Archive for the ‘Poems in the Wider World’ category

Retail 2012: Brick Books

February 3, 2012

We begin our annual round-up with those good Londoners over at Brick Books. Brick is presided over by Kitty Lewis, the bon-bon giving, cheek-pinching, favourite aunty of Canadian poetry. It’s editorial input comes from a committee that has been active, in different incarnations, for many years now. The idea of an editorial committee making the decisions, instead of the singular voice of a poetry editor, has gone from eccentric to totally mainstream over the last year or so, as numerous other presses (Goose Lane, Coach House…) have done the same thing.

Four books in the poetry catalogue for Brick this spring. Here they are.

Title: Omens in the Year of the Ox
Author: Steven Price
Release Date: February
Collection Number: Two
Time Since Last Collection: Six Years
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “Steven Price’s second collection is part of a long-lived struggle to address the mysteries that both surround and inhabit us. The book draws together moments both contemporary and historical, ranging from Herodotus to Augustine of Hippo, from a North American childhood to Greek mythology; indeed, the collection is threaded with interjections from a Greek-style chorus of clever-minded, mischievous beings—half-ghost, half-muse—whose commentaries tormentingly egg the writer on. In poems that range from free verse to prose to formal constructions, Price addresses the moral lack in the human heart and the labour of living with such a heart. “
Google Says: Steven Price’s 2006 poetic biography of Harry Houdini, The Anatomy of Keys, was one of that year’s most discussed new books. Well-liked, and well-disliked, depending on the table and bar you chose to sit at to talk about it. I loved the shit out of that book and apparently so did the Gerald Lampert Award jury. The author published a novel last year, called Into That Darkness. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on the list. His partner also published a novel last year that, I’m guessing, won the couple’s informal “Total Domestic Sales” Derby by something like a 20-1 margin. Even people that didn’t love Anatomy of Keys responded to how well-structured it was. It was a highly novelistic book of poems, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Into That Darkness, when I eventually get around to it, will be awesome.

Title: Monkey Ranch
Author: Julie Bruck
Release Date: March
Collection Number: Third
Time Since Last Collection: Thirteen Years
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “Julie Bruck’s third book of poetry is a brilliant and unusual blend of pathos and play, of deep seriousness and wildly veering humour. Though Bruck “does not stammer when it’s time to speak up,” and “will not blink when it’s time to stare directly at the uncomfortable,” as Cornelius Eady says in his blurb for the book, “in Monkey Ranch she celebrates more than she sighs, and she smartly avoids the shallow trap of mere indignation by infusing her lines with bright, nimble turns, the small, yet indelible detail. Bruck sees everything we do; she just seems to see it wiser. Her poems sing and roil with everything complicated and joyous we human monkeys are.”
Blurbs and other Favours: The above-mentioned Eady, author of the too-wonderful-to-even-look-at Brutal Imagination.
Google Says: I always feel like we should be taking up charitable collections for Canadian poets who live abroad. Julie Bruck teaches and lives in San Fransisco now, and despite really classy byline credits like The New Yorker and Ploughshares, I wonder if people are going to read her here. They should. I like this one online at the Valparaiso Poetry Review. A poem of hers gets taken out of Arc magazine and ran through David Godkin’s brain here on his Speaking of Poems blog. The poet’s own website is right here, and I’ve been told it’s kept up to date with readings and whatnot.

Title: Between Dusk and Night
Author: Emily McGiffin
Release Date: May
Collection Number: First
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “There are many journeys encompassed in the pages of this mature and well-crafted first collection; literal travels to different parts of the world, to Europe and Africa, are the outward manifestation of the inward quest, the asking of the old but still essential questions: What is real? What is true? What is honourable? What is right? Yet these questions are new in that the poet is deeply concerned with the need to find a new paradigm, a new way to relate to the earth at this time of ever-heightening environmental crisis. And this seeking for how to be in and of the earth is paralleled by a personal search for intimacy with her fellow humans—with friends and lovers, with a grandfather, with the people she encounters as she ventures into uneasy relationships with people from other cultures.”
Google Says: McGiffin won the 2009 Bronwen Wallace Award over two other poets (Michael Johnson and Jeff Latosik) that are pretty great themselves. I’ll link to a story about it here, by awesomely-professional Globe and Mail employee, Judith Fitzgerald, written in a departure from her usual Proustian diction and style. I’m 90% confident the poet is the same person who wrote this letter to The Walrus in support of Vancouver Island’s forests (scroll down a bit, it’s at the end). As for the book, itself, I’m excited for it. You can read the citation and whatnot from the Writers’ Trust on their website, and there’s an actual poem from the poet up here on the Globe.

