Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bard Battles

In my near-total neglect of this blog--and in my war-on-many-fronts busyness--I failed to mention that I was reading last night at the annual Poetry Now Battle of the Bards at Harbourfront in Toronto. Well, I was. And it went well. A very solid set of readers. I did not win--that honour went to Talya Rubin, and well deserved--but I was among five readers (including Kate Hargreaves, who has designed my last two books, Liz Worth and Deanna Young) chosen to appear at the International Festival of Authors in the fall. I did this back in 2011, and it's quite the event, so I'm pleased and honoured to have been selected again.

Last night was also my first opportunity to hold a copy of the new book, thanks to Kate picking up a few, still warm from the press at Coach House. It's pretty damn beautiful and I feel very fortunate.

Susan G. Cole, who hosted last night's show, did a nice little write-up on it today. I chose to go with a single longer poem and read my dramatic monologue "Achromatope," which is based on Oliver Sacks's story "The Colourblind Painter." If there was "moving melancholy" in my reading, it's probably in part because I was thinking all day about Sacks's recent diagnosis of terminal cancer. Though I once received correspondence from Dr. Sacks after I sent him a broadside print of "Achromatope," I can't claim to know the man, so I didn't feel comfortable dedicating the reading to him, but in retrospect that was dumb. So when I read it again at Harbourfront, I will dedicate it to him.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Not consistent, but in
clusters, in lacustrine

conglomerations, in lack
lustre congress, in lacunar

conundrums, drums
con sordino, in schools

of sardine shoaling
in shallows, in shadows

and splotches of sickled
shivelight, in shimmers

and speckles, in specks,
freckles and moles, in tunnels

and tubes, in tubs and tubas
and turbines, in turbot's

turbercles, in tubercular
fits, in fletches, flitches

and flits, in flatlands
and mesas, in ditches,

in dikes, in tidal insistence,
in bridles and britches,

in fasces and faces, in flashes
and flexes and fluxion, in fluent

dysrhythmia, flaring
and falling, setting fire

to synapses and scuttling
sense to its apsis.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lisa Robertson on Meter

Counting syllables really trained me to carry my ear down to that micro level of attention. I spend a lot of time counting syllables. For a while I had to stop myself from counting syllables when people spoke.


Brian Campbell has reviewed Career Limiting Moves, the book, for Rover Arts. Check it out.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review reprinted

My review of Ricardo Sternberg's collection Some Dance, originally published in Vallum, has been reprinted in the latest issue of FreeFall. I'm practically a syndicated columnist!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Elise Partridge, 1958-2015

I learned yesterday that my dear friend Elise Partridge has died. I knew her time was running out--I'd known it for almost a year--but I was really hoping she'd hang in long enough to see her final book come off the press this spring. Knowing this was coming in no way makes it less painful for those who knew and loved her--for me--but given how much pain and suffering she'd already been through, there is some comfort in the thought that she need endure no more of it.

As word got out about Elise's death on social media yesterday, many people wrote of how kind she was. And she was. Elise wasn't that awful thing--a "nice" person--she was a person of great spirit, authentically generous in a way that no nice person is. I first met her, briefly, in March 2006, when I did a reading in Vancouver. She introduced herself to me after the reading, said a few enthusiastic words and, as I recall, left precipitously. She seemed unaccountably anxious. Not long after, I had an email from her apologizing that she was "ridiculously shy when meeting new people." She said a few lovely things about my poems and about my review work. And her comments weren't merely perfunctory compliments, of the sort one encounters all too often in any collegial environment, but the kind of sharp, perceptive observations that can only be the product of thoughtful attention. Not long after that, Elise wrote to offer me a complimentary subscription to the London Review of Books, a perk her husband Steve (a medievalist in the UBC English department) had acquired in exchange for writing a review for LRB. She thought, rightly, that the high quality long-form reviews in LRB would appeal to me.

When I moved to Vancouver from Halifax the following year, Elise did more than any other person (outside of Rachel's family) to welcome me to the city. She invited me to become a member of the Poetry Dogs, a semi-regular reading circle that would meet at a member's house to discuss whatever poems people had brought along. Members, besides Elise and Steve, included Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, John Donlan, George McWhirter, Christopher Patton and, later, Matt Rader. The only condition was that they had to be someone else's poems, someone not a member of Dogs. It was in Dogs sessions that I really learned how acute and uncompromising a reader Elise was. Anyone who came under her tutelage--as when she was poet-in-residence for Arc Poetry Magazine--could only have come away with their poems much improved.

Elise was someone who was more intimate with death than anyone in the First World should have to be, but something that distinguished her personality, and the poetry that was so much a product of it, was her refusal to be gloomy in the face of death. She would never have agreed with Larkin that "death is no different whined at than withstood." And she never succumbed to despair. Her oeuvre is full of poems about death, but they are playful, virtuosic poems, acts of resistance, testament to the size of her spirit, the defiance of her breath.

In an early email to me, she was irked by a reviewer who had "insulted [her] character and artistic integrity by charging [her] with 'trying to dazzle.'" She ended that letter with a piece of advice for me: "If you ever get slandered with the show-off label, my suggestion is to reply, 'I'm not TRYING to dazzle--ah just DOES!'" And she did. I miss her already, but she has left so much behind.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Plus ├ža change

Wordsworth, on Robert Southey's unfavourable review of Lyrical Ballads
"He knew that money was of importance to me. If he could not conscientiously have spoken differently of the volume, he ought to have declined the task of reviewing it."


The index of a vintage
is the season's history: how many
photons have fallen

through the skin. Equations
predict excellence. Unlike
the nose of connoisseurs,

the maths involved
are flawless, however
maculate the soil.

Deprive the vine of water,
it will eke its taproot deeper
down through solid strata

where it draws not only
succour for the turgor
of its foliage and fruit,

but hauls up half-formed
metaphors from minerals
lying latent in the clay,

imparts them to the grape
flesh where they mingle
and intensify as the sun-

washed clusters ripen.
These metaphors remain
embryonic until tongue

-cognized and -constituted
by a seasoned sommelier
who nearly knows them flawlessly.

The index of a vintage,
however reason may explain it,
retains intrinsic mystery—

the grape escapes its proof.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Rage of Extemporary Criticism

As it very seldom happens that the rage of extemporary criticism inflicts fatal or lasting wounds, I know not that the Laws of benevolence entitle this distress to much sympathy. The diversion of baiting an author has the sanction of all ages and nations, and is more lawful than the sport of teasing other animals, because for the most part he comes voluntarily to the stake, furnished, as he imagines, by the patron powers of literature with resistless weapons and impenetrable armour, with the mail of the boar of Erymanth, and the paws of the lion of Nemea.
                      -Samuel Johnson