Archive for the ‘Toronto Poetry Cult’ 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

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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.

Influency’s Return

April 2, 2011

Good morning, everyone.

I just saw that the University of Toronto’s Cont Ed centre is going to offer the Influency Salon again. I’d like it very much if somebody saw this post, read facilitator Margaret Christakos’s founding document over here on the program’s website, and registered for the course. I’ve had the opportunity to participate once as a guest, and would likely be signing up this time around as a student if I wasn’t leaving the city mid-way through. Influency is the perfect literature course. All the paraphernalia and overconfidence that tends to accrue when four or more people come together to discuss poetry, washed away by engineering or the force of the personalities involved. I can’t recommend it enough. I’m not sure who the poets to be studied this semester are, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the conversation.

The registration page is right here. Sign up. You’re not going to live forever.

-J

Art Bar Recorded

April 1, 2011

Hi all.

The people at the Art Bar reading series have taken to committing their presenters to podcasts. Here’s my set from my reading there on the 22nd of March. It was fun. I read mostly from the second half of Folk, with an opening salvo of the book’s prologue poem, and a sonnet about Muhammed Ali as an intermission.

I can’t listen to the whole thing, but it sounds like quality audio. After a couple minutes, I can’t deal with how much my voice sounds like that of a giant, anthropomorphic Gummi Bear.

Speaking of readings, a big full-throated whoop to everyone who participated in the Harbourfront poetry open stage this week, and especially to Mr. Gary Barwin of Hamilton, and Mr. David Groulx of Ottawa, who were the co-winners.

Baseball season starts today. Nothing more can hurt us.

-Jake

PS: People are asking if I’m “doing anything” for National Poetry Month this year. I’m not, really. Secularism…. The one thing I’m up to is a short project with the boys at Afterword, which I’ll have more on when it gets announced in a couple days. Or maybe today. I don’t know.

This Update Post is 100% Read

March 21, 2011

Hi everyone.

I’m concerned the blog is going to grind down, over the next few months, into a boring list of personal updates. This is something of the natural grain of a personal blog when one is putting a book out. I went here. I did this. Here’s some things people said. I hope to try and avoid this as much as possible. Or, at least, be aware of it. Or, at least, tell some jokes whilst doing it.

To that end, here’s a boring list of personal updates.

1. I got my contributor’s copy of Poetry is Dead today. It’s their “Form” issue and my contribution was an essay called “Hunters and Taxonomists”. The essay considers the 10th anniversary of Strand & Boland’s “The Making of a Poem”, and specifically looks at that book’s brief but effective distillation of the sonnet in light of two more recent experiments. Namely, these experiments are Jan Bervin’s book of Shakespearian erasure pieces, “Nets” and Gregory Betts’s plunderverse approach to the final Shakespearian sonnet in “The Others Rais’d in Me”. Find the magazine, read the essay, tell me what you think. Specifically, tell me what you think if you’ve also since read Don Paterson’s new book of reactions to the bard’s sonnets that I mentioned here a few weeks back.

2. Tomorrow at 2pm, CKLN is airing an episode of In Other Words they’re calling their “Writers & Music” episode. I was one of a handful of authors who took Jennifer Lovegrove up on her request to name a piece of music that has inspired, impacted, or otherwise accompanied their writing. The obvious choice for me would be to use Desolation Row by Bob Dylan, images from which inspired most of the poems in the first half of Folk. But, not wanting to get CKLN in more licensing hot water by ordering the playing of hits, I went back another book and picked Tim Baker (of Hey Rosetta!)’s love song to St. John’s, Epitaph. It’s got Canlit right there in its chorus. Listen to the song below, and to the radio program at 2pm EST at www.ckln.fm.

3. I’m reading at Art Bar tomorrow (Tuesday) night with Pamela Porter and Jeffery Donaldson. Come on out, Toronto. I’ll have fresh Folks for sale.

4. I’m reading at Pilot on Sunday night with a ton of people, including Richard Van Camp, Susan Briscoe, and Vox Pop favourite Antony Di Nardo. Come on out, Montreal. It’d be good to meet you. I wanted to affix to this point the photo that’s out there somewhere of my four-year-old self, posing in my Tim Raines jersey next to Youppi himself, smiling toothily. Alas, I can’t find it. C’est terrible.

5. I’ve had physical copies of the new book for about a week now, and have just started getting them in the hands of friends. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, then, to see some (very tiny) review notices around, like this one from the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal and this one here at Salty Ink. Atlantic Canada. Represent.

