Archive for the ‘2011’ category

Even This Becomes A List, You’ll See

January 26, 2012

Hi kids.

Thanks to everyone who employed various methods of bring Spring poetry catalogues to my attention. I’ll wait a little longer until some more come in, then set out in search of stragglers and people who have better things to do than read blogs.

Wanted to gesture at a couple me-things though first. Alex Boyd has updated his Northern Poetry Review site recently, it includes a number of new reviews, including the new Stephanie Bolster. That book is the very next thing on my to-be-read pile. I kick in a review of the new collection of essays on the topic of Love-him-or-hate-him Canadian poet Richard Outram. It’s a good book, and if you’re a fan of Outram’s, you should read it. I can’t really say the same if you’re less than an avowed fan, though. The books not made with you in mind. Not that it has to be, if you’re picking up 150 pages with the gent’s face on the cover, you should probably have more than a passing admiration for the work.

That was probably my problem. It took me eight months, several addresses, and two missed deadlines to read that thing. Not proud to admit it, especially as I trucked it all the way to the Yukon and then strapped it to my person as I backpacked through 15 pseudo-autonomous post-Schulmann European countries. (Sidenote: Well done, Croatia. No need to be scurred. You’re doing the right thing in the long term, my beauty.) I say all that while still recommending the read to the very limited audience for which it was created. Well, I say it more detail and hopefully more clarity in the second half of the review. You can decide for yourself my clicking on this sentence.

One thing I didn’t really mention in that review is that my favourite essay in the collection was actually Jeffrey Donaldson’s far-left field reading of Outram’s work via the lense of Tibetan prayer circles and other things that loop. It’s the kind of article these kind of books really support. Incendiarily self-confident moon shots. I don’t know if the author quite convinced me of anything, but surely he moved the most intellectual material around in his attempt, and I’m always pleased by such efforts.

Also I should mention this interview I did with good old Chad Pelley over at the stout and noble if–to my ear–still unfortunately-titled Atlantic lit blog Salty Ink. One expects a fisherman in a sou’wester holding a quill. Also, one expects the quill to not write well, as there is some salt in its ink. But no matter, I’m just goofing around. One of the things that happens in the interview is Chad asks is for a list of favourite Canadian books of the last year. I interpreted that, as I know my place, to mean I favourite Canadian poetry books. I only gave him one favourite, Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet. I’m willing to allow that that’s a somewhat obvious and uninteresting choice of a canonically-accepted author if you’re all willing to allow that the book, for all the stoic-faced acceptance that it’s well-written and “good” in the global sense, remains horrendously under-read in critical discourse. The inability Canadian poetry has shown to look it in the eye and treat it like a book and not like a publishing event is the kind of thing that should have everyone who wants to write poetry and is under 40 eying job postings overseas. Though it might be too late, as we’re already exporting our cancers. This negative review from Another Chicago Magazine uses pullquotes from three glowing, if overwhelmed, domestic reviews before ever getting around to the text itself. Oops. It’s just a book, dudes. Fucking read the thing.

Anyway, the review with Chad promises notes on the above plus at least two incidents that I remember where I use the word “poop” in a sentence. So click here if you’re really into poop.

Though I haven’t done a “best of” list or anything for 2011 (God knows there’s plenty out there, and I apologize for whatever role I’ve historically played in exacerbating this trend towards quantified criticism on the blog circuit) I’ll say this about the year that recently ended. It’ll be remembered in the long-run by the poetry cult as one that produced a very unusual number of truly awesome first books by new female poets. That’s the takeway, despite how much I loved the new Babstock and how there were plenty of good titles produced by penis-wielding poets, too. There’s been an endless parade of top-flight females debuts, though: fun, dour, unflinching, playful, whatever. Look at it all. Look at this one. And this. There’s been so many. Like this one. Truly a banner crop. Oodles. And I’m sure my months of absence have left me missing many. This is what 2011 will mean to us when it’s 2021. New female poets that played so very, very, well.

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Dusted Off

December 21, 2011

Hi kids.

I’m writing this from the common room of a hostel in Nice named after St. Exupery (the author, not the saint, though I suppose the author was named after the saint…). I have a hangover and a crepe and some coffee. I’ve been in Europe for 79 days, will remain here for 13 more, and then will come home to Toronto, to friends, to the long-suffering and effortlessly elegant Voxette.

