Archive for January, 2006


how’s the weather?

January 31, 2006

weather. i love talking about weather. i love predicting weather by reading cloud formations. reading, predicting, forecasting. meteorologists: modern-day fortune-tellers?

in toronto, it feels like spring, and has for a month. warm-ish; occasional flurries, some rain. grey sky. sun, at times. it’s pretty creepy for winter, though i’m growing accustomed to it. maybe nature’s trying to make nice after giving toronto such a crap march last year (31 grey days at 0 degrees celcius; not adored).

when greg, mark, rob, and i visited buffalo last weekend, it was cold and windy. colder and windier than toronto, any rate. and then philadelphia, when we arrived, was a dream: 13 degrees celcius and sunshine! it rained the entire drive home, though when we entered toronto boundaries, the rain stopped abruptly and dense fog shrouded the city.

this last year, i’ve seen increasing proof that toronto has its own weather. major systems will bypass our tiny spot on earth, or new systems will form within the atmosphere above the city. perhaps you think this torontocentric-speak, but i swear it’s true! urban meteorologists, our modern-day cosmopolitan fortune-tellers, have been studying the heat flux and surface energy balance in urban and rural areas, and something’s definitely fishy… “i sense… a man… a P… his name begins with P? d’you know this man? his presence in your life brings you unanticipated fortune… and misfortune…”

other canadian locales are experiencing bizarre weather… natalie and nikki are talking about it. jordan curses it constantly. larissa blogs about it, too: i feel for you, vancouver.

on the east coast, blizzard! blizzard! blizzard! conor spent his morning shovelling driveways and sidewalks with his temporary neighbours.

how’s the weather in your neighbourhood?


online audio: where’s the cdn poetry?

January 24, 2006

sina queyras posted a call-to-action on her blog, requesting a comprehensive website comparable to the excellent phillytalks or ubuweb. comprehensive of what, you ask? audio clips of canadian poets and poetry.

i’ve heard rumbles from folks in the scene interested in creating such a resource, but as yet nothing substantial has come to pass.

  • sina notes the new, very cool bpNichol resource at UPenn as well as ubuweb and phillytalk’s archives.
  • cbc poetry face-off features short-lived audio clips every year, though it doesn’t look like they archive the sound anywhere accessible.
  • the scream at one pointed flirted with the idea of a large database with potential audio/video footage.

rabble radio

January 23, 2006

today, posted episode twelve of their online radio podcast. a 5-minute shift & switch interview i gave lisa rundle, editor of rabble’s book lounge, is included here.

sunday, posted the second half of the interview. rabble’s podcast allows radio-style interviews to be listened to online. the second half can be heard here.


boycott to button

January 22, 2006

At zero degrees in Toronto’s fashion district, protesters stage a boycott against KFC as, a few storefronts east, a fabric retailer blasts “I Will Always Love You” (the Whitney Houston version) to lure customers.


pontiac quarterly

January 20, 2006

attended pontiac quarterly tonight. the night started on a few sour notes for me…

  • the event’s held in the drake hotel’s underground; i am not a fan of the drake. i’ve been to several events there, and four of them have suffered from double-booking. it boggles my mind how a venue can repeatedly double-book a space, requesting without so much as an apology for patrons and organizers of the second event to wait well past their event’s start time. annoying. the first time i witnessed this was a year ago; the event suffered low turn-out (how many people left?) and didn’t start until 1.5 hrs after its scheduled time. tonight, conor and i got a call from one of the performers about the double-booking. i almost didn’t go, but wanted to see a few of the folks and to support the event.
  • second: an ass of a bouncer made me pour out my peppermint and valerian root tea (clearly made at home) before i entered. i nearly left; the presence of mark higgins persuaded me to dump my tea.
  • while pontiac does a neat job of varying arts (dance, film, live visual art, poetry, prose, biography, advice column, music), i often feel like i’m witnessing a marathon. so much to see and hear, not enough time. that’s the magazine life for ya. oh, and the $10 cover makes me squeamish.

