Archive for the ‘Collaborations’ category

“Canada Reads?” -Poetry

April 7, 2011

The other newspapery thing happening today is the announcement of the panel, and chosen books, for Canada Reads Poetry. I’m on the panel, defending Erin Moure’s (apologies to Erin for WordPress’s complete disinterest in allowing for accents) Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person. I love that book. I also love the three of the four other books on the list that I’ve read. I’ll get around to the fourth when it comes in the mail.

The story on this promotion is a little weird. The dudes at The Afterword put a call out for nominations in, like, December, and whereas I really enjoyed working with them when I did their “Canada Also Reads” promotion the previous year, I was all over. Then like four months went by, and I got an email saying CRP was a go, but was now going to be a co-promotion with CBC Books. This was confusing to me, as I had thought CBC Books was who were were making fun of with the whole idea of doing a version of their contest for under-appreciated fiction, and now poetry.

I thought about it a bit, and while people who are prone to hearing my complaints will know I’ve had some issues with how CBC Books [pimps] markets Canadian literature, I’m still in. If The Afterword thinks it’s a good idea, than I think it’s a good idea.

My mind is open, my soul is pure. My heart breaks at the thought of fan opinion polls. I will play nice with everyone. I apologize for the “pimps” remarks above already. See? An open mind, a willingness to bend.


Paul’s Island

January 3, 2011

My friend Paul Vermeersch wrote a poem after Arshile Gorky’s painting They Will Take My Island. Then he started a blog and invited a small conspiracy of friends and Insomniac Press poets to take part by writing their own poems called “They Will Take My Island” and submitting them to the blog. The results of said experiment are starting to trickle in, and while the progenitor of the experiment has opted to keep it mostly under his hat, I suffer from no such modesty. So here it is. You should check it out.

Contributors to the project include Gary Barwin, Robin Richardson, Catherine Graham, Claire Caldwell, Robert Earl Stewart, Darren Bifford, Chris Hutchinson, Chris Banks, and now yours truly. More are coming, I’m told.

I wrote my poem in the voice of Michael Bates, the self-appointed “Prince Regent” of Sealand, the unrecognized nation of three people set on an ex-naval tower just off the coast of England. People, it turns out, wish to take Michael’s island.

This is a fun project, I’d keep an eye on it, if I were you.

Bumf Sloth, or, How to Cash in on the Myth of the Canadian MFA Factory

December 21, 2010

I’m coming out and saying this knowing that the book whose jacket copy I’m about to quote will likely be quite good, and will likely contain work by some number of my friends. Okay, but what I want to talk about is this pull from the back of Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, edited by Robyn Sarah and likely arriving on shelves this spring….

“The poems have been hand-picked by editor Robyn Sarah, both for their qualities as individual poems and for the ensemble they create. The contributors’ ages span five decades, bringing to bear the perspectives and concerns of different life stages. This is not the latest crop of MFA’s in Creative Writing, but a foraged gathering of eleven strongly individual poets coming from different regions, different backgrounds, and different walks of life. What they have in common their uncommon ability to explore our shared human condition in words that resonate.”

Okay, to start with: Canada doesn’t have a “crop of MFA’s”. Canada has three institutions that grant MFAs in creative writing. That’s a shitty crop. Nobody is getting fed off that crop. Also, nobody anywhere has a “crop of MFA’s”. They could conceivably have a crop of MFAs, however, as MFAs are not capable of possession.

Second: “different backgrounds, and different walks of life”. Prediction: Eleven poets: 8 white, 1 African-Canadian, 1 Native-Canadian, 1 Asian-Canadian. Am I jerk for guessing? Fine, prove me wrong.

If this is a grumpy post, I apologize. But, a message to my fellow “new voices” out there: It’s a limiting thing to be introduced as a rejection of something else. Every third first novel I see has some sort of blurb or bumf on the back extolling it as the cure for the common Canlit. We’re so keen to find this we don’t even need it to exist in the book’s aesthetics. Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller-winner was Grade A, centre-of-mass Canadiana, but it got embraced as a radical young Turk because it happened to have been published outside of Toronto.

