Saturday, May 16, 2009

Completion of The A B Series Second Season & Looking Ahead to Season Three

Four upcoming events promise to make for a very exciting completion to The A B Series second season (autumn 2008 to spring 2009). The first is a reading by Christian Bök taking place today at 5pm in The Canadian Tulip Festival's beautiful Mirror Tent.

bill bissett reads on May 23rd at The Mercury Lounge. On the evening's program is a set of readings by a varied cast of performers to be given in bill's honour.

Paul Dutton reads on June 6th at The University of Ottawa and on June 7th at Galerie Montcalm in Gatineau, Quebec.

Following a pause for the summer, The A B Series is back on October 3rd for the commencement of season three (autumn 2009 to spring 2010) with a performance by American sound poetry ensemble, The Be Blank Consort.



Presented in association with The Canadian Tulip Festival
Saturday May 16 at 5pm
Host: Max Middle

Tulip Festival - Mirror Tent
Festival Plaza
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario


On Saturday, May 16th, The A B Series presents CHRISTIAN BÖK's first reading to take place in Ottawa since 2002! Produced in association with The Canadian Tulip Festival, the event starts at 5pm in The Festival's beautiful Mirror Tent.

BÖK is the author of Eunoia, Coach House Books' bestselling work of experimental literature, and winner of the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. The book is a is a five-chapter book in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram – the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!). Last year, Eunoia was published in the UK where it quickly went to the top of best selling lists for poetry. His first book, Crystallography, was published by Coach House Press in 1994 and was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.

BÖK has created artificial languages for two television shows, Gene Roddenberry’s 'Earth: Final Conflict' and Peter Benchley’s 'Amazon'. Bök has earned many accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry (particularly the ‘Ursonate’ by Kurt Schwitters). His conceptual artworks have appeared at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibit 'Poetry Plastique'. He is working with scientist, Stuart Kaufmann, to compose "living poetry" whereby short verse is encoded into a sequence of DNA to be implanted into a bacterium. He plans to document the progress of the publishing experiment and make related artwork for subsequent exhibition in galleries. Bök is Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

BÖK's reading will be followed by a brief Q&A.

The A B Series gratefully acknowledges the support of The City of Ottawa and The Canada Council for the Arts.


For more information, see The A B Series web site at ABSERIES dot ORG or contact A B Series Artistic Director, Max Middle, by telephone (613) 237 4309 or email: director at abseries dot org.


TICKETS available at the Mirror Tent Box Office

Adult $16

Student $12

Reserved Section $28


Doors open 7:00pm
Performance at 8:00pm
Venue: The Mercury Lounge
Cost: $10 at the door
Host: Max Middle

originalee from lunaria a far distant planet way past venus 312 bill came 2 eryh on th first childrns shuttul from ther ovr 400 yeers ago in lunarian space time kontsrukts hes bin sent as an impressyunist onlee altho he wud love 2 undrstand erthling wayze he askd wudint yu 2 ths end he has alwayze wantid 2 xploor langwage in all its wayze at leest in poetree n wantid alwayze 2 spell mor n mor closelee on th page how each word sounds in that pomes ear a life time at leest devosyun most recent book sublingual 2nd most recent book ths is erth thees ar peopul both from talonbooks n from red deer press deth interrupts th dansing a cd with pete dako followd by ths is erth thees ar peopul also with pete dako musician extraordinaire n luddites 86- 91 remix cd just releesd also a paintr most recent show upstares galleree toronto summr 09 now a doktor from tru universitee n resipient uv th george woodcock life time acheevment award hes working now on nu book n nu paintings evree 6 months or sew th lunarian assemblee remoovs th filld tapes uv impressyuns from bills hed n he starts agen emptee hedid 4 a whil

"I know who the great poets are. William Bissette of Vancouver. An Indian boy. Bill Bissette, or Bissonnette." (Jack Kerouac, 1967)

Margaret Atwood's "astral twin" and James Reaney's "one-man civilization", living legend bill bissett comes to Ottawa for a feature reading in The A B Series.

bill's READING WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A POETIC TRIBUTE to be made BY SEVERAL SPECIAL GUESTS READING FROM bill's OEUVRE and from the anthology, 'radiant danse uv being: A Poetic Portrait of bill bissett' edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough.

radiant danse uv being and books by bill bissett will be available for sale.

The A B Series gratefully acknowledges the support of The Canada Council for this event. This event is also made possible by The Writers' Union of Canada.

Writers Union of Canada Logo


The A B Series is looking forward to hosting two performances by Paul Dutton. The first performance will take place on the evening of June 6th, and will be presented in association with The University of Ottawa English Department.

