Ontario Reading Sprint

I'm doing five readings in four days in Southern Ontario next week. I'll sleep on the plane? I'll sleep on the plane.

I'm very excited for this mini-tour, the last hurrah for The News as well as a pre-hurrah for "Oh Not So Great": Poems from the Depression Project, which arrived on my doorstop only yesterday!

Soooo many elephants!

I won't be launching "Oh Not So Great" in Vancouver until January (stay tuned for details), so folks in Ontario be sure to bootleg copies and make your millions selling them across the border.

I'm really thrilled to be able to do all these readings (my first time reading in each city, save Toronto), all the more so because of the far-more-talented-than-me poets who I get to read beside: Liz Ross, Chris Banks, Catherine Graham and Roo Borson:

I am half as intelligent as Roo, hence my head being half as large in the poster.

Roo Borson! Only one of my poetry idols, whose Night Walk was one of the first great Canadian poetry books I read, and whose Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida remains one of my favourite poetry collections of the 21st Century. I'm going to keep it cool. Cool cool cool cool cool. After I get her to sign all my books, of course.

The details on all the readings:

Say It! Reading Series
Monday, November 20th, 2017
7:30 p.m. (doors open 7 p.m.)
The Human Bean
80 King Street West
Cobourg, Ontario
Reading with: Liz Ross and Rachel Revoy

Art Bar Reading Series

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017
8:00 p.m.
Free Times Cafe
320 College Street
Toronto, Ontario
Reading with: Catherine Graham and Chris Banks

Poetry London
Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017
7:30 p.m.
London Public Library, Landon Branch
167 Wortley Road
London, Ontario
Reading with: Roo Borson

Redeemer University College Reading
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
4:30 p.m.
777 Garner Road East
Ancaster, Ontario

Hamilton Poetry Centre

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
7:15 p.m.
Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton
1060 King Street West
Hamilton, Ontario

If you're in the region, I'd love to see you at one of these readings. And if I see you on two different nights I'll give you a free book for your unreasonable loyalty!


a Tyrannosaur’s metabolism

I’ve heard some people say, upon winning some honour or another, that their satisfaction lies in the knowledge that more people will read their work. And, yeah, sure, that’s cool (I guess). I’ve heard others say that they don’t care about awards at all. To me, the latter are like those skinny folks with a Tyrannosaur’s metabolism who brag they can eat whatever they want without gaining a pound; blind to their own good fortune, deaf to how obnoxious their virtuous indifference sounds. What a privilege to be above such things! What luck to find yourself in that elite, enlightened class, so deeply connected to your art that you can practice it completely independent of how it has impressed itself upon the world.

- Jared Young, on thinking his book just maybe might have possibly been longlisted for the Giller Prize, over at Canadian Notes & Queries. You can read the whole silly thing here.


there is nothing else to say

James Baldwin: Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know the effort is

Interviewer: Can you discern talent in someone?

Baldwin: Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.

- James Baldwin, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


"Oh Not So Great": Poems from the Depression Project - Out Soon!

I'm very excited to announce that my new poetry book, "Oh Not So Great": Poems from the Depression Project, will be published in the coming weeks from Leaf Press!

The book is the result of a 5+ year medical research project on physician empathy. The poems were inspired by, or drawn from, focus group discussions with people living with depression. Some of the poems are found poems, drawn directly from the focus group transcripts, while others are less restrained responses to the content of the discussions. I've posted some samples on my website, and you can read them here:

Since I Was a Very Young Child
To Do
Tomorrow I’m Not Here

This is book #3 for me, but it's an entirely new venture in so many ways. One small one: it's my first book with blurbs! This one, from Sandy Shreve, describes the project so well that it serves as the introduction to the book on the back cover:

"These poems are the result of a years-long project designed to create for physicians a doorway to empathy with patients who suffer from mental illness. As it turns out, they open that door wide for us all. Here are people speaking from deep within the isolating world of depression, their stories transformed into poetry by Rob Taylor’s considerable talents. From the heart-rending admission to a friend in the first poem (“It’s the one gift / I do give you, every day / I don’t call"), to the final lines (“You walk alone / across the room, sit by the fire, / and wait there for the longest time”), this collection unveils a reality lived by far too many people, one most of us don’t know how to handle – not when we experience it ourselves, not when loved ones are going through it. Read this book. It will help."

