Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

We’re done here.

May 1, 2012

Hi all.

Thanks for reading this space. As many of you had guessed, Vox Pop is done. Today’s piece in the National Post’s Afterword book section talks a bit about why. I blame myself. And you, too.

Don’t be unhappy though. I’m definitely not unhappy. This is a clean break. You’ll hear from me via a handful of announcements due to tinkle over the wires in the coming month or so, and from those there will be more projects, more trouble to get into, all the normal stuff.

I shall see you on the real Earth.


Playlist: In this Age of Creepy Poetry Ghosts

November 7, 2010

Hi folks.

Well aware I’ve been slackin’ off of late. I know, I know. Personal concerns, plus a project I’m doing re: the GGs, for another blog. I’ll get over both. I came across these decidedly bizarre “poetry animations” on the YouTube. They’re like a combination of PennSound and “The Country Bears” exhibit from Disneyland. I can’t stop looking at them, but I know they’ll give me nightmares…

Animatronic Emily Dickinson

Animatronic Edgar Allen Poe. Still more lifelike a reader than any present day “post-Poe” wannabe I’ve heard.

Animatronic Alexander Pope reminds me of a Chucky doll

Evil Animated Santa Claus sings an Irish Folk Song

Animatronic Hunter S. Thompson. Weird, it’s almost like he’s on acid.

Animatronic John Keats looks sick, maybe. Still sexy, though.

Animatronic Walt Whitman literally has The Adirondacks for eyebrows. He is America, after all.

There’s a lot more of these things. A. Lot. More. Here’s the account page of the crazy S.O.B. who’s responsible. Enjoy.


The Circle of Life: Vox Pop’s First Birthday!

October 6, 2010

It’s been a year (as of this week) since I took out this url for personal blogging use. On the occasion of Vox’s first birthday, I’d like to thoroughly and earnestly thank everyone who reads this space. Whether you are thoughtful and quiet, haunting the periphery of the blog with unspoken counterargument, or you’re verbose and full of freely given wisdom, I appreciate the time you’ve taken. I’ve enjoyed this year of living electronically, it’s helped me finish this book, given me a regulated platform for book-talk and poem-talk, and lead to some exciting new friendships.

As Vox leaves its childhood for the scratchy neckbeard of adolescence, I promise new and good things now that the deadlines of manuscript preparation are almost finished. There’ll be some year-in-review stuff I think you’re going to like. And, during fall sweeps, one major character will be killed.

While my thanks are widespread and cumulous, I’d like to say special thank you to the people who first got me into this racket, namely my surrogate blog-siblings, Sina at Lemon Hound and George at Bookninja:


And Zach at CLM:


And my good friends, roommates, and fellow travelers, Jeff Latosik and Paul Vermeersch:


And, of course, you fine people. Especially you fine people who are the antelopes. Antelopes being my favourite:

Next October, we do The Fox and the Hound.

Thanks so much.

What I Learned from Breaking Things

May 28, 2010

Those of you who read newspapers or live in Toronto will be aware that construction of the G20 containment fence is about to begin in the lead-up to this month’s big conference downtown and the hordes of protestors that the event will likely draw. Perhaps fewer of you will know that I consider myself something of a retired member of that horde. In my teenage years I did everything from local protests, rallies, and campaigns through to the big Teargasapalooza in Quebec City in 2001. It’s not a part of my life I’m eager to revisit but, awash with twitter posts and facebook updates from friends on all sides of the political spectrum (well, okay, more on one side than the other), I find myself thinking back to that unwashed youth and his staggeringly specific sense of moral, economic, and political rights and wrongs. I’m sure he’d have me pulling my hair out in frustration if we ever met in some metaphysical test tube, but he was mostly a good kid. His heart was in it.

A couple of years ago, while a student at the Guelph MFA program, I wrote a personal essay in response to George Orwell’s “Why I Write” that dredged up this period of my life for marks. Not a lot of marks, as it turned out, and upon reading through the paper again I see that it’s really poorly written and deserving of the dreaded red ink of my professor. However, I’ve managed to piece together (and slightly polish up) its two most readable sections for your review. The thesis was essentially that it wasn’t a coincidence that I stopped my involvement in protest politics around the same time I started writing, and that the two likely responded to similar personal itches, despite the fact that much of my work is apolitical, and the political element of it tends to be ambiguous in its intent. This thesis relies on a simplification of my own life story, as there was a period in between the two where I was drafted into mainstream politics and worked as a speechwriter. But that’s neither here nor there. And the thesis might not even be correct. A more interesting discussion would have been of my ongoing distrust of my relatively apolitical adult life, placed against my embarrassment at the shrillness and naiveté of my teenaged idealism. If there’s a third way in between these two approaches that doesn’t sound like an excuse for itself, I’d love to know where to find it.

