April 19th, 2014
Wow, I’ve never had a blog lull like this one before–and I hope to be somewhat back in the saddle as of now. The break was brought on by the insane busyness that I’m starting to think is just a part of adult life. Sometimes it’s a bit less, sometimes a bit more, but grownups who are lucky enough to have friends and family and a way of earning a living are just going to always be busy. We were in the “a bit more” side of things for all of 2014 so far, due to work stuff and (cough) trying to finish my book, but I’m heading into two weeks of vacation starting…sometime this week, and while the book is still a foot, it’s very close to done for this round. So I’m trying to do a bit more from the other categories of life, like blogging.
The other reason you haven’t heard much from me here is that I was taking my own advice not to take blogging as duty, since no one really cares that much and blog posts written out of drudgery are as unfun to read as they are to write. I haven’t had much that felt like it needed reporting, other than rants about people who are rude on the subway and in grocery stores, so I haven’t posted.
During my silence, a few interesting things have crept in, so please allow me to summarize:
–my poem Dead Boyfriend Disco got posted in a “from the archives” dealie on the echolocation blog. The poem appeared in their print journal way back in 2006, and still stands as my only published poem, as it is likely to remain. This one lone poem though seems to get mentioned and reprinted every now and again, so perhaps it is all I really need.
–the *Once* play is coming to fruition–April 25 and 26 down in Saint Catharines, you’ll be able to see it as part of the Soil festival. Here’s the Facebook invitation if you’re interested, though I know it’s far for many….*Once* presented by Twitches and Itches. I have no idea what to expect–the playwright and company worked up the play from the stories, but i don’t know more than that. I’m terribly excited, and will be there on the Saturday night to see it in all it’s glory.
–my beloved friend Fred was on Jeopardy on Thursday and won!! I had been looking forward to this for months, but it was still thrilling to actually see her face on my friends’ giant screen tv. That link above is to the full show, and though I’ve spoiled the ending for you, it’s worth watching for the fun trivia but also to see the tiny moment between when she wins and when she *realizes she won*. The Jeopardy party guests at I was with were SCREAMING, it was so amazing (too bad about the formerly sleeping baby upstairs). And then she went back last night and she won again (there’s a video out there that I can’t seem to post, but it exists). This time I was at my parents house for the holiday/to do my taxes, and again with the screaming. Quoth my brother: “Fred is really improving my life. It’s so much fun to watch something on tv I actually care about.” He was totally right. She’s back again on Monday and I can’t wait–if you have the opportunity to watch, I strongly encourage it!!
–I went to a few truly outstanding book launches in the past few weeks, and for some I’ve already read the books–that’s how exciting the launches were. I’ll try to give a report on some of these in the weeks to come, but I’m out of practice in the blogging department. So for now, wonderful things you might want to read include: Career Limiting Moves by Zachariah Wells, Mothering in the Age of Neoliberalism edited by Melinda Vandenbeld Giles (a little out of my subject area, that one, but that’s what I get for being friends with an anthropologist), Yaw by Dani Couture, and The M Word edited by Kerry Clare. That last one is what I am immersed in currently and it is SO good it’s addictive.
So that’s what I’ve been up to–not too shabby, eh?
May 31st, 2012
I have been trying to become a more astute reader of poetry lately. I have a very good literature degree, and can scan a poem pretty well, as well as read it with some seriousness and insight. But actually, sometimes not all that much insight. Even when I really love a poem, I often can’t articulate why. And then I lame out in that chickenish trap of feeling too stupid for poetry, like I should just give up and go watch a reality show about cakes.
I thought reading Robyn Sarah‘s collections of essays on poetry, Little Eurekas would help improve my confidence–I finished that degree a long time ago now. But I was actually so intimdated by the book–what if I’m too stupid for essays *about* poetry, too??–that it languished on my shelf for several years.
