Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I’ve walked the line, Pacific-Atlantic
I’ve walked the line from transit to rapid
I’ve walked the line from nonplussed to frantic
I’ve walked the line from vatic to vapid
I’ve walked the line from smartass to stupid
I’ve walked the line of liars and boors
I’ve walked the line from arrow to Cupid
I’ve walked the line from my home to yours
I’ve walked the line from subject to object
I’ve walked the line from cut-up to pasted
I’ve walked the line from penthouse to project
I’ve walked the line from sober to wasted
I’ve walked the line from tongue-tied to tasted
I’ve walked the line of virgins and whores
I’ve walked the line from trial to tested
I’ve walked the line from my mind to yours
I’ve walked the line from trickle to river
I’ve walked the line from twilight till dawn
I’ve walked the line from taker to giver
I’ve walked the line from cygnet to swan
I’ve walked the line from jungle to lawn
I’ve walked the line of windows and doors
I’ve walked the line from climax to yawn
I’ve walked the line from my body to yours
Woman, don’t ask me, this week or this year,
What I mean by these piled-on metaphors—
The only answer that I’ll have is, I fear,
I’ve walked the line from my love to yours.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:27 AM
Hear Armitage read three of his poems. (There's also audio on his website, linked above.)
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:47 AM
Bulletin to all theists and sympathetic agnostics: feel free to disagree with Dawkins (and every other firm atheist in the world), but please, if you wish to be taken seriously by anyone who doesn't already agree with you, formulate your rebuttals with as much rigor and sensibility--or at least a modicum thereof--as Dawkins himself brings to the original. And for anyone who has a kneejerk reaction to the mere idea of Dawkins' arguments, it's best not to listen to the voices con--or pro, myself included, for that matter--: go read the goddamned book. Amen.
UPDATE: I linked to the "poetry snark" post on Todd Swift as a joke, an attempt to get a rise out of Mr. Swift and see how long it would take him to respond. He certainly lives up to his name... Mr. Wells thinks cheap shots are the least of poetry criticism's problems at present. Want of humour and perspective are far greater scourges. At any rate, the opinions of Poetry Snark, and any other sites linked to from CLM, do not necessarily represent the views of CLM or its proprietor.
As for Mr. Swift's role in co-editing Language Acts, about which I've posted here--the relevance of which to Mr. Swift's views on Dawkins' atheism I can't quite fathom--I can speak with no authority, as it was Jason Camlot who both solicited and edited my contribution to said anthology. But I'll go on record, if it makes Mr. Swift feel better, that, to the best of my knowledge--with the caveat that I could well be mistaken--there was no wankery, stunning or otherwise, involved in his editorial duties.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:13 AM
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Got an email today from Chris/Zeke, the dynamo impresario genius behind one of my favourite reading venues, Zeke's Gallery. Chris tells me that the podcast of my last reading at the gallery has been downloaded 244 times from a couple of different sites. He figured that each download should be good for ten sales of my book (based on one audio book selling for every ten print copies, according to him). Silly Chris. Fortunately, I don't count on my versification and public performances to bring in the bucks and I care more about audience than sales figures--and naturally, more about art than either. Of course, of course, purity of the enterprise and all that, what? But hey, if you've liked what you've seen and heard here at CLM, please don't hesitate to order my book, my chapbook or my CD. I've got a couple more publications coming out this year, too, another chapbook(After the Blizzard) and "Achromatope," a letterpress broadside, which should be a beautiful collector's item and fabulous gift for the colourblind poetry lover in your life.
If you're looking for more audio poetry, both by me and by others but all read by me, here's a link to all the recordings I've posted over the last few months at archive.org. Chris also tells me that a lengthy and only half-sober interview he did with me the day after the above-mentioned reading will be podcast soon.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:54 PM
Sunday, May 27, 2007
AUDIO of me reading "The Quitter."
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:48 AM
Friday, May 25, 2007
If you're looking for something else to look at whilst I recover my wits, why not click on over to the new Vehicule Press blog. Signal Editions, their poetry imprint, has become, under the stewardship of my good friend Mr. Starnino, possibly the best trade poetry publisher in the land. On the blog, one of my favourite living poets, Patrick Warner of St. John's, NL, has contributed a handful of pithy aphorisms. And the gauntlet's down: they want your epigrammatic zingers, too. Go get 'em, tiger!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:30 PM
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
7 Haiku for Coach Travellers
Your lousy feet stink,
You’re crazy and I hate you.
Thank you, come again.
It’s too bad for you
You pissed your pants. Not your stop?
Too bad, too. Bye now.
