Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christine McNair - Notes From A Cartywheel (Ottawa: AngelHousePress, 2011)

Notes From A Cartywheel

Christine McNair

Ottawa: AngelHousePress, November 2011

A cartwheel is a strange thing. It implies movement but also return. It is cyclical. It is repetition with change. One arrives somewhere familiar but not quite the same as where one started. The cartwheel, or cartywheel, is an object of interest for Christine McNair. From her cartywheel press, to her notes from a cartwheel blog (“here's the part where we say what we mean & we mean what we say”), and now this chapbook, Notes From A Cartywheel (Ottawa: AngelHousePress, 2011), her exploration of the concept over the last few years has been wide and varied. She is also in the process of editing and producing an anthology focused on cartwheels. Her call for submissions draws attention to the productive capacity of the image:

cart·wheel (kärthwl, -wl)
n. 1. A handspring in which the body turns over sideways with the arms and legs spread like the spokes of a wheel. 2. Slang A large coin, such as a silver dollar.

An open call for cartwheels: poems or quite short fiction relating to the cyclic, cartwheels, cart wheels, or any variation thereof. Loose interpretations are quite acceptable. (For example: cartwheels, but also cart wheels (see: cart, vehicle for transport), cartwheel hats, saint catherine and her wheel, catherine wheels, cartwheel coronal ejections, cartwheel neurons, cartwheel galaxies, cartwheel silver dollars, anything related to the cyclic, etc, etc, etc.)

In what sense are these poems “notes” from cartwheels? The title suggests the poems are written from within cartwheels, that the perspectives are perhaps moving laterally and circularly. These poems are anything but static. The book includes a series of poems built as anagrams:


a cloned involution

unlaced violin onto

calved lotion union

unlaced volution on

unclad voile notion

nonactive loud lion

invocation dull one

lilac devotion noun

colonial devout in

continual dove lion

lunatic loved onion

contain unloved oil

a lucid violent noon

a novice dull notion

an uncool violent id

These exercises in rearranging are astonishing. The central line in each is bookended by variations on the initial syllables and letters. The sounds are effectively turning cartwheels around one another. Each subsequent line is familiar but altered. Origins are recalled, but the meanings and perspectives have changed. McNair reduces language to component aural (musical?) parts, and unlocks reciprocal and competing meanings in the process. She takes a simple idea and creates tremendous movement.

Notes is a book of great variety. An untitled poem arranges words and type in a grid, horizontally and vertically, establishing a field of meaning that lacks a fixed referent. “biblio non-grata” catalogues search results for “cartwheel” from amazon and chapters, a list that runs from children’s titles to obscure scientific objects. Other poems, structured as lists, are experiments in contrast: “I am frank, honest, full of vigor and ambition. I am amiable and sociable. / I have problems being open. I accept solitude” (“five”). There are prose sections focused on a character named Catherine (“I Catherine, useless entrust myself to you”). Speakers confront direction and misdirection, knowledge and ignorance: "there’s due course then there’s also a fixed lack of relative position spiral delicious over black angled highway there’s coursework to be done / you lost your maps I pinned them to your black pants you still lost them you didn’t care / I play pick-me-up with bits of this and that and those I can't remember if we'll get there in due course" ("ten").

An important line in the book closes “five”: “I persevere.” The chapbook is committed to generative possibilities and contradictions of the cartwheel. It explores language through this central image, pushing as far as the words, as the letters, can bear. In “how to say sweetheart” the poem breaks down into description of the written marks of letters: “curve sharp curve curve / sharp sharp curve curve” before settling on “dot dot dot dot.” What is most admirable in the chapbook is McNair’s free exploration of a host of component parts of language and communication (sentences, images, words, syllables, written signs). She perseveres through meaning and non-meaning, privileging neither. Playful and free utterance, the joy of sound and image, are the core of Notes From A Cartywheel. The youthful exuberance of cartwheels seems an entirely apt anchor for McNair’s writing.

AngelHouse deserves acknowledgement for the production of the book. As usual, the press uses lovely paper stock and thoughtful, personal design. A series of scanned objects illustrate the poems, ranging from wooden type and coins, to polaroids and jewellery. The images extend the language of the poems, as well as assert the varied dimensions and modes of communication McNair is interested in.

