Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ category

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.


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.

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.

Afterword this week, Launch tonight

April 11, 2011

Hi all.
I’m doing the National Post’s guest editor spot on their blog, The Afterword, this week. I’ve written a three-part essay on the subject of alias. The first part is up now. It’s a little dry compared to the next two in the set (think: Star Wars!). I promise it will get good. By the end of the third part, I will have publicly admitted to no fewer than twelve incidents of employment fraud. In the near future, I’ll fill in this post with links to part two here, and part three here.

Also, a final obnoxious reminder that Folk is launching in Toronto tonight. It’s at the Dora Keogh pub, which is right at Broadview station. It’s not that far. Your mothers used to walk five miles to go to school.

Knowing I need to pace myself re: book launches this month, mine’s going to be as low-cardio as possible. First, we’re all going to drink a bit. Then I’m going to get up and read for, like, 5 minutes. Then we’re all going to drink more. End of show. If you’re asking me, “What time does it start?” then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point of the above schedule. Well, okay, it starts at 7:00, in that if you get there before 7:00, likely no one will be there. But get there whenever after 7:00 you feel like. I’ll be around, and more charming by the minute.

“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.


Review of “Modern Canadian Poets” in the Globe

April 7, 2011

My review of the much-discussed Carcanet anthology “Modern Canadian Poets”, edited by Todd Swift and Evan Jones, is in the Globe today. Here’s a link. I’m actually not sure if it’s in the actual printed paper, too. Probably not, as today is Thursday. [Edit: It is.]

I didn’t like it very much. I question its intentions, and I feel that it shirked the massive responsibility of both its title and the name on its spine. This from two poets whose work I enjoy. For a dissenting opinion, please read Carmine Starnino’s defense of the project in the current issue of Quill & Quire. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 80% sure he’s being overly generous to the book, but it’s a very well written piece of prose, and full of things to consider.

Here’s that link again. An excerpt follows, if you’re really trying to conserve bandwidth.


The anthology as provocation
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 07, 2011 12:00AM EDT

All anthologies are political actions. They are kingmakers’ gestures, wherein their editors attempt to appoint a hierarchy for their chosen time and place. With that in mind, expatriate Canadian poets Todd Swift and Evan Jones, having convinced top-tier British poetry press Carcanet to let them publish an anthology called Modern Canadian Poets, need to be evaluated on both taste and politics. Because when taste is moved into the public sphere, it becomes a kind of politics, and the statement made with a major anthology contains the same world-remaking ambitions as a political platform.

This is especially true for an anthology that aims to introduce readers “to 35 poets they may never have read before.” To that end, here are six poets not featured in this new collection, published in Britain and launched recently in Canada: Leonard Cohen, Don McKay, Al Purdy, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. There are more, and while some major voices survived the cull (Irving Layton, Anne Carson, even relative outsiders David McGimpsey and Lisa Robertson made it in), this is an anthology that aims to provoke with its rejections.

When work suggested for a canon is on-message with the dominant consensus, it is right to interrogate the editors. But, in a book with such an eccentrically revisionist bent as Modern Canadian Poets, we ask not only, “What were the editors trying to knock over?” but also, “What are they hoping will grow in its place?” This critical double play is important and regenerative. Art needs revolutions. But we should always suspect its loudest partisans.

In which the gentlemen of The Afterword sweep into battle aboard another Silver Horse of Relevance

October 8, 2010

Over the last few days, I’ve been tweeting my slowly burning disappointment in CBC’s newest version of “Canada Reads“. It’s basically gone from “The people get to pick the books!” to “The people get to pick the books, but only from among newer (read: still on sale) titles!” to “The people pick new books, but no new books that are poetry or nonfiction!” I hereby bet $200 that one of the five finalist will be a novel written by someone previously featured on an earlier version of the contest. Democracy fail, kids. Democracy fail.

However, the trio of wise men at The Afterword have just now dropped down from their unlikely perch within the frozen, rotting TomTom corpse that is The National Post to rescue the concept from its originators. They’ve decided to do something called “Canada Reads Poetry“, which is exactly what you think it is. It’d be an honour to be included as a finalist, obviously, but to be honest I think the real fun is in being a panelist. So I, like many others, will dedicate some portion of my coming long weekend to deciding which book I’d like to give some voice to. Should be good. Whatever happens, I (and Vox) will be following along.

Globe Throws Poetry a Bone

September 23, 2010

I was surprised (and pleased) to see poetry given space in the Globe and Mail’s Tuesday Essay column (I guess there’s more space on Tuesdays than Saturdays). It took the form of this essay from poet and blogger Shane Neilson about the tendency of editors to include their own work in anthologies. The examples he used were poetic anthologies, but is likely similar across projects.

I know many of the people quoted or referenced in the essay, so I’ll try to stay on the periphery of this one. I’ll just say these two things, because they’re more fact than opinion, and relatively separate from any personal biases.

1. The editorial insert in the A-frame anthology was an afterword. Afterwords are generally written by editors.

2. In an essay on the self-pleasuring nature of editors who include themselves in their own anthologies, Neilson gives his argument a big negating kick when he includes himself on the list of selfless editors who did not give in to this impulse. It’s a bit like grabbing a bullhorn to tell the neighbours to keep their voices down.

To Neilson, everyone’s character flaws are obvious and glaring, except his own. This is why they never let us write the essays. Yawn.

Vox Pop Presents: The One Most Overrated Lit-Blog Cliché

August 24, 2010

Alex Good and Steven Beattie have posted a Canadian follow-up to the recent HufffPo “15 Most Overrated Authors” article. Exhibiting all the major signs of the Cultural Inferiority Complex, the article both A. Arrived a little too late to ride the original wave and B. Is appropriately just a lil’ bit shorter than the American version, at ten to the original’s fifteen authors (But it still works! It still works!) Am I being a bad masculinist if I suggest that these kind of drive-by-wordings are things only us boys can conceive of as important?

Some names here I really agree with, obviously. But, there’s others with hinderances and obfuscations that are rarely as obvious in their work as in the dismissals of their work badgered around in informal criticism (Moure as cryptic and uninteresting, Ondaatje as bloodless and purple).

Anyway, in pure Canadian style, the sharpened pens of this article will be turned around tomorrow, as The Afterword brings us “The 10 Most Underrated Canadian Authors”. Expect the current social media bloodlust swirling over the Beattie/Good article to give way tomorrow to ten authors innocently posting about their surprise kudos.

Dektet Review in Globe and Mail

August 17, 2010

Apparently, if you say enough negative things about your local newspaper’s weekend book section, someone from said book section will eventually hire you to write for them. Evidence for this new law of Newtonian physics lies in my review of the ten titles from Calgary-based Frontenac House’s Spring “Dektet” catalogue, which appeared in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Admittedly, I don’t read the Globe and Mail’s Books Section, so I missed it. But now here it is, in electronic glory. In brief: 1. There’s not a lot of point to publishing 10 books if you can’t successfully market and distribute your usual four, not that this is necessarily your fault. 2. That being said, the point of being a small press is to foster good books, and there are good books here that deserve the chance Frontenac has given them. 3. To my eye, the good books in Frontenac’s Dektet were: Keith Garebian’s Children of Ararat, Douglas Burnet Smith’s Learning to Count, and especially Nikki Reimer’s [sic]. All come Vox recommended. Here’s the whole review.