Friday, October 26, 2007

Basement Tapes reviewed in Matrix Magazine

Hello all,
Check out my review of Basement Tapes by Marcus McCann, Andrew Faulkner and Nick Lea, in Montreal mag Matrix. The collaborative chapbook is published by McCann's press The Onion Union.
Stay tuned, too, for my interview with Lea likely appearing in the next issue of QWERTY.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Warren Dean Fulton-Where are you now?

In June of this past year, Ottawa’s prodigal son, Warren Dean Fulton, returned for the Small Press Fair, to sell publications from Pooka Press, founded in Ottawa in the mid-90s, and to enjoy a reunion with old friends.

Warren grew up in Ottawa, went to Immaculata High and Carleton University, and was co-editor of the Carleton Arts Review with rob mclennan in the early 90s.

He instigated and participated in many inspiring and entertaining (literary-related) activities, then he vamoosed to British Columbia.

At the Spring Small Press Fair booze up, I had the great opportunity to hear a few of Warren’s stories and to listen to him and some of his co-conspirators talk about the good old days. It made me nostalgic for a time I’d never had and it also gave some of the history of Ottawa’s strong and vibrant literary community.

I thought it would be fun for those of us who weren’t then part of the Ottawa Literary Environment or OLE (official trademarked title) to find out about what we missed. And for those of you who were sombrero-wearing members of OLE, to hear about what happened to the young man some of you fondly referred to as “poet-boy.”

In our interview, Warren discusses Playdough, his fetish for keeping poets in boxes and the passion behind the pooka. This interview is brought to you buy the letter V.

1. From 1994-1996, you hosted two reading series in Ottawa: Vanilla and Vogon.

Can you talk a bit about each series in terms of why you started them, who the readers/performers were, and why they both started with the letter V? (I find it interesting that you moved to Vancouver, a place starting with the letter V, but haven’t hosted any V-series since. Am thinking you should host an O reading series in Vancouver)


The first; the vanilla reading series, began naturally enough. I was working at Lois n' Frima's Homemade Ice Cream Parlour, on Elgin street, (361 Elgin Street) & at the time was also having somewhat regular meetings w/ rob mclennan, who was co-ordinating editor of the Carleton Arts Review w/ me. He would pop by, we'd talk poetry, poetics, literary gossip, our lives & loves, drink coffee, & I'd give him free ice cream.

It was around this time, that I had mentioned to my then girlfriend Jennifer Amey, that the current reading series & venues around the city, where rather cold, held in closed, out of the way places that didn't seem to welcome & invite new faces & voices. They appeared to me to be inconvenient & isolate & ostracize poets & poetry from the public. No one was going to just wander in & find poetry. It had to be sought out. Discovered. & then, in my case, I went to a number of readings around the city; readings at Magnum Books, The Rainbow Bistro, Octopus Books, Rasputins, Food For Thought Books, Orion, TREE, & readings at the National Library, and no one seemed to take notice of the outsider, those new to the scene, & the general public didn’t seem really invited.

I wished to change that. So w/ a ready made venue in place, & a name, given by Jennifer, as we discussed Vanilla, is the base for most of the other flavours, plus VRS has the verse association. I was sold on the idea. It ran for about a year, & had many fine readers grace this unusual venue. Readers such as; rob mclennan, Colin Morton, Victoria L. Vernell, Jeffrey Mackie, Rocco Paoletti, Kathryn Payne, Catherine Jenkins, Rob Manery, Carole Giangrande, Janyne Holowachuk, Marcel Kopp (from Boston), David Collins, Sylvie M.S. Hill, David Scrimshaw, Sotaro Shibahara, the crowd from MPD (Tamara Fairchild, Grant Wilkins, Pamala Chynn, & others), several of my friends from Carleton University (where I was in a poetry workshop class, taught by Christopher Levenson w/ fellow poets Rocco, Jim Larwill, Brick Billing, Pearl Pirie, Sean Johnston & a few others) & some University of Ottawa students around the Seymour Mayne, Bywords crowd , & then those who just happened upon us.

In the summer months the vanilla reading series took itself, out onto the sidewalk, down in front of the ice cream booth in the byward market at George street. vanilla on the street, which had some great crowds, sometimes, as we competed for audiences w/ street preachers. "The wages of sin is death!" They had, in most cases, better catch phrases, direct lines & performances. They also had backlit paint & other visual aids that we lacked. We did however, get some media attention, the Ottawa Citizen did a piece on rob at vanilla, & the local community TV, did a piece on vanilla, for a phone pole segment (thanks to David Scimshaw) , & CBC radio & CBO Morning did a story on us, as did CKCU & CHUO, all of which was very wonderful.

& news of vanilla spread via the "internet, & the world wide web,”
This was all back when the power of the internet was still pretty new to many of us. Through the National Capital Freenet, (thanks to Nick Tytor for turning me on to email & the internet) I sent out email notices, & posted on the poetry SIG, & alt servers, news of vanilla. I was able to communicate far & wide. The vanilla reading series gathered a sizeable following in the states. I was constantly getting emails & phone messages from poets in the U.S. wishing to be booked for a reading sometime in the not too distant future in our little ice cream shop.

Then came the vogon reading series.
Now vogon came about, thanks to S.R. Morrison. My then roommate. vanilla had grown too big for the tiny space. & I was no longer working there, so Steve & I pitched Eugene
& Randy & the gang at Zaphod's our idea. I remember, them saying "take the ball, & run with it". & we did just that, scoring a few touchdowns along the way. (sorry for the sports metaphor). I was bringing readers to what the Ottawa sun called "Ottawa's hottest reading series" & the Ottawa Xpress they loved us too (thanks rob), & the events editor would email me asking about upcoming readings, & phone my apartment. We played host to the Ottawa launch of Insomniac Press’ THE LAST WORD.

