Thanks & So Long

These last few months have been difficult, knowing that Lemon Hound would be ending, not quite believing it. I’ve been torn between wanting–as has been my feeling from the beginning–to save this as a space for women and diverse voices–and wanting my life back; between knowing that we need to provide more opportunities for writers both in and out of creative writing programs to build their editorial, critical and curatorial skills and again, wanting to get back to my own work; between wanting to transition this space into a course so students could get credit for their work, and be guided in gaining editorial experience, but not wanting to spend even more of my time trying to secure either institutional support or external funding.

It has been frustrating. But ultimately I could not allow the site to go on fueled by free labour, no matter how many hours young writers are willing to give away, and no matter how strongly I believe in the basic premise. Nor could I support and foster the kind of critical and intellectual writing I wanted to post going forward, not without paying authors. I could not build, and I did not want to coast either.

My partner, who has paid dearly for the presence of this blog and magazine in our lives, doesn’t believe it’s over. She knows that I can’t stop myself from sharing, and that has been what Lemon Hound has done best, I think, share, generally with enthusiasm, the work that has come across my desk, and the desks of those who have been involved.

No one will argue with a woman willing to produce good work for nothing Tanis MacDonald wisely noted. No one wants her to stop. Few expect her to stop. Womens’ labour fuels the world does it not?

But I will, stop. And to be clear, this is not a break, it’s the end. There are many other reasons for this site to come to an end, but I’ll save those for another day. For now, I want to remark on the enormous body of material accumulated here, for which I am extremely grateful. Lemon Hound has touched the lives of, and had the great benefit of intersecting with an unbelievable number of creative powerhouses. It has grown from tentative posts to several poems being included in the Best Canadian last year, as well as a Nomination for a Pushcart. I am eternally grateful to all those who have had a hand. However small. I am grateful to those who donated, and subscribed. Also, please check out the posts from these past few weeks–the Winnipeg folio, the Northern BC folio–both amazing. As well we’ve posted Bhanu Kapil, Barbar Mor, Bruce Whiteman, George Murray, an interview with Shane Book and more. The archives will remain for the time being.

There are many to thank, starting with my partner, who has endured the ongoing distraction and disruption. The amazing force of Geneviève Robichaud, who took the position of reviews editor and made it mean something. Thanks to Melissa Bull, Laura Broadbent, Emma Healey, Alex Leslie, Ben Hynes, Alex Porco, Elisa Gabbert, Erin Wunker, Heather Cromarty, Stephen W. Beattie, Tracie Morris, Lisa Robertson, Vanessa Place, Daniel Zomparelli, Adam Sol, Candice Maddy, Wanda O’Connor, Helen Guri, Laura Broadbent, Melissa Bull, Alex Porco, Eric Schmaltz, Tanis MacDonald, Jacob Wren, Aimee Wall, Jonathan Ball, Michael Nardone, Nikki Reimer, Helen Hajnoczky, Michael Turner, Nick Thran, Gary Barwin, Jeff Thompson, Eric Schmaltz, Sue Sinclair Bukem Reitmeyer and many others…especially my students, Alex Custodio and Jake Byrne for these final months.

Thanks to our contributing editors over the years: Christian Bök, Kevin Connolly, Anne Fleming, Josip Novakovich, Evie Shockley, Stephanie Bolster, Darren Wershler, Zoe Whittall, Vanessa Place, derek beaulieu, Madeline Thien, Danielle Bobker, Ken Babstock.

Thanks to Don Share and Poetry Foundation, thanks to all the presses who sent us review copies. Thanks to the Volta, Masionneuve, Quill & Quire. Thanks, thanks, thanks.

Here’s to future endeavours. Yours and mine. But first, it’s off-leash time.
200015293-001

ON THE CAREER: Mentoring by Example

On the matter of career — Sina Queyras
this post originally appeared on the Poetry Foundation website,
March 16, 2010 at 12:15pm

Poetry as career is always a contentious subject. My rather lighthearted attempts to open up the discussion this week make it seem as though I have a lighthearted approach, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s an important question. As important as the poet-critic question. And as someone who comes into contact with young would-be poets it’s a question I take very, very seriously. Perhaps too seriously in fact, because you know, there is a lot of joy in poetry and these discussions make it seem more fraught than fun.

But I do feel a sense of responsibility to discuss the realities of the writing world as a career choice. When I decided, way back when, to apply to do a BFA in Creative Writing, the chair of the department advised me strongly against it. I can’t recall what he said exactly, but it made my blood boil, and I said something like, “I’m going to write with or without your program.” Which is to say, I make my own decisions thank you very much, and to which he responded something like, “Good, because that’s what it will take.”

It’s a cliché by now to quote Rilke on the matter, and I wonder if it’s still relevant. On the one hand, yes, write only if you must. If you can’t do anything else. But that’s not quite it, is it? I believe everyone can and should write in some way. The problem is the ever-shrinking space between writing and publication. The one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other does it? Should it?

