Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Robert Creeley, 1926-2005

Sad, sad day. If there's a single poet who's had the biggest impact on my poetry (or at least on my thinking about poetry), it's Robert Creeley, and I know there are many others who would say the same. The unflinching focus and engagement of his early work played a big part in my decision to make a commitment to poetry in the first place, and each of his newer books surprised me with the depth of its resonance.

I didn't have much contact with him, but when I chatted with him a few years ago after a reading at U of T he invited me to visit him "down the road" (he was living in Buffalo at the time). I didn't, thinking that, judging by the readiness with which he extended the invitation, there must have been many others who had received a similar one and that therefore it would be too much of an invasion of his privacy and too great a demand on his time. Wrong logic, I now realize, where he's concerned. I wish I had gone. "Company" is a word Creeley used extremely frequently. Company seemed to be something he relished and something with which he was extremely generous.

Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Site updates

I've been updating my main site. Added a review and a bio.

Also, if anyone knows why I'm getting that weird mouseover effect in Navigator and Firefox, please let me know.

Random notes

Did some writing by procedure this morning and thought the result "wasn't like me" (lots of name dropping, an appearance by Daffy Duck), but I guess that's part of the point. Was this palpable confirmation that brand (see Silliman) does play a role in writing? I hazard to state that taste does enter into almost all writing regardless of the mechanisms put in place to circumvent it. For example, we still, unless we're inhumanly disciplined, choose what sees the light of day, no?

Saw The World last night and wondered if commercial "art house" theatres have abandoned, with a few exceptions, the culturally vital film and invested entirely in Miramax landscape porn* and charming or quirky flicks about disfunctional families. I guess this happened a long time ago and I just didn't notice. Time for that Cinematheque membership? Do go and see The World if you can.

* Nothing against landscape in film itself. I love Terrence Malick's films of the 70s for instance.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Christina tells me there's glowing mention of this blog in the new issue of Word. Is this true? I can't find it at the Book City on Danforth, but, you know, we're way out east, so that could explain it.

Anyway, do I have to live up to something now? The pressure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Big idea, part 1

Okay, so here's my idea. A website dedicated to reviews, notes, and essays that assume that writing is a means of thinking (or that writing is thinking, or that writing contributes to thinking). These reviews, etc., would be cartographic rather than evaluative: they would discuss the implications of the work under hand rather than whether or not it's worthy of purchase (i.e., the site wouldn't be a consumer's guide). It would deal with poetry and prose and other artistic writing in all formats: books, chapbooks, magazines, broadsides, leaflets, performance, sound work, visual work, electronic work, etc., from a Canadian perspective (i.e., it would deal mostly with recent Canadian work, but not exclusively). There would be two components of equal prominence to the site: a "real time" component with "shotgun" reviews and accounts of books, readings, magazines, etc., as well as reading lists, notes, comments, and musings, and an edited (this includes copy edited) magazine component with solicited or proposed pieces. Obviously, the magazine component would adhere more closely to the focus outlined above.

Just toying with the idea now, but I'd appreciate any thoughts. Feel free to e-mail or comment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The hidden life of blogs

Posts saved in drafts are like thinking tucked away and savoured.

Also, apologies for not living up to my promise. Little sleep. Much fog.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Added to my reading list: Ted Berrigan, On the Level Everyday: Selected Talks on Poetry and the Art of Living

Coming between now and Tuesday, hard core blogging: my big idea, prepositions and conjunctions I have known, right wing losers and freaks, an insomniac at the Insomniac launch, more.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Tuesday night's triple-x Lex had a decidedly raw feel, thanks largely to various circumstances beyond the hosts' control: from the financial collapse of Jetsgo and the resulting stranding of featured reader Jill Hartman, to featured reader Dave Bidini's illness, which caused him to cancel. Bill and Angela were clearly thinking on their feet, and there was something exhilarating and refreshing about the spontaneity of the evening, though of course we felt the lack of the missing readers.

