self-important young media executives will push past them in a rush to meet the conquering gods.”

And there’s the rub. In a highly corporatized, celebrity obsessed (here’s that buzzword) neoliberal age, money, celebrity and power supersede real dedication, hard work and talent.

But I wonder why we haven’t organized to create a “not-for-profit organization devoted solely to raising funds and awareness for Canada's” artists/writers/poets? Do we “pay it forward” and help each other out like the athletes, or are we too busy fighting each other for an ever-shrinking piece of pie?

In other, related news:

- Claire Lacey has written a full account of the In(ter)ventions conference on her blog Poetactics
-The Olympic Tent Village Voice Issue 1 is out
-W2 Community Media Arts recently hosted a panel discussion on disability arts with Ruth Gould (UK: DaDa) and Geoff McMurchy (Canada: Kickstart). View the webcast here
-The W2 Real Vancouver Writers’ & Culture series wraps up this Wednesday, Feb 24
-VIVO continues to host the politically-minded Short Range Poetic Device webcast
-Everyone is too drunk


Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school. (Photo: Rory Zerbe)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lemon Hound Heads West

February 23, 2010 - 7:30pm
public reading with Sina Queyras, author of Expressway
Tuesday, February 23
Open Space
510 Fort Street, 2nd floor
7:30 p.m., free

February 25, 2010 - 7:00pm
Rhizome Cafe, 317 East Broadway, Vancouver, BC 
Sina Queyras (Expressway) will join Lydia Kwa (The Walking Boy) and Emily Fedoruk (All Still) for readings and conversation moderated by Meredith Quartermain. This event is being hosted by the On Edge Reading Series and the Kootenay School of Writing.

On Reviewing: Carol Matthews

LH: What do you think the purpose of a review is? If you also write about books on a blog, why? What does blogging let you do differently?

CM: When I write a review, I want to give readers a glimpse of the texture and perspective of a book, let them know why the book might be worth reading, and how it might connect with other writings or events. Often my purpose in accepting an assignment to write a review is to have occasion to read a book two or three times and give it much closer attention than I otherwise would do.

LH: If you write reviews, how would you describe your approach, or method? Do you offer or engage in exegesis, theoretical, academic, reader response, close, contextual or evaluative readings? If you don’t write but read reviews, what aspects of reviewing do you notice?

CM: I tried to avoid exegesis, not always successfully. Mostly I attempt to do close readings, evaluating or assessing why the book is important, and what it achieves that seems remarkable. I'm attracted to reviews that give me a sense of excitement about how a particular work connects with other writing within that genre or with other writings by that author.

LH: What do you think makes for a successful review? Is there an aspect, a stylistic choice, or perspective that necessarily produces a more significant document?

CM: I like a review that places a book in a larger context in terms of the genre, the setting, or other books by the author. A successful review should show us something about how the reviewer approaches her subject as well as how she assesses it and how the work affects her. It's important to sense that the writer has a good grasp of the genre and intention of the book she's reviewing. I like fiction reviews written by fiction writers, and poetry reviews written by poets.

LH: When you review, do you focus on a particular text (poem, story), the book at hand, the author’s body of work? Do you think this choice of focus influences criticism, or your own criticism, and if so, how?

CM: When Derk Wynand was editor of the Malahat Review, he sometimes asked people to write about a number of works by the same author. I wrote a long review about Natalia Ginzburg's books and found it very satisfying to spend a substantial amount of time immersed in her writing, seeing recurrent themes as well as changes and contradictions in her works, and considering the elements of her writing that I most admired.

I have written a number of reviews for Event, a journal which usually asks reviewers to tackle three or four different books at a time, making connections if it fits, or leaving them as discrete sections if it seems more appropriate. While writing such reviews, I've enjoyed finding connections or differences between different books of fiction and the process of seeing them in conjunction with each other has prompted some observations I might otherwise not have made. I like reading reviews that make surprising connections.

LH: If you also write non-critical work, how different is the way you approach reviewing or critical writing to the way you approach your own “creative” writing?