To write, we seem to believe, is to publish. Okay, fair enough, particularly in our age when to publish is to click, but then to write, is to publish, is to have a career. Was it always the case? What happens to the way one approaches apprenticeship if one is not expected to have an apprenticeship? Worse, what happens to the writing when what is on one’s mind is a certain trajectory?

Maybe I’m just reacting to the overwhelming sense of frustration I hear from so many writers who don’t feel they have achieved enough, or need some external marker of having arrived some place else. What is it that creates such a sense of unease? Of not having achieved enough? Or the right markers? Maybe it’s more a matter of simply shutting out the noise, but many of us, particularly those of us who do teach, who are in contact with many poets all the time, must engage with these questions, and these desires.

The reality of the writing world is few writers—even those who write more popular forms such as fiction—actually make a living from writing let alone find readers. So the question is how can one find a way to sustain oneself as a writer. It’s a big question, and it doesn’t only include financial concerns. The reality of time to write is a big, important reality, and the matter of how one uses one’s time, and one’s brain, impacts the quality of thought and the level of resources one brings to poetry. I’m not really arguing for much more than a little space around some of these formulas and assumptions. There is no perfect poet’s life. There’s no perfect trajectory. Why all this anxiety in search of it? And what does it look like? A major prize, a plush teaching job, perfectly intelligent students, half the year off?

What about the ability to live as a poet? That is one thing that makes me shake my head every time I say it. Who knew? One can be a poet. I have never come down from the high of that simple fact. The technician who came to give an estimate yesterday was fascinated too. I was the first live poet he had ever met. What is it like? What does the life of a poet consist of?

It’s easy to forget what a privilege being a poet is. We get to organize our lives around poetry. For real? To partake in readings, conferences, have publications, reading groups? For real? We share a network of colleagues having read similarly. Now if we could just loosen up our thinking about the ways in which we can build our lives around that, about what constitutes “success.”

*

Success might be finding balance. So, what configuration best suit the poet? The academy is one track, and an overused one at that. Surely there are other workable trajectories that might excite young poets? In an ongoing thread on Facebook I have heard from poet-librarians, poet-editors, a poet who is also the head of an NGO, poet college teachers, poet high school teachers, poet-arts administrators, poet-techies. Here are a few in more detail.

RON SILLIMAN says for the past decade he has “been a market analyst specializing on the hardware support marketplace in North America. The decade before that I worked in various organizations that sold & delivered PC support services in a variety of marketing positions. The decade before that I was the executive editor of The Socialist Review, a college administrator & briefly taught literature at the college level. The decade before that I worked in the prison and inner-city tenant movements as an organizer. The decade before that I was a kid.”

It was practical concerns that made him “shift from non-profit to for-profit labor.” He “needed to pay for the mortgage on my house & my wife & I were trying to have children. The computer industry was (a) local & (b) growing rapidly, absorbing the over-educated under-employed very rapidly.” Does his work feed his writing? “I enjoy the analytical side of my work, the writing, the cross-sections of the world I get insight into. My work has brought me into contact with everyone from Charles Manson to the solicitor general of the United States. From my perspective, one real advantage of working in the technology sector has been that it changes quite rapidly. It’s hard to get stale in an industry that is completely different every four years.”

A role model? “Walter Benjamin without the whining, perhaps. I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Silliman studied creative writing at SF State in the late 1960s “because it put me in touch with other writers–it was never about a job.” He learned his craft “by reading voluminously & writing every day” and he means voluminously:

My first year at SF State, I was unable to get all the courses I wanted, so I used the extra time to read the entire library collection of American poetry, A through Z. Robin Blaser had just left his position as the poetry buyer for the library, so it was a terrific collection at that point. When I finished the collection, I started in on the hard-to-get magazines in the rare book room. SF State did not have the Black Mountain Review, but it did have the early series’ of Origin.

Is an MFA useful? “About as useful as polio, and about as crippling. Other than access to other writers at roughly the same level of development, it is mostly something that has to be overcome if one is to write seriously. I’m always impressed at how many do seem able to set that aside & become real writers.

The idea that the MFA will lead to a job is mostly a fraud.”

On the matter of being satisfied? “I don’t think I’m ever satisfied, and I think that’s inherently harder the older one gets. I do have a daily writing practice, but it evolves over time and turns out to be very different from one year to the next. I don’t have book currently scheduled, but am working on several projects. Right now the conclusion of the tenth & final volume of The Grand Piano, the collective autobiography I’ve been working on for over a decade with several other poets, is my darling.”

What is satisfying though, is community. On that score he is “absolutely” satisfied. “I have felt that way since I was 18 years old in 1964.” What makes for a vital life as a poet? “Pay attention. All the time.” Is all of this simply biding time until that teaching job comes along? “It would be interesting to teach again just for the students–they have so much to teach us.”