I've been thinking about how Jon Paul Fiorentino seems, in Hello Serotonin at least, to have identified the tendency toward ego staging in contemporary lyric poetry and replaced it with a mythologized poetic self distributed through various currents (linguistic, pharmaceutical, cultural). In his first fiction collection, Asthmatica, from which he read, he seems to have brought this tendency to the fore and to have connected it explicitly to a version of his own past and to a self-conscious projection of a writerly persona (i.e., Asthmatica sounded like a Poppy and somewhat fictionalized memoir that clearly suits and supports Fiorentino's current public self). He began his second excerpt as follows:
My parents sucked. They used to make me mow the lawn despite my lethal allergy to freshly cut grass. On a weekly basis, they made me wear a surgical mask, start up the old gas engine mower and mow the fucking lawn.
It's almost as if Fiorentino has transposed what occurs more quietly in his poetry to the level of public performance with his first book in a more popular genre. (I'm thinking, too, of other poets who employ the strategy of self-mythologization but without the self-consciousness and humour and who therefore, unlike Fiorentino, quickly become obnoxious in their demand that we read their work through their earnest projections.) Anyway, blah blah blah; what the hell am I talking about? Great reading. Fiorentino was joined by a drunken female heckler, who figured prominently in the rest of the evening.

Angela Rawlings read from Jill Hartman's manuscript-in-progress, the title of which I can't remember, that joined frequently somewhat erotic subject matter with an erotics of linguistic play. I've always thought of puns as being entirely unerotic, even goofy, but Hartman (and Rawlings) proved this notion wrong. The audience, of course, was amazing in adjusting to the slightly more serious (at least on the face of it) material, as a hush, with one exception maybe, fell.

Then Bill Kennedy read a Dave Bidini piece about the latter's violent on-ice encounters with Jim Cuddy in the Exclaim hockey league. I remembered an art show I saw this past fall in which the aesthetics and erotics of hockey were played out on a video screen without any sort of reference to competition. I wish I could remember the artist's name. Anyway, as happened during some of the readings at last month's Lex, the incidental music from the theatrical rehearsal in the back room fit perfectly with the Kennedy/Bidini reading. Hilarious and hilarious.

This was followed by a move to said back room (the rehearsal was over, and the back room is Lex's natural habitat), in which people hung out and chatted before the final featured reading of the evening. Saghi Ghahraman treated us to a challenging (and I'd even say iconoclastic) reading. The poems, one of which traced the speaker's desire to fuck her grandmother, were truly brave and beautiful, and I was struck by her use of repetition, which seemed, if such a separation is possible, more psychologically than linguistically motivated (something that startled me, which made me realize how immersed in language I've become). I have no doubt about the hush this time, and I think even the heckler recognized what's at stake in Ghahraman's work.

For a slightly less over-the-top account with beautiful pictures, please click here. Halim's post differs from mine in a few key places (i.e., I seem to have perceived more eroticism than she has), which makes me feel a little self-conscious.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Another joke that isn't funny in the slightest


Here's something that is pretty funny: The Alphabet Party.

Account of Tuesday night's Lex in the works. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hard core blogging 1

Things I've been meaning to ask people:

Hugh Thomas: Hugh is a mathematician and poet whose areas of research are algebraic combinatorics and algebraic geometry. I'm curious to know, especially in light of the fronticepiece of his chapbook, Mutations, what sort of thinking he's done with respect to geometry, grammar, and syntax. I tend to think of grammar spatially, and I wonder what sorts of ideas mathematics could bring to this thinking. I also wonder if Hugh has read much Clark Coolidge.

Rachel Zolf: Rachel is, I believe, working on a manuscript that involves a critique of "plain language" in the context of bureaucratic writing. I remember when Darren Wershler-Henry and I were discussing type faces for my book, I surprised him by telling him I'd been thinking of my writing as more bureaucratic than humanistic. This, I suppose, had to do with the fact that much of Said Like Reeds or Things engages my work as a copy editor. I like the idea of somehow bringing my writing and paid work closer together, of processing my paid work through my writing, and I'm guessing that Rachel has some good ideas in this regard.