The scene in Ottawa at this time was awesomely fantastic, BARD, TREE, vogon, the again resurrected Sasquatch reading series, the new backroom reading series, readings @ the National Library, readings @ the Saw Galley, the Stone Angel, Friday Circle @ U of O, readings, Carleton, & places like the Globe & Pepper’s.

vogon, was a place to read, some said “The Place" to read. We had many bigger names, alongside the newer names, we saw Joe Blades read here, Robert Craig, b. Stephen Harding, Catherine Jenkins, Gwendolyn Guth, Juan O’Neill, Patrick White, Dorothy Howard, Warren Layberry, Chris Pollard, rob mclennan (a few times) & a number of Insomniac Press writers, Jill Battson, Stan Rogal, Death Waits, etc..., writers from the Hamilton writers' group, some from Montreal, & vogon actually, through the suggestion & encouragement of Marcel Kopp, held Ottawa's first poetry slam. All throughout this time, I had a routine of getting up, going to the po box, then checking email at the library’s computers, writing for a few hours, hanging out in used bookstores (buying books when I could, sometimes instead of eating that day or the next) meeting up w/ friends, drinking, (always someone to buy drinks, or I’d be able to sell chapbooks enough to buy a round or two), going to poetry events, art galleries, film screenings, etc… which I would repeat ad nauseam, day after day after day, each a carbon copy of the day before. I only knew what day it was by the literary events happening & looking at the newspapers as I’d walk by the boxes, quickly reading the daily headlines.

1993-1996 I listened to literally hundreds of poets, hearing 1000’s of poems. Many lines from some of those poems have stayed in my memory, more than any of the lectures in university.

I could write enough to fill a book about these two series. Which is what I was trying to do a while back, but didn't get the interest nor support I was hoping for. Most from then have moved well beyond, I guess some of me is still struck in the 90’s.

Oddly enough, I've been thinking about another "V" series, here in Vancouver, but I'll have to see about a few details first. So I suppose I have a future too, as well as a present.

2. You mentioned MPD. What was that?

MPD was an entertaining Ottawa literary magazine from the mid 90's. It was put out by a group of friends who had organized into a writers group. I remember there was Grant, Tamara, Pam, two Pat(s), Trevor, & some others, who as I'm writing this I've forgotten their names, forgive me. MPD changed its name w/ each issue, & I enjoyed reading what this group was writing & even more hanging out with them after their basketball games at the Dominion Tavern. We joked that there was the MPD gang & the "bearded poets", which was rob, Jeffrey, James Spyker, Steve & myself. At this time, there seemed to be a new literary magazine starting up every few months; there was Hook & Ladder, The Skinny, Hostbox, bywords (which was a great, & still seems to be, resource for what was/is happening), Hole, Box 77, graffitifish, graffitto, Stanzas (which as far as I know, has had the most issues of any indy litmag out there, & is still going strong), & some others I'm sure I've forgotten about, again apologies.

3. Do you have any stories you can share about shenanigans that took place at or surrounding the series or is it a question of what happened during vanilla/vogan stays at vanilla/vogan?

As far as shenanigans,… hmmm. Seems a great deal of misadventures were happening around these series, most involving drinking various beverages of an alcoholic nature. The ones that come to mind involve rob or myself, however my lawyers have advised against me speaking about any of these. Seriously though, just the usual sort of fun. I recall a few times, an evening of drinking, where the events of the night became the basis for a few different poems/stories from a few different pens. I always thought it interesting to see how others remember the same event.

Sometimes Steve, rob & myself, all wrote of the same event in vastly different ways. The other things I remember most about the time, were the news items of the day being reported in poetry, some my own, some others; the OJ trail, Lorena Bobbit, Kurt Cobain, Bukowski, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, the Order of the Solar Temple, Ronald Regan & his Alzheimer's, & the alzheimer's the American public suffers from, then & now, & just how crazy the world was, & still is...those crazy, hazy days & nights of memories... some really amazing/frightening/hysterical times, .... flashback aphrodisiacs...nearsighted retrospection... those silly sentimental yearnings…. Oo nostalgia the great narcotic. … an opiate of the all our yesterdays… oh those times...the wayback machine makes me dizzy...

4. Did you come up with the name vogon because it was taking place at Zaphod Beeblebrox? Or since you had a reading series in an ice cream place to ward off the cold, perhaps aliens inspired Vogon to make it more human? Give us a nerdy elaboration if you please.

This will be the shortest answer I give. Yes.

& it fit w/ the VRS, letters I had an attachment to.
& because , oh hell, here comes a longer answer...

I really really liked Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. & the bar Zaphod's, & that both Steve & I knew/ & I still know the title of the poem by poet master Grunthos the Flatulent, who is an Azgoths of Kria, (the second worst poet in the universe) "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" & his 12-book epic piece entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles"... nerdy enough for you? ...

When I appeared on Tom Green's Rogers cable show, intoxicated, to promote the vogon reading series...Tom kept poking me & demanding I answer what's a vogon, as he wanted me to say "the 3rd worsst poets in the universe" & then he suggested that that is what is at the vogon reading series, alien poets, reading terrible poetry...however, I was like a skipping record & just kept answering, "a literary reading series that happens every second Sunday, at Zaphod Beeblebrox, at 27 York street in the Byward market", about three or four times in a row.

There you go, nerd factor & 6 degrees of separation of a celebrity too.
* Tom Green was born in Pembroke, just like me.

5. Well we won’t let you keep answering more about vogon now, instead we’ll skip on to Pooka Press. According to my exhaustive research (private investigators, professional stalkers, secret video tapes) you were in your mid 20s when you started Pooka Press. What made you decide to start a small press and what did you have in mind when you started it? Has your philosophy about Pooka and the small press world changed since Pooka Press’s inception?

Great questions. pooka press, lower case, as that seemed in keeping w/ the times, & pooka is so very micro, lower case.

I began pooka press, out of a need to see more of the poets I wished to see in print. I take as pooka's role model, what people like rob mclennan were doing, & jimmy ioannidis, & Joe Blades, & the folks at ga press, & James Whittall & the earlier Insomniac Press stuff, their chapbooks, & those that showed the way before, the Stuart Ross', the michael dennis', the bill bissetts', the small press folks from all over going way way back, & then after launching Jeffrey Mackie's chapbook BIG MIRACLES, & going to New York City w/ him for a beat conference @ NYU, & meeting so many of my influences, & seeing some of their early chapbooks, I was hooked.