CM: Completely different. Writing essays, and especially trying to write short fiction, is much harder work for me and involves many  stops and starts. Often I give up on a piece I am writing and don't get back to it for months, if at all. When I'm writing a review I'm quite disciplined and and always meet deadlines and word counts. Reviewing feels like a job to me, whereas my own writing feels like something else entirely.

LH: Have you been in a position where you have had to write about a book that you don’t care for, or a book that is coming out of a tradition that you are perhaps opposed to, or resistant to on some level? How do you handle such events? Or how have you noticed others handle these events?

I now don't write about books that I really don't like. Once, years ago, I wrote a review about a book that I considered to be silly and underserving of any positive assessment, and I wrote a review that mocked the book. It still shames me. Soometimes I find reviewers quite clever in their dismissal of books they don't care for and, while this can be entertaining and often amusing, it leaves me feeling uncomfortable.

LH: What is the last piece of writing that convinced you to a/ reconsider an author or book you thought you had figured out, or had a final opinion on or b/ made you want to buy the book under review immediately?

CM: The last review that made me want to run out an buy the book immediately was Cynthia Macdonald's review of Annabelle Lyon's The Golden Mean. The review didn't say a lot about the writing, did not really assess it nor place it in relation to other works. However it gave such a strong sense of the subject of the book itself and the feat of taking on such a subject that I immediately wanted to read it.

I've also read reviews that made me reconsider my assessment of an author. I recall a review by Martin Amis of Nabokov's unfinished novel, The Original of Laura,  that made me think differently about both Amis and Nabokov.

LH: Is there a quality you are looking for in a review that you haven’t found?

CM: Can't think of any. I read lots of good reviews, but I particularly like the intelligent reviews I read in the Guardian.

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

CM: Not likely, at least not in this country. British journals have a long tradition of paying writers reasonably well for reviews. Indeed it seems to have been possible for some to have a career as a reviewer in Britain. Not here. As the newspapers and little magazines go under, there will likely be less opportunity. Maybe blogs will eventually offer some new options.

LH: What do you hope to achieve by writing about writing? Do you believe that reviews can actually bring new readers to texts?

CM: I like writing about writing because it makes me think more clearly about what I'm writing and what I'm reading -- that's what I achieve for myself.  I like to think that it might also bring new readers for writers whose work I admire, but that might be naive. However, I'm surprised sometimes by a reader telling me that they've read a review of mine and that they went out and got the book. It can happen.

Carol Matthews, a retired academic, lives on Protection Island, B.C. She has written reviews for Malahat and Event and has published essays and short fiction  in several literary journals. A collection of her articles for Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, was published as The First Three Years of a Grandmother’s Life in 2006, and a collection of her short stories, Incidental Music, was published by Oolichan Books in 2007. A cancer memoir, Reflections on the C-Word: At the Centre of the Cancer Labyrinth was published by Hedgerow Press in 2007. A new book, Dog Days: Between the Lines, co-authored with Liza Potvin, will be launched in a few weeks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anthologies and feminisms: are we having a moment or what?

If you found Juliana Spahr and Claudia Rankine’s American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language exciting you’re going to appreciate Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry, published in 2009 by Coach House Books. Edited superbly by Kate Eichhorn and Heath Milne, the collection includes fifteen of the “most engaging avante garde Canadian women writing poetry today.” Some of these names will be familiar. In particular Nicole Brossard, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Moure, Lisa Robertson, and to the narrative people in particular, Gail Scott. Some of the new names include: Margaret Christakos, Susan Holbrook, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Karen Mac Cormack, M. NourbeSe Philip, Nathalie Stephens, Catriona Strang, Rita Wong, Rachel Zolf and, I must confess, myself. (Helen Hajnoczky image!)
Anthologies and feminisms: are we having a moment or what?

Friday, February 19, 2010

I eat Corporations

Grace Jones

Under Rich Earth

I haven't seen Avatar yet, but I have seen Under Rich Earth, which quite frankly, seems to be the story Avatar is based on... Must see it. An amazing story of Ecuadoran farmers in a valley fighting for their lives, and the life of the valley. So far it has an actual, working, believable, happy ending... Hopefully not for Canadian mining companies though. Evil. Evil.