(Sidenote: I think also that questions relating to how other poets make ends meet are interesting, not only in that they might yield some practical ideas relating to jobs but also because I'm curious to know if, how, and why people impose a barrier between their writing and what they do for money, considering that the latter, for most I imagine, takes up a significant portion of their lives. Escape is, of course, a valid approach. So is just not thinking of work when writing. I want to move further toward some form of realism though, and I figure negotiating the relationship between my work and writing is an important part of it.)

This is meant to get me moving on these questions. I'll ask Hugh and Rachel directly. I've been delaying though, possibly because I'm aware that the discussions these questions could give rise to would set me well on my way toward a new project. The blocks we put in our own way, eh.

Coming soon: an account of last night's Lexiconjury reading.
Okay, so maybe this blog is going off the rails or maybe it's just peetering out. I've heard that people are actually reading this, so I'll try to inject some life into it. I find the format a little frustrating given what I want to blog about (reading, etc.), but I can't seem to get WordPress to work for me. In the next few weeks I'll apply myself to the task of installing it. I hope I'll end up with a design that will make the blog more interesting and useful to me and to you, dear reader.

In the meantime, get set for hard core blogging.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Began working on a visual piece called "Three Essays on the Line." Reminded of my attraction to the visual aspect of small groups of words on a single line and my interest in disrupting the vector-like element of this arrangement, its connotation of speed, sleekness, and unidirectionality, which, I admit, I also find attractive. I guess the key though is satisfaction.

The intersection of the visual and the lexical.

This is becoming a refrain, isn't it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Triple-X Lex tomorrow night

Yes, that's right. Lex is thirty (i.e., tomorrow night is the thirtieth installment of Toronto's best and most interesting reading series). And to celebrate, the good people at Lex mission control have put together a special evening of erotic readings by Dave Bidini, Jon Paul Fiorentino and Saghi Ghahraman. I'm a prude, but I'm going anyway. See you there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005, 8pm
The Cameron House (Queen/Spadina)

Read on:

In the flood of news about the Jetsgo bankruptcy you may have missed a smaller, though equally important item, one that’s relevant to everyone who cares about the literary arts: for the 7th straight year literature has lost vital ground to pornography.

The results of a joint Lexiconjury/Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday are startling: 83% of Canadians admitted to encountering some form of pornography 2004, but only 7% said the same about literature. The 76% gap is up 3 percentage points from the same poll conducted last year, and up 22% since it was first conducted in 1998. “It’s fairly obvious that Canadian literature is losing public mindshare to pornography”, says Marlene Purdy, Senior Vice-President of Marketing Research at Ipsos-Reid and lead author of the survey. “It’s also clear that all those involved in the Canadian literary industry better make some drastic changes in its approach if it wants to stave off irrelevance and compete with the growing demand for porn.”

This disturbing trend away from literature is evident in other literary sectors as well. Just this week Television Ontario replaced its venerable book-oriented show Imprint with Zalman King’s Erotic Journeys, hosted by TVO veterans Irshad Manji and Steve Paikin. “We cancelled Imprint with regret” says Nancy Chapelle, Managing Director of TVO, “but our mandate is to expand the reach and scope of our network. We believe that intelligent travel erotica is our only prudent way forward”.

Chris Chambers, Retail Accounts Manager of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association, is quite concerned. “We began to take notice last year when sales of poetry journals Rampike and Exile both dipped below On Our Backs, a magazine of lesbian-oriented erotica. Even the niche porn players are outpacing mainstream poetry. All I can say is that the poets better wake up.”

While other literary outlets may be taking this one lying down, The Lexiconjury Reading Series is always up for a challenge. This is why we’re inaugurating three new literary initiatives in honour of our thirtieth show, initiatives we believe will bring the minds, hearts and loins of our constituents back to fine writing. It’s with pleasure and a naughty bit of pain that we introduce...


Tuesday, March 15, 2005, 8pm
The Cameron House (Queen/Spadina)


Dave Bidini, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Saghi Ghahraman and a short cover reading of the erotic works of Jill Hartman by your hosts Bill Kennedy and Angela Rawlings, sponsored by Jetsgo!

