Monday, November 29, 2010

The Alchemy of Chance - Proof Copy

In the really exciting news department, the proof copy of The Alchemy of Chance arrived today, with Marianne Pfeiffer's glorious enamel zodiac signs glowing on the front cover, and Peter's story just waiting for the turn of a page. Our first real, actual book. It will go into production later this week. I apologise for the terrible pictures. The only available light was a stark overhead.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cosmic Love and The Alchemy of Chance

Cosmic Love

I took the stars from my eyes, and then I made a map
And knew that somehow I could find my way back
Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too
So I stayed in the darkness with you**

My daughter and my husband are very keen on a song called Cosmic Love, by Florence and the Machine. It’s on both their ipods so I hear it in the kitchen while my husband is cooking, and in the car. In the song the narrator has been blinded by a star falling from an un-named someone’s heart, and left in the dark, so he or she makes a map, all of which reminds me, on more than one level, of The Alchemy of Chance. Aurelie, who is actually blind, meets Dafydd, who is symbolically blind, at least where love is concerned. You might think I’d be comparing Aurelie to the narrator of Cosmic Love, but Dafydd is a closer match. When he meets Aurelie he’s immediately struck by her and the book is much more about his long journey, sharing her darkness, than it is about any issues she has with finding her way around. She was once a mapmaker but blindness has reduced her, bizarrely enough, to the position of navigator, and it’s Dafyyd who makes the literal maps of their journey.

... she needed the whole picture, and preferably one with a frame. She needed relief and spatial accuracy, signs and symbols that spoke to her of landscapes natural and man-made, rivers hills and towns, the odd church and burial mound, the relationship of one place to another, accurate to the kilometre… well maybe ten, at this scale…
“You understand, don’t you?”
“Of course.”
“You’ll need another Michelin, a piece of board, some fuse-wires, drawing pins…”
“I’ll make you a map, OK.”

Early in the book Aurelie’s father, Didier sticks pins into a map of the London Underground, so she can visualise the route through it, and then makes her a map of sorts, of the stars - a book of blank astrological charts with each segment lined with fuse wire. “Some jewellery-maker friends fashioned a brooch for each of the star signs. He made a tactile protractor himself. A small toolbox housed more lengths of fuse wire, locating-pins and lumps of plasticine to help keep the delicate operations stable.” All of this made it possible for Aurelie to find her way amongst the stars, and to do astrological readings. But Didier too is caught in the darkness, in “a sombre dusk” that “fell on his soul” after the death of his wife and Aurelie’s loss of sight.

His eye was taken by a box of pins, the kind with multi-coloured plastic heads like little chess pieces, and he suddenly saw them, these commonplace trivia, in a different light. He bought a few boxes and, while Aurélie was out, dashed up to her old apartment for the London Undergound Map they’d left behind. He re-mounted it on corkboard, hung it in the hallway and stuck a pin in every station. On her return, he took her arm and led the middle finger of her left hand to the Western edge.
“I’ve brought your map back. Here.”
She boarded at Uxbridge on the Metropolitan Line, appearing perplexed at first. But she soon got the hang of it. She headed for Hillingdon. Bump… Ickenham. Ruislip. Bump… Bump… “Faster!” Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. By the time she hit the Circle Line, she was whizzing along. She went all the way round and then again. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump. Clackety-clack. Clackety-clack… Then she shot off up the Central Line... Clackety-clack. Clackety-clack… and alighted at Epping.

The plot of The Alchemy of Chance is structured around Aurelie’s and Dafydd’s search for Dafydd’s brother, Sean, who has been out of touch for years, and the search itself follows a cryptic set of directions Sean wrote on the backs of a few postcards. More maps, of sorts. Sean is another man wandering in darkness. When Aurelie reads his star charts she discovers he’s prone to “moments of darkness, where he is best left alone,” but those moments seem to have spread to cover too much territory.

So The Alchemy of Chance is a book about, among other things, the literally blind attempting to lead the figuratively blind out of the darkness, and one of the questions it raises is whether this is a possibility. Florence’s narrator, when he discovers that the mysterious someone who blinded him is also trapped in darkness, decides to stay there and keep her company. That’s one option.

**Cosmic Love, by Florence and the Machine
The London Tube in Darkness is by S. Mairi Graham-Shaw

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mountie at Niagara Falls by Salvatore Difalco

Anvil Press is pleased to announce the release of:

The Mountie at Niagara Falls and other brief stories
Salvatore Difalco

The Mountie at Niagara Falls is an astonishingly absurd and humorous collection of brief stories from Toronto author Salvatore Difalco. Ranging in length from fifty to seven hundred words, these vital and sudden fictional forays transport the reader to worlds both big and small: a land where green goats roam, voodoo dolls inflict crushing migraine headaches, a typographer from South Porcupine kills a potential love affair with a discussion of sans serif type, a benevolent judge imparts clemency on an admittedly violent man, and the road of experience turns this way and that for a truffle-snuffing boar and a talking cat.

