Thursday, 26 March 2015


Where does Kateri Lanthier get her best material? Her kids.
I certainly steal from my kids. There's a lot of kidspeak and kidthink in [Reporting from Night]—while I worked on it, I was listening to under-fives acquire language, collide images, fracture expressions and coin words. It was delectable. I followed them around with a notebook to capture what they said. Some poems draw on "life," in terms of settings or scenarios, but I think the greater debt is to the way kids speak. "As we strolled past the mannequins,/ you said, "This is the fashion store/ for ladies with no heads." And "Moon, moon, help me, I'm stuck!" or "On the snow hill, you say/ "We are running/from our footprints." The kid's-eye view started to affect what I saw, so that even when I'm not quoting them, I see things their way: "Mitten foliage is scattered by the door./ The floor wears many hats."

Interpretive Powers

In an interview with Stewart Coles which appears on Boxcar Poetry Review, Jim Johnstone explains his notion of poetic "difficulty":
I'm not concerned with difficulty as much as I'm concerned with perspective. There's always going to be a gap between what a poem means to its author and what a poem means to an individual reader — to me that adds a layer of perception that makes difficulty a secondary concern. Poetry demands the interpretive powers of its readers, and I'm comfortable leaving that challenge in their hands.
Over at Maisonneuve, Johnstone talks to Chad Campbell about his relationship to revision:
Sometimes it feels like I spend all my time revising. That time feels like work. There’s a stark contrast between writing and revising as far as I’m concerned—writing is creative, joyous, almost ecstatic, whereas revising is necessary if you want to publish your work. There are times when I leave my initial draft in a journal and keep it for myself... I find holding back work refreshing; as long as they remain unseen, my poems belong to me completely. The same principle is necessary in a healthy relationship or friendship. Without mystery, the self can suffer.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Surreal Solidarity of Metaphor

In a long reply to Chad Campbell's review of Sue Goyette's Ocean, Phil Hall rebuts Campbell's assertion that bad metaphors cause her book to sink like a stone:
Piled up, protean, Goyette's metaphors of ocean and society just make no sense, says Campbell. Clearly.

Which is not the point.

Campbell misses, in his procedure, by his template, the surreal solidarity of metaphor, how it smears logic to expose deeper & wider unity.

This is the alternative tradition of Neruda & Lorca. This is Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Ocean is not coming out of the tradition of Milton's Lycidas & Tennyson's Maud with their track-able system of similes & symbols.

This poem does not come out of the tradition that is being used here to judge it.

Fast Food of the Pseudo-Intelligentsia

Got an opinion? Susan Glickman doesn't want to hear it.
Opinions give me the heebie-jeebies, and opinions seem to be, increasingly, what people expect writers to have. And I don’t mean opinions about books, which are, after all, one’s business if one is a writer. I mean opinions about daily life, or politics, or the environment; the kind of opinions people seem compelled to share with each other on talk shows and editorial pages and even, alas, on Via Rail. Opinions are to judgments what sushi is to bouillabaisse: superficially pretty and chic, but ultimately raw and indigestible. The fast food of the pseudo-intelligentsia; something to be ingested on the run in that heedless North American way so disdained by the French. Insubstantial sound bites prepared by food stylists instead of chefs.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Chairing of the Bard

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sunday Poem

Weeds discovered huddled at the tower’s base, in cracks,
were gassed. At last inspection, none had sprung back. 
Feisty but mortal, a gangsta tag was wiped
from the north wall, leaving the merest smear, like soup on an elder’s bib. 
Some vague flaw vexing an exec’s window was effaced,
amendable warp in her expanse of plexiglass. 
All seems well and the marble’s polish gleams unscuffed and chipper.
The dining room revolves, revealing dreamy views of gloaming vista. 
So I sign off, yours truly, humble super, bowing out,
handing my torch to the night shift guy with his paunch and laden belt. 
The chimes of his keys will chatter in halls until the dawn’s cheeks blush.
His nametag will be accurate, his hounds on their leash robust. 
Let’s turn in, those hordes of us who need not know the night;
snore ensconced among the folds of Incident Logs unfilled. 
Dozing, let’s patrol the fabled room immune to grime, or sweep
with brittle straw the pristine floor that greets the newborn feet. 
Pupils shifting under lids, wait, wait for the report:
the gun that starts the race, or kills the lights.
From The Gun That Starts the Race (Goose Lane, 2015) by Peter Norman

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Noblesse Oblige

The Spring 2015 issue of CNQ includes a deeply considered, hard-hitting 12,000-word essay by Alex Good (not yet online) on Canlit's ruling gerontocracy. He argues, among other things, that Canada's worship of its literary establishment—the hard-won creation of millions of dollars in grants and a colluding academic industry—is crushing the ability of interesting new careers to properly take root. The essay begins with a description of Alice Munro's decision to pull out of the 2009 Giller prize—an act, Good goes on to explain, that should have given us serious pause.
As Canada’s literary award season started to gear up in the fall of 2009, a polite bombshell was dropped on the media oddsmakers. Alice Munro, widely recognized as not just one of Canada’s top authors but as one of the greatest writers working in the English language (she had already won the Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, and in 2013 would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature), withdrew her new collection of short stories, Too Much Happiness, from consideration for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize. She had already taken home the Giller twice, and the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction three times, and, it seemed, had had enough of awards.

Such a withdrawal was not without precedent. Both Munro and Margaret Atwood had previously removed their books from Giller consideration, but that was because they were also serving on the jury that year (only a slight conflict of interest, given the history of prize). The reason Munro gave for pulling out of the contest in 2009, however, was noteworthy. “Her reason is that she has won twice and would like to leave the field to younger writers,” her publisher explained.

Munro’s decision was applauded in the media for its generosity, and understandably so. But her statement also dramatically laid bare the thinness of the field she was leaving open. Meryl Streep found herself nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film Julie and Julia in 2009, despite having already received 15 Academy Award nominations, more than any other actor in history (she would win for the third time in 2012). Should she have withdrawn her name from consideration in order to leave the Oscars open to younger talent? That would not have gone down quite so well. And yet in the run-up to the prize that had established itself (at no small expense) as Canada’s most prestigious literary award, Munro’s act of noblesse oblige was simply accepted for what it was: a recognition of the foregone conclusion that with her in the race, no younger Canadian writer (and, at 78 years old, the field of “younger writers” was rather large), would have had much of a chance. The winner’s name would, in turn, forever have an asterisk beside it, like a baseball record from the steroid era.