Thursday, January 25, 2018

the fourteenth issue of ottawater, Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal, is now online!

Come out to the launch of the fourteenth issue of ottawater, Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal, featuring new writing by Manahil Bandukwala, Stephanie Bolster, Sara Cassidy, Jason Christie, JM Francheteau, Spencer Gordon, Chris Johnston, N.W. Lea, Leah MacLean-Evans, Christine McNair, Colin Morton, Dani Spinosa, Priscila Uppal, Jean Van Loon, Ian Whistle and Maha Zimmo.

Ottawater 14 features artwork by: Christos Pantieras, Joyce Crago, Denise Landriault, Nate Nettleton, Anne Marie Dumouchel, Kathleen Axam, Robert Stevenson, Anne Wanda Tessier and Andrea Sutton.

The launch, featuring readings by a number of this issue's contributors, will be held on Friday, February 2, 2018, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm.

Lovingly hosted by editor/publisher rob mclennan.

Now in our fourteenth year, ottawater is designed by co-founder Tanya Sprowl, who also curates the artwork for each issue.

You can download the new issue (and all previous issues) here:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On Writing #147 : Sarah Campbell

Sarah Campbell 

A human being, its form tall and reedy in the skyline of other creatures, exists in a state of unstable equilibrium. Push a person with no warning, she’s probably going to fall over. And so, the dream of being unbruised and unbroken in space is foundational. 


A professional baker friend posts a parade of delicious food and drink to her Instagram. Many of these are tagged “#balance”--everything from an apple dutch baby with syrup pooling to a ten-layer salami sandwich on a flour-dusted bun to a drained martini glass, lone citrus peel curling at the bottom. As the hashtag recurred, I wondered if she was being ironic, subversively appropriating the language of wellness with images of decadent eating—#balance as in, you know, making sure to practice daily rituals of the really good life. But I don’t think she is; she’s just showing us what she makes with her own hands, what she loves, what nourishes her—what “balance” means to her, sincerely. 


To my English 101 students, I used to say, “Writing is a way of getting thinking done, so you may not know what it is you think until you’ve written it out. Take a look at your last paragraph. You’ll probably find your thesis woven somewhere in there.”

I heard a country western singer on the radio the other day say he often didn’t know what he felt about something until he wrote a song about it.  Steadfast in love with writing’s usefulness as a way to think things through, I had been wary of writing as a way to feel.

What could it sound and look like to write to find your central feeling? I didn’t know; I spent years looking the other way, fighting any emotional creep in my writing, even as it was often the lurking, originary motive of much of it. I thought I was maturing as a writer any time I stripped overt emotion from my poetry and prose, replacing it with oblique arrows pointing off-screen toward my feelings, or others’ feelings.

Once, choking on the emotional tsunami of a terrible event, I remember saying bitterly to myself, “I will never. Write. About this.”

Lately, however, I wonder if I’ve been wrong about writing-feeling. I wonder if instead I should have been angling for balance among the parts of its engine, rather than the strained illusion of control. What if the writing built itself from thought and feeling in magnificent détente at last; articulating opposites and equals; posting food and drink; tossing the dutch baby out and up with the martini? In this way, maybe my writing’s arrow and aim would be in working to keep the piece, like a person, standing upright through this and that. What does that even mean? I don’t know, I just come back to an appealing image of machinery, humming: all the components pushing against each other with acute precision and grace. I come back to a hashtag.

Which means, I come re-encounter, however metaphorically, an old foe of mine. Not feeling, but balance. My problem with balance goes way back, has tenacious, persistent roots in the back-body of my writing—which is to say, in me. 


You’re over-thinking it, Sarah. Just relax.

It’s hard to relax when you live with a wobble, an awareness of all the ways things go downhill. Beginning with a brief pair of stairs at age two, I have fallen down a kaleidoscope of slopes: paths, trails, sidewalks, ramps, and avenues.  I can fall down one inch, over a twig, off of nothing. I fall by telling myself not to fall. I fall to keep from falling—sprained an ankle once to halt a catapult off a cobblestone in Istanbul. I hit the ground and skid the length of a commuter bus on my butt after jogging past a tree root in Prospect Park. I flipped off my bike after hitting a pothole at 2am one night in Buffalo. Turning 33, in a bid to both celebrate my birthday and finally succeed at rollerskating, a skill I’d never had as a child, I slipped onto my ass and broke my tailbone. I recall sitting mid-rink, feet wheels out, absorbing the fact that I’d heard something inside me crunch. My friends circled and giggled. Falling is always funny to everyone but the fallen. And my friend Holly, a peerless source of empathy. She peered down at me with soul and sadness; she knew that something besides my coccyx was broken.

