Monday, December 31, 2007

The Anti-Cherry: An Inimitable Look at our Sport

Roy MacGregor in this morn's Globe and Mail writes about Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked: On Hockey. Not in the book sections, boys and girls, but on page A2 of our national paper. As if this book might actually be newsworthy.

It's too long to type in, and the Globe has pulled its Globe Insider Pay-per-View trick, but for those of you who have access it can be found here:

For those of you who don't, here a sampling of what Roy says of Lorna and her book:


"The anti-Cherry is alive and well and living on the west Coast. She is a shepherd who names her sheep after hockey players ... And she knows her hockey. ... {Cold-cocked} may be the most unusual book ever written on the game ... a book that stretches from medieval literature ... to pop culture. "

Friday, December 28, 2007

Jackson, Hockey, & the holidays

I've been taking a bit of time off this past week, but thought I'd check in on a few things before heading off to the show this afternoon: No Country For Old Men, pairing perhaps my favourite directors in the Coen Bros. with one of my favourite novelists, Cormac McCarthy. All indications are it will be fabulous. One of the things I checked in on was Lorna Jackson's blog, Cold-cocked, where I discovered a few recent posts. I've pasted in the most recent below, though another excellent post can be found here:


Here's her post from yesterday. And, incidentally, Lorna will be nationwide on Sounds Like Canada with Shelagh Rogers January 9th.

The winter solstice brings back the light, sure, and not a moment too soon. It also brings lots of salt and butter and crabbiness and, phew, World Junior Hockey from far away lands.

Yesterday against the Czechs and this morning versus Slovakia—the wee nation that has already given us Hossas, two magic Marians, a pre-concussion Richard Zednik—the Canadians were snoozy and robotic. Great (fascistic) coaching is one thing, and “yay, we win again!” but must our junior tourny teams all play the same way and look like table hockey on big ice? Positionally sound, okay, but also predictable and machine-steady. Blame the salt and butter, but I nodded off—this was before 8 o’clock in BC, home of Kyle Turris—during the first two periods.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht teaches the aesthetics of sport at Stanford and is the author of the neat little book, In Praise of Athletic Beauty. He's an egghead, sure, but Gumbrecht talks about how the greatest pleasure in sport (or in art), why we watch and cheer, is when the unexpected happens. Seems kinda duh put that way, but I like how it explains that faster heartbeat and instant call to attention when a mistake happens on ice, or a spasm of uncontrolled creativity. This morning, Drew Doughty (great name for a Canadian, or in the case of westcoasters, Self-Doughty) decided to spinorama in the neutral zone when we all thought (cause we know the game's usual rhythms and patterns) he was going to retreat and regroup. He’s long practised that move and apparently had been told by coaches to tone down such hotdoggery for this tournament, to take fewer chances. Even before the move led to the Turris goal, it was thrilling to see the game stop in its tracks and to watch imagination and spark—things we value in all teenagers—squeeze the game off those tracks and send it bumping and grinding toward the net.

So far, things seem controlled and interesting and maybe we’ve moved beyond this as a nation (since the Super Series last year and the ’72 series before it) but: please. I don’t want to see the Canadians headshot the other team’s best forward so he can’t play, possibly ever again.

And speaking of spinoramas: anyone remotely interested in Canadian sports writing should be sad that John Burns has announced he will soon be leaving the Georgia Straight. Over the last ten years, Burnsie has always let me review the sports books I wanted to, has always given sports writing a place to be considered and criticized as legitimate cultural commentary and as literature. During the writing of Cold-cocked: On Hockey (and also my forthcoming book, Flirt: The Interviews), he listened, cared, encouraged and let me read and review many of the books that informed my take on hockey and how we feel, read and write the game. Let’s hope he’s not feeling too Self-Doughty and knows that extreme change (aka “the old spinorama”) is truly the only way to become better and more.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Off for the holidays. Going to try and take a week more-or-less off here at maison Biblioasis, so there's unlikely to be any additional posts until the new year. Best wishes to all!

Amazon, continued...

The last amazon post I made -- see below -- got picked up by a Pete Cattlin on a blog called Optimizing Amazon. It can be found here:


We've started a bit of a discussion about amazon and various issues and practices which may be of interest to some of you. I've already learned a fair bit from the exchange. Some of you other publishers, in particular, might have other thoughts about all things amazon, and it would be great to have you air them. It's not often you get the ear of someone associated with the company who's willing to discuss things with you in a knowledgeable, reasonable fashion, though Pete seems happy to do so. There's also some other good information regarding bibliographic data and other issues, so the site itself might be worth a gander.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why I Still Loathe Amazon

I received a Google Alert this morning, that I thought I'd pass along. It's taken from a customer's blog, a bibliophile from Houston, Texas. It provides further evidence of what I was complaining about regarding amazon practices in a long post a month or so ago.

