5/29/2017

Nora Gould's Letter to a Young Mother

Nora Gould
In March I was very fortunate to be able to bring Nora Gould in to visit my poetry class at the University of the Fraser Valley. During the class, one of my strongest students (and a mother of twins), Sydney Hutt, asked Nora how she juggled poetry, work, and family, and Nora replied that for many years she didn't - the writing simply didn't happen.

A few days later Nora followed up with this letter, sent via an email I was fortunate to be cc'd on. As a parent of a young child myself (and someone for whom the idea of focused writing time seems like a fantasy), I found Nora's words both comforting and useful, and believed other would too, so with both Nora's and Sydney's blessing I am republishing Nora's letter here.


Nora's husband's frontotemporal dementia, which she speaks of in the letter, is the subject of her second poetry book Selah (Brick Books, 2016).

---

Dear Sydney,

Truth is, I wasn't trying to write when my kids were little. Yes, I was stressed about Farley having an autoimmune problem and I home schooled him for grade one; and, for years Zoë had undiagnosed stomach aches; and, I tried to go back to work at the vet clinic (I did but only part time) and when it was for sale, I (unsuccessfully) looked for another vet to buy the practice with me ... but the bottom line is I wasn't trying to write then. I had pretty well figured out that I'd never write anything worthwhile, that I'd never have an opportunity to learn about writing, and that I had made an error by studying vet med and I should have taken an arts degree then I might have been doing something I loved. I felt nailed down on the farm with 4 kids and a husband who was what? I hadn't begun to define anything. (yes, it started that long ago ... my notes about Charl changing go back to the mid 90's ... it's been a long slog).

When I finally started writing seriously, really working on it, I was crazy busy with kids and all their activities (nothing here that a person can walk to), outside farm work, record keeping for the farm, Georgie eating with us twice a day, a student living with us from the beginning of May to mid August ... and all the stuff that comes up in a life ...thyroid disease, endometriosis, my father's death and all the et cetera. There was never time for writing until I decided to do it then I fit it in and worked. Early mornings, late evenings, while I was driving tractor or whatever physical work I was doing, while I stirred something on the stove, in the shower ... whenever and wherever I could let words and phrases run around in my head.

This writing started when I dreamt the first stanza of a poem —

do not view me naked
running through the stubble
pricked and bleeding

It sat on my head until I hammered out another 4 stanzas (many days work) and I must have written more too because I had to submit several pages to get into a weekend workshop with Steven Ross Smith at Red Deer College. I used that same poem in my application to an on-line writing class at Queen's with Carolyn Smart. Not a great poem but it worked ... that was a weird application — just email one poem and she'd get back to you one way or another.

Keep writing. Concrete nouns. Verbs. Not too many modifiers. Small details. Trust your reader. Avoid words like very that are filler.

And of course, keep reading. And more reading. You don't have to analyze and study. The book of poems is a box of chocolates. Jane Kenyon. Don McKay. Betsy Warland. Lorna Crozier. Hopefully you have access to a decent library. Barry Dempster. I'm suggesting these poets because they don't make me tear my hair out trying to figure out what they are talking about. I like Anthony Wilson too but he's a Brit and it's been hard for me to find his books. And lots more but I don't want to make you crazy. Todd Boss Pitch.
Jim Harrison.
Galway Kinnell.
Eamon Grennan.
Tomas Tranströmer.
Robert Bly.
Ok. I'll stop.
You (or anyone) could send me the name of something/someone I need to read.

And good fiction.

And books about writing —
Anne Lamott Bird by Bird
Natalie Goldberg (it doesn't matter if she's talking about writing fiction)
Frances Mayes The Discovery of Poetry (I worked through most, if not all, of the exercises in this one)
Stephen Dobyns Best Words, Best Order. Essays on Poetry
Alan Bennett Six Poets, Hardy to Larkin

I read lots to my kids, poems, stories, everything. Our TV mysteriously didn't work for years. It was a blessing until one day someone plugged it in. The Olympics were on.