If you're interested in getting a copy of the book, you can pre-order one via the Leaf Press website right now. And if you're in Vancouver, we'll be launching the book in January. More info to come!

Until then, please do help spread the word to any and all who may be interested in the project. I'd love to get the elephant out to as many readers as possible.


throwing a little light on it - "Short Takes on the Apocalypse" by Patricia Young

Marc Chagall - "Over the Town"

Chagall's Lovers - Patricia Young
Have faith, not cynicism. - Erica Jong
Why up there, young lovers, helium heads floating above the village? Herringbone sky and forest of spires, pointy church steeples... How dare you fall in love when the world’s falling apart. Down here death combs the countryside. Every minstrel’s donkey’s splattered in blood. Come down right now. Your mother’s sick as a goat. Your father’s marching into a century of slaughter. Today is no one’s birthday. That cake is proof of nothing. Such wedding shoes! Such light! Where’s it all coming from? Can’t keep your feet on the ground. Can’t keep your hands off each other. Can’t stop blowing upside down kisses. Why so ebullient, illogical, lobster-headed, topsy-turvied? Fine... okay... stay up there clucking Yiddish, barnyard babble. Hey... I’m talking to you too blue fan. I’m talking to you checked tablecloth. I’m talking to you the colour red.

from Short Takes on the Apocalypse
(Biblioasis, 2016).
Reprinted with permission.

Marc Chagall - "Birthday"

Do I need to introduce Victoria poet Patricia Young? Even if you haven't read her work, her name and writing are everywhere you turn in the Canadian literary world. The author of nine books of poetry and a collection of short stories (Airstream), Young's writing has also won or been a finalist for just about every damn literary competition in the country (including two GG award shortlistings and back-to-back years winning the ARC Magazine Poems of the Year). Most recently, her latest poetry collection, Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis, 2016), was named a finalist for the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, a prize usually dedicated to fiction. They're having to get creative to find new things to nominated her for...

Now, I know what you're thinking: winning so many awards in this country must mean your writing is about preparing for the coming winter in your Ontario village which is far enough away from Toronto to be exotic, but not so far that you can't drive there in an afternoon. And generally, yes, of course, you're right. But not in this case. Patricia Young's poems are full of sex, pop culture, and jokes (jokes, people!). The poems in Short Takes on the Apocalypse shift about in theme and subject, anchored together only by the common use of an opening epigraph, but the through-line of them all is an energy: bouncing, playful, with just enough hints of darkness to keep you grounded (as I first read the book, I wrote in my notebook that the poems reminded me of Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh, which says more about my toddler-warped-brain than anything, but feels accurate nonetheless). Reading Patricia Young's books is fun.

I had the pleasure of asking Patricia a few questions about Short Takes on the Apocalypse and its award-winning poems, along with broader questions about rule breaking, poetry as "project," and what the heck she's doing taking so much time between short story collections. I hope you enjoy!

Patricia Young's earrings are nearly as formidable as her poems.


Rob: Every poem in Short Takes on the Apocalypse opens with, and in some way speaks to, an epigraph. The book originated "as a response to Elmore Leonard's "Ten Rules of Writing"", though you only confront/break one of Leonard's ten rules in the book ("1. Never open a book with weather"), in your poem "Tornado in the Bible Belt". Have you always felt the desire to break rules as a writer? How do you think the sense of rebellion and mischief that originated this book filtered out and affected the poems that followed?

Patricia: Yes, mischief. My first-year Creative Writing teacher back in the seventies gave the class a list of words we were not to use in our poems – soul, moon, sadness, tears, love, etc. So I wrote a poem using all those words. Nothing came of the poem but I did enjoy writing it.

In the case of Short Takes on the Apocalypse, I didn’t set out to write a book of poems that all began with epigraphs. The book just evolved that way. I remember laughing when I read Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing” and though I agreed with them I liked the idea of trying to write poems that contradicted the rules in some way. I wrote a number of poems that argued with Leonard’s advice or did exactly the opposite of what he advised but most didn’t make it into the manuscript. But that little exercise generated the idea of pairing epigraphs with poems.