Under Rich Earth Trailer from Marco Rafael on Vimeo.

You can hear an interview with the director, Malcom Rogge, here:

Filmmaker Malcolm Rogge talks about his documentary film Under Rich Earth on CBC's "Our World". from Marco Rafael on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sachiko Murakami - oh, lymphic poetry

It's strange, but I almost wish I were back in Vancouver. I've been working on a poetry manuscript for some time about Vancouver's conception of itself - the vague, frantic rhetoric of the World Class City, the rapid building up and tearing down that's happened over the past century, the strange relationship it has with its lack of "native" architecture (and its troubled relationship with its Native heritage)... all of which are really coming to a head with the Olympics. And now there are so many Olympic-reaction events happening all over the city: Riot Songs at the Tent City, Safe Assembly (including the - luckily webcast - Short Range Poetic Device readings, Abandon Normal Devices at W2... Thanks should be made to organizers like Steve Collis and Nikki Reimer for getting the word out, especially to farflung folk like me.

I'm just not much of a sporting person. Competitions aggravate my anxious temperament. In team sports, someone throws a ball at me and I duck/run away. I suppose I just don't get it, the way the people who are screeching GO CANADA in my Facebook feed don't get why we can't all just shut up and enjoy the games. In the spirit of anti-competition, then, over on my blog on Tuesday several poets helped me out in writing a collaborative poem. Here is what it ended up looking like. (Original is here.)

By Rob Budde, Spencer Gordon, Angela Hibbs, Gillian Jerome, Reg Johansen, Alex Leslie, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Sachiko Murakami, George Murray, Sina Queyras, Nikki Reimer, Jacqueline Turner, Paul Vermeersch, Zach Wells, and Remy Wilkins

If you prorogue willingly
If your spirit says something other than go, go go
If suspending democratic rights allows you to cheer wholeheartedly for your country
If your country is represented
If its citizens are
If a red mitten, no snow
If you are prorogued without consent
If while cheering on your country you find yourself in contact with a citizen who disagrees with you
if neither of you own a red mitten
If poetry is a competition
If the world is watching you
If I am Canadian!
If the poet ends up on the podium
If you prorogue poetry for the duration of the Olympics
If your spirit does not involve the nation
If the nation is a piece of fan fiction
If you ski
If you sky
If you sigh
If you do it not for the nation
If not for the state
If for you
If against us
If you're not with us (in red mittens)
If you confuse poetry with a Molson's ad, with pablum, with one muzzled voice.
If your country is more than hip checks and Timbits
If nationalism makes Timbits no more or no less delicious
If contests trump context and contracts make dog acts
If you can skate on frozen Coca-Cola
If poetry is written by committee and dignity is reported as ignominy
If a collaboration is more useful a spectacle than a competition
If the ice makes a pleasant sound while cracking
If men in black jackets, white cars, say "dance!"
If smurfs boogie-woogie on the bonafide Wonderland
If you can swing your hips now
If you can locomote, without a Coca-Cola, but a big fat cheese-curdy poutine in hand
If you unhinge your inner Riel
If Ben Mulroney makes you twitch, twitch, twitch
If you can resist innumerable Spirit Bears lobbed at you in Lite Brite,
If you feel underestimated in fourth place
If a fly can't bird, but a bird can fly, give them both silver
If positivity is compliance, spiritualized
If lymphs swell proud as woolen mittens
Then pus white
Then red
If your noun is unsanctioned
If your protest is branded
If if
If you take the slam out of poetry
If public
If pedantic
If ice
If the mittens make us itch
If didacticism wakes us up in the morning and lyricism stopped answering our phone calls when we called it an idiot
If we once referenced modernism in a crowd of academics when we should have referenced post-modernism and then were quickly reminded of our irrelevancy
If we live in a country that confuses criticism with jealousy
If we're always either too snobby or not snobby enough
If we are less
If glowing adulation makes us think we're the ones with the problem
If we refuse to believe that charisma should cover for talent
If "jejune" was our middle name
If my we is not your we
If nationalism makes us uncomfortable
If tepid makes us feel safe
If not now, when?
If not us, who?
If farmed salmon causes throat swells
If you drown in quilt-size maple leaves
If you fled from polar Godzilla
If you cried when Celtic Satan flew down on his space canoe to destroy the Na'vi
If only "D'oh the Podium"
If priorities are the wrong Ministry and privilege is assumed like a national emblem
If the torch could keep us warm
If fashion before function
If we need a medal to be
If you couldn't find a single TV in downtown Olympic Vancouver to watch the men's short program figure skating during the hockey game
If the male employee in HomeSense told you, eyes bulging, in his blue employee shirt, his hand on your shoulder, that the GENERAL CONSENSUS for the nine HomeSense TVs is hockey and the female employees said "Sorry, I like figure skating too," nine TVs of hockey
If the nice female employees at the Telus Booth in Pacific Centre told you that they are legally bound to play CTV on the giant TVs at all times so, no, you couldn't watch figure skating here, just hockey
If you don't have a sponsor
If you then went to the Mac glowing cave in Pacific Centre to watch the figure skating on live stream on the web (somewhere?) and were told by Mac employees, no, because Sportsnet, because you can read cookbooks on an iPhone
If you feel unCanadian in a downtown colonized by hockey
If you went to a peaceful protest overseen by police on horseback in yellow riot gear
If the enforcement of peace through hockey
If hockey in Earls, black glass and girls with reservations and boyfriends
If hockey players in riot gear
If figure skating in the street
If the Canadian identity is debated on the CBC with Shaun Majumder, Ian Hanomansing, and a poet
If Owning The Podium and Racial Identity can be mentioned in the same sentence
If giant polar bears roam around the Tent City
If Homes truly are a Civil Right
If red jerseys colour the streets
If ten-year-olds with backbacks wearing red jerseys make you fall over by leaning their full body weight into you on the 135 when it's stopping short. And the bus driver packs everybody in past the yellow line.
If flags are fashion
If national pride is a human interest story
If you prefer IPA to Canadian
If you sort of love Shaun Majumder
If cherry blossoms, crocuses, and daffodils beat out snow
If green is the new red
If F.U. hand stitched on red mittens
If we all "owned" our "own" podiums
If the north was just the north
If the weather protests loudest