Vox Pop has been dead for a few months now, really since I left for Dawson in the earlier half of this year. I apologize for that. Sometimes people travel and it inspires them to start a blog, seems it inspired me to stop one. I had a great time up north, did an awful lot of writing, working the Sisyphean boulder that might one day be my novel up its modest mountain. I’ve been writing poems more on our travels, the Vox Sister and I being a tag team on many a long and, occasionally, unheated train. Meanwhile, it’s cool to see Folk having its own adventures, both foreign and domestic. I’m happy for it, but kind of glad to have been able to excuse myself from the details of the proceedings.

Anyway, I’m writing to announce that it’s my plan, tentative and a tad optimistic though it is, to get back on the horse with this thing. Vox will live again in 2012. Almost definitely. I’ve got some ideas lined up for topics and interviews and would love the input of any and all collaborators. What the fuck happened to the poetry blogs? We should all be living in a world together.

I hope everyone enjoys their holidays. I’m reading in Toronto with Lista and Vermeersch for Pivot on, like, the 11th I think. Come hang out? I’m willing to talk about my trip a bit, but please know that it makes me feel self-conscious. Whenever I list off the places I’ve been, I want to come off sounding like Johnny Cash in “I’ve Been Everywhere” but end up sounding like Kip Pardue in The Rules of Attraction, except with wine instead of hard drugs, and wine instead of sex.

Dodge City. What a pity–

Jake

PS: Here’s that Kip Pardue allusion, because I’m just a humble lyricist who can’t afford to lose you to my own obscurity.

Go See the E.E. Cummings Thing at Soulpepper

June 8, 2011

Since I was just a little wolf cub, I’ve been lucky enough to know a great deal of things about a great deal of things. However, I won’t say that Le theatre is one of them. Of the last, say, ten shows I’ve attended in Toronto, a majority-mandate-winning percentage of them have either been adapted from poetry (as was Mike Ross‘s Dennis Lee cabaret a couple years back) or about poets (as was “Futurists”, and the excellent “After Akhmatova”).

The newest 3D Motion UnPicture Event I saw was the Double Bill being presently put on the Soulpepper Academy, the first half of which is called (Re)Birth and is basically a loose, vaudeville-inspired cabaret of song and dance inspired by the work of American poetry’s favourite rumoured-spy-turned-McCarthyist, e.e. cummings.

It sounds like it could be awful. But it’s not. The work is listed as a collaboration, but the music sounds too similar to Ross’s Civil Elegies score (he’s the musical director of the company, and performed in the cabaret dressed in a very in-charge looking admiral’s jacket) to ignore what may have been a dominant source of input. The music is incredible, the staging both invested in the poetry and winkingly irreverent, and the efficiency of the event’s choreography closer to dance than to theatrical blocking.

The strength of Civil Elegies was in Ross’s ability to cobble together something resembling a balladic vision from Lee’s massively diverse prosody (he drew on the title book, obviously, but also elements of The Gods and the “children’s verse”). That trick is maybe even a little tougher with cummings, so the company did really well to avoid biting off more than they could chew. The poems selected skew to the poet’s younger years. Whereas Ross’s solo show was ordered and almost narrative in its scope, the group effort of (Re)birth is more of a straight cabaret, with the various instrumentation (electric bass, stand-up bass, violin, beatbox, children’s xylophone, pennywhistle, um, rubber frog toy…) leading the way, even at expense of the words. The celebration, here, is of the aw-shucks American vernacularism that inspired much of cumming’s diction, and likely much of his popularity. The youthful, playful, anarchy-facing subversiveness of the project is more than enough.

(Re)birth is presented as a double bill with the farcical experimental piece, Window on Toronto, which is set at a hot dog cart, has maybe 100 characters, and moves as fast as anything I’ve seen in my limited theatrical viewership. It’s a great chaser for the meatier, if equally madcap, (Re)birth. I’m hoping one day to see Ross’s Civil Elegies remounted as double bill with (Re)birth as its follow-up.

The Soulpepper Academy’s Double Bill runs until the 22nd. We scored rush tickets for $20 a head. Worth it at twice the price. Which I imagine is what they cost, now that there’s no more rush shows left. Go see it. Seriously. This is the very most I’m capable of recommending something.