Rob: Well, if you stumbled into the idea, you stumbled into it thoroughly! Short Takes features 66 epigraphs from a wide array of people ("from Leonardo Da Vinci to Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood to Jimmy Kimmel" reads the back jacket copy). Only four contributors appear more than once: Kurt Vonnegut, Groucho Marx, Erica Jong, and everyone's favourite writer, Anonymous. That's one hell of a dinner party! How did you go about collecting the quotes? An active search, or just opening yourself to the universe, or? Were you surprised by the quotes that you were drawn to, and was there any pattern to the quotes that worked (or didn't) as epigraphs?

Marc Chagall - "Nature morte
à la nappe quadrillée"
Patricia: I like the way you put that – yes, I did search and I also opened myself to “the universe.” Once I’d written a number of mostly unsuccessful poems triggered by Elmore Leonard, I started looking for other writers “rules” or advice because it was fun playing with people’s words. I was always interested in seeing where the epigraphs would lead. Of course, that’s generally why we write poems – to find out where an image or thought or line will take us. The poem you’ve highlighted, “Chagall’s Lovers,” was the result of viewing Chagall’s paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery and coming across Erica Jong’s rules. I liked her point about writing and optimism. And optimism is exactly what Chagall’s art also seems to embody, despite the fact he was painting during the First and Second World Wars, a horrendous and bloody time in history.

The Guardian published a number of writers’ rules that I drew on. I also read interviews of writers and pulled out quotes of things they’d said. Sometimes a piece of advice triggered a poem; other times I just wrote a poem (as one does) and then sought out an epigraph that I felt added something to the poem, either by contradicting the epigraph or by throwing light on it or supporting some element of the poem.

Rob: Did you have to leave quotes you loved on the table because a poem wouldn't come (and if so, do you want to share them here)?

Patricia: Yes, I did leave hundreds of quotes on the table. Pages of them. You can imagine the amazing and funny and even profound things writers have said over the years about the craft, business and process of writing. Here are a couple of examples of those left behind:

“As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

“If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture lights all over the world and bring them to you.”
– Henry Rollins

I did write a poem triggered by the Henry Rollins quote but in the end cut it from the manuscript. Any response seemed inadequate to his words.

Rob: Though your poems are seldom purely humorous, most are speckled with jokes and winks. Is this a conscious choice of yours, or simply how you think and write? Does humour work its way into your poems differently than in your daily life?

Patricia: I don’t consciously write poems that have humourous undertones (or overtones!) but I do gravitate toward poets whose work is often wry and displays wit and humour. I’m thinking of David McFadden’s poetry, for example, or the American poets, James Tate and Mark Halliday. The “big” subjects can sometimes be best explored when a little levity is introduced.

Rob: Your debut short fiction collection, Airstream, was published by Biblioasis in 2006 to critical acclaim (including being named a Globe and Mail Book of the Year). In the eleven years since you've published five new books of poetry, but no further fiction. What's up, Patricia?

Patricia: Hell if I know! I wrote Airstream at a time when I couldn’t write poetry. I was stumped by poetry. It made no sense to me. I couldn’t read or write it. Also I was tired of poetry written from the first person, my own particularly. Fiction seemed a way out of the first person trap. I’d always loved short stories but around 2000 I began to read them not in a casual way but in a determined, I’m-going-to-figure-this-out sort of way. I went through old New Yorkers, years of them (my husband refuses to throw them out), and read all the short fiction. I also read the Journey Prize Anthologies and many collections of short fiction. Joy Williams was (and is) a favourite and inspiration. Though I’d written poetry forever, writing short stories was a huge learning experience. I know people say short fiction is like poetry in that both are condensed, every word matters and so on, but for me, writing fiction was a totally different process. Character, plot, dialogue, psychology, arc, etc. -- all those things are not required of a poem. But after publishing Airstream I was keen to write poetry again, perhaps because I’d been away from it for five years.

Rob: Those long times away from each genre are interesting, especially because the movement between lineated poem and prose poem in Short Takes is very fluid. Has the prose poem allowed you to move what drew you to short fiction into your poetry; to explore both at once?

Patricia: Often I come across poetry that reads like cut-up prose. When I find myself writing “cut-up prose” I shift to prose, to the short paragraph, to see how the piece works. My feeling is: if you’re writing sentences, acknowledge that, let your sentences have their day and be what they are.