I’m really glad I got over myself and read it. Sarah is a careful and insightful reader–incredibly well-versed in the analytical language of poetry criticism, but also adamant that both poetry and criticism be accessible to all who care to read. My favourite sections were the middle three–Appreciations, Essay-Reviews, and Short Reviews. All three sections a focussed direct engagements with individual poems, suites of poems, or collections. Some are more positive than others (the Appreciations are only positive, obviously) but all explain carefully, analytically *why* Sarah feels the way she does about a poem. Also, she quotes liberally–sometimes entire poems. This is so incredibly helpful to a non-professional poetry-reader. For me, many poetry reviews are inscrutable and nigh on unreadable because the reviewer seems to assume the entire audience has read the book. What would I need a review for then? Sarah has an aura of trustworthiness, but she invites you test her judgments on your own by tossing you the poem for your very own. These essays are empowering and inspiring–you feel Sarah is sharing her intelligence with you to help you grow your own. Like sourdough. That metaphor fell apart.
I enjoyed the first and last sections less. The first chunk of the book is general essays on Canadian poetry and they’re actually fine–Sarah is far more reasonable and careful in her judgements than most of the people writing such essays these days. But general is always less interesting to me than specific, and the specific pieces in this text are so insightful–I felt smarter after reading them in a way that the intro pieces didn’t inspire. I did love the first essay, “I to my perils: How I fell for poetry”–one of the only truly personal pieces in the collection, it’s a perfect introduction. But a few of the others in this chunk had the creeping hell-in-a-handbasket-ism that smacks of the standard generational split: kids these days publish too much, too early; workshopping is a crutch and robs students of their voice, etc., etc.
The last section of the book I didn’t really enjoy, though through no fault of the author–it consists of dialogues (in letters, mainly) between Sarah and other poets. As dialogue between professionals usually does, these conversations use highly elevated vocabulary, and often spin around and around on abstract topics that I couldn’t really grasp. I imagine someone who is a poet or critic him/herself would enjoy this section more. But I was very disappointed not to be able to follow the conversation between Sarah and Dennis Lee about polyphony in poetry–literary polyphony is one of my obsessions, so you really think I’d’ve gotten something out of that piece. But no. Alas.
What I probably shouldn’t have done is read this collection cover to cover in a week–it’s not that sort of book. But because it isn’t indexed and the pieces aren’t dated, it would be hard to use as a reference book, either. To be honest, I think the text is probably intended for teachers of poetry, who will be able to read with more insight than I, and then pick and choose pieces to assign in the classroom. Which is darn good luck for the students–*Little Eurekas* is a powerful education.
This is my fifth/May book for the Off the Shelf challenge.
February 11th, 2011
Dionne Brand’s Inventory is a long poem in seven sections and many subsections. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a 100-page poem outside of school before, and that might be one reason this book stayed on my shelf so long, though I’ve always enjoyed Brand’s work in the past.
And what I’ve enjoyed is still there–the rhythmic voice and global vocabulary, sadness without cynicism and, very occasionally, plainspoken joy. The subject is the grim catologing of the world’s dead and other damages, wrought mainly through war but natural disasters and local violence make appearances, too. The sadness was challenging to deal with, no question, especially because of the ever-shifting narrator’s bafflement and slow-burning rage. But though I read very slowly, I felt no urge to stop to read something more cheery.
The poem is described on the jacket as “incantatory,” a word I always thought meant “in the manner of singing” but actually turns out to be “in the manner of chanting a magic spell.” *Inventory* actually seemed like both, like a song of sorrows and a magic spell to help the reader bear them. Although it is incredibly sad–it is after all an inventory of death–I felt the character’s love for the world in her sadness, and her warm and constant attention to the real details of real life. “Half the mind is atrophied in this / just as inanimate doors and pickup trucks / the unremitting malls of all desire.” What I think this means is that pain makes us objects, inanimate, unable to feel, but not entirely–we’ll never stop desiring. Am I close? Who knows! I like the lines, though, and when I don’t understand I feel secure nonetheless with these concrete nouns recognizable and benign.
I say “character,” but the book is tricksy on this aspect. The first section starts with “We believed in nothing” and continues in the first person plural throughout–not a defined group, I felt, but more a we-the-people, we-the-world’s-citizens. At the beginning of the last stanza of the first section, the lines ” now we must wait on their exhaustion, now / we have to pray for their demise with spiked hands” I was pretty sure she meant “everybody.” The second and third sections specify down onto a single person, “she,” a watcher of boys eating burgers and slick cities, a watcher of news on TV and, resulting from that, a weeper. “She” seems distinct from the narrator, who seems to identify with her closely and yet sometimes to pull back to a greater distance. Towards the end of the third section we get “we, / there is no “we” / let us separate ourselves now, / though perhaps we can’t.” Does this mean separation between the narrator and “she”? I think rather it means the impossibility of the “we-the-world” global consciousness in the first section–we can’t identify with each other really, yet we are stuck with each other, humanity’s collective fate impinging on all of our personal fates. Or something like that.