The book in question, Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant, is, of course, still in print, and still readily available through our distributor, and to amazon, if I understand things correctly, through Baker & Taylor, just as it always has been. Baker & Taylor continues to order our books. Yet amazon has sent an email to a customer, once again, saying that the book is not available.

The general rule of thumb about these things is that for every instance you hear about, another 20 or so are not mentioned in any public way. This year, I've been told of at least a half dozen separate occasions where amazon -- or -- has canceled existing orders for our books when the books are available. I also know of weeks-on-end where the books have been listed as unavailable, where it wasn't even possible to PLACE an order. How much, in the end, has this cost our press? How much other small presses?

Amazon has done a wonderful job of promoting themselves as being the one-stop place for books. If it's available, they'll get it for you. But that's simply not true. But the fact that they send these notices to their customers which can only serve to dissuade them from looking for it elsewhere -- I mean, if can't get it, who can? -- is a seriously problem, and something that needs to be addressed.

As of April, 2008, Biblioasis titles will be represented and distributed by Northwestern University Press in the US and abroad: perhaps this will solve much of this problem. But it is, still, incredibly frustrating. At our level of operation, every sale matters: thankfully this reader wanted the book badly enough to have looked elsewhere. But it would be foolish enough to assume most would show the same level of tenacity.

The post...

Two weeks ago I placed an order for three books, among them a volume I wished to give as a Christmas present, with A prompt e-mail informed me my books would not be delivered until late in January, so I cancelled the book intended as a gift and bought it from a chain bookstore in Houston. On Wednesday I received another e-mail from saying one of the books I had ordered for myself, Time's Covenant: Selected Poems, by Eric Ormsby, could not be shipped:

“Though we had expected to be able to send this item to you, we've since found that it is not available from any of our sources at this time. We realize this is disappointing news to hear, and we apologize for the inconvenience we have caused you.”

“Disappointing,” yes, but also baffling. Time’s Covenant was published in October 2006 by Biblioasis, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada – that is, south of Detroit, in a much-touted era of free trade and globalization. It remains in print. Ormsby is an American and long-time resident of Canada now living in London. He is also among our finest living poets. I reordered his book from (the Canadian cousin), and they expect to ship it between Jan. 16 and Jan. 30.

Monday, December 17, 2007

WANTED: Web Editor

We here at Biblioasis are looking for a web editor to help run both the press and magazine (CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries) websites. Especially the latter. We've tried to maintain it, but, hey, we're simple book people, and it's time we face up to that fact. Luddites-R-Us. There was a time we were proud of of our luddite-status, flaunted it even, but it's beginning to be a major inconvenience.

If anyone is interested, please contact us at We've scraped away the remaining change from the bottom of our kids' Value Village piggy bank, so it's even a paying gig of sorts. But more importantly, for all of you suicidal death-wish types who still entertain hopes of working in the glamorous world of Canadian publishing (cough, hack), think how it will look on your resume!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rebecca Rosenblum & the Journey Prize Anthology

Scanning the online version of the Globe this morning, I found a review of the current Journey Prize Anthology. Biblioasis has three authors in the current collection: Patricia Robertson, for a story from her current The Goldfish Dancer; a story by Grant Buday, shortlisted for the Metcalf-Rooke Award for his fine novel Dragonflies (and recently signed onto the good ship Biblioasis), and Metcalf-Rooke Award winner Rebecca Rosenblum.

Rebecca's story comes in for some praiseworthy treatment from the Globe's reviewer. See below. Congrats, Rebecca.

It's unclear whether the main character of Rebecca Rosenblum's postmodern Cinderella aspires to escape her chilly existence, but until a party in an air-conditioned condo, Emmy holds herself so far apart from others that she is physically as well as figuratively cold. Rosenblum employs the language and rhythm of fairy tales to lend the Chilly Girl its gravity, and the choice is apt; the exchange of innocence for experience is one of the oldest stories. But unlike the other stories in this collection, Emmy's gain isn't wisdom tinged with loss, but wisdom rife with possibility. This is only one of the ways that Rosenblum subverts expectation in this diamond-sharp story. Besides making the cut for the anthology, Chilly Girl is also her first published story. Wow!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Back ...etc.

It's been a long week, trying to catch up on the backlog caused by my Toronto trip for Sales Conference. Nose to the grindstone sorts of things: author touring and promotion grants and reports, finalizing two books for the printer, launches, promotion, correspondence, readying contracts, and a host of small but important administrative tasks which make for less-than-stellar reading.

Pleased to see Stephen Henighan's speech about translation posted early last week getting so much good attention. It's a fine speech, and the various links to it seems to have spread word about Biblioasis' International Translation Series -- and Kapuscinski's I Wrote Stone -- much better than I would have hoped. It's been our hope to spread word into the States with this, as we know there will be more interest in our series there than there will be in Canada -- though why this is the case I'm still not at all sure -- and this seems to be happening. There's even been some online buzz in the last week or so concerning Ondjaki's Good Morning Comrades, the second official title in the series, due out in February. Oh, the wonders of the web...