I don’t think poetry has it this bad, yet, but we’re certainly willing to go there. And I understand that Vox Pop, a blog written by a young poet mostly concerning other young poets, is not necessarily part of the solution. But I’d like to avoid being part of the problem. Who is the back of this book written for, exactly? Is someone going to come across it, read the back, and embrace the left-field pyrotechnics of iconoclastic aesthetic rebel Robyn Sarah? Ouch. Not everything is Nickelodeon, Cormorant Books. Least of all yourselves.

Facebook for Writers: A Constitution

November 29, 2010

Alex Boyd (blogger, poet, editor, Parkdalian) and I got into an email conversation a couple weeks back about the uses and misuses of Facebook by the literary community. We started throwing around tongue-in-cheek “rules” to govern the Facebook behaviour of our peers. Eventually, we had a whole list, and thought we’d share. Some of these are his, and some are mine. If you’re offended by one of them, please assume the former.

Facebook for Writers: A Constitution in Ten Rules and One Appeal
by Alex Boyd and Jacob McArthur Mooney

1. First, decide if your profile is a personal or professional one. If you’re going to friend every other writer in the world, we don’t want to hear about how much you enjoyed your eggs.


2. On that note, you don’t need to friend everyone, and writers in another part of the continent will not race out to buy or review your book because you’re friends on Facebook. Seriously, it’s an epidemic. Be a person, not a computer virus. Friend the people you know, (and the people you’d like to know. Don’t befriend people you know you’ll never know, y’know?)


3. Do not complain about Facebook stealing all your writing time. This isn’t really what’s happening. Procrastinating writers existed before 2002. If it wasn’t Facebook, it’d be something else. Don’t steal others’ Facebook time with reminders about writing.


4. Don’t complain about Facebook in your Facebook status update. Even though you’re a writer who stands for truth and wisdom in all things, you look stupid when you complain about FB’s privacy settings from inside your profile. You’ve bought in. Deal with this. The only thing worse than acquiescing is acquiescing ironically.


5. Don’t have fan pages and invite people to be a fan of you. High school is over, and we should all be working to keep it that way. If someone had approached you decades ago to say someday you’ll have a machine in your home, and you’ll use it to try and get everyone you know to indicate they like you, you’d have said please go away and take your soul-destroying ideas with you. (You’d have been in the right.)


6. Profiles are for people and groups are for publishers and bookstores. Some of us aren’t comfortable being friends with anonymous entities (like Buzzard Wing Books, Alberta) that can look at all our photos.


7. If someone invites you to an event, and you don’t want to go, hit the “Not Attending” button, not the “Ignore” button, and especially not the “Attending” button. Facebook offers you innumerable opportunities to be a passive-aggressive wimp. Don’t overdo it. The “Maybe” attending button is a decent compromise, and notes are often appreciated if you’re going to decline.


8. The following things are difficult to communicate through text, among others: sarcasm, tongue-in-cheekiness, and irony. Try to avoid these writerly tools around casual acquaintances as they may not be fully briefed on your staggering capacity for wit. When your bon mots crash against the sheer cliffs of others’ literal-mindedness, it will not be their fault. It will be yours.


9. Never confuse the apparent popularity of something’s Facebook presence with its actual popularity in the real world. Include yourself among these somethings. The following expressions are to be avoided: “This reading should have really been better attended, it got __ attendees on the FB invite.” and “If every one of my FB friends just bought 2 copies of my book, each, I could sell out on Amazon.”


10. If you feel another writer is using their profile as a personal soapbox to describe the mundane slog of their workaday lives instead of anything thoughtful about writing, and you want to call them on this, fair enough. But first, put yourself through the following test: copy and paste your last ten status updates to a word document. Now, scan through that document looking for references to your children or pets. How many did you find? Is it more than three? Yes? Okay, then shut up.


In closing, we all have writing in common, and we’re all sensitive enough to be writers. This makes us a loose community of the easily offended. Avoid dropping and blocking people because they reviewed your book poorly, or didn’t speak to you at an event, or anything else. It’s counter-productive to polarize the writing subcultures, plus it’s hurtful. We’re not saying we’re perfect people, and have never made mistakes, but let’s be honest – we were supposed to be done with turning our backs on inconvenient people somewhere around grade school. Okay, thanks for reading. Play nice, kids.