There will be a super-brief open michelle.


A reader takes to the stage. The men and women of the crowd whoop and clap. The reader pulls out a manuscript and waves it sensually and tantalizingly, slowly peeling off the first poem.

Yes, writers have rediscovered burlesque and are working to make the performance genre their own. Not since Ernest Hemingway’s famous 1926 reading with Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergere in Paris has interest in the art form been so strong.

It’s the literary burlesque and it’s back, thanks in no small part to Dave Bidini. “I was doing some research on the history of erotic hockey literature for my latest collection of short stories, and discovered the tradition of the literary burlesque quite by accident. It’s a little-known fact that Ted Kennedy, Tim Horton, Harry Lumley and other Toronto Maple Leafs used to go for after-game beers at John Robert Columbo’s literary burlesque show at the Bohemian Embassy in the fifties.”

Bidini finds that today’s writers are far too straightforward, and have lost the subtlety, theatricality and glamourous costuming of days past. “Audiences are tired of the full-out spoken word approach and want a little mystery and metaphor in their writing”.

Not everyone agrees. “A lot of writers, like Milton Acorn, turned to literary burlesque at a young age as a way of escaping poverty”, says Acorn biographer James Deahl. “They didn’t have much choice”. Bidini disagrees: “some people think burlesque demeans writers, but those who know their history know otherwise.”

Tawdry exercise or classic art form? Find out when Bidini brings his Literary Burlesque Revue to the Lex!


Here’s a letter from John Paul Fiorentino to our latest Lexiconjury Forum. Please send your Forum letters to .

I love reading the Lexiconjury Forum, but never imagined that I would have an experience worth writing to you about. I’m a poet and novelist, and there’s a reading series in my city that I’ve often attended. I’ve always been attracted to this series, especially with its large and playful audience, but I can be very shy and never thought I’d get my own chance to read. Boy was I surprised when an invitation appeared in my inbox asking me to take the stage... “and you better bring your best poems!” it said.

I was so excited. I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. When it finally did I was completely nervous and worried that I’d freak out and end my set prematurely. When I did get there, however, the audience was very reassuring and quickly put me at my ease. They were warm with their applause, and it was clear that they wanted me up on stage. They were more than willing to listen. In fact, they were desperate to hear my work.

“I’ve been waiting for this reading for a long time”, I began, and it was clear that they had too. I quickly moved into a few short lyrics, teasing them with my long lines and penchant for ambiguity. Their applause spurred me on, and I could feel my resolve stiffening. They were open to anything, but I knew they wanted my longer work. I was enchanted - i had never encountered an audience so strong, yet so yielding to my writing.

I could feel their anticipation, so I quickly slid into my best short story, stopping only to give them a few rousing anecdotes. The story was intense and sometimes crass, but it’s always been crowd-pleaser. The audience was selfish, taking all I could give them, and yet somehow knew all the right moments to respond. It was honestly the best audience I’d ever read to. I knew I was coming to my time, and the host subtly whispered for me to finish up. When my story reached its climax the audience knew it, and burst in thundering applause. I couldn’t help but shudder - I’ve never done a reading like that, ever.

The best thing about it is that I know I'll be back one day for an encore...

Name Withheld By Request


Some people wonder about how to break into the world of literary erotica. Many people have a desire to write lit-porn, but are surprised when their work turns out to be eminently unarousing. “I’ve tried everything”, says one writer who prefers to remain anonymous. “My latest story had it all, 16 different metaphors for genitalia, vague images of sexual yearning, two meditations about nakedness and intimacy and a bittersweet star-crossed ending. I was so demoralized once I finished: after all that work it was COMPLETELY unsexy. It wouldn’t stir a single loin.”

Saghi Ghahraman understands. She found the same in her early work, and wondered what she was doing wrong. It turns out that her error was neither her artistry nor her technique - it was her stationery. “It’s true. Many people don’t realize that the only was to write sexy erotica is to use sexy stationery” Ghahraman insists. “It was a revelation to me.”

