As on a holiday: teaser #3

https://www.cactuspresspoetry.com/

My latest chapbook, As on a holiday, launches Wednesday 24 March.

It’s a challenging book to present orally/aurally, as the poems are all very short. The reader, too, therefore, is faced with the question of exactly how to connect all these short poems. In the tradition of postmodern poetry, such as that of Homer, Dante, and Cervantes, the collection includes a poem that suggests an approach, the first of Farnad Songbook, read here:

from Farnad Songbook

Looking forward to seeing you all at the launch!

As on a holiday: Teaser #2

https://www.cactuspresspoetry.com/

The launch of my new chapbook, As on a holiday, is getting closer. Today, I offer as preview (pre-hear?) two poems from the section “Made in Germany”.

Everything you need to tune in you should find here.

from “Made in Germany”

As on a holiday: Teaser #1

https://www.cactuspresspoetry.com/

I launch my chapbook As on a holiday (Cactus Press) in just over a week. Between now and then I’ll be posting short readings from the book to pique your interest if not whet your appetite.

The first is part of the “London intermezzo” from the section “Made in Germany”.

from “London intermezzo

The FB Event page for the Zooom launch Wednesday 24 March is here.

“Does Anybody Buy Books Today?”

“Developers” are changing the face and character of cities all over the globe, no less in Montreal, Canada.

The city’s Plateau / Mile End neighbourhood has been undergoing gentrification for years, but a recent flashpoint has been the threatened eviction of a longstanding used bookstore, S. W. Welch. The landlord’s jacking the rent caused such an uproar that locals organized a “read-in” in support.

https://www.facebook.com/events/252390853101086/?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22mechanism%22%3A%22your_upcoming_events_unit%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22bookmark%22%7D]%7D

The story was widely covered in local media, including a number of telephone interviews with one of the landlords, Danny Lavy, quoted in the poster, above. Lavy’s words struck me as so representative of a certain mindset (like those that inspired Basil Bunting’s “What the Chairman Told Tom”) I quickly cobbled them together into a poem of my own.

You can hear the poem, here:

The Developer Defends the Rent Hike that Would Evict a Longstanding Fixture of the Neighbourhood

(You can read another poem about the changes in Mile End, here.)

New Chapbook: As on a holiday…

I launch my latest chapbook, As on a holiday, with Montreal’s Cactus Press 24 March 2021 20h00 ET. The chapbook collates four short sequences composed during and about trips to Germany (2012), Slovakia (2014), Toronto (2017), and Saskatchewan (2018).

You can access the Zoom link at the Facebook Event page, here.

You can read an earlier version of one of the poems from the Toronto suite, here.

The indefatigable rob mcclennan has published a wi(l)de-ranging interview with the press’ three editors, here.

I’ve invested this year’s Public Lending Rights cheque in a new microphone, so the sound quality of the launch is sure to be top notch! Copies of the limited-edition chapbook are available in print and electronic formats through the publisher, linked above.

Save the date!

A Sideways Glance at Don McKay’s Angular Unconformity

Mark Dickinson’s Canadian Primal:  Poets, Places, and the Music of Meaning, a groundbreaking study of the lives and work of Dennis Lee, Don McKay, Robert Bringhurst, Jan Zwicky, and Tim Lilburn has been open in my hands since landing there only a few days ago. Having just finished the chapter on Don McKay, I’m reminded I wrote a short notice of McKay’s collected poems angularwhen it appeared in 2014 for a very good website, now defunct. Because it is a sharp, short review, I share it here, now, so it might remain on record. (The curious can read a more sweeping essay on the oeuvre of Robert Bringhurst, here).

 

“Hard to say this awkwardly / enough”:  a review of Don McKay’s Angular Unconformity Collected Poems 1970-2014

 

Angular Unconformity is hardly amenable to a short review, collecting as it does ten volumes of poetry, supplemented by a sheaf of new work, more than 500 pages, a lifetime of poetic production. Moreover, any reader acquainted with contemporary Canadian anglophone poetry can’t be unacquainted with Don McKay, a two-time winner of the Governor General’s award for Night Field (1991) and Another Gravity (2000) and the Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip (2006). He is accordingly admired and targeted for these accomplishments and for his influence as an editor and teacher.

