Monday, April 30, 2007

a brief note on the poetry of Sandra Ridley

trinity test site

drove a truck from los alamos new mexico
for the view from a rolled down window

kept his dry eyes open behind dark goggles
until a shock sense of fingers burning

outside smell of skin, memories of sparkler sticks
and birthday cakes not distorted white white

flash of magnesium phosphorescence
nowhere a shadow just sway of joshua tree

what he came for he couldn’t find
only melted sand, small hard bubbles

nubs of pale green glass, filled his pockets full
would be gifts for happy children

Perpetually modest and quiet, Ottawa poet Sandra Ridley, originally from Saskatchewan ("always a wheat farm girl," as she writes in her bio), has been publishing increasingly interesting poems in more than a few places lately, including Carousel, Grain, Queen’s Feminist Review, Taddle Creek, The Peter F. Yacht Club and ottawater, and the Huntsville Festival of Arts’ anthology, Fringe Festival Poetry, with a chapbook of ghazals recently accepted by prairie publisher JackPine Press scheduled for 2008 publication. After seeing poems there and here for a while, and her recent honourable mention in the Diana Brebner Awards sponsored by Arc magazine, it's always good to see something new by Ridley; however rare that seems to be (although lately less so).

Variation On Last Summer

Their beginning was better than she had planned:
a palm pressed to the pulse in her ankle,
then his lips.

That season tilted with a red leaf in August,
when the moon was still in July.
Buffalo stones darkened among foxtails, and grasshoppers
shifted from path to ditch. His hum,

Months have fallen away,
and she wants to re-invent the ending.

That path led through a stand of poplar
to barrels of creosote held down by black tarpaulins
and oiled rope.

She dipped his hand, parsed the wound.

A few weeks ago, Ottawa poet and publisher Max Middle put a few more of his Puddle Leaflets out, including poems by Gregory Betts, Adam Seelig, Gary Barwin and "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway (Two)" by Ridley. Ridleys' poems over the past couple of years seem far more traditional than what she has been working on lately, working a marvellous prairie flow in the tradition of the "prairie long poem" in her "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway" (I look forward to seeing the entire poem when it's finished), that includes the line "Here does not resonate. Here insists." The compactness of the earlier pieces seem to have been pulled slowly apart, in lines just as compact and cutting, but weaving in more of a considered, slow flow, even as they ride off the distances of prairie horizons. There is a lovely kind of smooth rhythm and clean spoken wisdom to her lines, almost weaving her prairie through the rhythms and lines the way Phil Hall works through his Ontario, or in the best of the poems by Saskatchewan poet Alison Calder from her Wolf Tree (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2007); there is a slow kind of quiet wisdom here worth waiting on, and worth waiting for. We know she's quietly working on a full collection, but how long do we have to wait? I could go on waiting forever, although I would prefer not to. Until then, just listen to these lines from the same poem, "Somewhere On A Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway (Two)," as she writes:

This car won’t push eighty and we can still identify the hurt.
Our choices haven’t yet become the typical blur.

There is a rolling highway line.
There is a wearing away of white paint.
There is an undeniable habit of longing.

Soon there will be acres of night.


No one forgets the uncorrectable details of broken promises
or the composite memory of photo booth smiles.

No such thing as subtle discontentment.
We can’t go back. If you really wanted to, you would.


We learn to draw out our need for light;
what shadows
and empty spaces imply.

The distant hills hide a threadbare swallow nest;
hoarfrost on barn plank, cracked by the weight of old heaving.

We learn that all that is protected cannot stay flawless.

We could make-believe a home in one of these small towns,
or any place that passes as friendly in the dead of winter.


A newborn aurora trembles between words and persuades us.

It might have been easier to give in to what has let us down.
Again. The car is quiet,
but for the drone of four wheels on grey snow.


Off the sore lip of horizon is another smoke stack; maybe
a nursery for rockets, or the last rural mythology.

A chain link fence runs parallel to the highway; a remnant of perimeter
remains secured.

A missile silo condo is for sale.

It pushes up from buried silver sage and grass.
Six feet of concrete with corrugated metal offers a cheap gesture of rescue.
We think we could be safe here.

I could feed you sugarplums forever.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

two erins and a genni

read last night as part of the final poetry cabaret: erin knight, genni gunn and erin mouré. the first poetry cabaret had two georges and a rob. When will we have three of a kind? We actually did have a full house for this reading, thanks to the audience.