Your child is ugly
And you have spoiled him rotten.
How can I help you?
I care not at all
For your sadsack life-stories:
I’m paid to be here.
You can’t have coffee–
We open at 6:30
And I’m having mine.
If you knew the time
Of your arrival today,
Would you feel better?
No smoking onboard;
Did you think that life was fair?
Maybe. But I’m not.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:29 AM
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Hitting the rails to Winnipeg this aft. Won't be back till Friday. Behave yourselves, okay?
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:43 AM
Friday, May 18, 2007
So I was more than a little surprised when my manager asked me yesterday if I wanted to be assigned as Activity Coordinator. There were five spots to be filled and only four people put in bids for them and since I had worked as a spareboard Learning Coordinator (a similar position) in Halifax, my boss figured I was well-suited to fill the vacant spot. It's not my favourite job on the train, but it's far from my least favourite and the pros outweigh the cons considerably. I've accepted the assignment, which means that I'll probably have quite a bit more time to myself this summer than I'd anticipated and, moreover, I'll know when that free time is going to be well in advance--a development with which I'm quite pleased, not only because it means I can have more of a life, but it also makes writing a lot easier to do during my busy season.
And more time for writing means more time for procrastination, which means more time for you, dear CLM readers.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:36 PM
Thursday, May 17, 2007
A different take on reviewing, from a somewhat more articulate and less painfully earnest source.
UPDATE: A very succinct statement about a very simple distinction that folks like Mr. Tucker (and so many others) fail to grasp: a book review is not scholarly criticism. An instance that comes to mind is a particular goof who keeps accusing Carmine Starnino of not being a good scholar. In other late-breaking news: black coffee is not Valium. And my damn cat, no matter how often I call him a dog (and I do), still won't bark or fetch my slippers.
See also Steven Beattie's remarks on the subject.
The thing that gets me is this refrain that "the people who write negative reviews just don't understand/appreciate the tradition(s) the book's coming from." If that's so, then maybe the people who negatively review negative reviews just don't understand/appreciate the history of book reviewing. So if they really believe their own rhetoric about not picking on things that aren't their cup of tea, maybe they should just shut up. Hm? Or here's a more constructive idea: if you come across a review you don't agree with, instead of whingeing about how the reviewer just doesn't get it, WRITE YOUR OWN DAMN REVIEW! Just try not to sound illiterate in the process, okay?
My main goal as a reviewer/critic: to write the sort of reviews and criticism I like to read. Nefarious, no?
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:44 PM
I'm reading Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas: A Decade's Thoughts on Poetry right now. I've long been an admirer of Robyn's critical prose and it's wonderful to see it collected and bound. One of the sections of the book is a series of "Appreciations," short essays on single poems. One of those poems is one with which I was previously unacquainted, but I've become enamoured of it: "Table" by a Turkish poet named Edip Cansever, translated by Richard Tillinghast.
AUDIO of me reading "Table."
[Apparently, I don't know what month it is; contrary to what it says on the recording, I recorded the poem in May, not March...]
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:40 PM
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Looking for an unremunerative, thankless and not always fun job? Eric Barstad wants a few good men and women to review poetry books for his site, Poetryreviews.ca.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:38 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:11 PM
Monday, May 14, 2007
Lots of other fine-looking new content at NPR, too, including interviews with Fraser Sutherland and George Murray, a review of Steven Price's Anatomy of Keys by David Hickey and poems by Brenda Schmidt. Get thee thither!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:15 PM
Hard to say what the future holds for our household. Rachel's busily applying for teaching jobs hither and yon (mostly in BC); where we are in the fall will depend largely on where she gets work. Who said my career limited moves?
Here's a nice picture from the BC Book Prizes Gala that showed up at Quill and Quire's website (with Steven Price lurking behind my right shoulder):
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:23 PM
Saturday, May 12, 2007
As minority anthologies go, this one seems to me a little harder to justify than others. I'm not going to suggest for a second that gay men have had it easy in our society, nor that, in spite of advances in recent years, we're anywhere near the kind of unselfconscious equality of treatment that should exist. But in the poetry world, which is always somewhere outside of societal norms anyway, gay men have been pretty damn well represented. Whitman, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Auden, Hart Crane, Hopkins, Housman, Wilde, O'Hara, Owen, Ginsberg--this just off the top of my head and just from recent history, never mind older examples like Kit Marlowe. If I had any trouble coming up with names, it's not for want of examples, but because I don't tend to think of these as "gay poets," anymore than I think of Elizabeth Bishop as a "lesbian poet" or even, greater stigma, a Nova Scotian poet! It might even be said that gay men, considering their small numbers relative to the overall population, have fared extremely well in the Western Canon.