I coached my kids in poetry. Each child learnt 2 or 3 poems by heart and spoke them at a festival for school. We had a ball doing this and branched out on our own, choosing poems (lyric, narrative, and Cdn were the categories I think) and for a few years they also did a little play together. We had a great time finding material and adapting it. I learned lots about poems in those years before I started writing.

Try paper and pen. No computer. No internet. Just the page and wait for something to happen. It will. I'm sure of it.

Nora


5/26/2017

(Most of) Yoko's Dogs at the Firehall Library + Gathering of Poets at the Moberly Arts Centre

Three of the four members of Yoko's Dogs (Jane Munro, Jan Conn and Mary di Michele - no Susan Gillis this time, Vancouver) will be getting together for a reading at the VPL's Firehall Branch on May 31st. It should be a heck of a show:


The Firehall Branch has been steadily hosting more and more poetry readings of late. It's been nice to see poetry at the VPL move out a bit further from the Central Branch.

Speaking of which, I will be reading at a VPL event at the Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre in South Vancouver this Saturday (May 27th)! I'll be sharing the stage with fellow Dorothy Livesay Prize short-listers Juliane Okot Bitek, Richard Therrien and Anne Fleming. You can get more info on that "Gathering of Poets" here.

5/11/2017

the candour and the ardour

The book, the statue, the sonata, must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING?—when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the bosom of the artist.

- Robert Louis Stevenson, in a letter to a "young gentlemen" who asked the question "Should you or should you not become an artist?" You can read Stevenson's full reply here.

5/09/2017

a thing that attempts to completely represent the world

In the most basic sense, the point I am trying to make is that the continued persistence of poetry as a human activity, across time and cultures, has to do with something it does that is different from all other types of writing. How it refuses to be beholden to all the other things we use language for. How it turns distractibility, inconsistency, dreaminess, leaping, all those things that we scrub out of everyday life and functionality, into something to be treasured. How it continually prioritizes an interest in the very nature of language itself: as material that has a sound, visual qualities, feels a certain way in the mouth, etc., and also in the larger sense as a thing that attempts—and ultimately fails—to completely represent the world. It seems interesting to me to think about what connects Sappho to Rumi to Keats to Basho to Eluard to James Tate to Alice Notley to Victoria Chang. My instinct is that there is something.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry? with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.

5/08/2017

to find those truths and bring them back

After the election, in frustration and confusion and despair, I started to write something just to clear my head, that became an essay and eventually the afterword to Why Poetry. In it, I try to make the argument that it is not only possible, but necessary, to preserve a free space inside oneself for the imagination. Probably some of my feelings about this come from having grown up in Washington, D.C., in a home where the minutiae and tactics of politics was a source of endless discussion. It took me some time to realize that this kind of obsession, however well-meaning, can be a distraction. Politics as entertainment, as sports. I also have seen myself and others around me at times become stunned, drained, and less likely to act, the more they follow the minute by minute spectacle of degradation.

But really, my belief in these spaces is beyond the merely tactical. I think there are truths about being alive that one can only discover in the imagination by liberating oneself from all obligation. To find those truths and bring them back for others is the role of the artist. And to do so is not only to preserve oneself, but also to open up the possibility, however slender, that someone else you disagree with might do the same, and to cross some kind of border that cannot be crossed by argument or even fact.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.

5/05/2017

the rude intrusion of time

Ever since reading Douglas Glover’s superb essay “The Drama of Grammar,” I’ve been in love with the humble conjunction “but.” She felt she’d been more or less happily married for 11 years, but … Along with equivalent words, “but” serves as a pivot or hinge, a semantic fulcrum, a switch shunting a sentence in a fresh direction just when you thought you knew where it was headed. “But” is not going to allow you, the reader – or you the writer – to pursue an easy, plausible arc. Nothing is as it seems. Something in the latter half of the sentence wants to delve under surfaces; “but” is a quick surgical cut through which the sentence can enter as it feels its way inward, closer to the core. “But” is the bump in the carpet that trips you up just when you’re hitting your stride. Not so fast: here comes a proviso, one that won’t cancel out what came before but co-exist with it. “But” says nothing is absolute, categorical, final. “But” is the rude intrusion of time – of limitation, mortality – into a phrase that starts off Trumpishly asserting that it knows, forever. No story begins until the word “but” appears and every story, for grown-ups, ends with an invisible “but.”