Anyway, as the wall goes up in Toronto, I give you two selections from Jake’s C- paper on Orwell. I know what you’re thinking, but really, this is me trying to be topical. Honest. I’m not phoning it in or nuttin’. Consider these two excerpts to be drafts for some future, better-fleshed-out personal essay on the topic.


2. What I Learned from Breaking Things

To back up a bit, I should now explain that I spent my high school years active in radical left-wing politics tied vaguely to the “anti-globalisation” movement that peaked in mainstream coverage around 2000 or 2001. Being the only one in my circle of activist friends without piercings (at the time) or an obvious hairstyle, I was selected as ambassador to the rest of the world. This meant I spent my free time at town council meetings, at fundraisers, and on the phone canvassing friendly parties in government and media to pay attention to such things as cultural imperialism, privatized services, and multilateral corporatism. It was an immensely fulfilling time and probably the period of my life where my learning was both the most intense and the most varied. I had found an early portal where the world, as both a massive abstraction and a visceral immediacy, was being offered to the touch. I got tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed and remember talking to a handful of people who may have been truly unique thinkers. I can remember two distinct thought-shifts that occurred during that period, both of whom are important now to my current ambitions towards writing.

First, I felt a sense of identity assimilation, or at the least, a sense that my individual persona was merging into a newer group identity. There are many reports of this phenomenon among people who attempt to cooperate with others in a high-stress environment. Professional athletes speak of getting lost within the team, as do professional soldiers. The outcome of this paradigm shift was that while my teenaged peers were all starting to differentiate themselves from each other; starting, essentially, to become more individualistic, it was the opposite force, towards the communalization of “the individual”, that was dominant in my life.

Secondly, I remember sensing a growing mistrust and even contempt for language. Because so much of my extra-curricular time was spent reading and parsing the meaning out of politically persuasive text, I grew a sense for the manipulative power of language before discovering its aesthetic power (I was, at this time, a reader, but not a particularly close one, and likely easily swayed by cheap propaganda). This mistrust of language coupled with a mistrust of identity to build a somewhat strange starting point for a would-be writer. As Orwell said in Why I Write, “I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development…before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.” My emotional attitudes were both social and cynical. Chief among them was a nascent worry that the power of language to seduce and pervert was at least as great as its power to inspire and incite…

6. Conscientiousness and Consciousness

I want to close with a poem. This poem comes out of an invitation I received a few years ago to participate in a reading for “socially conscious poets”. Rather than accept the invitation I spent several days fuming over the concept. What in the world does “socially conscious” even mean? Aren’t tyrants socially conscious? Isn’t it that ability to see how a society works that makes them so effective as controllers of the population? What about someone who thinks long and hard about the world and comes up with solutions that are far removed from the political opinions of those who created the event and sent the invitations?

These and other questions, as rhetorical and essentially obnoxious as they are, still cling to my identity as a poet. I don’t want to be socially conscious. I want to have good ideas. If I am confident enough in those ideas to stop questioning them and simply go on trumpeting them, I’d argue that I’d no longer be as conscious as I was before but also that nobody would notice.

The poem, of course, is imperfect. The riff against the cult of the metaphor can be translated for our purposes as a riff against language as infallible tool both for communication and for art. I feel like the demand for clarity inherent in the poem’s subtext is a sort of adolescent fantasy. Somewhere in there, though, I can still hear something of the fantastic adolescent who would never have thought to write it, the one who demanded that the physical world stop spinning and begin to unpack itself for his personal exploration.

A Guide to Conscientiousness
(from The New Layman’s Almanac, McClelland & Stewart, Ltd, 2008)

Here comes a word, so proud you can hear it
applauding in the back of your throat. As a kid I

dug up anthills with the whipper-snipper, not just
dug them up, but burrowed in neck-deep, blister-

buzzing, all violent automation chucking through
the undergrass. Dirt rained home and the lawn

reoriented around a new point, decided on bottoms and tops.
I went on to win and to lose. I got older. Nations rearranged,

and now address each other differently. Cop-outs are
too simple for anything but metaphor. Simile, even

suggests that opinions are different, though they might
share a common root. There is room for

departure between them. But soft consensus hopes
they’re the same mass creation, and with effort

everyone can be right and
warm within the bullshit of

A Company Word
like conscience. Give me
………………….. art that’s decided, just

………………….. once. Give me someone who’s
……………………read everything and knows what

……………………they like and don’t like. Allow me time to
……………………decide if I agree, a year or so in the cellar

……………………where they keep the banned books, food and
……………………water, some paper to write stuff down.

And with that, Associate Professors of Narrative Studies everywhere…

May 8, 2010

…grew red-faced and pounded their fists against their dog-earred hardcover copies of Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself.

Rebecca Newberger hits something on the head. With a big ol’ satirical mallet. The pullquote of record: “Above all, what convinced us that we had an advanced absurdist on our hands was the localization of Theory to departments of literature, the very experts steeped in the collective genius of expression, whom we judged to be as likely to embrace violations of the laws of sense and felicity as physicists to make merry with violations of the laws of nature. We looked to these colleagues to explain a poem to us, not to tell us our epistemology.” Thanks to Sam Kaufman’s Facebook feed for the link.