That’s why Ghahraman opened up The Dipping Quill, Toronto’s first ever erotic stationery store. It features a full line of pens and paper solely designed to enhance erotic impact. “The first thing is to turn off your computer” Ghahraman recommends. “No one has ever written anything sexy in Microsoft Word. It’s the first mistake that beginners make. Anais Nin never used a computer.”

Next, the would-be erotica writer should plan on investing in the right equipment. “I can get someone started for under $200”, says Ghahraman. What would a beginners erotic stationery kit look like? “You need at least three proper pens. I’d recommend the Sheaffer Prelude ($75), which is great for warming things up. You also need a good Oblique nib, preferably a pen with a deep reservoir and a quality built-in piston.” Lastly, you’ll want a good all-around pen designed for action. “This one, ‘The Single Entendre’, is my favourite.” says Ghahraman. “It’s got the perfect weight, a discreet shaft, and gets the job done.”

Ghahraman will have a number of pens on display at the Lex. She’ll also lead a short seminar on choosing the right paper. The amount of absorption is a key factor. “If your erotica is particularly hot I recommend a high-blot paper. It reduces cleanup problems afterwards.”

News and Notes
• Jetsgo, you fuckers. One of our Triple-X Lex readers, the fabulous Jill Hartman, is now the holder of a worthless Jetsgo return ticket from Calgary and had to cancel her readings. We apologize profusely, and are as disappointed as you. Jetsgo you suck.
• While we’re all apologetic, sorry about the super-late flyer. Please come anyway. Erotica, people, erotica!
• We’re just kidding about the burlesque. Please don’t take off your clothes, however sensually.
• We can’t believe we’re thirty! Yikes!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

But then again, it's a bit ridiculous to say that inquiry isn't a form of consumption itself, isn't it?
Does consumption just exist alongside inquiry? Probably not. I suspect consumption consumes the possibility of inquiry. To a large degree.

Friday, March 11, 2005

"Just because a book is not a current best-seller doesn't mean it's not important"

Much hoopla about the impending cancellation of the TVO show Imprint. I know I'm supposed to be a good sport and everything, but I've always found the show exceedingly lame (well, except for the time Lisa was on). Here's an excerpt from an e-mail message someone on the Lex list received from TVO:
We also plan to look at other ways to leverage the years of excellent work and programming that have gone into Imprint. We are sure there are many book clubs and avid readers out there who would like to be able to go onto the TVO website and find information on key books. Just because a book is not a current best-seller doesn't mean it's not important -- and we can play a valuable role by helping people find out more about some of the world's best books and authors. So, that's just one of the ideas we're working with to see how our viewers can continue to benefit from the many years we have invested in this program.
Is it just me, or is this person doing a bad job of reining in his or her inner Casey Kasem now that the show is destined for the dumpster? This message goes a long way toward confirming my suspicion that the show is all about the consumption of books and only incidentally about reading as some form of self- or community-directed inquiry (of course I don't mean to deny pleasure a role).

In the interest of being a not-so-grumpy guy, I'll post info. about something you can do if you like the show:


After 16 seasons, the Gemini-award winning series Imprint is being nixed by its parent, provincial education broadcaster TVO. Imprint is the longest-running series about books, writers and publishers in this country, and one of only three available on public (as opposed to subscriber-based) television.

Although revenue from the province is not decreasing, a large percentage of TVO?s provincial funding this year has been ear-marked for educational initiatives, rather than on-air programming, reducing TVOntario's operating budget by 4.7 million dollars. Imprint is one of the first two casualties in the broadcaster?s plan to prioritize revenue generation in 2005/6.

As writers, people in the publishing industry and patrons and supporters of the arts, we understand the social, cultural and educational importance of publicly accessible programming about books, publishing and ideas. As taxpayers, furthermore, we have the right to express opinions as to how our dollars are (not) spent.

I hope that you might join other interested parties by adding your signature to the letter below. You can add your name by sending an e-mail by next Monday (March 14th) at 5 p.m. to: stating your name and, if you choose, your profession or affiliation. And please forward this message to anyone you think might share this concern.