These brief tales are alternately fantastic, humorous, menacing, contemplative, absurd, hallucinatory, violent, confessional, and always provocative.

SALVATORE DIFALCO currently resides in Toronto. He is the author of Black Rabbit & Other Stories (Anvil). His short stories, essays, book reviews, and poker columns have appeared in publications across Canada and the USA.

ILLUSTRATED BY FRANCESCO GALLÉ. Gallé is an established painter in Toronto and Italy. He was born in southern Italy in 1966 and like many Italians made his way over the ocean with his family in 1972 at the age of six. His work has been featured internationally from New York to Germany and Italy. He created several wine labels for Viticcio, Greppi and Fattoria La Loggia Wineries in the Chianti Region of Tuscany. He is represented in private collections throughout Canada, Italy, Germany and England.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lives of the Saints - Nino Ricci

Lives of the Saints
20th Anniversary Edition
Nino Ricci
illustrated by Tony Urquhart

Cormorant Books is thrilled to announce the release of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Governor
General’s Literary Award-winning novel Lives of the Saints. This hardcover commemorative edition features an introduction by Steven Hayward, paintings by renowned Canadian artist Tony Urquhart, and chapters not included in the original story. Nino Ricci also offers a brand new afterword examining the novel’s place in his own life and work.
Since its publication in 1990, Lives of the Saints has garnered ardent critical acclaim and become a Canadian classic. In addition to winning the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in 1990, the novel spent 75 weeks on The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list and won the Smithbooks/Books In Canada First Novel Award and the Bressani Prize. The novel has been published in 14 countries and interpreted into a four-hour mini-series starring Sophia Loren.
Lives of the Saints is set is the fictional Italian town of Valle De Sole, in which six-year-old Vittorio Innocente’s life is transformed when his mother is bitten on the ankle by a snake. Though she survives the venom, she suffers a strange swelling and the disdain of the scandalized villagers.The mysterious thing taking shape in Vittorio’s mother’s
belly could change everything.
Nino Ricci is the author of the Lives of the Saints trilogy, which includes the novels Lives of the Saints, In a Glass House, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Where She
has Gone. He is also the author of Testament (2002), winner of the Trillium Prize, and The Origin of Species (2008), winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.
Nino Ricci lives in Toronto with his wife Erika de Vasconcelos and their children.”

“An extraordinary story.” - The New York Times Book Review

“I cannot praise [Nino Ricci] too highly.” - Timothy Findley

“A gem of a novel.” - The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ravenna Gets by Tony Burgess

Anvil Press is pleased to announce the release of:
Ravenna Gets
Tony Burgess

From the author of Pontypool Changes Everything, Ravenna
Gets is a new collection of “wheeled” stories that continue the
author’s exploration of “apocalypse fiction.”
In a single convulsion of homicide, the population of Ravenna
tries to erase the population of Collingwood. The innocent,
standing in their living rooms, cooking in their kitchens, and
playing in their yards, are simply checked off by hunting rifles or
crossed out by farmers' tools.
There is one thing missing, however, as the bodies fall from
what might have been better stories, better novels, and it’s this:

Tony Burgess is the author of The Hellmouths of Bewdley, Pontypool Changes Everything, Caesarea, and Fiction For Lovers. His writing has been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines across the country. Most recently, Tony was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Pontypool. He lives in Stayner, Ontario.

Anvil Press

The Alchemy of Chance - Didier's Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

A guest post from our intrepid chef. In lieu of an eating tour of France, Janet is cooking her way through The Alchemy of Chance. We'll feature her recipes here on the blog and they'll be included in the enhanced digital version of the book.

"This meal, Sunday lunch, was a celebration of nothing more or less than the end of winter. All morning, Didier had been preparing the last of the season’s fare. His Jerusalem artichoke soup was kicked into life by the gratings of an earthy black truffle sent up from Périgord."

Besides a great read “The Alchemy of Chance” is a foodie’s dream of eating his or her way through France. I love the descriptions of the meals; everything is as it should be - wonderful food made simply with local, seasonal food. When I decided to attempt the recipes in the book I was committed to following Peter’s notion of using whatever ingredients were freshest and at hand so sometimes I have had to change a recipe because the ingredients he describes are not in season. Such was the case with the Jerusalem artichoke soup. He describes a wonderful soup resplendent with earthy black truffles; unfortunately truffles are not in season for another month here so I opted to use truffle butter instead. For a garnish I sautéed some wonderful small yellow foot chanterelles that are in season. The flavours were incredible. I think the idea is to change one’s recipes to suit the season so making changes to a recipe to suit what is available locally makes great sense. Of course if fresh truffles are available and you want to splurge the soup will be all the better for it, but this soup still has a wonderful truffle flavour and it won't hurt your pocket book.

