Archive for the ‘Canadian Literature’ category

Retail 2012: Mansfield Press

February 11, 2012

Something of a consistent source of surprise, the little press that is based in Toronto, but does its poetry from Cobourg. The list this season is decidly Atlantic-centric. Which I’m into.

Title: In This Thin Rain
Author: Nelson Ball
Release Date: April
Collection Number: Hard to Quantify. Let’s just go with “many”.
Time Since Last Collection: Eight years
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “In his first full-length poetry collection since 2004, Nelson Ball, Canada’s most renowned minimalist, offers up compressed meditations — ranging from the whimsical to the mournful — on clouds, birds, insects, trees live and dead, water-stained walls, crumbling windmills, and hyphenation in the Globe & Mail. Ball’s poems are meticulously polished gems that move through the seasons, finding beauty and depth in the most banal and simple things.”
Google Says: One of the poems included in the Mansfield Press catalogue for this book is exactly eight words long. You can find something of Mr. Ball’s life work in this detailed CV I found. Nelson is a bookseller by day, and his unique business model can be explored in this little piece on his store. By-appointment. I work the same way. You can catch some selections from Ball’s Mercury Press book, The Concrete Air, in this CanLit.ca three-way review. His stuff comes up somewhere in the middle.

Title: Holler
Author: Alice Burdick
Release Date: April
Collection Number: Third
Time Since Last Collection: Four years
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “In her follow-up to 2008’s Flutter, former big-city-dweller Alice Burdick explores nature and the small town, taking a cue from children learning their voices: “All I see are trucks, / trucks and ducks.” With a blend of playful narrative and a collage approach reminiscent of John Ashbery, Burdick paints a portrait of our world as one of continuous wonder, and full of relationships — between people, and between people and things — that never die but continually transform, even in death.”
Google Says: Alice lives in Mahone Bay. Which is the town next to the town I grew up in. The first time I got drunk, it was on Jack’s Hard Lemonade and we drank it in the playground of the elementary school. The cops showed up because we were being crazy loud and when everyone scattered, I climbed onto the top of a jungle gym and when the officers found me I shouted out something like, “You can’t see me! Your visual acuity’s based on movement!” Well, that’s neither here nor there. Moving on to Alice Burdick, here’s some poems from her last collection on the oddly aggressive “ditch” website. Meanwhile, these three all date from 2009. Meanwhile again, if it’s reviews you’re after you can see one of Burdick’s last collection from one-man review machine and capital letter phobic, rob mclennan or one up on the Northern Poetry Review site. Seems like a well-liked book. I liked it well, too.

Title: Sympathy Loophole
Author: Jaime Forsythe
Release Date: April
Collection Number: First
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “This lively first collection, often both creepy and hilarious, serves up an image-laden universe where contortionists, womanizing ventriloquist dummies and pickled sharks compete with the everyday for airtime. Forsythe’s poetry is full of wit, mystery, and surprise — a contemporary inventory of pop culture and human experience.”
Google Says: While this is Jaime’s first collection, it’s not technically her first book, as she previously edited this really great and criminally under-read book of short fiction for Invisible. Jaime and I did the MFA at Guelph the same time, and new poetry collections from fellow whatever-the-school-mascot-is-at-Guelph-ers always gets my pom poms out of the closet. Jaime took the same poetry workshop as me on a lark, apologized for being a newcomer to the art form on day 1, and by the end of the semester was among the most exciting people in a really talented class. Here’s three poems from her in This Magazine. Here’s a bit on Elisabeth Bishop she wrote for her day job working for The Coast. And here’s her blog, featuring a photo of her cat picking out the poem order in the book. As good as anything, I suppose.

Title: What’s the Score?
Author: David W. McFadden
Release Date: April
Collection Number: Again, as with Nelson Ball, I’m going to say something like “a lot”.
Time Since Last Collection: Four years.
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “The often outrageous and always wise follow-up to 2008’s Governor General’s Award–nominated Be Calm, Honey shows David W. McFadden at his most inquisitive and provocative. Here you’ll find ninety-nine poems full of surprises by a Canadian long-distance poet in his sixth decade of writing, a writer who never rests on his laurels or allows himself to become complacent. This is a book full of mystics and Golden Age movie stars, friends of McFadden and long-dead philosophers, and their tales are all told in the poet’s deceptively plainspoken voice.”
Google Says: This is the official follow-up to Be Calm, Honey, the 2009 GG nominee I really loved. You can check out a review of said book right here. Or, if you don’t know how to read, you could just listen to him read from one of his longer pieces right here. There’s six pieces from various points in McFadden’s career branched off of this U of T site. And, as a Griffin nominee, there’s all kinds of archived stuff with Dave’s name on it here at the Griffin Trust site, too.

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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.

Call for Lists: Retail 2012

January 21, 2012

Hi everyone.

It’s thinking-about-this-Springs-books time again, and as per the annual traditions of 2010 and 2011, it’s my intention to use this space to preview the upcoming poetry catalogues many Canadian publishers as possible. Now that I’m all moved into my new headquarters (with the Voxette, out of Parkdale and into Yorkville; I go to the Whole Foods sometimes and write; I work out at the Manulife Centre now; my life is a Billy Joel song) I’m able to get organized for this. Some of you more ambitious publishers out there have already emailed me your lists, or at least a link to your electronic catalogues. Thanks. Good to see you putting those unpaid publishing interns to good work.

If you’d like to be reminded how this little project worked out in past years, here’s the link to last spring’s master list. I’ll start soon with the houses I’ve already received lists from. If I don’t get one from a given house, I’ll go looking for it, and if I can’t find it in a length of time I deem reasonable for someone working on his lunch break, I’ll probably forget about it and move along. Sorry. I’ve got a copywriting gig to attend to, and a social calendar, and the continued uphill rolling of the oft-rumoured Vox Novel, forever being rolled up a hill slick with my own tears and sweat.

