Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Before I could read or write, I loved scribbling lines of what I thought looked like cursive across pages, finishing each document with a flourish of fake signature, and authorizing it with my dad’s drafting business’ embossing seal. This early interest in the writing soon developed into a serious notebook fetish, as well as an obsession with filling these notebooks with text. I find something strangely pleasing about flipping through a notebook that is filled from cover to cover with my handwriting. When I was a teenager and became more interested in writing poetry specifically, I’d often end up scribbling all over napkins if an idea struck me, or, more often, all over my arm when paper was scarce. As I got older and walking around with messy, blue-ballpoint writing all over my left arm seemed less and less appropriate, I went back to the notebooks. Once I started university, I also began typing my poems up on the computer so that I could print and hand them out for workshops. My final project at university included visual poems made to resemble corsets, which I could only produce on the computer. When not working on this project, however, I’ve mostly gone back to the notebooks.

The creative writing program I took, however, tempered my compulsive desire to write. Today, I rarely feel so taken by a line that I need to scribble it on my arm. Instead, poetry has become something careful and calculated that is usually done at a desk, not a bus stop, in line at the bank, or in the middle of a movie. Having completed school and being released back into the wild without this compulsion, the material appeal of writing plays a big role in motivating me to write. A desk crowded with coffee cups, bills, and other randomly discarded junk will keep me from writing for days. A messy desktop on my computer has the same effect. Running out of pens, the right paper, or ink cartridges will send me for a similar dry spell. But I’m not just making excuses. I love to write—not just to put down ideas, but the actual, physical writing part. I find the clacking of keys while text pours onto the screen extremely satisfying. I love the sound my pen makes when I scratch a bad line out of a poem. I love the cracking sound the spine of a new notebook makes the first time I open it, and I love writing my name on the first page. The paraphernalia of writing is not just of peripheral or secondary importance. If you’re feeling blocked, sometimes all you need to get writing is a clear desk, a new blue pen, and crisp sheet of cream-coloured paper—or whatever your fetishized writing tool is. Writing isn’t always just about what you say—sometimes writing is just about how wonderful it is to write.

Here's some of my favourite paraphernalia...

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.

Ok Go: This Too Shall Pass

A special send out to all the stressed-out academics and any others who feel beleagured in these early spring days.....

This video makes me fucking happy. In another iteration, Nikki Reimer played in marching bands for 3 1/2 years and hated nearly every minute of it, but she is still tickled by Ok Go and the Notre Dame Marching Band's combination of military precision and formation with playful exuberance in this delicious invocation to gleeful moods. Yeah, I used 7 adjectives in the previous sentence, what of it? Neither am I ashamed to say that Damian Kulash's geeky band uniform and lanky insouciance on the bass drum make the back of my knees ok go a little weak.

I can also attest to the hundreds of hours of rehearsal required to create such a joyous spectacle. And the little kids at the end hitting the snare drums? That's exactly what happens when the major calls break.

Ok go ahead and watch this without smiling, I dare you.

OK Go - This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.


Nikki "this polyester uniform, too, shall pass" Reimer circa 1997

Waiting on Warmth

Really would like spring to come now.


Monday, March 29, 2010

"the way books feel in our hands" : Nikki Reimer

Or, indie girl embraces the retrograde.

(a meditation on the future of the publishing industry)


In 1991 Nikki Reimer turned to the girl beside her in math class and confessed her love for the smell of new books.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Someone Stole my Kenny Goldsmith poster

Which is probably a logical theft. If one can call it a theft. After all, the poster was on my door. The door, in a sense, is public property. It is facing out, into the corridor, and the corridor is a passing through. Granted it is still "my" door, so far as I am contracted to be at the university, and so far as I am granted the right to inhabit said office. All very transitory, all based on any number of factors not in my control. There is perhaps a connection to the asking of questions and the uneasiness of position. One has a position. One takes a position. One attempts to describe a moment, a block of text, a corridor in an English Department...

Kenny's reading at Concordia was certainly a highlight of the year. The questions asked, the assumptions overturned, or unearthed, or upended, each less stable than the one before. And yet, one quakes with concern. One says, how can we fix this conceptual writing? How can we assess it? What evaluative models can we corset? Isn't there a particular scientific, algebraic, formulaic scaffolding we can erect to assess?

What makes for good, stealable, conceptual writing? This fall I'll be conducting two classes in conceptual writing, one graduate, one undergraduate. I'm hoping we find some answers. Or, I'm hoping we have some intriguing questions.