Jerusalem artichoke Soup with truffles

4 Tablespoons butter (2 for the garlic and onions and 2 for the mushrooms)

1 clove of garlic chopped

1 small onion chopped

Approximately 1 pound of Jerusalem artichokes washed and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 1/2 cups of good chicken stock (homemade is best)

1/2 cup cream or use more chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

½ teaspoon truffle butter

½ cup of fresh wild mushrooms (whatever is in season) or ½ cup dried wild mushrooms such as chanterelles or small morels reconstituted in hot water

¼ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives

Melt the butter in a pan and sauté the garlic and onion until translucent. Add them to a medium pot with the Jerusalem artichokes and chicken stock and cook until the Jerusalem artichokes are soft (about 10 minutes).

While the soup is cooking add the 2 remaining tablespoons of butter to the pan and sauté the mushrooms.

When Jerusalem artichokes are tender, pour mixture into blender and process until smooth. Be careful when processing the hot liquid. When mixture is smooth strain it back into the pot to remove any lumps. Reheat soup adding cream if you are using it or additional stock. Add salt and pepper to taste and the truffle butter. Stir to combine.

To serve ladle soup into bowls. Add a tablespoon of sour cream to each bowl, and then place the mushrooms around the cream. Sprinkle bowl with finely chopped parsley or chives.

Bon Appétit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vs. by Kerry Ryan

Anvil Press is pleased to announce the release of:
Kerry Ryan
Vs. is a collection of poems chronicling a foray into the world of amateur boxing by a shy, bookish woman you’d never expect could hit someone in the face. Throughout these poems the author
reflects on what it means to be a woman and a boxer, as well as a poet and a boxer. Part instruction manual, part rationalization Vs. is ultimately about the fights, both mental and physical, we all must confront.
Kerry Ryan is a Winnipeg-based poet whose work has been published in literary journals across the country. Her first collection, The Sleeping Life, was published by The Muses’ Company in 2008 and nominated for the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry in 2009. In March 2009, she competed in, and won, a white collar boxing match.
Poetry • 5 x 7 IN • $16 can / us • 96 pp • 13-ISBN 978-1-897535-34-9
Publication date (on sale date): November 4, 2010
Anvil Press gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council, the BC Arts Council, and the Canada Book Fund for their support of our publishing program. Anvil Press is represented by the Literary Press Group and distributed by the University of Toronto Press.
CONTACT: Karen Green, Marketing Director
T: 604 876-8710 _ F: 604 879-2667 _ E: _

The Spring Ghazals - Review

I’ve been reading The Spring Ghazals as they have appeared on John Hayes’ blog, Robert Frost’s Banjo, but the experience of reading them in one place, at one sitting, has been very different.

A traditional ghazal, before we get into the particulars of John’s version, is a strict form composed of five or more couplets. The second line of each couplet ends with a repetition of one or a more words, immediately preceded by a rhyme. There can be no enjambment across the couplets of a ghazal and although every couplet may be a short poem in itself, there should be some continuity of thought or theme across them, often related to the overall theme of the ghazal tradition, which is lost or unrequited love.

The Spring Ghazals are not traditional examples of the form. Although composed of a series of couplets they don’t repeat at the end of every couplet, nor do they rhyme, the lines frequently run across couplets, and the couplets themselves, instead of maintaining a dignified independence, are linked by a forward rush of association and feeling. What they do share with the traditional ghazal, besides their basic format, is continuity of thought and theme, and that continuity is what gives the work its very distinctive tone.

Both the individual poems, and the section of the book featuring them, are riff driven. The poems are threaded with a series of motifs or phrases repeated throughout the work, as in a musical ostinato, always with the same weight and stress. The opening image of the willow -‘the willow’s limbs fidget’ - for instance, recurs in the same poem as ‘the breeze agitating the willow,’ then moves through the ghazal section of the book in variations - ‘blackbirds busy in the willow’s supple gesticulating branches.’ blackbirds trilling from willow limb to willow limb, sparrows’ staccato outcry in willows’ arms, the weeping willow’s yellow empty arms, a breeze shifting the willow‘s delicate boughs, the willow limbs’ gray resignation, the mourning dove’s coo in the beb willows.

When the book shifts from the ghazals into the kitchen poems the willow follows. In Macaroni and Cheese we find -
Yellow marimba mallets bouncing down a chromatic bass line the willow
tree you showed me where to plant is grown into goldfinches chirping
all May -
6 tablespoons of butter melting in a copper pot with
flour black pepper paprika
the willow’s leaves the china jade & honey agate rosary beads the
tree of life—time is moving chromatic & crisp & hollow
along the wooden keys...”