Sachiko Murakami wrote The Invisibility Exhibit. She lives in Toronto.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Literary Sleaze (Part 1 of 3)

Schnakenberg, Robert. Secret Lives of Great Authors: What Your Teachers Never Told You About Famous Novelists, Poets, and Playwrights. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2008.

Alright—admit it. You’ve completed an English degree or two, you’ve read at least one James Joyce book from cover to cover, and you’ve never so much as scanned the jacket of a Dan Brown novel. You pride yourself on your refined literary tastes and yet… as you stand in line at the supermarket, half listening to the customer two places ahead of you argue with the clerk about the misleading margarine labeling, your eye inevitably drifts to… the tabloid rack. Could it be true? Is she really going to rehab again? Could they really be breaking up? Is that really what she wore to that awards ceremony?

But sadly, a few minutes of reading a tabloid leaves you feeling dissatisfied, and vaguely dirty. The articles are trite, predictable, poorly written, and so deeply devoid of content that you begin to lose faith in humanity. While many of us crave a little voyeuristic sleaze now and then, there’s no need to descend into the basement of the written word to satisfy this craving. In fact, you can stay well within the borders of the literary world and still get your gossip fix. So, if you’re craving some fluff with a little substance, I’ve got three books for you: Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg, Alcohol and the Writer by Donald W. Goodwin, M.D., and Literary Feuds by Anthony Arthur. This week; Schnakenberg.

Secret Lives of Great Authors: What Your Teachers Never Told You About Famous Novelists, Poets, and Playwrights offers a short, sharp, snappy look at forty-one of the most famous writers from William Shakespeare to Thomas Pynchon. The book focuses on the more juicy details of each writer’s life and work, such as allusions to masturbation in Walt Whitman’s poetry, James Joyce’s kinky letters to Nora Barnacle, and the grim snack Sylvia Plath left for her children before sealing herself into her kitchen. The book also covers a variety of authors not popularly known for the sordid details of their lives, revealing quirks you never suspected the likes of Louisa May Alcott of having. Secret Lives of Great Authors should hold a few surprises about each writer it discusses, even those writers you thought you knew well.