I Wrote Stone is close to becoming our best-selling poetry title, due in part to the several hundred U.S. wholesaler orders we've received over the last month. The good thing about these is that most -- if not all -- will not be returned. It's also picked up online, and as of yesterday was sitting close to a 1000 overall on, and was listed as 3rd overall -- after Dante and Neruda -- under continental European poetry. Not a bad start.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Big Smoke

In Toronto, where we're finishing up with the LPG Sales Conference and SGM. Four days in the big city and nary a minute to go explore. I'd hoped to be able to manage a quick tour of a few more galleries, or hit a couple of bookstores -- check out Ben McNally's and see how many Biblioasis titles are on the shelves. Spend some time with a couple of friends. But it doesn't seem likely to happen.

Though it's been nice to get together with Kitty Lewis from Brick Books, and Ruth Linka from Brindle & Glass, Simon Dardick from Vehicule, Kitty Lewis from Brick Books, Brian Kaufman from Anvil. Many others. Meet with the sales force and the support staff and the rest of the LPG board. It's nice to have that reminder that there are others out there who've been through what you're going through, and likely much more; to spend a few hours with people who are as passionately devoted to what they are doing as this group is. There are times it's pretty hard not to be cynical, but this is not one of them.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Stephen Henighan on Translation

Stephen Henighan, as the editor of the Biblioasis International Translation Series, acted as host for the launch of Ryszard Kapuscinski's I Wrote Stone on Friday, November 23rd at This Aint's the Rosedale Library. His introduction on the importance of translation was very well received, and he's agreed to let me post it here.

This Ain’t the Rosedale Public Library
November 23, 2007

Stephen Henighan

Good evening! Dobry wieczór!

Welcome to the launch of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s I Wrote Stone, which is also the launch of the Biblioasis Translation Series.

This is both an evening in which to celebrate and an evening in which to remember.

It’s an evening to remember because, of course, we had hoped that Ryszard Kapuscinski would be here with us this evening. Tonight, as Biblioasis sets out on the path of a new translation series, we take the opportunity to honour a Polish writer who died earlier this year.

But we also honour the political and aesthetic act of literary translation because it is through translation that most of us discovered the magnificent writing of Ryszard Kapuscinski. As many of us are aware, in 1958 Kapuscinski went to Ghana to cover Africa for the Polish Press Agency. Over the next four decades he developed into the world’s most original and literary foreign correspondent. A simple reporter became a writer of layered, metaphorical depths with an unerring eye for terrifying details. These details leapt to life in part because Kapuscinski was not simply another stringer for the BBC or CBS. As a Pole, he looked on Africa with the eye of a man whose own country had descended into violence in his childhood; among the legions of foreign reporters describing refugees in Africa, Kapuscinski may have been the only one who had himself been a refugee.

Over four decades in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Kapuscinski witnessed 27 military coups. He was jailed on a number of occasions. He was sentenced to death four times, but always escaped. He wrote books about Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, The Shah of Iran, The Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the birth of independent Angola. These books have been published in 31 countries, almost always in translation. Indeed, I’m certain that many of us here tonight discovered Kapuscinski’s writing by reading English translations of his articles in Granta magazine. Personally, I remember wincing, white-knuckled, each time Kapuscinski rammed another burning roadblock in Togo or talked his way out of a dungeon where he was awaiting execution.

What none of us knew, of course, was that the swashbuckling reporter and daring prose stylist was also a poet. Only when Diana Kuprel and Marek Kusiba brought us a manuscript of their translations of Kapuscinski’s poetry did we become aware of this side of his literary career, which was little known outside Poland. Tonight, therefore, we’re delighted to be launching only the second-book-length translation ever of Kapuscinski’s poetry.

Diana Kuprel is going to speak about Kapuscinski’s relationship with translation, the act that made it possible for people all over the world to imbibe a Polish writer’s vision of Africa, the act which meant that at least one of the outsiders writing about Africa wasn’t from a country that had formerly colonized Africa, such as Britain or France, or a country that was aspiring to colonize it, such as the United States (and today we would have to add China).

Before Diana speaks about Kapuscinski and translation, I’d like to talk about Biblioasis and translation.

Biblioasis is a literary press run by Dan Wells out of his home office in Emeryville, Ontario, just outside Windsor. Biblioasis publishes ten or twelve books a year of Canadian fiction, poetry and literary essays. In 2005 Biblioasis published a book of stories called Yesterday’s People by a Canadian writer named Goran Simic. Since Goran’s first language is Bosnian, or the Bosnian version of the Serbo-Croatian, depending on how you want to frame it, these stories had to be rendered into English, a job that was done partly by Goran himself, partly by Dan Wells and partly by other people. These stories about life in Sarajevo during the war in former Yugoslavia are the first work of translated fiction published by Biblioasis, even though no translator’s name appears on the title page.