And “she” is observing fates both collective and personal. Where I got excited was in the fourth section, which is divided into subsections. The first of these returns to the “we,” but it is much more specific and intimate than before–now “we” are on a trip, touring Al Rifai Mosque, listening to the guard sing and wondering at the beauty. And then in the second subsection we finally get a “me”–“a voice called to me, “Welcome back, Cousin.” I can’t tell you why I was so happy about this, but I felt sort of like it was a homecoming, the narrator reunited with “she” to become a more cogent, personal whole.
Again, no idea if I’m close–this review (a good one, both in the sense of being positive and of being well-written) mentions there being several “characters” in the book, which seems plausible, but I’m happy with the idea of one woman in many guises, from many angles. In the fourth section, she’s being mistaken for someone else, or might be–this man’s cousin–though she’s willing to admit the possibility.
The next section is an elegy for someone who left and was mourned for, and is dedicated to Marlene Green. If Green is a public figure, I don’t know of her (Google fails me); perhaps that’s not the case. I read the section as broken-hearted sorrow for lost love, because I felt the book getting more intimate and because I felt that the “she/I” mourned a personal loss beyond what she saw on tv.
The 5th and 6th sections move back and fourth with “I” and “she”, with a fair amount of “you” thrown in, but I already felt implicated. They are also beautiful, beautiful, but what I read this morning on the bus is the thing that burst my head open, and that’s the 7th section, which begins “On reading this someone will say / God, is there no happines then, of course, tennis matches and soccer games, / and river song and bird song and / wine naturally and some Sundays.” And so it goes, the last dozen pages of the book, a genuine, faltering, beautiful attempt to offer comfort, succour, joy or something like it in the face of tragedy. This section would not have been half so stunning were it not in the context of all that came before, were it not in some small sense *earned* by the reader. I don’t doubt that I’ll sometimes take the book down and read only the 7th section, to revel in it, but it’ll never feel quite the same way without the rest.
What a stunning book. One thing I thought upon closing it is that it must’ve been so hard to write. However, in the reading of it, the strain of emotion is apparent, but never the strain of poetry–maybe poetry is the real succour?
This is the 4th book in my To Be Read challenge. The first poetry collection, and also the first Canadian book. Interesting, whatever that says about what languishes on my shelves.
April 27th, 2010
I knew I wanted to read something by Sonnet L’Abbé because I’ve seen her do a few readings over the last year or so and they were amazing. I totally believe that the best way to sell a book is to have the person who likes it most (usually the author, one would imagine) read a little bit of it to you. A few distainful readers notwithstanding, this would be the ideal selling technique if only more people went to readings. I am one who does, and thus buy a lot of books, though in truth *Killarnoe* was a gift (a requested one!)
*Anyway*, I loved L’Abbé’s readings , and I was pretty sure I would love the poems on paper too. I was right. Killarnoe is a book rich in play, in sex, in sound, in self-deprecation, in jokes and juxtopositions and alliterations and *rhymes* (the rarer it gets, the more I like it). It is joyful, thought-provoking reading.
The poems I heard at the readings were, I think, largely from the second section in the book, “Instrumental.” Each is a meditation or exploration of a sound, which gives the poems titles like the thoughtful “Ah”, catchy “I” or the sexy “Ungh.” These pieces are full of life, though I suspect highly theorized at their base. Breaking language down to sound memes (AMT, am I using that word right?) is not a simple task, but the poet manages a light touch nonetheless: “noteworthy / the pure ooh / of boo /of moo // the poor ooh / of few / of zoo.”
I was surprised to find I didn’t much like a section of political poems called “Z: Ghazals for Zahra Kazemi.” In a reading, I had been quite astounded by the weird sad fear and humour of “My Osama bin Laden T-shirt” (which appears in the book in the section after Z). Upon rereading, that piece held up, but the other topical stuff left me cold.