Suspension, evasion, and inversion: a conversation with Ken Babstock

Now anyone reading this will immediately recognize the attendant risks, and I think it’s an old debate that won’t be resolved anytime soon; I can maybe dramatize how it has played out in my own work. Your own formulation, “if I could remove myself by half,” points toward the predicament really effectively. What I mean is, I would never want ”remove myself” to be an unproblematic option for the reader, just as it’s never been an easy option in the work. I’ve certainly dreamed the dream of pure sound, abandoning altogether the attempted interface with the demon “Meaning” but I simply cannot effectively mute the little authorial tyrant (likely a child, but so be it) who compulsively seeks meaning, seeks to make meaning. I may be weak-willed. So a field of sound in which live the field mice of meaning. They don’t need to be caught, killed, or even seen. Just ‘known’ to be there. Somewhere.
Suspension, evasion, and inversion: a conversation with Ken Babstock

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Movie Review: "The Hollywood Librarian"

If it’s true that dentists are the most chronically depressed professionals, there may be a strong chance that librarians are the happiest. “The Hollywood Librarian,” presents interviews from a number of librarians in a variety of fields, each giving a slightly different image of the importance and role of librarianship in the United States. What each librarian has in common, however, is the twinkly-eyed, grinning enthusiasm that lights up their face when asked about their work. But why are librarians so pumped? “The Hollywood Librarian” explores the world of librarianship, through the lens of Hollywood films and through the spectacles of real librarians. The movie seeks to dispel the image of the librarian as a pinch-faced, grumpy spinster with a tight bun in her hair and a permanent frown on her face. The librarians interviewed all gush about how much they enjoy their work, particularly the aspects that allow them to help their patrons—whether those patrons are preschool children or medical doctors. The movie also strives to disabuse viewers of the notion that librarianship is simplistic or inconsequential, describing complicated aspects of cataloguing, and exploring the influence that a librarian has on their patrons and community through their collection building and through community programs. One of my favourite sequences includes a montage of librarians in film defending their choice to lend out banned or controversial books.

The most interesting part of this movie, however, is its discussion of why we need libraries. Scenes from the Twilight Zone and Fahrenheit 451 explore the hell of a world without libraries—but “The Hollywood Librarian” does not simply assume the viewer will automatically abhor these images. Instead, the movie introduces us to a variety of libraries and library programs that strongly benefit their patrons, and, in so doing, humanity in general. We visit the library program at San Quentin, where inmates who entered prison with third grade reading skills improve their literacy to the point of completing technical degrees while incarcerated. Those men who serve shorter sentences are able to re-enter the world with the necessary literacy to find work, and to leave their former lives of crime and poverty behind them. Those sentenced to decades or to life in prison remain to teach literacy to their fellow inmates, making a valuable contribution to the outside world from the enclosure of the prison. We also visit Salinas, hometown of John Steinbeck, where funding cuts were set to force all of the town’s libraries to close. The film shows the negative impact the closures would have on the community, especially children. The town eventually holds an election to grant the necessary funding to the libraries, despite the objections of conservative voters that the measure was simply a liberal, partisan plot. The library is also given additional funding diverted from San Quentin, where inmates insisted that funding to their own services be diverted to fund library programs for children in Salinas. Having been granted access to the world of reading, the inmates believed access to a library would prevent the children of Salinas from ending up in a place like San Quentin.

One of the librarians interviewed insists on the library as a symbol of freedom. Basic literacy skills empower individuals to find work and to take control of their lives, while a variety of texts can open our minds to new ways of thinking—from empathizing with someone different from you, to identifying and rooting out the social injustices of our culture. Libraries represent not only freedom, but also autonomy. One librarian reflects on his abusive home life, where he was always told he was stupid. In the library, as a child, he found a space where his curiosity was rewarded. The library, often even more than the classroom, is the place where we learn to think for ourselves, and to escape negative, coercive control of our minds. The library is the place where we are most free to imagine a better life for ourselves, and a better world for everyone. I can see why librarians like their jobs.

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, March 23, 2010

What do you want?

For the slave’s discourse, being essentially only reiterative, grinds the discourse of discourse to a halt. It is the mock in the mirror, the discourse that, like Echo herself, continuously throws back to the questioner the zero-institution question: “what do you want?”
Vanessa Place

In the future comment streams will be neutral

And optimism shall reign.

The Torontoist's Book Page and Vox Populism Present:
THE OPTIMISMS PROJECT: A National Poetry Month Thing

-we'd like to cobble together 30 or so poets, all under the age of 30, and give them some space (100-150 words) to express, in whatever way they choose, what makes them feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada. The word Optimism is pluralized in the project title for a reason, we hope to have diverse, surprising, and even contradictory aspirations. Submissions could be prose, poetry, specific, general, practical, fantastical, whatever. Again: diversity, and surprise, are our hopes. We're "optimistic" we'll get some of both.

-each day in April would feature the optimism of a separate poet, published on The Torontoist's Book Page with a photo, a short (25 word max) bio, and any linkable internet connection they may desire.

-in terms of eligibility, it's wide open (published, unpublished, etc) and will run under something of a first-come, first-serve basis. If we have to double up, we may. I’m thinking a birth year of 1980, or later. But we’re flexible. University Teachers: I’m relying on you folk for leads. High School Teachers: You too. Young, established (or establishing poets): Submit yourselves. Everyone else: I had a hunch you might know someone who’d be a great fit.