Secret Lives of Great Authors is pleasing not only for its chunky, comic book illustrations of everyone from Virginia Woolf to J.D. Salinger, and not only because each entry is just long enough to kill off a bout of mid-afternoon boredom, but also because the book is well written. The text is unapologetically voyeuristic, but the logic and research behind the book are sound. It is this soundness that allows the reader to forego the normal tabloid cringing, and sink into the delicious sleaze of the book.

Helen Hajnoczky recently completed her BA Honours in English and creative writing from the University of Calgary, where her research focused on feminist avant-garde poetics. Her work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She is the current poetry editor of fillingStation magazine. Her first book of poetry, Poets and Killers, is forthcoming from Snare Books.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Recent Stack - Six books / chapbooks

The i.e. Reader | ed. Michael Ball, with Lauren Bender, Jamie Gaughran-Perez, & Justin Sirois | Narrow House | 2009
When I lived in DC, I would sometimes hop up to Baltimore to attend the i.e. readings curated by the amazing Michael Ball. See the review by Mark Wallace here. The book is dedicated to kari edwards (whom I met only once, & it was at hir i.e. reading).

Renee Gladman | The Activist | Krupskaya | 2003
I was recently reading her newer book To After That: (Toaf), but then I couldn't find The Activist on my shelf (woes of moving). The replacement used copy that I ordered came with student marginalia scattered throughout: "alienation of language" "white=violence" "mournful speaking"

Lawrence Giffin | Get the Fuck Back Into That Burning Plane | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2009
I got it last spring at the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. "When I am feeling not at all myself / I go into my house / where all my cool stuff is."

Kevin Killian | Action Kylie | ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni | 2008
Video reading of "Is It All Over My Face" here (from the National Poetry Foundation's conference on The Poetry of the 1970s).

Suzanne Stein | Hole in Space | OMG! | 2009
"and, and, I might read to you for a little bit as well. in a little while............. ............. ............. so, um, one of the things that I'm gonna do is, uh, I'm going to um, uh, as a way of making an invitation to you?"

Sotère Torregian | Envoy | Punch Press | 2009
I only knew his poems from The Angel Hair Anthology. Now he (audio) blogs at Harriet.

Kaplan Harris is guest blogging on Tuesdays in January & February. His work appears in American Literature, Artvoice, Contemporary Literature, the EPC, Jacket, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. He is also editing, with Peter Baker & Rod Smith, The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley for the University of California Press. He lives in Buffalo.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nikki Reimer: On Expo Ernie & the Candahar Bar

It’s day three of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games here in Vancouver (can I type that without running afoul of copyright infringement?). I’m nursing a nascent cold that might have been picked up from too much carousing on opening night. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

The spectre of protest vs. celebration has friends at each other’s throats and debates ranging from friendly to nasty on the streets and on Facebook. We’ve got pro-Olympics events, anti-Olympics events, Olympics-agnostic events, peaceful protests and property damage. As the Black Eye Facebook group notes, “Hosting the Olympics after slashing the arts is like hosting a dinner party with a black eye; your guests are bound to notice!” Which is true, however I don’t personally believe in castigating artists who participate in the Cultural Olympiad; I don't buy into the idea that certain artists retain some vaunted mystical artistic purity because they haven't taken money from VANOC. Sachi and Sina have already posted on the stance adopted by Vancouver’s poet laureate, so I won’t mention it here, nor will I bitch about Shane Koyczan any more than (ahem) I already have.

I would like to mention another spectre hanging over this Olympics, that of the last big corporate spectacle: Expo 86. Several local artists and organizations have come together to reframe and reinterpret that event in light of this cultural and historic moment.

Something’s Happening Here!

Thursday night saw an opening at Geoffrey Farmer’s Every Letter in the Alphabet gallery, a show that included posters from Jeremy Shaw’s Something’s Happening Here, a remount and remix of Expo 86 posters, flyers and coverage, Shaw’s own relay torch, and a certain little android named Ernie, displayed as Lot 422.