Nevertheless, one can characterize the stylistic development of McKay’s poetry with relative ease. The poetics of the first two volumes collected here, Long Sault (1975) and Lependu (1978), are influenced not so much by Purdy or Ted Hughes (as one critic would mysteriously have it) but by the New American Poetry, specifically Olson’s Projective Verse and The Maximus Poems or William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, especially where Long Sault becomes personified in (at least) the book’s fourth section. Lependu torques up the conceit of place and person, in this case London, Ontario and Lependu, in a more focussed, dense, and documentary fashion, but one that is self-aware enough to play fast and loose with its sources for its own artistic ends.

However, with Birding, or desire (1983) McKay finds his groove. In the book’s opening poem “Field Marks” (93) one finds what might be a description of much of McKay’s work from this point on: “…a bird book full of / lavish illustrations with a text of metaphor” (7-8). While in “Adagio for a Fallen Sparrow” (125) in the same volume the poet points to his “shelf / with Keats and Shelley and The Birds of Canada” (21-22). In these lines McKay presciently parodies the reputation this and following volumes will earn him, that of the Nature (i.e. Romantic) poet whose main thematic vehicle is Canada’s birds. Like any parody, however, this one possesses a perverse truth, for a primary objective of McKay’s poetry is one shared with Novalis and Wordsworth, to render the familiar strange, to percieve the things of the world as if for the first time. As McKay writes in the essay “Baler Twine” from Vis à Vis (2001):  “in such defamiliarization…we encounter the momentary circumvention of the mind’s categories to glimpse some thing’s autonomy—its rawness, its duende, its alien being” (21). This “circumvention of the mind’s categories” is simultaneously an eschewal of the mind’s drive to dominate via knowing, a refusal of what McKay terms, following Levinas, “the primordial grasp” in favour of a “poetic attention” wherein the poem reaches for “things sensuously through the caress” (23).

The poems caress their objects with two hands:  on the one, a fluctuation of lexicon and tone, while, on the other, a protean metaphorization. The poems mix so-called High and Low culture, “lascivious as Beardsley, sweet as Shirley Temple”, the vernacular and the discourses of geology, philosophy, and (of course) ornithology, English and French, gravity and humour. McKay’s artistic drive to refresh perception by means of poetic redescription shares something with the “rosy-fingered dawn.” But his style differs from epic simile or Metaphysical conceit or even that more recent predilection for what John Crowe Ransom termed “texture” (theme developed by a consistent pattern of trope and scheme). McKay’s metaphors are more impulsive and local, often working strictly within the context of the line more than the stanza or entire poem. A map in The Muskwa Assemblage (2008) is “skewed to the diagonal….as though some formerly symmetrical design had been invaded by irresistable divinity, some Dionysus headed northwest”; the reader of the map “might have been a crime scene investigator”, the geograpy variegated “[a]s though deep form, like a medicine dream, were forcing its way up from the mantle” (480).

Readers, then, must negotiate a constantly changing linguistic landscape bent on “the circumvention of the mind’s categories”. These demands aren’t the product of a high-handed virtuousity but the humility that underwrites McKay’s species of “poetic attention” whose restless articulations stammer to admit it’s all too “[h]ard to say this awkwardly / enough” (“February Willows” 3-4, in Sanding Down this Rocking Chair on a Windy Night (1987), p. 191). McKay’s art works against a certain eloquence, against consistency, knowledge, mastery. The first two books possess more a vector of compositional means than the focussed, polished exploitation of a given set of techniques. The constant shifts in vocabulary, tone, and trope, the bad jokes, all serve to puncture the authority of the poet who must work both with and against his poetic fate, inheritor of the Romantic prophetic or vatic mode that humbles itself to take up a poetry of attention anxious to exploit every linguistic resource not for the sake of Art but perception.

Hölderliniae

The Hölderlin Tower, on the Neckar, Tübingen, Germany

Yesterday, thanks to Cæsura, I got wind of Nathaniel Tarn’s forthcoming collection, The Hölderliniae, a book of poems wherein, “via affairs of love and polity, Tarn speaks through Hölderlin, and Hölderlin speaks through Tarn.”

