Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013; a review ~



2013 began with a snap decision: I didn’t want to spread my writing thin anymore. So I quit reviewing music – a gig that pays you first and then forgets to follow-up for the actual work – and began covering poetry at the invitation of rob mclennan.

There are perils to reviewing poetry that any self-conscious writer will obsess over. The small press market leaves a critical footprint smaller than itself, meaning the chances are high that an author will get around to reading what I wrote. Ultimately my opinion is my own but the ways in which I get there had better be damned solid. There’s no formula and no bell curve. If poetry had a bulls-eye, it would be Sudoku. People would tackle it on the subway for sport.

I’ve been at it for a year now. My nerves have settled and the joys of reading now resonate a deeper part of my person. Some chapbooks require a bit of research but, whenever possible, I let poetry travel beyond my expectations and preferences to a vulnerable place where I can respond through an emotional reflex. Over the past twelve months, these titles did that best:

(Note: This year’s list collects the top five books I read this year, not necessarily books that saw first release in 2013. I pay dues indefinitely.)

1) Falling Into Place – John Terpstra (Gaspereau Press)

If you’re wondering whether a book that dedicates itself to the city I spent half of 2013 planning to move to represents a conflict of interest, it does. Not that my attraction to Falling Into Place would’ve suffered any had I still been living in Ottawa at the time I picked it up. My fondness for Hamilton predates my wonderful years as an Ottawan. In fact, I lived on the very stretch that awakened Terpstra’s obsession with Hamilton’s landscape; the spot that every personal chapter and amateur anthropology lesson revolves like a circumference around.

Now would I have been drawn to Terpstra’s keen admiration without bringing some of my own to the reading experience? Honestly, probably not. The specifics of Terpstra’s guided tour would’ve intrigued me in spots but gone right over my head in others. At several points I caught myself wondering how a reader entirely unfamiliar with Hamilton (or disinterested in its history) could trooper through, and in those cases, I remind myself that the core idea Terpstra tackles is as universal as it is mystical: the relationship we have to our landscape is worth investigating.

2) Exit North – Joseph Massey (BookThug)

It’s fitting that a Henry David Thoreau quote opens Exit North. Some sturdy observation, laced with greater awareness: “The sweet fragrance of decay!” Joseph Massey likewise crafts evocative scenes that, however insignificant, resonate in the more poignant vacuum of a lifetime spent appreciating.

Sunday

Old news – after a storm –
torn apart between two lawns.

Even the most succinct poem carves an immediate impression, celebrating whatever gentle push from nature proves invigorating to the watchful eye. Neither the ocean-side park in “Found” nor the blackberry thorns in “No Name Pond” recede as a backdrop for human conflict, instead communicating small truths to Massey’s restless mind. And lacking any personal details that might shed light on the author’s clouded psyche, Exit North dedicates itself to a meditation on existential wonders. No ego, no artifice; just a poet in the arms of the natural world, documenting the transient act of being.

Close

Hedges
dredged in
shadow, where

a song’s
confusion
roosts, tell

the time.

3) OTHERWISE SMOOTH – Rosmarie Waldrop (above/ground press)

The following is an excerpt from a post published at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter, 09/10/13. To read my entire review, proceed here.


I say “I” and thereby appropriate the entire language. And trust I am,
through words, gradually to become. A person? An instance of
discourse? Plain as the sky to a fisherman? Beginnings are hazy, below
the belt, where a face is not yet possible though already bespoke by
gravity. But pronouns do not refer to anything in space and time
except the utterance that contains them. Each time, like death, unique.
Not like walking in light that lies like fine dust on the ground, but
language handing me, each time, the gifts of memory, a past. A soul?
While the voice excites intimacies of organic existence, modulates the
frequency of pulses from nerve fibres. Code. Clouded sentence.
Crowded square emptied of bustle by a sudden rain.

The poem reprinted above – indeed in its first sentence – forms an apex upon which all of OTHERWISE SMOOTH hinges. Waldrop has articulated a voice that is not only conscious of its own devices, it’s yearning to express innate feelings through the confines of that manufactured language. The poem also ushers in the focal theme of OTHERWISE SMOOTH’s second half, loss and death, which lends her “ticks of the watch” awareness all the more acute.