-If you could please forward this Call for Submissions as widely as possible, I'd be grateful. April approacheth quickly. Submissions should be mailed, as soon as humanly possible, to Though it's the "Torontoist" book page, we hope to have submissions from all over the country.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Who is to say? I'm so totally unhip, uncool, and apparently out to lunch

What’s missing from this discussion is experience, time, context, distance…who is to say what is making a thing, or nothing happen? Who is to say what is making meaning? Who or what will hold up? Who is to say what comfort is? Who is to say? It seems everyone is too close to the mirror to have any real sense of the bigger picture.
The latter comment, dropped into a comment stream discussion (on Jake's blog) about Canadian poetry seems to have me hanged as sarcastic and intimidating. Amazing. It was cheeky, that's true. And admittedly it did come out of the blue. But then so do statements such as "Any asshole can make something happen..." and language like "I've praised" or "I've denounced" so and so's poetry or "there’s no doubt that Auden considered his own poetry to be Ariel dominated" and so on. Also, one wonders what the difference between condescending and sarcastic is?

Really, the older I get the more humble I get. The poets I respect most come to poetry and poetics with layers of questions, layers of wonder. The comment streams are filled with totalizing arguments and primping of opinions and swagger. Opinions, these posters argue, are intended to be solid, bullet proof. One idea decimating another. It's just not interesting to me. And it doesn't invite discourse outside of the few in the discussion. And so often it's the same few doing the discussing.

And so often, when I do insert a different perspective, or way of expressing, it's treated with hostility.

To me exploration is much more inviting than arguing for a single reading/opinion.

In what universe is wonder intimidating? I just don't get it.

So why bother? Well, I like the idea of discussing with non-like minded people. I'm not one for remaining entrenched in my camp. I don't have a camp. It's easy to discuss amongst like-minded folk. I don't have a posse I call up to come and defend my opinion. I guess that's why the comment streams congeal around like-minded people thinking they are having disagreements... A disagreement is larger than a quibble about a reading of a poem.

And tactics like dumping that little post in are ways to simply toss a mirror into the conversation. To say there are other folks out there, and they might have something to say as well.

Still, I do offer my apologies to those who I have misread.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Canada has no unseemly competition?

....all Canadian poets of merit are awarded a large annual stipend. We got universal health care; we keep our poets fed. Our top ranking poets are granted official government positions. Like Neruda, we get to be ambassadors and attaches and that sort of stuff...
Seriously. I found that comment in the box after Jim Behrle's piece on the Poetry Foundation a while back. Behrle's piece is very relevant, I might add, and I think particularly relevant to the kind of posturing that goes on in comment streams, something Brenda Schmidt muses on here... and I would argue that this is also true for rhetorical strategies...

There is so little at stake in the poetry world that it all seems a bit ridiculous, but nonetheless, it's there. I agree with Rhea Tregebov that health care and quality of life are basically like having a minimum income, but her statement above really made me shake my head. Really? "all Canadian poets of merit..."

This may be satire. I may not have read the tone well. Here's the entire comment:
On March 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm Rhea Tregebov wrote:
Mr. Behrle's article makes me grateful that I live in Canada where writing programs are scarcer and, as a consequence, competition sparser. As a consequence, all Canadian poets of merit are awarded a large annual stipend. We got universal health care; we keep our poets fed. Our top ranking poets are granted official government positions. Like Neruda, we get to be ambassadors and attaches and that sort of stuff. I know you've now got Obama, but our doors are still open to those desperate to escape. Come on up north. (We play hockey better too.)
Love this advice too:
I'll bet Mary Oliver outsells everyone
including Jewel!! The secret? Don't use big
words and soak your poems in sugar-
Diana Manister

Saturday, March 20, 2010

All sides now: a correspondence with Lisa Robertson

LR: I’ve always been completely seduced by sentences, certainly. I think I’m a sentence-lover before I’m a writer. Much of my earlier work has been testing the internal structure of sentences as wildly psycho-sexual-social units. But here I wanted to find a way to include extremely banal, flat, overwrought and bad sentences, by devising a sequencing movement that could include anything. My thought was not to judge, but to float the disparity of the units in a continuum. I think what happens is that the caesura, the space between, becomes extremely active, more active than the sentences themselves are. This has the effect of making any sentence semantically legible in several registers– the meta-textual, as you point out, may be one of them.

All sides now: a correspondence with Lisa Robertson

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On Reviewing: Ken Babstock

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?

KB: Being a late arrival to this conversation I have to preface my answers by underlining how much I’ve enjoyed the bewildering array of previous respondents. Much of what many said first, I’ll likely repeat, in a diminished form.

At a basic, functional level, a review (referring here to Newspaper Books sections and the like) is meant to shine a light on the simple fact of a book’s existence. Saying to a reader, Look, this has arrived, it has A, B, C, and D, attributes and more or less steers clear of X, Y, and Z. But also and simultaneously, this functionalist’s goal can be achieved through more inventive, more aestheticized moves. Otherwise why have a human do the job? I’m sure there’s a program that could adequately categorize, slot, offer descriptives, quote, etc.