DON SHARE edits, but notes that in “ the past, that is to say, as an adult, I have worked as a van driver, busboy, library worker, and Internet trainer for people from third-world countries.” He has a PhD, but not an MFA:

You’re gonna thank I’m nuts, but until I saw it at first hand, I simply had no idea that people got MFAs in order to teach. I learned my craft (if that’s the right word for it) from books, two mentors, shooting the shit with other people, and sorry-assed soul searching. I don’t think that poets in academia are more ‘professional’ than those who aren’t, but that’s only because I don’t look at poetry as a profession.

Share does not have a “daily writing practice,” per se: “I write whilst taking public transportation to work and back; and I have a manuscript that I doubt anybody will undertake to publish. It’s called In a Station of the Metro because Ray DiPalma convinced me not to use the more accurate title, In a Station of the Metra – a rail service I spend many hours of my life using when I’m not on Chicago’s famous El.”

Does he feel part of a community? “I do. I feel that I ‘know’ lots of people I’ve never even met in person – you, for instance, and that’s a kind of community.”

What makes for a vital life as a poet? “I’m not sure that vitality has a lot to do with it. I’m pretty enervated myself.”

Is he waiting for that perfect teaching job to come along? “What’s a perfect teaching job?!? Look, teaching is an honorable thing to do; and you can’t blame anyone who’d dream of having the perks of a tenured position. Maybe this is too Platonic a view (literally), but if people are good at teaching, then they should teach. If they are not, on the other hand, then they shouldn’t. Some of the smartest people I’ve known, and some of the best poets, too, have no business teaching; and some of the best teacherly types I know can’t get a teaching job for anything in the world.

The key thing is: what are the credentials for being a poet? There aren’t any.”

VANESSA PLACE represents indigent sex offenders and sexually violent predators on appeal. Does she find it feeds her? “Yes, incessantly.” Why did she become a lawyer? “I was good at it.” Were there poet role models? “I don’t think there really are role models for me, save Pound’s radio broadcasts.” She did an MFA program to “meet other writers” and notes “a level of professionalism with poets as ballplayers.” She is “reasonably satisfied; writes daily, if not more” and publishes regularly.

In response to the question of what makes for a vital life as a poet in your mind, Place said, “yes.”

JACOB McARTHUR MOONEY is a client-support manager for an online adult entertainment firm. “If that sounds sexy and/or devious, it’s really neither. Basically, I do math all day. In the service of things that may be sexy or devious.” His employment definitely feeds his poetic practice, though not in any direct way. “I like working with people who don’t know I’m a poet, and wouldn’t care if I told them. That knowledge shrinks you, in a really positive way. It gives context.”

Mooney did an MFA at the University of Guelph so he would “have an excuse to centre my life around poetry for a couple years, and as a means of working with people who cared about it as much as I did.” He says he didn’t consider teaching at the time, though “most people who did that program with me are now teachers.”

He would “argue that non-MFAers, if they are serious enough about their work, possess a greater professionalism than us coddled factory-produced poets. They’ve done the DIY thing, through self-made chapbooks and shows and whatever. Happily, my program had something of that spirit, perhaps because I came in with the first cohort and it was sort of developing around me as I progressed.”

On the other hand, he “fell into” his “first book deal by accident. A teacher told an editor who told a publisher, who called me to ask if I had a manuscript. Lucky boy.” His second collection is coming out in Spring 2011, from McClelland & Stewart. “It’ll be called Folk. It’s a book about communities and airplanes.”

Is he content? “I live in Parkdale, Toronto, which is one of the great writer-infested neighbourhoods in North America. I have a blog that keeps me in dialogue with poets from other cities. Basically, I want for nothing, I’m happy.”

Is he waiting for that teaching job?

Well….maybe. Though it’d have to be perfect. I’d take 60k a year to teach eager, well-read youngsters about writing poetry, sure. But I wouldn’t take 30k a year to teach their uninspired siblings about the basics of grammar, or how to write a paragraph. And there’s a lot more positions available for the latter than the former. I’d much rather stay where I am, for now, thanks.

ON MENTORSHIP: Natalee Caple

Long Life Mentorship

Natalee Caple is the author of seven books of fiction and poetry and a professor of English and Creative Writing at Brock University in St. Catharines. Her latest novel, In Calamity’s Wake, was published by HarperCollins in Canada and Bloomsbury in the US. This article originally appeared in the National Post.

Jonathan Bennett invited me to read with him at our local bookstore in Peterborough, Titles. It was a great night. The store is like the ones I used to seek out for comfort in my teens and twenties: small, the owners friendly, the high wood shelves neatly packed with a thoughtful selection of works in a wide range of genres. I felt very much at home drinking wine and reading a list of ten things my mother told me with my dad at my side.

In the pub afterwards Jonathan was quietly beaming and we talked about how far we have come since we met fourteen years ago, new writers swapping notes on how to crack that tough nut Descant magazine. Jonathan, after a few, suddenly started to tell me about a writer friend he lost last year. This friend was an older writer who had taken an interest in Jonathan’s work. I realized as he told me the details of the tragic death of this man that Jonathan missed his mentor. That he was sitting there thinking how much he had wanted to show him this new book and all the books to come. How nice it would be if he could introduce us and have a circuit of his history around him, celebrating.