The small press bookfairs also helped greatly w/ this addiction. rob & James held the first ottawa small press book fair back in 1994, & that year I also went to the Toronto small press book fair, & the 1st Canzine, & had been invited to a small press book fair event in New York & the 1st Underground Press Conference in Chicago. The small press community opened wide their arms & welcomed pooka press in.

In pooka's 1st listing in a poetry markets book, I stated something along the lines of pooka press, "likes poetry that is the class clown, the class rebel, poems that sit at the back of the classroom & launch spitballs at the teachers", something like that. So I guess, poems that were/are of the outsider. I still embrace outlaw poetics, & those in the mainstream [who??] like [to??] play in the margins. I don't know how much my "philosophy" has evolved.

I do know that I'm less likely to put out 200-300 copies of a single chapbook. less is more, in some ways. Generally, due to economic factors & what I believe the "market" may be for pooka press items, I like print runs of 100 or less. & I won't do reprints any longer. One print run, that's it. It part since it becomes difficult for me to keep tabs on who gets how many, & how to divide up the "profits". I've only twice made the money back on a project, no make that three times.

The very first chapbook, BIG MIRACLES, & the two George Bowering projects I've done, U.S. Sonnets is almost out of print now. I don't know what else to write about, except to say, it has been well worth it, even having boxes & boxes of chapbooks, poetry postcards, broadsides, etc...take up so much room & my $. Oh I should mention, I've never once applied for any funding, for pooka press...I have for the Kamloops Poets' Factory, but as they used to say on Hammy Hamster..."but that's another story..."

6. i’d love to chat about Hammy and the Tales of the River, his buddy the Water Rat, but i’ll confine my questions to your literary activites and avoid rodents in favour of pookas.

pooka press (see how quickly I learn) is still running today, which makes it (...largescale computer math program tabulating...) thirteen years old. What drives you to continue and has it occasionally disappeared or knocked anyone for a loop, like its namesake? What types of stuff do you publish and who? What’s the overriding philosophy of pooka press? (this is the bit where I badger the witness...I mean, interviewee, with a barrage of questions so as to cause confusion and therefore put him under my spell so he will have to answer honestly.)

Yes. Your Honour. Oooo Courtrooms. yikes. So yes, 13 years, pooka press is now that bratty teenager I felt it always wanted to be. I'll answer the questions, as best I can, even if I do feel you are leading the witless, I mean witness.

What drives me to continue? I'd have to say, simply a passion for the poets I publish, both their words & them. A good poem is a great companion. I like the friends I have gathered on my bookshelves, & in boxes. Sounds kinda morbid doesn't it? But some of the poetry, some of the poems remain long after the poets have left. I cherish some poems from Ottawa poets, who have disappeared, as far as the literary world is concerned. & yes pooka press has disappeared a few times too. Mostly due to lack of money. As they say, "there's no money in poetry, but there is poetry in money", yes, just look at a $5 bill w/ a section of Roch Carrier.."The Winters of my childhood were/long long seasons."..

I think at times it may have knocked someone for a loop. More from politically or social messages contained therein, or from when someone thinks they know what style of poetry I publish & then see something that is a little different.

pooka press, publishes, all kinds of poets & poetry, but I have to admit a strong connection to the margins, the outsider, the outlaws, a rejection of the conventional. I have a deep connection to the beat writers & their sensibilities, the dadaists & surrealists, the experimenters. I feel there is plenty of cross-over in art movements, be it literary or visual arts. So for me, I have a love for the Beats (my poetic gods), the San Francisco Renaissance, The Black Mountain poets, the Modernists, the post-modernists, the confessional poets, the TISH poets (my personal pantheon of poets) aboutists, the KSW poets, even some Slam poets... many, & I'd like to think varied voices.

Poetic philosophy? I guess pooka press is more Playdo than Plato.(not sure of the spelling, playdough, playdoe, playdoh...) anyhow, all I can think is I should have paid more attention in University during Literary Criticism classes, I don't recall much of Plato's discussions of rhetoric and poetry, & I do know that there are significant philosophical and interpretive challenges regarding various poetics. Semantically speaking, my overriding philosophy is like a cento of poetic theory. Reader based. Writer based. Poststructuralist theories. Postmodernist. Post-postmodernist. Perhaps, the aesthetic unity of the poem. The poems artistic autonomy. The now not so New Criticism that supposes that poems are things in & of themselves etc... etc...I'm not sure, still working this all out for myself, plenty of poetic overlaps, a blurring of poetics, a comprehensive "feel" not conveniently placed into boxes. I'm confused. Please anyone reading this, help me, tell me what "overriding philosophy" I've been using, if any. I'd like to know.

7. Let us dispense with the Platonic then and wax elastic. You bounced back to Ottawa for the small press fair last June.

a) When you returned what are some of the differences you noticed in the scene (or is it still exactly the same, where no one ever grows old in that funny land called Oz – i mean Ottawa)?

The city has changed. Well more accurately the city I remembered had changed. I recall everything being green, & me on a quest for a brain, w/ some animal & no, no wait, wait.. .Yes, the streets were wider, less traffic, & fewer "big" city buzzing.

The lit scene has some new folks making new discoveries some of the older scenesters continuing. It was amazing, like old home coming week, seeing ELS (English Literature Society from Carleton University) folks like Steve & Cathy Zytveld (then, simply Catherine MacDonald), who run the Dusty Owl (would have loved to have gone to a Dusty Owl reading), & it was great seeing rob again, (although of the scene, he has kept in touch the most, seeing him when he visits Vancouver & when I was in Kamloops), & Jeffrey Mackie & Tamara Fairchild & Grant Wilkins, & Heather Ferguson (whom I never really got to speak w/ very much, then or when I was visiting), meeting the new folks to the scene since my time, jwcurry, Max Middle , Amanda Earl (hey that's you), Jennifer Mulligan, the fellows from In/Words (if there were ladies involved I'm sorry I didn't meet you), the gang that puts out The Puritan, seems like a lot is happening.

b) (because I like to bamboozle my interviewees with complicated multi-part questions):
What were some of the differences you noticed between the Ottawa of 2007 and the Ottawa you left? What were you sad to see gone or happy to see now here?