Knight read from her first poetry collection “Sweet Fuel” (Gooselane Editions, 2007). She introduced her work by explaining that the title refers to the energy we use when we have no more energy. She also applied the idea to translation, which is an act in her book, that there is an energy that is needed between perception and language and that energy creates new energy.

Her work was interesting, containing a lot of metaphoric abstractions combined with very concrete imagery and some references to mythology. She also included translations from Spanish and also back translations: poems written in English, translated into Spanish and then translated back into English. The variations were quite interesting, such as a translation from “Silver, for words,/for their mercurial flow” to Spanish and then back into English as “A plated word, glossed/with the fluency of mercury.” [Milagro por el nevado in Three Translations].

My favourite bits of Knight’s reading:

The Sight:
“one blue egg/among three or four mottled green.”
“the dial tone, an acquired comfort,/ like sweet cheese, or the smell of burning dust/when you turn on the furnace the first day.”

Little Brown Bat:
“I held the other end of the rope of a small person’s panic.”
“At times I’ve been reminded of a bat’s naked wings./The sun skin stretched across its long fingerbones invites the/violence of an archaic past we don’t claim.”

As I’m flipping through the book hunting for the lines I marked down, I see other lines, other word combinations I admire. I plan to spend more time being energized by the sweet fuels in this book.

Genni Gunn read next from "Faceless," a collection of poems that focuses primarily on a fictionalized version of a woman who had a face transplant. Gunn was born in Trieste, Italy and along with being a writer and former musician, is also a translator. Translation links all three poets.

Erin Mouré, the final reader, works with three languages: English, French and Galician, a language spoken by about three million people today that goes back to the Middle Ages. She read from O Cadoiro (House of Anansi Press, 2007). Mouré explained that she wanted to explore the lyric turn, by which she was referring to the time when poems turned from praising God, a love that claimed to be wholly satisfying and complete, to addressing another, a love never complete or sufficient.

In order to do the research she went to Lisbon to read the troubadour poetry of the
medieval Galician-Portuguese songbooks, the cancioneiros. Mouré spoke eloquently about the various types of cantigas, including songs of love, and songs of scorn. Some of the of the songs may have been removed from the Vatican Library for being too racy.

I took a few notes about the poems, but alas somehow I ended up buying a different book, O Cidadán (House of Anansi, 2002), the third in a trilogy. Now I’m going to be buying the other two and O Cadoiro. Alas that means I can’t comment on the poems themselves! Mouré speaks eloquently about the poems in a fascinating post-face here.

During the Question and Answer, Stephen Brockwell, who did his usual exemplary job hosting, asked all three about the importance of a second or third language in their work.

For Mouré, this is are crucial. She said that she couldn’t be herself without them. She added that in Europe people are comfortable hearing and not necessarily understanding many languages.

Gunn said that she came from Italy when she was eleven years old and that she didn’t really return to her native tongue until she translated the works of a feminist author, thereby rediscovering her first language through translation.

For Knight being in love with language means being in love with more than one language. She learned Spanish fairly late when she was curious to know about the exciting things she was hearing in Mexico. Knowing other languages helps her to recognize the metaphors occurring in every day speech.

Brockwell asked what is gained and lost in the translation of a poem.
Mouré answered that any reading is a translation. We experience poems through our body, our experience and our own reading. She suggested we take a look at all the translations of Rilke in order to discover the multiple essences of a work.

Mouré finds she is less satisfied to read only in English. She said her mother tongue was silence, that her parents’ voices were a series of blah blahs, unless they mentioned ice cream, but a flower made sense to her. There are times when English does not suffice. We say “the snow fell.” In Galician “it felled the snow,” which sounds more beautiful.
“Je” and “I” are not the same exactly because they have a different cultural context.

The discussion returned to language and the notion that one has to be young to learn a new language, which is something the readers didn't agree with. Mouré said that Galicians believe Galician belongs to the people who love it. Galician is a supressed language that existed in microcosms, the words and expressions varying from one village to another. For example, there are fourteen words for firefly.

Mouré also spoke about the role of lyric in poetry. She believes the poet can’t get away from lyric. She feels that those who want to get rid of the speaking I, still have it there, but it’s suppressed. She recommends people read all ages of literature in different languages, to dive into different moments and places in different languages, even in translation.

Jeremy Dias asked a question about intent and meaning in their poems.
Mouré answered that she tries to see where words go and what they open to her, takes the beauty of the language, that there are so many things language can do; it can be forceful or delicate, can contain ambiguity and contradiction, which are a part of life. She went on to say that we live with contradiction, that resolution comes in different ways or not at all and that we don’t always have a message in life. Every love and death is singular. In the face of multiple singularity there are bound to be contradictions.