McNair has been successful in recent years. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, she has seen broadsides published by AngelHouse and above/ground, her work appeared in the astoundingly beautiful anthology Dinosaur Porn (Toronto: Ferno House & The Emergency Response Unit, 2010.), she read at VERSeFest, she took part in the most recent iterations of jwcurry’s Messagio Galore (takes VII and VIII), and her first trade collection, Conflict, is forthcoming from BookThug in 2012. She is an exciting poet in Ottawa, and an active member of the community (we cannot forget her hosting duties on CKCU’s Literary Landscapes). McNair is due a trade collection. Conflict will be an exciting book. In the meantime, go buy Notes From A Cartywheel, the poet and the press are deserving.

Notes From A Cartywheel is being launched in Thursday December 1. Full event information here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Submissions Wanted for In/Words 11.1

Dear Virginias, Dickens and Twains,

In/Words Magazine, Carleton University’s student-run literary rag for 11 years running, is looking for poetry and fiction submissions for its winter 2012 issue. The issue will be printed in late February, so send your submissions to by DECEMBER 31.

Please send up to 6 poems or 2 stories (2000 words MAX). For more detailed submission guidelines, past issues and more information, visit

The issue will launch (materially) at VERSeFest 2012 and (metaphysically) on Literary Landscape on CKCU 93.1, where chosen contributors will be asked to read their work on air!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Shirley Bear & Mark Truscott in the A B Series

A B Series Presents 

Readings by Shirley Bear &  Mark Truscott

Doors open 7:30pm

Performances at 8pm

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gallery 101

301 1/2 Bank Street (up the stairs)

Ottawa, Ontario

$7 (students $5)

Shirley Bear was recently named a member of the Order of Canada for her contributions as a First Nations visual artist and cultural activist. She is a multimedia artist, writer, traditional First Nation herbalist and Elder. 

Shirley Bear's "Virgin Bones"

Mark Truscott is the author of two books of poetry: Said Like Reed or Things (Coach House, 2004) and Nature (BookThug, 2010). In June 2011, BookThug published a prose chapbook,Form: A Series. Truscott leads courses and workshops through the Toronto New School of Writing. He lives in Toronto.

Mark Truscott's "Said Like Reeds or Things"

More info:

The A B Series gratefully acknowledges the support of the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and Gallery 101.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Odourless Press (Ottawa ON): Ladouceur, Blackman, Sinaee

Odourless Press (Ottawa ON) appeared without ceremony in August 2011. The press identifies itself as “a small Ottawa collective.” It has an active web presence, publishing poems near-daily on its blog as well as hosting poetry podcast content from local readings. Odourless chapbooks are single pages, folded or stuffed into envelopes, printed on both sides with a handful of poems. The clean, simple designs are a testament to creativity and restraint. Odourless accomplishes an awful lot with a single page. With a $0.50 price tag on each book, there is a whole lot to like here, and no excuse not to buy them all.


Ben Ladouceur

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Ben Ladouceur has been busy in 2011. He read on the opening night of VERSeFest, published two previous chapbooks (Lime Kiln Quay Road [above/ground: Ottawa, 2011] and self-portrait as the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time [The Moose & Pussy: Ottawa, 2011]), and one broadside (TUKTOYUKTUK [Apt. 9 Press: Ottawa, 2011], not to mention his ongoing graduate studies. It continues to be a pleasure to find new poems from Ben available.

Mutt collects five new ones that walk a fine line between sadness and humour. Ben has remarkable control over his subject matter, managing a bill bissett epigraph, a Kafka reference, a prayer, and bodily humour in the first poem, “Colostomy”:

You have lifted the t-shirt

over your sweet head

to reveal your dark bag of faeces, proof

the body is a sequence of routes that men

can redirect.

These are poems of loss and decay, separation and return. There is a restlessness in Ben’s work, subject matter that roams across cities and countries. “A home has lost its home,” he writes in “Redundancies.” For the displacements of these poems, the reader is rewarded with stunning images: “A lake is a body of water plus / the bodies of hundreds of birds” (“Derwentwater”). Ben has seen enough quality work into print in chapbooks and magazines in the last two years to furnish a staggering debut trade collection. Until that happens, Mutt is a welcome addition to his body of work.

Back to My Old Self

Jeff Blackman

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Jeff Blackman is one of the hardest working and most underappreciated writers in Ottawa. He has been quietly developing a unique and engaging voice over a series of projects in the last few years. Perhaps, more accurately, he has been developing unique and engaging voices. From his sex-positive work as co-founder and co-editor of The Moose & Pussy, to his devastating Shiva after Shabbas (Horsebroke: Ottawa, 2011), and now Back To My Old Self (Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011), a series of poems that take on the single greatest video game in the history of video games: Super Mario Bros. 3.