Ottawa of 2007 isn't as cool, as the Ottawa I left, for one reason, well make that two, & two reasons only; payphones cost way too much now. 50 cents, what country does Ottawa think this is? & there are no where near enough FREE wireless hotspots in the city. Come on Ottawa join the 21st century. In Vancouver, I can get free wireless internet just about everywhere, every coffee shop seems to have it, restaurants, government buildings, libraries, everywhere...& when I lived in Ottawa, in was cutting edge, the freenet was the newest, coolest thing, the internet was all the rage, now it seems as if those without a home with internet service have to fend for themselves. So I'm sad to see those changes.

I also think beer prices need to come down. poets have to drink you know. & I miss the days when people would just walk up to me & hand me $20 bills, yeah that really used to happen...okay only once, but hey it made Ottawa a great place to be. One more thing; Winter. Glad I don't have to live through anymore of those cold things.

8. Winter is a fiction we use to ensure that tourists don’t stay long; once people leave, we go back to our tropical paradise and gold covered sidewalks.

When did you leave Ottawa and what have you been doing since you left?

Oh boy. gold covered sidewalks, all I ever found was fool's gold. So here we go. I left in November of 1995. Moved to Kamloops to live w/ my family. My brother had up & left for Kamloops that summer, at my parents urging, while [at??] my mom's suggestions, & I followed when it got too cold again.

In Kamloops from 1995/6 - 2000, doing some pooka press stuff, started a literary group; The Kamloops Poets' Factory, organized readings, helped put out a literary magazine HUB CITY, & a monthly lit mag called HUB CAP. Worked @ Starbucks, Tony Roma's, & the Other Place Cafe, did a few poetry trips, readings in the interior of B.C. Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, & Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, & San Francisco.

Moved to Vancouver. Went to film school @ VFS (Vancouver Film School, close to VRS, so who knows maybe that was the reason), got married, had kids, worked w/ Edgewise ElectroLit Society, was Artistic Director of the 4th Annual Vancouver Videopoem Festival (VVF, close to VRS, but not as close as VFS), worked on a number of film & TV projects, blah, blah, blah... oh & continued to publish poets through pooka press.

Amanda, thanks for this interview. I'd just like you & any readers to know, that during this interview, the phone here rang 12 separate times, each time I attempted to answer only getting 6 actually persons, & 1 of those computer voices saying "congratulations, you've won..." (I hung up quickly), the co-op handyman did repairs in our bathroom around the baseboard heater, I drank 3 cups of coffee, & ate 1/4 of a 1 pound bag of Pretzel Stix (* Low fat, Cholesterol free)

9. Where can people find more information about pooka press and about your own poetry or creative endeavours?

I suppose, since it may be difficult for everyone to simply ask me in person, or come pop by my apartment, I guess the best places to gather more information are via the world wide web. If you google search pooka press, you are likely to come across sites & postings of pooka press information; such as my myspace site, my facebook group, the information at the online guide to canadian writing, I think some bits on rob's blog, & some of the websites of pooka press authors have mention of pooka press. I must mention that is not, I repeat not this pooka press. Seems someone in the UK has also been using this name, & once upon a time I could have had that domain name, but I didn't register it, I later had, but let it expire.

Now oddly enough, a few years back some fine examples of my writing would pop up on web searches, now it seems it is only those silly spam-ku's I did back in 2000, & some lazy experimental pieces from a few years ago. Most of the writing I was doing in Kamloops is lost to the ether streams of the mainframe, something or other computeresque sounding techie talk. Oh, & there is always the movie/film stuff. You see I now work in the film industry, & I try to make my own short film/videos when I can.

10. Is there any truth to the rumours I’ve been reading in the National Enquirer that you may be returning again and might even be hosting a reunion of your old reading series? If so, when, where, how and sometimes why?

Thank you for the interview, Warren. Hope you can make it out to the small press fair on October 27. We’ll try to give you a golden experience.

Yes, I will be in Ottawa for the Ottawa small press book fair, October 27th, 2007, Room 203 of the Jack Purcell Community Centre. Selling pooka press items in order to eat, drink & be a wee bit merry. I’m presently looking into a Reunion reading at Zaphod’s Nov. 11th, yes Remembrance Day. I’ll let you know, if it is happening. Thanks again for this interview, feels really great to have someone take an interest in ever so small role I played in the literary past of Ottawa.
Thanks, Warren for all the great stories and info!

[Warren is travelling by Greyhound to Ottawa as I post...he's likely somewhere in Alberta right now]

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Real Made Up Sitcom Stumbling Towards Muybridge’s Horse

Last night was a feast of poetry, opening with David McGimpsey’s Sitcom (Coach House Books) and ending with the poetry cabaret featuring Stephen Brockwell, John Pass and Rob Winger who read from their books The Real Made Up (ECW Press), Stumbling in the Bloom (Oolichan) and Muybridge’s Horse (Nightwood Editions).

McGimpsey, to me, is a creative genius, gifted at blending completely unlike things for zany effect. In his book Sitcom, he translates the concept of pain by listing the plots of 14 Episodes of Joey Lawrence. He reads an invented voice over for the Tony Danza Show; it is funny, witty and sung to the Beach Boys Wouldn’t It Be Nice. There’s a power and a gentleness to McGimpsey’s work. It’s the second time I’ve heard him read and I look forward to hearing him again on October 27 when he reads at Plan 99 along with Jessica Westhead, Cara Hedley, and Sarah Lang. (at the Manx at 5pm)

He’s responsible for my most favourite quote about poetry: “Why is it nobody ever demands there be a people’s trigonometry?” side / lines: a New Canadian Poetics (Insomniac Press, 2002), which, by the way, is one of the most interesting and informed collections of poetic thought I’ve read. Neil Wilson quoted a bit of this in his introduction to David.