4) The creeks, - rob mclennan (above/ground press)

The following is an excerpt from a post published at Ottawa Poetry Newsletter, 09/10/13. To read my entire review, proceed here.

Poem "The creeks" surveys a convergence of raw and abandoned materials: the dark, iridescent wet of a cave, the date-stamped artifacts passed over. Appearing in three prose findings, it’s handily the chapbook’s most loaded entry and perhaps its cryptic key. Underground rivers meet slabs of pavement but there’s a sense of disarray, that these “remains of civilization” lack category, appreciation.

Ample cases of contrast exist in The creeks, between natural and manmade discoveries, forming a mute awareness instead of any environmental concern. mclennan is very good at implying the presence of two persons in his work without letting them obstruct his focus, persons who more often adapt to the currents around them than act as agents of change. As such, over “bashed ancient stone” and “useless, feathered, goods” mclennan’s surroundings reverberate on the relationship between his would-be anthropologists, always teasing a sensual interpretation.


5) Mayakovsky’s Revolver – Matthew Dickman (W. W. Norton & Company)

I feel like a prude when people around me think swearing is funny. Coarse language can serve to amplify an emphatic tone but its inclusion often seems opportunistic; less rooted in the context of a conversation, joke or song than thrown in as a cathartic crowd-pleaser or temperament gauge. The high-impact of “fuck” stems from taboo, not any linguistic prowess, and it’s a pretty hollow taboo at that. I had a friend in grade three who missed afternoon recess for saying “fuck”; is that the outlawed image we’re still clinging to?

Anyway, Matthew Dickman likes the word “motherfucker”.  Until his sophomore collection Mayakovsky’s Revolver was gifted to me by a friend, I assumed my disdain for frivolous cursing applied especially to poetry – no ifs, ands or buts. But… Dickman’s particular vigor is new to me, his youthful and sprawling free-form spurting forward as if through ritual bloodletting, which is sort of the case. In exorcising the traumas associated with the suicide of Dickman’s older brother, Mayakovsky’s Revolver digs up out of that dark aftermath until “motherfucker”, hardly frivolous at all, becomes a reflex in that circulatory system of grief. 

Though daunting (“Anything You Want” is nightmarish), the subject matter sometimes leaps toward the comical end of desperation, where the bereaved author sweetly invents a lover out of t-shirts (“Weird Science”) or abandons a one-night-stand opportunity with an easy target (“The Madness of King George”). The flexibility of Dickman’s gaze doesn’t in any way diminish the intensity of his voice, which opens upon his subjects like the mouth of a volcano.

Confessional and messy, Mayakovsky’s Revolver is not the kind of poetry I’d buy myself. But as a testament to “the gift of literature”, this book has validated a vein of emotional expression I’ve long held reservations about. Sometimes it's best that other people choose what you read, as it opens new doors. My dark horse of 2013.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Curious things for December 2013...



1) Blog discovery of the week goes to Susan Gillis, whose Concrete & River blog extends the discourse on Canadian poetry in a number of ways. Featuring personal thoughts on poetics, excerpts borrowed from recent releases as well as interviews with a variety of well-known poets, there’s so much to read it’s just about irresistible. This chat with Phil Hall was the first post to catch my eye. 

2) Dusie’s Tuesday Poem series has been running since April and in that eight month span gathered an eclectic and highly respected roster of contributors. While the parent website (www.dusie.org) is managed from Switzerland, this blog series is curated by fellow canuck rob mclennan and boasts a who’s-who of (mostly) North American poets. Well-known and emerging names converge in an informal, one-poem-per-week trickle-down. Checking in each Tuesday has become such a natural habit, it hadn’t crossed my mind to plug it here until now!

3) The minds behind Rattle, a print and online poetry journal out of Studio City, California, have devised a beautiful anthology comprised exclusively of authors who are children. Spearheaded by editor Timothy Green and entitled RYPA, the collection’s 60 poems quietly underscore the raw feelings and imagination that inspire one to write in the first place. It’s grounding to remember those origins, and worth celebrating. Details and ordering information for RYPA can be found here.