Jeff understands poems—funny poems, sad poems, filthy poems. He knows when to say more, and when to say less:

It helps if you had an older brother

or a best friend who had an older brother

If you grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System, it would be a tragedy not to own this bizarre and wonderful little set of poems. Jeff turns the struggles of Mario into something nearly heroic, certainly human and frail: “so sing a psalm: everyday I’ll make mistakes tomorrow I’ll make most of them” (“Progress”). These poems have been developing publicly for at least a couple years now at open-mics and readings around Ottawa. Attentive crowds understood that something important was happening each time Jeff read from this manuscript. Following the production of a few of these poems as limited edition handmade broadsides last spring, we have something tangible and more widely available. At last.

Royal Jelly

Bardia Sinaee

Odourless Press: Ottawa, 2011

Bardia Sinaee is one of the most exciting young poets in Ottawa at the moment. He is one of four hosts of Literary Landscapes on CKCU, a former editor of In/Words, a recent “Hot Ottawa Voice” at the venerable Tree Reading Series, and a damned nice guy. He is also an intensely literate and articulate poet. He understands syllables, metres, sounds. For a young poet, he has a terrifyingly developed vision. He is well read and thoughtful, and deploys all of these characteristics in the service of serious but funny poems in Royal Jelly.


If a circle, C, is inside a triangle, T, then it entails

that C is smaller than T. The value of C would be unable

to hold its end of the equals sign. If the equation

were a gun-draw at dawn, C would lose by a hair

and buckle to its fate. Its lover and children

would mourn by its torn arms and wonder

why its body was built for bullets. (“The Inevitablist”)

Bardia writes rich poems that demand reading and re-reading. One always has the sense that there is more waiting to be drawn out. These are poems of careful construction that nonetheless appear effortless. The rate of Bardia’s development is difficult to measure, but is astonishing to follow.

Behind him, billboards plus peerless paediatrics

and a dated exhibition of bees. Try to find the queen

among all the workers and drones!

Behind that the ground, stapled with hydros,

won’t even shrug. (“7/4 Gridline”)

Odourless is a press to follow, and a welcome presence in Ottawa’s community. What is most striking and refreshing about these first three books is the presence of humour in each poet’s work. Balancing feeling and humour in a poem is an all too rare ability. Ben Ladouceur, Jeff Blackman, and Bardia Sinaee each accomplish this feat with personality to spare. Go buy these poems, for god’s sake! $1.50 for the set! Ottawa, meet Odourless Press. Odourless Press, welcome to Ottawa.

Friday, September 23, 2011


THE A B SERIES launches its Fifth Season of autumn to spring events with PETER NORMAN & STUART ROSS

Doors open 7:00pm
Readings start at 7:30pm 
(with intermission & cash bar)

Gallery 101
301 ½ Bank Street (up the stairs)
Ottawa, Ontario

Peter Norman’s poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and other publications, including Arc, Industrial Sabotage, Bywords and the first two editions of The Best Canadian Poetry. His first book, At the Gates of the Theme Park, was published last year by Mansfield Press.

Stuart Ross published his first literary pamphlet on the photocopier in his dad’s office one night in 1979. Through the 1980s, he stood on Toronto’s Yonge Street and sold over 7,000 poetry and fiction chapbooks. In addition to dozens of chapbooks and two sound-poetry cassettes, he is the author of two collaborative novels, two story collections, and six full-length poetry books. He has published a collection of essays, Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (Anvil Press), edited Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press), and co-edited Rogue Stimulus: A Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament(Mansfield Press). His story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009) won the 2010 ReLit Award for Short Fiction. In spring 2011, ECW Press released his first novel, Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. He lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

Stuart Ross

For more information

With financial assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts through the Writers' Union of CanadaThe A B Series gratefully acknowledges the support of the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts and Gallery 101. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reviews - Stephen Brockwell & Ben Ladouceur

Impossible Books (the Carleton Installment)

Stephen Brockwell

Ottawa: above/ground press, August 2010.

Stephen Brockwell’s “Impossible Books project” (this above/ground book is its second installment) is an ongoing series of individual poems that are presented as excerpts from imagined “impossible” books. The impossible books of this installment range from Prime Minister’s Nursery Rhymes for Insolent Children, to the Evangelical Handbook for Engineers, to Metonymies: Poems by Objects Owned by Illustrious People, and Pindaric Odes to the Objects of Science, among others. This brief collection of ten poems is imaginative and surprising on every page.

“Animal Crackers,” from Prime Minister’s Nursery Rhymes for Insolent Children, is ripe with the pride, violence, and fierce control of image and language that are recognized now as markers of Stephen Harper’s Canadian Government (a newly-majority Government since the publication of this book):

Shrikes impale mice on barbed wire.