This experience got Dan thinking. At the same time, that Dan was thinking about translation, I was growing more and more frustrated with the sheer quantities of great writers who were translated from their own languages into other languages, often into four or five other languages, but whose work was not available in English. Because, alas, our vision of globalization is too often that globalization means that everything of importance happens in English. This attitude, in combination with certain pernicious trends in the publishing and book selling industry, means that less and less gets translated into English these days. Of the 100 best-selling paperbacks in the United Kingdom in 2004, only two were translations. Every day we hear of the importance of China, yet how many of us have read a Chinese novel? Brazilian, Indian and contemporary Arabic writing remain enigmas. Even as the United States and Latin America grow more and more integrated, younger Latin American writers are failing to get published in translation in the U.S. as the older generations, to which Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende belonged, were published. Now that Central and Eastern Europe no longer supply us with politically useful dissidents, we have ceased to translate the region’s literature, as we did in the 1980s. No longer do English-Canadian undergraduates regard translations of Martie-Claire Blais novels as vital reading, as many did in the 1970s, nor do young English-speaking readers elsewhere receive substantial exposure to current French-language fiction from Europe, Africa or the Caribbean.

All this means that English-language prose is less innovative than it used to be. Writers in most cultures read in several languages; their engagement with their own language is nourished by their experience of delving into the literatures of other languages. Major writers in other traditions, such as Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina, or Javier Marías in Spain, or J.M. Coetzee in South Africa (now in Australia) or Haruki Murakami in Japan, are also prolific translators. This is not true in North Atlantic Anglophone culture. The monolingual writer is a postmodern, Anglo-American invention. Try to imagine Jane Urquhart or Barbara Gowdy or Douglas Coupland or Guy Vanderhaeghe undertaking a literary translation. The image is almost surreal; this simply isn’t the way in which our writers approach literature. In ages prior to ours, when all writers, by definition, were multilingual, literature’s nature as an entity whose lustre was burnished by the fretting-together of different linguistic strands was so obvious that it did not need to be stated.
Since our writers are not translators, and since no reader, in any event, can hope to learn very many languages well enough to read their literature, we need translation.

The lifeblood of our literary culture depends on it. Literary movements gain fresh life through translation. Think of the most influential reading trends of the twentieth century: 19th century Russian fiction in the 1930s and 1940s, French existentialism in the 1950s and 1960s, Latin American magic realism in the 1970s and 1980s. All exercised a powerful influence on English-language prose, and all were made possible by literary translation.

When Dan Wells and I met and shared our preoccupations and decided to found the Biblioasis Translation Series, we agreed that we were looking for a kind of specificity that acknowledged a work of literature as a product of a place and a time, that acknowledged it as a creation of a particular translator grappling with a particular book in a particular context. For that reason, just as Ryszard Kapuscinski did not hide his identity as a Polish reporter in Africa, we decided that we would not hide the fact that ours were Canadian translations of world literature, and that a Canadian translation is just as legitimate and original and engaging as an American or British translation, and may be even more essential than those translations because it is bound to diverge in some respects from the assumptions of those more powerful cultures.

In contrast to some publishers these days, we decided that we were not going to hide the fact that our translations were translations. We were not going to hide the translator’s name, or banish it from the front cover. On the contrary, we would boast about our translators, just as Avon Books used to boast about Gregory Rabassa’s prowess in translating Latin American literature during the 1970s, or Penguin Classics boasted of David Margashack’s ability to render Dostoyevsky into 20th century English in the 1950s. We would recognize that translation is the most intense form of engagement with literary language that exists, an endless sifting and sieving of words for the kernels of their meanings, an improvisation which is never finished and is never satisfactory but which yields the miraculous act of transporting one culture into the realm of another, of causing the collisions of words and genres and concepts and histories and passions and fantasies which fissures and hybridizes literatures and yields new forms.

At the most simple level, translated literature opens up the world. Let me close with one very obvious example of this. The second book in the Biblioasis Translation Series is going to be the novel Good Morning Comrades by the young Angolan writer Ondjaki. I never would have got interested in Angola, I never would have travelled to southern Africa and met Ondjaki, had I not read an exquisite description of the first week of Angolan independence in a book called Another Day of Life by a Polish writer named Ryszard Kapuscinski. That book was made available to me by translation, and in turn we will soon be making an Angolan writer available to readers in Canada by way of translation. That Angolan novel is, in part, about Angola’s relations with Cuba. In addition to providing readers in Canada with a different view of Africa, it will provide them with a fresh perspective on Cuba. Beware! Translation is dangerous! Every act of translation connects part of the world to another part in a way we never could have expected; and this connection makes possible another connection, which makes possible another connection which in turn will make possible other connections in the future, and this web of connections is called culture, and it cannot exist without translation.