4) Every city deserves an events website as devoted to creativity as Ottawa’s Apartment613. Last Tuesday, they featured a holiday gift list focused on books by writers around the National Capital Region, covering genres like science fiction, political journalism, mystery and of course poetry! Small blurbs support Sandra Ridley’s The Counting House, Christine McNair’s Conflict, Nicholas Gagnier’s Ground Zero, Chris Jennings’ Occupations as well as the work of Sonia Saikaley, Cameron Anstee’s Apt 9 Press and rob mclennan (who gets his own category). If you’re unsure where to begin with Ottawa’s literary community, this gift list provides more than enough links to get you started.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The "Impermanence, Ontario" Diaries | #4



It’s one thing to write organically for two years, recognizing and developing a theme over time without burdening it with too much focus. It’s another challenge entirely to fit those resulting puzzle pieces into a satisfying whole. After a few easy preliminary cuts, I had twenty-some-odd bones in need of connective tissue. Around this time I also received word that, according to the UNESCO definition, chapbooks can consist of up to 27 poems – here I was, believing I was confined to 10 or 12! (Thanks for the heads-up, Amanda; clearly I’d been immersed in my share of above/ground chapbooks at the time…)

My next course of action looked pretty straightforward: pinpoint where those gaps are and remedy them. But instead I’ve continued deconstructing Impermanence, Ontario as I knew it into ever-changing vignettes that analyze notions of home. One of the reasons I love chapbooks so much is that their smaller scale demands that each component act as a pillar. There's no room for missteps; the relationship between poems must form some sort of webbing. And the more I hone in on small clusters of related poems, the more my manuscript embraces its fault-lines. 

Poems written about the Niagara region, which operate as an important hinge in Impermanence, Ontario, also work as a separate, more concise chapbook. That realization encouraged me to tackle another short chapbook about five days I recently spent in New Hampshire. The latter one's completely unattached to my original manuscript but still surveys a strayed sense of belonging. Although it's the youngest project I have on the go, it'll be the first one I pitch come January. Lesson: it's easier to carve and fit puzzle pieces together when you have a crystal clear idea of the finished image.

So in short, I've switched gears. Yes, each of these projects lends thematically to the ambition of constructing one inflexible, full-length collection but my current whim lies more in snapshot focuses. Maybe that’s my subconscious telling me to start small or expect less. I’m motivated by both.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Curious things for November 2013...



1) I’m constantly trying to flex my objectivity toward above/ground press but Ground Rules: the Best of the Second Decade of above/ground press, 2003 – 2013 is a cause for celebration. I’ve been privy to a peek of the final draft and it’s a vast compendium of fine selections, many of them I missed the first time around. For details on the collection as well as the launch (also serving as a re-launch for publisher Chaudiere Books), visit Ottawa’s Writers Festival event page.

2.) This Town Crier article, written by Jess Taylor, reads like a personal fantasy of sorts: cute couple Mat Laporte and Brenda Whiteway contribute to their local writing community by hosting house-readings that routinely end up as dance-parties. You’re killing me. Poets should be taking on this initiative in every city. I know I’m tempted…

3.) Lit Reactor scribe Christopher Shultz taps a great topic by discussing the music writers choose when committing to certain projects. The possibilities are endless but Shultz offers some clever starting-points. And although he delegates albums according to fiction genres as a guide, Shultz’s picks have just as much potential to help one’s poetry manuscript along. I’ve used two of these myself!

4.) Grey Borders Reading Series’ 2013 program will wrap up November 29th with readings by David Dowker, Jacqueline Valencia, Gary Barwin and Liz Worth. That’s right: Black Friday isn’t all rampant materialism, it has poetry too! Be sure to check out GBRS’ Facebook page for particulars!

5.) The Ottawa Poetry Newsletter has been busy keeping track of Ottawa’s creative forces and displaced offshoots. The "On Writing" series continues to thrive with revealing entries by Aaron Tucker and Roland Prevost while the latest "Recent Reads" include reviews of chapbooks by Marcus McCann as well as the poetic partnership of Christine McNair and rob mclennan.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Phafours Press readies squirrel chapbook!