It reappears in some of the Grace poems, and in the Helix and Cloudland sections of the book, each time adding shape and unity to the work, in much the same way ostinati and riffs add unity to music that has departed from the structure provided by traditional forms.

January Morning is a good example of Hayes’ technique at work.

January Morning
the cow pond exhaling smoke at 6 degrees the blue gray fog an aquarium
miasma filled with sagebrush & emptiness
a face staring backwards & forwards in the blue gray frozen fog thru the
willow thru the cloud of juncos & sparrows & the sagebrush breaking thru
the snow on the round hill eastward
the rocks white the willow’s long hair black the poplars skeletal
a face staring backwards & forwards in a cloudy mirror & the mule deer
outside the window leaping the barbed wire without any effort the dazzling
flight of a magpie subdued in the freezing mist & white air
the chill is a teardrop mandolin tremoloed in its icy throat on a high octave E
& the crow’s bitter snow is a chill in the heart muscle a contraction
tho the air is blue & gray & opaque & the ridge to the east has sunk below
this sea of fog with its frosty water droplets distributing chill to the lungs
the cowpond exhaling smoke at 6 degrees the owl on the wing over the
skeletal grape vines the owl appearing to me each night its face a white fog
of feathers its wings knifing silently thru the white air soaring south
& the road is white with ice a frozen current swerving south without moving
a face staring in every cardinal direction seeing the white air the willow’s
long black hair streaked white with hoarfrost
a rheumatic shoulder the lungs an aquarium miasma filled with sagebrush &
emptiness the heart contracting its owls wings in the white white air
a face staring into a blue gray frozen ocean stitched with barbed wire
without a horizon
is it a new day

The poem circles like an accompanied canon in 5, a melody followed by imitations after a more or less given duration, as if a new voice enters each time the face reappears, to echo and augment the emotional bleakness, and the contrasting teem of life in the surrounding physical winter. It begins simply enough, with a pond exhaling smoke and fog, until a face emerges from the miasma, staring backwards and forwards, through time, it seems, as much as through space. Significantly the face looks ‘thru’ the world around it, through the fog, the birds, the sagebrush “breaking thru the snow on the round hill eastward,” the rocks, the willow, the poplar, iterating the landscape, and building momentum through the repetition.

In its second appearance, we learn the face sees the world in a cloudy mirror, and as if to heighten the contrast between its passive unreal view and the actual world, things suddenly move, in spite of impediment, with ease and grace. The mule deer leaps the barbed wire, the magpie takes flight into the freezing mist, and from somewhere a mandolin brings the latent music of the piece into focus, cutting, with its bright clarity, through the cloudiness, the miasma, the fog, and the white air with a sustained high octave E. Words, phrases, and images move in and out, and through the lines, changing slightly in look and intent. The face stares, by its third appearance, not thru the world, backwards and forwards in memory, but at it, and ‘sees’ for the first time “the white air the willow’s long black hair streaked white with hoarfrost” and everything else, including the emptiness of things and the contraction of its own heart.

In its final appearance, the face stares not into an obscuring fog but into the wide open emptiness of an ocean without horizon, “stitched with barbed wire.” This last image is a telling one. The mule deer leapt the wire earlier in the poem, without effort, and here it reappears like a form of embroidery on the water, like the wire spread over no man’s land, making an impassable barrier. The word “stitched” however, indicates that the face sees something ‘made,’ something worked, or wrought, and leaves us to draw our own conclusions about the nature of the emptiness and the impediments it sees.

There are echoes of the Genesis story woven into the last two lines of the poem, subtly reinforcig the idea of something made from emptiness - “without form and void,” as it were. “Without a horizon,” evokes the view of the world before the division of the waters and the question posed in the final line – is it a new day – recalls the refrain after each act of creation -“And the evening and the morning were the first (second third and so on) day.” The poem does not, I believe, intend to be ‘religious.’ It only alludes to the Genesis text to make an immediately recognisable point about how our ways of looking and seeing create the world we occupy, and to suggest an answer to the questions posed in another poem in the collection – “Is poetry living in memory or is it fetching memory into a present moment? Is it making a moment where past & present & future coalesce?”

January Morning is as romantic, in its own way as that most romantic poem, The Lady of Shalott. Baudelaire claimed “ Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling,” and the two poems, both dealing with a mind looking at the world as if “in a cloudy mirror,” have at least that in common. They also share a focus on the natural world as a foil for the outlook of the onlooker, tree imagery, repeated willow images, and a noticeable emphasis on looking and seeing, and on snow, cold, whiteness and cloudiness.

Once the Lady has taken the radical step of looking at the real world instead of its shadowy reflection she is undone. Tennyson describes her looking “like some bold seer in a trance, seeing all his own mischance,” which is the impression we have of the face in January Morning as it looks backwards and forwards. Both poems are, of course, about impossible love. The Lady of Shalott is destroyed by a glimpse of Lancelot and a world she cannot be part of, and we know the narrator of Hayes’ poem is looking at the same thing simply because he speaks to us out of the pages of a collection called Spring Ghazals, which is by definition about lost or impossible love.

