Monday, 27 December 2010
Sixty years ago, under a small tin-roof shack in Louisiana, a young Buddy Guy wailed on a two-string wooden guitar, to his slumbering family and neighbour’s dismay. Now, with 74 years behind him, Buddy has become the guitar hero’s hero with legends like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton hailing him as a major influence to sculpt their own sound. The 2010 release of Buddy's latest semi-autobiographical album, Living Proof, establishes his standing as one of history's greatest blues musicians whose unfaltering vigour continues to transcend over the ever-changing fashion of music. Just listen to the first minute-and-a-half of the album’s first track, “74 Years Young”, and witness Buddy forcibly propel through traditionally languid blues riffs with a solo ferocious enough to destroy an eardrum.
Living Proof is a celebratory album through which Buddy narrates his life story with the help of Tom Hambridge, who co-wrote the lyrics, while the two were traveling on the road. In “Thank Me Someday”, Buddy recounts his family’s fury as he taught himself how to play a self-made guitar on a cotton plantation during his youth. Now, he boasts of reaping the gratitude of his family for his supreme success in music, guided solely by his undying devotion to the blues. The album touches upon themes of mortality and the inevitability of death in the gospel-tinged tracks “Everybody’s Got To Go” and “Stay Around A Little Longer”, a song featuring another blues giant, BB King. In “Stay Around A Little Longer”, BB King and Buddy express their mutual admiration for each other and congratulate one another on sustaining a successful career throughout the years while maintaining their brotherly friendship. Carlos Santana also makes an appearance on the track “Where the Blues Begin”. Although Santana's sound offers a smoother contrast to Buddy’s raging electric guitar sound, Santana simplifies his solos so as not to pompously overshadow, instead he pays reverence to one of his biggest influences.
Although it may seem that Living Proof is Buddy Guy’s valedictory album and like BB King, may be anticipating his own retirement soon, the album doesn’t seem to represent Buddy’s saying goodbye. Take his word for it: “Tonight, I feel like I’m 21. I’m 74 years young!” With a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, surely Buddy still has the hustle to run for many more miles.
Buddy Guy - 74 Years Young
Thursday, 23 December 2010
T. S. Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri, with a congenital hernia which kept him quiet as a child and out of school until he was seven or eight years old. Eliot remembers these years and the years that he attended Smith Academy and then Milton Academy in New England as happy times. After this, Eliot concentrated on philosophy, especially Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, as a student at Harvard University in order to know the truth not only of the age but of life as a whole. After his studies at Harvard were complete, Eliot transferred to Merton College in Oxford, England, where he met Vivienne Haigh-Wood, whom he married on June 26, 1915. But by the end of 1915, Vivienne took ill, an event that was the beginning of health problems for both of them.
In the early years of his first marriage, Eliot would visit churches to admire their beauty; in later years, he visited them for the sake of peace, contemplation, and spiritual refreshment. Ambition seemed to deepen his sense of marital guilt and, in 1926, while visiting Rome with his brother and sister-in-law, Eliot surprised everyone by kneeling before Michelango's "Pieta." "Here was a spiritually humble, contrite man ritualizing his acceptance of a higher authority." According to Peter Ackroyd, Eliot had a sense of tradition and an instinct for order within himself and found the church and faith gave him this security within a life of frustrations and struggles. "He was aware of what he called 'the void' in all human affairs--the disorder, meaninglessness, and futility which he found in his own experience; it was inexplicable intellectually . . . and could only be understood or endured by means of a larger faith." Eliot's faith continued to grow and on June 29, 1927, he was baptized in the Anglican-Catholic church. This great event in Eliot's life was done privately and behind closed doors. On the next day Eliot was confirmed by the Bishop.
"Journey of the Magi," the first in a series of poems Eliot later grouped together as the Ariel Poems, was published in August of 1927 shortly after his baptism. Caroline Behr suggests that this poem reflects Eliot's state of mind in transition between his old and new faiths. As Lyndall Gordon suggests, "Journey of the Magi" is one part of Eliot's conversion story in that it tells about his being "ill-at-ease in the 'old dispensation' after his conversion."
It has been reported that Vivienne was against his conversion and this added to their marital problems. In 1933, Eliot separated from Vivienne and then, in 1949, while working for Faber and Faber, Eliot met Valerie Fletcher, whom he would later marry. After hearing a recording of "Journey of the Magi," Fletcher had been drawn to Eliot and knew she had to get to know him. From 1957 to his death on January 4, 1965, Eliot's life with Valerie Fletcher was happy and peaceful.
According to Ackroyd, "Thomas Stearns Eliot, in his last years, declared that there had been only two periods of his life when he had been happy--during his childhood, and during his second marriage." Eliot's baptism and writing of "Journey of the Magi" come in between these periods of happiness during times of struggle and uncertainty. (written by Alice Lombardo)
Journey of the Magi
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Leon Rooke has written, what’s been called, by some, an extraordinary novella Pope and Her Lady (Exile Editions, 2010). The story is about a lesbian couple, Pope and Mady, one accused of killing the other with a pipe, that is seemingly never recovered. In many ways it is a dark comedy, as Rooke expertly incorporates into his story the filth of the Glasgow streets with an uncanny linguistic transfusion of language that often times befuddles the reader, although masterfully empowering his characters somewhat, with a strange proficiency.
With prophetic flare, Rooke writes of Pope’s interrogation by police: Aye, a fine upstanding queer chippie, so we’re telt. Built, we’re telt. Tarty tae some eyes, we’re telt but. That how come you tae bosh her wi the pipe Pope? Pope ye are compelt tae answer, the machine cannay read silence. It were a crying shame, the nowI think on it. Her quitting the fags. When look what happent. It isn’t fair, it int, though that’s life. That’s yer scrimmage, life. Fair donay mean shite, I mean look at me here in this fix, it werenay fair to neither of us. No I was expecting fair, woman in my shoes an eejit to expect fair. Hand me the moon, ye see what I’m saying? Ye lost us Pope. What moon? What the fuck’s she saying Jack?