One reason could be is that ghazals are a highly complex, very structured form with which I’m not really familiar. There’s a lot of repetition (a L’Abbé trademark, I’m told) and not much room for narrative. To put it more bluntly, I didn’t understand these. Then I found the notes in the back of the book and I *did* understand–at least who Zahra Kazemi is, and some of the other people mentioned in the work–but I still didn’t really “get” the poems. I couldn’t go inside them–they required me to bring with me a certain amount of info, or at least insight, that I don’t have.
That’s ok–some poetry is always going to shoot over someone’s head, and writing for the rather large subset of the population that reads th newspaper is not a crazy idea. Most of L’abbé’s work is so multilayered, so open and accessible that though I nearly always suspected there was more to it than I had understood, there was plenty for me to savour.
Like a poem towards the end of the book, “Third Breast,” which was decidedly creepy and bizarre and I really like it. But I have the strong impression there it obliquely references a tri-breasted creature somewhere in mythology that I’m forgetting about…do you know? I’m sure L’Abbé knows, and I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. I will think about that poem for a long time anyway, which really, is the point.
I once had a wonderful English prof–this might have even been in high school–who drew a diagram about layers of meaning. Literal, metaphor, allusion, symbol, allegory, etc. Then s/he (I actually have no idea who this was, sorry) said that a story poem that was only surface would be pretty simple and dull, but that work that only existed on the deeper levels would also be dreadful, because the reader would have no point of entry or reference, no simple enjoyment or identification before the heavier work began.
I think about this when I read a book like *Killarnoe*, which operates on so many levels and seems open to having the reader on any or all of them, or wherever you would like to go.
April 25th, 2010
This is Toronto poet, and one of the Toronto Poetry Vendosr, Carey Toane (the other is Elisabeth de Mariaffi), giving me a sneak peak inside the city’s first (that I know of) poetry vending machine, now installed and activated inside This Ain’t the Rosedale Library.
Slip in a twoonie (wow, I never write that word–is that how you spell it?) and you’ll get a tiny brightly coloured broadside featuring a poem. The Toronto Poetry Vendors offer poems by 10 Toronto poets–here’s the gang, if you are curious:
Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Jacob McArthur Mooney
Seriously, funnest thing ever. Also, how often do my photographs turn out this cute? Like, seriously, almost never. It was the poetic buzz, I tell you!
April 20th, 2010
I am mainly recovered from last week’s slump, and have various good things to suggest, report, and share:
–If you missed Sunday afternoon’s lovely Draft Reading Series 5.2 Salon des Refuses(you poor thing), you can recapture some of the magic by reading Mark’s essay on rejection (from the Draft magazine) or looking at AJ’s pictures.
–If you are still in hot pursuit of poetic pleasures to celebrate Poetry Month, why not go see the Toronto Poetry Vendors launch their big bright green poetry machine (I have no idea if it’s actually green, but it’s called Spearmint…), this Sunday at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library.
–Another poetic option would be to read my one and only published poem, originally from echolocation, now reposted on Pickle Me This. I am pretty proud that Kerry considered this piece–called “Dead Boyfriend Disco”–worthy of inclusion in her Poetic April. I write perhaps three poems a year, mainly lame ones, so I’m pretty proud that DBD exists, period. Warning: it’s really long, probably because I wanted it to be a story.
And yes, I am still reading tomorrow evening, 7pm, at the Free Times Cafe with fine folks like Adrienne Gruber and Andrew Daley. I am looking forward to it because it’s going to be fun; you might be looking forward to it being over so I’ll stop mentioning it every day!
April 10th, 2010
But you knew that, I’m sure, and are probably well into a much-more-organized-than-mine celebration. But nevertheless, I am enjoying the poetic focus right now, reading the John Smith tribute issue of CNQ and Paul Vermeersch’s Between the Walls (ok, so I read that at the end of March, but I’m still going to count it). Right now I’m in the middle of Skim by Mariko Tamaki, which is not poetry but a graphic novel, and also absolutely captivating (and funny!) so far (I knew it would be–not sure what took me so long to get to actually reading it!) But after that, it’s back to poetry with The Laundromat Essay by Kyle Buckley, another book everyone but me has already read and loved.