6. I have a Kobo. Did we all know this? I’m not sold on the thing yet. Its great failure is the presentation of lineated poetry. Its great success, however, is in allowing me the joy of wildly recalibrating what I consider to be “on the go” reading. This is no longer a thing only open to sub-200 page novellas and poetry collections. Big books are welcome, too. To wit, I’ve finally, after multiple attempts, managed to finish de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. While the electrogadgetry of the Kobo precluded me from forcefully shutting the two-volume monstrosity with the gusto of a victorious hunter, I do enjoy looking at my virtual bookshelf and seeing the little “100% read” notice under Alexis’s title. I want that beacon for printed books, too. I suspect all the blowhards of my past and present would be embarrassed if their shelves displayed, in eye-friendly greyscale, proof that their prized hardcovers had never actually been opened, let alone finished. My next big reading project is Norman Davies’s Europe: A History. 6% read. And counting.

And fucking counting.

Cheers,
Jake

PS-What’s the story on new (Spring) collections? Anyone getting their hands on anything yet? I got two Brick titles in the mail today (thanks, Kitty!) but haven’t gotten around to opening them yet. I suspect most of you with copies of your own at this date have them because you have review assignments, so maybe you’re going to keep it to yourself. Backchannel me, though, if you have a lead on something you feel I should be reading.

Two Event Notices, and a Birthday Poem for Dave

February 16, 2011

Everyone doing okay? I’m alright. Two events this week I’d like to make certain is on your collective radar.

1. Emblem Editions (McClelland & Stewart) is putting out another anthology in support of PEN Canada, this one’s called Finding the Words. The last three (Writing Life, Writing Away, and Writing Home) were edited by Guelph academic and my personal-fairy-godmother, Connie Rooke. Connie’s death a couple years ago put these books on something of a hiatus, so I’m glad to see them come back with a new look and a new editor (The Walrus’s Jared Bland). You should buy one. Or go to the launch tonight.

2. When i saw that angela rawlings was putting on a trio of weekend workshops this month, I thought: I’m doing that. I’mma go and get my glottal stops on. However, it hasn’t worked out, and I’m going to miss the third of them on Sunday. I hear through the vineyard that space is limited, but someone reading this should still go, and report back to me their discoveries.

3. Lastly, 30-some-odd years ago today the world first saw of Dave Brock. Happy Birthday Dave. I wrote you this poem after stumbling home from the Intersteer one evening, at the conclusion of an impassioned, many-headed debate about music. Or movies. Or something…

Creep, by TLC, is a Better Song than Creep, by Radiohead
for David Brock

………and what I mean by that is I’m learning
to walk backwards. And I owe you forty cents.
Lean on the contention in the sentence’s
facade. Spot the blots in the paint
that suggest the face of Jesus.
Now let your limited query lick the edge
of bigger problems. Race relations, bullyhood.
Let it glow within the argument. Let the pre-rebuttal silence
weigh down your final drink.

I spilled the songs on the grain of the table
and read the patterns they produced. I have grown proper old,
I can wet the bed for science. Proclaimers know the terrain
that affords the cleanest leap.
They can adjust for the wind in mid-air.
Smile and speak clearly. All punditry
……………………………………is
is plainspokenness and lab coats. Be observant, democratic.
Write “Wisdem” on a napkin, stick it to your forehead
with spit and go outside.

Twelve Merry Months of Voxing

December 14, 2010

Hi kids.

Santa Claus is coming. I’ve got my plane ticket home. It’s as cold as I’ve ever felt it in Toronto. In the continued roll-out of all things “End of the Year”, I thought I’d post a list of the blog’s post popular posts from the past 365 days, as decided by traffic. So take a look through, pull up what you’ve missed, and relive with me the year’s worth of lies, damned lies, and internet talkin’ fights.

***

10. (it’s a tie) August 25th, 2010
In Defense of Blogging. You’ll notice I have a fairly humble sense of how much this blog matter to anyone, but I will say that this post is the thing I’m most proud of, among everything I’ve slapped up in this space. You should read it and let me know what you think. I’m invested in it. I’m not always invested.
Meanwhile, in more important matters: The Battle of Mogadishu intensifies. Carter arrives in North Korea. Hurricane Danielle strengthens to a Cat. 2 and starts making faces at Bermuda.

November 29th, 2010
Facebook for Writers: A Constitution. On the opposite end of the earnestness spectrum is this throw-away little funsized thingy I did with Alex Boyd last month. At least three people took it way to seriously and emailed me in complaint. It’s a fast-paced world, angry trio, if you can’t read between the lines, then you shouldn’t be reading.
Meanwhile, in more important matters: Picasso’s electrician reveals lost treasures. Kenya plots to arrest its homosexuals. Iran’s top nuclear scientist is killed under mysterious circumstances, but neither Israel nor NATO have any idea what we’re talking about.

9. December 6th, 2010
The Vox List: Jake’s 5 Favourite Canadian Poetry Titles of 2010. You people and your lists. Y’all are a bunch of SEO-infected, HuffPo-linkin’ automatons. Our hero posts his requisite “best-of” list and, in the matter of a week, it cracks this top ten. This list made the list. Oh noes, a list of lists! Internet crashes, roads dissolve. The sun swallows the moon swallows the sky swallows Texas….
Meanwhile, in more important matters: The cholera outbreak in Haiti goes unchecked. The Bush Tax Cuts are extended. Julian Assange says Fuck You to the world.