The book, for the most part, is an unspectacular read, although Rooke does manage to reel the story in from time to time, clarifying little, yet suggesting that his reader has entered into dangerous terrain by shunning the familiar, the conventional, and the commonplace.
rain rain rain, rain and cold, naything to blow yer nose on, yer feet icy, it’s horrific horrific, donay look now but aye Pope ye’ve come doon with sumptin.
Pope and Her Lady is indeed strange, experimental, startling at times, and a relevant piece of literature, but in the end it refuses to shine.
Leon Rooke has published over thirty books. He has written novels, short stories, poems, and plays. His recognitions include a Governor General’s Award for Shakespeare’s Dog, a Paperback Novel of the Year Award for Fat Woman, the Canada-Australia Prize, the North Carolina Award for Literature, the W.O. Mitchell Prize, and two ReLits (fiction and poetry). He is also a painter; the cover of Pope and Her Lady is one of his recent works.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Julie Roorda is the author of three volumes of poetry Eleventh Toe (2001), Courage Underground (2006), and most recently Floating Bodies (2010), all published by Guernica Editions. She has also published a collection of short stories called Naked in the Sanctuary (Guernica Editions, 2004) and a novel for young adults Wings of a Bee (2007) published by Sumach Press. She has been a winner of The Fiddlehead’s annual fiction contest, a finalist for the Confederation Poets Prize and the K.M. Hunter Artists Awards among others, and has published work in several literary journals across North America. She lives in Toronto.
Her most recent poetry collection Floating Bodies traces both the macabre and ecstatic, probing the body by means of metaphysics and transcendence through pure sensuality. Roorda’s poetry describes the disintegration of story that occurs in the face of false love or faith, revealing the ironies, the non sequiturs, the sacrifice. Floating Bodies is both witty and bereaved, managing to interweave the complexities of intimate and public moments, yet asking the same question: can suffering be said to have meaning?
why would angels walk
across the pedestrian bridge
that spans the Gardiner Expressway?
Is there something to be gathered
from the gridlock of cars below failing
to sail over the guardrail,
or from the wheelchair accessible
ramp that descends at bridge’s end?
There is the Palais Royale Ballroom
on the lakeshore, where these
angels will require ties
to be admitted, and the question is not
the number of angels dancing
nor the dimensions of the floor. Here
precision of footwork is paramount:
tango and rhumba, foxtrot and jive.
And if the odd feather pokes
out from under a silk strap -
this is the nature of every misgiving,
every slip on the gleaming
waxed wood, reflective
as the surface of the lake
and just as solid – the possibility
of a wing unfurled to catch
you when you trip. Novice,
it is an invitation for lift-off:
“Stand on my feet.”
TTQ- What inspired you to write Floating Bodies (Guernica Editions, 2010) and in what ways has this collection of poetry provided more insight to your readers regarding the question: can suffering be said to have meaning?
JR- It seems to me that suffering and ecstasy are really two sides of the same coin. But while people rarely ask the meaning of pleasure, suffering frequently evokes an intense desire to understand why. In Floating Bodies I wanted to explore the intersection of the two, the paradox by which they both transcend and trap us in our bodily senses, the way they both demand surrender.
TTQ- The term Stockholm Syndrome is used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings toward their captors that appear to be irrational thoughts because the victim is in danger. You write in your poem Stockholm Syndrome: Vulnerability corrupts. The lure/ of no responsibility. Confinement can be remarkably freeing....When you attempt to extract the truth/ from my fingernails, remember I've interrogated/ them often myself with my own teeth. What intrigued you so much about the Stockholm Syndrome for you to write a poem about it and is there a particular incident that inspired the poem?
JR- The poem “Stockholm Syndrome” is not meant to refer literally to a particular incident. Rather I use it metaphorically to evoke certain qualities of the relationships that intertwine throughout the collection, between self and lover, self and society, and self and the divine (however one might define the latter.) What fascinates me is our complicity in our own captivity, our willingness to grant another power over ourselves, our failure to take a stand to prevent it. It is a surrender that in some contexts elicits ecstasy. In others it is primarily destructive.
I am particularly dismayed – and some of the other poems in the collection explore this -- by the readiness with which we as a society are giving up hard-won rights to privacy and liberty for the sake of some illusion of security. The saying, of course, is that power corrupts. But it is through the complicity of the weak that the most destructive power accrues, which is why I wanted to turn the idea on its head and explore how it is that vulnerability corrupts.
TTQ- Floating Bodies is your third collection of poetry along with a collection of short stories Naked in the Sanctuary, and novel Wings of a Bee. Do you consider yourself a poet first and how different is your writing process when it comes to writing a collection of poetry versus a collection of short stories or a novel? Which genre is the most difficult for you to write and why?
JR- I find it necessary to write in a variety of genres – I would get bored if I didn’t. Different genres offer different, complementary modes of inquiry into whatever it is I am trying to understand. So I do not consider myself primarily one or the other. Writing poetry is more difficult within a given slice of time; you can’t write your way into something, following a thread, the way you can with narrative prose. With poetry you’ve got to muscle images and ideas in your head, and sometimes smash them together to figure out what’s going on. It is more strenuous and often, literally, makes my head hurt. Writing a whole novel is a much bigger endeavour, and weaving all the different threads and pieces together is ultimately just as difficult; the difference is that you can work on a novel, return to it day after day and find a flow without always having to hold everything together in your brain at once.