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?

KB: Approach: trepidation. Method: effort. I’m keenly aware of my own shifting opinions and deficiencies in critical thought/practice, so I come to every book with a sense of climbing up toward it lacking the proper gear and training. I want to be affected by the book under consideration and will try hard to make that happen on some level. Space constraints begin to close in around what wants to find expression.

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?

KB: I enjoy “enjoyment.” Speed of thought; economy; connections; humour; the sense of a reviewer ‘wearing’ those poems for the time the writing lasts. It sometimes appears as an honouring, or a yearning to have been these poems’ creator, or at least to have been present at their birth. I suppose I’m simply reformulating notions of “attention.”

I’m also always very impressed when a reviewer risks teasing out what they believe to be a book’s central agon (if I can use a Bloom-y word). I’m thinking here of connections—to traditions, contemporaries, aesthetics, etc—but then also where and how a work attempts to wrest itself free of similarity and gain purchase on its own particular struggles.

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?

KB: The book at hand must remain the focus, it’s just we can sometimes see the book with more clarity through a single poem, a single line.

Now the risk here is in choosing the exact wrong poem or line to focus on. It happens. I’ve tried to mitigate the danger by avoiding the building of large essayistic edifices that can crumble if a single poem or trope or line is asked to withstand too much torque or pressure. Perhaps the shorter (Newspaper) review has been a friend in this respect.

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?

KB: With the reviewing I’m actively trying to not hide anywhere. It’s meant to be civil and honest and inclusive. For my own poems you can imagine a flipped switch; the rules of engagement change.

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?

KB: To clarify, I’ve written far more reviews of fiction and non-fiction for Newspapers than I have poetry. Finding fault or disappointment with fiction or essays or whatnot has always felt like more of an open conversation. There’s such a whiff of the zero-sum game when ‘disapproving’ of a book of poems that I’ve felt ok about sticking to work that excites me. I’ve also had no problem admitting (to an employing editor) to the personal deficiencies alluded to earlier. There are gaps in my reading that mark me as unfit for certain author’s work. It would do the book nor the general reader no service to have to watch me flail, blather, misapprehend, sweat and end up lying.

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?

KB: Being up here in Toronto (it’s my excuse, anyway), I knew nothing of Rae Armantrout or D.A.Powell; Stephen Burt changed that. Daniel Soar in the LRB on Svetislav Basara. For that matter Benjamin Kunkel changed what I thought I thought of ‘Netherland.’ Anne Lauterbach’s ‘The Night Sky’ has sent me back to Anne Lauterbach’s poems.

I’ve recently fallen for the long view. The late review of all the reviews. What’s been in the wind and why direction or velocity should or might change. Daniel Mendelson does this really well in the NYRB on film; recently for Avatar, and earlier, Brokeback Mountain. Sort of Janet Malcolm’s ‘The Silent Woman’ in essay form. Or the ongoing back and forth regarding Frederick Seidel. Someone convinces me one day he’s prosodically poaching Lowell, then the next he’s our best cultural barometer, the next that he’s not, in fact, ‘Fred’ at all! I suppose I’m easily swayed.

And Michael Hofmann can be relied on to speak is mind while reading the poems as poems.

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

KB: Tough question. Well, speaking of Hofmann, so many of his descriptive flourishes on how a poet’s line sounds are gloriously exact. Really working hard to hear the singularities and foibles and habits and signatures. Not pointing and saying “here lies assonance” but actually trying to get at the quality of sound. It’s wonderful to watch even when I’m disagreeing. And so here’s the question, could this same descriptive strength be applied to a poet’s shifts and leaps and elisions and skids of mind? I’m presently reading Spicer’s Collected so may here be expressing my wish for a tutor.

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?

KB: I came to reviewing because I needed paid work. I’d like to write longer pieces on poetry but have yet to get over my sense of myself as still putting the tools in place, still engaged in the education.

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

KB: They must. So much of my own reading has been instigated, or just reinforced, by reviews. There must be others like me.

Ken Babstock is the author, most recently, of Airstream Land Yacht (Anansi, 2006) winner of The Trillium Prize for Poetry, finalist for the Governor General's Award, The Griffin Prize for Poetry, and The Winterset Award. Earlier collections include Mean, winner of The Atlantic Poetry Prize and The Milton Acorn Award, and Days into Flatspin, winner of a K.M. Hunter Award and finalist for the Winterset Prize. All three books were listed in The Globe and Mail's Books of the Year. His poems have won Gold at the National Magazine Awards, appeared widely in anthologies in Canada, The US, and Ireland, and have been translated into French, German, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian and Czech.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nine-to-Fiving It

Throughout my academic poetry training, my cohorts and I were encouraged to identify our unique or idiosyncratic areas of knowledge, and to write about them. Obsessed with Mongolia? Got zombies on the brain? Have a thing for Victorian woodcuts? We were taught that the topics we had the most specialised knowledge of would make for our best writing. This was not only because we could write something unique and interesting about our favourite subject, but also because our unconventional knowledge would allow us to compose a poetry uniquely structured and suited to our topic.