- Steven Heighton, in interview with some godforsaken questionnaire over at The Globe and Mail. You can read the whole thing here.

5/03/2017

a congregant of two temples

Jane Hodgkinson: What are some of the ways that you keep yourself connected to whatever moves you to write?

Stevie Howell: I’ve been working in hospitals for the last 6 yrs, but only since my first book, Sharps, was published—for the last three years—have I been working directly w/ patients. I’m a psychometrist (I administer thinking & memory tests). I work one-on-one w/ a single person for up to two entire days. It can be pretty intense. I am constantly moved by people’s backgrounds & challenges, how they heal or cope, & by seeing ordinary people doing extraordinary things for each other, all around me. It’s given me a devout belief in humanity.

My “day job” has benefited my writing in many ways, but primarily by reminding me that poetry has always functioned similarly to actual care, IRL—poetry is composed of these small & focused & deliberate gestures that might only affect one person, or a handful of people, & in private & imperceptible ways, like prayer. But that’s actually as epic as it gets—to affect, or be affected by, one person. I believe the health sciences & the arts are the height of our inventiveness, & the proof of our goodness. I am grateful to be immersed in both fields, to be a congregant of two temples.

- Stevie Howell, in interview with Jane Hodgkinson over at The Rusty Toque. You can read the whole thing here.

4/30/2017

BC Poetry 2017: An Introduction

Last year I ran BC Poetry 2016 (and the corresponding #BCPoetry2016 hashtag on Twitter), featuring a new poetry book (and poem) each day throughout the month. This year I'm bringing it back with BC Poetry 2017 (and the corresponding #BCPoetry2017 hashtag), and it's grown: 21 participating presses compared to last year's 12.

Rocksalt: An Anthology
of Contemporary BC Poetry
In my intro to last year's series I spoke about judging the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Prize (BC Book Prizes), which was an eye opening experience for me (So many BC poets! So little coverage!). Lately I've been thinking about another BC institution: Mother Tongue Publishing and their 2008 anthology Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry.

At the time of its publication, it had been 31 years since the last effort to group together the poets of BC in one book, and to the best of my knowledge no one has taken up the task in the nine years since (though Vancouver-focused anthologies have been published, along with a couple Cascadia anthologies and Mother Tongue's own Forcefield: 77 Women Poets from British Columbia).

Rocksalt pulled together 108 BC poets, both established and up-and-coming, and - as one of my first publications early in my writing life - opened my eyes to the potential of being a poet in this province. It showed me the wealth and range of talent in BC, and - more simply - that we're damn well everywhere (from Massett to Smithers to Nelson to Richmond to...). I read the list of contributors now and am taken aback (Barton, bissett, Blomer, Blythe, Bowering, Braid... and we haven't even left the Bs!). I'm equally struck by the thought of the BC writers not included, and the writers who have started publishing in the intervening years - a list as long, or longer, than Rocksalt's.

This little project is no anthology, and it's far less exhaustive than any of the publications mentioned above, but if you stick with it over the next month, BC Poetry 2017 will give you 30 new poems from 30 new (and good-as-new) poets. I hope they inpsire you as Rocksalt did for me: get you reading and writing and appreciating anew that all these talented poets are hiding out so near to home!


Details on the Project

A new book will be profiled each day throughout the month. To be eligible, the book must have been written by a BC poet or published by a BC poetry publisher (ideally both!), and must have been released in either Fall 2016 or Spring 2017. Sundays will be "wild card" days featuring books that wouldn't ordinarily qualify - you'll have to check in to find out what they are!

Participating Publishers

Anstruther Press
Anvil Press
Arsenal Pulp Press
Biblioasis
BookThug
Brick Books
Caitlin Press
Coach House Books
ECW Press
Freehand Books
Gaspereau Press
Goose Lane Editions
Leaf Press
McGill-Queens University Press
Mother Tongue Publishing
New York Review Books
Nightwood Editions
Quattro Books
Talonbooks
Thistledown Press
Wolsak and Wynn

Some publishers were contacted and did not reply.