TTQ- How important is reading your poetry live in front of an audience to you and in what ways does it help you personally with your writing? Did you read many of the poems from Floating Bodies at poetry readings prior to the book being published and did it help at all with the editing process?
JR- Reading to an audience is one of the best/only ways to promote one’s poetry. Small publishers have extremely limited marketing budgets, and people rarely buy books of poetry unless they’ve had a taste of what is between the covers and been moved by it, so it is essential to developing an audience.
I do not usually read works-in-progress to an audience. When I read to an audience, I consider it a performance, and it is important to me that it be polished and effective. However reading work aloud to myself, figuring out the phrasing, where to breathe, etc. can be very helpful to the editing process; it exposes deficiencies and problems I might not otherwise notice.
TTQ- What is your opinion of the current state of poetry in Toronto? What changes would you like to see implemented in order to excite non-traditional readers of poetry to become more accepting of the genre and start reading it?
JR- The poetry scene in Toronto is vibrant and a remarkably large number of books of poetry are published here. It is possible to attend a launch or a reading every night of the week, but audiences and readers are usually comprised of the same small circles of people.
I think the best way to expand poetry’s readership would be to close the gap between the urge to write poetry and the inclination to read poetry. The urge to write poetry is a natural one, like the urge to sing or make music, and very easy to excite in people of all ages, from young children and teenagers – especially teenagers – to adults of all ages. Yet for some reason, many of these would-be poets don’t see the connection to reading poetry; don’t see that reading is just as essential, especially if they want to improve their writing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have met people who will admit to writing poetry but never bother to read it. That gap does not exist with music. People who make music are always also avid listeners of music. I’m not sure why it exists with poetry or how to bridge it. Perhaps it is the lack of exposure to poetry that begins at a young age and leaves people feeling intimidated when they do encounter poetry later on. Inviting working poets into classrooms, on a frequent basis, to read and work with students might help to make the connection.
Friday, 17 December 2010
Catherine Owen is a Vancouver poet who has published seven trade books and five chapbooks. Frenzy (Anvil Press 2009) won the Alberta literary award. Seeing Lessons is recently out from Wolsak and Wynn, also the publishers for Catalysts, a collection of essays & memoirs, due out in Fall 2011. Her work has been nominated for the BC Book award, the CBC prize, and the ARC poem of the year award among others. She plays bass in the metal band Medea and works as a freelance tutor-editor.
Catherine Owen discusses her poem, “White Sale” (poem appears in The Best Canadian Poetry 2010 by Tightrope Books)
In 2005, the entire Ayles Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island; a topographical presence some 3,000 years old, came smashing down in an hour of overly warm temperatures and brisk winds. Once a monstrous outcropping more than 1,500 football fields in length, it is now a shrinking continent of ice, its unique geography annulled. This historic descent was an impetus to imagining a world in which the cold, among other species of being, is becoming extinct, another rare commodity for sale as it vanishes. “White Sale” also sprang from the sight of one of Edmontonian multimedia artist’s Sydney Lancaster’s encaustic pieces, a canvas of wax into which was embedded seeds and feathers and skulls, providing my mind with a rich and abstract terrain on which to wander.
when I tried to buy an iceberg, that day
in the desert, the salesman was dubious.
it had been a long time since he’d seen one
of those, he said, and the people had since
evolved, into sand dollars, into strange
kinds of fish. the ablation of glaciers
was complete. people bobbed like small
shoals of bullets in the flood, or squeezed
into cracks on the lengthening plains.
other species had vanished, sinking fast
on their pinions of ice, waving tiny attachés
of the future. we strolled on the moraine, he
& I, the now irrelevant spit that had once
held back the sea, and the land was split
with fissures, blood surrounding its mouths,
uncanny and rich as berries, those are the
icebergs’ blowholes, the salesman nodded,
sometimes when it’s quiet, I press my ear
to them like shells and hear the cold again,
the four-fifths of what we’ve forgotten, held hard
Saturday, 11 December 2010
At first blush, Daniel Lanois was reluctant to write Soul Mining: A Musical Life (Faber and Faber, 2010), sighting that writing books wasn’t who he was. The mad scientist of music, who first got his start in his mother’s basement in Hamilton, Ontario, producing demos for local musicians, soon relented, and after a couple of test chapters and with the help of co-writer Keisha Kalfin, decided to move forward with the project hoping it might inspire somebody who decided to read it.
Growing up along the Ottawa River, where English and French-speaking Canada meet, and where the heavy smell of sulfur in the air was taken for granted by the locals. He grew up poor but never really thought about it much. Lanois spoke only French until the age of ten, and at that time his parents separated due to his father’s penchant for drinking too much and beating on his mother. Soon after, he would find himself relocated to Steeltown (Hamilton) where his mother raised four children on a hairdresser’s salary.
Lanois and his brother Bob created music nonstop in their dank basement studio in Hamilton where it wasn't unusual for him or his brother to go next door to pay off the neighbour in order to get him to stop cutting the grass so they could finish recording a vocal overdub. Daniel Lanois would soon become an icon in music making and go on to win eight Grammy Awards and produce many of the giants of popular music including U2, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, the Neville Brothers, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan. Even with all of his success, on albums such as U2’s Joshua Tree, and Dylan’s Time Out of Mind which won a Grammy for record of the year, there is still an heir of frustration in Lanois voice as he pens: I got him a Grammy, but not a hit. Time Out of Mind will remain a great American classic, but I didn’t get him a hit, and I could have.
At times, the book reads more like a music technology handbook as Lanois shares his views on the evolution of music production from his early sonic experiments in his basement studio, to his working with Brian Eno, the birth of the microchip and the death of discrete circuitry, to the arrival of the download era, but there are enough anecdotal references to Bono, The Edge, and Dylan to keep the most pedestrian of music enthusiasts at least moderately interested in turning the pages.
