to whet the appetite for listening

In today’s world, we encourage scanning (ever-movement) as a literacy skill. Then we tell students to sit still. Computers, doorless, are placed in front of every child, and we expect them to stay in the yardage we allot them. Poems, small postcards from someone else’s imagination, invite teenagers to listen, to read, to imagine a life outside of their own. The impact of this on development (not to mention emotional health) is appealing. A whiff of homophobia in a classroom? Place unexpected poems in their midst. Have them trip over other peoples experiences, through poetry, and help them to land softly outside the fence of ignorance. Do I want them to read The Odyssey, The Bluest Eye, Les Misérables? Of course I do. Do I need to develop their palate before force feeding? Of course I do. Poetry can be served with every course, like salt and pepper, to whet the appetite for listening.

- Lara Bozabalian, on how poetry helps her teach high school students, from her essay "The Reason for Poetry" over on the Best Canadian Poetry website. You can read the whole thing here.


Whichever Divine I address

There is no way to divorce my writing life from my spiritual life; that Venn diagram would just be one big circle. Whichever Divine I address in my poems today—love, fear, death, family, God, or anything else—first needs to be courted. I learned from an early age language was a way to court the great unknowables, provided it was charged and earnest and true. It’s irrelevant if I understand consciously exactly what I am saying, only that I say it urgently enough, speak it with enough beauty of breath and spirit to earn a tiny moment of God’s attention.

- Kaveh Akbar, from his essay "How I Found Poetry in Childhood Prayer" over at LitHub. You can read the whole thing here.


WORD Vancouver - Sept 24th!

It's that time of year once again! Word Vancouver starts up next week, with the main event taking place on Sunday, September 24th outside the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch.

The schedule is up and is, as always, ridiculously packed with interesting events. Readings by Tim Bowling, Carleigh Baker, Gurjinder Basran and Dina Del Bucchia highlight the fiction offerings, while the poetry tent brings you Michael V. Smith, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Heidi Greco, and more. You can read the whole lineup here.

Bright and early at 11:35 I'll be hosting a trio of poets in the poetry tent ("Sunrise Suite" in the South Plaza). Aidan Chafe will read from his Frog Hollow chapbook Right Hand Hymns at 11:35, followed by Jami Macarty at 11:45 (Landscape of The Wait, Finishing Line Press) and Shaun Robinson (Manmade Clouds, Frog Hollow Press) ten minutes later. Expect bad jokes (from me) and good poems (from them).

I will also be spending a good chunk of the day at the BC Book Prizes table, selling memberships. $20 gets you a one-year membership AND (as a Word special) a free book, in all likelihood worth more than the $20. Come by and say hi and give me your sparkling green Queen Elizabeths.

Hope to see you on the 24th!


Al Purdy Tribute Anthology - Submissions Due Dec. 30th

Here comes a press release!


To mark the centenary of the birth of famed Canadian poet Al Purdy, his long-time publisher is calling for submissions for a 2018 anthology of poems written in tribute to the author.

B.C.-based Harbour Publishing will issue the tribute poetry anthology in fall 2018. Previously published and new poems written in Purdy’s honour are both eligible for consideration. Up to three poems per poet may be submitted; the deadline for submissions is Purdy’s 99th birthday, Dec. 30, 2017.

Along with their poems, poets should include:

a short bio (maximum 50-words);
a brief statement about what Purdy and/or or his poems have meant to the writer (maximum 200 words); and
the name of the original publisher of any previously printed Purdy tribute poems.

Submissions should be sent to: purdytribute@harbourpublishing.com or to: Attn. Purdy Tribute Anthology, PO Box 219, Madeira Park, BC V0N 2H0. (Note that print submissions will not be returned if a self-addressed, stamped envelope is not included.) The anthology will be edited by B.C. author Tom Wayman with the assistance of Harbour Publishing’s Emma Skagen.

Harbour Publishing issued several of Purdy’s books between 1993 and 2014, including Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy in 2000. Harbour Publishing head Howard White echoes Toronto poet, anthologist and critic Dennis Lee in calling Purdy “Canada’s poet.”

“Anybody can read him, and have a ball doing it,” White said. “I can’t think of a poet that would do all Canadians more good to sit down and read at this point in our history. It might save us yet.”

The press release is over!! Send in your poems!


Reflections on Elise Partridge's Poems

To help promote Elise Partridge's new posthumous book The If Borderland: Collected Poems and this Sunday's Dead Poets reading, which will feature Elise's work, I asked a variety of Canadian and American poets to provide their thoughts on their favourite Elise Partridge poems.

The result has just been posted on the PRISM international website:

The If Borderlands: Reflections on the Poems of Elise Partridge

Contributors included Amanda Jernigan, Anita Lahey, Phillis Levin, Meredith Jerrin and Rachel Rose, among others.