My optimism at 33 that I’d suddenly pick up rollerskating after a youth of never skating or blading was borderline delusional. I’d lived my whole life with repeated proof that I wasn’t good as an object-in-motion. This deficit stayed increasingly under the radar as I got older and better at avoiding physical balancing acts. At the same time, all three of my brothers surfed and skated. One of them, Quinn, tried a few times to teach me how to surf through a combination of jump-up-to-squat drills on the beach, pushing me out on a board in the breakers to try, and pep talks. He thought he could, with the right words, help me figure out how to stand on water—as if my inability to balance well was less a body problem and more a matter of conviction and having the right internal monologue, one which you knew was working if it eventually went silent. You’re over-thinking it, Sarah. Just relax.

I, too, believed that my fear of falling, no matter how fact-based, could be overcome through some alchemy of mind over matter (matter being my body), and if I could locate the will, and funnel it into my breath, my arms, my legs, my fingers and toes. I, too,  believed that my difficulty in staying upright while in motion was all in my head. 


It wasn’t, though. Yet in a way it was—it was all in my inner ear, to be exact. It took me years to really get it, the vestibular connection—years of spilling my guts everywhere. I have vomited en route to London, Los Angeles, Brussels, Caracas, Frankfurt, and Nice. I have been sick in vans in Corsica, ferries in Croatia, a fishing boat off of Cabo San Lucas, and in the driveway of my best friend’s suburban Virginia home. (That’s the short list.)

In one particularly spectacular incident, I puked about an hour after the car ride had ended. Not only had we arrived at our destination, Kings Dominion, a theme park, but I gone straight on stage and tap danced competitively in front of judges. I held “it” in, the nausea and panic rising in tandem through the whole song-and-dance, which in this case was “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. We exited, kicking like 8th-grade-shaped Rockettes, stage left, and the moment we passed out of sight of the judges, I threw up into the alarmed/disgusted, erstwhile-so-excited face of Cindy, our blonde, erstwhile-bubbly dance instructor. We won first place. I was mortified for days, weeks, no, years afterwards. My cheeks blooming red at the memory of it, the whole horrible thing.

It took me years to understand that my tendency to throw up everywhere was related to my inability to move well on wheels, blades, or boards fitted to my feet over land, water, or snow. The same system was in play and akilter: motion sickness, I’ve read, is what builds when one part of the balance-sensing system detects the body in motion while the other parts of the system do not. Motion sickness is the felt manifestation of conflicting accounts of the body, by the body, to the body. The semicircular canals, their fluid, and sensory hair cells; the utricle and the saccule; the eyes; the acoustic nerve and other sensory nerves… the signals misfiring, the body scrambling to right itself, to read itself, to be unbruised and unbroken in space. 


Because of all my falling, because of more than a hundred journeys taken doubled over, chronically nauseated, I have come to fetishize balance. And now here I’m writing about this goal of finding it in writing, too. What’s my real problem?

Let it go, girl.

But can I let it go when I don’t quite know what it is? —in my body, in a dancer, a jet engine, a series of paragraphs or couplets, in an egg. Is it a mid-point between one pole and its opposite? A verticality or hovering condition attained through dozens of micromovements and wobbles whether in keeping a body upright or making a piece of writing just right? Is it the art of one hand, on one side, challenging the muscle of the other hand on the other side, fomenting a cloud of equilibrium and stability, of elegant debate, of gliding words, speed skating thought toward a perfect landing—stuck it!—from off the beam. 


I heard the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja discuss balance with an aerospace engineer and a tightrope walker (all sharing a mostly reverential tone for the concept, not unrelated to my lifelong state of wonder at people who “have” it). After forty minutes of conversation about what constitutes balance in flight, in machines, in music, on the wire, Kopatchinskaja proposed, the idea just then occurring to her, how important it was to not be balanced in art. Instead, she said, art should toss people into situations in which they can imagine themselves at the center of a tempest or earthquake. 


So now what? For writing, not only the dream of criticality and sharpness of thought, of finding a central feeling ….  

The engine’s fuel-to-explosion is elusive.

Hashtag balance. Hashtag forgetaboutit. Hashtag writewhatyouknow. Hashtag writewhatyoudon’t.

It isn’t just me, you see. We all fall down from the place of being unbruised and unbroken in space, and that’s when it gets interesting.

Sarah Campbell lives in Seattle, just off a ridge from which she (or you) can see the Cascades in the East and the Olympics in the West. She writes biomedical engineering articles for IEEE’s Pulse magazine, and also, endlessly, works on a book about how to finish projects.

