Archive for the ‘poetry’ Tag

At the Accent Weekly bilingual poetry series & Open Mic

It’s rare and special when I get to share my work in public, and I’m grateful for this latest opportunity.

credit Brian Campbell

credit Brian Campbell

I’ll be one of two featured readers (with Derek Webster) at the next Accent reading series event:

Monday 29 July
at ‘La Marche a Cote’ 5043 St. Denis, Montreal, Quebec.

Officially things get underway at 19h00, but the real fit hits the shan around 20H00!

I’m working on my fifteen-minute set, now:  at present, I’ll either be reading poems pertinent to the moment from my first two books, or, since we’ll all be stuck in town, maybe a selection of poems about anywhere other than Montreal!

You can read more about the series, here.

 

A theme with vista: food

An Australian acquaintance I know through our shared admiration for the poetry and political writing of Peter Dale Scott is fast becoming a shadow co-editor for Poeta Doctus. She weekly or so will share poems on-line, one of which has already prompted my sharing one of my own.

Today, she shared Daniel Nyikos’ poem about making Hungarian potato soup. This resonated with me for numerous reasons: food is a persistent theme in my own work, and my father’s family are Hungarian immigrants (my sister holds in her possession my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for potato soup). I share below, therefore, two (!) poems, from Ladonian Magnitudes.

The first, “Marmitako“, is similar to Nyikos’ (though it never made it into the pages of Poetry), about a traditional, Portuguese fish stew. Things have changed since it was written, as to eat tuna, today, is both to dose yourself with mercury and to contribute to the extinction of the fish. The second, “Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury”, concerns mercury, too—explicitly, but in a more rarefied sense—and, consequently, sustenance in a more sophisticated manner. Bon appetit!

 

Marmitako

They cut the tail section off some

Of the tuna, bonito, and mackerel

They caught, skinned and boned it,

Cleaned it up in buckets, chopped it

Up and threw it in the iron stewpot

On top of the onions, garlic, tomatoes,

And dried red peppers, cleaned and chopped,

Simmering there, oil bubbling through,

Shared loaves and some good red wine,

That Friday of all days still offshore.

 

Horizontal Gold Noble Mercury

1/2 grapefruit, red or white, sliced banana on bowl muesli w/ 2% milk or 1% yoghurt, brown toast w/ jam or honey on peanutbutter, 1 espresso

Piece sprouted unleavened Manna Bread, 1 espresso

Sandwich, russet apple or pear, 1 espresso

2 nights now, stir fry of Spanish onion, Hungarian pepper, bean sprouts, broccoli, tofu;  1 espresso

4500 mg vitamin C daily until cold is gone

There stands a house under the mountain of the world

Be thou the happy subject of my books, a brave craft

Dash’d all to pieces, my tongue, this air,

Born here of parents born here of parents

The same, hoping to cease not, till death

alchemymountain-granger

 

 

Bradford & Rad on House House Press

Back when David Bradford published his chapbook Call Out back in 2017, he was kind enough to answer a few questions concerning the book and his art and life.

Now, you can read, here, he and collaborator Anahita Jamali Rad answer some more queries concerning their House House Press, a publisher of

poetry chapbooks, pamphlets and ephemera  that seeks out rigorous politics of peripherality, scaffoldings for debris, studies of mess, and everything in between, with a primary focus on radical BIPOC writing practices.

house house

Budapest on my mind

A friend of mine recently shared Anya Silver’s poem “Doing Laundry in Budapest”, which brought to mind a thematically-related poem of my own, from my first chapbook Budapest Suites (Montreal:  Pneuma, 1993) and first trade edition, Grand Gnostic Central and other poems. I share it here for my friend’s, and anyone else’s, pleasure.

 

_Vaci_utca_street_sign-

 

“Apply what you know to what you feel that’s more than enough”

 

On Váci utca, mongrel pigeons, flapping,

Mount American-style shopfront windows.

 

Grey cops in pairs or trios patrol;

Country people bag handiwork, whistling.

 

At the end of Vörösmárty tér, a blind man begs fillérs at tables in Gerbaud—

A blond father yells No! at a Gypsy girl and daughter.

 

Behind me a woman asks for directions:

Bocsanat.  Nem magyar.  “Nem Magyar?!”

 

NOTES:

Váci utca is a famous commercial street in Budapest; Vörösmárty tér is a square at the end of the street; fillérs at the time (1991) were pennies; Gerbaud is a famous café on, I believe, the square; the Hungarian that ends the poem can be translated roughly as “Pardon me. I’m not Hungarian.” “You’re not Hungarian?!”