Earlier this year, Ottawa-based poet and publisher Pearl Pirie circulated a call through Phafours Press with the working title Squirrels in Stetsons Take Over Earth. An entire chapbook about squirrels; it seemed almost too intriguing to pan out. A consideration of the little critters’ way of life, their survival tactics, how they’re perceived and how they might feel about it. Which poets would raise their hands to the squirrel-call and what would they have to say?

Those answers have arrived. On Tuesday, Pearl announced via Twitter that the squirrel chapbook – now entitled our hircine, murine doppelgangers, mars – would feature contributions by Gary Barwin, Vivian Vavassis, Phil Hall, Janet Hepburn, Lori Anderson Moseman, Carol A Stephen, Shai Ben-Shalom and myself. Better yet, today we have photos and details straight from the desk of the editor/publisher. There also appears to be some talk of goats on mars... a secondary theme? Anyway, a glimpse: 


Image courtesy of Pesbo Poetry Journal
Looks wonderful! Now available from the Phafours website!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The "Impermanence, Ontario" Diaries | #3


A line of Simon Frank's concrete poetry on Locke Street, Hamilton

"Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon." ~ Masahide

In the spring of 2012 my wife and I abandoned plans to move to Hamilton after a job offer there fell apart. Given that we’d spent a few months getting to that stage and already notified colleagues and friends in Ottawa of our imminent departure, we adapted and chose our hometown St Catharines; a reasonable contingency plan since leaving Ottawa was in large part predicated on a desire to be closer to family.

Now I’ve encountered the hometown stigma everywhere I’ve lived, in friends and co-workers having a disenchanted outlook on their surroundings because it’s where they grew up. I relate the condition to people who grow up entrenched in religious or wealthy families; it’s easier to take for granted what you never sought out for yourself. As my wife and I found an apartment on an all-too-familiar street, we rationalized the likelihood that ten years removed from the city, during which time we’d grown into ourselves, might diffuse our shared stigma.

It was an honorable attempt. I look back at those first few months of getting reacquainted with a sense of wonder: we shopped in malls, signed up for gym memberships and ate in restaurants that were plagued with awkward “run-in” potential. What’s more, we realized how immature those fears had been and commended each other on social skills that had unknowingly survived while deep in the two-person bubble we’d cherished for years.

Six months in, we owned up: this wasn’t meant to last. Or maybe it wasn’t meant to happen in the first place. We left Ottawa for some quaint pretense, a leap of faith. And it would be just as tempting to call the whole move a mistake if not for the undersides of our disappointments bearing fruit; each regret twinned with knowledge we’d have otherwise never found. Would we ever face our nomadic guilt without taking this backwards voyage? Could we ever feel assured in our secluded hideaway without investigating the alternative? As the past year has given us time to reflect and dismantle those questions, we can now confidently answer: no and no.

Well we’ve met our lease, paid our dues and finalized a move to Hamilton. It’ll be a return trip for both of us: years ago, my wife was a student at MacMaster and I had a Greyhound ticket. We tested our friendship on a boardwalk in Cootes Paradise, had our first kiss on Emerson Street; I worked a nightshift job on Main Street West, rented my first (and only) solo apartment on Woodbine Crescent.

For me, having grown up in Niagara but going to school in London, Ontario, Hamilton gained the easy impression of a smokestack tragedy. I saw the brownfields from the Burlington Skyway and kept going. Getting to know the city at the same time as my one-day wife, I realized what a secret Hamilton is: a staggeringly diverse and vibrant community surrounded by waterfalls, valleys and amazing urban architecture. Its history, good and bad, sits on its sleeve. We loved the city then and are proud of its revitalization in recent years.

Leaving St Catharines so soon – and for misunderstood Hamilton, to boot – will cause some confusion, I’m sure. That’s okay. The hometown stigma is indiscriminate but, more significantly, it’s a gut instinct worth paying attention to. There’s something to be said for discovering and staking one’s own city; for some it’s about new chapters and clean slates, for others it’s part of a lifelong adventure. And it’s about time we got back to living ours.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Quilliad | issue #2 launch party



Tequila Bookworm took full advantage of a balmy October evening, opening its glass-panes to Queen Street West’s busy sidewalks and dimming the lights to a summer’s glow. Nestled a floor above the chattering of a healthy weeknight crowd, writers and literary enthusiasts gathered to celebrate The Quilliad’s second issue.