Paul Dutton evening performance
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Doors open 7:30pm / Performance at 9:00pm
Venue: 1848 - University of Ottawa Campus Bar
$10 at the door (free for U of O English Dept students)

Paul Dutton matinee
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Free (a hat will be passed)

Paul Dutton is a poet, novelist, essayist, and oral sound artist who is internationally renowned for both his literary and musical performances. Throughout the last four decades he has published, recorded, and performed his work in various contexts, solo and collaborative, in print and film, on TV, radio, and the Web. He has taken his art to festivals, clubs, concert halls, and classrooms throughout Canada and across the United States, Europe, and South America. Dutton’s artistic focus continues to be the exploration of consciousness and perception through the creation of multisensory works, employing written poetry and prose, visual poetry, and the sonic dimensions of language and oral expression. He was a member of the legendary Four Horsemen sound poetry quartet (1970–1988), along with Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Steve McCaffery, and the late bpNichol. He joins his soundsinging oralities to John Oswald’s alto sax and Michael Snow’s piano and synthesizer in the free-improvisation band CCMC (1989 to the present). He recently formed Quintet à Bras in company with two French poets and two French instrumentalists. The most recent of his six books is a novel, Several Women Dancing (Mercury Press, 2002), the latest of his five solo recordings is the CD Oralizations (DAME Records, 2005).

For a taste of what they might expect of at the performance, the following Web sites provide samples of Paul's published writing and of his sound recordings, plus commentary on other of his published works:

The A B Series gratefully acknowledges the support of The Canada Council for this event.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The incomparable Robin Blaser

ROBIN BLASER 1925-2009. One of the progenitors of the "open form," an ongoing poem sequence not necessarily written with specific end-boundaries in mind, Robin Blaser first came to a wider public attention through editor Don Allen's seminal anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-60 (1960). Quoted in his early 1960s "Vancouver Lectures" from The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan, 1998), the late Jack Spicer said that "Robin Blaser once said in talking about a serial poem that it's as if you go into a room, a dark room, the light is turned on for a minute, then it's turned off again, and then you go into a different room where a light is turned on and off."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some Notes on the Print History of William Hawkins’ Ottawa Poems

"Give this meaning as you may, or must,"

William Hawkins, #27 (from Ottawa Poems)

I’m a newcomer to Ottawa poetry, but by no means a newcomer to Ottawa. I was born here, and raised, and am presently on the verge of completing my “higher” education in the city. I’ve been working to catch up on our literary history, as well as present, and am fascinated by anything that makes an effort to write Ottawa in the way that other cities seem to have been written with greater regularity. Naturally, the first time I came across the title, Ottawa Poems, I set out to find and read it. I’m not going to attempt a critical reading of the poems here. Suffice to say, I love the book and think its poems wonderful. My concern here is with the bibliographic history of the book, and the various incarnations of the poems in Hawkins’ published books. I think that these are fascinating notes from the perspective of book history, and I will resist drawing conclusions from them. I think the print journey of the poems themselves more than justifies a brief account here.

The book was published by Nelson Ball’s Weed/Flower Press in July 1966 (and reprinted in 1967). Weed/Flower had been created the previous year, 1965, and ran for the following eight. Jack David wrote an annotated, descriptive bibliography of the press that was published in Essays on Canadian Writing (Number 4, Spring 1976). According to David, Ball purchased a “pre-WW II mimeograph machine [...] for $35” (34), and proceeded to mimeograph everything produced under the name. Along with Hawkins, Ball published the likes of George Bowering, bp Nichol, John Robert Colombo, Victor Coleman, John Newlove, himself, and a score of others.

Like many others produced by Weed/Flower, Ottawa Poems has a wonderful cover design by Barbara Caruso. A series of overlapping, thick black lines look like poorly laid out streets, and two hands offer the only recognizable point of reference on a thick, brown cover stock. The interior pages are mimeographed from a typewriter proof onto brown paper. Hawkins is credited simply as WM HAWKINS.

The book is a set of twenty-eight relatively brief lyrics in a mere thirty six pages. Roy MacSkimming, in his introductory essay to 2004’s Dancing Alone: Selected Poems, writes “because they belong to a loosely linked sequence, these are more abstracted and discursive poems than the tighter, imagistic, self-contained pieces in Hawkins. And perhaps because they often look outward to the surrounding society, they’re also more anxious and fearful, occasionally a touch paranoid” (15). This sequence is disrupted and broken differently in all future appearances of parts of the book.