Thank you. Dziekuje bardzo.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Globe 100 (Plus)

Almost in spite of myself, I've been looking forward the last few weeks to seeing the Globe 100. It's been a good year for Biblioasis in the Globe: counting the paperbacks section, eight of our titles have been reviewed in the Globe since May. Three of these -- the review of Helwig's Saltsea, Ormsby's Time's Covenant and Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained, have been raves. So I felt fairly confident that Biblioasis would rate a mention this year, and hopefully, for the first time, might receive a multiple inclusion. I wasn't counting on it, but I thought it a distinct possibility. So when I picked up my morning Globe at the corner store and flipped to the Books section to see the Globe 100 listing, I let the car idle for a few minutes in the parking lot and quickly flipped through the listings to see what I'd find.

What I found was that Biblioasis did not this year merit a mention. I put the car in drive and headed on home.

I'm not going to lie to you: I was a bit disappointed. I've just finished writing my first Canada Council Block Grant this past week, and I could have used the pick-me-up. Grant writing, I've discovered over the last few years, is one of the primary functions of a Canadian publisher; though I'm now writing about 10 -12 a year between press and magazine, they don't seem to get any easier. I find the whole experience both depressing, frustrating and exhausting. As I've said elsewhere, there are times I feel more like a minor functionary in the literary bureaucracy than a publisher, and this week -- paring down my contribution to Canadian literature, my artistic vision and editorial excellence, my management and 3-5 year plan to approximately 1500 words -- I was feeling particularly bureaucratized.

But it's also not Martin Levin's job to give me a timely pick-me-up. It's his job, in this section, to list the 100+ books he and his crew considered among the best of 2007, and if Biblioasis titles couldn't crack that line-up, in their opinion, than they shouldn't be there. I might respectfully disagree -- and, trust me, I do -- but that's about as far as it goes.

I read Martin Levin's Shelf Life piece when I got home. It was quite similar to other Globe 100 Levin apologies, and no doubt absolutely true. "Rest assured, your editors have agonized -- I do not exaggerate; the pain is physical -- in winnowing the year's best to a mere fivescore. This involves a combination of gut-wrenching triage, tearful callousness, second-guesses and regrets." But then he goes on to give an example: "Have we given small presses their due? This year, I would say: Probably not."

I went back and did a count. Of the 26 titles listed in the Canadian fiction section, exactly two -- both from Cormorant -- merited mention. (I did not include Anansi in this total.) 3 of the 5 First Fictions were from "small" presses, bringing the total to 5 of 31. 2 of 5 poetry titles were from "small" presses. 2 of 50 nonfiction inclusions. Of these sections, then, 7 of 86 titles were from, quote-unquote, small presses.

So: what's my point? Not what you may think. This showing may or may not be poor. After all, the larger Canadian presses or conglomerates publish more titles, by bigger names, and are more regularly reviewed; and then a substantial number of the best books, quite reasonably, weren't Canadian at all. So for Canadian "small" presses to publish 7 of the top 100 -- or 100+ -- titles reviewed in the Globe from all books published in english seems to me to be pretty wonderful. If this is, indeed, what all of this pointless math means.

What sticks in my craw a bit is what seems to me the underlying assumption of Levin's example. It suggests that quote-unquote small presses operate on some different, likely lesser, level. That the criteria used to judge a book published by a smaller house is not the same -- and may need a touch more generosity -- than that of the larger presses. We're the country cousins and provincials who don't know what all the silverware is for and drink from the finger bowl. I fear it indicative of some belief that quote-unquote small presses need to be, in some fashion, propped up. That their best books can't stand up on their own.

It all reminds me of what a professor of mine said to me a few years ago when I told her that I was turning Biblioasis into a press. This woman is one of the leading scholars of book publishing in the country, a specialist in Victorian book publishing with several excellent histories to her credit. She smiled at me and said that that was very nice, but what I was setting out to do was not real publishing. It was more self-publishing, or hobby publishing. Nice and quaint and enthusiastic and commendable, she hinted, but not to be confused with the real thing.

This has been a motivating burr ever since. And I fear that the same somewhat muted if more well-intended impulse may lay at the heart of Levin's example.

This is not to ignore the obvious differences between Biblioasis and Coach House and Cormorant and Gaspereau, on the one side, and M&S and Random House and Douglas & McIntyre on the other. The latter obviously pay larger advances (& therefore attract more recognizable names), have larger marketing budgets, and have in-house designers. But when it comes to judging the books themselves, and especially the best of them, I think the differences between the big houses and the small houses largely evaporate. The best books produced by Coach House and Cormorant and Gapereau and Porcupine's Quill and Vehicule (& hopefully Biblioasis) show the same attention to detail, are chosen with as much care, and are as well edited, as well designed and produced, as books published by the larger houses. I would argue, in fact, occasionally moreso. As books, there are no differences, and no need to judge them by different measuring sticks. There's no need to make excuses, or be apologetic about or for them.