i was glad, in the end, that i attended. on a few positive notes…

  • the evening’s theme was sports. when maggie helwig took the stage, i wondered how she was going to fulfill the theme. such an eloquent pre-amble (apologies for paraphrase): “for some people, sports is a religion. for me, religion is a sport.” she then read a handful of blood-raw poems that had the otherwise chatty, ultra-cool crowd in hushed rapture. maggie’s a master of the line break, and she proved master of pontiac quarterly tonight.
  • bill kennedy read from the apostrophe engine, always a treat. he also read “wendel clark” by john barlow. that’s one hell of a poem, and was a perfect way to end the night.
  • neil hennessy recited his hockey rendition of “tiger, tiger, burning bright…” for bingo mic.
  • conor and i cobbled together a remix of mark truscott‘s “winter” for bingo mic: “Knowing he’s injured, Lindros plays Forsberg. / Knowing he’s injured, Lindros plays Forsberg.”

shift & switch tour

January 19, 2006

january 13 & 14, we launched shift & switch in ottawa & montreal. rob read, mark truscott, and i took a road trip from toronto through each city, meeting fellow anthology contributors max middle, matthew hollett, and jon paul fiorentino along the way. matthew and mark share tales of driving and reading here and here. january 27 & 28, we’ll launch in buffalo and philadelphia. rob, mark, gregory betts, and i will caravan from toronto to meet geoffrey hlibchuk, trevor speller, and andrea strudensky in buffalo, as well as janet neigh in philly. we’re planning copious vegetarian snacks for the road trip.


january’s lexiconjury

January 18, 2006

what a tremendous lex last night! adam seelig warmed up the crowd with repetitive exercises and shared the opening of his newest play. dave mcgimpsey schooled us in comedic timing, gun haiku, and tony danza credits. sharon harris acrobatically leapt from project to project. open michellers karen sohne, david clink, nadia halim, and jacob wren shared plum-filled texts drizzled with kahlua and grace.

lex audiences can be a hell of a lot of fun. heckling was at a premium, which filled the room with a familiar and jovial timbre. i knew about half the folks there (i usually know everyone, so this was a neat experience), and was super happy to see newbies and oldies alike enjoying the readings and cameraderie. dave, who’d come all the way from montreal to feature, told me afterwards the vibe was like reading to a room full of friends — in a good way. w00t!

another look at the lex eve from imperfect offering… and another from mark truscott.


S&S: experiment, environment, definition

January 7, 2006

Nate Dorward recently encouraged the Lexiconjury listserv to post reactions to Shift & Switch‘s public reviews. Consider me encouraged, Nate!


“… and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations.” *

Early public reactions to the anthology have included frequent reference to the volume of visual poetry and graphic documentation of poetic projects. You’ll find Chris Fickling’s textual translations of found art, Jeremy McLeod’s printer poetry, and gustave morin’s treated found collage. There’s an excerpt from Matthew Hollett‘s digital poetry speechballoon, a still from the interactive Flash project (go play now!!); its font-play reminds me of Paul Chan experiments. Jamie Hilder’s photographic documentation of his highway performance writing (provocative phrases and short poems hung from overpasses) celebrates a non-traditional yet very public publishing venue.

The anthology also includes concrete and visual poetry homages by several contributors. While the theory behind these poems may not be “new” in the Pound “Make it new” sense, the sheer joy of playing and experimenting with language’s materiality comes through loud and clear for me. It reminds me that experimentation has its frustrations and joys — the epiphany of a new discovery, and the elation (or frustration, depending on your personality) when you find out your discovery actually has a tradition/history of its own.

The S&S contributors are on journeys. They may continue to create text prolifically, production may dwindle, or they may pursue non-literary activity. To document where these writers are, now, what’s recently new for them, excites me as a reader. Do you remember when you first asked yourself, “What happens if I don’t rhyme? If I create a poem only using nonsense? If I create a poem solely out of punctuation? If I create a poem with non-standard grammar, punctuation, syntax, capitalization? If I create a poem using two letters? Using no language materials? Perform a poem with multiple voices? Publish in a non-traditional format?” Do you remember your reaction, your peers’ reactions? Do you remember when you stumbled across something no one else was doing?

But I digress. As I mentioned, early public reaction has heavily referenced the visual work, which makes up around 20% of the creative work in the anthology. I can understand why reviewers are eager to discuss the visual: a) it’s the first thing you notice (graphic vs. fine print), b) it’s quick to digest, c) there are many styles represented, and d) it’s extremely unusual for visual poetry to be anthologized.


Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was most certainly English. “I don’t quite understand you,” she said, as politely as she could. *

Natalee Caple recently lauded Shift & Switch as “the best book in 2005, … a brilliant anthology of young poets from across the country working in various avant-garde traditions.” The seeming oxymoron of avant-garde and tradition in this sentence strikes me as apt for quite a bit of work in the anthology. As I mentioned, some visual poetry could be homage, conjuring work published in the 20th century. Similarly, some text-based poems in the anthology are strongly surreal andor ‘pataphysical, playing within avant-gardism also from the previous century. Yes, experimentation has tradition, has history. Many writers are attracted to experimenting with what a poem may be, and often travel down similar paths of epiphany and aha-it’s-been-done-already. Do some contributions respond to, wrestle with, or break the mold of other experimental practitioners’ texts?

Perhaps we’ve encountered a fork in the road when it comes to definition. “New” has multiple interpretations (see paragraphs 3 and 4). What do we mean by “avant-garde”? “Experimental”? “Radical”? “Tradition”? “Anthology”? Do we speak the same language; are we interpreting it similarly? How do such terms’ ambiguity affect the reading (or multiple readings) of a book, when these terms are used as markers for the book? What are our expectations of an “experimental” “anthology” of “new” “Canadian” “poetry”? Where does the book deviate from our expectations, and how do we interpret that deviation?

Briefly, on “anthology”: Is it alive in its moment, representing “a slice of time” rather than a canonic musem or “a definitive statement for the ages” (quotes attributed to a recent awesome conversation with Bill Kennedy)? How could an anthology be “generative” or inviting instead of the last word on its subject (referencing Mark Truscott)?


Some recent and wildly inaccurate reader comments on Silliman’s blog (referring to Shift & Switch as a Calgary/Toronto cattle call showcase for MA students) have me musing on contributor geography and Canadian university programs. During the editorial process, derek, Jason, and I spoke about each of these (and a myriad of other extraliterary details), so it intrigues me to find them brought into dialogue around the anthology.

First, a bit about contributor geography.

  • 10 contributors (25%) are current or former residents of British Columbia. 9 currently reside in Vancouver and area.
  • 16 (40%) are current or former residents of the Prairies. 6 currently reside in Calgary.
  • 22 (50%) are current or former residents of Ontario. 9 currently reside in Toronto.
  • 4 (10%) are current or former residents of Quebec.
  • 5 (13%) are current or former residents of the Maritimes.
  • 8 (20%) are current or former residents of the States.
  • 3 are current or former residents of England.

It’s nice to have a range of writers in the anthology who’ve lived in many rural and urban places, and whose texts often reflect the politics and values of their environments.

In Canada, there are currently 7 MA English programs offering a Creative Writing focus and 1 MFA in Creative Writing. Many universities and colleges also offer BAs and courses in Creative Writing, such as Simon Fraser University’s certificate in Creative Writing (part of their Writing and Publishing Program), University of Alberta’s BA Creative Writing minor, and York University’s BA major. My research dug up the following MA/MFA programs in Canada.

  • University of New Brunswick offers an MA in English with a focus on Creative Writing.
  • Concordia University offers an MA in English focusing on Creative Writing.
  • University of Guelph offers an MA in English specializing in Creative Writing.
  • University of Windsor offers an MA in English: Literature and Creative Writing.
  • University of Toronto offers an MA in English in the field of Creative Writing.
  • University of Manitoba offers an MA in English with an optional creative thesis.
  • University of Calgary offers an MA in English with concentration on Creative Writing.
  • University of British Columbia offers an MFA in Creative Writing.

Of the MAs listed, to my knowledge only UNB, UWindsor, and UCalgary have (had) faculty that encourage(d) and support(ed) experimental writing practices; most programs produce traditional lyric work. How does this compare with US MA programs? My rudimentary experience (AWP Conference 2004 and occasional conversations with States students and faculty) leads me to believe there are many more CW MAs in the States, but little support for experimental writing practices and poetics studies (just a smattering of schools).

As I mentioned, there are few creative writing MAs in Canada and fewer still that support experimentation. I only know a few writers who have graduated from Cdn MAs in experi-positive programs, and my familiarity with them comes through publication andor their engagement with writing communities (largely fostered outside or around school programs).