I received this news with a mix of excited interest and rueful disappointment. On the one hand, like so very many, I hold Hölderlin’s poetry in very high esteem, not least because of its relation to the enduring pertinence of Jena Romanticism, so you can bet a copy of Tarn’s new book will be in my hands warm, if not hot, off the press. On the other, drafts of my own palimpsestic engagements with Hölderlin’s poems, specifically “Heidelberg” and “The Neckar”, now seemed somehow pre-empted.

Of course, Tarn is hardly the only poet to mix things up with Hölderlin this way. In 2018, The Song Cave issued Jonathan Larson’s translation of Friederike Mayröcker’s Scardanelli, and a friend brought to my attention Endre Kukorelly’s H.Ö.L.D.E.R.L.I.N. (1999).

But, then, it occurred to me I had composed poems I could include in this company. Like Mayröcker, my poems allude to Hölderlin by the nom de plume he himself adopted during his (so-called) madness. The first, from Grand Gnostic Central, “Holy Crow Channels Scardanelli” “condenses” some of Hölderlin’s late poetry. The second (graciously published by Dispatches from the Poetry Wars), “Ein Zeichen sind wir…” (We are a sign…) plays off these famous words from a draft of Hölderlin’s “Mnemosyne” and gives a twist to some of the themes common to Hölderlin’s poetry in general.

Time to get back to work on my own Hölderliniae. “I’m told you’re disappointed I have yet / as Scardanelli would write to sing / of Heidelberg…”

 

 

 

Holy Crow Channels Scardanelli

for Moritz Gaede

 

When from the sky bright bliss itself

Calms and quiets the afternoon through

The pleasant world I’ve made my friend

I am no more, I live no more gladly

Life’s lines various harmonies rich

With peace as who today men brightly halo

Is known, which depth of the spirited succeeds

Of a man say I, if he is good

Daedalus’s spirit and the wood’s is yours

The said, that the earth herself turns from

And perfection is without complaint

When unseen and now past are pictures

So shines nature with her splendour from the earth

 

 

 

 

Ein Zeichen sind wir

 

Like preScardanelli Scardanelli would put it

The Thunderer himself just a heartbeat cut

 

The current crashing my chronocide, and twice

Since noon the same software CTD’d in concurrence.

Amuse-bouche: Sunday 6 December 2020

This week: some thoughts on the untimely timeliness of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Douglas E. Christie, early on in his The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, contrasts John Muir on a sugar pine with Ronald Reagan on the redwood. For Muir, the tree before him is “an inexhaustible study and source of pleasure” noting how “at the age of fifty to one hundred years it begins to acquire individuality, so that no two are alike in their prime or old age. Every tree calls for special admiration.” On the other hand, running to be governor of California, Ronald Reagan (in)famously observed, “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.”

However much Reagan’s words express an entire culture, what Christie’s juxtaposition brought to my mind was, first, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ notion of “inscape”, that which individuates each thing as the unique, singular thing it is, what Muir perceived in the mature sugar pine and what Reagan and his ilk are insensitive to. Hopkins’ sensitivity to the singularity of individuals expressed itself in a number of ecopoems avant le lettre. One thinks of his lament for a felled grove, “Binsey Poplars”, or the more profound, radical grappling with the destruction of the natural world, “God’s Grandeur”, a poem I’ve long had by heart. Hopkins’ sensibility in this regard breathes the same spirit as what inspires Christie’s attempt to find common ground between contemplative traditions, primarily those of antique and medieval Christianity, and contemporary ecological thought and concerns.

Of course, Hopkins’ poetry is not only precocious in its concerns, but in its formal innovations. On the one hand, he was motivated by the etymological fascinations with the then-new discipline of philology to dig into the roots of the English language and the prosody and potentials of the soil from which it sprang to develop his own markedly singular style, characterized by its alliteration, “sprung rhythm”, and coinages. His poetic oeuvre is rife with examples, one dazzling as it dense being “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection”. Such sensitivity to language as poetry’s material ground and the invention that it motivates makes Hopkins a precursor of that poetics that finds its most extreme expression in the coinages of Celan, for instance, or the metrical inventions of, surprisingly, William Carlos Williams in his searching out the “variable foot” proper to the American vulgar tongue. Little wonder Jerome Rothenberg includes Hopkins in the opening selections of his assemblage Poems for the Millennium, volume one.