“At the conclusion of the fair, Jimmy Pattison, CEO and President of the Expo '86 Corporation, paid 53,000 CDN for the acquisition of the 'official' Expo Ernie. Mr. Pattison was also given three of the remaining, non-functioning surrogates to be used for replacement parts. The fifth, partially-functioning Expo Ernie was presumed destroyed. This is the fifth Expo Ernie.”
As I left Every Letter and walked south on Victoria street, my gaze drifted up to the Olympic corporate sponsor Samsung’s billboard, backlit and glowing in the night. Underneath, another corporate logo: Pattison.

Candahar Bar

Friday night my sweetheart and I headed out on a city bus from East Van, through the surprisingly quiet downtown, and over the Granville Bridge en route to Granville Island. At first try we couldn’t get in to the Candahar Bar, so we wandered around the island in the rain, watched a Canada flag flapping off a light-festooned crane, and caught the cauldron lighting portion of the opening ceremonies by pressing our faces to one of the windows at Place de la Francophonie.

Candahar Bar is based on a project by artist Theo Sims and is curated by Vancouver writer Michael Turner. We'd missed Rebecca Belmore’s Indians Only, billed as an "opening intervention," which I’m told consisted of the bar portion of the Candahar Bar being barred to anyone without an aboriginal status card, a brilliant and appropriate performance for the night of the opening ceremonies. We did get to hear Jeremy Shaw DJ the top 100 songs of 1986, which to me was like crawling back into the womb.

Finally, we caught up with our pals Liz Bachinsky and Alex Leslie, who will be curating the public art project BLACKOUT AT THE CANDAHAR till Feb. 28. BLACKOUT is an opportunity for the public to create their own erasure poetry from Olympics coverage. You got your beer, your texts, and your Sharpie markers.

Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school. (Photo: Rory Zerbe)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Speaking of Love, from Greece to Lotusland

Greece, the country where the games were born, was the first country to enter BC Place Stadium in Vancouver last night for the opening of the Winter Olympics. The ceremonies included Canada’s first people, and while it was a Disneyfied version of their rich cultures, and far from the Ancient Games, I was happy for this inclusion, which seems to be more than a surface gesture. It was great to see artist and designer Corrine Hunt tapped to co-design the medals. This not only felt local to me, it was: I’ve watched Hunt develop her art over several decades, being part of a formidable community of artists and friends in Vancouver, and deeply, deeply rooted to people and place.

But how do we express this connection to place? The arts community in Vancouver has been a little divided on this issue. Particularly given the fact the opulent Olympic display comes on the heels of unprecedented slashing of arts programs in the province where the games are being held. Worse there is an excess of security and silencing of public opinion. So, while on the one hand it’s great to see who is included, on the other the city’s young poet laureate refused to take part in the Olympic festivities in reaction to the oppressive “muzzle clause” that has tainted the relationship between artists and the Olympics. It was a bold move. Perhaps as bold a move as it is to write a love poem and to try and feel hopeful. Particularly these days when—skepticism and irony is the dominant strand. When there is so much that is unsettling.

For the entire post: Speaking of Love, from Greece to Lotusland

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Contemplation is Mourning: Tim Lilburn

Contemplation is Mourning: Tim Lilburn

“Wilderness can be enacted in language, but as it is enacted, language begins to seem less and less like language…[1]” Tim Lilburn is a contemplative poet, a deep reader and thinker, a poet in the tradition of “you give your life” to the project. In his attempt to come to terms with the land that would occupy him over the course of a decade and three books he dug a 7 x 7 foot space in the ground and covered it with thin roof and bales of hay. He went under and lay, listening..."

Sachiko Murakami - Brad Cran FTW

Brad Cran, Vancouver Poet Laureate, did a very admirable thing yesterday, speaking out against VANOC censorship and speaking up for the arts. Given that the Laureateship (?) is a joint project of the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Library (who have shown quite clearly how they, custodians of knowledge, deal with VANOC censorship), and the Writers Festival, I was surprised and pleased to see him get a little dissident.