As for the prose poem – I love the form and find myself writing prose poetry more and more lately. In a prose poem there is absolutely no room for excessive words. I like the sentence, I like narrative, the surreal leaps and huge scope of the prose poem, the sometimes upside-down world contained in a very short space. When I say “upside down” I’m thinking of Russel Edson’s prose poetry, for example, which Donald Hall describes as “fanciful” and “funny” but “carries discomfort with it, like all serious humor.”

There it is again: serious humour.

Rob: You've worked with a number of editors over the years: Michael Kenyon for some time, and also Dawn Kresan and, for this book, Anita Lahey. Could you talk about what these editors have brought to your work, and how it's shaped the final products?

Patricia: A good editor can save you from yourself. He or she sees the stories or poems (and the manuscript) from the outside and lets you know when you’re being self-indulgent or unfocused, what ought to be cut or what needs a serious re-write. I belong to a women’s writers group so I get feedback from them, but the editors you mention were the final readers and extremely helpful in all ways.

Rob: Short Takes sits in an interesting place when it comes to the current movement in Canadian poetry towards themed "projects" and away from general collections: it feels at once to be on trend, and pushing against the trend. It's a "project" united by a common technique, and yet the poems seem utterly disparate, their subject matter going wherever the epigraphs lead them. What are your thoughts on poetry books as themed projects? What do you see as the pluses and minuses to this approach?

Patricia: I enjoyed writing this book of poems because I could follow my nose, so to speak. The connection between poems is simply the epigraphs, though that is some sort of link. At one point I thought about cutting all the epigraphs and publishing the poems without them but couldn’t bear to part with so many wonderful words by other people.

I have written a few themed collections or collections of linked poems but mostly I tend to write what I call “miscellaneous” poems, poems that have no unifying theme, poems written one at a time, that are influenced by whatever I’m thinking about or reading or hear in conversation. The joy of writing a themed collection obviously is that you have a sense of what you’re going to be working on when you sit down to write. You can pick up where you left off the day before. When writing a general collection you have to face the blank screen after every poem. As a reader, I like both: miscellaneous poems because each one is a world unto itself and themed collections because they tell an extended story.

Rob: Speaking of facing the blank screen do you have a desire to "start fresh" from project to project (in theme, in style, in approach), and if so do you find it hard to shake your previous themes and techniques? Does something from one linger and move into the next? If so, what from previous books lingers in Short Takes, and what from Short Takes might linger in the next?

Patricia: Airstream was definitely a fresh project. I knew nothing about writing fiction. The first story I wrote was from the first person point of view, which was familiar because I’d written so many first person pov poems. The second story I wrote had multiple points of view, which my husband pointed out was amateurish and revealed that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue about the mechanics of writing fiction until I tried to write it. I really had to start from scratch but lately, with poetry, the “fresh start” never seems to happen because while a manuscript is being put together I am writing poems which become the genesis of the next collection. Goose Lane Editions is publishing my next book of poems (tentatively titled "“Amateurs at Love") and it truly is a miscellaneous collection in that there are six distinct sections, though the sections themselves are in some sense organized around a theme. I would love to write another book of short fiction, another “fresh start” (though I have about five stories toward that fresh start). Just talking about it with you may well be the impetus I need to get on with it.


While you're waiting for book of fiction #2, be sure to pick up a copy of Short Takes on the Apocalypse. You can do so at your local bookstore, or from the comfort of your home via the Biblioasis website. Or, if you want to break the "Ten Rules of Responsible Book Buying", from Amazon.


Interview with Oscar Martens

Oscar Martens, staring down
yet another interviewee
Burnaby-based author Oscar Martens is on a quest to figure out how best to write and promote books in the modern age. He's set up a "Media Whore" blog as part of his website, where he asks writers about their thoughts and strategies around self-promotion, productivity, responsibility to community, and more. He's previously interviewed Sarah Taggart, Lucas Crawford, Richard Kelly Kemick, among others.

Today it was me. Though I mostly ramble on about curtains, I also talk about a good number of subjects "around" the writing itself: the community, this blog, the reading series, the interviews, etc. etc. with it all pointing toward the larger question "How should a writer be?"

You can read my answers here:

Rob Taylor, a blatant self-promoter since 2006

Kudos to Oscar for referencing the Roll of Nickel's tagline in the interview title, and thank you, to him, for all the good questions.

You can read more of Oscar's interviews here.