Only a few S&S contributors have pursued MAs in English (Creative Writing). The creative theses I’ve read that’ve blossomed during the programs include Jill Hartman‘s JA=NINE (aka Scraballah) and Jordan Scott‘s blert (some of blert is excerpted in S&S). Other contributors pursued Masters in English, Mathematics, Divinity, and Law. And then there are others who haven’t pursued graduate (or undergrad) studies for a variety of reasons, including disillusionment with academia, lack of interest, lack of appropriate program, and financial debt.

I’ve flirted with grad studies for the last few years, but often become ensnared in worries around the financial black hole such a degree would cause, as well as debate on why I’d want to do grad work. In 2001, I seriously considered applying for the MFA in Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts, but gave up that dream; it’s impossible financially. In 2004, i nearly applied for grad studies at U Hawai’i and SFSU, but several factors stopped me. This year, I’m excited about the MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies at SFU, but I may not have enough time to apply. As Wide slumber inches closer to publication, I’m turning my attention to interdis work that includes text, movement, and voice.

But enough about me. What are your thoughts on experiment, environment, definition, education?

* excerpted from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


toronto life’s blogroll

January 7, 2006

robert fulford created a blogroll of toronto life‘s favourite toronto blogs. 537neon is included (gold stars!) amidst a delightful array of other popular writerly blogs, such as said like reeds or things, squiddity, and spacing wire. fulford lists carl wilson’s zoilus twice, once as carl wilson and once as zoilus, accompanied by two different and equally pleasing write-ups. blogcrushin’, anyone?


foot-stompin’ coast to coast

January 6, 2006

I’m currently enamoured with two fantastic and fast-tracking Canadian bands. I’m feeling my Emma-matchmaking skillz taking hold… resist… must resist… Ahh, what the hell. Introductions:

1) May I introduce Halifax-based Andy Cull and the Fancy Lebanese Country Band (country/rockabilly).

Andrew Cull is one hell of a songwriter, guitarist, and singer. My heart expands with each song Andrew plays, whether it’s a Harry Mandibles burlesquomedy-style ditty or a simple and perfect love song.

When Conor and I visit with Andrew, delightful impromptu jam sessions always pop up. Our recent New Year’s visit to Nova Scotia featured two days of warmth, sing-alongs, and food. An organ (with pre-programmed beats) was a welcome addition to the three guitars and house-full of singers. New Year’s eve quickly digressed from an unplanned Cull concert to host Anthony Black figuring out a reasonable facsimile of Eminem’s “Slim Shady” on the organ.

Conor and Anthony, who’re nearly ready to debut their co-written play Soul Alone (I may formally petition them to rename it I Am I or The Subtle Body), are including original Cull songs in the performance. I had a chance to learn them for the Toronto reading we gave last month. The final song had me quite choked up!

If you get a chance to check out Andrew solo or with his Fancy Lebanese Country Band, do it! Their debut CD is in the works, and I can’t track down a website for them. But a bit of gossip: some semblance of the band may play at the Shift & Switch book launch on March 6 (Ginger’s Tavern upstairs, 1662 Barrington St., Halifax).

2) May I introduce Vancouver’s The Breakmen (roots/blues/bluegrass).

This band’s a new discovery for me. One of the band members is Archie Pateman, a former high school classmate of mine. Archie was a gifted singer/guitarist in our school days; I’m super excited to learn he’s part of such an ear-pleasing band.

Ahh, high school. Central Algoma Secondary School is small, rural, and located around half an hour from Sault Ste. Marie. The school was well-known for its architecture and athletes; predictably, extracurricular funding predominantly went to sports over arts. This may be one of the reasons that artsy kids pursued their passions quietly or away from school.

In our final OAC year, I organized CASS Cafe as an occasional lunch-time forum for arts performance. When Archie played, it was always a thrill. What a voice; such soul! If I could’ve bottled his cover of Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter”, I’d still uncork it for occasional listening rapture.

As for The Breakmen, they’re working on a debut CD; you can listen to a few of their tunes online or catch them live in Vancouver. I’m currently digging “If I Stay”, and can’t wait to hear more!


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