NB: This diversion aside, it’s still Turturro week. However, it’ll likely become something more like Turturro-nine-or-ten-day-stretch, as I’ve got S to D this weekend.


April 8, 2010

You entered the site around 9:15 pm or so this evening, Eastern Standard Time.


You originated from a Montreal, or Laval, IP address.


You are Vox Pop’s 20,000th visitor.


If you can come reasonably close to proving your identity, email me. I’ll make you up a prize pack. A further note: The prize pack will include moose jerky. You likely don’t want it.


March 13, 2010

A poem, as introduction to both annual festivities coming up this week, the one where the kids stay up all night drinking soda, and the one where the adults stay up all night drinking Guinness. Not a happy poem, but at least a famous one. Tá fáilte romhat!


Mid-Term Break
by Seamus Heaney

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close,
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on the left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in a cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Internet Debut: Folk-Lore, by Ted Hughes

February 28, 2010

I did extensive Google research and was surprised to find that perhaps my favourite Ted Hughes poem wasn’t reprinted anywhere online. I then did some less extensive research into the comparative draconianism of the Hughes estate’s stance on unpurchased reprints, and decided to fill that void.

When a friend recently gifted me the soft-cover collected Hughes (the green one, with the large B&W photo of the author on the front) I immediately flipped to the poem Folk-Lore, which was uncollected and written in maybe 1965 or so. I’m not sure where I first came across it; possibly it was while reading a borrowed library copy of this same collected, who knows. I like this poem so much that its title very nearly became the title of my forthcoming collection (as it stands, I dropped the –Lore and am just using Folk). I don’t want to say too much about why I like it, exactly. I just want to help this one, small, digital translation. But in short, Hughes was a poet with a very large brain, and it’s a worthy lesson to see that his best poems are as much about the control of that intellect as the celebration of it. There’s a lot of that tension going on in Folk-Lore, in the content, the vocabulary, and even, as much as this can be done, in the sound. The poem is about the poet working out how to approach the poem. Or at least, my reading experience of the poem was about that.

I hope there isn’t some lasting legal reason why the poem hasn’t yet crossed into Internet Land. I don’t think there is one; Google searches of Hughes’ better-loved poems result in thousands of examples. Don’t hurt me, Estate of Ted Hughes. My fortune is meagre though my heart is pure.


By Ted Hughes

The voice
Travelling so powerfully through the floor here
Shakes us,
And shakes others dead sixty year

Up into a roomful of laughter, spittled jaws
Heavy on the clock’s perspective,
Gaping in air, in favour with the whole
Convention of the visible heavens.

He is big. He is shrunk down, twisted down
To a rheumatoid idol, collector’s find
Of eternity’s tough equipment.
Eighty, with the tilted eyes of a demon.

A historian of more than stones
Or the simple enclosures of landscape
Have an eye for,
He smells out the old spark of graves,

Raises again, not noticeably corrupted,
An eye’s force and flare up,
Words that stapled kicking thicknesses
Of air and instant, ghosts from his buttoned guts,

Plucking those dead people from underground
With a gesture
As if he had snatched the tongue from our heads, but livelier
And at once found nothing between his fingers—

While we rock with simple laughter.


Discussion Question

February 16, 2010

Answer in the comments section, if you like, or just let it be rhetorical…

How many truly “great” poems would you guess are written in the English language in a typical calendar year?

Note: I understand that “great” is an indefinable word. So, for the purpose of this question, let’s just settle on a temporary partial definition, and to eliminate arguments let’s make it as quantitative and reader-defined as possible. Let’s use this: A great poem is one that, at the time and place of its introduction, inspires an exceptionally intense or vivid reaction on the part of a few readers, while simultaneously inspiring a significant general reaction on the part of many of its readers, and that can continue to inspire these two forms of reaction across large enough distances of time and/or space (between the poet and the reader) that the poem is forced to communicate without the aid of what we could reasonably call “a shared culture.”

As follow-up questions to #1 then, I’d suggest the following:
1b. Is this above definition close enough to valid to allow an answer?
1c. Is your estimation trending up or down? In other words, would you guess more or less great poems came from 2009 than 1999, or 1909, or 1609?
1d. How does this annual number of great poems compare to the annual number of great works in other art forms, like fiction, theatre, film, or the visual arts?
1e. Is the number of great poems produced in a given year correlated in any way (either positively or negatively) with the number of “good” poems produced, or the number of “bad” poems, or the number of poems alltogether?

If I get some interested responses I might weigh in myself a little later.

This Heavy Craft, by P.K. Page

January 14, 2010

The wax has melted
but the dream of flight
I, Icarus, though grounded
in my flesh
have one bright section in me
where a bird
night after starry night
while I’m asleep
unfolds its phantom wings
and practices.