Having finished my degree, however, and having entered the workforce, the subject I am now most intimately acquainted with is my job. I spend my days retyping the same email, cutting and pasting things into spreadsheets, and checking documents for formatting errors. Initially, I got my poetry kicks from the deluge of spam that poured into my inbox every day, snatching the best lines for poems, but a better filter has since been installed, and now only the most boring spam can make it through. While I often come across interesting phrases in the innumerable poorly written emails I receive every day, I am unwilling to save any of these sentences for the sake of the senders’ privacy and dignity. While I like my coworkers, and am grateful to have found a job in this economy, like many first jobs, my work is dull and uninspiring.

Since I’ve begun working, for the first time, my daily life and experiences do not move me to write. Though I initially believed any job could somehow be made poetic, there’s nothing about my work that I can turn into poetry (except, perhaps, the last spectacular paper jam I caused). Moreover, there’s nothing about my work that I want to write about—I find my job boring, and not in a poetic way. This has led me to a new appreciation of poetry, similar to the appreciation I had for novels when I was younger. While you can write great poetry by exploring your experiences and idiosyncratic knowledge, you can improve your life by embracing poetry. Instead of writing about my daily dose of office induced sedation, I look forward to coming home and reading poetry that has absolutely nothing to do with my work, and to writing about subjects that have nothing to do with my job. When I was a student, it was my job to write, and it could be stressful just like any other academic program. Now that I am nine-to-fiving it, however, poetry is my escape. I’ve had other more inspiring jobs, and am certain that one day I will again find a job that inspires me to write. Until that time, my area of expertise doesn’t have to be the thing that carries my writing. Instead, poetry can be the thing that carries me.

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, March 16, 2010

CD Wright

I need a new camera, I know. The one I currently use came from a gumball machine. It has a mind of its own and erased the contents of my last trip to New York. Still, I like to take photos of poets reading and I use what's at hand. What am I looking for? Documentation? A little psychic imprint? A momento? A moment of frozen intensity? All of the above?

CD Wright was in Montreal last week and I had the pleasure of hearing her read. It was my first time. The poetry expanded out around me as if I had left the building and now was in an entirely new place. Of field and fallow calla lilies and folds of hands and ankles. I'll be honest with you, I wanted more.  The poems were at once light and heavy. The work of the poet to patiently unfold. Now when I look at the poems they are more three dimensional. The gaps have texture there. Can you see it in the stillness surrounding the podium above?

As if the scenery in her head had stopped revolving

his watch if she dodged the picture it is obvious his sweater was wet

his watch cap soppinghis watch cap soppinghis watch cap sopping

As if the bone could not be pointed at the atrocious

The questions after were so odd. Strangely worded, not very respectful. "What is the opposite of poetry?" Was the first one. Something else about "do you intend to be so monotonous?" I don't think they were intentionally disrespectful, just not very mindfully worded, with a sense of the event, the space, the mood created by Wright's quiet and intense reading. I wonder if people think about what they are going to ask poets? I wonder if they try their questions out before they punctuate the evening with their thoughts? Some people seem to take the urgency of their own inner dialogs with them, as if the inside of their room/mind expanded to over-take other public spaces rather than reorienting onself into the space created--in this case so graciously by Wright.

Monday, March 15, 2010

please thank the maker of your choice for the internet: Nikki Reimer

Sometimes I hate the internet for its myriad of treasures, distractions and wormholes.

Other times, like this week for example, it provides me with helpful links and tips when I've been too busy to write a proper post.

Interesting poetic divergences of the day include:

-a new downloadable poetry chapbook by Jordan Scott (via derek beaulieu on Facebook)

-work by sculptural book artist Brian Dettmer (via Gregory Betts on FB)

-Nico Vassilakis has a new website featuring his concrete poetry (via Christian Bok/derek bealieu on Twitter)

-7 MFAs question whether it was worth it (via Ray Hsu on Twitter)


I'm not particularly pleased that this list is so very male-centric, but I've grabbed the most interesting and recent online postings and really do have to get back to the Arts & Culture Service Organization Operating Assistance grant I've been working on for the past week or so.......Women friends: What's new and good online? What have you stumbled upon recently?

Nikki Reimer wrote a book of poetry, which will appear in print very soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thinking about "Limited" Fork Poetics

Thinking about Thylias Moss

Song of Iota (some Limited Fork Theory birth history) by forkergirl) [low-res]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Re-Framing the Page

While frantically pawing through the shelves of my local Chindigo in search of a last minute gift, I hit a shelf of books about making books. Though I rarely suffer attacks of greed while shopping for others, these books inspired in me such a ravenous, consumeristic desire that it took my Mum 15 minutes to convince me not to blow half a paycheque on the stack of book books I was clutching to my chest with a lust reminiscent of the lust with which Gollum clutches the one ring. Of course, there is a better way: the public library. The public library is a treasure-trove of books on making books which I highly recommend you check out… unless you’re in Calgary, in which case, back off—they’re all mine… my own… my precious…

These books are great for many reasons. If you are a literary fanatic of any leaning, there is a strong chance you are of the group genetically predisposed to love books in all their tactile, musty glory. The prospect of being able to design and craft one of the objects you love so much is pretty exciting in itself. If you’ve been picturing your ideal notebook in your head for years, yet have never found such an object in reality, you can simply make it yourself.