Monday, January 01, 2018

We Who Are About To Die : Aaron Tucker

Aaron Tucker is the author of two books of poetry, irresponsible mediums (BookThug, 2017 ; and punchlines (Mansfield Press, 2015 ;, as well as the forthcoming coming novel Y (Coach House Books, Spring 2018 ; In addition, his current collaborative project, Loss Sets, translates poems into sculptures which are then 3D printed (; he is also the co-creator of The ChessBard, an app that transforms chess games into poems ( He has also written two scholarly texts: The Militarized Internet in Hollywood War Films (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Currently, he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson Universitywhere he is currently teaching creative and academic writing.

Where are you now?

As I write just before Christmas, I’m currently in Mainz, Germany, not far from Frankfurt, staying with my partner.

Mainz is a quiet city that I like a lot. The lights for the Christmas markets are strung across and in every tree. We stop for glühwein often, let it warm us. Even though there is no snow, it is wet, and we see off-duty American soldiers from the Army base just outside the city towards Wiesbaden, walking through the puddles, speaking English like us. I know an infinitesimal amount of German, and when someone speaks it to me, my brain automatically responds in French. It’s strange.

What are you reading?

The two books I am reading now are Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and Thierry Poibeau’s Machine Translation. 

Machine Translation is a really terrific and condensed history and basic theorization on machine translations that does well to cover a lot of chronological and mechanical ground in a hurry.  I have been reading it to firm up some of the thinking around my new media projects which involve translation and computers. My newest, O/Ô, uses the Google Translate camera function to translate the Canadian Parliamentary Hansard from the day that “O Canada”/“Ô Canada” was adopted as the national anthem, generating photographic concrete poems. Additionally, Loss Sets is a collaborative project with Jordan Scott, Namir Ahmed and Tiffany Cheung that translates poems into models which are then 3D printed (; the ChessBard is a project collaboratively created by Jody Miller and myself that translates chess games into poems ( In the fall of this year, I published a beautiful print version of the project, Irresponsible Mediums (Book*hug, 2017;, which translates all of Marcel Duchamp’s chess games into poems. Machine Translation has given me a lot of vocabulary and further reading to help me push these projects further.

In Shutes novel, the Northern hemisphere of the globe has been completely irradiated by nuclear weapons and the resulting fallout drifts south to Melbourne, Australia where the characters wait helplessly for this cloud to overtake them. In contrast to the near-instant eradication of nuclear warfare, when I first read this book over a decade ago, I was struck by the creeping, slow acceptance of extinction the book shapes itself around and I have been re-reading it because of a talk I will be giving about it in the new year at the Toronto Public Library, where I want to argue that we having been living post-apocalyptically since the Trinity Test, the first explosion of an atom bomb in 1945. This is a conversation I have been returning to as I have been editing my first novel Y (Coach House Books, 2018 -, about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, and I’m trying to situate myself within the current very-real climate of nuclear culture and war.     

What have you discovered lately?

Given that it is the holidays, I have had a bit more time to read and catch up on books and have been reminded of all the great poetry and fiction being published across Canada. In no order, the books that have come out this year that I’ve loved:

-        The Greats by Sylvain Prudhomme (Book*hug Books) -

-        My Ariel by Sina Queyras (Coach House Books) -

-        Incarnations by Janieta Eyre (Coach House Books) -

-        Double Teenage by Joni Murphy (Book*hug Books) -

-        Dawn by Jordan Scott (tinfishpress) -

-        I am a Truck by Michelle Winters (Invisible Books) -

-        Charm by Christine McNair (Book*hug Books) -

-        This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi)-

-        Sons by Dale Smith (Knife Fork Book) -

-        Voodoo Hypothesis by Canisia Lubrin (Wolsak and Wynn) -

-        Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead (Talonbooks) -

-        Pockets by Stuart Ross (ECW Books) -

-        Admission Requirements by Phoebe Wang (McClelland & Stewart) -

-        The Chemical Life by Jim Johnstone (Véhicule Press) -

-        If Clara by Martha Baillie (Coach House Books) -

-        Still Point by E. Martin Nolan (Invisible Books) -

-        Table Manners by Catriona Wright (Véhicule Press) -

-        Rag Cosmology by Erin Robinsong (Book*hug Books) -

-        A, A Novel by Derek Beaulieu (JBE) -

-        No TV for Woodpeckers by Gary Barwin (Wolsak and Wynn) -

-        My Nostalgia by Ralph Kolewe (Talonbooks) -

-        Cruise Missile Liberals by Spencer Gordon (Nightwood Editions) -

-        All the many things Jim Johnstone and company do at Anstruther Press -

-        All the many many things rob mclennan does at above/ground -

I can’t help but be so excited by the wide range of amazing books being published and it is really great to get to read books from people who I love and respect. This is especially potent when I go to a local bookstore, like the incredible and indispensable Knife Fork Book ( or Type, ( to scope out the shelves: I want all the amazing books!