I was blown away by Mouré’s words and her poems. She is someone I plan to read more of. What a way to finish off the poetry cabarets!

I’m not blogging events on Sunday. Thanks to all of you who’ve read and discussed these entries with me this time around. Great seeing you at this year’s festival, another joyous celebration of literature. Spring is officially sprung. I'll see you at the numerous events coming up. The Bywords calendar is jam (and peanut butter) packed.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Troubadours, Shamans & Language Oracles

at the Ottawa International Writers Festival last night.

First there was Catherine Kidd, performance poet and novelist. She performed from "Bipolar Bear" (Conundrum Press, 2005) and read from her first novel, "Missing the Ark" (Conundrum Press, 2007). Here I’ll touch briefly on her spoken word performance.

Kidd is an actress and shape shifter, the nuances and changes in her voice making it easy to believe for an instant that she really is a blind, cave-dwelling Human Fish. To the background of music created for the piece, Kidd spouted rhythms and rhyme of a zoological bent. I’m not a big fan of spoken word with a few exceptions when I become a huge fan as is the case here for Catherine Kidd. She weaved magic with Plato, and creatively riffed on extinction. I was caught up in the joy of her performance. The audience felt likewise. I also really enjoyed her reading from her novel, a very intense and compelling scene about a little girl who rides in a taxi and makes up stories that aren’t fooling the driver, who has stories of his own. As Kidd said later on during the Q&A, when she is writing, the characters tell their own stories. It’s what makes her dialog so believable.

Later in the evening, after Sarah Dearing’s lively conversation with the entertaining and provocative Heather Mallick, former Globe and Mail columnist and “opinionator” as she calls herself, we returned to poetry with Poetry Cabaret 3. David O’Meara hosted the event, mixing serious tributes with humour in his introductions of Barbara Nickel, Dennis Lee and Simon Armitage.

Domain (House of Anansi Press, 2007) is the second collection in ten years for Nickel who likened creating a poem to the process of chipping away at stone and taking days to get to a tiny phrase. rob mclennan asked her during the Q&A about the structure of the book, whether the compact foundational poems throughout the book framed the rest of the poems. Nickel explained that the Crown of Sonnet poems scattered throughout the book and representing the various rooms of a house formed the structure and then poems about circles, cycles, the moon and cobwebs followed. She likened the process of writing poetry for her to the wait in fishing.

I found Nickel’s poems to be mesmerizing, the imagery precise, the cadence and rhythm in the sonnets very delicate and subtle, and the lines powerful and surprising. In "The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife" the “house is a body she’s trapped in.” And there’s a juxtaposition between the domestic experiences and the gruesomeness and sadness of the doctor’s life. “He mounts the stairs. Today/ he touched a bruise, a wart, a man’s eyelids/just dead still warm—he reaches for / his wife.”

What else did I enjoy about Nickel’s poems?

The imagery of white and stillness in poems like "Girls’ Room," inspired by The Veiled Virgin, a statue by Giovanni Strazza.

The echo of themes throughout the poems she read. For example, the line “the only way to touch her is to hurt’” appeared in two poems Nickel read: "Master Bedroom" and "Girls’ Room" and in this form in "The Doctor and Doctor’s Wife": “He touches pain so she can buy the meat.”

The play of syntax in poems like "Girls’ Room": “the heave/down rock of water.”

The repetition from poems like "Athabasca Falls, 8:40 am": “and view, endlessly, ourselves/viewing the view.”

The way sound patterned and reinforced the poems' moods and subjects. For instance in “Living Room” the melancholy mood of remembrance is echoed in the hollow open o and the lax i sounds which call to mind the pure white waterfall of the opening line: “my brother flicking stones/into the foam, christening me with names I still hiss at the mirror. Where do those stones/exist?”

Nickel’s work, to me, is an example of shamanism, of observing what is real and forecasting what it might mean in the broader sense, with lines line “Climbing depends/ on loving the rock wholly and letting go.”

In a series of poems about Catherine the Great, Nickel opens with epigraphs from Catherine and from others in the era and then creates glossas using part of the quote within the poems. She also had a series of poems on graveyards, explaining that she is a collector of graveyards, writing a series of laments for people she’s lost in her life through breakups and deaths. The poem "Churchyard: Tiefengrund," being a particularly heartbreaking poem about the burial of a baby son and the speaker’s grandmother.