So get those lists to me, to be helpful. My email is unchanged and can be found in the contact section. My twitter is @VoxPopulist. My FB is /jmmooney. My mailing address has changed as described above, you can get it from me at either the email, the twitter, or FB. That’s triangulating your means of contact, kids!

Looking forward to finding out what I’ll be spending my money on this Spring. I hope there’s pictures this year.

Yours,

Jake Mooney

a division of Bertelsmann AG

Here Are Two Things You Could Be Reading

September 29, 2011

Hi kids.

I’m busily packing and organizing and generally shrinking my life into a backpack. But, if you’re bored out there, two things you might like:

1. Spencer Gordon’s essay on Nick Thran’s new book, Earworm, in this issue of the Maple Tree Lit Supplement, is a great example of top-level writing about creative matters. It manages to use the same sort of moody, pop-culturally inflected, intellectualism of the book within its discussion of the book. The piece references Mike Lista’s review in the Post and noted ex-VoxPop roommate Jeff’s mention at OBTO. The three pieces are fine to excellent as independents, though I worry that as a trio they sound a touch like a review of hot new bands from a 1993 issue of NME. Lots of talk of cult support and insider knowledge and hipster identifiers, almost as much as the talk of the poems themselves. As a big fan of the book, I don’t want to see it get a “fad” label, you know? And how many of those bands from NME were still being listened to in 1994? Really, really, good poetry books by people who are around 30 are so rare, compared to really good musical albums by the same demographic, that I want to protect that flame long enough to share it with untapped readers for a long time, I don’t want it’s reaction to have the sonorous, and quickly-forgotten, quality of fireworks.

But Spencer’s piece doesn’t do that, and neither did Jeff’s or Mike’s (these things take more than one writer), and I have faith that good poetry can burn fast AND burn long. His review is a thoughtful, exceptionally well-constructed piece of prose for which the author was paid, I believe, thirty bucks.

2. Russell Smith’s column in the Globe today is all about how you’re not a real writer unless you make your thirty bucks and if you don’t hold out for that $1.50-an-hour rate you’re doing a disservice to the older guard among us and are basically a scab. I’ve had this argument with a lot of different people over the years and my position, typically centralist and uninteresting, is this: I don’t feel like my occasional propensity to write public content for free (as I’m doing right now as I type this, and as I’ve done more regularly in the past) undercuts my ability to land the occasional paid gig, because the work I put out for free is a fundamentally different product than the work I get paid for. The latter is written to an editorial standard separate from my own nature and preferences, and the former is unedited, or at best only edited by the original creator.

Obviously, this distinction doesn’t hold water where Smith gets into talking about HuffPo and whatnot, but I would still want to ask, where is the paid market that matches the tone and reach of that unpaid one, that has been shuttered by being undercut by the bloggers? Any comparison between HuffPo and failed magazines I can think of demands a highly selective memory when recalling the magazine’s editorial composition. I wouldn’t want to work for HuffPo because I couldn’t imagine being that bored on purpose. If the rationale offered for doing so is a careerist one, that’s fine, but I’m not a journalist so I don’t feel compelled to put myself through anything in the interest of career. In fact, my major foothold as a writer is as a poet, and being a poet is (by definitions economic, sociological, intellectual, and cultural) the exact opposite of having a career. Maybe this is why my reaction to this whole debate above is to yawn at its mutual preciousness.

-Jake

His Pain, Unowned, He Left in Paragraphs of Love

August 22, 2011

A different Layton, I know. But not a wildly dissimilar personality, in how he’ll be remembered both by fans and non-fans alike. Though everyone pretends to love the newly dead. Many things are about to be simplified.

I met him three times. He remembered the topic of the first conversation and referred back to it in conversation three, even though I, somewhat irresponsibly, had forgotten it. Anyway, now what’s in my head is the below, especially the part up to “the children of the town.”

For My Old Layton
by Leonard Cohen (selection)

His pain, unowned, he left
in paragraphs of love, hidden,
like a cat leaves shit
under stones, and he crept out in day,
clean, arrogant, swift, prepared
to hunt or sleep or starve.

The town saluted him with garbage
which he interpreted as praise
for his muscular grace. Orange peels,
cans, discarded guts rained like ticker-tape.
For a while he ruined their nights
by throwing his shadow in moon-full windows
as he spied on the peace of gentle folk.

Once he envied them. Now with a happy
screech he bounded from monument to monument
in their most consecrated plots, drunk
to know how close he lived to the breathless
in the ground, drunk to feel how much he loved
the snoring mates, the old, the children of the town.
Until at last, like Timon, tired
of human smell, resenting even
his own shoe-steps in the wilderness,
he chased animals, wore live snakes, weeds
for bracelets. When the sea
pulled back the tide like a blanket
he slept on stone cribs, heavy,
dreamless, the salt-bright atmosphere
like an automatic laboratory
building crystals in his hair.

Trotter Interview Now Up at The Walrus

July 5, 2011

Hi kids.

My interview with Joshua Trotter, author of All This Could Be Yours, is up presently on The Walrus site. The interview took forever to do. Seriously. Between my work and his work and Folk coming out the possibility of the world ending for a bit there, it was a long haul.

Normally I’d tease a bit of the interview here before providing the link, but whereas The Walrus’s blog just makes things look so pretty and professional and this page looks like a Transformer fingerpainted it, I’ll forgo the tease and tell you to just click right here for the interview.

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.