Literary (ie. those of us suffering from small press syndrome) publishers probably only have themselves (or, ahem, ourselves) to blame. We often trundle out the excuse of our size when it suits our purpose. And as often as this might be valid (we don't have the marketing budget for regular Globe ads, or to whisk our writers around on national tours, as do some of the larger presses) it still does damage. It contributes to the notion that we're not the real game, that
we're the minor leagues (there've been "small" presses that advertise themselves as such), at best a necessary stepping stone to the big leagues where M&S and Random House and Knopf and the big boys and girls play; at worst a place for the has-beens and never-quite-were's. We bemoan the fact that our best writers get snapped up by the larger presses ( and to illustrate this point, it could be pointed out that at least 8 of the 24 writers from large presses listed under best Canadian fiction began their careers with "small" presses).

I might be wrong, and I'm sure there are many publishers and editors out there who will disagree with me, but maybe we're creating our own problem here.

I don't buy the argument that it's the "small" presses who are doing most of the best publishing in Canada. I've met enough of the publishers and editors at the larger houses to know that they are equally committed and passionate about what they are doing, that we are all brothers and sisters in the same literary trenches (even if they do wear shinier uniforms). Some of the best books published in Canada come from smaller houses, but so do most of the worst. But it's also true that because of the nature of what we do and how we do it at the smaller houses, we can take some chances the larger presses often cannot. We can survive -- barely -- on sales of 300 to 1000 copies of a title. Commercial considerations need not weigh in quite as much. It's our advantage, especially in the BookNet era, and I think it evens the proverbial playing field quite nicely, so much so that there's no need to speak of small and large presses at all, but only the good and the bad.

I don't think there is anything "small" about any of Biblioasis' 2007 titles, and I suspect Alana Wilcox or Andrew Steeves could say the same. Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked, John Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained, Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant, Kathleen Winter's boYs or Patricia Robertson's Goldfish Dancer -- just to name a few -- are as well designed, edited, copy-edited, written and produced as any book produced by a larger press in 2007. They are as good, in my opinion, as almost any other book produced in 2007. Some of these may prove, in time, to be more important than any of the books that have received award nods or Globe 100 inclusion (this is absolutely the case with Ormsby's Time's Covenant).

No excuses are offered or expected. Or necessary.

Friday, November 30, 2007

CNQ 72: The Best CNQ Ever?

CNQ has arrived and will be mailed out as soon as I finish this Canada Council grant. It's a fine issue, and may well be our best. Phil Marchand on the Problem with Alice Munro, Charles Foran's thoughts on growing up in Southwestern Ontario (Dumb as a Sack of Hammers), Iris Nowell on Painters Eleven wildman Tom Hodgson, David O'Rourke and Abe Tarasofksy on Irving Layton, a profile of Giller-longlisted (& fab short story writer) Sharon English, Clark Blaise on the short story, Perilous Trade Conversations with Atwood and Gibson, Andrew Steeves taking poetry design personally, poetry by Amanda Jernigan, plus reviews of Ondaatje, Munro, Crozier, Lee and others. And a Letters section! Plural! You love us! You really love us! (At least most of you do.)

Should be hitting mailboxes and newsstands across the country towards the end of next week or the beginning of the following.

Montreal Review of Books Review of Little Eurekas

A very good review of Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas: A Decade's Thoughts on Poetry in the MRB. An excellent Christmas gift! You can buy it here:

or here:

or even here:

Yes, I know: so much for all I want for Christmas is 600 new subscriptions...

Oh yes, the review:

"If anybody had told me, years ago, that I would one day publish a book of literary criticism, I think I would have laughed out loud," a rather astounded Robin Sarah writes in her introduction to Little Eurekas. Yet here it is, a tidy collection of diverse writings gleaned from essays, columns, reviews, and collaborations, and arranged in a volume that is certainly substantial evidence of a literary life, among other things. Indeed, the volume "reflects personally upon a life in poetry" by one who has written, edited, taught, reviewed, published, and even typeset it manually. Rooted in the personal, Little Eurekas is unencumbered by any of the potentially daunting theory that typically characterizes the genre, and in this sense, one hesitates to categorize it as LitCrit proper. If Little Eurekas is literary criticism, then it is, as Sarah points out, certainly an unconventional contribution to the genre.

