Sunday, February 17, 2019

TWO NEW MICHAEL DENNIS CHAPBOOKS EXPLORE DEATH AND DIVINING

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Michael Dennis has been reviewing, or as he would say, "appreciating" poetry books on his Today's Book of Poetry blog for six years which makes me a little trepidatious when it comes to writing about poetry; he's so very good at it. Poet and Proper Tales Press publisher, Stuart Rossinterviewed Michael about his blog when it was just getting started. Since then Michael has posted his thoughts on over seven hundred books and chapbooks, including one of mine.

And now, hot off the press for 2019 are two new chapbooks by Michael himself: Divining (Proper Tales Press); and Sad Balloon (Monk Press). They're both quite wonderful and they're as different as can be.



Divining is a collection of centos based on lines taken from Margaret Laurence's 1974 novel, The Diviners, and as is often the case with this form, some of the poems work better than others. At least, that's what I thought on first reading; when I went back to have another look in order to write about them I found myself "getting" more of them. Here's one that worked for me from the get-go:


Let me look at you

A month away from it 
It was the ugliness of the smoke-blackened city
What if there were a fire
A relationship which is plainly going to be sexual
The swiftness of the encounter does not seem strange
Which is by no means a perfect arrangement
The cupboard contains one Guinness
That it could be you and not you — at the same time
Others bear somewhere within them the forms of fossils and shells
Let me look at you


The ends of the lines are left without any punctuation which works well. The lines feel as if they landed on the page a little like strewn petals at a procession. I like how reading them takes me back to reading The Diviners. Lines like However dour and bad tempered (The brood mares), I don't give a fuck what any of them think  (Having never begun), and Don't let the buggers on either side get you (Walking up the hill) remind me of meeting crusty Christie Logan for the first time while Not writing, looking at the river (No conviction) makes me think of Morag Gunn. Altogether a fun book to read.

The work in Sad Balloon are for the most part, somewhat sombre in tone and the poems are always, always deeply thoughtful. Yet deft touches of Michael Dennis humour shine through as in these lines from the poem

talking with Stuart Ross on the phone

was just talking with my old friend Stuart Ross
he and I have known each other a long time now
we speak often and about virtually everything
today it was about death
and it was about giving your wife flowers

the rules about flowers are easy
there is no situation
that flowers for your wife
will not improve


Who among us hasn't wondered about some of the questions raised in this one, for example:


surprise 

I've been watching all these happy videos
of men and women, soldiers
coming home from service overseas
and surprising their families

they are lovely videos
and deeply heart warming
you really can't watch 
without getting a tear

but I can't help but wonder 
about the surprise homecomings
where someone else
has been keeping a bed warm

one year or eighteen months
is a lifetime of changes
and some of these soldiers
must come home

to homes where they are not welcome
some soldiers must come home
to an entirely new narrative
and several surprises of their own


In Roxanne and Tiffany the poem starts with a simple observation of a street person and then moves into an exchange between the narrator and his companion. The way it ends has me wondering if we've known some of the same Gails!


Roxanne and Tiffany

Roxanne approaches
down the line of cars
with a haughty stagger
she might be losing her teeth
and what's left of her figure
she might be seriously stoned
or a little drunk
or both
but she's stoner-polite
and hopeful

she sees the old green Honda
I drive
Roxanne knows me by name

K and I were talking
as we sometimes do
and this time it was about
how names might shape destiny

and I put Roxanne forward
every Roxanne I ever met
was hard as nails
and usually for a reason

K said that Tiffany 
was the tough gal moniker
for her generation

but when I thought about it 
I figured any Roxanne
I'd ever met
could kick the crap
out of any Tiffany
on the planet

met a couple of tough gals
named Paula
and I know for a fact
that you should never
get in the way
of any woman named
Gail


A number of the fourteen poems in Sad Balloon make reference to friends who have died which, of course, gives rise to ruminations about the eventual demise of the narrator himself. My husband and I are in the process of getting down on paper (so bloody difficult for this writer; why is that?) our advance directives in the event of one or both of us being incapacitated and I found myself nodding appreciatively while reading several of the poems.