Once upstairs and inside the narrow blue room, I was greeted with a contributor copy as well as a few unfamiliar but friendly faces. Among them stood Sarah Varnam, The Quilliad’s Editor-in-Chief, and Devin P.L. Edwards, who handled the event’s audio needs. After guests had seated themselves in strings of theatre-styled bucket-seats or rogue office furniture, Sarah invited a procession of writers to take the floor and read. The first set featured Christian Quaresma, Jessica Bebenek, Calista Michel, Devin P.L. Edwards, Dylan Wagman and I (reading my accepted poem “Degrees”).


The second set marked an interesting turn, featuring readers who could not make the trip (with at least one hailing from British Columbia, another from South Korea) performing via audio files. Of the four renditions, two arrived too late to be “normalized” and were consequently pretty quiet. Even so, the absence of a tangible reader invited a more meditative experience. With nowhere in particular to focus one’s gaze, audience members stared off or down, visualizing the readers’ evocations between sips. The passing of streetcars sporadically interrupted their voices but that outside ambience only seemed to reinforce a pensive intimacy among listeners. I found the recorded segment surprisingly effective, even though Yusuf Saadi’s reading of “August, After Moonset” – perhaps my favourite poem from the issue – was impossible to hear. The other disembodied voices belonged to Shannon Campbell, Joe Gans and Gail Hulnick.



I took the pause before the third and final sequence of authors to visit a merch table that showcased several projects on the go. Alongside copies of The Quilliad’s inaugural issue, a chapbook by Sarah and visual art by Devin sat beautifully hand-made titles from Jessica Bebenek’s Grow & Grow micro-press. A quick flip through Consanguinity (by S.E. Chaves, a Quilliad editor who was unfortunately absent) and Infiltration (by Ben Groh) left a lasting impression. (Had my bag not been sagging under the weight of the many records I’d purchased earlier that day, I might’ve had room/cash for a few!)



Formalities came to a close with readings by Julia Wong, Lizzie Violet, Rachel Fernandes (who made the trip from Ottawa) and Jack Hostrawser. There was talk of fresh drinks and socializing but I – as well as my wife, who surprised me with a sudden appearance! – had to find our highway home. On the way out I ran into Rodrigo Marti, an excellent Toronto-based, mixed-media artist I hadn’t seen in some eight years, who was out to support the small press crowd. Despite missing out on the after-party, the launch left me feeling renewed and excited for future readings. Thank you, Quilliad team!

If you were unable to attend the launch, Issue #2 is now available digitally and physically through The Quilliad’s website. In addition to the written work, this issue contains a lot of beautiful photography by Scott Williams and Sean G. Marjoram. Be sure to seek this out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Curious things for October 2013...



1) The small press market may be more diversified and thriving than ever before but the scene still hungers for reviews. So many writers, not enough readers. That’s why we need more sites like Small Press Book Review to get the word out on interesting and breaking new authors. It looks as though they’ve been at it for only a few months but there are plenty of new fiction and poetry titles to read up on, plus an interview or two. They’re also looking for more writers to tackle the load of review copies they have on hand, hint hint…

2) Writers Digest, a bastion of creative advice that hardly needs my reference, recently published 5 Ways To Be a Good Literary Citizen. Written by Chuck Sambuchino, the article doesn’t surprise so much as reinforce the life-affirming role writers can take in shaping a creative community. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the impact you can make simply by sharing a fellow writer's work!

3) Though unfamiliar with Liana Voia, I’m grateful for her efforts in producing a video series documenting the fall edition of Ottawa’s Small Press Book Fair, which went down on Saturday, October 12th. Unable to attend myself, I’ve enjoyed checking out a handful of the twenty-some interviews with poets and publishers who give Ottawa its literary reputation. Get an overview of her interviews here or track each author individually via her Twitter timeline.

4) Lastly, the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter continues with its popular “On Writing” series as well as some “Recent Reads” chapbook reviews from me. Following up a timely post on Marthe Reed’s exploration of repressed femininity (After Swann), the OPN today features reviews of Gary Barwin’s Seedpod, Microfiche and Monty Reid’s Moan Coach. If these two titles have anything in common, it’s an ability to communicate unspoken ideas through unassuming means. Do yourself a favour and check out the latest with above/ground press!