The last thing the poems share is the created work. The Lady of Shalott spent her life weaving a tapestry of the world as she saw it, before she ventured to look out on the real world, whereas the face looking, first thru and then at a January morning, ends by seeing the embroidery of barbed wire he has stitched on the world. I am by no means suggesting that January Morning is a modern retelling of Tennyson’s poem, only that it is uses a romantic idiom to address the way we construct and address the world and it shares that aim, often to brilliant effect, with the collection as a whole.

The Spring Ghazals is available at Lulu.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Interview with John Hayes, Author of The Spring Ghazals

T.T. - You’re playing with the ghazal form here, adapting it, rather than adhering to its fairly strict traditional rules. What attracted you to it? Formal considerations? Thematic resonances?

J.H. - I suppose the only claim the poems in the “Spring Ghazals” section have to being ghazals at all—other than the fact they’re written in couplets—would be along the lines of thematic resonances. According to the definition of the form, ghazals (in addition to their strict formal construction) treat “melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions,” & in that sense, the poems certainly fit the definition.

Adrienne Rich wrote two ghazal sequences in the 1960s & 1970s: “Homage to Ghalib” & “The Blue Ghazals.” These poems, & especially “The Blue Ghazals” sequence, were an inspiration. In my reading, Rich is able to move fluidly thru time & space in her ghazals, & this appealed to me a great deal, as it has so much to do with the book’s central themes.

In formal terms, there seems a lot of potential for “space” in a poem composed of couplets. In a way, a couplet may seem more of a distinct unit than a longer stanza—the difference between a pithy quote & a paragraph. So in that sense, there seems to be more potential disjuncture & movement, both of which were important formal considerations.

T.T. - The landscape is everywhere in these poems, as is the wildlife. It pushes its way into the imagery of the pieces and also into the voice. Would you comment on the omnipresence of the natural world in your work? Is it as important in your non-writing life?

J.H. - W.D. Snodgrass has a line in his poem “Heart’s Needle” that states, “We need the landscape to repeat us.” This has always been true in my poetry. When I lived in Charlottesville, VA, I wrote a good deal of formal poetry in the midst of the formal gardens & brick walkways & trim dogwoods—& the landscape invoked in those poems was very much that of my surroundings. In San Francisco, my poems became distinctly urban—filled with cityscapes & on the whole quite gritty. Now I live in a rural location with almost shockingly picturesque scenery. The natural world is all around us in a sense that was not true in Charlottesville or San Francisco. In addition, my wife Eberle is a talented gardener, & so there’s a profusion of flowers on our property in the spring thru early autumn.

I love flowers & I love songbirds; we enjoy a diversity of birds in our location & I’m always fascinated to observe them. Temperamentally, however, I think I’m much more a town or city dweller than a country person. I’m always fascinated by juxtapositions, & I like to place the natural world alongside man-made objects—I think this is most evident in the “Helix Poems” section of the book.

T.T. - In my review I claim The Spring Ghazals is riff driven. The language and feel of music moves the verse in obvious and not so obvious ways. How would you describe the overlap between music and poetry in your work? What effect does one form have on the other?

J.H. - The “riff driven” comment is perceptive. There are of course the obvious references to musical instruments, to certain musical chords & tones. But I look at poetry as a highly improvisational art, & in that sense I often feel as tho I start with a theme & explore its permutations thru riffing. I’m also incredibly drawn to repetition both in my own work & in the work of other poets, especially when the repetition morphs into different shapes throughout the poem.

I do believe I have a good “ear” for verse—a good sense of verbal rhythm, which is connected to music. & I like verse that “sings” in some way—“verbal music” as it were. When I first read Robert Creeley as an undergraduate, I followed the path from his highly lyrical poems (in many senses of the word “lyrical,” including of course the idea of “song lyrics”) to Thomas Campion. Perhaps this was a logical conclusion for a child of the 1960s & 70s who listened to a lot of popular music at a time when all songwriters seemed to be Romantic poets. I also remember being quite taken by Pound’s writings on poetry & music when I was in graduate school, tho I now believe that Pound’s spin on how poetry is inextricably linked with music is ultimately just more of his reactionary politics couched in some otherwise interesting ideas.

Meanwhile, there has been talk of literally setting at least some of the poems in the book to music, & I’m open to that idea. Eberle is a talented composer & musical improviser & I’m pretty adept at the guitar. Eberle has a harmonium that I think might provide a wonderful background for some of the material, & of course a bass or bass guitar can always be interesting behind a voice.