Griffin Math, 2011 Update

June 2, 2011

I have hangover. I have gritty club-faced hangover. I have dirty, twitchy, turn-the-brightness-down-low-on-the-laptop hangover. I have ShowMeNoFood with a touch of WhereAreMyPants. I have hangover.

That being said, I wanted to update this old Griffin Math post to reflect the winners (Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Dionne! Fucking! Brand!) and shortlistees of the 2011 version of the award. I also want to remind you, dear internet, that on the day the judges were named, I told you that Dionne was going to win this year’s Canadian prize for Ossuaries. I do this not to pat my ego or anything (what’s the value of getting such a thing right?) but to suggest, calmly and supportively, that if a mildly-engaged observer such as myself can correctly guess the winner ten months in advance, the Griffins may have a slight predictability concern. That’s all. Canonization can be boring work I guess, even when the poet being canonized is among your very favourites.

So anyway, here are the breakdowns I brought out last year, broken down anew with the fresh information from the 2011 lists.

Canadian Griffin Awards by Gender
Women: 7 wins off 18 shortlistings
Men: 4 wins off 14 shortlistings
Mixed: 0 wins off 1 shortlisting

The Canadian Griffin Award continues to be (thusfar, anyway) that rare thing, a female-leaning major literary award. The women almost have it a 2-1 ratio at this point, and have returned to their winning streak after a brief three-year period owned by the men, wherein the prize went McKay 07, Blaser 08, and Moritz 09.

International Griffin Awards by Gender
Men: 6 wins off 29 shortlistings
Women: 4 wins off 14 shortlistings
Mixed: 1 win off 1 shortlisting

The international award has skewed male. Or, alternatively put, the international award has skewed in same manner as most international poetry awards. Still, three consecutive women have won it (CD Wright, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, and now Gjertrud Schnackenberg) so perhaps we are in the midst of an evening-out.

Canada Griffin Award Shortlistings by Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart (8)
House of Anansi (7)
Coach House (6)
Brick Books (3)
The Porcupine’s Quill (2)
Vintage Canada (1)
Douglas & McIntyre (1)
Frontenac House (1)
Polestar Books (1)
Exile Editions (1)
Insomniac Press (1)

Canada Griffin Award Wins by Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart (4)
House of Anansi (2)
Coach House (2)
Vintage Canada (1)
Brick Books (1)
University of California Press (1)

The above tables are for the “Anansi always wins, because they’re owned by Scott Griffin” goldfish. Anansi does not always win, though they did the two previous years. Lots of great presses have gone untouched by Griffin benevolence, but if I had to name just two: Hello Vehicule? Hello Nightwood?

International Griffin Awards by Nationality:
USA: 8 wins, from 27 shortlistings
UK: 1 wins, from 11 shortlistings
Ireland: 1 wins, from 2 shortlistings
Australia: 0 wins, from 2 shortlistings
Barbados: 1 win, from 1 shortlisting
Libya: 0 wins, from 1 shortlisting

The above table counts the translator’s, and not the original poet’s, nationality. There’d be a lot more diversity there, otherwise (including an addition this year of rows marked “Belgium” and “Syria”). Still, if we were to take Khaled Mattawa’s adopted homeland as his nation, instead of his birthplace of Libya, we’d see in this year’s shortlist a repetition of the Grffin’s default international shortlist: 3 Americans, 1 European, with the American winning the prize. Those UK/Ireland numbers will look out of whack to some, and to those I’ll issue the reminder that Northern Ireland (home to Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon) is still a part of the former. This is the Griffin’s most significant cultural bias. They like Americans a great deal, even when those Americans are acting as translators and not originators.

Canadian Griffin Awards by Region of Birth:
Ontario: 4 wins, from 12 shortlistings
United States: 3 wins, from 4 shortlistings
Manitoba: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Atlantic Canada: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Saskatchewan: 1 win, from 2 shortlistings
Trinidad: 1 win, from 2 shortlisting
Alberta: 0 wins, from 4 shortlistings
Quebec: 0 wins, from 3 shortlistings
UK: 0 wins, from 2 shortlistings
BC: 0 wins, from 1 shortlisting

I remember last year when I was making these lists wanted to do something on geography to deal with the perceived Toronto-centricism of the domestic award. It’s tough to do, though, as Canadian poets have a frustrating tendency to not stay still, and most of them file through Toronto at some point in their lives. So the above is very imperfect (for example, it doesn’t list Brand as a Toronto poet, as she was born in Trinidad, but does list Mr. Newfoundland Ruralism, John Steffler, as one). So, don’t take the above too seriously. Still: only three shortlisted authors from Quebec so far, including Suzanne Buffam? Only the one (George Bowering) from BC?