Organized into five parts, Little Eurekas is a friendly, even hospitable collection, and the conversational but sophisticated prose makes it all the more so. Part I offers a handful of essays ranging from Sarah's account of how, as a young girl, she fell for poetry, to a frank discussion of poetics in "Poetry's Bottom Line," to a thought-provoking trio on teaching, publishing, and editing poetry. In "I To My Perils: How I Fell for Poetry," Sarah describes poetry's insidious creep upon her: "No primal 'Eureka moment.' Many little Eurekas - some of them unconscious, smiting me after the fact." She goes on to say that "it is an addiction to the little Eurekas, those moments of electric response to a particular poem that makes one a reader of poetry." While this reviewer was not smitten with the title of the collection, the sentiment behind it - the exuberance, the joy, the electricity that poetry can yield - is certainly true enough.

Throughout the collection, Sarah shows herself to be a writer who, in the fullness of time, has developed particular ideas about things. She does not shirk from asking and answering thorny questions that probably should be asked by more writers but too often are not. Consider: "If poetry is a good thing, can there be too much of it?", or "What makes a poem a poem?" Nor does she hesitate to share her various gripes. For Sarah, all that ails poetry - the current cultural program, the overproduction of poetry that nobody reads or reviews, the poet as celebrity, creative writing training, less than stringent editing - seems to boil down to an abiding concern that quality over quantity be poetry's mantra. Whether or not one agrees with her opinions, Sarah demonstrates no small courage in laying her views out clearly and plainly.

Perhaps the best way to describe Little Eurekas is to say that it "Dances with Poems," for the collection is, by and large, comprised of Sarah's essays on, and reviews of, poetry. In the chapter of that name Sarah is clear: "Appreciation of poetry begins with poems." And true to her word, she is generous with quotation. Like a good dance partner, Sarah's engagement with poetry is attentive, considered, and at its best downright inspiring. Her collaborations (with Dennis Lee and Eric Ormsby among others), taken from interviews, symposia, and most interestingly letter exchanges, add yet another dimension to the dance.

This reviewer is not a poet, and Sarah might be heartened to know that Little Eurekas made her want to read more poetry; it made her pick up a dusty collection from her bookshelf; it made her send a poem to a friend who seemed to require just those particular words; and it made her want to seek out some more of the poems Sarah reviews. And is it not just these little moments of electric response - these little Eurekas - that make one a reader of poetry?
Brenda Cockfield is a Montreal writer.

Kathleen Winter's Eating the Bones online

A story from boYs, 'Eating the Bones,' can be found online on the Antigonish Review website, here:

You can buy the book here:

or here:

or even (yes, I'm holding my nose) here:

Christmas is coming, and I'm losing all sense of shame.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CNQ Gift Subscription Offer

The following is a gift subscription offer made to CNQ subscribers, but I post it here in case any Thirsty readers might want to take advantage. If you give a gift subscription to two different individuals, we'll give you a subscription for the same period. And you'll save yourself at least a little time in a mall. Tell me, how much is that worth?

If you're interested, email me at, and I'll give you all the necessary info.

CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries

“…it may be the best literary journal in the land.”

-John Fraser, Master of Massey College. The National Post

Dear Subscriber,

In the spirit of last-minute Christmas shopping, I am writing you today with a last minute Christmas offer. Like you, we’re a bit behind here: December’s just around the corner, CNQ 72 is in, waiting in the garage to be mailed; there are grants to do and subscriptions to renew. Like you, we do not have our icicle lights up yet, and our tree is still dusty in its box. Christmas spirit is in rather short supply, and the thought of hitting the mall and that crush of shoppers and their parcels isn’t helping either.

Besides, what do you get your friends and loved ones? If you’re like me, you’re finding it harder and harder to find that (near) perfect gift. $20-$30 doesn’t buy much these days, and little of any value. Another scented candle? A bundle of Mark’s Work Warehouse thermal socks? A bottle of wine in a gauzy negligee of a gift bag (complete with a bow?) A small brick of Marks & Spencer fruit cake? That’s about it. And nothing says I didn’t think about this at all like all of the above.

(Yes: I know. There are books. But bringing that up wouldn’t help my case now, would it?)

But a gift subscription to CNQ is different. Not only does it say you thought about it, it says you like to think (and let’s face it, gift giving is at least a little bit about the giver). And, just as importantly, it says that you think the giftee likes to think too. You’re saying that your friend or loved one cares about Canadian art, literature and culture, that they deserve so much more than the great aunt’s yearly subscription to Reader’s Digest or People; that art, literature and criticism are more important than crock pot recipes, fashion and celebrity gossip.

As a subscriber, you’ve seen how we’ve revamped and expanded and revitalized CNQ. You’ve had the chance to read Mike Barnes on Libraculture, Robyn Sarah on Publishing (Too Much) Poetry, Carmine Starnino on the noir-esque Karen Solie. We hope you’ll agree with Dennis Lee, who recently wrote to us about the magazine and said in part: “Bravissimo! Piece after piece has a wonderful mix of intelligence, maniacal caring, and (dare I say it?) generosity of spirit. Almost gives you hope for critical thought in this country.” You know about the passion and thoughtfulness (and the occasional typo). You’ve seen the love (& what is Christmas about, if not love?).

