Archive for the ‘Fellow Bloggers’ 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.

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

Eirin Moure Piece Up at The Afterword

April 19, 2011

I have to say it, I had my cringe-face ready to go when this project started rolling, but the essays my fellow panelists have come up with for the CBC/National Post “Canada Reads Poetry” project have been really strong. You’re reading along? You should be. Here’s a link to the five.

My post on E(i)rin Moure’s Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person landed today. It’s right here. Hope you like it. There’s a typo in the third graph. I’d volunteer that I’m the source of the typo, and not the editors at the NP, but I imagine that if you’re at all familiar with this blog, you already guessed that.

There’s a panel discussion about poetry tomorrow featuring all five essayists. Could be fun. 2pm EST, at The Afterword, if you’re interested.

Two Quick Hitters: CNQ, NP.ca

April 6, 2011

Hello boys and girls.

I got my contributor’s copy of the new CNQ today. Hot shit, that’s a beautiful-looking magazine. You should get a copy from your local salesperson. Here’s the link with the names of contributors more famous and worthy than my own. My contribution, for the record, consists of three poems from Folk. One is about RADAR, one is about naming conventions, and one is about geography. I hope you like them.

Also, I just saw a link to George Murray’s new science project, newpoems.ca. This could be something. The introduction is incredibly ambitious and very passionate: “I’m sick of borders. I’m sick of silos. Bunkers, too. Don’t even get me started on garrisons. I’m sick of the various poetries and poets I read and admire fighting and carping about each other instead of collaborating constructively (however that is interpreted between artists) to generate new poetic possibilities. I’m sick of judgments and systems of criticism that involve aesthetic preference over intellectual accomplishment, that reward attendance and loyalty over risk and depth, that spend more time tromping on the art and experiments of others than perfecting their own. I’m sick of lack of space for difference, or at least for difference within the same pages.”

If you’re against that sentiment, you’re against motherhood. But, you’re probably also not reading this blog, at least not with my permission. It’s an idea born of innumerable late-night barroom tirades, and I’ve heard it attached to more than a couple start-up literary projects in my short time involved with the community. The problem has historically been that everyone has slightly different definitions for what all those above words mean (and that’s a good thing, for what it’s worth, both for poetry and for poets). However, if anyone has the plural focus, and the wide net of friends, to pull it off, it’d be George. Should be worth watching, I wish the dude well.

-Jake

This Changes Nothing, Double Production

March 27, 2011

Those of you with more substantial lives may have missed the interesting conversation stemming from Mike Lista’s newest column at the National Post. The thesis, in brief, is that the death of a certain percentage of the nation’s literary magazine, though bad for those magazines and the people who read and write them, might be good for the national literature as a whole.

If you’d like me to give you a reader to bring you up to date, I’d recommend first hitting the source, and then maybe Laurie Fuhr’s rebuttal, which is the best and the most nuanced (not that being the “most nuanced” rebuttal is difficult when poets are talking about economics). In fairness to Mike, please note that Laurie’s not hemmed in by column length. That matters.

You should read both opinions. You should do this because you’re plural thinkers willing and able to consider multiple opinions. You’re Vox Pop readers. You’re not distracted by the simple braying of other web-based sources of literary information I could mention but won’t, because I’m on vacation and in a good mood.

Of course, I have some thoughts on the issue. Feel free to add your own.

1. I’m relieved, and excited, to hear a model of Canadian literature that does not treat the possibility of losing a few journals as a Pompeii moment. To clarify, I disagree with the statement I’ve heard before that “we have more journals than we need.” That’s not really what’s happening here. I will say: we have more journals than we’re using.

2. This really is point 1b, but whatever…The lit. journals I regularly read are: Arc, CNQ, Open Letter, and Poetry is Dead. I venture into others, but those are my big four. I would argue that all four cover distinct aesthetic and cultural territory, and while there is (blessed!) overlap between the four, I don’t think I’d struggle to sell them to anybody as *different* magazines, with separate audiences, politics, and intentions.

3. Lista’s prediction of the future of literary publishing uses a model of commodity economics that I don’t feel is prescient. “Literary magazine” is not the product here. However, to defend him against his more voracious critics, that product is also not the more general “literacy”. One thing I can be certain about is that (not to pick on them, I’m choosing them at random…) “The Fiddlehead” is not an agent of public literacy. People who read The Fiddlehead are already leading highly literate lives. NOW Magazine (or The Coast, or whatever the alt-weekly is in your city) is an agent of public literacy, as its readership may or may not be reading everyday otherwise. The Fiddlehead is an entertainment for a literate sub-population. It’s not increasing the country’s number of readers.

Anyway, “Literary magazine” is not a commodity in the same way that “pork bellies” are a commodity. We don’t care what kind of pork belly it is and where it comes from, we consider all pork bellies equal in the tally. A view that assumes that if we have a third as many magazines, they’d have three times as many readers, neglects the qualitative dimension of reading as much as it neglects purely economic factors like serial consumption, collaboration, and product-mixing.