I am aware that the racial designation of the girl and daughter in line 6 might, today, be read as an epithet; I retain it here as an index of the time of the poem’s composition; its use, innocent at that time, was also prompted by the alliteration with ‘Gerbeaud’….

 

 

Jason Kenney rides UCP wave to majority government in Alberta

 

When I read this headline this morning, I was immediately reminded of my friends’ reactions to the election of Rob Ford last summer, whose social media postings I collaged into a kind of poem as they threaded their way to me then.

You can read “Ontario Election Results 2018 in real time“, changing the names and places as needed to make it about this most recent electoral development.

I’ve poetically expressed my own political leanings here, in a long poem from Ladonian Magnitudes (2006).

All I can say is, Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!

https _c2.staticflickr.com_6_5532_10495374104_1e3d4869a3_b

Reflections on James Dunnigan’s ‘The Stained Glass Sequence’

I had the chance recently to discuss how James Dunnigan’s The Stained Glass Sequence sequence-thumbjust out from Frog Hollow Press might be received. It’s a weird poem in the context of present-day English-language poetry, with gestures and stances more reminiscent of High Modernism, intricate and allusive, than anything you might read on a visit to, say, the Poetry website….

It was the refractory complexities of just the suite’s title that made me think “How someone who reads poetry can review it is just beyond me….” which I posted on social media, which, in turn, received (among others) a telling reply:  “It is a form of reading, at best.”

Taken by itself (the thread did wind on…), this response can be taken to be representative in several ways. First, it assumes the spontaneous authority of the vulgar usage of the verb ‘to read’, an authority that in certain regards is beyond reproach but which is also constantly in danger of asymptoting to the thoughtless. More significantly it enacts precisely what my original post found problematic, since it seems either to refuse or fail to register the stress on ‘reads‘ indicated by the italics (to suggest the word twists in some way from the ordinary sense) and the claim made in the predicate (which further torques the notion of reading from its accepted sense); that is, it doesn’t read or try to understand the original post, seeming more concerned to leave everything the way it is, its complacency disturbed just enough to defend the status quo and defer reflection.

In the same way, many readers will no doubt pass over the implications of the title. If there’s one dogged misperception that has persisted since the late Eighteenth Century it’s the Baconian idea that the word is or should function as a transparent medium, a window onto the world, a notion the title troubles doubly, for stained, unlike transparent, glass, though translucent, colours what might be viewed through it, and, more importantly, its pieces are a medium to compose a design or picture the window frames rather than a view through it. To borrow a two centuries’ old terminology, the title suggests the sequence’s language not so much represents but presents. Any reading, let alone evaluation, of the sequence that fails to assiduously and consistently treat the language as refractory rather than transparent will fail to appreciate it in the first place.

Of course, such reflexivity, a gesture that goes back to Homer, is only a start to the title’s formal sophistication. Its grammar, likewise, throws light on the poem: it is composed of a substantive (‘sequence’) preceded by three modifiers (‘The Stained Glass’…). If one considers the middle two words in themselves, in the etymology that roots their adjectival function, they, too, possess the same syntax, a substantive ‘glass’ modified by ‘stained’. This is to say, the syntax of the title, in a way, is nested, or, better, framed, the way the implications of the title arguably frame, or should, the reception of the poem.

And reading the sequence, the attentive reader will remark how little stained glass or stained-glass windows actually appear in the poem. The sequence opens ekphrastically, describing a painting by Chagall, stained glass is mentioned as such in the second part, the fourth section is in four “panels”, and Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel are remarked in the fifth. That the poem makes far more consistent reference to painting than stained glass suggests all the more the formal reflexivity of the title than its naming “an important theme” that the sequence takes up and develops.

A careful, thoughtful reader may well mark, too, another complication. The title is, in a way, paradoxical, modifying a temporal noun (‘sequence’, a pattern than unfolds linearly in time) with a spatial modifier (‘stained glass’, a translucent medium that either colours light or is itself used in the composition of a design or picture, a work of art perceived spatially). There is then a tension, as the sequence is, perhaps, a series of spaces arranged in time, though the title names the sequence as a sequence, as a temporal form, as language itself is.

Any reading of Dunnigan’s book that fails to read (in the most emphatic sense) even the title will likewise falter in understanding the sequence the title frames and thereby governs. And if so much is at work even before the first word of the poem is read, let alone on every line, if this reader is a reviewer, how little weight will their judgement carry if they fail to register these first—preliminary, guiding, essential—aspects of the poem?