Also this week, I’m thinking I’ll do a poetry class with the teens. The teacher recommended it, and if I weren’t such a chicken it should have already been on the slate. But I’m actually really worried about this, because I am not a poet. I’ve studied loads poetry, mind, but I very much doubt what the kids want is help with scansion. They would like to know how to write the stuff–or really, since they are teens, they are probably already writing it and just want to get better. But I don’t know that I know about that.
I think the easiest way into poetry is the Imagists. It was for me anyway–I think The Red Wheelbarrow was the first poem I really really *felt*–it didn’t feel like an inept teen half-guessing at an erudite writer’s goals, but like the poem was there to paint a picture in my head and it did that. Anyway, it’s a happy memory for me, so I’m gonna try out some of that stuff on them, and use it as an opportunity to talk about finding the single *right* word, not 17 close-enough, out-of-the-thesaurus words (a problem my students are having. Let me know if you have any recommendations, even if they’re not from that particular movement–my students aren’t too fussy that way, and neither am I.
And one more bit of poetic news is that I received an absolutely lovely illustrated copy of Hillaire Belloc’s *Cautionary Tales* as a gift this week, from someone who likely has no idea that it’s Poetry Month, but it does nicely suit. I haven’t read the whole of it yet, but as soon as I saw the title in the table of contents, of course I read this one (the poet’s been dead more than 50 years, so I’m not violating copyright by sharing this, am I?) It’s best read *aloud*!
Who slammed Doors for Fun
and Perished Miserably
A trick that everyone abhors
In Little Girls is slamming Doors.
A Wealthy Banker’s Little Daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this Furious Sport.
She would deliberately go
And Slam the door like Billy-Ho!
To make her Uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild:
She was an aggravating child…
It happened that a Marble Bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the Door this little Lamb
Had carefully prepared to Slam,
And Down it cam! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.
Her funeral Sermon (which was long
And followed by a Sacred Song)
Mentioned her Virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her Vices too,
And showed the Dreadful End of One
Who goes and slams the door for Fun.
The children who were brought to hear
The awful Tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the Door.
–As often they had done before.
November 23rd, 2009
I think this might be a low-post week due to busyness, but then again it might be a high-post week due to having pictures and reports on the busyness. We’ll see how that goes.
Tomorrow night is The Writers’ Trust Awards ceremony. Despite being in a totally different venue than it was two years ago, and thus causing me a little brain-on-fire here-is-not-there moment, I still think it will a lovely event. There will be literary repartee of canapes and fancy drinks, there will be entertaining speeches (at least, last time I attended, almost everyone spoke remarkably well, and briefly), there will be a *lot* of prize money handed out. And there will be me, in a *dress that I ironed* (what I wouldn’t do for literature) helping McLelland & Stewart’s fiction editor Anita Chong announce The Journey Prize 21. Yay for all long-listers, short-listers, and of course, the soon-to-be-known winner (guess who is very excited not to have to keep a secret anymore??)
Then on Wednesday morning, I get to get up very early to go out to University of Toronto at Scarborough to give a lecture of my stories. I’m going to direct my comments mainly towards the last story in *Once*, “Massacre Day,” which is one of the ones the students are studying. It’s also a story I’ve never done a reading from and since the audience has all (allegedly) read the piece, I’m free to read from any point in the piece. I think I might take this unprecedented opportunity to read the ending. But what I am looking forward to most is a discussion with students. It never fails to amaze me when people offer me insightful, thoughtful, utterly accurate interpretations of my work that I never thought of. Can’t wait.
Wednesday evening will find me at Ben McNally’s for the Biblioasis Poetry Bash, appreciating three poets imported to Toronto for the occasion. Should be outstanding–see you there?
So, if this is it for postage for a few days, I would like to leave you with these lines from the song “The New World” by The Burning Hell:
My world would be a place where everyone would play the saxophone
But never soprano saxophone
Only tenor and baritone
Then a drum and a trumpet and a rusty old French horn
Would play a solo and make us shake our little bones
July 27th, 2009
Via Scott: Of course I love this gallery of book sculpture because of coolness and ingenuity. Of course I hate it because no one is reading those books. It’s very confusing.