If you're a fan of Elise's work, or just getting introduced to it now, it's an enjoyable, insightful read: poets focusing their generous talents on poems which reward that attention at every turn. I hope you enjoy, and if you're in Vancouver, I hope to see you on Sunday!


September Dead Poets Reading

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on September 10th, 2017, from 3-5 PM.

This special reading will feature, among others, the work of three poets of vital importance to the BC writing community, all of whom we lost in 2015. Following the reading a reception will be hosted in the Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye rooms, across the hall from the Alice MacKay room. Books by the authors will be available for sale.

The lineup:

Peter Culley (1958 - 2015), read by Weldon Hunter
Elise Partridge (1958 - 2015), read by Barbara Nickel
Jamie Reid (1941 - 2015), read by Wayde Compton
Kabir (1398? - 1448?), read by Kate Braid
Paul Valéry (1871 - 1945), read by Alban Goulden

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

You can read my notes on Elise Partridge here and here.

I hope to see you on the 10th!


everything that was needed

First and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple — or a green field — a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing — an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness — wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak — to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed.

- Mary Oliver, on reading Walt Whitman in childhood, from her essay "My Friend Walt Whitman" in Upstream: Selected Essays.


saying no to all other purposes

The silence at the end of a broken line is one of many characteristic visual and aural reminders of the presence of silence. There are the space and silence that surround the title of a poem. The way the title comes out of nowhere, and often doesn’t immediately suggest what is coming next, can remind us of how weird language is, and how close to meaninglessness we always are. This effect of the title surrounded by white silence is exacerbated by the leap to the first line of the poem, which again, more often than not, is more obscure and elusive than in other forms of writing.

The form of the poem—its pervasive white spaces, refusals or withdrawals at the ends of lines and between the stanzas—reminds us of nothingness. There is silence too in the leaps of metaphor and symbol and rhyme and association that remind us of gaps in thought, all the ways poetry sometimes behaves like all other forms of writing but can at any moment say “no” to all the usual functions of language, its association and movement as a form of content, the way it refuses to do what it is supposed to do.

Wittgenstein wrote that what we cannot speak about must be passed over in silence. Or maybe what we cannot speak about can only be conjured in poetry through the mechanism of negation, saying no. This existential negation is only possible when one chooses to write poetry: saying no to all other purposes, to bring us up as close as possible to silence, absence, nothingness, so that we can start to feel what it means to live our lives so close to the abyss. It is, paradoxically, only when we truly start to feel that nothingness, that absence, that the meaning particular to poetry can emerge.

- Matthew Zapruder, from his essay "What My Father’s Death Taught Me about Poetry" (an excerpt from his forthcoming Why Poetry) in The Walrus. You can read the whole thing here.


emerging and deceased

Whenever we talk about youth and art we hint that another way of doing things is coming available. That’s the promise of the wunderkinds. Even if the work itself doesn’t shine with newness (the straight-ahead CanLit-ness of the Breathing Fire [anthologies] inspired much backroom complaining and at least one parody anthology, Jay MillAr and Jon-Paul Fiorentino’s Pissing Ice: An Anthology of “New” Canadian Poets) it is easy for an impresario to suggest in the presentation of an unheard talent that another world is there to be discovered.


But this gambit—I’ve called it bourgeois once already—is a growing industry inside CanLit. Breathing Fire was the vision of two university professors. Its currency came from the mentors and authorities who invested in the primacy of their taste. There is something tactical about this. To take a new voice and publish it in something like Breathing Fire is to place it in a tradition before its time, to demand an acquiescence to the structures of CanLit before the voice can force the structures to acquiesce to it. Being in a Breathing Fire was catnip to two decades worth of granting juries. It made a generation of Adjunct Professorships.


If the wunderkind gambit is bourgeois, it’s also optimistic. It’s embedded in the classification we give our would-be wunderkinds: our “emerging” poets. Emerging assumes that its counterpart, established, is also meaningful and defined. But of course, established poets are also always emerging; they are still underdog artists, known to the public only occasionally, when and if their work butts up against the zeitgeist. Right now, there aren’t any established poets in Canada. In Canada, the only kinds of poets are emerging and deceased.

- Jacob McArthur Mooney, from his review of the anthology 30 under 30 in Arc Poetry Magazine. You can read the whole thing here.


Blogging tweets is the new emailing blog posts is the new printing emails...

You know me, always hip to the latest trends. I think I'm finally starting to figure out this Twitter thing, about eight years after everyone else. The key is to insult everyone, writing in every genre, in every city in Canada.

I had a fun time coming up with these on Wednesday:


I don't think I'll be coming up with any others (sorry, cookbooks), but I'd love to hear your ideas if you have some (about St. John's or elsewhere!).