*Photo of Daniel Lanois credited to Adam Vollick
Friday, 10 December 2010
James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1943. He is the author of twelve collections of poetry including his first volume, The Lost Pilot, which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1967, The Oblivion Ha Ha (1970), Hints to Pilgrims (1971), Absences (1972), Viper Jazz (1976), Riven Doggeries (1979), Constant Defender (1983), Reckoner (1986) and Distance From Loved Ones (1990).
In 1992, Tate was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the William Carlos Williams Award for his Selected Poems (1991). His most recent collection, Worshipful Company of Fletchers (The Ecco Press, 1994) received the National Book Award for Poetry. Among his other awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Institute for Arts and Letters Award for Poetry. He also received the $100,000 Tanning Prize for The Academy of American Poets in 1995.
He has taught poetry at the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, and Emerson College. He currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he has worked since 1971.
It Happens Like This
I was outside St. Cecelia's Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There's
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat,"
I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking
my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat,"
one of them said. "I wonder when my turn is." "Soon,"
I said. "Be patient. Your time is coming." The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. "That's a mighty
fine goat you got there," he said, stopping to admire.
"It's the town's goat," I said. "His family goes back
three-hundred years with us," I said, "from the beginning."
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. "Mind if I pat him?" he asked.
"Touching this goat will change your life," I said.
"It's your decision." He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, "What's his name?" "He's
called the Prince of Peace," I said. "God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery
and wonder. And I'm just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry." "We forgive you,
Officer," I said. "And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince." The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Daniel Scott Tysdal was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and raised on a farm. He received a B.A. (Hons.) from the University of Regina (Saskatchewan) in 2003, an M.A. (English) from Acadia University (Nova Scotia) in 2006, and an M.A. (English in the Field of Creative Writing) from the University of Toronto in 2008.
He is the author of The Mourner's Book of Albums (Tightrope Books, 2010). His first book of poetry, Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Coteau Books, 2006), received the ReLit Award for Poetry (2007) and the Anne Szumigalski Poetry Award (2006). He currently lives in Toronto and teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Tysdal’s The Mourner’s Book of Albums dares to take the reader out of their comfort zone; and instead sends them on a journey whereby the difficult and harsh realities of life are confronted head on. His collection has a cathartic feel to it, broaching on subjects from a best friend’s suicide to the war in Afghanistan. Tysdal is a talented and dynamic voice that represents a new direction for experimental poetry in Canada, concentrating less on the pre-manufactured style of writing poetry and more on an original narrative form that flourishes on the macabre.
A week before this book went to press, I spoke
to Dahlia’s mom. I told her about the poems.
She asked me to include a story I’d never heard.
As a child, Dahlia nurtured obituaries in place
of pets. She fabricated death notices for birds
and beasts she never in the first place possessed
to lose. She invented a sophisticated cockatiel
who chirped her name when it was time
to rise for school, a border collie who saved her
from slipping through cracked sheets
of frozen water. As a favour to circling vultures,
and to expose the promiscuity of skins in their decay,
she pretended her imaginary dead pets
remained carcasses unburied at the edge
of the garden rather than buried bones,
the breadth of the backyard’s burgeoning life
pierced with a stillness so singular it defied
what the siding and shingles asserted to be
the nascent relation of divided hides.
If lightning were to have struck her fantastical pile
of remains, she had known that none of the paws
and fins and wings decomposing into this dreary
chimera would have twitched awake, but in one obit
a newt taken too soon to the pile startled the sky
when parrying thunder slithered from its slender throat.
TTQ- What was the concept or inspiration behind your latest book of poetry The Mourner’s Book of Albums (Tightrope Books, 2010) and do you consider yourself an experimental poet in regards to your writing style and the sometimes unorthodox structure to many of your poems?
DST- The inspiration for Mourner’s was a suicide. This was in February of 2005. My first book of poems had just been accepted for publication and I had started exploring the Internet’s insides and underbellies, thinking I was going to write a novel. It was on a shock website, Stileproject, where I saw the video that stopped me. The police walk a man into an interrogation room, leave, return to bring the man water, leave again, and then it happens. The man grabs one last swig of water, draws a gun from his belt, and takes his own life.
A few hours later, the computer still shut down, I started writing a poem, searching for a shred of mental and emotional steadiness. As I’ve said in previous interviews, I had been rereading Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” earlier that day and I thought, “Rilke, we are a million miles from your torso’s ‘legendary head,’ from its star-bursting borders, and yet, at the same time, we haven’t moved an inch.” I wrote for three days straight and finished “How We Know We Are Being Addressed by the Man Who Shot Himself Online.” This poem ended up in my first book, but that experience inspired The Mourner’s Book of Albums.
The concept for Mourner’s didn’t really take a solid shape until the manuscript was half-finished. I was looking over the poems I had written and I realized that what linked them was the elegiac tradition. Each poem, in its way, explored the changing nature of what and how we mourn. What is the elegy in the age of Photoshop and reality hunger? How do we mourn in, to borrow Sontag’s phrase, “the age of genocide” or, to turn to Baudrillard, amid the e-fuelled “ecstasy of communication”?
The experiences these questions engendered, the moments of inspiration they opened up, are what led to the choral quality of the book, to its formal variety. In this attempt to be true to our times, to find fidelity with what I felt, I was drawn to a spectrum of genres and modes and mediums: lyric poems, love poems, graphic poems, country ballads, drawings, newspapers, comics, photography, artifacts, and on and on. The “unorthodox structure” of the book thus results from one of the most traditional, conservative impulses, one of the most basic ends of art and literature: to find a form for what is gone.
TTQ- In the opening pages of your book you quote Freud "We find a place for what we lose." Would it be fair to say that in the writing of The Mourner's Book of Albums you have now found a place for those close to you in your life that you have lost too soon and was it difficult for you to write about death and suicide?