Dennis Lee followed Nickel, reading first from a collection of children’s poems and moving on to Yes/No (House of Anansi Press, 2007), a follow-up to UN (House of Anansi Press, 2003). He advised the audience to treat his reading as a piece of music and to not be too worried if they found it disorienting.

I found it playful and delightfully overwhelming to my ear and brain, engaging my cerebral cortex in ways it likely rarely gets engaged. I admitted to Lee during the book signing later that the last time he came to the Writers Festival, I hadn’t really twigged on to his writing and that now I was finally ready for it. I enjoyed the accumulative effect of the strings of utterances, the side by side placing of unlike ideas like “blunderling underlying”, “extinctions con carne”, “calling all lords of the rigor mort tango”, “quotidianic aha. His reading had a Lewis Carroll Jaberwocky feel to it for me, an absurdity and playfulness with language and still maintained an Aligator Pie cadence, which I also mentioined to Lee.

“Plague of indigenous nada” sounded like something one could yell out at a business meeting. I’ll have to sit down and read both "UN" and "Yes/No" to get more than sound out of this work, but it did remind me of something Steve McCaffery has said in an electronic poetry centre interview with charles berstein, which I can only paraphrase, that sometimes it is good to focus on sound to shift the reader’s attention from the pattern of literal meaning.

Simon Armitage, the next reader, was much more a storyteller, fashioning poems that are easily accessible to the reader yet at the same time still strong in the craft and precision of poem-making. He read from his new collection “Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Cowboy Kid" (first published by Faber and Faber, Canadian edition by House of Anansi Press, 2007) His poems combined humour and wit. This is a return for Armitage who came to the festival two years before. I was particularly pleased to hear him read “You’re beautiful” again. It’s in the current collection. The speaker praises the you in the poem while the I is ugly for things like “saying ‘love at first sight’ is another form of mistaken identity...”

During the question and answer bit, O’Meara asked general questions about how hard it was to start a poem, how the writers knew when the poem was finished.

Lee explained that his first drafts were dull and boring, that they often contained too much chatter and too many bright ideas. It can take him up to twenty five drafts to create a poem. The more the drafts, the more spontaneous sounding the poem would be. The poem, he said, has to find its way out.

For Armitage, a poem often starts as a daydream. Like Lee, Armitage and Nickel both found early drafts to be a form of hard labour. Armitage, whose work relies heavily on sound and rhythm, explained that he’ll start with sacrificial words that have the correct sound and rhythm but not the right meaning. He said that it was different for books, in which he starts to commission poems in his mind, focussed towards a theme. He described the poet’s holy trinity of anxiety as being the title, the first line and the last line. In his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he said he was lucky in that since those were given to him, he could concentrate on moment-to-moment poetics.

Armitage uses long hand to write his poems, believing in conserving the archeology of his own work through written drafts. He said that the word processor tends to make him feel like he’s already got a finished product and many writers delete previous versions. He ascribes to the philosophy of Ted Hughes in that he sees a relationship between crafting letters with the hand and the side of the brain the writer is appealing to.

I particularly liked what Armitage said about how to know when you’re finished. He said that when you feel you’ve created what you set out to make, you’ve failed. Instead you are finished when you’ve outreached own grasp, when the poem has taken you beyond your own capabilities.

An audience member asked about artistic inspirations. Armitage is currently working with the natural sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy; Nickel mentioned Chagall as being one influence, which makes a heck of a lot of sense given the dream-like nature of her work, but also said that it differs for each poem. I anticipated Lee would mention Mark Rothko as an influence, so I gave myself a gold star when he noted Rothko and Jackson Pollock.

O’Meara in a very skilful segue asked about the music that influenced the writers. He mentioned that Lee’s poems had a jazz association, while Nickel’s were majesterial and classical and Armitage was known for his liking of punk music, which made sense given the colloquial nature of his writing. Armitage said that his poetry followed the punk reaction to the Thatcher years and that at the time he had been fascinated by the use of journalese and that British writers had witnessed its effectiveness by people in power.

For his own writing, Armitage doesn’t listen to punk, but rather needs something arythmical to not influence hiss own rhythms. Nickel explained that she needs complete silence in order to write.

The evening went by quickly. I have to admit that it was the most engaging and inspiring evening for me of the writers festival so far. And there are still two more days to go!

Related posts/pics by John MacDonald, Charles Earl and perhaps more to come as the late night owls awake ;)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nicholas Lea’s Everything Is Movies & Poetry Cabaret (sauvignon) 2

Last night at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, Nicholas Lea read from his first poetry collection, Everything is movies (Chaudière Books, 2007).