Another Poetic Elder Gone Silent: Joe Rosenblatt (1933-2019)

Canada has lost another poet, Joe Rosenblatt.

Rosenblatt, though I knew him even less than Patrick Lane, played a more important role in my poetic development. He was the judge for the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild Ninth Annual Literary Awards (1981), Junior Poetry Category, and awarded my high school self honorary mention for a poem whose title I now mercifully forget.

I remember being told by people however seriously who knew him that he was a “misanthrope”, which kept me at a respectful distance during the awards ceremony and writers conference it was a part of. Nevertheless, the award cultured my confidence in my own budding talent not so much by his having chosen the poem, but by the musicality of his own poetry, an aspect of the art I valued very highly at the time, and still do, though hopefully in a more seasoned way.

Such a small blessing, nothing to him at the time, I’m sure, meant a world of affirmation to apprentice me. For that I remember him now, with an enduring gratitude.

 

“To praise–that’s it!”

Canadian poet Patrick Lane passed away today at the relatively young age of 79.

Though I never knew him personally, he was an eminent figure in Saskatchewan during my years as an apprentice poet, along with his partner Lorna Crozier, John Newlove, Andrew Suknaski (all three of whom I was lucky enough to learn from personally), Barbara Sapergia, and Geoff Ursell, among others, and I heard him read on a number of occasions.

What strikes me now is how quickly many have expressed their shock, grief, and appreciation for the man and his writing, which is as it should be. However, it seems to me that such praise shouldn’t have waited until it was too late for him to have heard or read it and appreciated it (though he did receive many accolades during his lifetime).

If you read a poem that knocks your socks off, or a book of poems, or a book-length poem, these days you can tell the poet how much you appreciate their work at the speed of light (depending on your data package). I’d encourage you to do so. The poet will appreciate it more, now, than wreaths of belated praise heaped upon their legacy once they’re gone.

Patrick Lane 1939 - 2019

 

The Year in Review, or The Latest Album

gull bouyUnlike some poets, who seem able to compose and publish a new book every year, I learned long ago my creative metabolism is more like that of a pop musician, about twelve new pieces, or a new album, annually.

Here’s what I’ve produced this year, with early versions of poems shared here hyperlinked; italicized titles are sequences, while those in quotation marks are individual poems:

Cyberian Vistas (one of which can be read here)

Replies to Mayer Hillman (an early version of one of which can be read here)

Toronto Suite (two of which can be read here and here)

“Standard Eyes I Shun”

Pasqua Lake Elegies

“A Portrait of the Artist”

“A book I can’t read closed”

“I’m told you’re disappointed”

“Brief von München”

There are some miscellaneous “one-offs” here, too:  “Two [more!] for Mayer Hillman”, “Ontario Election Results in Real Time 2018”, and a little poem on the eve of the provincial elections in Quebec, here.

Happily, too, I delivered a talk on the poetry of Peter Dale Scott and the Postsecular at what used to be called the Learneds in May, while the end of summer saw my collaborator Antoine Malette and myself translating passages of Louis Riel’s Massinahican, which will hopefully appear in an anthology forthcoming from University of California Press in 2019 or 2020.

 

 

A Further Serendipity: Concerning Having Nothing to Write

DH readingI doubt there’s a writer who doesn’t experience times when there seems to be nothing to write. I’d wager, though, that that block or absence of inspiration often isn’t so much a lack of some subject as much as the result of some paralyzing judgement by that tyrannical Inner Editor every writer has that this or that matter isn’t worth writing about or that the writer, for whatever reason, just isn’t up to doing it justice.

Yesterday, the late Donald Hall‘s last poem in his notebook popped up in my newsfeed:

DH The Last Poem

Here, Hall turns the Inner Critic’s answer to the question of what’s worth writing about around, a witty if somewhat bitter solution to the problem.

Then, today, I chanced to read these remarks of Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos wcw15Williams facing the same void:

He’s almost dying, he’s got one foot in the grave (at that time, actually, he was saying, “I’ve got one foot in the grave”). And he thought he had cancer of the anus, actually, at that point. He was very sick, and he was also morbidly fantasizing, and he thought he didn’t have much to write about. (Around that time, I went to see him and he said he had nothing to write about – what can he write about? the cancer of his behind? – I think I mentioned this before). And I said, “Oh, there’s hundreds of young poets in America who would be interested in your behind! – Yes, of course, write about cancer in your behind, anything you can”.

Here, I’d argue, is a different response to the Inner Critic, one that tosses out its conventional, aesthetic criteria for some that are more radical, more ontological:  what’s there to write about? Whatever there is to write about.