Perhaps, if this is true, it's due to the intrinsic duality of being a gay man in a straight world. Whereas other minorities and women can't easily disguise what makes them a minority, a gay man can "act straight," (many going so far as to marry women and father children), much in the way a Jew can act Gentile (which makes me think of the excellent documentary about Jews in the film industry, Hollywoodism, in which it is said that Superman is the ultimate Jewish hero because all he has to do to disguise himself is put on a pair of glasses). So the gay man can and has been both insider and outsider, which seems to me very fertile soil for a poet, if not the necessary position a true poet must occupy.
Which makes a book like this one a very problematic exercise, to say the least. Poets (in the elitist, not the generic sense of the term) are not by nature joiners. Anytime I see one of these "demographic cohort X" anthologies, I think of Bishop, who refused, in her lifetime, to be included in any woman-only anthologies. Edna St. Vincent Millay was also quite vehement in rejecting the label of "woman poet." Both of them felt that their writing was poetry first and female, if at all, second; that relegating it to a women-only book would trivialise, or at least narrow, its accomplishment as art. How much more they would probably recoil at the thought of being included in an anthology of lesbian verse, even though Bishop was a lesbian and Millay was bisexual.
In his substantial and informative introduction, John Barton says that some of the people approached to contribute refused "because they felt discomfort at being included in an anthology circumscribed by the word “gay,” believing this criterion “narrowed” possible readings of their work ... thereby de-universalizing and devaluing it in some diminishing way.” Barton says that "in its diversity Seminal entirely refutes" this fear. This seems to me a pretty blithe dismissal of a pretty legitimate cavil. The narrowness of the work itself is not at issue, but the way it is received, which will ineluctably be affected by the way it is framed.
And part of the problem with this book is the framing. The subtitle announces that this is an anthology of "gay male poets." Okay, so the criterion is one must be a homosexual man to be included. But then in his introduction Barton talks not so much about gay poets as about "gay poetry." This is a much more nettlesome term. A man can be gay; he can have sexual intercourse and romantic relationships with other men. A poem, on the other hand, is words on a page and sounds in the air, so what the heck does it mean to say that it's "gay"? If that it's explicitly about "gay experience," then are the dissenting gay poets not right to fear the narrow confines of this book? If it's simply poetry written by a gay man, then does "gay poetry" mean anything at all, or is it just shorthand? If it's either/or, then can a straight man or woman write a gay poem? If not, why not? Is the subtitle the shut door of an exclusive club? These seem to be questions not adequately addressed by this book; the editors seem to take a number of assumptions for granted.
The very notion of homosexuality has been challenged, complicated and expanded by recent work in the sciences and social sciences. Neuroscience has taught us not only that homosexuality is hardwired into the brain (and not only in our species), and therefore not something we can criticise or praise as a "lifestyle choice," but also that homosexuality and heterosexuality are not absolute categories, but points on a continuum; this complements work in the social sciences that tells us that "gay" and "straight" are too simplistic as categories. At what points on the continuum does one identify a person as either "straight" or "gay"? Is a man whose sexual relations have been with women exclusively, but who has entertained fantasies of sex with men not-gay? Where does the completely and comfortably bisexual man fit in? The asexual man? The transexual? The homosexual-by-nature who stays in the closet his entire life and never has a homosexual relationship? You see how this could go on ad infinitum, and the question of what, as readers, is our business and what is not (to re-situate Trudeau's famous statement, does the reader have any place in the bedroom of the poet?) is a matter that should not be ignored.
At an earlier date--even twenty years ago, say--this anthology might have made a bold, shockingly defiant, statement, but now, with homosexuality not only being "tolerated" (awful, hateful word) more by an increasingly large percentage of the population, but even enjoying a certain vogue in popular culture, it seems a bit late. As Barton says, the younger contributors to this book “take their sexuality in stride” and “feel more confident that these stories are now recognized as part of an inclusive human narrative.” On the flipside, straight men of my age and background feel perfectly comfortable going to a gay bar to attend a book launch--or just to have drinks with friends. In many ways, it's queerer now to be a poet than to be a homosexual.