4. I think that the magazines most likely to survive without any external funding are the ones that can identify themselves as unique offerers of content. I’m sorry for these cold, clinical words, by the way. But, I’d argue that we need them. I feel that all four of the magazines I mentioned in #2 are unique. I also feel like we have, maybe, 6-10 journals in this country that are well-supported by institutions and government, and are not unique content providers. What’s the difference (aesthetically, politically, editorially) between Grain and Prairie Fire? I like both Grain and Prairie Fire, but this is likely because I like both poems and short stories and Canadian lit. I like the non-unique content they offer. If asked, Which do I like more? I’d fail to even understand the question. There’s no difference between them. And very limited difference between them and The Antigonish, Fiddlehead, The Malahat, et al. Don’t believe me? Do this: tear the cover off of all the back issues on your book shelf, and throw them in a bag. Now pull one journal out of the bag, open to, say, page 40, and start reading. What journal are you reading? Answer me quickly. Don’t look at the spine.

5. Variety can’t be measured quantitatively. To that end: “We have a diverse literary culture in Canada, as evidence by our forty-seven literary journals” is a bogus statement. We only have a diverse literary culture in this country if we are using those forty-seven (a made up number, likely hyperbolic) in the service of diversity. Moore and company have evil in their hearts, but at least a sliver of their brain-dead lexicon (“eliminate redundancies”) is valid to our situation. All we are is a house of redundancy.

6. It’s dangerous, as both Lista and Fuhr have done (and, full disclosure, I’m about to do) to try and predict the future. Nobody will get it right. That being said, here’s my concern about where the funding changes might take us….

Imagine I’m correct that the beige standard of mainstream literary publishing (I’ll call it the “I just want to publish good writing” effect) is what dies out in ten years, this is in no way good news for the remaining journals. And it’s worse news for the writers, even those who still get published, and even those who, like myself, were always suspicious of the journals’ advertised role in the creative ecology of the country, anyway.

It is in the nature of threatened organizations (governments, companies, families, eg) to revert to a more conservative approach. We tighten up. We focus inwardly. I’m concerned that the best way to weather a new economic obstacle is to “shore up support”. Thus we retreat to our tribes and our bastions. If Open Letter find themselves to be the country’s lone remaining avant garde literary journal (and I pick them only because I like them the most and I’m familiar with them, who knows if that’s how it would happen) then they suddenly inherit the readership and the burden of that singularity. They move from being a journal of avant garde Canadian writing to a journal of the avant garde Canadian writer. I’m not sure what would happen next, but imagine that one-off stabs at crossover aesthetics (like the brilliant recent “Humour” issue) become things of the past. The same retreat/defense maneuver plays out around the comparable aesthetic milieus at Arc and CNQ. In twenty years, is it conceivable that anyone is published in more than two of these three magazines? Wait, is that even happening now?

I’m leaving Poetry is Dead out of this part of the conversation because A. Methinks they don’t get any funding already and B. They are pirates. And pirates will always survive somewhere, wedged under the national floorboards, in basements and study halls, with nothing but their youth and their I-dont-give-a-fuck to guide them.

7. People who read this blog will see the scenario described in #6 as my version of the hellish, post-apocalyptic nightmare of Beyond Thunderdome. It’s in this view of a potential future that I disagree with my friend Mike, as grateful as I am that somebody would take on the sacred cow of periodicals funding in the first place. I don’t see how the Moore model fosters a national literary culture, unless that nation is Yugoslavia.

But I don’t know. This is important to say: I’ve thought about it, even written about it a bit (again, on vacation, while watching the news and listening to a relative’s story about her teaching job–so mind the typos, kids) and I don’t know. None of us know the future. But I think that we should probably all be scared.

Interview with Adam Seelig up at The Walrus Blog

February 18, 2011

Hi everyone.

Lots of love goes out to the various bloggers, editors, and webpeople who wrote in with suggestions and offers of new homes for my Critical Interviews series. I was a little overwhelmed by the response (free content, for arts blogs, who knew that’d be a hit??) and it took me a few days to filter through the options.

I’ve taken Matt McKinnon at The Walrus’s blog up on his offer to host the series. Matt runs the electronic side of a magazine that has the audacity to put a poem up along side, say, a think piece on the psychogeography of Vancouver. These are good people. They are taking poetry out on play dates.

So, the first interview in the series is now up in the gorgeous e-environment that The Walrus provides. It is with Toronto/Vancouver playwright and poet Adam Seelig, author of the new long poem/novel/typographic experiment, Every Day in the Morning (slow). Adam’s a good guy, and was willing to live with the epic waits that sometimes took place between my questions. Here’s the interview. Hope you like it.

-Jake