I’m going to quote more because it’s an apt lead in to the ensuing debate that took place in the poetry cabaret featuring Brockwell, Pass and Winger. McGimpsey says “...isn’t the idea of a people’s poetry a sad Marxist will-o-the-wisp? An externalizing shame about poetry’s sensitive complexity and lack of commercial value? Why is it nobody ever demands there be a people’s trigonometry? There’s thousands of wonderful, immediately accessible, uncomplicated, straight-to-the-heart, plain-speaking poems, and these poems are just as ignored by the people as the complicated poems that refer to Antigone and Creon.

Poetry itself is an indulgence and the indulgence of obscurity is, for me, one of its sweetest peaches. The allowance to say complex things, without any apology to dumb-down demands of conventional media and commercial fiction is a rare gift in today’s world, perhaps available only in the literary margins. And poetry need not be embarrassed for those who found the subject too onerous and too poorly taught in High School. Those citizens, attractive and kissable as they can be, have little to no interest in reading poetry and they probably never will. So what? Poetry can’t make you popular, so you couldn’t ask for a better vantage to contemplate the popular.”

It was with this in mind that I listened to the poets at the cabaret. David O’Meara gave each of them elegant introductions that all three would like to use on the blurbs of their book jackets.

Stephen Brockwell’s book The Real Made Up felt like quite a departure from his last book Fruitfly Geographic (ECW Press, 2004) It includes monologues in other voices, made up characters and poetry taken from the translation of words by voice and hand writing recognition systems. I loved the experimental nature of the stuff he read, the delightful humour, his ability to pull ordinary speech and mannerisms into a poem, his exquisite word play and lyricism.

Rob Winger’s reading of Muybridge’s Horse was excellent. I spent a few months going over the book this summer for an upcoming review in, so to hear his interpretation of the work was fantastic. Muybridge’s Horse is such an ambitious undertaking. Not only did Winger successfully translate the compelling plot of nineteenth century photographer Edweard Muybridge’s life into poetic moments, but he also was able to mesmerize with stunning and sustained imagery, and he also he provides various voices real and fabricated to give us perspectives on Muybridge. I think the book is a tour de force that should with the Governor General Awards for which it has been nominated this year.

Last to read was John Pass, with the fourth book in a series, Stumbling in the Bloom. He comes from BC, has 14 books and chapbooks, all kinds of awards including a Governor General’s Award last year for the latest book. In his eloquent introduction David O’Meara told us that Pass’s book is about his garden but it’s no pastoral idyll of trees, flowers and sun-dappled meadows; it includes the encroaching world of cell phones, terrorism and parallel parking. It is an acknowledgement of clumsiness as well as an argument for poise.

The conversation section of the reading was highly engaging. David asked interesting questions concerning theme, the role of form in their work, Stephen mentioned that he is interesting to pursue new ideas in old forms, the voices in the narrative of Rob Winger’s book and how they were created. Rob noted that Muybridge has no poems in his own voice. John spoke of the helpful role of his editors in his work, casting light on the doubt he himself had had about his work. Stephen likes poems best that have a sense of vocal reality; his monologues are based on interviews he did with people and so the monologues are coming not from his own voice. He likes poems that have physical, gut dimensions. John likes the music and composes poems as he’s pacing, walking. He loves internal, half rhymes and musicality. He has recently found that reading his poems makes him get a bit choked up emotionally

This led to a discussion on the role of personal emotion. Stephen said that this takes a great deal of courage because in recent writing we avoid being authentic emotionally in ways that were explored by poets like Robert Lowell. It’s a delicate balance to do this and still get outsideof the poem enough to see it with some objectivity.

Anita Lahey asked Stephen if he was not working from emotion. Stephen brought up Eunoia by Bok and Erin Moure, claiming she lives in language not emotion per se. Stephen doesn’t think living in language is wrong because it’s important to be emotionally circumspect. The subject of painting is paint and the act of painting, Leotarde said, talking about the interplay between absolute discipline of art and authenticity.

What makes a piece authentic without emotion? Anita asked. Stephen talked about a poem he wrote about his daughter, finding it difficult and embarrassing. He’s not satisfied with it yet. He feels he is better at playing with words. A lot of great poems don’t have origins in the poets’ emotions. He talked about Baudelaire’s Albatross where the emotional centre is centred outside, empathy and feeling is translated into a symbol for all kinds of things, including human nature. He talked about the difference between authentic personal emotion and emotion that is grounded in something that is outside what the poet is writing about.

Rob said there is a crafting to the emotion; you have to present the fake real. People self aware of what they’re doing start to play with language in a cerebral process. John said this is part of the craft of living, to handle our emotional lives in a way that respects other people and at the same time fulfills us.

John worried that there is a danger that unless emotion is part of the mix and somewhat recognizable and part of the ground of writing, there’s a danger in losing audience. That’s what’s happened with a lot of contemporary poetry, which has moved off to language and intellect. He feels feeling is part of the dance and we tend to be cerebral and playful lot and should be taken to task for that. Stephen mentioned Shakespeare. What personal emotion is in any work of Shakespeare? It is art.

Anita asked where he thinks that emotion comes from? Did Shakespeare just pick it up off the ground? Stephen replied that what Shakespeare. thinks about anything is irrelevant to the play he produces.

John said can you imagine Shakespeare composing any of those soliloquies without walking around and speaking to himself feeling every emotional nuance and complexity of the characters? Sometimes wearing your heart on your sleeve is effective at other times it is a disaster, but to imagine personal emotion need not be an element in the composition of any kind of art is nonsense.

Rob mentioned the poems that bridge the two worlds are the most effective; poems like Phyllis Webb’s the Naked Poems, which are about writing a poem, but also intensely emotional or John Thompson’s poems which have a balance of intellect and emotion.

Stephen said that it is almost never about my emotions, but often an exploration of emotion. You have to be willing to be distant from your emotions.