Note that the other feature at the event was Dusty Owl published author, Daniel Allen Cox, Tattoo This Madness In. All I'll say about that is Jehovas' Witnesses, surveys and smurf cakes. Thanks Dusty Owls :)

When introducing the book, Lea mentioned, I suspect in response to the previous poetry cabaret’s Q&A session, that he, himself, doesn’t write much about geographical place.

Lea’s poems beg to be read aloud, so rich are they in sound play. He opened with the poem Dummies wonder which is an exercise for the tongue and the mind: “careening into sleep’s/cabbage-role afghan.” I would have laughed more at this pun, if I’d seen it on the page!

Midrift: “dislodge the hodgepodge of love” is a wonderfully playful yet earnest imperative.

Poems like Posture show Lea’s skill with imagery: “Find the nerve of the peach.”

His poetry is a combination of word play and word skill, real and surrealistic imagery, colloquial and formal language. He refers not only to the masters of poetry like Dylan Thomas and John Ashbery, but also popular musicians such as the Tragically Hip and its poet-musician, Gord Downey.

Above all, Lea’s poems are precise and he gets to the heart of things using this precision as we see in the poem Avatar: “Throwing hay from barn roofs is no/consolation—/the rain-veined knoll, the gold that shoots/through everything,/is water on your eardrums—“

There’s an absurdity and an earnestness to Lea’s writing that I haven’t seen with a lot of writers coming from his background these days in Ottawa. In his back-of-the-book blurb, Kevin Connolly says that these poems have “an ecstatic recklessness” and “an unfakeable spontaneity.”

Lea mentioned the collection had a lot of yoga references, yet he doesn’t do yoga himself. I’d say the book has a yogic tone: meditative, flexible and muscular. If I could read my own drunken hand-writing, I’d say more.

Later in the evening, after still more alcohol...

the poetry cabaret, featuring B.W. Powe, Sandra Alland and bill bissett. What I remember most is both Alland and bissett’s sounds, Alland repeating words orgasmically, bissett chanting “a long way from love” with his maracas, as he does. Alland read from or talked about her book, Blissful Times 63 poetic translations of one poem from Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days. One cool thing she did for the book was to alphabatize all the words, which she read out to us, joyfully.

Both of these writers and performers reminded me that it’s all about playing and risking. That’s what they did.

If I had organized the program for last night, I would have put Lea with Alland and bissett. The thread of experimentation weaved through the work of all three writers.

I don’t have anything to say about B.W. Powe except I didn’t think his style, which was of a more narrative nature, fit in with the playfulness and experimentation of the other readers.

I wish I could say more, and perhaps if I hadn’t had that last glass of wine, I would be able to. see rob's blog for a more coherent and informative description. also john's great photo of Sandra Alland.

Monday, April 16, 2007

George Murray, rob mclennan, George Bowering

Notes from Poetry Cabaret #1 of the Ottawa International Writers Festival

George Murray used to be an actor but gave it up because he realized he didn’t like speaking other people’s words. His previous poetry collection, The Hunter(McClelland and Stewart, 2003) was inspired/influenced by his having experienced 9/11 up close and personal in New York City. He moved from Manhattan to Guelph to St. John’s, Newfoundland where he lives now. [His photo taken by Charles yesterday is here.]

I had the pleasure of speaking to Murray for the “Building a Better Blog” event that preceded the Poetry Cabaret and found out all about, the literary-and-so- much-more site you must visit right now and daily.

After our conversation, Murray took off his bookninja outfit and donned his I’ve-just-released- a-new-collection-of-poetry attire. Both costumes suit him admirably.

the rush to here” (Nightwood Editions, 2007) [not the rush to hear, which is what I thought it was, for some reason] is a collection of sonnets with idea rhymes instead of sound rhymes. The idea rhymes reflect traditional sonnet rhyming schemes and when you figure it out you feel quite pleased with yourself. A rhyme for night could be dark or day, its antonym, or its homonym knight or the prefix mid.

Murray uses his constraint to inspire creative interpretation rather than letting it limit him. The fact that Murray is a cryptic crossword enthusiast should come as no surprise to you when you read his work.

“the rush to here” is dedicated to Murray’s mentor and good friend Richard Outram, a poet who died “knowingly and willingly” on January 20, 2005, after the death of his wife, artist Barbara Howard. Murray explained that the couple were so close and so much in love that he modeled his own marriage after theirs. Murray misses his friend very much.