And while we're on the subject, you can read all of my interviews with other writers here.


November Dead Poets Lineup

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on November 12th, 2017, from 3-5 PM. It will feature:

Lucille Clifton (1936 - 2010), read by Ian Williams
Connie Fife (1961 - 2017), read by Joanne Arnott
Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963), read by Natasha Sanders-Kay
James Welch (1940 - 2003), read by Pamela Bentley
Richard Wilbur (1921 - 2017), read by Christopher Levenson

Attendance is free. For more info visit the DPRS website.

I hope to see you on November 12th for a 100% 20th-Century (a rarity for us) poetry love fest!


Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food

I'm very pleased to have a poem in the new anthology Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food. Edited by Rachel Rose as part of her work as Vancouver's poet laureate (as Yvonne Blomer's Refugium was part of her term as Victoria Poet Laureate), the anthology is one element of her term's wider focus on food, which has included food-themed poetry readings, the presence of poets at local farmers markets, and much more.

My poem is "Seven Weeks" from The News (the "cranberry sauce" poem, if you're familiar with the book).

Sustenance will be launched this Sunday, October 22nd as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival (which is happening right now - go, you damn fools!). The details:

Sustenance: A Feast of Voices
Sunday, October 22nd, 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM
Revue Stage
1601 Johnston St.
Featuring: Elee Kraljii Gardiner, Thomas Haas, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Jami Macarty, Billeh Nickerson, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Annie Ross, Karen Shklanka, Kevin Spenst, Russell Thornton, and Ayelet Tsabari.

If you can't make the main event, there will be two more (free!) launches of the book: November 4th, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM at the VPL's Kitsilano Branch and December 2nd, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM at the VPL's Strathcona Branch.

I'm planning on being there Sunday, and I'd love to see you there as well. And regardless of the launches, I hope you find a way to pick up a copy of the book - it should be a good one.


special dogs

For me, it’s the same for both reviews and dogs: even when I’m frustrated with them, I’m happy with them. And, to continue the identification of reviews with dogs: when I look at my dog, I learn something about my dog, certainly, but also something about myself. Sometimes, something about my expectations. Certainly, something about our relationship.


However, I would like to take this opportunity... to thank those who have never bought or never heard of my books — all those on this planet and all those lifeforms extant in other places of the present, past, and all possible universes. You help make my books mysterious, unknown, a sanctuary for initiates and cognoscenti. You maintain the notion of my books as places of infinite possibility, as thought-and-feeling machines of limitless potential energy. You make special dogs of those who have dog-eared my work, those who have actually read it.

- Gary Barwin going full-Gary-Barwin (or at least 3/4s) in an essay on reviewing and readership over at the Hamilton Review of Books. You can read the whole thing here.


Refugium: Poems for the Pacific (Vancouver launch this Thursday!)

I'll be reading at the Vancouver launch of Refugium: Poems for the Pacific this Thursday, which will take place in the recently-opened nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

The details:

Refugium Book Launch
Woo Soon Mary Lee Chan Room
October 19, 2017, 6:00 PM
nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch
730 East Hastings St.
Featuring: Ann Hopkinson, Jo Lilley, Jeremy Pataky, Heidi Greco, Lee Beavington, Anne Simpson, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Miranda Pearson, Luther Allen, Lorin Medley, Terri Brandmueller, Nancy Pagh, Betsy Warland, Kate Braid, Stephen Collis, David Pimm, Barbara Pelman, Cornelia Hoogland, and me.

A lovely lineup, if ever I've seen one. And the book is all the more impressive, with poems by the poets listed above, as well as Steven Heighton, Anita Lahey, Jan Zwicky, Lorna Crozier, Patricia Young and many more (not to mention musicians Bruce Cockburn and Dan Mangan!).

I am pleased to have a poem, "&", in the anthology, and doubly-pleased because my poem was selected by Refugium's cover artist, Sharon Montgomery, as the subject of an "artist response" painting, entitled "Hitched" (you can see the title of my poem on the bottom-right side!):

"Hitched" by Sharon Montgomery

I mean, how lucky can you get, right?

The painting is part of a gallery show of artist responses to Refugium poems, which will be on display at the Victoria Maritime Museum until December 17th. You can view a video tour of the show here:

Though the art won't be on display on Thursday, the poets will, and that's almost as good?

I hope to see you there!