Rogue Poem: "122"


Months from now
I hope to look back
at so many blank acres








on my Twitter timeline
& be proud 
of what I let echo.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“Degrees” to appear in The Quilliad; issue #2 launch



My poem “Degrees” is set to appear in The Quilliad’s upcoming fall release. Issue #1 dropped in the spring and I implore you to check out its lovely online manifestation here.

The Quilliad team will launch issue #2 on October 16th at Tequila Bookworm in Toronto. The list of poets reading (so far) includes Calista Michel, Lizzie Violet, Jessica Bebenek, Rachel Fernandes, Dylan Wagman, Devin P.L. Edwards, Christian Quaresma and myself. Check out the event’s Facebook page for details and swing by. $5 cover gets you a copy of the issue!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Library loans: chapbooks by Leah Mol & Sandra Ridley



My library is not expansive, which to me is another way of saying it isn’t a chore. I have a bookshelf unit as tall as my 6’1” frame and, carrying the collected interests of both my wife and I, it’s jam-packed. I’m often confronted by the lurking temptation that, with a second unit or maybe a series of wall-secured shelves, I could vastly expand and re-organize my wares. But paper’s heavy and, frankly, we move too often.

So instead I lower a cup of tea and cushion to the floor and perform check-ups, usually once a year. Books make little towers and, for an hour or so, mix it up. A few don’t make it home. It’s the price of living light, or trying to: constant revision. A good cleanse usually frees up the space of four to five thick hardcovers but even lackluster check-ups – the sort that amounts to a dusting session – don’t feel like wasted time. It’s my garden, tucked against the apartment’s most generous wall. Here I’m tending to old friends.

With their thin and often wordless spines, chapbooks tend to hide the best. As I reorder and assemble some, I put others aside – their covers almost a surprise to lay eyes on! The first two are Leah Mol’s And I’ve Been Thinking Dangerously (2011) and Sandra Ridley’s Rest Cure (2009), both from Cameron Anstee’s Apt. 9 Press. I’m always sucked in by Mol’s first entry, “Certainties”:

"I can’t tell what’s real with you and what’s not.
Text message from M., to whom I lost my virginity"


One might mistake it as a preface but And I’ve Been Thinking Dangerously collects catharsis from a volatile assortment of untitled short stories, a one-off list of stimulating buzzwords and a diary entry from 1996. Though prone to a whimsy that strays into speculative character sketches, Mol’s stories tug from personal experience and usually end in reflection.

And I can’t help but see myself in the third person. I check my hair in shadows and see my reflection as a stranger. No look is unpracticed. I am so aware of others’ eyes that I no longer have my own.

Arriving at the tail end of a story about her neighbour, the above excerpt captures how Mol’s confessional style keeps her readers hooked. And I’ve Been Thinking Dangerously is surprising, a tad unstable and wholly deserving of its title.

In the spring of 2010 I contributed my first article to UnFolding, an Ottawa area magazine-cum-website that sent (and actually paid!) me to review a poetry workshop. Facilitated by Sandra Ridley, whose Rest Cure had just recently launched, the class covered structural choices, balancing the figurative and literal, being cryptic versus being clear, as well as advice for prepping one’s work for publication. Yes, I still have the handouts.

So I’d brought a few poems that, naturally, I thought were great. When it was my turn to read a working draft of choice, the experience was… deflating. Turns out I’d never read those poems aloud and, in doing so, spotted how clich├ęd and rhyme-dependent they sounded. Afterwards I remarked as much to Ridley, who consoled me by saying “rhymes are coming back”.

I mention that story because Rest Cure feels surgically divorced from her warm character and comprehensive notes. Fractured and sometimes nightmarish, Ridley gives a cautionary tale of lust, centered on a female protagonist whose yearning is subjected to repeated atrophies. Excerpt:

Tremors in her pulse as she is laid out again :
his hands pulling until she is lying along the length of it
& she is looking at a light, a light, a light & nothing is happening above her
& yesterday was lamb’s wool under her walking shirt
& wasn’t it or weren’t they
& didn’t she hold a piece of him when she came here
before she slipped listless & antiseptic.

Almandine.