DST- The Freud quote serves as the book’s epigraph because it sums up, in one line, what the book is about. Each of the poems, in its own way, is a testament to this act of finding a place for what we lose. The hope Freud points to, and the hope you address in your question, is that in finding this place we will heal. We will “come to terms” with the loss, as the saying goes, we will “move on.” The truth, of course, is that those we lose, no matter what we write, will endure in and around us in ways we might not like. The feelings of guilt or longing or helplessness will remain. Freud’s assertion especially strikes this darker note in relation to our larger communal-cultural losses, when this “finding” takes the form of unjust and violent acts of collective displacement and repression. Take your pick. In both cases, whether exploring the personal or the public, the writing is difficult, but it is also—in a sense—liberating. When you are inspired to write a poem, it is usually because you have glimpsed a sliver of something that connects you to the world beyond yourself. Something that is more than you shakes you, and you meet it in form, you converse with it in form, the page and the words and the images is where the meeting between what is here and what is gone can take place.
TTQ- You write about one of the G20 rally’s held in Queen's Park this past June in your poem Videos for Children "Harper is the new Christo is Kat's theory. "The People want to reclaim the seat of power," she says, "so Harper lets them live it. Walk in a big expensive circle, change nothing. Repeat." What are your thoughts on what's happened post-G20, the lack of an independent public inquiry into the actions of police, and do you think poets in general should be more apt to write and/or protest more about socio-political issues in their communities and around the world?
DST- I would share my post-G20 thoughts but I’m afraid they always take the form of a Burroughs cut-up mashed up with a Dadaist sound poem: “Owe-paw-less-owe-paw-forch-ange. Billion $$$ truncheon lake swim. Aw, aw, aw, Officer Bubbles, don’t be sad. Those tears in your eyes are Sunlight” and so on. Really, these days, being a poet is, in itself, an accidental form of protest: politically, culturally, economically, epistemologically, and aesthetically. The patience and discipline and attention and intellectual rigour and emotional expansiveness that reading and writing a poem demands and inspires runs counter to the “ACT! MORE! NOW! PAY! (Dispose and Repeat)” ethos of the cultural and political mainstream. The change that needs to happen is far bigger than the change anyone up top is willing to make. So I think it’s for the greater good that, for the time being, us poets lay back in the cut and take it all in and (“God forbid!” (crosses self)) think.
TTQ- What is your opinion of the current state of poetry in both Canada and around the world? Do you think poetry is everlasting or in a serious state of flux?
DST- I am probably the most poorly equipped person to answer any question about the current state of poetry. I’m just not wired that way. Some people are colour blind. I’m aesthetico-critical blind. I find it hard to answer the critic’s question—“Why this one thing over that other thing?”—because the question that’s got hold of me is, “Why is there something rather than everything?” This makes me, like a lot of poets and artists, more of a grease monkey than a critic. Give me a poem and I can’t wait to take it apart and figure out how it works. So, as far as Canadian poetry goes, maybe you could complain that we produce too many of the same makes and models, but, for the most part, Canadian poems run smoothly and there are some real modern marvels and world-class wonders of poetical engineering.
The second question is easier to answer. The answer is the question itself. Do I think poetry is everlasting or in a serious state of flux? Both. Poetry is that which is everlasting, cast in that which is in a serious state of flux.
TTQ- What words of advice do you often give your students when it comes to creative writing and who are some of the writers/poets you encourage them to read and why?
DST- I teach the 3 L’s, which are (in no particular order): listen, learn, love.
Daniel Scott Tysdal - An Experiment in Form
Saturday, 4 December 2010
Julie Kirkpatrick’s 'The Camino Letters' in Performance @ Trinity St. Paul's United Church on Nov. 27th by Caitlin Galway
This past Saturday evening in Trinity St. Paul’s United Church at 427 Bloor St. in Toronto, the instruments are poised, the pews filled. I have an inkling based on the obvious - guitars, a violin, the velvet capped bongo drums - as to what will take place this evening, but hardly distinct expectations. Warm stage lights fall through interfering arches, rippling in patterns across the floor. There is the quiet ambience, the anticipating hush felt almost exclusively within the wooden grandeur of places of worship.
Then several musicians step out and wordlessly arrange themselves amongst the string and brass. The lights fade. A saxophone begins its seductive invitation, fingers tapping drums like distant hail. Julie Kirkpatrick emerges onstage, book in hand, and begins.
“Yesterday was a day of music. The day before I danced with the butterflies,” she reads. “The landscape has been idyllic, bucolic, perfect. Today, though, was a day of pain...”
She does not begin on the first day of her journey, but rather several into it, when the labors and aches, both physical and emotional, have begun to set in. She is walking with mantra-laden steps – Guide/my/feet/ Love - to ease the fluster of sore joints and fluttering concentration. The story upon which The Camino Letters: 26 Tasks on the Way to Finisterre (Pyxis Press, 2010) is based, however, begins long before the Camino - El Camino de Santiago, once considered the end of the Earth - but it is along these ancient pilgrimage roads that it has found its structure.
The successful lawyer from Thunder Bay, former publisher/editor of The Peterborough Review and hyper-driven mother of four, decided rather spontaneously in early 2009 to stray from her professional and familial obligations to take a breather in her garden for the month of July. Four weeks spent nourishing soil drifts somehow became twenty-six days walking the Camino, with a task, set by twenty-six friends respectively, each day to keep her afloat. This open-ended simplicity exposed her travels to possibilities even more numerous than the rambling walkways of Spain. Incorporating various friends in this way also lends touching tribute to the interweaving notion of self and other. As much as we are entities, we are also the direct result of passing influences, life-long friends (For example, I have very rarely worn my hair up since a girl pulled my ponytail in grade one - even in a heat wave, even when it plain makes sense). There is Ford Rupert, the teacher who brought the violin to the Anglo-Protestant students of 1930s Hearst, Kirkpatrick’s father among them. Or her childhood playmate - accomplished musician Ravi Naimpally, who sits before us now on drums - with whom she chased butterflies through fenceless backyards. (Note: Kirkpatrick is also joined by singer/songwriter Lizzie Shanks, guitarist/composer Brandon Besharah, bassist Cary Gurden, and fiddler Saskia Tomkins. Of the several musical contributions throughout the night, the standout is a stomping Celtic take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My Favourite Things'.)