The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.

BC Poetry 2017: "Prosopopoeia" by Shazia Hafiz Ramji (Anstruther Press)



See You Tomorrow

Tomorrow you’ll find me when you sign on.
You’ll send me a DM, ask me to drop you a pin.

I’ll say, “Hey! I’m here!” as if this here is enough,
as if the here is still now. You’ll ask me if I’m lost
and I’ll remember how far away you are from me.

But I’ve DM’d you once more to say
I saw the latest version of a human-size bot

that it walked with a limp
and I felt sad and sorry for it.

This is what she meant when she saw him
hanging from the ceiling and wanted to place a chair
beneath him, so that his knees don’t hurt when he falls.



Who?

Shazia Hafiz Ramji lives in Vancouver, BC where she edits books and writes poems, reviews, and stories. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2016 National Magazine Awards and is forthcoming in Canadian Literature and filling Station. She is the incoming poetry editor for Prism international and was co-editor for the "Intersections" issue of Poetry is Dead. She has been a guide for Poor Yoricks' Summer and Sacred Jest, groups dedicated to reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.



What?

Prosopopoeia is a chapbook of poems that speak to the absent and the dead. These poems comprise the voices of screens talking to each other, the meanest employers, and the Internet under the ocean. Or, Prosopopoeia is a spectral chorus that strives for sincerity, particularly when addressing "you" and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This book should be enjoyed alone, in the light of a computer screen with the sound of "Rain - Gentle Rain Sounds - HD Sleep Sounds" on YouTube.


When?

Arrived February 2017.


Where?

Book Launches: Happened April 27th in Vancouver!

Purchases: From the Anstruther Press website. $10.


How?

Sincerely addressing Philip Seymour Hoffman w/ the voice of the Internet under the ocean.



The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.


4/29/2017

BC Poetry 2017: "Helpless Angels" by Tom Wayman (Thistledown Press)


Excerpt from “Like Water, Music”
Indeed, the human throat and mouth
are shaped as much for music
as for any other utterance. Sung words
were perhaps coincident with speech
—one thinks of those stutterers
who nonetheless can mellifluously
sing.

When winter fog
hovers over white fields here, shelves of ice
materialize at the edges of the rivulets and creeks
that thread out of the mountainside spruce and cedar forest.

So, too, fingers absently strumming guitar strings,
or an ear that absorbs a sequence of heard or
imagined sounds, or a hand scribing time-signature changes
onto a sheet of lined staves
are transubstantiated
by a mind into harmonies, contrapuntal rhythms, ballads

while above the ridges
float enormous clouds
—vast reservoirs of future music.



Who?

Tom Wayman has published more than twenty poetry collections, three essay collections, two short story collections, a collection of novellas, and a novel. He has also edited six poetry anthologies. He has been Writer-in-Residence at the universities of Windsor, Alberta, Simon Fraser, Winnipeg, and Toronto. He is a co-founder of two BC alternative post-secondary ventures: the Vancouver Centre of the Kootenay School of Writing (1984–87) and the writing department of Nelson’s Kootenay School of the Arts (1991–2002). He is currently a director of the Calgary Spoken Word Festival Society and of Nelson’s Kootenay Literary Society, where he serves on the education committee and the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival organizing committee. Wayman lives in Winlaw, BC.


What?

Helpless Angels weaves several themes together: music’s impact on a life, expressed through memory; poems that are like songs; music found in or described through nature; poems that directly consider music’s power; and, as a counterpoint to how music carries us through life, how art — and each of us — deals with significant loss. Wayman looks at the ubiquitousness of widespread personal access to music that began in the 1950s and has continued to expand ever since.


When?

Arrives May 1st, 2017 (Monday!).


Where?

Book Launches: May 12, 7:30 PM, Oxygen Art Centre, Nelson. May 26, 7:30 PM, The Bean Scene, Vernon. June 8, 7 PM, VPL Central Branch, Vancouver. Details on all Tom's launches can be found here.

Purchases: From the Thistledown Press website or at your local bookstore. $20.


How?

Looking at the ubiquitousness.



The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.