Archive for the ‘Events’ category

The Retreating Optimist

January 30, 2012

Hi everyone.

I’m working on those Retail 2012 entries, I promise. I got word that my short-term copywriting gig is ending a little earlier than I had hoped (or my new landlord had hoped) this week. And while this will cause me to look at Craiglist’s office/admin job listings a lot more than I’m comfortable doing, this, as we say, is my shit, and I’ll keep it to myself.

I made a somewhat hasty post online yesterday about this 100 Mile Literary Diet venture that they do over at Wychwood Barns. Anybody been to this? It looks like a lot of fun, and definitely has all the hallmarks of the kind of thing that makes the small press world feel victorious about itself. My concern is, maybe not surprisingly to regular readers of this space, with the name of the thing. It’s riffing off the 100 Mile Diet, which is a lifestyle choice my mother loves where you subscribe to eating only local food. Obviously, ideas work differently than food, and most people who get all their ideas from a strict 100 mile radius are dull and xenophobic.

I’m sure the Literary Diet differs from the Food Diet in its lack of an absolutist’s embrace, I’m not seriously linking them any more than the titler of the Wychwood Barns idea (Pedlar Press, I am told) is doing so. I hear it’s been a pretty successful adventure so far, by the definitions used by the presses involved. Noted necktie enthusiast, and Canada’s greatest book promoter, Evan Munday is quoted in the Quill thusly: “Some days it’s really phenomenal and we sell a lot of stuff. And then [two weeks ago], we probably only sold a little over a dozen books,” Munday says. For her part, Follett [This is Beth, the publisher at Pedlar-Jmm] says she often uses the space to offer early-bird specials and bundles, such as three backlist titles for $5. Last year, she sold roughly 250 books through Wychwood Barns.”

The scene sounds like a pastoral version of Meet the Presses or the Small Press Bookfair. I try to go to both of those, as they appear, and while I’m always happy at the crowds, I rarely see anyone there that I don’t see in a bookstore. That Pedlar sold 250 books over the ten-week run of the original experiment, using a lot of three-for-five-bucks style markdowns, is good in that it allowed 25 books a week to go sold. And some of those Pedlar books are pretty great. I wonder who buys them, though, even in the supposedly novel surroundings of the farm market? Are these 25 new pairs of eyes a week? If so, seems like a big victory. Or are these 25 regular book buyers saving themselves a trip downtown to Type or Ben McNally’s, and thus removing one essential element of the food chain from the mix? Of course, they could be saving themselves a trip to one of the big box superstores instead, and I’m all for that. But, is that who buys Pedlar Books? With their lack of barcodes and anything as corporate as a company website?

I understand that, with the Bertelsmann takeover of McClelland & Stewart, I need to take it easy on any criticism of the small press demeanour. I know what’s happening, I don’t really like it, and I’m not sure what’s next. That’s my partially-informed opinion on the issue. But, I also can’t believe that this kind of aggressively insular action is the saviour of the small press. The people at the 100 Mile Literary Diet are pretty charmed by their idea. There’s money from the OAC to review expansion, and, to quote Follet from the Quill and Quire piece again (a piece written by Natalie Samson, and published today online, to fully credit the source) “We just have to think who the audiences are and how to go about deepening our appreciation for those audiences.” This sounds like someone with a marketing plan based around her new idea.

I wonder if I can cringe at this and still be a good team player in the book community? I’m cringing. I’m cringing because I love. If I’ve stepped the bounds into the world of unattached pessimism, someone feel free to pull me back. But here’s the thing: I don’t want this kind of stuff to be the future of books. If I had my choice between this, and the massively electrolyzed supercorporation Borgfuture, I’d take the Wychwood Barn option, but only after a lot of thought, and a decision to probably just keep my own poems to myself, going forward.

I don’t believe that people who go to buy carrots and organic lettuce will also buy experimental poetry, just because there’s a friendly person at the table next door, selling it. I think that the 25 shoppers who pick up Pedlar books every week have their weekends improved by their purchase, but I’m also willing to believe that the great majority of them are small press buyers anyway, and if they weren’t going to get it from the farm market, they were likely going to get it from a far more permanent, far more invested, and far more important source, like any of our forever-dwindling supply of local bookstores.