T.T. - Some of your work, or perhaps most of your work to a greater or lesser extent, presents itself as an onslaught of sensory information, often an almost involuntary seeming synaesthetic tumble of information. “The past didn’t go anywhere’ is a good example. Sound triggers colour, triggers smell, triggers memory. You don’t necessarily mention all of this specifically, it’s as if the piling on of colour and sound make a brain connection that automatically evokes the smell, of grapefruit, of oranges, of iris or lilac, or dusty road, or horse manure. And often taste gets involved, as in the Kitchen poems in this collection, to mouthwatering effect. Would you comment on this tendency? Do you experience the world in this heightened way? You couldn’t possibly. You’d go a little mad. So what’s behind the device, if I can use do calculated a word?

J.H. - Yes, my poetry, for better or worse, does have its “onslaught” aspect! I believe some of this comes from formal considerations—I don’t like the way most punctuation looks in my poetry; I’ve long been obsessed with Charles Simic’s lines from his poem “errata”: “Remove all periods/They are scars made by words.” So there’s a breathless quality & a sense of fluidity—I hope! One has to sacrifice a bit to write with minimal punctuation, but at this point it’s the way my mind works when I’m in a poetic mode.

So, yes, if you have these very fluid & rarely ever end-stopped lines & you rely a great deal on sensory data (as opposed to abstract concept or pure language) to construct a poem, that sensory data may seem overwhelming. I also think this point goes back to the idea of poetic writing as improvisation; I try to start at a point & develop the idea in different directions.

As far as experiencing the world in this heightened way—no, in my day-to-day life I don’t. When I wrote poetry more frequently than I do now, there was perhaps one segment of my mind that did on an almost constant basis, but it was never as if my whole consciousness was processing sensory data this way. Another thing I believe is that when I do write poetry, in the actual time of composition, I am in a heightened or “distracted” state & there is some sort of tug between the internal & external “worlds.” As I look over the poem “the past didn’t go anywhere” that’s the tension I see—the tension between memory & the sounds & colors I’d absorbed thru observation (both active & passive) in the time around when I wrote the poem.

Your observation about going a “little mad” may explain why I don’t write poetry on any sort of regular schedule!

T.T. - “In every heart there should be one grief that is like a well in the desert.” Would you speak to the issue of poetry as a way, for both reader and writer, to deal with emotion? Poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, or as a spur, as the Wharton quote suggests, to writing. A kind of muse.

J.H. - I write from inspiration, it’s true. It’s not a fact I’m “proud of”—I can see that it might be much more effective to write in a workman-like, craftsman-like fashion. But the fact is, I’ve been writing in this way for a number of years & I’m now in my 50s; I don’t foresee this changing.

& I do believe in “the muse,” tho I also see that this belief has often been damaging to my life & relationships. When I say “believe,” I don’t say this in any apostolic way—I’m not like Robert Graves trying to convince everyone that “muse poetry” is the only “true poetry.” I think I mean it more in the sense of “accept the fact.”

At any rate, The Spring Ghazals as a series of poems written over time deal with sorrow, & they were written in a time of emotional turmoil, with sorrow being a major component. But I worry about sorrow as a muse because I do think Plato was onto something with his notion that poetry waters the passions. At a certain point, does sorrow—or whatever powerful emotion you’re dealing with in poetry—become an end in itself, necessary to keep composing? At what point is the poetry a release from this emotion? & do we sometimes artistically try to create an endpoint, an artificial moment in which the creation says, now there’s resolution? I mean, the prose poem “Grace #4” that ends the collection—& which was the final poem written—does that spell an end to sorrow? No. The sorrow continues. That’s the truth of Wharton’s quote. Such a sorrow is a well that can’t be drunk dry.

T.T. - If I remember correctly, you did a degree in creative writing at UVA. I can’t find my source for that, but I’ll proceed on the assumption that it’s true. What did a formal education in writing do for you as a poet, and for your work? Any downsides?

J.H. - Yes, I attended the University of Virginia in 1984 thru 1986, & received a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry writing. I studied with Charles Wright & Greg Orr, & while I don’t feel a great affinity for their work, I respect both men as poets, & found them helpful & congenial. I certainly feel as tho I learned from them, tho whatever lessons I absorbed have been absorbed thoroughly enough at this point that I’d be hard pressed to articulate them. Perhaps what was most important to me was the MFA setting outside the actual classes & workshops—I actually have mixed feelings about the whole “workshop” process, truth be told. But I met some remarkably talented peers during my time in Charlottesville—perhaps a half dozen or more—whose work & whose relationship to poetry was inspiring & formative. I still maintain a few of those friendships, & wish I maintained them all—in fact, I’m married to one of those people! I also believe that my work inspired them some too.