Title: I see my love more clearly from a distance
Author: Nora Gould
Release Date: April
Collection Number: First
Editor-Approved Bumfspeak: “In Nora Gould’s one-of-a-kind debut, the Prairie itself is a central character: muse, mythic persona, the place of deepest solace and of deepest questioning. The poems focus with great firmness and technical command on the facts of daily life on the farm: impregnating cows, the neighbour kid picking off a coyote, cutting hay, getting water to the herd in a drought, dehorning. But Prairie anecdotalism this ain’t. What is breathtaking about this book is the relation between its exactness of observation and the grief, horror, and beauty that it documents. What the voice achieves, in its very gestures, is a kind of transcendence: not with the purpose of avoiding pain, but in order to make all of it—all of it—seeable and feelable by a human being. ”
Google Says: Nora Gould is a veterinarian living on a family ranch in rural Alberta. Take that, monkish Toronto-centric poetry nerds! That idea of “the prairie as a character” is going to be a recurring concern this year. Look for it to be treated politically in the new Tim Lilburn, and geologically in Mathew Henderson’s debut this fall from Coach House. She won the Bliss Carman Award in 2010, thus presenting her with the opportunity to get her fingers photographed by Ariel Gordon. Worth the trip, by itself, I can vouch. It’s neat to think of Brick’s two debuting female poets as coming from different ends of a certain poetry-preparation spectrum. McGiffin younger, Gould older. McGiffin an insider with the big award and the credits, Gould the outsider with her separate interests, independent career, and a whole life spent only indirectly in the service of poems. I’m not making a judgment call, either way. But I know people do. I’m struggling to find a Nora Gould poem to link to here. If anyone sees one online, do let me know….Update: Thanks, Carolyn Smart. Here’s one right here.

That was fun. Let’s do another press very soon.

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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

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.

His Pain, Unowned, He Left in Paragraphs of Love

August 22, 2011

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

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

For My Old Layton
by Leonard Cohen (selection)

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

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

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

Trotter Interview Now Up at The Walrus

July 5, 2011

Hi kids.

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

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

The Thirty-Eight Books That Made My Suitcase for Dawson City

July 3, 2011

Hi everyone.

So I’ve been in Dawson for a few days now, after a 72-hour layover in Whitehorse to start my travels. It’s nice here at Chez Pierre. Lots of comfy rooms and comfy people and even a fainting couch, which is something I’ve always wanted. I’m teaching myself to bake. So far I’ve made biscuits (from scratch, and incredibly well) and cornbread (from scratch and, er, from scratch). I’m hoping to return to Toronto when my travels are through with the title of “World’s Perfect Man” sewn up for the rest of the decade.

Packing books was an immense undertaking for me. Obviously, I couldn’t take very many, and even the much-edited booklist I eventually put together cost me about $70 in heavy luggage charges first from Air Canada and then Air North. I had to throw three heavies poetry anthologies to the roommates on my way out the door because I couldn’t get my suitcase to close all the way. They were this one on early 20th Century Canadian poets and this collected Ted Hughes (said Latosik: Thanks. Um, didn’t I give you this Hughes book as a gift?)

I thought people would like to know what made the cut. I finished a lot of books in the lead-up to leaving, in an attempt to keep things reasonable. Here’s a list, divided into my standard three categories of book:

The view outside the Berton House at 45 minutes after midnight on June 2nd.

Line Breaks:Looking it over, this section is dominated by books I’ve already read but wanted the opportunity to get into again. When I’m supposed to be writing, I tend to use poetry collections as reference books, things to dip into on occasion in search of inspiration or distraction. Re-reads are good for this.
A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People by Gabe Foreman
Campfire Radio Rhapsody by Robert Earl Stewart (The last book I bought before leaving Toronto, at the Mansfield launch last week.)
The Collected Poems of J.H. Prynne (I’m coming around to the realization that Prynne is the guy I’m going to spend my life obsessive over and trying to emulate. Not a bad choice, for that.)
Hole in the Wall, Selected Poems by Tom Pickard
How We All Swiftly, Selected Poems by Don Coles
Mask by Helen Guri (Needed to give this one a re-read with a little less background noise in my life)
Mirabel by Pierre Nepveu
The Mourner’s Book of Albums by Daniel Scott Tysdall
Open Letter, The Humour Issue, ed Ball & Fitzpatrick
Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the 20th Century in Poetry (This is a cool idea, a sort of subject/chronology switcheroo with the standard 20th C. Poetry anthology. Anyone else ever read this?)
Selected Poems by Earle Birney
Slant Room by Michael Eden Reynolds (Michael took me around Whitehorse a bit when I was up there. He was gracious and funny. His book is really exceptional, in particular the second of its four parts– the long lyrical elegy done right.)
Penned: Zoo Poems ed Bolster, Grubisic & Reader
The 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology ed Tim Lilburn
The Best American Poetry of 1992, ed Charles Simic (Why 1992? Because that’s the version the used bookstore had in stock.)
Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry ed Robyn Sarah