Finally, it strikes me that Hopkins is also ahead of his time in possessing and presenting a sense of what today goes by the more general rubric of “mindfulness” (something Williams, too, expresses as early as 1921 in his poem “Thursday”). The meditative, contemplative mindset is most emphatically attentive, as Hopkins was, to the individual (rather than then type) and the material (as something in-itself rather than merely as for-use, the way his language stands forth rather than retreating into meek transparency). It does, however, also, culture empathy, kindness, and self-compassion of the kind Hopkins ventures to offer himself in one his “dark sonnets” “My own heart let me more have pity on…”.

Hopkins was one of the first poets I was exposed to in school that turned me on to poetry. It’s good to be reminded of how enduring and inexhaustibly rich his work continues to prove to be.

Amuse-bouche: Saturday 7 November 2020

Things have been quiet here for a number of reasons, but the most important one has been that I just haven’t had in me (for a number of reasons…) what I feel is needed to put into a worthwhile piece of writing. Some of that hesitancy is likely attributable to that vice of perfectionism, which keeps so many from doing anything, so, I’ve come to understand that one way to post here more regularly is to loosen up and just jump into the flow of the moment, however turgid or whitewater, and share here, more or less regularly (weekly?), tidbits that have caught my eye, caught in my craw, or otherwise.

Some of my detractors (well, one) have accused my writing (and not just my poetry) of being obscure, academic, or, at times, pedantic. Despite some of their more uncharitable assumptions, I never set out to bedazzle, confuse or belittle. It turns out my approach is shared by that monumental polymath Buckminster Fuller, who articulated his stylistic credo as follows: “I made up my mind as a Rule of Communication that I wouldn’t care if I was not understood — so long as I was not misunderstood.” I would add to Fuller’s unapologetically sincere stylistic credo Marx’s Hegelian pronouncement: “There is no royal road to science (Wissenschaft), and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep path have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”

And speaking of arduous climbs, more taxing than working at poetry is publishing poetry as a small publisher. Sadly, Beth Follet’s Pedlar Press will be shutting down operations in 2021. Pedlar’s aesthetic echoes the sentiments expressed by Fuller and Marx:  “Making no compromise with public taste.” It will come as no small surprise that such an uncompromising stance comes at a price, especially in a society where nothing escapes the dictatorship of the commodity form.

Follet shares a pithy reflection on what happens to small press publishing under the current regime in her Thoughts on Pedlar recently posted at periodicities.

I had the very good fortune to spend an evening in 1996 talking with American poet Adrienne Rich about my vision for Pedlar Press. She said one thing I shall never forget: “Don’t fall in love with the boys’ machinery.“ And what would I say is the boys’ machinery? Media space given over to awards talk and Best Of lists instead of reviews. Five-hundred-word reviews instead of complex critical analyses. The politics behind dumbing down. Technology’s reliance on algorithms which dictate taste, habits, purchases, ads, etc. Dictate lives. Ignorance about how readers of literature read or live in the world, and resultant misdirected and wasteful promotional campaigns.

300px-Vitruvian_Man_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci

I’m unsure I agree with some of the assumptions underwriting what Follett refers to as “the politics of dumbing down,” but a not unrelated phenomenon, no less pernicious than persistent, has imposed itself on my sensorium a number of times this season.

In her Foreword to this years Best Canadian Poetry, Anita Lahey writes about the poems included in this year’s edition as follows:

These were poems: real, handmade (and handheld) forms built to hold, and simultaneously express, universal truths about the human experience.

Lahey is in “good”, as it were, company in valuing  the way poetry, at least, expresses “universal truths about the human experience.” Lavinia Greenlaw, the chair of judges for this year’s T. S. Eliot Prize, recently said of the adjudicating process:

We had to be convinced by them as relevant in a profoundly changed world, which meant that we had to be able to connect with them at the level of essential human experience, which is where I believe poetry is really produced, and poetry is really received.