The launch was decent. Eight poets read, including both editors, Billeh Nickerson and Barton. Each poet (except for David Watmough, who only read his own poem) read one of his own poems and one by a contributor who couldn't make it due to geography or mortality. Highlights were Michael V. Smith's reading of his own poem "The Sad Truth" (a skillfully narrated confessional piece, by turns grimly funny and moving--see and hear Michael reading here) and Robert Finch's "The Shirt"; George Stanley's reading of EA Lacey's delightfully erotic "Eggplant"; Stephen Schecter (a poet hitherto unknown to me) reading from his long biblically inspired poem "David and Jonathan"; and Barton's reading of his longer poem "Saranac Lake Variation." Other pieces (Nickerson reading his own "If You Fit All Your Lovers in an Airplane, What Kind of Airplane would It Be?" and RM Vaughan's "14 Reasons Not to Eat Potato Chips on Church Street") were funny and well-suited to public reading, but not very interesting as poetry. Which in and of itself is not a bad thing to have in a long anthology, since anthologies of verse in this country tend to be too heavy. I thought one of the most interesting things spoken all night was when Nickerson said that they had originally envisioned 25 contributors, not 57. I'm less than halfway through the book now and already, I can't help thinking they would have done well to cut a number of the contributors altogether and trim other selections down considerably. Which is another problem with this sort of anthology: a poet can be "important" in a specific context without being much good as a poet. Patrick Anderson is a particularly glaring case-in-point in this book.
UPDATE: Just found this interesting, albeit unfocused and too-brief, conversation between four contributors to the anthology.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:04 PM
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:40 PM
One of the things I’ve noticed lately is that poetry reviewers will review two books at once. One will get sunshine blown up its spine and the other a thrashing. Is this to show range? To make one book taller by standing it on the corpse of the other? What gives?
And what about the editors? Don’t they share some of the blame? (or, if blame is too strong at least they should be included in the argument?) Since you brought up Wells, I ask how many times has he reviewed Jan Zwicky? 3, 4? Now, wouldn’t be more honest for the editor of his next review to point out that when Wells writes, “Zwicky in particular is prone to romantically unverifiable, yet remarkably authoritative-sounding statements…” it is part of an ongoing program of exposing Zwicky. Maybe the editor should say that “the following is the fourth of an ongoing series of hard hitting reviews …”, just to provide a little context for the readers. This leads to another question, what is being reviewed - books or writers?
It's telling, I think, that Kevin is advocating "a little context"--because too much context would provide a picture far too complicated for this person's simple-story-loving mind to process. Fortunately, dear CLM readers, I like to assume that you're smarter than this, and, also fortunately, there's plenty of evidence out there for you to check out. Kevin could have answered his own question by going to my website, but he prefers, I guess, the rhetorical technique of "How many? 3, 4?"
Here's a rundown on the history of my critical response to the prose and verse of Jan Zwicky:
- February 2004: "Strawman Dialectics," a rebuttal of Zwicky's essay against negative reviewing in The Malahat Review (no. 144).
- December 2004: I took part in Alex Good's first "Runaway Jury," a panel review of the GG poetry shortlist. Zwicky's book Robinson's Crossing was one of the shortlisted books.
- June 2005: Review of Zwicky's 37 Small Songs and 13 Silences in Quill & Quire.
- January 2007: Review of A Ragged Pen, a collection of essays to which Zwicky contributed, in Quill & Quire; also reviewed was K.I. Press's Types of Canadian Women, Vol. II. This is the review Kevin's referring to in his comments.
Now, I won't go over what I've said in these reviews and essays; they're all there for you to read if you so desire and I've said what I have to say in them.
I will, however, point out a few extra-textual things about this list, because these aren't necessarily at your fingertips. The most obvious one is that these are four very different types of review, so it can't be said that I'm simply "repeating myself" as one contributor to the Bookninja discussion maintains. The first is a 3000 word response, not a review at all, properly speaking; Zwicky made an argument and I made a counter-argument. The second is part of a conversation, a mock-jury involving four other books, not all of which I liked more than Zwicky's. The third is a 350 word review of a single poetry collection. And the fourth is one line in a review of an anthology of essays as part of a two-book review--a line Kevin apparently can't even be bothered to quote in full, perhaps because the statement I'm referring to really is that bogus.
The only piece I volunteered to write was the first one. To be honest, Zwicky's essay pissed me off some. I thought it forwarded an irresponsible, factually inaccurate, disingenuous and poorly constructed argument. That was my bias. It's not the sort of bias I take to a poetry review because poetry isn't in the business of making arguments, at least not in any straightforward kind of way--and poetry, even bad poetry, doesn't make me angry (sometimes very good poetry does, but in a different way altogether). All of the subsequent pieces were things I was asked to do. Sure, I could've said no, but I can count on one hand the number of review assignments I've turned down and still have enough fingers left to pick both my nostrils and scratch my chin. So to say that I have an "ongoing program to expose Jan Zwicky" is nonsense. I disagree with her philosophically and I'm not generally crazy about her poetry, some of which I do think is quite good, if not commensurate with her reputation. If I've dealt with Zwicky's writing more than once it's precisely because Zwicky is already "exposed": she's one of the most prominent figures in Canadian poetry. If I've reviewed her a lot, that's the reason. She's kind of hard not to review if you're a freelance poetry reviewer.