John worried that by limiting access to events and moments that are pivotal and incidental, we risk losing touch with things that have direct meaning to people. He says he’s an unrepentant modernist. He believes people feel language is referential. When you talk about a chair, they have in mind a specific chair. They want to feel the poet also has something specific and concrete in mind, companionable to theirs. A lot of people don’t find that in contemporary poetry.

I’m going to end here. I enjoyed the talk, particularly John Pass’s comments because I really disagree with pretty much everything he said. I like poetry that goes against conventional thinking, that questions it, that surprises me. I have no interest in hearing my own ideas, beliefs or chairs repeated in the form of a poem. That’s what non fiction and personal memoirs are for. I'm not saying that the popular shouldn't be represented in poetry; David McGimpsey does an excellent job of that in his poetry. Please go back and read that McGimpsey quote or better yet, buy Side/Lines...and buy the poetry books, of course! It was a wonderfully provocative evening.

ps. see rob mclennan's blog for more thoughts and summary of last night. Gee, it's nice to have him back in town!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

John Newlove Award 2007

Each year Bywords awards a prize for poem of the year. The John Newlove Poetry Award for 2007 was given Oct 15th at the National Library and Archives to a standing-room-only crowd. The beginning of the awards was preempted by an announcement by Sean Wilson of some special business. An surprise open-book-shaped birthday cake was presented to Amanda Earl as the event coincided with her birthday. The whole room sang happy birthday. The event further opened with some ambiance of more music, this by John Carroll.

Dr. George Elliott Clarke was on hand. He had received for blind-judging 60 poems which were published on between September 2006 and August 2007. From these poems, he selected four honourable mentions and a winning poem. Each honorable mention and the top poem's poet got a festival swag bag, and a lot of applause.

(You can read each winning entry in entirety at the title's link.)

Honourable Mentions this year included two poems by the same poet, Wanderjahre and Getting On by Gregory Myers. Gregory Myers unfortunately could not attend but his poems were read by the editor Amanda Earl.

cb forrest
I'm Just Saying by cb forrest (above) was also short-listed. He read a couple other poems including what happens at a bachelor party with liquor enough for 150 when 15 show up.

Kathryn Hunt
Kitchen by Katherine Hunt was awarded an honorable mention as well. Other poems included one of waking up and watching a lover still sleeping.

The winner this year won a chapbook deal, with production and editing assistance and the new John Newlove Anthology.

Pygmalian and Galatea by Sean Moreland was the top winning poem for 2007. He performed a piece about walking thru a gallery and entering painting's reality in a sense.

Sean Moreland

The evening also contained the launch of chapbook of the 2006 John Newlove winner.

Roland Prevost
Roland Prevost with his work, MetaFizz, the resulting chapbook of last year's award from his winning poem at the pizzeria : 100% real juice . New poems included one with this excerpt pace a cold hell &/ show a brave cargo of teeth.

John Carroll
Blues guitarist John Carroll took us into (and out of) the event with some amazing fingerwork and raspy voice. He had 3 CDs left but his current new album is underway.

George Elliott Clarke

It’s always a pleasure to hear George Elliott Clarke read; he is a frequent reader at the Ottawa International Writers Festival

He read from two works last night:

Black (Raincoast Books, 2006) and Trudeau, Long March / Shining Path (Gaspereau Press, 2007), which is also a jazz opera / libretto.

In “A Discourse On My Name,” we learn that "Elliott," a middle name Clarke shares with Trudeau, turns out to be from Elliot Ness of the Untouchables which his mother liked in the late 50s.

Clarke coined the term “Africadian” "a Black Nova Scotian of African American and Mi’kmaq roots." His rhythms are fun and style as playful as always.

“I enjoy my uncultivated acreage in Three Mile Plains
And my feral garden, part weeds, part roses,
Part onions, garlic, raspberries, lilac,
In Toronto, “the meeting place.”


“My mother selected my first two names.
But her choice of George
Had nothing to do with George VI, George Washington,
George Washington Carver, Gorgeous George,
George of the Jungle, Curious George,
Or even “Georgie Porgie,
Puddin an pie,
Who kissed the girls
And made em sigh.”

He read next from 9/11 written in the roman numerals IX / XI
His voice thundered as he read like a preacher in a pulpit and repeated the word violence over and over to make a strong and memorable poem:

“It was violence as judgement, violence as Kitsch,
Violence as aviation and concrete, violence
As pornography, violence as X-acto blades,
Violence as the President hunkered down in
Bunkers, violence as the Pentagon burned.

Unlike many contemporary poets, Clarke has never strayed from the political in his poetry; he makes scathing remarks about suffering, prejudice and the ugliness of politics, including talking about our politicians.

Clarke read La Vérité à Ottawa invoking Ottawa’s April winter and referring to Parliament Hill workers as “eunuchs droning” in the bowels of the Peace Tower. “Mulroney’s / Tories trashing the treasury” He made reference to “Afro-Arab-Asian-Italian Lowertown--/The Coloured arrondissement of Ottawa—“

On Jean Chretien, he said “I think he could have been a great prime minister.” He uses the technique of accumulation in his poem about Chretien Revised Standard Version:

“He was depressive, swinish, foolish, garrulous,
Wrathful, calculating, tricky, ornery, arrogant,
Execrable, difficult, vengeful, professional, sly,
Narrow, bull-headed, deft, lawyerly, egotistical,
Despicable, vital, and he was all of these things
Every single day of every single election year.
Then, he got worse.”

His final poem from "Black" was Will, from which he read Part II: “For my funeral, here’s what I’d like:”...

Clarke then read a bit from his new dramatic poem Trudeau, Long March / Shining Path, based on biography but with liberties taken. He wrote in eight syllable rhyming couplets for several reasons: the poem was being used as a libretto, and he thought the composer, D. D. Jackson, would prefer the rhyme (this turned out not to be the case); also given Trudeau’s childhood study to classical French poetry, Clarke was impressed that Trudeau had a knowledge of poetry and could recite it, and his use of rhyme was a way of paying homage to Trudeau’s knowledge and interest in poetry. The rhyme felt fun and I think it was used with more than just a hint of tongue in cheek. There’s something silly about the dialogue between a young Trudeau and Mao Tse Tong, leader of the Chinese Communist Movement, being in rhyme, a bit of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead or absurdist theatre to the whole thing.