Maybe more specifically, I recently returned from my first trip to Berlin and the Hamburger Bahnhof. There is a wing of the gallery that is dedicated to full room installations and I saw a number of incredible pieces, in particular War Damaged Instruments by Susan Philipsz ( and Bruce Nauman's Room with My Soul Left Out (l Philipsz’s work reminded me of a Janet Cardiff piece I saw at the AGO (, and was incredibly evocative - I stood in the middle with my eyes closed and listened to the instruments shift around me, thought of the specific history of those specific instruments, thought of my own relationship to listening to music, to listening in general. Nauman’s piece was surprisingly visceral - it was cold! And the bomb-shelter structure was unnerving, stark and no-place. All of the works, but those two specifically, pushed me to think about scale and space (and bodily enactment within that space) in ways that I don’t immediately think about with poetry, and have encouraged me to expand the types of work I want to make.   

Where do you write?

When I actually sit down to write creatively I tend to do it at my desk facing my big window. However, I find myself writing all the time, just not creatively (emails texts etc) and usually on my phone in transit, and have struggled recently with how to focus and write when the time comes. In many ways, my response to rob mclennan’s blog ( was me making peace with leaving behind a certain stage of my writing life and transitioning to a new one that means less, but hopefully sharper, writing and creative work. I don’t write for a living and so that part of my practice has to fit around the other major blocks of responsibility in my life and I struggle sometimes with that.  

What are you working on?

Loss Sets, described above, is an ongoing project; we are hoping to get to nine sculptures and sculpture five has been giving me fits at the printing stage, so the first task in the new year is to make that one, then move to the next group.

I’ve also been asked if I might contribute a chapter for an upcoming book about Florine Stettheimer, and so have been doing some initial reading and thinking through her portraits of Marcel Duchamp. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Duchamp over the past few years in relation to Irresponsible Mediums and this chapter will hopefully push me into some new directions.

In terms of solo creative work, I’m writing weird little bird-lyric poems based on some of the travelling I have been doing. I’m not exactly sure what they are, or what they might become, but I’ve enjoyed writing them so far.  More substantially, I want to finish O/Ô, to translate the whole proceedings and begin hosting them online, in addition to working through a physical photographic form of the project. 

Have you anything forthcoming?

I’ve spent an incredibly satisfying past few months editing Y ( with Alana Wilcox and am so excited to see it published in the spring of 2018.  About two years ago I picked up American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, though I can’t remember exactly why now, and was struck by how complicated figure Oppenheimer was. He was a brilliant polymath, a Communist sympathizer, and a Humanist, yet still led the building of the first weapon of mass destruction at Los Alamos. On top of all this, his romantic life was incredibly tangled and he seemed to live his life split and bouncing between the two poles of himself. So I started writing ithin this rich historical frame, thinking it might be a short story, then a set of short stories, until it was a novel. On the whole, I’m extremely proud of it.

What would you rather be doing?

I really do feel I’m doing exactly what I want to do be doing.

The following poems are excerpted from Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Book*hug, 2017 ; In 1968, avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp and composer John Cage exhibited Reunion, a chess performance that took place in Toronto. Whenever Duchamp or Cage moved a piece, it generated a musical note until the game was transformed into a symphony.

Inspired by this performance, Irresponsible Mediums translates Duchamps chess games into poems using the ChessBard (an app co-created by Tucker and Jody Miller) and in the process, recreates Duchamps joyous approach to making art, while also generating startling computer-made poems that blend the analog and digital in strange and surprising combinations.

Further description of the translation process can be found at

machine sealed sand or

resistance, any blurred sketch, instant

questions deserted cell or cord

single cast or broken sand

warily measures some seashell

single silicon gobbles within

the reassemblage, dormouse beside coherence

each speed the purposeful decomposition

gobbles beside cloudy redundancy

               Playing White vs M. Schroeder (New York, 1922)

a centre among drawing and
blazing mathematics, hunches beside instant

hooded astonishment beyond complete insult
or texture inside deception and
washed specimen traps

            Playing Black Vs. Anatoly Alekseevich Chepurnov (Paris, 1924)