The Camino Letters compiles the corresponding letters between Kirkpatrick and the twenty-six chosen friends into a single narrative, within which the author crosses the plains of Europe, her childhood, her own unspoken negotiations with the universe (both cosmically precarious and, ultimately, unreliable). And she stands before us now, each story fluid with humble heroism, universally familiar in one way or another. She offers her life, exposed and pulsing - from medical anxieties and parental frustrations, to her bedridden father combing her hair with his violin bow, her late mother’s words. Illuminated below dissolving stage lights, her voice swells, at times cracks, is both accepting and urgent. "I could walk around the whole world; I am that strong. I am not afraid. I am full of love."
Friday, 3 December 2010
TTQ's Poem of the Week - (Week 6) - Marilyn Gear Pilling - Billy Collins Interviewed on Stage at Chautauqua
Marilyn Gear Pilling lives in Hamilton and is the author of two collections of fiction My Nose is a Gherkin Pickle Gone Wrong (1996) and The Roseate Spoonbill of Happiness (Boheme Press, 2002) and four books of poetry The Field Next to Love (Black Moss Press, 2002), The Life of the Four Stomach (Black Moss Press, 2006), Cleavage: a life in breasts (Black Moss Press, 2007), and The Bones of the World Begin to Show (Black Moss Press, 2009).
Her poetry has most recently been awarded first prize for Descant magazine’s Winston Collins “Best Canadian poem” 2009, second prize and honourable mention from judge Robyn Sarah in Freefall’s 2009 contest and was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2009 “Open Season” award. A short story won second place in Grain’s 2009 short fiction contest, and her creative non fiction was a finalist in Event magazine’s 2009 contest and most recently shortlisted for the Malahat’s 2010 contest.
She is President of the Hamilton Poetry Centre and teaches poetry privately to groups of students. Most recently she has read her work at the Stephen Leacock festival in Orillia, the Arts and Culture festival in Barrie, the Black Moss 40th Anniversary celebration in Windsor, Ontario, the Grit Lit fundraiser in Hamilton, and at “Shakespeare and Company” in Paris France.
Marilyn’s poem ‘Billy Collins Interviewed On Stage at Chautauqua’ appears in this years The Best Canadian Poetry 2010 (Tightrope Books) which was edited by Lorna Crozier and series editor Molly Peacock. Pilling comments on her poem: Both as writer and human being – yes, I see them as almost two different entities – I enjoy the confluence of acute seeing, self-deprecatory humour, and wisdom that happens “often enough” in Billy Collin’s poems, as in “Dharma”: “if only I were not her god.” But Billy Collins did not seem comfortable that morning on stage at Chautauqua, and he applied a number of rules to all poets that seemed to me to apply only to his own process and his own poems. That afternoon, as I sat in the centre of Chautauqua, an idyllic-seeming place, thinking about Don McKay’s words, “One cannot live in the sublime,” I got that frisson up the backbone that for me heralds a poem. Lines that I regard as gently skewering the morning’s interview arose in my head. I hastened to record them on the only paper I had at hand: the flyleaf of “The Trouble with Poetry.”
Billy Collins Interviewed On Stage at Chautauqua
Billy Collins says you can’t have people in your poems.
It can only be you and your reader.
You think of all the people in your poems:
your Aunt Evelyn, your mother, your friends Linda
and Dick and Ross. John Porter.
Your mother, your mother. Billy Collins says your job as poet
is to give your reader pleasure. You thought giving pleasure
was your job in sex.
Your reader’s crotch is the one thing you never
worried about. Billy Collins says sometimes he takes his penis
off when he writes a poem.
You wonder what his penis does when it knows its master
is writing. Goes to bars? Appears for Margaret Atwood
as a remote-signature pen?
Billy Collins says strangers don’t care
about your thoughts and feelings. You want to put up
your hand, tell him
about the woman behind you: you came
an hour early to sit in the front row and discovered
you’d forgotten your reading
glasses; you were so desperate at the prospect of an hour
doing nothing that you turned around and asked a row
of strangers if anyone had extra
reading glasses; the woman behind you lent you her brand
new pair. But he’s back on pleasure. He says how you give
your reader pleasure is form.
Dusty old form! Grade ten sticking-to-your-varnished-
wooden-seat iambic pentameter! You’re still
mulling that when Roger Rosenblatt
asks Billy Collins why he didn’t become a jazz musician.
Billy Collins says he wishes he had become a jazz musician,
he wouldn’t have to be on stage
answering these questions. So much for that
egg-over-easy persona of the poems, eh? Now he’s saying
no decent poet ever knows
the ending of a poem he’s writing. You think sadly
of all those endings you thought of in the shower, even though
you know Billy Collins won’t care
about your feelings and you know you shouldn’t use
an adverb in a poem. Then Roger Rosenblatt asks Billy Collins:
What is the importance of poetry?
Billy Collins sits up straight and says, Poetry is optional.
That’s right, reader. Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate
of the United States of America
is sitting here on stage saying poetry is optional. And you
thought people died for lack of what is found there.
Wait a minute. Something’s happening
on stage. Billy Collins is fed up. Billy Collins is leaving.