All of them, actually.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

MARIE AND ME: BOOKS, CLUTTER-BUSTING, AND THE COLLYER BROTHERS

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I would hate to say how many books I've read—and still own—about clearing clutter. When I started to work on this post I couldn't remember the name of the guy who wrote two of the books Ted and I bonded over back in our early book-bonding days, so I went looking and without a great deal of effort I was able to come up with all these clutter-clearing classics:




My books are all over the house. There's my bedside table stash, the art books are shelved at the back of my closet, poetry books get a whole section to themselves, there's a how-to writing-related shelf, ones for novels and non-fiction—and cook books; you can make out The Joy of Cooking's signature red circle  in the second photo from the bottom—and there's a place for chapbooks and lit mags. (In addition to these there are four tall IKEA shelves in the basement I haven't the heart to photograph.)                                        





Ever since her reality show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo hit Netflix people have been taking to social media to lambaste the clutter guru about her attitude towards  getting rid of books. As you've likely heard, Kondo's approach to cleaning up is to have you gather all like objects together, hold each one individually, and keep or discard it based on whether or not it "sparks joy". When it comes to books, she would have you tap them to "wake them up", hold each one, and if you decide the book in hand no longer needs to be in your life (thereby not sparking joy), you thank it and let it go. 

A couple of years ago I managed to donate ten boxes of books to Nelson's excellent Booksmyth Used Books. There was fiction, non-fiction, a handful of kids' books, coffee table books, and poetry. (If it was a duplicate. Maybe.) Ten boxes, and you couldn't tell anything was missing. In one of the Tidying Up episodes the fellow whose books are about to be sorted laments that he has ten boxes altogether!

When I was twelve I read My Brother's Keeper by Marcia Davenport for the first time.  I had just finished reading Gone With the Wind, my first "adult" novel, and was soon to discover The Watch That Ends the NightI was starting to realize there was a whole world of words out there beyond Winnie-the-Pooh The Wind in the Willows and The Golden Pine Cone. My Brother's Keeper was first published in 1954 and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection which is undoubtedly how it wound up in our house.  


Davenport's novel is based on the infamous Collyer brothers  who lived in New York City in the first half of the last century. Homer Collyer went blind and became largely paralyzed and his brother Langley proceeded to look after him. Langley, who had trained as an engineer, set up a warren of paths through the massive amount of detritus that accumulated in their huge home, fashioning booby traps along the way in order to deter unwelcome visitors. One day, while bringing Homer his meal, Langley tripped one of his own traps and was crushed by falling debris. Blind and immobile, Homer then spent a couple of unimaginable weeks starving to death. 

And I thought my hoarding tendencies were bad!

The novel is a fabulous roman à clef wherein the brothers' surname is changed to Holt as Davenport delves deep into their lives and weaves a tale that speculates about what made them tick like the time bombs they were. When I picked up My Brother's Keeper and read the first paragraph I was hooked.

          "I never knew the Holt brothers, which seems strange because within a few weeks of their deaths I felt that nobody else could have known them so well. I never saw Seymour Holt at all. What I saw of Randall Holt was as gruesome a sight as a man could meet in a lifetime. By the day when they found Randall Holt I had already learned a great deal about that gentle man, and it became all the more harrowing and ghastly to have to watch while they scooped up the unspeakable thing from the rotting floor and carried it away in a covered basket.

First paragraph. Talk about dropping you into the story! (Italics are mine.)

"Clean your room!" my mother would yell, "It's starting to look like the Collyer brothers in there!" 

If, as Marie suggests, I were to bring all my books into the same room and put them in a pile in order to wake them up to check their joy factor I’d likely be crushed to death in the inevitable avalanche. 

All I can tell you is that when I decided to blog about all this being able to pluck My Brother's Keeper from the shelf where it had been contentedly napping between Michael Crummey and Lauren B. Davis sparked so much joy I can hardly stand it! 

Happy New Year!

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Friday, December 28, 2018

ANOTHER DYSFUNCTIONAL CANCER POEM ANTHOLOGY

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Just finished reading Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, published by Mansfield Press and edited by the late Priscila Uppal and Meaghan Strimas. The book takes its title from the last poem in it by Uppal herself where she talks metaphorically about her relationship with her body: We are now that couple no one want to/ see in public; ...we blame each other's childhoods; I am no longer the love of your life. (She died just before the book came out, of synovial sarcoma.) 


There are over a hundred poems in the book. There are tender poems and angry poems and curious poems and introspective poems. Poems of loss, of remembrance. Of hope. Of resignation. 

"We all know someone" begins the blurb on the back, and isn't it true? My mom's had it three times. My husband has one kidney. My brother-in-law. So many friends, many of whom are survivors, but not all. My cousin, who died at 43, same age as her mother, my aunt. Same age, coincidentally, as Priscila Uppal. 