What really excites me about these books, however, is the creative possibilities that they open up for writers. The vast majority of writing is confined to two major forms: online publishing, such as a website or blog, and the standard left-bound book or magazine. While both of these forms of presentation are extremely functional, they can rarely be considered an extension of the writing that they hold. While many poets spend a great deal of time and effort considering alignment and white space, we rarely have the opportunity to extend similar consideration to the structure of the object in which the poems will be presented. On a micropublishing scale, however, this becomes possible—if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and grab a glue-gun.

Flipping greedily through the stack of book books pilled on and around my desk, it’s impossible to resist the poetic possibilities that the suggested book formats provide. The dos-à-dos book could be used to frame one scene or to tell one story from two opposing perspectives:

while the accordion book to follow a single, unbroken stream of consciousness:

The more skilled you become at making these books, the more sculptural your creations can become. Slowly, the typical book can vanish completely in favour of an architectural manifestation of the writing that the book holds. Ultimately, the book could become the poem itself.

This sculptural potential is extremely exciting—if you’ve ever felt stuck putting pen to page, why not reframe the page? These handmade books reveal a whole new world of possibilities that the traditional book is simply not designed to hold.

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, March 09, 2010

To Sonnet, to Son-net, Tuscon Net

So yes, the Jackpine Sonnet. “The fiddle’s incomplete without the dance,” Acorn writes, “Let’s hook fingers to complete.” Without some kind of constraint, verse Acorn suggests lacks luster, and in general, I would agree. There is little sign of a struggle, perhaps. Form or constraint puts pressure on the idea behind the poem, on the original gesture. The sonnet form, Acorn argues, is “realisant.” It’s an organic, not fixed form. “It grows to any shape that suits the light, suits the winds, suits itself.” The Jackpine is a tree that grows in all sorts of conditions. It is resilient and as Acorn appreciates, each tree grows and looks very differently.

Of course each is a member of the same order of tree too, which might be problematic. In 2010 we might see a hybrid Jackpine, part cedar or with strands of tomato for fun. I am being facetious, but not only. I want to think Acorn’s enthusiasm for the form would include all of the above and interpretations we have not yet imagined.

But perhaps that is not so? I’ll end with a provocative little poem from Acorn, poet of the people, but also, it turns out, a poet quite savvy about the poetry biz.

The Craft of Poetry’s the Art of War

Attack! Don’t think yehr poetry aint war.
Them warbling noises be no kind of birds.
They zing—they fly—they smack. They’re bullets
And any minute one of them or something
Even rougher on your balls might score.
Put on your hardhat of proletarian scorn;
And when you throw roses—never mind how sweet;
For sweet life’s sake don’t omit the thorns.

Attack! Those clutching fingers of dawn
Will bundle themselves, soon enough into fists;
Punch you into gargage, put a lid on the can.
You’ll get dropped from this or that love-list
By reason of hate—by reason of fear…or another
But if you think this aint war you’re dead brother.

To Sonnet, to Son-net, Tuscon Net

Monday, March 08, 2010

It's read or be read

I'm turning my facebook friends into fans. I'm going to be the topdog, that's right, me. I'm the one who's going to blow all the other dogs out of the water. Trample the tepid and murky shallows of contem-po, oh yah, and it feels good to say...I'm the young upstart baby, and I'm gunning for you.

Jim Behrle gives good rant:
Jay Leno, not Conan O’Brien, is the future. Why? Because Leno is more devious, sinister, and craven. These are things to aspire to be. Jay Leno would reach through your skin and deep into your stomach to fetch an undigested Skittle if he were hungry for one. That’s the spirit of Ruthless 24/7 Careerism in a strawberry shell. Make a deal with Russia to not invade Russia and then, when Russia least expects it, invade Russia.

Michael Turner on Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver: Nikki Reimer

Michael Turner presented a short curatorial talk and slideshow at KSW this afternoon based on his "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969, on at the SFU (Burnaby) Gallery till March 13.

I was one of the event organizers so am unable to give an unbiased or even a complete report, distracted by such concerns as chair placement, drinking water, impromptu donation jar, and some serious technical challenges, which Turner handled ever-graciously, but I did want to touch on it briefly because I think it's an important work. The SFU show encompasses work by bill bissett, Tom Burrows, Judith Copithorne, Stan Douglas (whose inclusion references the past-future, or perhaps the future-past) Maxine Gadd, Gerry Gilbert, Ray Johnson, Roy Kiyooka, Gary Lee-Nova, Glenn Lewis, Malcolm Lowry, Michael Morris (whose 1966 The Problem of Nothing is above), Al Neil and Ian Wallace, many of whom Turner mentioned in his talk. I urge anyone in the lower Mainland to check out the show while it's still up.