It’s funny, it’s only now that I’m somewhat established that I realize how important my mentors have been and how I need them to stay healthy and be successful and I wonder what it means to be mentored? Susan Swan and I have that lucky friendship. I said to her once: “Isn’t it funny, how we got close? I wonder why it happened. I mean, you were my teacher at York but I had already written three books. But you are my mentor and it’s different than I thought it would be.” She said, “Natalee, I chose you.” I can’t begin to explain how important it was to be chosen by someone established, talented, knowledgeable, and good. Like a lot of writers I recall plenty of times I stood in a line in school for Phys Ed and was not chosen. Much of my work I did in secret in the beginning and I cried every time I got a rejection. When the acceptances came in I was heartened but still, nothing compares to the day Susan said: “I chose you.”

Marion Engel was a mentor to Susan and I asked Susan recently what she thinks about when she thinks about mentoring. She answered at length:

“When I think of mentoring, I think of Marian Engel who mentored me. She was a reluctant mentor, always suspicious that my books would get more attention than hers and yet she gave me a lot of valuable encouragement and criticism. In was in her nature to be suspicious and maybe all mentors know their protégées will one day out grow them so she was just stating the inevitable. Anyway, she read (at my request) a rough draft of my first novel about the Nova Scotian giantess, 7’6 Anna Swan who exhibited with P.T. Barnum. It was called The Biggest Modern Woman of the World and there was a lot of measuring (of all kinds) going on in it. Afterward, she said, ‘I’m tired of hearing so much about the size of Anna’s vagina. I want to know about her soul.’ I was hurt but I took her criticism to heart and went back and rewrote the novel. My last memory of Marion was of her standing outside her house on Marchmont Avenue. She had cancer and that day I’d taken her to Princess Margaret Hospital and she got a bone fracture walking from my car to her house. She didn’t want my sympathy, though. She scolded me: ‘You, of all of us, have the biggest heart. You need to be careful.’ I never saw her again.”

“Susan,” I said, “You never did that. You never were jealous or suspicious and it drives me crazy that you never tell me what to do. I ask you and you just gently push me to figure out what I want.”

“I’m sure I tell you what to do. What about that guy, the drinker?”

“No, you don’t you never tell me what to do. You encourage me and you champion me to others and you listen when I’m scared or upset and you honour me by bringing me your problems and caring what I think.”

“I honour you?”

“Yes, you never wield authority over me. You just have been there telling me that I’m valuable and what I think and do is good and matters. I feel like there is someone out there who trusts me to make the right decisions and who really believes that if I never make any money it is still important that I was here.”

“Well it is, Natalee. I knew when I saw you that you would do magic. I chose you because I thought here is a girl who is really interesting. I’m going to help her because then I get to be part of what she does.”

I admit we were drinking wine over the phone for much of this conversation but maybe the wine needed to be drunk because it needs to be said that writers need many things: they need audiences, they need families, they need to take the right to be themselves into their own hands, and they need mentors because writing loves other writing and in that back and forth between our parents, our friends, our kids and our mentors we discover that we are part of a continuum, we are enmeshed in life and that feels really good. Thank you for choosing me Susan Swan. I demand that you live forever.

 

Stephen Collis: Report from the Climate March

Poetry and the People’s Climate March: A Brief Report
Stephen Collis

How do we account for the lived quality of life itself, writ large—the vast web of species that are collectively, relationally, alive at any given moment we care to tune into our planetary presence? How do we think this biospheric being alive, and how do we perform it, and act so that the web itself is alive, right now, all around us, attuned to our inter-species-connectivity?

Questions one might ask when on a walk with 400,000 people, New York City, Peoples Climate March, September 21 2014, wondering if there are ways we can expand this even further—into inter-species zones of organization and demonstration. I came to New York to talk with other poets—about poetry in the Anthropocene, poetry as an index—an indexical pointing towards—what is a massively indexical event: climate change (which itself indexes what global capitalism and the burning of fossil fuels is doing to the planet). We met on the Lilac, a decommissioned steamship converted into a floating library, docked at Pier 25 in lower Manhattan. We held onto each other’s words for a time. Life vest. Dinghy. A leaf blew in an open window. Brenda: “A self portrait of everything.” Laura: “You live in a time that is over.” Marcella: “The poem as a zone in which we learn”—temporary, autonomous.

The Anthropocene: that era in which all of life, including the geophysical and stratospheric aspects of the planet, has come to be exploited for human profit.

The Anthropocene: best exemplified, for me, by the Tar Sands, outside Fort McMurray Alberta, where everything that was living has been removed in its entirety, in order to get at the bitumen underneath.