So the overall artistic climate was nourishing, but the lion’s share of that took place in diners & restaurants & bars & peoples’ apartments. As far as the MFA itself, I see it (& came to see it at the time as well) as ultimately conservative & fostering a certain sameness of voice & perspective. The MFA is of course, the de facto college creative writing teaching credential, & with so few real professorships available, there’s a drive to write what will be published in the right journals & what will win the right prizes. I found myself incapable of doing that, & as a result, wasn’t cut-out for the academic career I’d expected when I decided to purse an MFA. I don’t have any real regrets on that front, tho I believe my poetry, however idiosyncratic, is actually quite good & deserves a readership; & I realize more & more that I sacrificed some opportunities by following the path I did.

T.T. - Influences? Favourite poets?

J.H. - Many & varied: I love Apollinaire, & I continue to work on translating Alcools, which I hope to publish at some point. Ted Berrigan & Frank O’Hara are both big influences—Berrigan for his emotional directness & his amazing sense of movement in lines & O’Hara for his humor & vividness. I love Mina Loy’s poetry—I believe Love Song to Johannes is one of the great 20th century poems. Kenneth Patchen also has been a inspiration to me—I love the fact that Patchen was his own man, & I love the way he wrote. He, of course, also was interested in poetry & music—after all, he performed with Charles Mingus! Among the Modernists (besides Loy, who is somewhat of a special case), I like Stevens, especially when he’s having fun & not so much when he’s being sententious; & I actually do like Frost’s poetry! As far as more recent poets go, I’d probably mention Robert Creeley as well. & I certainly have been influenced by songwriter/poets like Patti Smith, Tom Waits & of course Bob Dylan. But I also believe music (apart from song lyrics) & film have been formative & influential on the way I write.

The Spring Ghazals is available at Lulu.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Alchemy of Chance - Aurelie and Oliver Sacks

“There’s one other possibility: visual conversion disorder. Used to be called hysterical blindness. This is where the brain, confronted by an overwhelming trauma, unconsciously disables optical functioning. If a victim witnesses events that she cannot process psychologically, the ensuing attacks of acute anxiety can trigger the brain into converting intolerable stress into a real physical state, effectively eliminating the stressor: sight.”
...“It’s a bit like amnesia then?”
“Think of it this way. Her eyes are in a coma.”

I ordered Oliver Sacks’ new book, “The Mind’s Eye” today, and was struck, while I was reading about it, by the neurological complications and challenges Aurelie faced in coming to terms with her blindness. In his book, Dr Sacks raises many questions about the nature of both seeing and not seeing. He discusses things directly relevant to Aurelie’s condition, and her coping methods - visual imagery and memory, the relationship between direct visual experience and remembered visual experience, the incredible enhancement of touch and the mental landscapes of blindness. I thought of Aurelie, lying in the grass with her eyes closed, listening to the world –
“Big birds squawked and flapped around in the trees; small mammals and birds stirred the undergrowth and fishes plopped the surface of the water, all against an orchestral backdrop of clicking insects. She wondered what it would be like to be on a mountain top. Would she hear the snow melt, the ice crack, the glaciers slide, the wind caress her face? Is wind noisy or does it make other things noisy? Is there a place on earth that’s truly silent? Not unless you’re dead. All that breathing and pumping and cellular movement, even when you think you’re still. “

In an interview with Steve Silberman, Sacks gives the example of a man who had lost his sight as a young adult, who said that when he read Braille, he didn’t feel it in his fingers, he saw it, reminding me of the game of scrabble Aurelie plays with Dafydd, on a tactile board. – Her fingers skipped lightly over the board, processing tactile information while her mind reached out to another tongue.
“It’s a bit like map-reading,” she said. “Graphic representation. It’s more than a quarter of a million years old. We’re hard-wired for it, for analogue information. With one of my hands on the hands of a clock, I can tell the time quicker than you can read one of those silly new digital things. And beat you at Scrabble while I’m doing it.”

I’ve been conducting an experiment since I first read The Alchemy of Chance, closing my eyes and trying to feel the Braille on the outside of hotel room doors, or on ATM machines, or trying to figure out what denomination the bill in my hand was. American and Canadian paper currency is all the same size but a customs officer pointed out that the numerals on the bills are raised, at least if the bill hasn’t been worn smooth. Try it. I wasn’t able to figure out the simplest arrangement of dots by touch, or tell a five from a twenty. The brain, it turns out, rewires itself to cope.

Sacks also talks about the way blind people deal with their disabilities, mentally, not practically, and mentions a religion professor who describes his blindness as “an authentic, autonomous world, one of the concentrated human conditions,” a close approximation of what Aurelie describes when asked if she thinks differently -
“Yes, I do have an expanded abstract realm and, if I’m not careful, I end up living in it much of the time... It’s cool and clear, a bit like I imagine outer space to be. But I’m not on my own. I guess some heavy-duty philosophers live out there most of the time.”
“Isn’t it depressing?”
“Not at all. It just is.”