With thanks,

Camilla Gibb

March 15, 2005

Dear Ms. Bassett,

We the undersigned are writing to express our profound dismay at TVO?s very regrettable decision to cancel its award-winning show IMPRINT.

As writers, people in the publishing industry, and patrons and supporters of the arts, we have depended on IMPRINT as one of very few publicly available programmes that provide a focused forum for intellectual discourse based on books published in this country and abroad. In showcasing the work of both visiting and resident writers of considerable influence, as well as introducing cutting-edge work by new and emerging writers in this country, IMPRINT has occupied a unique and fertile niche, one perfectly in line with TVO?s commitment to producing distinctive, educational programming.

Given the provincial government?s stipulation that more expenditure be geared toward educational initiatives, we are astonished that IMPRINT should be cancelled. Simply put: what could be more educational than books? If you believe in TVO?s responsibility as a public educational broadcaster to promote learning, literacy and curiosity about the world then this is a decision that strikes us as short-sighted at best. If our literature? fiction or non-fiction?is not recognized for its cultural, social and educational importance, then Canada will be in a sorry state.

If the bottom line is one of revenue and viewership, IMPRINT could have better served you, and been better served by you, by being positioned anywhere other than opposite the CTV News and Jon Stewart?s The Daily Show. That?s simply fatal positioning.

We urge you to reconsider. We can assure you there is a demand?a very public demand, as you will see from the list of signatories below?for programming focused exclusively on books and book matters.

Respectfully yours,

Cc/ Canadian Media Guild

The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario Minister of Culture

Great openings

From Sheila Heti's newly available first novel, Ticknor:
There were no books when I was a boy. Books were hardly accessible, yet there were some books.
I think I will soon buy my first new hardcover book since..., well, I can't remember.
(Via Mr. Heti)

Monday, March 07, 2005

File under more of the same

Here's what the Bush administration's nominee for ambassador to the U.N. said recently:
The number three at the State Department, John Bolton, even said: "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States."

My vote for the most frequently abused word of this day and age:


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Timothy Yu, who, by the way, has recently arrived in Toronto, writes the following in a post about his quitting the Poetics list:

I have to say a few words about the particular ways in which Asians get talked about on this list, which I would argue has everything to do with the peculiar, at times even pathological, relationship American poetry has with Asian culture. For the past hundred years (and longer), Asian cultural influences have played a role in some of the most significant breakthroughs in American poetry, from Pound and Moore to Rexroth, Ginsberg and Snyder. But for some American writers, this fascination has become a kind of appropriation--a claim to insider knowledge of Asian culture that turns the West into the privileged interpreter of the meanings of the East. The insidious implications of this dynamic are evident from discussions on this list, where members defend stereotyped and even racist images of Asians by pointing to their own personal experiences in Asia. It's a gesture that's particularly frustrating for Asian Americans, who often find themselves being treated as merely attenuated examples of "real" Asians (as opposed to an ethnic group with a particular history in the U.S.) and lectured on the true meaning of Asian culture by white men who have traveled to Asia. (It's not the resident of China or Japan who is most likely to be affected by an ethnic slur, but the person of Asian ancestry in the U.S.) As more and more young Asian American writers appear on the scene, the American avant-garde is going to have to reevaluate the terms of its romance with Asia.

Peter Culley on being a warm-up guy

I'd been a little nervous all week. Poetry audiences, I could by and large handle, but the crowd that was to gather at the Cambrian Hall that Thursday would not be there to hear me speak, but, on the night before the opening of his much-anticipated VAG retrospective, to hear Rodney Graham sing. The essay that I was to read as an extended "introduction" had seemed wispy and insubstantial when I'd finished it; but as I checked and rechecked it in my bag it felt leaden, sodden with toner, long.
(more: via Peter Culley)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Found this while looking for a video of the Replacements' 1986 alcohol-soaked extension of a middle finger to mainstream success (a little too much Cult for my liking, but there you go).