The Anthropocene: which I hear now calling for the uprising of a “biotariat”—that newly recognizable exploited class formed by the entirety of life itself—in the formation of which it seems poets might help indicate the way.

The Anthropocene: which asks, how do we act, so there is a future?

So poets gathered, read, talked. And the next day we walked together in the Climate March. We were Laura Elrick and Rodrigo Toscano. We were Brenda Iijima and Anne Waldman. We were Evelyn Reilly and Kristin Prevallet. We were Marcella Durand and E. J. McAdams, we were Lila Zemborain and Cecelia Vicuna with a bee on the end of her wand and we were many others too walking behind and before the poet’s banner.

In the midst of a massive march, you at first only experience the local. The people you are walking with—old friends and new. Then the people right in front of you—in our local part of the march, the Greens in matching apple coloured t-shirts, chanting and singing. And finally the people directly behind you—at our backs, Bread and Puppets, carrying flowing white fabric boreal caribou figures with twigs for horns, and behind them a New Orleans jazz band, complete with dancing skeletons wearing the names of oil companies around their necks, a giant skull puppet with a black Canadian maple leaf on its grey forehead looming. For five hours this is our mobile location, the village we move with somewhere in the middle of the column of 400,000 human beings. We are a local grouping of a vast grouping of groups. We are a company of poets, taking pictures of each other, laughing, staying close to Cecelia’s bee-wand, which was our talisman.

Then, hands rose into the air. Looking up and down the column, hands in the air and fingers to lips. Complete silence ensuing. Birds rising from trees in Central Park. A seemingly spontaneous transfer of information amongst us all, the local left behind so now we are aware of a several miles long stretch of street filled with thousands of people going quiet, a wave of stillness passing through us and into the Park’s trees, into the air of bird flutter, an attuning to the complex totality of our being live here together. As though we were a forest, passing news limb to limb. Then just as spontaneously a great cheer going up, rising from the heart of that collective silence. A roar against the buildings, a new signal rushing through our 400,000 celled body. What is this informational pulsing in and out of a local relation of people in a street together—in and out of a world that suddenly becomes sensible, sensate? A web that includes more than the human bodies amassed together, but reaches into the earth, the sky, the park, the birds, the clouds?

Anthropologist Eduardo Kohn argues that “Life is constitutively semiotic,” and that “it is through our partially shared semiotic propensities that multi-species relations are possible” (How Forests Think). Even “signs are alive” and “Selves, human or nonhuman, simple or complex, are … waypoints in a semiotic process.” Life is information transmission and reception.

Poetry, I want to suggest, is a special use of human language by which we can activate this wider semiotic process and engage with signs that are alive. Poetry sounds things and patterns that extend beyond mere human speech, into the wider surround of the living. I say this because I think poetry is that process of careful listening—to what Blaser and Spicer called “the outside”—as well as an exercise of the ability to respond to that outside (to borrow from Robert Duncan, and complete the San Francisco Renaissance trifecta).

Poetry is also bodies being alive together in the street. Poetry is joining the masses as they well. Poetry is all of us following a bee through Manhattan. “Don’t fuck with my pigeons,” a poet says. Poetry floods Wall Street. Poetry has been in revolt for I don’t know how long. Poetry is an index of the desperate state we are in—as well as the desire we have to be many, and then be many more.

 

Of the Indexical, or, Hockey Night in the Anthropocene

And then we extend the climate
Of our unknowing

Despite false colour views and
Massive stacks of data

The moment wasn’t about the
Symbolic after all

The moment followed a bee through
The streets of Manhattan

The earth spinning hot from its axis
Was—or wasn’t—

More like a tree falling in a forest
Than it was like an instrument

Measuring CO2 in Hawaii—
But if a tree falls in a forest

And everyone is already in that tree
Having climbed there

To get above rising waters
Does it make any sound?

Or is that just the noise our limbs make
Wind-milling in space

As we launch—indexical
Of our own distraction—

Off the ends of our
Two hundred year old hockey sticks?

Only one question remains: are we
Leaping away from each other

Or leaping towards the animals we
Always already knew we were?

Stephen Collis is the author of four books of poetry, Mine (New Star 2001), Anarchive (New Star 2005), which was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, The Commons (Talonbooks 2008)—the latter two form parts of the on-going “Barricades Project”—and On the Material(Talonbooks 2010). He is also the author of two book-length studies, Phyllis Webb and the Common Good (Talonbooks 2007) and Through Words of Others: Susan Howe and Anarcho-Scholasticism (ELS Editions 2006). He is currently editing a collection of essays, Reading Duncan Reading, organizing the Charles Olson Centenary Conference (June 4-6 2010), and continuing to work on “The Barricades Project.” A member of the Kootenay School of Writing, he teaches American literature, poetry, and poetics at Simon Fraser University.