What I liked about Murray’s poems was the mixture of formal with informal, metaphysical with day to day. Made for a kind of magic, such as in the opening of “Rearview Mirror,”one of the poems he read:

The wind comes in and startles hair and scarves,
blowing them shitcrazy before letting them lead
with the controlled attention of snapping flags.

or the poem “Half-a-Wit”:

“but in the heart of the yolk is red moment/that turns my stomach inside out.”

Later in the Q&A session, brilliantly hosted by Stephen Brockwell, Murray responded to a question about the role of place in his poetry by saying that he felt his place was on earth, in the mind and in the body. His influences have been primarily foreign: Russia, Poland and England for instance. This made sense to me. His writing evoked some of the Eastern European poetry I’ve read such as Vasko Popa in the way he brought the abstract into the world and dealt with the big picture metaphysical issues.

At the same time there’s such strong emotion in Murray’s poems. I can already see that this collection is one that I will return to over again many times, dog-earing the pages much to the chagrin of next reader rob mclennan, who cannot stand the fact that I dog-ear book pages. (!)

rob mclennan read from his freshest collection, The Ottawa City Project (Chaudière Books, 2007). The poems all had to do with the city where rob was born and has spent so much of his life. What always strikes me about mclennan’s poetry is its cadence, the mesmerizing rhythm of his lines, their spare beauty and his wit. He’s told me that he doesn’t practice reading his poems aloud and that when he reads them in public it is often the first time he has read them aloud. Given how much sound and rhythm is a part of these poems, this is an incredible thing, the rhythms so internalized and then articulated on paper.

All three poets at the reading imparted small bits of world view/observation/wisdom through their words. in ottawa poems (blue notes) #3, this bit stood out for me: “personalities are charted/by naming” or in #4 “ottawa,/an insult meaning politic.”

mclennan’s poems are paintings with original vision and the physical is very much apparent in his poems, all leading to something very personal that you can feel. for instance #8 “glassy stare of hull,/ the gatineau hills//my own hand/goes trembling into” feels shimmery somehow and i can see it and understand it, even though and maybe because it works only on a figurative level.

mclennan read from other sections in the book, including the address book (erasure) about places which had been torn down after his mother moved out, or places where he can no longer go (“the less said about that, the better”). The poems are titled with the addresses of these places, so he suggested it would be an interesting exercise to map them. Sounds like a treasure hunt plan to me. I suggest we combine it with a pub-crawl.

He also read a series of quick ghazals from the book.

For Brockwell’s question about the role of place in his poetry, mclennan mentioned identity as being his motivation for delving into place in his work. He feels this is something he may now move away from.

It is understandable that mclennan writes quite a bit about place. In response to Brockwell’s question about tradition, mclennan explained that he came to poetry by reading the Canadian poetry collections in both the Ottawa Public Library and the University of Ottawa library. One of the biggest influences on mclennan’s work has been the poetry of next reader, George Bowering.

I had never heard or laid eyes on Bowering before, had only heard of him through reputation and hadn’t read much of his writing. He was what I expected and more: bombastic, controversial, intelligent yet completely approachable.

The poems he read ranged from the joyfully silly Opening Day and Heap o’ Trouble to the still playful yet deep Q&A. He read from Vermeer’s Light (Talonbooks, 2006). Note that the books for sale were the soft cover books because the hard cover had sold out.

Most of all, I enjoyed hearing Bowering’s stories and his insights into poetics. In answer to the question on place in his poetry, he talked about how he and fellow TISH members wrote Vancouver at a time when Canadian poets weren’t writing about their own geography. He played with the concept of Charles Olson’s objectivism, referring to it as objectism, the concept of treating oneself as an object, of the act of placing. He said that “place” is a verb.

Later in the discussion of tradition, he poo pooed the notion of a writer being in a tradition based on his heritage. He quoted the great Canadian writer Sheila Watson who referred to tradition as trade. He said that you make your own tradition by reading, that if you read Japanese, African and Russian poetry, that is your tradition. I wanted to punctuate much of what he said with Hallelujah and Amen, brother.

The audience also made some interesting comments. Discussing the idea that Canadians had no tradition of our own, a gentleman in the front of the room quoted something Bowering wrote in the 70s about Canadian poets lamenting the empty hand. Bowering said that without the empty hand, there would be no desire.

I walked out into the rain with a desire to read more of all three writers’ words, to continue the wonderful conversation and to go home and write.