8. July 10th, 2010
More Provocations for People. Our hero’s public offer of $100 to anyone who used Milton Acorn’s “More Poems for People” as their “avant-garde” text for a Scream Festival event that, to my eyes, obnoxiously and specifically invoked the A word resulted in nobody taking me up on the offer, but did lead to some interesting blog activity. This was something of a foreshadow to the post that followed later that week (scroll down).
Meanwhile, in more important matters: BP tries to refit their oil spill with a larger containment cap. Germany tops Uruguay in the World Cup 3rd Place match. Raoul Moat shoots himself in the UK.

7. October 13th, 2010
Governor General’s Shortlist: English Poetry, 2010. Perhaps as a sign of the blog’s increased weight in this tiny little playpen we all live in, shit got lit up the day I posted this info, which anybody could have found at any of several dozen other places on the internet. It did result in this fun side-project at GoodReports. I feel, in the end, like the right book won, at least the right book from among the five finalists. How often does that happen?
Meanwhile, in more important matters: US drones kill 13 in Pakistan. US drones physically located in the US don’t notice or care. The final Chilean miner hits the surface at 9:56 PM local time.

6. August 15th, 2010
Introducing the ITYNWC. The Vox Pop/Scotiabank International Ten Year Novel-Writing Contest kicks off for another decade. I hear from our some 400 contestants that things are going well. One of them called just yesterday to say that their toddler has potty trained himself (the good news!) using her manuscript as bathroom tissue (the less-good news!). Hang in there, champs!
Meanwhile, in more important matters: Zsa Zsa Gabor falls ill. The Indian PM falls on the grenade re: The Commonwealth Games. Two people are shot at a Brazilian Gay Pride parade.

5. February 9th, 2010
Remember Your Ephemera. In a good day for the credibility of blogging as mind-changing medium, our hero introduces his review of Moez Surani’s Reticent Bodies by way of a push for the lovingly curated Notes section. Everybody disagrees and, looking back on it, they were right. As a result, the size of the Notes section in my upcoming collection is reduced by approximately 75%. As Alanis said, U Learn.
Meanwhile, in more important matters: The Italian Embassy in Iran gets its ass kicked. Simultaneously, a new Filipino election is called and the current President’s allies are charged with murder. Has to be a coincidence….

4. January 12th, 2010
Chattering Classes (def). A one-paragraph post inspired by an insipid provocation by a Tory cabinet minister. One of our hero’s rare overtly political bloggerings. I thought a bit about reposting it as I was listening to Don Cherry go on about “bottom-scraping” leftists this week.
Meanwhile, in more important matters: The Pine Glacier hits its tipping point. The North American Auto show goes green. A man-sized man is eaten by a “dinosaur-sized” shark.

3. March 15th, 2010
Comfort and Commitment. In which our hero takes issue with fellow blogger Alex Boyd’s essay on content in Canadian poetry, and posts a rebuttal. Brief internet skirmish follows. Later, everyone makes up and Boyd brings our hero onboard with his fun little Facebook for Writers idea (see above).
Meanwhile in more important matters: The doomed Dodds Bill for financial regulation enters the Senate. Beckham drops out of the World Cup. Shit goes down in Palestine.

2. May 1st, 2010
Tuturro Week, Part 1. Perhaps the greatest single piece of evidence I’ve seen of the smallness of poetry versus the massiveness of pop culture. Our hero does a jokey series on the topic of poetry-themed movies staring lovable but hardly famous character actor John Tuturro, said post makes both the Imdb’s news wrap-up and the first page of Tuturro’s google results, and becomes the most searched page in the history of the blog. Johnny, I thought no one cared about ya….
Meanwhile, in more important matters: That one guy fails mightily in his attempt to blow up Times Square. Johnson & Johnson recalls half their products. Mayweather beats Mosley by decision.

1. July 11th, 2010.
Jake’s Provoquestion, restated. In which our hero comes back pissed off from an afternoon of stewing in a fog at the Scream Festival’s annual panel discussion, and writes his first and only blog post from under the funky cloud of anger. Fireworks, not surprisingly, occur. Everything eventually peters out into the same old half-hearted posturing. I’m happy to report pretty much everyone is still friends.
Meanwhile, in more important matters: Spain wins the World Cup. There’s a solar eclipse. The “barefoot bandit” is caught. Sixty-four people die in Uganda.

***

It’s been a good year. Challenges and joys lie ahead. Foremost among those challenges, how to host a discussion of Canadian poetry while simultaneously hawking a book that hopes to be a part of that discussion? Not only, How much self-reference is too much? but How much self-reference is self-consciously too little?

-Jake