His first selected poems, The Gift of Space (new press, Toronto, 1971), would reprint only twenty four pieces from the book. The twenty four retained would be renumbered sequentially, suggesting a new, coherent and complete edit. The pieces removed were #8 (POEM IN RED INK), #20 (THE LAST POEM FOR PEOPLE), #24 (CHARACTEROLOGY), and #26 (ALMOST A POEM). Interesting, if accidental, #21 (SORRY, THIS IS IT) in the Weed/Flower edition is printed 19th in The Gift of Space, but numbered 21, only to be succeeded by a second #21 (HELLO FROM THE SHADOWS), #23 originally.

A further iteration of the poems comes in 2004 in Dancing Alone: Selected Poems (Broken Jaw Press, Fredericton, Cauldron Books 5). In this edition the original numbers are restored, and the excised poems are left as gaps. This time twenty two poems are printed, removing six. Those cut are: #8 (POEM IN RED INK), #9 (A STUPID CANASTA POEM), #13 (So much of me is not), #20 (THE LAST POEM FOR PEOPLE), #24 (CHARACTEROLOGY), #26 (ALMOST A POEM). The four removed in The Gift of Space are still absent, #9 and #13 have been freshly cut.

As has been widely documented, 1966-67 were landmark years in Hawkins’ publishing career. On top of Hawkins (Nil Press) and Ottawa Poems, he was anthologized in Raymond Souster’s seminal New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry (Contact Press) as well as in the A.J.M. Smith edited Modern Canadian Verse (Oxford University Press).

New Wave Canada came first in 1966. Hawkins appeared in its pages alongside early work from Michael Ondaatje, Daphne Marlatt (then still Daphne Buckle), Robert Hogg, bp Nichol, Fred Wah and Victor Coleman among others. Hawkins' biography in New Wave Canada appeared in quotation marks, and is reproduced in its totality below:

What’s to say in a biography? All my life I’ve worried about the propriety of our definitions. Because the times are as they are I’ve lived in fear, movies my only escape, economics keeping me from more drugs, booze & girlies than I was able (meagre, really) to steal. I have stolen every single idea I have heard, transposing them into my own terms. A wife & two children share my scene & seem happy. I write poems because I like to.

Living now in Ottawa. (171)

Whether selected by Souster or by Coleman (who aided Souster in the editorial choices of the anthology), Hawkins is afforded 11 pages in the book. The poems included are drawn from Hawkins and Ottawa Poems. However, reproductions from both are marked by changes in numbering. For example, from Hawkins, “Mysteriensonaten” #1, #3 and #4 are reprinted as #6, #10 and #7 respectively. In the case of Ottawa Poems, #5 (how can I describe the anger) is reprinted as #7, #11 (your hair electric) is reprinted as #17, #13 (so much of me is not) is reprinted as #24, and #16 (“BEAUTY WILL NOT WAIT”) is reprinted as #25.

New Wave Canada itself has a convoluted print history (see Bruce Whiteman’s “Raymond Souster’s New Wave Canada: A Bibliographical Note”). His appearance in New Wave CanadaModern Canadian Verse did not reprint any of the Ottawa Poems, but did print three from Hawkins; “Spring Rain”, “A New Light” and “The Wall.” directly resulted in his appearance in Modern Canadian Verse, when A.J.M. Smith “happened upon the page proofs [of the book]” (MacSkimming 15) as a result of Coleman’s work at Oxford UP at the time. These poems are listed as “uncollected” (xxi) in the acknowledgements.

Some of the poems also saw periodical publication before the book proper. #24 (CHARACTEROLOGY), often excised from later versions, was printed in 1966 in IS one, edited by Victor Coleman in Toronto, and signed “William Hawkins, ‘WM’ ”. #26 (ALMOST A POEM) was printed in Volume 63 (edited by Nelson Ball), number 5 (Summer 1966). This is approximately coincident with the publication of the book. Interestingly, in both these cases, the poems are not numbered but rather stand alone, resisting any allusion to the larger sequence. Volume 63 also printed 5 of the “Mysteriensonaten” poems in the Winter of 1965, numbered up to 8, suggesting that a larger sequence existed prior to the edited four poem set that appeared in Hawkins; this potentially solves the problems posed by the “Mysteriosonaten” poems in New Wave Canada discussed earlier.

#5 (how can I describe the anger) was printed as #7 in issue 19 (July 1966) of the magazine El Corno Emplumado, published out of Mexico City. It appeared in a group of thirteen Canadian poets in the issue (alongside George Bowering, Fred Wah, John Newlove, Nelson Ball, Daphne Buckle and Red Lane among others).