From his blog post:
“The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”
I do find this to be an unjust attack on free speech but more importantly it shows that VANOC is misrepresenting Vancouver. Vancouver is the most politically progressive city in North America with a strong history of political activism which most Vancouverites are proud of. Rather than finding a way to celebrate these important attributes VANOC has gone the other way and tried to suppress them. As George Woodcock teaches us: our freedom as a city is a tradition that should be protected and we should not underestimate an attack on that freedom whether symbolic or otherwise.
and why he will not be participating:
As darkly comic as much of this is, I am still not anti-Olympics. For this reason I made two suggestions to an Olympic organizer. The first was that a Canadian poet read one poem each night on one of the celebration stages. The second suggestion was that they somehow incorporate Al Purdy’s great Canadian poem “Say the Names” into the celebrations. Both of these suggestions were rejected and I in turn declined their offer to publically appear during the Olympic celebrations.
Go Brad Cran!
Sachiko Murakami wrote The Invisibility Exhibit. She lives in Toronto, far from Sumi, Miga AND Quatchi.

Mentor, Tormentor (Part 3 of 3)

Check out the making of Stripmalling in The Way of the Smock:

For the last installment of ‘Mentor, Tormentor,’ I am please to introduce you to the stoned, sweaty, self-conscious book in the corner wearing the Hypermart smock—Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Stripmalling. Stripmalling is a quirky book chronicling the life of Jonny, a Shill Station gas jockey, Hypermart associate, and aspiring writer from Transcona, Winnipeg. The book flits from Jonny’s youth in Transcona to his mid-life crisis in Montreal, sometimes in his voice, sometimes written from the point of view of ex-wife Dora, all of it inter-spliced with comic-strip versions or digressions of the story, drawn by Evan Munday. To give you a sense of the book’s self-deprecating humour, the short, punchy chapters come with titles such as, “It’s Hard to Get Fired from a Gas Station, but I’m Special,” and, “University of Suck.” If you’ve ever worked a job with a polyester uniform and the looming threat of mystery shoppers, this is the vindication you’ve been looking for.

What I am most interested in here, however, is the University of Suck. Jonny has the good fortune of being the least tormented of the writing protégés I’ve discussed, but he suffers nonetheless. Jonny’s mentor, Carmen Adams, is a sharp, sarcastic teacher and important local poet and publisher. When Jonny drifts into his first class late, he bears the brunt of her considerable snark. Carmen is, however, a generous professor who wants her students to succeed.

If you’ve ever had a snotty traditionalist critique your poems in a workshop, like Jonny, you will be forever endeared to Carmen when on pages 86-87 she tells Jonny’s workshop nemesis Alec Bligh, the neo-formalist in the sweater vest, to go stuff it. After he derides Jonny’s poem Wheat Shafts (o shafts/ you remind/ me of my/ father just before/ his vasectomy), Carmen interrogates Alec about what forcing every writer and poem to be the same would accomplish. Alec responds:

“Quality writing?”

“No, Alec. It would lead to row after row of identical artifacts. Each artifact would be so exquisitely crafted, so completely not unique. Your desire is to reduce the literary artist to the level of the artisan. And if you were to have this desire fulfilled, every poem would be an exercise in craft. And every poet would be Alec: a smug, white, young man of privilege, wearing a sweater vest and a necktie, and contemplating the emblematic resonance of a goddamned willow tree.”

As Jonny says, “[a]t that moment, she was perfect.” Carmen continues to lovingly screw with Jonny’s head (while screwing her other students more literally) as she teaches Jonny about the publishing industry. As Jonny’s undergrad progresses, however, Carmen becomes ill. Jonny tells us:

“I wish I could deliver some sort of punchline at this point, but there’s nothing funny about this. And there’s no big lesson to this either, no moral, nothing to be gleaned… There’s no other way to say it. It just sucks.”

And that’s the thing about good mentors—it’s hard to let them go.

Helen Hajnoczky recently completed her BA Honours in English and creative writing from the University of Calgary, where her research focused on feminist avant-garde poetics. Her work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She is the current poetry editor of fillingStation magazine. Her first book of poetry, Poets and Killers, is forthcoming from Snare Books.