Obsidian with mother-of-pearl.

It’s a fairly fatalistic text to revisit. Still, with her line breaks, which in some cases create large swathes of space, interrupting the consciousness of her narrative, Ridley’s poems take on full-bodied, romantic aching, only to be dissected with the most clinical language. I always find it a good challenge.

Sorting these titles back into place, I recognize that these bookshelf check-ups are less about managing space than soaking up the words I live with. Besides easing the buyer’s guilt attached to getting new books when you still have unread ones waiting at home, this practice keeps me grounded. The better familiar I am with the complexities of each rarely seen spine, the more likely my bookshelf will thrive with titles that widen my comfort zone. 

The motivation behind collecting – anything, really – can be likened to filling a blank horizon with inspired muses; the desire to create a richer lens to look at life through. Hopefully I'll find some spare time to share more of these older titles as the weather cools. I owe them as much.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fisher Small Press Fair; a recap



I arrived at St Catharines’ terminal half an hour early. By the time the chartered vessel docked at my curb, all of the rainfall I’d read about on Twitter from contacts in Toronto and Hamilton had touched down there as well. It mattered little: the trip by bus would span almost two hours and with the rainclouds tracking their way south, I anticipated a dry arrival on University Ave.

Not so. The conditions in Toronto proceeded to pepper down as I made my way onto Beverley and delighted further in my whim to detour down Spadina – a complete jump from Beverley’s beeline into U of T territory – for the sake of walking Chinatown. I’d packed light: just a spring jacket and a satchel, purposefully empty for storing any treasures the 1st Fisher Small Press Fair might offer. After a bite of lunch I breached the university gates, passing crowds outside of the campus bookstore and a slow-moving snake of cars inching forward, bumper-to-bumper. Frosh-week, right. Lots of pamphleteering, face-painting and sing-alongs. My pace quickened.


The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is located within Robarts Library; initially, I mistook them as one and the same. After shaking off some rain pellets under the fluorescent glow of Robarts’ uniformly grey lobby, I turned to see a thin entrance to a darkened catacomb. Ah, much better. Upon entering, a secretary asked if I was here for the Small Press Fair. She pointed toward an elevator and then down. Once at the base of the library, I’d reached my destination.


Several people I spoke to on Saturday, September 7th mentioned that it was a strange time to hold a book fair but agreed “why not?” Besides coinciding with the exhibition A Death Greatly Exaggerated, publishers who traveled from Parry Sound, Kingston, Merrickville as well as small townships orbiting Toronto enjoyed a consistent flow of people hovering their book counters.


A kind representative I failed to ask the name of showed me some beautiful Coach House titles and recommended Need Machine by Andrew Faulkner. I spent some time deliberating between Matthew Tierney’s Probably Inevitable, from which he gave a memorable reading at last fall’s Grey Borders Reading Series, and Gary Barwin’s The Porcupinity of the Stars.

Jay MillAr, who I somehow failed to recognize despite seeing many photos on many blogs  from many readings over the years, introduced me to the work of Joseph Massey. Thought to be out of print, several copies of Massey’s chapbook Exit North (BookThug) were found shortly before the Fair – much to my benefit. It was an easy sell.


After perusing intricate, handcrafted items from outfits like Shanty Bay and Greyweathers Press, I spotted familiar faces – plus some familiar chapbooks – at the above/ground and Chaudiere Books table. It was great to chat with rob mclennan and Christine McNair, who at present time have a zillion things going on but still journeyed down from Ottawa. Among new above/ground press titles by the likes of Marthe Reed, Wanda O’Connor, Marcus McCann and Monty Reid, there were also fresh rumblings from the Chaudiere camp. I picked up mclennan’s new book Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies Press) and managed to leave without bankrupting myself.


Spoils safely tucked away, I walked back toward the station. Despite dry skies, Toronto's overcast had gathered a humid staleness no doubt compounded by the idling exhaust pipes of downtown gridlock, dazed commuters exhaling sharply. I climbed onto the upper level of my MegaBus, picked a window seat and reached blindly into my satchel. I was home in a flash.

A few extra shots, including a handwritten, early draft of Margaret Atwood's poem "The Moment" under glass. I sort of geeked out over that one.