Alphabet, edited by James Reaney, apparently printed one, or some, of the poems according to the credit in the book itself, though I have not been able to find the excerpt(s) in question. However, I did find the wonderful ad below for “Poster Poems by the Fabulous WM. Hawkins” that appeared in Alphabet number 5 (December 1962) before a selection of four “King Kong” poems.

I do not have access to WEED magazine, stopping me from chasing down that reference as well. If you do have a set, or know which poems appeared, and when, sent me a note ( and I will amend these notes. Equally, any information relating to other editions of these poems would be very much appreciated (for example, did any of the Ottawa Poems appear as Poster Poems?)

I think that these sorts of incongruities and inconsistencies make a strong case for the need to pursue bibliographic work on modern Canadian poetry. I think that they make clear the greater arc of a poem, or book’s, life. Certainly, the Weed/Flower Press edition of 1966 is the authoritative printing, but later editorial choices, as well as earlier little magazine publication help to illuminate the development of the poems over a span of forty years. I think that this is especially true in the case of book-length sequences, or longpoems, where small changes alter the whole. The Ottawa Poems did not end conclusively with their first collected appearance. Hopefully they’ll continue to be read and won’t end anytime soon.


Works Cited

David, Jack. “Weed Flower Press.” Essays on Canadian Writing 4 (Spring 1976): 34-41.

Hawkins, William. Dancing Alone: Selected Poems. Fredericton: Broken Jaw, 2004.

--. The Gift of Space: Selected Poems 1960-1970. Toronto: new press, 1971.

--. Hawkins. Ottawa: Nil Press, 1966.

--. Ottawa Poems. Kitchener: Weed/Flower Press, 1966.

Smith, A.J.M. Modern Canadian Verse. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1967.

Souster, Raymond. New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry. Toronto:

Contact Press, 1966.

Whiteman, Bruce. “Raymond Souster’s New Wave Canada: A Bibliographical Note.” Papers of

the Bibliographic Society of Canada XX (1981): 63-65.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

(Mostly Poetry) Highlights of the Ottawa International Festival

Here’s what stood out for me as the most unique, bold and memorable:

Garry Thomas Morse, Death in Vancouver (Talonbooks, 2009), a selection of short prose bits with crazy compelling characters, tight, precise and breathtaking language and imagery and opera! The man can sing. call what he brought to the festival stories, call them poems. i don’t really care. they’re just damn good. i’ve started his book and am enthralled by its originality. His writing reminds me of local writer John Lavery’s work; they both are adept at linguistic acrobatics and are skilled in painting memorable and unusual characters.

Martha Baille, The Incident Report (Pedlar Press, 2009)-Baille presents a series of stories from the point of view of a librarian about the eccentric dramatic personae who frequent a library, including Rigoletto. the prose is tight and precise with lovely arcs and rhythms that sounded like poetry to me.

Jeremy Dodds, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2009)-Dodds is someone who can play adeptly with language. In his first poetry collection he contorts everyday expressions much in the way Robert Priest does with his aphorisms in Time Release Poems (Ekstasis Editions, 1997.)

Matthew Tierney, the Hayflick Limit (Coach House Books, 2009)-inventive and to see the relationship between science and the everyday in Tierney’s poems. the poetry masterclass that Dodds and Tierney participated in was interesting in that there were physicists in the audience and people who wanted definitions of terms like anti-matter. the whole thing was as wonderfully absurd as poetry events should be.

rob mclennan, Gifts (Talonbooks, 2009)-i’ve read these poems as drafts and also there’s one in there for me so i’m clearly biased, but i always enjoy hearing rob read. his poems have a delicious cadence and wonderful images.

Adeena Karasick-Amuse Bouche (Talonbooks, 2009)-a friend told me i would enjoy her language play and punnery and i did, so much so that i wanted to claim one of the poems as my own. i wish i’d written it. the subtitle of this book is “Tasty Treats for the Mouth” and i concur heartily. i enjoyed every bite. the book is a joy with colourful bits clipped from those air flight safety cards. i love all the linguistic twists and turns in this book and in Karasick’s reading.

Marcus McCann, Soft Where (Chaudiere Books, 2009)-once again, i am very biased here. not only is Marcus a dear friend but we are also in a poetry group together; however, i am not the only one who is gaga over the wit and language shenanigans McCann uses in his work.

The main thing all of the above writers had in common in their work is that they seem to be willing to take risks, to push a line beyond predictability. They aren’t sentimental; they don’t wax poetic over the heart or a white horse or a big mangy dog or say condescending things about the working class. Their rhythms are their own and not evocative of Edgar Allen Poe.

I found their presence and their work inspiring and appreciated the opportunity to hear them and to meet them. This is what I love about the Ottawa International Writers Festival…it exposes audiences to new and bold writing.