My poem is about that aunt, my mother's big sister, Beth Alexander. I don't remember her well, but I do recall her laugh which was extraordinary. She and her family came to enjoy Kootenay Lake for a month every summer and that last one I remember lots of whispered conversations that stopped when I came in the room and later, I remember my mother and grandmother flying off to Saskatoon to see her when they got the call that the end was in sight. They didn't get there in time. I remember not knowing what to say. 

I'm grateful to the editors for giving her a page in this anthology.


Sisters and cousins, 1952
Me and my mother Daisy, Beth's sister.
My aunt is holding her daughter, Dorcean, who was about 10 months old here. 

The book is available from the publisher, here, or from your local bookstore. 

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POST-CHRISTMAS PRE-NEW YEAR POST 2018 — I WOULDN'T MISS IT FOR THE WORLD

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Because this is a poetry-related blog, I give you:

Silent Night


The overturned garbage can spews wrapping paper,
greasy turkey skin and broken ornaments
all squeezed from the caulking gun that is Christmas
and scattered among needles the cat dislodged
on one of its forays into the branches of the tree
before someone thought to spray it with the plant-mister.

Don’t tell me it’s about Jesus,
don’t tell me it’s about peace on Earth —
it’s about who’s got the latest must-have-it gadget,
it’s about stomachs filled 
with the freshest tender and mild delicacy
that by the time this day arrives
has all the appeal of half-cooked sausage, 
the redeeming grace of deep-fried anything.

Snow sticks to our boots 
the way the last dollop of shortbread dough
clings to our fingers.
Soon we’ll quake at the sight of 
a new year looming,
a tsunami of bills,
but for now, all is calm.

We’ve managed to plough through another one,
dishes scraped clean and banished to the sink,
carols fading into the night, replaced by the new
—and last—Amy Winehouse. 
We listen, shake our heads,
then go outside to more closely examine 
the pure light of stars. 


It's never quite that bad, but it could be. There endeth another Christmas. I love it, Ted does not, I baked like crazy, I put on weight, I feel awful, but in spite of all that, I wouldn't miss it for the world, and isn't that a delightfully ambiguous remark?



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Friday, November 16, 2018

CHAPBOOKS AND POEMS ON BUSES AND MINIATURE BOOKS—WHY I'VE BEEN AWOL

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Here is a short photo essay that sort of catches up with what I've been doing of late, in Wordland, at least. Seems I've been so busy juggling other peoples' words I can't find any of my own. I'm into week three of a Facebook break and it's kind of nice! Soothing. Not as much stuff to wade through. There are enough things I miss about it (being in easy reach of overseas friends; the postcard poem group; our group that gets together about once a month for a potluck) that I'll probably go back, but I find I'm not in any hurry.

Denise Brown came for a visit in the summer. Over three days we sorted out her chapbook. 
This one may require a second printing! More info on my Nose in Book Publishing page.
At the end of September I was in Vancouver for the Poetry in Transit launch at Word Vancouver. It was so wet! You can see raindrops on my glasses. That's my poem in the background. 
Carol Lopez and Anne Wheeler came out in spite of the weather, as did Dory Dynna who took this one and my bff Lynne Blume who took the one above.
So then I got busy with this chapbook, a gorgeous collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by some of Robert Bateman's paintings that Yvonne Blomer wrote at the end of her three-year tenure as Victoria, B.C.'s poet laureate. 
The book contains fifteen poems along with the sketch or painting that inspired them.
About to make the holes for sewing.
Imagine my absolute joy when I realized I had hemp thread that was exactly the right colour for the image that had to go in the middle of the book! 
Kiisa keeping an eye on the books about to go into the press.
Chapbooks being signed by Robert and Yvonne ahead of the launch.
Some of the audience at the launch. It was so good to see old poetry buddies Wendy Morton and Rhonda Ganz there!
Yvonne and her dad. Robert, still signing books!
Yvonne's poem appears alongside the painting that inspired it at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. The show is on until the end of January. Ted and I loved getting to see all the paintings there, but this show! Wow!
More information on the book over on my Nose in Book Publishing page.
I made a dozen or so little (around 2"x3"/ 5 cm x 7.5 cm) books that you can hang on a tree. The Kootenay Gallery in Castlegar has most of them. Merry Ho Ho and all that.
Because of the necessary closeness of the pairs of threads it's almost harder to sew these than the bigger ones. Needles keep getting tangled with the thread. 
Here's a baker's dozen of chapbooks I've done (not including my own). After adding three to the mix this summer, I had to move them all to a new display area.
Oh yeah, and this happened. Isn't this card the best? Kathy Holmes Tenta did it. This link is to an article from five years ago but it's still totally relevant, including the link to her Etsy store. She makes fabulous felt books for babies and the most wonderful masks for toddlers.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