You can read his earlier posts on Lemon Hound

http://lemonhound.com/2013/04/18/the-ruins-of-the-future-an-interview-with-stephen-collis/
http://lemonhound.com/2013/09/27/stephen-collis-towards-a-dialectical-poetry/

 

 

Vol. 8 Contents

WELCOME to volume eight! It might look like we’ve been slacking off, but looks can be deceiving. We’ve simply decided to take things SLOW this time around. We want to enjoy each piece, savour it. That said, you can expect new content every Friday over the course of the next four weeks. Think of it as a mix-tape in the making. Friday Dance Breaks will never be the same!

 With this issue we announce that Ken Babstock has joined us as contributing editor, Nick Papaxanthos is our assistant poetry editor, Bukem Reitmeyer is now editorial assistant, and Genevieve Robichaud steps up to assistant editor. There are more publications and events under the sun than we can cover: if you’re looking to be a corespondent send us some ideas. 

 

Reviews/Essays/Short Takes

Bukem Reitmayer on Vivek Shraya: God Loves Hair

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy on Indigenous Literatures: The Politics of the Invitation

Joey Yearous-Algozin on Trisha Low: The Compleat Purge

Eric Schmaltz on John Riddell: The Selected Fiction of John Riddell

Elisa Gabbert on Mary Karr, Julia Cohen, and Tori Amos: Against Against Decoration

Raymond de Borja on Sincerity

Geneviève Robichaud on Lucy Ives: Orange Roses

Zachariah Wells: “Nailing Down the Hard Parts”

Prathna Lor on Ron Silliman: Revelator

Jessica Langston on Joseph Boyden: The Orenda

Jason Feure: Two Short Takes on Eckerlin and Laporte

J’Lyn Chapman on Wallace Stevens: “Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu”

Kate Sterns on Claire Messud: The Woman Upstairs 

Adam Sol on David B. Goldstein: “Laws of Rest”

Trisha Low on Nathaniel G. Moore: Savage 1986-2001

Eric Schmaltz on Stephen Collis: The Red Album

Christine Miscione on John Berryman: The Dream Songs

Max Karpinski on Jessica Bozek: The Tales

 

In Conversation

Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy in Conversation with Vera Wabegijig

Elvia Wilk in Conversation with J. R. Carpenter

 Jordan Abel and Renée Saklikar in Conversation

 

Poetry

Christine Walde: Two Poems

Alex Porco: Four sections from THE MINUTES

Jaime Forsythe: Two Poems

George Murray: Three Poems

Peter Gizzi: In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987–2011

Michael Casteels: Two Poems and One Frog-Pond Sudoku

 

Prose and Narrative

Larry Tremblay: Obese Christ

Su Croll: Get it on. Bang a gong

Rae Spoon: Gender Failure

QVC 1

 

 

 

 

Books of the year: A few of my favorite things

Here are a few of my favorite things from the past year. The list doesn’t represent the best books–it can’t–I haven’t read all the books! It represents books that stuck with me. That I would buy and give and happily have on my shelves. I’m adding a note about gift appeal at the end of these entries because many people ask me about books to give. Some books make great gifts. I want to know what those are too. I’ll open the comment stream for this…and rather than post volume 2, I think I’ll add it when I’m done. So here’s a start. Happy listing.

The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, Jen Bervin and Marta Werner, eds. New Directions, 2013

I have this on my coffee table at home and everyone who walks in goes directly to it. And why not? It’s a dream text, part art, part archive, all poetry, and gorgeous. Can a poet be so talented her trash is art? Or, is poetry really a muscle so common it becomes how we see the world? As a friend once said to me of poetry, I don’t understand it all the time, but in terms of reading it’s such a smart investment because I can read the same book again and again… Well, ditto this thing of beauty from New Directions. Huge thanks to Bervin and Werner who must surely have had to advocate for this. And for giving us Emily Dickinson all over again. A whole new way of reading her work. Gift appeal: high & wide.

Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012, Louise Glück, FSG 2012

So much to say about this collection, and I regret not having time to write a full response, though I do plan on it. This collected made me so happy: how few women’s collecteds grace our shelves? How few take up critical attention? Why is that? I was surprised to see so little discussion on this collected, but do check out Michael Robbins in LARB.

I admit I haven’t always been a Glück fan, so while my peers in the 90s were raving about Wild Iris I was firmly in the Meh, bleh, camp. Really? Flowers? Not for me. Too precious, and to be frank, dull. A poem like “Clear Morning” (251) sums up all that irks. And yet, I was struck by the mind, and so I did go back to her essays, Proofs & Theories, again and again. But, but, encountering the work of Glück in this massive way led me into an interior world that I had not realized how much I missed. I loved “First Born,” “The House on Marshland,” “Descending Figure,” “The Triumph of Achilles.” When I got to the famous books I was decidedly less interested…but now they had context and I was much less impatient. Nothing is resolved. Everything is looked at deeply. Looked at again. You have to have patience for it. But there it is. Here, from The Triumph of Achilles, is “Elms”

All day I tried to distinguish
need from desire. Now, in the dark,
I feel only bitter sadness for us,
the builders, the planers of wood,
because I have been looking
steadily at these elms
and seen the process that creates
the writhing, stationary tree
is torment, and have understood
it will make no forms but twisted forms.