Another thing that Kevin, intrepid investigator, has failed to point out is that, in the same review he quotes from, I praise Anne Simpson's essay. Not remarkable in and of itself, but the other time I reviewed Simpson, in a roundup review of the 2004 Griffin Prize, I was a wee bit hard on her book Loop. If I was in the business of "exposing" award-belaurelled poets, surely I'd have some choice squib to shoot at Simpson in the Ragged Pen review, no? Kevin also doesn't mention that my harshest words in that review are for Patrick Friesen's essay. The only other time I've dealt with Friesen in my criticism, it was to praise and highlight his commendable work as a translator. Also, his daughter designed the wonderful cover for my book. So how does that fit with my "program"? Oh, it doesn't, I see. Sorry!
Kevin's stellar observation that sometimes two books are reviewed at once and one gets panned whilst the other's praised needs to be addressed. "What gives?" he asks. Well, I can't speak for everyone, Kev, but in this case, I thought one of the books was mediocre and the other one quite good. Which is a crazyass ulterior motive, I know ... And the good one, I have to say, surprised me some. I'd read chunks of Press's previous collection, Spine, and really didn't like what I read at all. Based on that, I had a hunch I wouldn't like this new one either, which, based on the description in its publicity material, sounded like it might just be another ill-conceived Canadian Poetry Project. But you know what, I try very hard not to write reviews based on prejudices and ill-informed skepticism. I like to think that if Jan Zwicky wrote a book that pleased me as much as Karen Press's that I--if I was asked to review it--would respond accordingly. And the Kevins of the world would probably ignore it because it doesn't fit with their Zach-Wells-schema. Either that or, in the interest of reducing cognitive dissonance, they'd try to integrate it into their schema by chalking it up to some kind of strategic scheming: There goes Wells, trying to surprise everyone; don't fall for it! If he's in church, he must have plastique strapped to his chest. O for such a simple mind!
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:40 AM
Nathan Whitlock posted to Gervais on Nietzsche and Hitler the other day, which led me to this delightful bit.[I tried to post this from YouTube a couple days ago and it didn't show up, then presto! there it is today. Is this normal for YouTube posting, or just because it's the first time I've done it? Anyone know?]
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:43 AM
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
This is where I'm gonna get some serious procrastination done.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:49 PM
Sunday, May 6, 2007
(If you can't get past the NYT's password protection, click the first link; Jenn has thoughtfully pirated the whole thing.)
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:17 PM
Saturday, May 5, 2007
More anon. Back to packing. Somehow I've managed to acquire a shitload of books since I've been here. How does this always happen?
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:21 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:17 AM
Friday, May 4, 2007
Jay Millar was the headliner of the evening. I enjoyed his reading from several chapbooks and a recent collaboration with Stephen Cain. I liked some things better than others. Some of the work was a kind of syntaxless string of words. I understand that was the point (it's supposed to mimic the "sporatic growth" of fungi, as I understand it), but that didn't make it any more compelling to me. Some of the other work I thought had some interesting and sometimes wryly funny things going on it, however, and I picked up a copy of his chapbook Lack Lyrics.
Afterwards, I headed over to Elizabeth Bachinsky's pad with her, her husband Blake, Jay, and Treena, the manager of the UBC bookstore hosting the event. A very interesting night of conversation, much of which cannot be repeated in public for various reasons. Some salacious stories, gossip on the politics of the lit world, talk about various aspects of craft, as well as less literary fare. Stayed up yakking till 2:30. It was a heartwarming moment for Canadian literature.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:28 PM
Thursday, May 3, 2007
I hope you’re stronger than the rest of them.
Not because I long for your defeat of
Them and the immortal fame that will ensue
As your spoils and due, but so that, just
Maybe, your voice will raise its red flag above
The babbling clamor. Because I am vain
And you are me at this moment—not essence,
But fragment, not whole cloth, but fibre—
And because this moment has just now passed
Into this moment and nothing stands still
And everything fades and flakes and falters
And because I am, by default, your father
And all that I’ve essayed so far has been failure,
I hope you’re stronger than the rest of them.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:16 AM
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
AUDIO of me reading "One Art."
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:02 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 1:12 PM