One example of Clarke’s imagination in this piece is his envisioning the meeting between Fidel Castro and Trudeau if Trudeau really had canoed to Cuba from Florida.

The long poem is impressively lyrical; I don’t have a copy of it, (didn’t get a chance to visit the bookstore, in the flurry; otherwise I’d excerpt sections from what he read.

After reading a few excerpts from the poem, Clarke asked for questions from the audience; these questions were about politics. Steven Artelle asked whether there is a place for poetry in politics; Clarke felt there wasn’t a place per se for poets. He invoked Plato who didn’t like the idea of poets being involved in the Republic, because poets believe in mythologies and lies. Clarke went on to say that “writers and artists need to be free to imagine things that we want to; if we’re involved too rigidly in politics, it’s bound to have an effect on our imaginations. Our role is to try to dream of a better society and letting readers and viewers decide for themselves how legitimate our fantasies may be.”

Clarke does have a poem in the works on Stephen Harper. Won’t it be interesting to read that one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

George Johnston Memorial Reading


The reading to the memory of the poet, George Johnston. It was fairly well attended as well. Perhaps 70 or 80 people came, including his sister who in the question and answer period gave a snippet of memory of the poet as a young man in church, a critical thinker and a good friend to her.

Different aspects and eras of his life and his writing life were shared by people who walked with him at different stages. The panel was to be with Robyn Sarah, John Metcalf, Mark Abley, Robert Hogg, Bill Hawkins and Stephen Brockwell. Bill Hawkins unfortunately was ill and couldn't attend however there was a lot of ground covered as is.

Two of the panelists have written books on the writing of this Canadian poet. He was widely anthologized, worked in formal verse and in translating Nordic poetry. Robyn Sarah wrote The Essential George Johnston this year. John Metcalf edited a number of his Nordic translations and did a seminal collection Endeared by Dark [described here among other places.] Robert Hogue knew Johnston for years, when both of them were teaching at Carleton. Johnston was remarkable for his cam equanimity, his peaceful intelligent character. Hogue contributed to The Old Enchanter which were essays on the man.

Sarah took one sonnet and unpacked it entirely. Mark Abley talked of a reading Johnston and he did in Concordia where they were the youngest two there, by a decade or few. Johnston held his own and taught many lessons, including the value of respecting your own work enough to learn it, take it seriously enough to own it, claim it, recite it. All the speakers were in respect for how Johnston was able to use poetic device enough for it to be invisible, not drawing attention to itself. He had a love of play of life and language. John Metcalf pointed out that how Johnston is not more well-known than he is is partly a matter of timing. As Johnston's first book came out, the confession school of writing and Lowell's Life Studies was taking off. One must be a suffering poet, and that wasn't what Johnton was about. He liked controlled meter, used form that became increasingly compressed over the years and a joy he wanted to inject, or naturally let flow thru of his life and thru his writing. He wrote about domestic things working, about northern climates and community when the individual and anomie was getting center stage. Nonetheless his poetry is still being read and appreciated. There's even a poetry award in his name, established in 1992. His precise love of sensitive use of the sounds of words to augment and reinforce meaning and reinforce life forces themselves makes his tight poems something people keep going back to.

Poem Link: Firefly Evening by Johnston.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Congratulations Monty Reid

winner of the 2007 Lampman-Scott Award for poetry for Disappointment Island (Chaudiere Books); Congratulations also to Chaudiere Books for publishing a book that won an award in the first year of its existence, first season even!

Honourable mention went to Sylvia Adams for her poetry collection "Sleeping on the Moon" (HAGIOS Press). Congratulations Sylvia!

The judges for the award, which has existed since 1986 before it was merged this year with the Duncan Campbell Foundation, were Steven Reinkie of BC, Tonjia Gunvaldsen Klassen of Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sue St.Claire of Toronto, Ontario.

The judges had this to say about Disappointment Island:

"Monty Reid has a gift for arresting metaphoric insights whch he often delivers in a disarmingly casual voice, the effect being that of an everyday world primed for the unexpected. Most poems are tinged with an appealing lyric sadness. They are drawn to the erotic murmur of material things that simulteanously conceive the ineluctable mystery of the various landscapes into which they travel."

As Monty said "Where else but Ottawa would you get a major poetry award that's named after two civil servants. Lampman worked as a post office clerk and Scott worked in Native Affairs." In his acceptance speech, he thanked the Ottawa literary community for the warmth and the welcome he received from other writers in Ottawa. He came to Ottawa from out west a few years ago. We're lucky to have him.

Monty read from a section of the title series "Disappointment Island"

for Megan Ward

We have taken lawnchairs, blankets,
a thermos of hot chocolate and the attenuated
matter of our hearts down to the waterfront
where the sky looks darkest. They have forecast
a meteorite shower and although the glow of the
distant city composes itself beyond the chain
of islands this is the darkest we can find.
Still, the twang of light surprises us.

You could not catch it. It is the jump
of static between two bodies that are predicted
by theory but we would otherwise have no
evidence for. And isn't the decomposing
light of evidence exactly what we wanted?
To believe that out of all the bitter words some
proof could arise that would bind us together
like the webbing of these tired lawnchairs.
Sometimes our necks get kinked from waiting
in the dark.

And so we watch the ferry passing slowly
through the channel and freighters anchored
in the moonlight of the sound. They are slow
enough to see. And even though it's
invisible, we pour the hot chocolate and it
grants something to the darkness. When
we tilt our sweetened heads towards the sky again
it says we would not want to do this forever.
Perhaps nothing more is required.

There is no point in wishing
for anything. The stars, in falling,
make their wishes upon you.