Gift appeal: high.

Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds, Knopf 2013

Ditto Olds! Didn’t we all have to come to terms with her in the 90s and didn’t it seem like she just wrote the same poem over and over again? And aren’t there SOOOOO many Olds imitators that by now it all seems more than a bit laughable? Well, yes, but here, in chronicling her humiliating divorce after a life time of writing about her intimacy, she gets at what she got to in The Gold Cell way back when: that combination of deadly observation, emotional risk and deadly target that slayed us all. Stag’s Leap reminds us of why she is so widely imitated and emulated. She does what she does well: she doesn’t look away from the pain until she transforms it into a key hole she slips out of. Imitate that for one poem, or two, sure, but try it for a lifetime. Like Glück, there is an accumulated force here that’s undeniable. It’s written outside of most of the poetic discourses I respect, but it’s written with a level of emotional temerity and intelligence that is equally impressive to me. Gift appeal: poets and high.

An Army of Lovers, Juliana Spahr and David Buuck, City Lights Books, 2013

Oh my god. That was really my first response to this book. What so many other poets strive to do, Juliana Spahr seems to do in breathing and walking…she makes it look easy to be one of the most exciting poets writing today. This book is a provocation to all poets: put your poetry where you live, where you breathe, where you resist. We’ll be posting an excerpt soon, but it won’t be enough. You have to read the radical rewrite of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry,” because it will knock your assumptions out of this galaxy. Gift appeal: poets and high.

The Polymers, Adam Dickinson, Anansi 2013

Amazing. A fully realized project and also, a thing of beauty.

See the review here, excerpt here, and interview here. Gift appeal: poets.

Trances of the Blast, Mary Ruefle, Wave 2013

Ruefle reminds me of Dorothea Lasky, a poet who is willfully and irrepressibly herself.

I think it was Saturday and my mother was
pregnant with me and she could not find
a place to eat the restaurants were crowded
it was the Saturday before Christmas
so she bought a meatpie some fries
a carton of milk from a kiosk
and I became a person.

I could just quote lines from Ruefle all day. “Everything that ever happened to me/ is just hanging–crushed/ and sparkling–in the air/ waiting to happen to you.” I could Tweet them like little origami bubble gum wrappers: “You are helium. You make everything rise.” Leave them like little squeaky toys under cushions for anonymous diners. I could talk about the metaphysical anxiety, the displacement of time, the joy of imagination, the delight in visual metaphor, the way the family is embodied and memory given space, I could. But I’m just saying, I liked it. A lot. Gift appeal: select.

Boycott, Vanessa Place, UDP 2013

Place is one of our most mischievous writers. As conceptual poets go she is probably the most “in your face.” Recently she incorporated herself. Why do I love her? She’s voraciously intelligent and rakish. She’s engaged in a kind of end-game poetics, but she can also have a lot of fun. In Boycott she asks, quite simply, what happens when you change the gender in famous feminist texts. Here’s a sample:

I write man; man must write man. And man, man. So only an oblique consideration will be found here of man; it’s up to him to say where his masculinity and masculinity are at: this will concern us once men have opened their eyes and seen themselves clearly! (see full excerpt here)

Gift appeal: high and poet.

Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Kenneth Goldsmith, Powerhouse Books, 2013

Kenny-Goldsmith

I’ll let Dwight Garner, from the New York Times recommend this one:

Mr. Goldsmith, who refers to his writing as “mimetic and uncreative,” recently became the first poet laureate appointed by the Museum of Modern Art. There’s a good deal of Andy Warhol in his deadpan attack. His stuff has often been more rewarding to think about than to read.

His potent new book, “Seven American Deaths and Disasters,” takes its title from a series of Warhol paintings. It’s made up entirely of other people’s words, and in many senses it’s like everything he’s done. Yet it’s like nothing he’s done. It knocks the air from your lungs.

To make “Seven American Deaths and Disasters,” Mr. Goldsmith has combed through archival radio and television broadcasts of painful events over the past six decades: there are chapters about the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon; the explosion aboard the space shuttle Challenger; the shootings at Columbine High School; the attacks at the World Trade Center; and the death of Michael Jackson — and he has transcribed the reports as they unfurled on the air, live and unmediated.

To Mr. Goldsmith’s detractors this may seem like a cheap stunt, a snort of disaster porn. Or it may seem like proof that, in the author’s case, even a blind and snoutless pig will occasionally find a truffle. At times it made me uneasy.

But Mr. Goldsmith has also delivered a kind of found treasure of the American vernacular. His book is about the sounds our culture makes when the reassuring smooth jazz of much of our broadcast media breaks down, when disc jockeys and news anchors are forced to find words for events that are nearly impossible to describe. This book is about language under duress.

Gift appeal: high and wide.