Unclipping his wings. They’re black, just so you know,
like his suit. Billy Collins has the wingspan
of a frigate bird. There he goes – rising, rising, riding
the currents of institutionalized sublimity. Beating his way
across the ceiling beneath the track
lighting, brushing the Stars and Stripes aside. He’s off to find
his roving mojo. You sigh and think about going home.
You’ll have to rub out
all those people in your poems. You’ll have to have a cold
shower whenever you feel an ending coming on.
You think sadly –
okay, adverbially – about your Aunt Evelyn.
you loved her. How proudly she wore her moustache
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Elisabeth Belliveau’s latest collection of poetry, prose, artwork, and short film don't get lonely don't get lost (Conundrum Press, 2010) is somewhat unconventional in its presentation linking the irregular occurrences in life with the regular. Her drawings are bright and odd in appearance but the simplicity of the people and the activities displayed give credence to the accompanying bits and pieces of poetry, prose, and film.
The collections first section a spell in eight parts starts with Belliveau paying homage to many of her hero’s. The likes of Gertrude Stein, Emily Carr, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte, Edith Wharton, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf, and Emily Dickinson. She writes:
gertrude in paris
gertrude stein is not nostalgic, her words are battles, gertrude walked large
through paris with a poodle and wrote ida about ida and her little dog basket
and how many times she married and got into a car, this happens forever.
while this is happening gertrude takes charge of the careers of several men.
people who look deeply into each other’s eyes for at least five minutes a day are
more likely to have successful marriages, but no one can promise not to go to
georgia. he said you have to live with your mind.
In the following section Foxes in Berlin we arrive in Berlin, Germany where the narrator finds a lover and soon after with a slight hesitation in her stare, she walks away leaving him standing on a bridge in the wind. In one year of radio, a section fraught with shattered dreams and love, Belliveau writes:
The colour is yellow. Her voice speaks French on the answering machine, but
she is not French. She is Emily, the smallest, and I loved her for two years,
My mother says one person always loves more than the other. Measuring this
unfairness is my life’s work.
Belliveau then so skillfully and eloquently illustrates the frustrations that love can bring:
We are a failed star.
Lightning articulates the shape of our fear in the sky. Lightning signs
the contract we have made of distance.
A string of islands, I call you from payphones, your voice is measured to
The final section of the collection Margaret’s Mountain is a short film DVD adaptation of a narrative poem written by Belliveau which is neatly packaged with the book, and is bound to appeal to both the art book audience and the indie film audience. In describing the context of her short film, Belliveau poignantly states: Margaret’s Mountain is dedicated to marathons of the heart and all runnings-away of remarkable duration.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Claudia Dey is not a stranger when it comes to writing about sex. Having written a weekly Group Therapy column for The Globe and Mail and a sex column under the pseudonym of Bebe O’Shea for Toro magazine, Dey could easily be labeled as an expert on the subjects of G-spots, sex toys, aphrodisiacs, lubricants, and erogenous zones. Her latest book How to be a Bush Pilot: A Field Guide to Getting Luckier (HarperCollins, 2010) is a carefully mapped out flight plan and suggestively detailed operating manual intended to dispel the myth that prospective bush pilots are incapable of getting luckier, and that they too are only mere pages away from having their names encrypted in lipstick across steam-coated bathroom mirrors.
Dey’s use of humour and catchy phrases makes sex fun again. She manages to flirt, wink, educate and stimulate her readers with a succinct purpose of making them more proficient and attentive lovers. Who could blame her for that!
She lives and writes in Toronto, studied English at McGill University and playwriting at the National Theatre School, and is married to Don Kerr – a musician who has played with Ron Sexsmith and the Rheostatics. Her plays have been produced internationally and include Beaver, Trout Stanley, and The Gwendolyn Poems, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award and the Trillium Award. Dey’s debut novel Stunt was chosen by The Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire as Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. For more information visit her website.
TTQ- Why did you feel it was necessary and the right time for you to write a 'how to' book about sex?
Claudia Dey- It is always necessary and the right time to write a ‘how to’ book about sex. Unlike the Jell-o casserole, piano tie and permanent make up, sex does not expire.
TTQ- Is How to be a Bush Pilot primarily written for men or do you feel women need just as much help in the bedroom?
Claudia Dey- The book is ostensibly written for men, but I have had a lot of feedback from women (mostly in the form of thank you notes.) Men do not need more help than women; happily, we are all sexual apprentices.
TTQ- Do you feel that your experience in writing about G-spots, aphrodisiacs, and sex toys for years at Toro magazine gave you the expertise necessary to write this kind of book? What kinds of research did you undertake personally in writing How to be a Bush Pilot and who were your accomplices in carrying out your research?
Claudia Dey- Writing the column for Toro magazine, I attended Tantric sex, fire breath orgasm and female ejaculation workshops with (ahem) live demonstrations. I asked intimates and strangers questions like: Dildo or vibrator? Feather duster or quiver crop? Eyes open or closed? How to be a Bush Pilot takes that work in the field to eleven. The book is full of testimonials from babes and bush pilots. It draws on the high art and low art expertise of death-wish voluptuaries like Motley Crue and whip smart academics like Natalie Angier. I spoke with hundreds of sexologists, bush pilots, and specialists in cock rings, BDSM and play parties. My mother was my research assistant. I sent her out to sex shops and libraries with lists like prostate massagers, blindfolds, rear entry. Within a few months, she was wearing a cowboy hat and leather pants.
TTQ- What are the primary things any bush pilot should remember when successfully ejecting his landing gear onto the landing strip of a certain prospective babe?
Claudia Dey- His babe.
TTQ- Why is Led Zeppelin IV a must when in the throes of any bush pilots safari? What other music suggestions top your list and why?