No Line Breaks, Fictional: The theme here seems to be books I haven’t read by authors I love. Whereas fiction is what I plan on working on up here, this part of the list was kept light.
20 Grand: Great American Short Stories ed by Bantam Pathfinder Staff (This book is begging to be left behind on a park bench when I return Southside. It will get its wish.)
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Flight Paths of the Emperor by Steven Heighton
In the Skin of the Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Mao II by Don Delillo
Samuel the Seeker by Upton Sinclair
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima
The State of Constraint, New Work from the OULIPO ed by McSweeney’s Editorial Staff
Young Romantics by Daisy Hay

No Line Breaks, Not Fictional: Tends to be the major part of my reading, and it is here too, though poetry outnumbers it in titles, those slim volumes get massively outweighed by their denser cousins.
Aesthetics and Politics: Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht & Lukacs (Amazon link not intended ironically, was all I could find.)
Aesthetics: From Classical Greece to the Present, Monroe C. Beardsley
Essentials of Home Cooking, Bonnie Stern
Europe on a Shoestring and Europe through the Backdoor (For my further adventures this year. I’m going sneak in the backdoor on shoestrings.)
Europe: A History, Norman Davies (The greatest living English-language historian. Fight me over it.)
Heart of Europe, a History of Poland, Norman Davies (I’m reading this not because I love Polish history, but because I like how this book is ordered. It’s written in reverse chronology, from Solidarity backwards to the Barbarians).
A History of Pornography by H. Montgomery Hyde (What? It’s history.)
The Critical Object (Digital Redux), by Jeanne Randolph (My predecessor at Berton House, she does philosophy-meets-pop culture exceedingly well.)
Lapham’s Quarterly, the “Sports & Games” and “The City” Issues (This periodical is the caviar of bathroom reading.)
Turco’s Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics by Lewis Turco (Only the classics for me, thanks.)

I had also loaded up a few dozen titles on my Kobo eReader, thinking that such ethereal digital things would take up less space than print and paper. And they did, but they are also kidnapped by their own devicehood, and when the device breaks, as mine did as I took off from Whitehorse on Friday, the texts become unreadable. Joke’s on you, modernity. Or I suppose modernity’s joke is on me.

Exhibit A:

That's cool. I didn't need the words in the bottom left-hand corner of every page.

Exhibit B:

In this wider-angle shot of the above, Pierre's old Remington typewriter can beseen smirking.

Go See the E.E. Cummings Thing at Soulpepper

June 8, 2011

Since I was just a little wolf cub, I’ve been lucky enough to know a great deal of things about a great deal of things. However, I won’t say that Le theatre is one of them. Of the last, say, ten shows I’ve attended in Toronto, a majority-mandate-winning percentage of them have either been adapted from poetry (as was Mike Ross‘s Dennis Lee cabaret a couple years back) or about poets (as was “Futurists”, and the excellent “After Akhmatova”).

The newest 3D Motion UnPicture Event I saw was the Double Bill being presently put on the Soulpepper Academy, the first half of which is called (Re)Birth and is basically a loose, vaudeville-inspired cabaret of song and dance inspired by the work of American poetry’s favourite rumoured-spy-turned-McCarthyist, e.e. cummings.

It sounds like it could be awful. But it’s not. The work is listed as a collaboration, but the music sounds too similar to Ross’s Civil Elegies score (he’s the musical director of the company, and performed in the cabaret dressed in a very in-charge looking admiral’s jacket) to ignore what may have been a dominant source of input. The music is incredible, the staging both invested in the poetry and winkingly irreverent, and the efficiency of the event’s choreography closer to dance than to theatrical blocking.

The strength of Civil Elegies was in Ross’s ability to cobble together something resembling a balladic vision from Lee’s massively diverse prosody (he drew on the title book, obviously, but also elements of The Gods and the “children’s verse”). That trick is maybe even a little tougher with cummings, so the company did really well to avoid biting off more than they could chew. The poems selected skew to the poet’s younger years. Whereas Ross’s solo show was ordered and almost narrative in its scope, the group effort of (Re)birth is more of a straight cabaret, with the various instrumentation (electric bass, stand-up bass, violin, beatbox, children’s xylophone, pennywhistle, um, rubber frog toy…) leading the way, even at expense of the words. The celebration, here, is of the aw-shucks American vernacularism that inspired much of cumming’s diction, and likely much of his popularity. The youthful, playful, anarchy-facing subversiveness of the project is more than enough.

(Re)birth is presented as a double bill with the farcical experimental piece, Window on Toronto, which is set at a hot dog cart, has maybe 100 characters, and moves as fast as anything I’ve seen in my limited theatrical viewership. It’s a great chaser for the meatier, if equally madcap, (Re)birth. I’m hoping one day to see Ross’s Civil Elegies remounted as double bill with (Re)birth as its follow-up.

The Soulpepper Academy’s Double Bill runs until the 22nd. We scored rush tickets for $20 a head. Worth it at twice the price. Which I imagine is what they cost, now that there’s no more rush shows left. Go see it. Seriously. This is the very most I’m capable of recommending something.