“They seem to have barely tolerated modernity.”

November 17, 2010

Congratulations are in order for Mr. Richard Greene, whose collection Boxing the Compass won the 2010 English Language Poetry GG award earlier today. Greene takes his place in a long, complicated, oft-infuriating tradition of past winners.

Speaking of infuriating GG traditions, CNQ’s Alex Good has returned to his annual “shadow jury” antics again this year. I was asked to take part in the discussion of the five shortlisted titles with Alex and CNQ poetry reviewer, Brian Palmu. Brian and Alex are two smart people I’ve found myself vociferously disagreeing with in the past, so I jumped at the opportunity to draw swords and muck about in the five chosen books. The results of this melee have just been posted over here on Alex’s blog. In brief, I didn’t like the list all that much, though my favourite among them did turn out to be the eventual winner. Sadly, Greene’s Compass lost out on the even more illustrious Shadow GG this year to Michael Harris’s Circus, which won the misplaced affection of my two compatriots, thus cornering me into selling my vote. Jurydum is tuff. I hope you like this thing. It was one metric shit-tonne of work.

Jobbers: Coming Soon(ish) to a Sold-Out Arena Near You

November 2, 2010

Jobbers is coming to an arena near you

I wouldn’t normally post Calls for Submissions with deadlines this many months away, but I don’t normally find ones I like as much as this. The people who do Broken Pencil, and the people who do Ferno House, are coming together to do an anthology of creative work by Canadians on professional wrestling. Regular Vox followers will know me as someone who occasionally writes poems in the voice of Gorilla Monsoon or extolling the birth of Andre the Giant, so you know that this one has my eye. May 1st is the deadline so, even if you don’t like pro. wrestling (and I don’t, at least not now, it’s more of a half-remembered adolescent crush) you have plenty of time to develop a fascination, commit it to paper, and make the due date.

Here’s the call, copied and pasted directly from someone else’s blog. Sorry Rob, journalistic integrity is for people who get paid.


Ladies and Gentlemen this call for submission is scheduled for one fall and it is for inclusion in the most electrifying anthology in the history of CanLit…

In professional wrestling slang, the term “job” describes a losing performance in a wrestling match. It is derived from the euphemism “doing one’s job”, which was employed to protect kayfabe (in other words, the portrayal of events in the wrestling industry as real). As professional wrestling is scripted, inevitably a wrestler will be required to lose to an opponent …

Inspired by Michael Holmes’ 2004 collection of poetry Parts Unknown: Wrestling, Gimmicks and Other Works and Nicholas Sammond’s 2005 collection of essays Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling, comes Jobbers: A Can-Lit Wrestling Reader.

Jobbers wants your best non-fiction, fiction, and poetry that reviles, reflects, or revels in the art of professional wrestling. Capture the steroidal zaniness of the cartoon rock and wrestling mid 1980s or the over-gimmicked dark ages of the early 1990s. Recall with nostalgia the glory days of pre-McMahon black and white regional integrity.

Explore the exhausted locker rooms of your local small-time wrestling league. Write erotic love poems to your favourite bespandexed hero or villain. Give us a “hell yeah” as you investigate the middle-finger-in-the-air screwjobs of the Attitude Era. Give us humour or heartbreak, caustic wit or hyperbolic fandom.

So whether you’re a local hero, heel or not quite sure, send us your best wrasslin’-inspired literature. No limits, no restrictions, and no rules, but remember to do your “job”. Edited by Toronto Literary Tag Team jobbers Spencer Gordon and Nathaniel G. Moore.

Vox’s note: There doesn’t seem to be an email address attached to this thing. You could maybe go to Spencer or Nathaniel’s blog to track them down.

Poetry is Public (is Poetry)

August 29, 2010

Anita Chong just snapped some photos of the new Poetry is Public is Poetry installation outside the Toronto Reference Library. This installation, a co-effort of the Toronto Public Library and the city’s Cultural Services and Transportation Services division, is the brainchild of new Toronto Poet Laureate Dionne Brand.