Weaning calved keen.

Wild male chimps murder babies.

Silverbacks preen.

The political edge of many of these poems is unsurprising from Brockwell, who co-edited Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament with Stuart Ross during Stephen Harper’s second prorogation of Parliament. The sorts of biting, angry, but smart and focused critiques offered in these poems are vital today, and will be increasingly so over the next four years of Harper’s current majority.

Another recognizable bent in Brockwell’s work is his interest in interrogating the seemingly cold language and images of science for available (and potential) emotional currency:

At least one molecule of you in me

passed through the body of some great person,

in the urine of Josef Stalin, say,

on an October morning in his youth;

it may be one I am passing on now

as a drop of saliva flies from my tongue

over this paper. (from Pindaric Odes to the Objects of Science)

Where language overlaps with the body is a fruitful site for Brockwell:

It is after all a word,

the tongue on the teeth,

the open mouth,

the teeth biting the lips,

until they bleed. (from The Love Poems of ____, Serial Killer)

At these intersections (language/body, language/science), Brockwell points at a handful of the small manners in which people are connected physically, if inadvertently.

The two most exciting poems here, to my ear, come from The Archives of Ministry of Spiritual Ascendance, in the form of two applications for the position of God. In these two poems the reader is offered modest acts of growth and selflessness mixed with fatigue:

1027-3F, December 12, 2024

Dear Ministry of Spiritual Ascendance,

I believe I should be accepted for God

because I have never eaten meat.

I cultivated tomatoes at my window

from a pack of ancient seeds.

I nurtured them to the size

of vitamins with water I filtered

from the rain. That Saturday morning

I prayed for the Sun as I am sure

so many do every day but I prayed

for others not for myself

and the Sun appeared for at least

one minute through the smog.

All my life I have shared the gifts I have received.

But I am so tired – please accept this

application for God.

The success of this book rests in its brevity. None of the “jokes” overstay their welcome, with only one or two poems from each “Impossible Book” presented. These are serious poems that rise above the humour and novelty of their initial idea(s). The first installment of the series was given at the Olive Reading Series in December 2007. I’ve not seen that chapbook, but I imagine in hope that Brockwell is sitting on further installments that we may be lucky enough to see in print someday.

Lime Kiln Quay Road

Ben Ladouceur

Ottawa: above/ground press, May 2011.

Ben Ladouceur has had a wonderful nine months since returning to Ottawa following a year spent working in Suffolk, England. He gave a widely heralded reading on the opening night of Versefest alongside Michael Dennis, in April he read as part of University Night at Tree Reading Series, the chapbook self-portrait as the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time was published by The Moose & Pussy, and now Lime Kiln Quay Road is seen in to print by rob mclennan’s above/ground press, not to mention chapbooks before his departure: Alert (AngelHouse Press, 2010) and The Argossey (published by my own Apt. 9 Press—full disclosure).

Lime Kiln Quay Road sees him working further in serial forms, marrying concise individual pieces with breadth and larger project conception. It is a book concerned with growth (or more accurately, stuttering and failing growth):

There was a rock rumoured to grow

one inch every year.

It was a letdown.

In these poems, set in the countryside around the hostel in Suffolk where Ladouceur was employed, the reader finds stagnation and boredom, as well as questions of intention and consequence:

The indifferent roads collect rain

in depressions caused by tires

and make the drive tricky

but it’s neat

that the depressions exist

that when you go somewhere

everything behind you

is a little bit flatter.

Of course

that’s easy for me to say,

I never did the driving.

In the stagnant (though often beautiful) landscape, the figures of these poems develop sensitivity to the movement of their own identities:

We occupy the eye

in quietude of storm

wet weather soft against our roof

like gavels wrapped in satin

it’s the eye that is moving.

For now we are still.

There is an disconnect between the bodies of the figures and the landscape, one that undermines predictable expectations of poetry located in the rural or pastoral settings, as was an insistence upon the presence of the lower bodily stratum that grounds much of Ben's work in the body itself:

It isn’t as though a tree

will sprout there

a very acidic and thankful tree

made of all the liquids

our bodies didn’t need.

That sort of thing doesn’t happen.

In Ottawa, those paying attention have known that Ben is a poet to follow. We have been lucky to have the opportunity to watch this work develop. Lime Kiln Quay Road makes plain that Ben is already fulfilling his vast promise. He has strong control over the developing momentum of this book, as well as the turns that startle the reader. With above/ground press’s famously large network of distribution, this book will hopefully catch the eye of some new readers around the country. Heads up, folks.