DERYN COLLIER EXPLORES A NEW WAY TO CONNECT WITH HER READERS

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Back in June 2009 I blogged about a writers' weekend in Creston where I first met Deryn Collier who was among the many writers who shared snippets of their work at the open mic.



Since then, Deryn, who lives in Nelson, has published two mystery novels, Confined Space and Open Secret, that feature the enigmatic Bern Fortin, who suffers from PTSD thanks to time spent in various world hotspots when he was with the Canadian Armed Forces and is now living in small town BC working as a coroner. Now, Deryn has announced she is shelving Bern stories for the time being—or longer—in order to focus on something completely different.

As of last year, she's taken to sending out weekly e-letters where she talks about her latest project, a new mystery series set in Montreal and starring a character based on her Aunt June. Sharing her work this way evolved, in part, thanks to her aversion to putting it all out there on social media (in much the same way as I'm trying to do by writing about meatier things on my blog as opposed to on FaceTwitGram). She started these weekly letters last year and in one of them talked about her reluctance to incorporate poems into prose text as readers tend to skip over them in order to get back to normal text as quickly as possible. Harumph, thought the poet in me, reading that, only to catch myself skipping the poem in question in order to get back to the story... 


(This'll give you an idea of what the e-letters look like)

So of course I had to send Deryn a mea culpa note, and in it I believe I said I was going to blog about her e-letters, only summer was a-comin' and said letters were on hiatus for a couple of months, so I decided to wait until they started to appear in my inbox again. 

Which they have, and if you're the sort of person who likes to peek into the way a writer's mind works, you should subscribe to her e-letters. 

For readers who live in the Columbia Basin region of British Columbia (East and West Kootenay), Deryn is giving a series of talks about her process at various libraries. She describes these talks as being of interest "to genealogists, researchers, writers, mystery lovers and anyone who loves a good story." You can see when she'll be in your area here. I have her November 8th Castlegar presentation marked on the calendar already. 

Creston Library:
Saturday, November 3rd at 2:00 PM
Salmo Library:
Wednesday, November 7th at 7:00 PM
Castlegar Library:
Thursday, November 8th at 6:30 PM
Nakusp Library:
Sunday, November 18th at 1:00 PM
Nelson – Oxygen Art Centre:
Wednesday, November 21st at 7:00 PM
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Friday, August 31, 2018

OF CHAPBOOKS AND CHANGES

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Another month has flown by. At some point earlier this year I swore I was going to post something at least every month. Missed February, but if I type fast, I can still nail down August.

August was busy busy. Company came and went, forest fires raged all over the province and it was horribly smokey but the swimming was good.

Smoke hanging over everything, obscuring the mountains, making it hard to breathe. Ootischenia, August 2018.

I spent quite a bit of time in the basement where it was cooler. Wearing my Nose in Book Publishing hat I finished making 250 copies of a chapbook, Migration Songs, edited by Stephen Collis, Lorna Crozier and Kurt Trzcinski, which was commissioned for the International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver Bird Festival that just wrapped up in Vancouver. Eleven poets were paired with scientists to converse and write about various birds.

Cutting, scoring and folding covers
Getting the text block into the covers
Sewing chapbook with new assistant, Kiisa, keeping an eye on things
(Very heavy) box of books, ready to go!
Finished chapbook features cover art by annie ross

Table of Contents. Look at all the wonderful poets in there!
I thoroughly enjoyed putting this one together, and now I'm working on two more!

In other news, my friend and fellow poet, Bobbie Ogletree, is moving away and our poetry group is sure going to miss her. We'll still meet via the magic of Skype or FaceTime or one of those, same as we do when I'm in Mexico. But it's not the same. Bon voyage, Bobbie and Freya. Sechelt is so lucky to have you!

Susan Andrews Grace and Bobbie Ogletree
Susan and Bobbie
Jane Byers
And, in other other news, my poetry manuscript received another glowing rejection. Frankly, this is getting a little tiresome! Oh well. Back on the horse and all that.

See you in September.

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