Now, even if I’m right, and 21 of the 25 buyers per week are my fellow disheveled accolytes, what I warmly refer to as “my people”, that still leaves four new readers a week. A worthy accomplishment. But not a big one, surely. And we’re hoping to throw OAC money, money that may otherwise go to things like authors instead of things like farm markets, at it? What concerns me here is that we (and I’m throwing myself into the “we” here, when we say “small press”. Because fuck you, all poetry is small press, even if its published from the eighth rung down the ladder of a massive multinational based in some city I’ve never seen–), we tend to jump onto the novelty of small successes, and it blinds us to the larger trends and to the gaze of what’s always been working. And if we rally around such a small flagpole, if that’s where our thoughts go, then we’re distracting ourselves at a too-important time in the reverse osmosis of the culture.

I love Pedlar Press. And Coach House and Brick and all the other houses involved. I’ve been working on future blog posts concerning their upcoming catalogues and I’m really, really, excited. I have fanboy tingles aplenty. But I need there to be a broad and welcoming middle ground, both as a reader, a buyer, and a producer (to use our agrarian metaphor again), between the disenfranchisement of the corporate homogeny, that can’t think in anything as small as 25 books a week, and the disenfranchisement of the benevolent cottage fetishist, who doesn’t need any more than 25 to qualify as enough success.

And that middle ground is bookstores. Real bookstores. Real bookstores that are filled with people (hopefully) thoughtful and competent enough to handsell the right books to the right people, from a selection that may be biased towards the pleasures of home, but has ideas within it from 200, 500, 5,000 miles away. We already have too many new authors here who consider “exotic” literature to be from Whitehorse, or Gander. We can’t shrink like this, and feel good about ourselves in doing it. We can’t retreat, and if we’re going to retreat, let’s at least not puff our chests out with pride as we do it, okay? We can’t clear the the middle ground so Indigo can roll in and make it plain again. They might do it anyway, but we can’t make it this easy.

Bookstores. I want bookstores. Please give me bookstores, and ideas from all of the universe.

Not that I can afford books right now, without a job.. Back to Craiglist I go…

Love to everyone who’s maybe offended by some part of this. I’ll try and get out to see the sales in person.

Jake

“I have so many opinions, I have overwhelmed my ability to document myself.”

September 20, 2011

Hi kids.

Tonight’s my last night at Chez Pierre. Quite the experience, all told. I got a ridiculous amount of work done, especially in the first half of the residency. After three years of working full time and fitting in writing where I could, I completely ODed on the opportunity offered. On the first day here, I deleted all but the first fifty pages of the great endless novel-in-progress and started fresh, and I think I have something a lot crisper and interesting now than when I started.

The town’s been really great. I tried to explain this to the crowd who came to my exit reading last week: but one of the great joys of Dawson is how they’re not TOO friendly a group of people. Unlike a lot of rural environments that host art residencies, they’re more than willing to leave you alone if that’s the vibe they get from you. Anyway, I attempted to explain this subtle skill to the people at the reading and methinks it came out something like, “Thanks, guys, for being jerks.” Not my intention.

I recommend it to pretty much anyone. Not everyone, of course, if you’re phobic of loneliness or struggle to self-schedule, it’s probably not for you. I told fellow Torontonian Sam Cheuk about a job open teaching English for the tiny little art school up here, and he got the gig. So, if you apply, he’ll be there to drink with and engage in storytelling. Worth the trip.

My story for the next several weeks starts tomorrow with a reading in Whitehorse and then a visit to my father’s hometown, Winnipeg (named after the world-famous Winnipeg Review) for the Thin Air Festival. I’m reading with a bunch of other poets there Wednesday night, and by my lonesome at U. Manitoba on Friday.

On October 3rd, my sister and I are flying to Brussels, BE, and flying out three months later. The usual routine of Eurail passes and hostel hopping shall fill the time in between. This is something we’ve been working on for a couple years, saving and scrimping and making our plans, and now we’re ready to go. I’m grateful to friends for the wellwishing, and even gratefuller to the endlessly wonderful Lady Vox for the patience and understanding it takes to be reasonably cool with all this not being around. I plan on making it up to her for a very long time once it’s over.