From the project’s website: On August 26, 2010 a new Poet Laureate initiative, Poetry is Public is Poetry, creatively showcases and celebrates the work of Canadian poets. On a series of six panels located in front of the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street), passages from 34 prominent writers artistically intertwine with the panel’s visual backgrounds, which were created by internationally known graphic designer and illustrator Frank Viva.

This ambitious public art and written word project features verses by; Lillian Allen, Margaret Atwood, Ronna Bloom, Roo Borson, Dionne Brand, Jason Camlot, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Daniel David Moses, Don Domanksi, Stan Dragland, George Elliott Clarke, Catherine Graham, Phil Hall, Angela Hibbs, Eve Joseph, Ehab Lotayef, David W. McFadden, Don McKay, Steve McOrmond, Anne Michaels, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Motion, Michelle Muir, Michael Ondaatje, Joanne Page, Alison Pick, Maureen Scott Harris, Anne Simpson, Sue Sinclair, John Steffler, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Paul Vermeersch and Jan Zwicky.

Our fearless laureate had the following thoughtful things to say about the project, at the unveiling:

This project seeks to counterpoint, regenerate and re-engage in the communal in a way that only poetry can. Committing verses tangibly to the public space will enrich the interior life of the citizens. Poetry beautifies public space, pays respect to the intelligence of the citizenry, gives respite from the grind of daily living and engages the city’s humanistic ideals.

Poetry is Public is Poetry will help transform Toronto’s public realm into an illuminating forum for the written word. Part of the Poet Laureate’s legacy project, this ongoing program merges poetry with public art to claim permanent public space for Canadian poetry on Toronto walkways.

Ms Brand proposed, and is developing this idea in the belief that poets have contributed enormously to the city’s sense of itself but that their contribution is not always apparent in the public sphere. Recognizing that poetry is essentially a private act – conceived, written and often read alone – makes expanding poetry into the public realm an exciting challenge. The physicality of the text provides a reflective dialogue that can serve as a catalyst for providing a sense of well being, identity and even happiness.

A good day to live in Toronto. Perhaps even more so with the context-marker given by this Toronto Sun cover story on the villainy of artist housing. The last photo is a close-up of my contribution (thanks, Anita!), nuzzled all up in there next to Uncle Lenny. It’s from a suite of riddles called “Riddles for Lester B. Pearson International Airport, which are in the new book. There’s more photos, you can track them down on the Facebook over here.

Edit: Having now posted these photos, I see the proximity of posts in this particular WordPress design will make it look like Glenn Beck (below, if you’re reading this from the main Vox Pop page) spoke at the Poetry is Public event. To clarify, he did not. We called but he was booked.

Buy a Shirt from Bill

August 22, 2010

Those of you with whom I’m on a face-to-face basis will know that the great extravagance of my otherwise dour and sparse lifestyle is T-shirts. I like T-shirts with fun designs, witty sayings, and otherwise good use of space. Imagine my elation, then, to discover that Bill Dunlap, one of my favourite cartoonists, has recently branched out into the designing of my favourite fashion item. A few years ago, when I was frankly a couple years too young to be publishing poems, Bill took a simple little poem I had written for a now-defunct online magazine and turned it into something infinitely cooler:

“And Starring Toshiro Mifune as MacBeth”
Bill Dunlap, 2006 (featuring “Idiot Creator” by Jacob McArthur Mooney, 2004) Click drawing to enlarge it

Bill was also one of the early readers of the poems that would eventually go into my first book. His website is worth blowing an afternoon exploring, all kinds of wonderful stuff, dealing with everything from religion to anarchism to mental illness. Anyway, Bill is now selling T-shirts. I’m going to buy some, but haven’t made up my mind yet. The finalists include:

This one, called “Brave Monster”

This one, with the black rings:

And, especially, this delightful thing:

Anyway, not that I want a troop of people I know walking around wearing the same shirts as me, but if you like this stuff, please go to his shop and browse around. Support, people. Support!