The gist of the show and the talk is material culture or the expanded literary practice, what we might today refer to as multi- or inter-disciplinary, or what in our own time might encompass digital media. Turner mentions the e-book and the online platform in his show catalogue, noting how in 2009 "(s)ome authors took this further, expanding their readings to include projections, singers, actors and props. Stagings such as these were met with bemusement by arts commentators accustomed to more traditional forms of presentation...What is conspicuous about the bemused response is that it reminds us of a time when expanded literary activities were encouraged, not indulged." That time is the "fifteen-year moment (1954-69) in Vancouver's cultural history, a time when visual artists, writers, dancers and filmmakers transcended disciplines to engage in new forms of composition, new modes of production."

Many Vancouver writers and artists from the period in question were in the audience today: Judith Copithorne, Renee Rodin, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah. Copithorne noted how at the time it was considered "dangerous" to go beyond the boundaries of form, as they were doing, and that much of their work received hostile reactions from what was then the mainstream. Turner also mentioned that the academy at the time wasn't changing (fast enough) to suit the new hybrid activities, which makes me wonder a bit about the hybrid activities of our own moment (Blogging, Tweeting, Podcasting. Might there be a show fifty years hence on Facebook poetry?)
Another excellent archival resource of Vancouver Art in the Sixties is called Ruins in Process. A beautiful collage-like work of art itself, it includes essays, interviews, and digital archives of artwork, film and ephemera, expanded literary practices, all.
Nikki Reimer wrote a book of poetry, which will appear in print very soon.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What is it you want?

Orson Welles on frozen peas and other fabulously insulting turns of phrase. And here's one with beef burger:

Good Lord, give me leave to be so cranky! Possibly it has something to do with the act of whoring oneself so blatantly:
A strangely insightful bit of footage that may or may not have anything to do with Orson Welles, or poetry for that matter...

Wow. So true.

Poems everywhere, even in poems

And so it goes, like nesting dolls, the nesting poems, shrinking and growing out of other poems. The poem as read and appreciated, then the poem unearthed from that poem. Here is a poem gleaned from a poem I read online recently. With apologies and thanks for the inspiration to the author. Any guesses as to the original poem? I'll post the original soon.

leafs out
water lilies stirred 
echo’s rippling, these 
idle green days 
absence, a hole
through which 
pouring bodies
twinge, thrum 
and clinch  
our penetrating  

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Poetry podcasts, online resources, oh and introducing Canada a wee bit more

Avant-Garde All the Time with Kenneth Goldsmith is chock full of amazing discoveries. Particularly the two recent “women of the avant-garde” with offerings such as “Turtle Dreams” from Meredith Monk, a Lydia Lunch flashback, a young, young, Patti Smith, balladeer Helen Adam. Some excellent new finds for me include Judy Dunaway, a woman who composes for the rubber balloon (I’m serious, see photo of Dunaway above). Louise Lawler’s bird calls using the names of male artists as she walked home in the New York of the 1970s. Very funny and haunting. Strange sound poetry including recordings of sounds you probably never want to hear (Lauren Lesko). You probably have heard of Laurie Anderson, of course you’ve heard of Yoko Ono, but have you heard of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad? Goldsmith’s podcasts are total discoveries.

Poetry podcasts, online resources, oh and introducing Canada a wee bit more

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sachiko Murakami: The Toronto New School of Writing

I've been run off my feet this week. After a bout of the stomach illness that seems to be bugging Toronto, and then being hit by a car on Friday (nothing broken but my spirit!), I was laid up and now I'm playing catch up. Today is particularly hectic, and right in the middle of it at 6:30 I'll have my first long-poem workshop with Jay MillAr at the newly formed Toronto New School of Writing.

It seems to be an extension of MillAr's publishing effort BookThug, as the instructors are all BookThug authors: Mark Goldstein, Cara Benson, Angela Carr, Mark Truscott. I'm very excited about it -- pedagogy and avant-garde poetics don't always seem to go hand in hand. I know that when I was on the collective at KSW there was a reluctance to offer writing workshops, for a variety of reasons-- although there we did get a few on the go; Meredith Quartermain did a place-and-writing workshop that I was sadly unable to attend. Many of the KSW writers were/are oriented more towards the university classroom, I suppose. I'm glad TSNOW -- which I am thinking is becoming a Toronto analogue, or at least a vague parallel, to KSW-- is heading in this direction. I've never been a huge fan of the writing workshop, being suspicious of its natural tendencies to guide writing towards consensus, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. In any case, my writing needs a serious kick in the pants. I'm looking forward to the smackdown.