Of course, a reader has no real need to know the scientific implications behind Aurelie’s condition, but the confluence of fiction and neurology does add another layer of interest and I look forward to learning more about it.

An interview with Oliver Sacks -

Monday, November 8, 2010

"The only thing I seem to learn from women is how little I have grown up..."

That Time Is Past - Work in Progress

"Perhaps Magnus has the right idea," shouted Felix through cupped hands.
"Get thee to a nunnery?"

Errands Into The Maze

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Étienne’s Alphabet by James King

Étienne’s Alphabetby James King
“King’s elegant prose reflects perfectly the restraint of the age, and his obvious passion for the details.”
The Globe and Mail

Life and art constantly imitate each other. Étienne’s Alphabet offers a true melding of the two. It is the fictional memoir of the late Étienne Morneau, a reclusive man so unremarkable that his death went unnoticed. In his room are discovered journals and boxes of drawings which show that Morneau was not the man many thought he was: instead of being cold and distant, he is eager and perceptive; far from being uninteresting, he is an artistic genius.

Morneau’s journal entries take readers on his transformative journey from orphanage child to bank-teller to artist. Arranged like a dictionary, yet written in a kaleidoscope of thought, Morneau’s memoir reveals the depth of his humanity and the uniqueness of his perception.

Étienne’s Alphabet is a celebration of life and of living, with an unforgettable protagonist who sees every moment as a miracle worth committing to canvas.

Few are as qualified to write on the subject of art and the study of life as James King, who has already received much recognition in both areas. He is the author of eight works of biography, the subjects of which include William Blake, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland and Farley Mowat. His biography of Herbert Read, The Last Modern,was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Interior Landscapes: A Life of Paul Nash was given The Yorkshire Post Arts Award for “the finest book
devoted to art history. King has delivered a book that is at once, thought-provoking, uninhibited, entertaining, and uplifting.”
James King has published two previous novels with Cormorant Books: Transformations and Pure Inventions.

Cormorant Books
Étienne’s Alphabet • James King
ISBN 9781897151877 • 5.5” x 8.5”
TPB w/ French Flaps • 320 pp • $21.00

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

George Elliott Clarke Nominated for Acorn-Plantos Award

Goose Lane Editions is honoured to announce that George Elliott Clarke’s acclaimed verse novel I & I has been nominated for the 2010 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry.

The Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry is awarded annually to a Canadian poet, based on a book published in the previous calendar year. The work is expected to follow in the tradition of Acorn, Livesay, Purdy, Plantos and others by being accessible to all people in its use of language and image. Past winners include Christine Smart, Ronnie R. Brown, Laisha Resnau, and Erin Noteboom, and Goose Lane authors Sharon McCartney and Brian Bartlett.

In the "Boogie Nights" era of the 1970s, Betty Browning and her lover, boxer Malcolm Miles, travel from the fog-anchored grime of Halifax, Nova Scotia, to sunburnt Corpus Christi, Texas, and back - meeting tragedy and bloodshed along the way. I & I smoulders with love, lust, violence, and the excruciating repercussions of racism, sexism, and disgust. Rastafarian for "you and me," "I & I” expresses the oneness of God and man, the oneness of two people, or the distinction between body and spirit. In George Elliott Clarke's hands, this existential aesthetic crystallizes in a love story of Gothic grit. The narrative gives this verse novel shape; the poetry makes it sing, straddling folk ballad, soul, and pop music, all the while moaning the blues. True to form, Clarke’s poetry throbs with musicality, echoing the rhythms of blues, jazz, and contemporary rock. The imagery is visceral at times, but this baseline is balanced by riffs of loveliness, eloquence, and glimmering light.

The winner of the 2010 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry will be announced on November 15, 2010. For further information on the Acorn-Plantos Award, please contact Jeff Seffinga at


George Elliott Clarke was born in Windsor , Nova Scotia , a seventh-generation Canadian of African-American and Mi’kmaq Amerindian heritage. He holds three degrees in English: a B.A. Honours from the University of Waterloo , an M.A. from Dalhousie University , and a Ph.D. from Queen’s University. In addition to being a poet, playwright, and literary critic, Clarke is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto . As a writer, George Elliott Clarke has published in a variety of genres: verse collections, verse-novels, verse-dramas, verse-operas, screenplays, and fiction. He has received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award among numerous other national and international awards and accolades. His poetry has been translated into Chinese, Turkish, and Romanian.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Poetry in Synchronicities

"These bizarre coincidences, these uncanny sequences of correlated images occur to everyone but what do they mean? What sustenance can we take from them? The poetry in synchronicities is a mystical and probably unknowable secret. It’s like the sign language of ghosts."
Glenn Haybittle, from The Sign Language of Ghosts