I know this is an imperfect scicence, but here goes: I’d suggest that, of the eleven previous Griffin winners in Canada, six of them could be rationally described as “Toronto poets” at the time of their winning: Bok 02, Avison 03, Borson 05, Moritz 09, Solie 10, Brand 11. So, six out of eleven, and at least two of those (Borson, Solie) were writing poems with a distinct geographic lilt quite distant from Toronto. Whether or not you think 6/11 is evidence of an eccentricity or bias is likely wrapped up in your own eccentricities and biases towards Toronto (as cultural capital, or not) and the country (as federation, or not). I’ll leave you to them.

With that, I’m going out into the repressive, hateful, sunlight, to try and get my day started. I ate some yogurt. I feel okay.

I Went Away Nowhere

May 17, 2011

Hi all.

I took some time off. Quite a bit of time, actually. I wasn’t vacationing. I was reading (in public, aloud) and reading (in private, quietly) and going to baseball games and visiting family and trying to be as good a subject I can manage as friend/family/co-worker/associate/boyfriend/neighbour. It went okay.

So what have I missed? A lot, right? Some good books out there now. If I had to throw my megaphone behind just one new 2011 title, I’d offer Linda Besner’s “The Id Kid“. I read with Linda in Toronto at the beginning of the month, liked her book enough to pick up a copy, then took it home and came to like it a lot more. She does a breathless list of things very well in this book. It’s playful, formally adventurous, and carries a variety of interests. I liked it good. You should buy a copy and read it for yourself.

I’m still pretty busy. I quit my job in a month. Then the Yukon for three months. Then a quick sojourn to Winnipeg to read at Thin Air this year, then the Vox Sister and I are running away to Europe in October. Fuck you all, I’ll see you in 2012. I suspect blogging activity to increase over the summer, and then drop low again during the fall. And by blogging, I mean actual blogging, not just this silly drop-in updating garbage. I’ll use adverbs and everything.

I’ve been piecing together what I want to work on while at the Berton House. I’ve got a novel I could fiddle with, and a handful of poems. But really, all I want to do is read. Read for like 10-14 hours a day. Read all the books. Read everything I’m 1,500 pages away from understanding well enough to carry on: aesthetics, economics, European history, Marxist literary criticism, recent Canadian short fiction, the history of The Worlds Fairs, the history of baseball, the history of Russian philosophy. I have a list of thirty or so things I’d like to know 400% more about, and that’s what I really want to do. Read and read some more. As I mentioned online last month: All I want to do is read books until I puke.

And if I could sneak some poems out, or rewrite the novel, while doing that: balls. Bonus balls. But mostly I just want to read. These retreats are supposed to be about “making time” for your art. I can always make time to write. But I can’t always make time to read.

Speaking of reading: I’ve got a handful more of those before leaving the city at the end of June. I’m at NYU with Thran this Friday, then I’m in Burlington on the afternoon on June 5th with Anne Simpson and in Hamilton that evening for Lit Live. Then, I’m road-tripping to Niagara with local short story mavens Carolyn Black and Rebecca Rosenblum for the Niagara Literary Festival on June 12th. Rocknroll. I’ll send details on those last few when I know them.

A number of you have mentioned the Globe review from Saturday. I like that. It’s good to be noticed in the newspaper read by, say, that English teacher I had who once told me I had no knack for writing and should probably be an engineer. What’s up, Mr. D? Say hi to Hebbville for me.

There’s been a few notices for Folk of late, actually. The Quill and Quire had a very generous evaluation in their May issue. When that goes online, I’ll show it. Here’s one from the Halifax’s Chronicle Herald (you may need a login to read it) and quick hitters from The National Post and the New Brunswick paper, the Telegraph. Mark Sampson writes a nice one for his blog here, and I’ll add a link to this blog review that liked it a lot less, though her points are fair and the review is well-assembled. I’d be willing to call her opion of the book “mixed”, right up until that last paragraph. Ouch.