And the cognoscenti will surely remember that Louise Glück, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was cited “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”

Those who share my education, will remember such evocations of these “universals of human experience” from their high school, if not undergrad, English class, along with the Three Themes of literature, Man against Nature, Man against Man, and Man against Himself (sic, sic, sic, sic, and sic). That such an aesthetic can still hold sway in 2020 among people one would hope continued to live a life of the mind after completing their formal education is demoralizing. Lahey’s observation is especially ironic, given how Marilyn Dumont, this year’s editor, remarks how she proceeded with a keen sense of how “writers of colour, Indigenous writers, women, LGBQT2S, writers with physical challenges, have all been underrepresented in the publishing world”, namely, writers whose difference from that presumably universal norm has led to their being overlooked.

[And it occurred to me upon reflection not long after writing and publishing this post the sharp irony of Lahey’s,  Greenlaw’s and Glück’s all being women, that one class of human being that has had and must continue to fight to have its experience recognized as belonging among those universals poetry and art supposedly address…]

I’ll pass over in silence here the admitted dialectic at work that would both undermine my critique and harmonize Lahey & Co.’s retrograde aesthetic sentiments with Dumont’s more progressive ones, a dialectic, being a lively one, that would also overturn itself again, in turn, merely to note that the thesis that poetry is concerned with “expressing universals of human experience” was, in the anglophone world, at least, most forcefully articulated by Matthew Arnold. He, along with the architects of English as an academic study, weaponized English literature into a means of persuading those disenfranchised at home (Arnold writes Culture and Anarchy in the wake of the Chartism, that working class movement that agitated to expand the vote to include working class men), not to mention those in the colonies, that, despite appearances, the upper and lower classes, and the rulers and ruled, were really, deep down, just the same….

Against the zombie aesthetic sentiments skewered above, I’ll finish off here, today, with a quotation and, of all things, a meme.

Theodor Adorno makes in his “On the Crisis of Literary Criticism” (1952)” a characteristically demanding but no less morally scrupulous (and so much more pithy) claim:  “Criticism has power only to the extent to which every successful or unsuccessful sentence has something to do with the fate of humankind.”

And, finally, words to live by, some wisdomorty of Rick:

3lebc5

Arachnophobic Arachnophilia

A friend recently shared a factoid from Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson book Extraordinary Insects, that the sum of insect “meat” consumed annually by spiders is higher than the total amount of meat and fish consumed by the human population of Earth. I responded alluding to my deep-seated arachnophobia, probed, here, in a poem from Grand Gnostic Central.


Arachnophobia Prima Facie

“God is the spider in the closet”

Though having an insect’s ratio of legs to body segments is not
And though envenomed like bees wasps and hornets is solitary
A nomadic hunter or sedentary in an architecture species specific
Whose strands are two those adhesive catching any lighting
Others pull like the line on a bob
All have fangs that paralyse no mouth but hollow teeth that suck what they injected digested
Wind carries desiccated exoskeletons away

*

I remember playing in the sandbox
The reek of catshit smooth as clay
Feeling a mosquito on my head
Slapping and looking at its ten long legs
Each twitching

My parents say before I talked
They heard me scream in the sandbox
All there was to scare me
A Daddy Longlegs stumbling in flight
To me

*

Once a glisten from roof to front porch railing
Made me pluck a strand finer than nylon it gave like
Dropping a spider big as my thumb at me

That Summer they had webs in every corner of the back fence
And under eaves and in drainpipes
And I crushed them all Summer with the butt end of a sawed-off hockey stick

They red brown their guts yellow slow white
Our neighbour caught one in his back porch light
The jar misty with web the spider thin beside a yellowing drop days later

I identified it to Mr Froh my biology teacher
As a Brown Recluse a black violin on its abdomen
One of three poisonous species in North America

*

Larger females
Eat the males
On mating

*

After they said Athene
Finding Arakhne’s cloth woven
To show her family’s purple adulteries
And incest perfect rent it enraged

*

Hanged Arakhne a spider turning