Claudia Dey- Led Zeppelin IV feathers your hair. Take, for instance, “Black Dog.” Robert Plant’s tumescent tenor vows to make his babe “sweat,” “groove,” “burn,” and “sting.” Here, for your listening pleasure, from Bushquarters to The Toronto Quarterly, is a triple album mixtape:
“Afternoon Delight”—Starland Vocal Band
“Night Moves”—Bob Seger
“Let Your Love Flow”—The Bellamy Brothers
“The Stroke”—Billy Squier
“Beat It”—Michael Jackson
“Let’s Spend the Night Together”—The Rolling Stones
“Rock and Roll All Nite”—Kiss
“Love in an Elevator”—Aerosmith
“Bottoms Up!”—Van Halen
“Bootylicious/Say My Name” (medley)—Destiny’s Child
“I Wanna Be Your Dog”—The Stooges
“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”—Barry White
“I Want It That Way”—Backstreet Boys
“I Got You (I Feel Good)”—James Brown
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”—Stevie Wonder
“Like a Virgin”—Madonna
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”—Bachman Turner Overdrive
“Let’s Get It On”—Marvin Gaye
“Theme from Shaft”—Isaac Hayes
“Mustang Sally”—Wilson Pickett
“Good Golly Miss Molly”—Little Richard
“Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”—James Brown
“Cum on Feel the Noize”—Quiet Riot
“I Was Made for Lovin’ You”—Kiss
“Bang a Gong (Get It On)”—T. Rex
“Wang Dang Doodle”—Koko Taylor
“Back in the Saddle”—Aerosmith
“Relax”—Frankie Goes To Hollywood
“Love to Love You Baby”—Donna Summer
“Stayin’ Alive”—Bee Gees
“When the Levee Breaks”—Led Zeppelin
“Hold On! I’m Comin’”—Sam & Dave
“Come Together”—The Beatles
“We Are the Champions”—Queen
“Up Where We Belong”—Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
“We’ve Only Just Begun”—The Carpenters
“Just Can’t Get Enough”—Depeche Mode
“Don’t Stop Believing”—Journey
“Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)”—Bill Conti
“All Night Long (All Night)”—Lionel Ritchie
“Here I Go Again”—Whitesnake
“You Shook Me All Night Long”—AC/DC
“I Will Always Love You”—Whitney Houston
TTQ- Captain Goodscrew is a character in the book considered the 'ace' pilot for all prospective bush pilots to look up to? Why did you keep the captain's true identity a secret and why is it so important that all bush pilots be like him?
Claudia Dey- Captain Goodscrew and I corresponded over the course of a year under the condition of anonymity. I would send him questions like: How do you initiate a threesome? How do you put on a condom in the dark? How does one become a multi-orgasmic man? His responses quickly revealed he was a sex genius with the foul yet irresistible mouth of Louis C.K. In the book, his flight patterns are those the aspiring bush pilot most wants to replicate. Why? His signature move: “The Indefinite.”
TTQ- Would you be related to Commander Mistress by any chance and what is it bush pilots should learn from her?
Claudia Dey- Yes. Everything.
TTQ- How big of an influence has Xaviera Hollander's book The Happy Hooker been on your writing about sex?
Claudia Dey- She is my Fairy Godmother.
TTQ- Is it truly possible for any dedicated bush pilot to discover the mysteries of the G-spot, its hidden secrets and eventually break on through to the other side?
Claudia Dey- Chapter 14 (an excerpt): TURN ON YOUR GUINEVERE – Your babe’s arousal is crucial to locating her G-spot. Why, Mistress, oh why? Her tissues will become engorged and, like the boner making a lean-to out of your Pilot pants, that ever-elusive G-spot will be much easier to find. My suggestion? Prince on the record player, plus the slow unlatching of her bra, plus a paw rolling down her panties, plus your mouth on her nether regions. Bush Pilots, as you know from Chapter 12 (crush it), cunnilingus is the perfect precursor to your G-spot quest; despite your Captain Beefheart’s goodwill, your tongue is much more likely to make her come.
Once your babe is flush-cheeked, cease your mouth music and find the G-spot by hand. Because G-spot stimulation requires precision, patience and pressure, pull out the lube (Chapter 3. Memorize it.).
Using one or two fingers, enter her butterfly. At about half a finger length in, on the front wall (toward the belly), there will be a ridged area, a corrugated swelling in an otherwise smooth and silky domain. Congratulations, BP! This bit of roughness is her G-spot. It may be the size of a dime, a quarter or a walnut. Like all natural formations, G-spots vary in shape and size. As one snowmobiling bedroom prophet puts it, “Women are snowflakes.”
TTQ- Talk about some of the feedback you have received thus far to the book. Are there many more happy bush pilots out there getting luckier today?
Claudia Dey- I am overwhelmed with feedback and this was precisely my wish: to be a Robinhood of the nether regions.
TTQ- How frequently should a successful bush pilot get lucky?
Claudia Dey- Only he and his paramour can answer that.
TTQ- What kinds of things are you doing to promote the book?
Claudia Dey- Radio, television, readings, book signings, and wearing a Captain’s hat while speaking to the likes of Michael Winter as he suggestively peels a large banana.
TTQ- What two books have you read recently and how did they inspire you?
Claudia Dey- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti and the Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller: corporeal existentialism while being funny.
TTQ- What's next in store for Claudia Dey? Have you focused yet on what your next writing project will be about?
Claudia Dey- I will continue to write the Coupling column for The Globe and Mail and my second novel.
TTQ- Any last words of encouragements for the bush pilots of the world who want to get luckier?
Claudia Dey- May the bush be with you.
Claudia Dey reads from How to be a Bush Pilot.
*Note - Photo #1 of Claudia Dey credited to Christopher Wahl
*Note - Photo #2 of Claudia Dey credited to Calvin Thomas