Some Notes on Prepping for Influency

April 6, 2010

I’m writing this post on a break from preparations for my visit to the “Influency” poetry salon run by poet Margaret Christakos at U of T (spaces are still available: register, register, register!). I drew Susan Holbrook’s book Joy is So Exhausting, and when I met Susan at Harbourfront last week we shared a mutual panic moment wherein one said to the other “Isn’t that thing this month?” and then the other said “Yeah, I think it is,” and then there was this tense, silent period of realizing neither of us had considered starting the thing yet.

Now that I’m putting some notes together on Exhausting, I’m struck by the frankness of Margaret’s structure. Specifically, the fact that the author I’ll be discussing will be physically present in the room as I talk about her book. Conceivably also in my line of sight. This makes for a surprising critical construction: the “tell it to my face” effect, you could call it. Now, I really really like Joy is So Exhausting and have lots of good (and, I hope, interesting) things to say about it, but I wonder what would happen if that wasn’t the case. Kept honest by the combined powers of academic decorum and good ol’ Canadian politeness, how would a person speak to how a poem “works” if they thought it didn’t?

I guess the key to that lies in some element of the word “discussion.” Influency presents as a simple discursive pattern; the work being discussed is first read aloud by its creator, and then spoken on by the poet acting as presenter, and somewhere in there the author is asked some tough questions by the participants. This is a discussion, even if it’s done one third in poetry, one third in prose, and one third by audience participation. Discussion is something of the great red herring of the modern critical discourse I read. Everyone wants to talk about it (drop its name into paragraphs, bring it up as a defensive weapon) but no one wants to do it. The two philosophical ingredients in recent criticism that have gone the farthest to keep it interesting and valid (namely, feminism and ecomindedness) love nothing more than the “idea” of discussion. But I’m not sure what they think about the actual activity, complete with people disagreeing with each other (a necessary but much-maligned exponent of discussion). It hasn’t really come up yet.

My interest in discussion comes from a belief that every awful final product started with what someone thought was a good idea. What I’d love to see is criticism that is interactive enough with its authors that dialogues could emerge wherein the critic chases that good idea down inside the root of the project. This is a job for the internet, or the bar, or the faculty lounge, or (here’s where he brings it all back) the Influency Salon. It’s not really a job for our major print journals, as important as their work is. There’s an element of demonstration in CNQ, in Arc, in the others, that is contrary to what I’m talking about. Their conversations are both slow to react and one-sided, and while a truly gifted critic can often invoke the author in a discussion of the work, it’s only ever their conception of that writer, and one that seems made to agree with the critic’s opinions, like the partner in a Socratic dialogue, or an imaginary best friend.

For all the problems of dogma and decorum, for all the difficulties we find in (to borrow a biblical phrase) being subject to one another, the real-time, unadorned, environment of blogs and blog-like creatures is the antidote to the showroom quality of mainstream criticism. There’s something about locking three or more subjective opinions in a room and letting them push each other around for a few days that strengthens subjectivity, that makes it something that can stand on its own feet. A lot can be said for the meditative, the much-considered opinion that only appears on scene a year after the book’s publication, but no one challenges the meditative mid-meditation. So nobody knows what it’s made of until well after it’s said its piece.

I imagine that’s also why I like these “critical interviews” I’ve been doing at The Torontoist. It’s the review re-imagined as a discussion, if you will. If this all seems terribly self-apparent and kind of self-aggrandizing, I apologize. Believe me when I tell you, it’s really just me starting to arrive at an understanding of WHY I like to do the things I like to do. And it’s definitely a work in progress; I feel the tug of my inner conflict-fearing bumf merchant whenever I waffle on how to most delicately frame a question that could be seen by my partner as aggressive. Some partners have been gracious, some have been defensive from step one. Some have been fun, some have been most unfun. Especially with the poets I see as the most distant from my own aesthetic, what I’m really looking for is an education, a reframing of my own assumptions through the working paradigms of another artist. Like all educations, you are sometimes met by talented and compassionate co-learners, and sometimes frowned on by bitter old codgers. You learn something from both.