Sachiko Murakami gets hit by Toronto cars. She wrote The Invisibility Exhibit. New poems can be found online at Forget and The Puritan.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Literary Sleaze (Part 3 of 3)

Experimental writers in Calgary are pretty lucky. In my experience, the avant-garde writers here are supportive and inclusive, and the critical climate is constructive. This is not the case for all writing communities, however. Canada is home to a few vocal writers who seem to believe that the role of the critic is not to critique books, but rather, to insult the work and its writer. Tensions between writing camps often express themselves in snide insults and a generally dismissive attitude, and with online publishing making it easier and easier to vent ones grievances, the simmering animosity between writers can easily boil over. It often seems as though the mere existence of a writer who does something differently is enough to get another writer fuming.

Writers are famous, if not infamous, for this fiery defensiveness, and while it’s regrettable that we cannot all coexist more amiably, there is a certain voyeuristic pleasure to watching these arguments rage. Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels—From Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe, by Anthony Arthur, exploits this voyeurism for all it’s worth. Despite its trashy tabloid appeal, Literary Feuds is beautifully written in clear, evocative prose that bring to life the eight tales of literary mud slinging that the book chronicles. Arthur avoids sensationalism, basing his descriptions of the feuds on articles and reviews published by the combatants, on letters written by the authors, and on verifiable evidence from their personal lives. Arthur is also adept at quickly summarizing the works of the authors discussed into compact and interesting paragraphs, so that even if you haven’t read the material that sparked a particular feud, you can still enjoy reading about the argument.

Though the entire book is appealing, I found the chapter chronicling the feud between Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway particularly embroiling. Stein and writer Sherwood Anderson mentored Hemingway, helping him make the transition from journalist to literary writer. Hemingway learned much from both Stein and Anderson, but as he exceeded both in popularity, he became increasingly nasty, mocking his mentors in both interviews and in his writing. Stein eventually got back at Hemingway in The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas, where she and Anderson lament mentoring him, and portray him as a shallow writer with not much going on behind his, “interested eyes.” Stein also characterizes Hemingway as a traditionalist, a blowhard, physically weak, and intellectually thick. While Hemingway often resorted to physical violence to get back at critics, throwing vases and books, he got back at Stein with violent comments, insulting her on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. He also attacks her in the posthumously published Movable Feast, where he says she had nothing to teach, was too lazy to learn from him, and was so pathetic that he could no longer stand to visit her.

This chapter is satisfying because, though Hemingway got the last jab in after both he and Stein were dead, time is on Stein’s side. Hemingway’s reputation for unreasonable and violent behaviour makes his criticisms of Stein seem grasping and pathetic, while Stein’s ever increasing popularity vindicates her from Hemingway’s accusations that she couldn’t write. Furthermore, Stein’s salon is now perhaps the most famous literary salon in history, further shoring up her reputation against Hemingway’s attacks. Being on team Stein myself, it’s gratifying to see her win. Whether or not your writer is winning, however, Literary Feuds provides an entertaining take on its eight battle, and is written well enough to do all of its combatants justice.

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, March 02, 2010

Of Grief & Poetry

There is a lot of grief in your poetry someone said after my reading in Victoria last week. I have been reflecting on this, more so since upon arrival in Vancouver the following day I was met with news that my brother passed away. This is the fourth death in my immediate family in the last eight years: I could double, probably triple that if I branched out into first cousins, aunts and uncles, not to mention friends. If there is a downside of having a big family and an even bigger extended family, this is it: you have more to love, but you also have more to lose. Of course that’s just family, tip your chin up and loss floods in…
For full story: Of Grief & Poetry

Monday, March 01, 2010

Nikki Reimer: on erasure and erasure and erasure

Alex Leslie and Elizabeth Bachinsky’s Blackout at the Candahar erasure project has got us all thinking about the poetics of erasure over here, so it seemed like a good time to pull Radi os off the shelf and give it a whirl.

In 1976, in the storied tradition of erasure poetics, Ronald Johnson pulled an 1892 edition of Paradise Lost off the shelf at a Seattle bookstore and began removing. In the introduction he writes “It is the book Blake gave me.” Were I so motivated I’d have also dug out some Milton to compare to Radi os, but I’m not, and in truth I’m not certain that it matters. Radi os is the Paradise Lost that the 20th century deserved. It is the Paradise Lost I’d have rather read in that first year English survey course, it is elegant and elegaic.

Erasure is an appropriate topic and method for the city of Vancouver, as others have explored. It’s a city that has been constantly/consistently under erasure: from the removal of First Peoples from their lands and the attempted erasure of their culture to the internment camps to the real estate speculation that has driven this town since the beginning.

Also at the Candahar, on February 22, Gregory Betts read from his latest Pedlar Press book, The Others Raisd in Me: 150 Readings of Sonnet 150. A project of erasure and translation and rewriting, The Others Raisd in Me misreads each of the 14 lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet 150. The work examines ideas of selfhood from the 17th century into the present, flirting with a cyborgian future; Shakespeare filtered through Haraway.

I like erasure as a project for our time. What with social media and smart phone technology, everyone has become a producer, a writer, and artist. We are overrun with text. Maybe the best poetic response right now is to delete.

(Thanks Alex Leslie for the image above)

Nikki Reimer wants to perform erasure on her biography.
(Photo: Rory Zerbe)