Friday, October 12, 2007


In association with SAW Video, the CFI is pleased to begin its tenth season of Café EX @ Club SAW with filmmaker John D. Scott’s, SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED (2007, 72 min.), a portrait of east coast poet and novelist John Stiles. Stiles was recently featured as one of twenty New Canadian poets in New American Writing (Oink! Press, CA. USA). SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED recently won a number of awards, including the Rex Tasker Documentary Award for Best Atlantic Canadian Documentary at the Atlantic Film Festival. It was also featured at the prestigious Hot Docs film festival. John D. Scott will attend the screening to introduce and discuss his work. He will be joined by his wife and collaborator, Karen Rodriguez.

SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED, taking its name from a collection of Stiles’ poetry, is a moving portrait of a significant voice on the Canadian literary scene. The film potently captures the distinct style, tone and fluidity of Stile’s craft. Stiles, who writes about his experiences growing up in the maritimes, expresses a nostalgia for a different time and emphasizes the necessity for creative renewal in the face of loss. Formally, Stiles combines the vernacular and slang of his small town upbringing with a modernist sensibility that brings to mind Pound and Williams. Stiles’ poetry is rooted in the details of everyday life, but ultimately its themes resonate on a universal level. One part “portrait of the artist as a thirtysomething”, the other a meditation on friendship and community, SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED details the travails of Stiles: his move to Toronto in the late 90s; the necessity or inevitability of mundane jobs; his hard-fought battle with the Toronto literary scene ultimately gaining him a cult following. To effectively document Stiles’ particular, idiosyncratic and brilliant style and method, the filmmaker Scott combines documentary, experimental and fiction forms.

SCOUTS ARE CANCELLED is being screened on Friday, October 19 at 7:30pm at Café Ex @ Club SAW, along with John D. Scott’s short, DEAR PAM (2003, 25 min.).

Café Ex is located at 67 Nicholas.
Admission is pay-as-you-can.

For more information, please consult the Canadian Film Institute website: or telephone (613) 232-6727.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The 2007 John Newlove Poetry Award

will take place on October 15, 2007, 8:30 pm at the Ottawa International Writers Festival
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street, Cabaret Room

This is Bywords' fifth time at the Writers Festival and the fourth annual Newlove award. It should be an exciting evening with Roland Prevost, last year's award winner, launching his chapbook, Metafizz, the music of John Carroll and of course the announcement of the winner and honourable mentions who will also read. The judge for this year's award was George Elliott Clarke, who will be at the festival at 6pm on October 15.

"[The award winning poem] sustains a classic narrative visually, while also permitting taut and tantalizing wordplay. The poet crafts vivid, alive images, allows enjoyable contrasts, and interrupts expectations, thanks to choice line-breaks and enjambment. [The winning poem] is not only a ludic lyric; plain speech is also granted poetic power. It takes the John Newlove Award because its poet is fearless-adventuring, risking, and daring much, specifically in making the poem an art form, but one as adamantly accessible and as plastic as language itself. Its teasing nature renders it pleasing, and there is no treasure without pleasure."
--George Elliott Clarke

hope to see you there and at other festival events, especially THE LIFE AND POETRY OF JOHN NEWLOVE Documentary Film and Book Launch with Robert McTavish
Hosted by rob mclennan on Sunday, October 21 at 2pm.

Amanda Earl

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Spoken Word Pre-season Wrap-up

Okay, admittedly the pre-season tag has more to do with hockey than with our NCR orature scene. Several things are, on the contrary, in full swing. Grassroots-organized events find in September that the Ottawa audiences are returning from the hinterland, and a few favourite events have started up for the year.


The monthly themed reading series Poetic Intentions, which had its first-anniversary show at the Château Lafayette this summer, has found a permanent venue at the Avant-Garde bar, and accordingly, the work that is most at home there is a basket of the experimental, manic, anecdotal, sometimes anti-intellectual, usually funny and sometimes sentimental.

September was a short-story format, doubling as benefit/launch party for the Sparrow, a new creative writing grassroots journal edited by Mario Jamal. Submissions have closed for the inaugural issue, but short fiction, poetry, and other creative writing are welcome at in anticipation of the second deadline.

Tiah Akse organizes Poetic Intentions; the next event is October 30, Avant-Garde Bar, 8 p.m, themed on anthropomorphism. Take to your hind legs, barking poets, and join in the fun.


Dusty Owl, which also doesn't take a summer break, celebrated its' co-organizers' birthdays this Sunday September 30 with a big open set and rare readings from Steve and Kathy Zytveld's own works. We saw an all-star turnout of Owl regulars, and raised a glass or two to Kathy and Steve, who make so much happen for oral culture in Ottawa, and who do a tireless job of supporting both emerging and highly-accomplished writers.


Capital Slam launched its new season, which has a great line-up of features for the year, on September 1. First winer of the season was Rusty Priske, who is one of the five-member team travelling to Halifax in October for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, which includes a national slam. Ottawa is well-represented this year by Rusty, Free Will, One, nathanaël, and Danielle Grégoire.

There is a fundraiser for the team on October 3 at the Mercury lounge, featuring the team, and a set by local spoken-word veteran and inspiration John Akpata. Please come out to show support and kick in some gas money (namely $5 at the door.) It will be a memorable show, and a chance for the team to work out their chops before the festival the following week. There are some debut pieces in store!

The next slam is the same week, Saturday October 6, featuring rising phenomenon Horus Heavens. This is where careers begin!


In other spoken-word news, the Writers Festival hosts a workshop on page-to-stage transition with Oni the Haitian Sensation on Wednesday October 17.

Oni made her name in Ottawa's spoken word and slam circles, has represented Ottawa at the National Poetry Slam in the U.S, and was Artistic Director of the inaugural Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (then known as the Canadian Spoken Wordlympics.) She's recently performed across Canada in conjunction with her new G&M Book of the Year Ghettostocracy, and is returning from performances South Africa just prior to this workshop. (Free admission!)

One last note/teaser for now: many are aware already that the superb storyteller Ivan E. Coyote is Carleton's writer-in-residence for 2007-08. I hope soon to post a run-down of what Ivan has in mind for the year. Carleton students and Ottawa in general will be fortunate for Ivan's presence here.

As well, poets from Capital Slam will be featuring at the Storytelling Festival this year. More info to come.