Anyway, this was all a means of distracting myself from my work by blogging. So I’ll stop that now. If you’d like to re-distract me with opinions on the matters above, I could likely become distracted enough again to read them.


PS- According to the Guernica Editions website, Len Gasparini has won the NOW Magazine Open Poetry Stage I hosted last week. Congratulations to Len. Also, Dear Guernica Editions: It’s exceptionally unprofessional to jump in front of your sponsoring venue’s press release by leaking their big secret before they want to (you may have noticed other poetry news taking up the airwaves today, Griffin Prize and whatnot), and before the other participants are informed. I hope your new ownership is better than your old one. As for me, I’m not a professional (I’m a blogger), so I’ll eat my own unprofessionalism, and forward this news to the masses. Dig in, masses. Yum yum.

Optimisms One/Lowther and Lamperts

April 1, 2010

Tis the first of April. Meaning, among many other psychocultural shifts (towards gardening, towards birdsong, towards baseball) the beginning of the I-know-it’s-silly-but-buck-up-and-do-it-anyway tradition of National Poetry Month.

As followers of this blog are aware, I’ve hitched my wagon to The Torontoist’s Book Blog for the next thirty days for the shameless promotion of positivity we’ve decided to call “The Optimisms Project“. My introductory essay is up this morning, with the daily parade of new contributors starting after the holidays. A selection to follow, but really you should just go read the whole thing. It ain’t long.


Dear Whiny Poets: An Introduction

I am not an optimist.

I understand that as the point man for this operation, it is my duty to be an optimist for a single thirty-day period, and I can manage that, if I concentrate. But it’s not my default position. My worldview is tilted down. I stare at my feet when I walk.

To clarify, I’m fairly content. If my rent is paid and my friends are happy and there’s at least some faint idée of a poem tickling the inside edges of my brain, I can’t complain. But, if made to choose a single narrative for the world and all its ancillary dramas, my prediction tends to skew down rather than up. Shittiness, eventually, consumes us all.

So I approach this job as Quarterback of Optimistic Poets with all the focus of an aged lady sitting down to her morning crossword puzzle. I don’t do crosswords all day long, but I feel I should do them regularly, to keep my mind sharp. Such is how I feel about optimism. We can not let the patterns of thought that define us burrow deep holes in our brains.


In other exciting news, the shortlists for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award (for best first collection) and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award (best collection written by a woman) are out. I have to say, forgetting a couple of snubs to books I thought had specialness in them (Moez Surani’s Reticent Bodies and Stephen Rowe’s Never More There for the Lampert, and Susan Holbrook’s Joy is So Exhuasting for the Lowther) this is a pretty strong list. Kudos to the six judges: for the Lampert, Barbara Pelman, David Seymour and Sheri-D Wilson and for the Lowther, Gloe Cormie, Maureen Hynes and Rhea Tregebov.

Gerald Lampert Award Shortlisted Poets, 2010:

Kate Hall for The Certainty Dream(Coach House Books)
James Langer for Gun Dogs (House of Anansi Press)
Marcus McCann for Soft Where (Chaudiere Books)
Soraya Mariam Peerbaye for Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (Goose Lane Editions)
Marguerite Pigeon for Inventory (Anvil Press)
Robert Earl Stewart for Something Burned Along the Southern Border (Mansfield Press)

Pat Lowther Award Shortlist, 2010

Elizabeth Bachinsky for God of Missed Connections (Nightwood Editions)
Ronna Bloom for Permiso (Pedlar Press)
Sina Queyras for Expressway (Coach House Books)
Damian Rogers for Paper Radio (ECW Press, a misFit book)
Laisha Rosnau for Lousy Exploriers (Nightwood Editions)
Karen Solie for Pigeon (House of Anansi Press)


In other-er exciting news, Thomas Hayden Church’s biopic treatment of the earlier years of the great Canadian nature poet, Don McKay, opens in select cities this weekend. Simply titled Don McKay, the film is a first feature from director Jake Goldberger and co-stars Oscar winner Elisabeth Shue and nominee Melissa Leo. Hopefully, this will widen its release in the coming weeks.