I understand that the blog has been dead for a long time now. I dunno, kids. Every time I sit down to raise the interest needed to update the thing, I’m hit by the Stephen Colbert quote that forms the title of this post. I need to step back for a bit, and care less about everything. Few things are worth the epiphany they hope to be mistaken for. I expect I’ll get back on the Vox Pop more in 2012. One of the good things about this glorious medium is it’s so casual you can just drop it and pick it up several months later and nobody’s going to bat an eyelash over your disappearance. It’s just what happens.

Anyway, I’m missing some good books this season, I expect. I want that new Dave McGimpsey book, really I want the whole Coach House fall list. I’ll get around to it. Good books from ECW and Vehicule and others, too.

In the interim, you may see me pop up around Alex’s Northern Poetry Review once or twice this fall. Also, I’ve started writing for a new MMA website set to launch next month called Doctor Octagon, for the like four of you who aren’t repulsed by that.

See you in 2012, survivors of the autumn.

-Jake

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.

Reviews in, Reviews Out, Trillium, Sunburn, Thursday

May 30, 2011

Hi everyone.

To bring you up to date: I quit my job. I am going to spend June doing a lot of reading, some writing, and a great deal of wandering around the city. I’ve done so much of this third thing already (including a 25km quest from Parkdale to Folk’s spiritual homeland of Malton, Mississauga) that I’ve already developed a case of the official sunburn of my people. I’m going to write an essay about reading books while walking down a public sidewalk. I feel I’m good at this, and it’s a skill that’s underutilized and seen as eccentric or antisocial. It’s not.

My review of the Fall 2010 chapbooks from Cactus Press is in the newest reload from Alex Boyd and company at Northern Poetry Review. I liked them all. Go read them. Also, the review of Folk by Adebe D.A. from the May issue of Quill and Quire is now online and here is the link I promised earlier.

Trillium shortlist came out today, and it was a good morning here at headquarters with both roommates scoring nominations. Well deserved, gentlemen. That poetry list is superb, really. Books that I was worried were coming in under the radar, brought back to the radar’s blip (Couture, Norman). Someone even got shortlisted despite insinuating that he doesn’t submit to awards. Magical. The Globe ran a halfway interesting think piece on awards culture last week. The takeaway thought, for me, is the idea George Bowering had about how prizes have taken the place of reviews in the ordering, canonizing, extracting work of new literature. Seems wildly inefficient, really (reviews are inexpensive, iconoclastic, various, while prizes tend to be expensive, idolatrous, monolithic and loud). Also, reviews used to have the democracy of numbers (a book would get 10 or so, says Bowering, and it matters less what one well-placed individual thinks of your work), while awards are few enough to put a great deal of weight on the lucky or unlucky arrangement of jurors around juries. Not that it’s the fault of any of the awards themselves. Anyone wanting to give money for books is on the side of angels. Full stop.

The solve for this imbalance seems simple enough: more reviews. Better critics. More space for reviews in the unconfined space of the internet. A democracy of shouting. And the rest balances itself out. I’m trying to pitch in here and there. I’ve taken to reacting to people who introduce themselves as “aspiring poets” with a friendly, “Oh really, have you reviewed anything I might know?” To that end, massive props go out to E. Martin Nolan for his review of the new Babstock in The Puritan. The first decent reading that thing has gotten, the first to approach it excited and unafraid. The first to get into, and then over, it’s “difficultness”. Everyone reading this sentence has more difficult books on their bookshelves. Stop panicking. Let’s not overreact, you know? Let’s be readers.

Speaking of all that, I’m stoked for the Griffin readings tomorrow. I’m going to spend the day getting liquored up so I can introduce myself to Don Patterson. After that circus packs up for another year, I’d recommend the launch of what I’ve been told is the final issue of Misunderstanding Magazine on Thursday. Both Cactus Press and Misunderstandings are Jim Johnstone creations. Cheers to Jim, say I. A pretty solid crew of readers await us at the Black Swan on Danforth at 7:30. Two Moritzs, Paul V, Sam Cheuk, the Toronto arrival of Vancouver’s Rob Taylor, and a bunch of others. Really great line-up. Now that I don’t have a job, I suppose I’ll get there early, even.

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:

Robson this Thursday

April 19, 2011

Hi, Vancouver.

We don’t really know each other. And I understand that there’s a real embarrassment of awesome literary things happening on Thursday, but I’d like you to consider the below among your many options. The photo links to the fb invite. This links to the event webpage.