Be cool, internet.

-Jake

Must Be April

April 27, 2011

Hi kids.

It’s been forever since I’ve updated this self-promotional engine I call Vox Populism. Apologies. I’ve been busy doing things and then not discussing them here. Anyway, I wanted to hop back into it for a quick hitter on two exciting launches this week. Maybe you already know about them?

1. The Coach House Launch is at Revival, on College, tonight at 8. I’ve managed to get my unclean mitts on their two poetry collections (A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People, by Gabe Foreman and Match by Helen Guri). I liked them both, for very different reasons. Coach House once again produces the most purely enjoyable poetry titles of the year, for like the third year in a row, that I can think of (after Sue Holbrook in 2009, and Jonathan Ball last year) Cool on CH for doing two new poets. They surely don’t have to. There’s also prose being launched of course, Sean Dixon has a new book, and the gloriously well-titled Monocerous, by Suzette Mayr.

2. The Anansi Poetry Bash is back this year, and will be at the hipsterific Levack Block (on Ossington) tomorrow at 8pm. I have a reading at The Magpie that night, so might not make it, but I want to. I’ve read the new Babstock and Rader books and enjoyed them both. Haven’t gotten the Thesen yet, but will. I think Methodist Hatchet might be my favourite collection from Ken, I feel like he’s more firmly in control of the wild ontological leaps that characterized Airstream Land Yacht, and that he’s accomplished that magic trick without much slowing down or simplifying of his palette. There’s a couple poems in the second half of the book that take place a couple gears back from his peak (can’t remember titles of the top of my head…), and seem like remnants from earlier collections, but generally speaking, he’s figured out how to move faster through diverse content than any of his peers, and is doing so with a smoking confidence. The joy of metaphor, really, is its life in the unrevealed bloodlines between seemingly disparate objects, and Ken sees that genealogy like nobody else. Call it: The Wikipedia Lyric, and let that be a compliment. It’s a fucking great book. Nice when things live up to your unfairly high expectations.

Of course, this all pales in comparison to THE major Toronto event happening this week, but people get all harrumphy when I talk fights in public, so I’m not going to. Except to say: GSP in 5, Aldo in 2. Machida in a reverent (and boring) 3.

Cheers,
Jake

PS-I almost forgot to mention, my local bookstore, Type on Queen, is turning Five Years Old on Saturday, and I and a number of local authors will be dropping by for impromptu readings throughout the day. It’ll be a blast. Type are good people, noble people. Except for the one of them who is Kyle Buckley.

To Type:

Atlantic Poetry Prize Shortlist

March 23, 2011

We are entering shortlists season. Regional awards aplenty in March, then the league prizes on April 4th, and the big Griffin announcement on the 5th. At the risk of blowing myself out between now and then, I do want to give a shout out to the three books (all really good ones, I feel) that made the list for the Atlantic Poetry Prize. The APP being the regional poetry award of Vox’s homeland, and all.

I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being
by Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau)

It’s nice to get a reminder that Johanna is, as well as being a successful novelist and national sin-eater for all the joys and hypocrasies of the publishing industry, a poet first and foremost. I predict this shortlisting will result in less than one one-thousandth the foo-fer-ah that accompanied her other literary prize this year. This is a complicated book, and took me a couple passes before I managed to lock on to her rhythm. It looks casual and arrhythmic at first. It’s not.

Learning to Count
by Douglas Burnet Smith (Frontenac)

This is a book that should have some more readers. I said so here. You should get one. You can do that at the link above. The larger piece that sits in the middle of Learning to Count, Terrace and Dome, is a perfect object lesson in how to structure the unstructured long poem.

Lookout
by John Steffler (McClelland & Stewart)

Another solid book by one of Canada’s best mid-career poets. What’s not to like? I thin, on the whole, I’d take Ravenous or Grey Islands over this newest one, but there’s some staggering poems here. I can’t think of specific titles but there’s one about a river about two-thirds of the way through that is among his best.

Lots of other books didn’t make the list, but I’m happy with this one. Would have been nice to see maybe George Murray’s Glimpse, or Sharon McCartney’s For and Against, make it. But I can live with this. In the usually-enraging pantheon of poetry shortlists, I can live with this.

You can learn more about this year’s APP list, and the rest of the Atlantic Book Awards, over here.