Once, I told AMT a tale of woe about working very hard on a story for months, only to have the nth draft dissolve in my hands like grains of sand–it was an unworkable idea, but the only way to find that out was the months of work on an unpublishable story for which no one would congratulate me. And AMT, a linguist who regularly runs experiments that are sometimes brilliant and sometimes not, explained to me about a little publications called *The Journal of Null Results*. I said, “Please blog that so we can all feel a little better about things. And she did–I hope you do!
For the glue to dry on our new creation
April 23rd, 2009
Are there lovelier people anywhere than Toronto lit-folk? (and those in search of a grim and serious review surf away) Last night at the Dora Keogh, Paul Vermeersch hosted an incredible night of readings in honour of the ninth anniversary of the death of Al Purdy and as a benefit for the project of saving the house he built and wrote in, to be turned into a writing centre.
I attended despite not being a mad Purdy devotee–I loved Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets but hadn’t really gone farther. I thought, perhaps I should. It couldn’t really miss being a fun night, with such great readers on the bill, like Elyse Friedman,
and many more. And of course the Purdy poems, the lovely space of the Dora, and the stellar line-up drew even more lit-folk into the audience, like
Ok, I’m trying to make this a review and not just a name-drop–starting right now! What was awesome about the evening? First, the vast range of talented and diverse readers. Dani Couture and David McFadden are very different poets who gave very different, lovely and heartfelt readings. Every poet did and there were *twelve* by my count!! They even brought in an out-of-town ringer to replace a couple absentees, and we got a lovely off-the-cuff reading from
Overall, it was quite a raft of readings, but another thing that was great about the evening was that every reading was short and sweet. When a reader reads just enough, the words hang in the air instead of getting buried or blurred, and with everybody doing just one or two poems, we got that effect time and time again last night.
Also, the evening moved along smoothly due to Mr. Vermeersch’s “belief that there should be enough breaks to allow people to purchase drinks and go to the bathroom.” Indeed, especially considering the facilities at the Dora are *behind the stage.* Awkward!
Ok, and another good thing was there were two fundraising activities added onto the evening, both a silent auction with a poetry broadside, litfestival tickets, and a homemade quilt; and a raffle for another broadside. And these are objectively good things, not just good because I won the raffle (as part of a complicated raffle-ticket-buying collective, exact disposition of prize yet to be determined). I was very worried about tripping over one of the petit barstools, a shopping bag or a friend’s limb on the way to the stage to claim my (our) prize as the MC said, “Congrats, Rebecca Rosenblum.” I had just about made it when the always on the ball Julie Wilson called, “And congratulations on being nominated for a National Magazine Award, too!” Then I stumbled, but survived to turn in the ticket and go ask Julie, really?
Yes, apparently, really.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Of course the best thing about the evening is that Al Purdy’s poems are *meant* to be read aloud, practically demand it. Much poetry is, of course, but not everything is
May 23, 1980
I’d been driving all day
arrived home around 6 p.m.
got something to eat and slept an hour
then I went outside
and you know
–the whole world smells of lilacs
the whole damn world
I have grown old making lists of things I wanted
to do and other lists
of words I wanted to say
and laughed because of the lists
and forgot most of them
–but there was a time
and there was this girl
this girl with violet eyes
and a lot of other people too
because it was some kind of party
–but I couldn’t think of a way
some immediate plan or method
to bathe in that violet glow
with a feeling of being there too
at the first morning of the world
So I jostled her elbow a little
spilled her drink all over
did it again a couple of times
and you know it worked
it got so she winced every time she saw me coming
but I did get to talk to her
and she smiled reluctantly
a little cautious because
on the basis of observed behaviour I might be mad
and then she smiled
–altho I’ve forgotten her name
it’s on one of those lists
I have grown old
but these words remain
tell her for me
because it’s very important
tell her for me
there will come one May night
of every year that she’s alive
when the whole world smells of lilacs
That wasn’t even one of the pieces read last night but somebody mentioned it and reminded me that it was once a favourite of mine (and no, not for the reason you are thinking).
Great great evening.
Because you sleep with a gun