Lazy Bastardism: Essays & Reviews on Contemporary Poetry, Carmine Starnino, Gaspereau 2012

Well wrought, old school essays, by Carmine Starnino, who has made a career of taking down the overly-discussed and plotting revenge for the under-appreciated. This stance limits the appeal, I think, but despite not agreeing with much of his assessment of bp Nichol, for example, I admired the author for trying to grapple outside of his usual fields and makes for an engaging read. I don’t think it’s such a risk to write an essay in praise of Karen Solie or David O’Meara and I don’t think these essays, particularly the Solie, add much insight to her body of work (she treats her unladylike bon mots like the organic accretions of an emotional and psychological state),  but I very much enjoyed reading about John Glassco–that’s a fantastic chapter, and partly I think because the author is having a lot of fun too. I was unconvinced that either Michael Harris or Robyn Sarah are under-appreciated, but like Starnino, I do wonder what all the fuss over AF Moritz is. In the same vein, I didn’t care for Margaret Atwood’s The Door, but I’m not surprised by that given the breadth of her career. The essay seems an indictment of fame, but again, it’s an intriguing read. You should see for yourself. Wherever you stand, you’ll appreciate the clarity, and the drive–twenty years of peering into the heart of Canadian poetry–even if, as in my case, you don’t agree with many of the arguments at hand. You can read an excerpt here. Also, I have to ask why this book not talked about and reviewed more? What comparable book on Canadian poetry was published in the last 18 months? Gift appeal: select.

Drunk Mom, Jowita Bydlowska. Doubleday Canada, 2013

Loved this breath of fresh air. Energetic, harrowing, deadpan. Here’s a bit from my earlier review:

“Bydlowska doesn’t offer a happy moment at the end of her narrative, though since the author is sober and the book exists we know that the sobriety has lasted long enough for us to feel okay about her future. This lack of an appropriate conclusion is partly what seems to have pissed off Hampson and caused her to scold Bydlowska. This should be very familiar to women writers everywhere. And the reason Virginia Woolf wrote about killing the angel in the house. This should be familiar to those of us who feel trapped by feminine virtues. I would say though, that what we need to kill is the narrative structures and expectations that contain women a/ in the house b/ with tongues latched half shut and c/ swirling around in self-doubt. I am wary of the ways in which women have to perform certain kinds of conciliatory or redemptive endings. At the end, the author of Drunk Mom is aware she’s a drunk. She’s no longer delusional about managing her addiction–a huge step. I’m not sure what more we can ask for.”

Find the review here. Gift appeal: high & wide.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, Scribner 2013

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discover The Flamethrowers, Kushner’s vast novel set in the New York art world of the 70s and Italy, and then back in time to Brazil, and including many cameos of famous artists and the invention of the motorcyle, and more. It’s a fabulously sprawling novel with speed and art at its core. Brilliant language and sentences (I’ll add some samples later on). But what caught me and held me was the promise of the central character, well, arguably the central character, a young woman in the 1970s who rides a motorcyle, briefly and who is, briefly, “the world’s fastest chick.” The book was less thrilling when the two dominant male characters took over and we had a more conventional love plot with Reno at the center. Still, these are great characters, so the irritation was not as high as it would have been, but we never see our girl achieve the art she is set out to achieve…and by now I’ve had enough of the aborted awakening narrative, I want to see the girl win. A fantastic read. Gift appeal: high & wide.

Hellgoing, Lynn Coady, Anansi 2013

There’s Alice Munro and then there’s dull…so goes the story about Canadian fiction, right? No, not right, but some days it feels that way. The first story in this collection felt like a workshop story to me, so I resisted it for a few weeks, but I perservered and was rewarded. One of the smartest, least full of itself collections of Canadian fiction I have read in some time. Not a whiff of self importance. Gift appeal: high.

Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, University of Chicago, 2012
Yayoi Kusama, Tate, 2012

No matter how I may suffer for my art, I will have no regrets. This is the way I have lived my life, and it is the way I shall go on living.  -Yayoi Kusama

Both the autobiography, Infinity Net, recently translated into English, and the catalog from her retrospective deserve to be in every poet and art lover’s library. Nine decades of art. This is the woman who created the famous happenings in NYC in the 60s. She’s the one who made Andy Warhol work so hard. She’s the one who wrote the President of France for advice on how to come to his country, and who wrote to Georgia O’Keefe, “How can I live in this world?” She has been in an asylum in Toyo for more than a decade, but continues, every day, to go to her studio and make art. Gift appeal: high and vast.

The Water Here Is Never Blue, Shelagh Plunkett, Penguin 2013

You can find an excerpt from this arresting memoir up on volume 7. This is a memoir in the sense of active remembering, or trying to piece together a raft of memories, a few facts, a lot of feeling. Ironically it captured a moment from my own childhood, and I think many of us who grew up in the 70s and witnessed, or had fantasies of slipping away into another world. This is an account of that, and a whole lot more. Gift appeal: wide.

Sina Queyras, Montreal