We also expect that you know others who might appreciate CNQ. Many of you are writers or editors or academics or librarians or booksellers or teachers; all of you are readers. We’re certain you know at least two like-minded souls out there who might just love to receive a subscription to CNQ. At present we have 300 paying subscribers, and about 100 newsstand readers. Even with government grants, it’s pretty difficult to sustain a magazine with these kind of numbers. And we simply refuse to believe that that’s all there are out there who care about Canadian art and literature. Even in a country of 35 million (and growing) the Aesthetic Underground must be larger than that.

Which is where you & this offer come in (& as with all holiday offers, there’s something in it for you):

Give a one-year gift subscription to two separate individuals for Christmas, and we’ll add a free year to your account. Give a two-year subscription to two separate recipients, and we’ll add two free years to your account. All gift subscriptions will come with a Christmas card letting your recipient know that this thoughtful gift came from you. (And if you’re one of those lifetime subscribers who hasn’t paid a cent since William Morley or Doug Fetherling ran the magazine (bah humbug) think about all the money you’ve saved. Certainly enough for two measly little gift subscriptions, don’t you think?)

All you have to do is fill in the enclosed form with the names and addresses and length of subscriptions for your gift subscriptions, and mail it back to us (with a cheque, of course). We’ll take care of the rest, starting the new subscriptions with issue 72. We’ll send a pretty card with your name on it. And, for these people on your Christmas list, at least, no trip to the mall will be necessary.

Think about it for a moment: if all 300 of our subscribers gave just two gift subscriptions this year, we’d go from being one of the smallest critical journals in the land to among the largest. We’d have a bit more security (though, alas, no dental). We’d be able to pay our writers more, and our editors something. Colour signatures for the art pieces? Perhaps one of those little water wheels so that we won’t risk glue poisoning? It’s enough to get me excited.

So sing along with me: All I want for Christmas is 600 new subscriptions, 600 new subscriptions, 600 new subscriptions …

Happy Holidays,


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kapuscinski and Translation at This Ain't the Rosedale / The Photography of Andre Kertesz

A few photos from the Kapuscinski I Wrote Stone/ Biblioasis International Translation Series Launch. I need to learn to take a better picture.

The event really was wonderful. Stephen Henighan gave an impassioned introduction on the need for translation, which I'll be posting here in the next day or two. Al Moritz read from the poetry of French surrealist Benjamin Peret. Goran Simic read two new prose poems, possibly from his upcoming Tattooed Land (hard to know, as I've not yet seen the ms). Diana Kuprel and Marek Kusiba did an exceptional job reading Kapuscinski's poems, both in Polish and in english. Diana's reading was superb. She quite skilled, eloquent, engaged, and gave I thought one of the best readings we've had at Biblioasis. Hopefully we'll get her out a few more times yet.

A good crowd of 60-70 people were in attendance. Leon Rooke showed up, and we announced the winner of the Metcalf-Rooke Award. The winner, Rebecca Rosenblum, was also in attendance. It was wonderful to be able to announce the award in a meaningful fashion with the winner present. It made the announcement more real and immediate.

It was also nice to meet Priscilla Uppal, who's made it to other Biblioasis events in the past, though I've never had the chance to meet her. Branko Gorjup was also present, as was Barry Callaghan, of Exile, though he left so damn fast I never got the chance to introduce myself.

Branko and Leon are the reason Biblioasis received the book. They suggested that Diana and Marek send it to us, after other presses turned it down, largely, I gather, because it was not a Canada Council eligible title. Dan and Charlie at This Ain't the Rosedale were gracious hosts, and kept the doors open late for us. I, alas, forgot my stash of remainders behind their counter, but perhaps will be able to pick them up the week after next, when I'm next in Toronto.

Spent the night at the GLadstone, which was nice, and the four hours before my train touring a few galleries with Tony Calzetta, a Windsor-born artist I've hooked up with through Metcalf, and someone I'm hoping to do a book on in the next couple of years. Hit a few gallery shows, most of which were disappointing. Though I did see the work of Dan Kennedy, a dada-ist influenced artist -- or so says his catalogue -- who merges 19th century typography, and freak show/travelling road show imagery in a rather surreal, powerful collage. I think his work would make excellent cover illustrations, and intend to search him out to see how interested he'd be in a project or two.

The highlight, however, was a photography exhibit, of the work of Andre Kertesz. I'd not heard of him before, though he was internationally renowned. This show was of his Polaroids, which goes to show that it's not the instrument but the man using it. The work was breathtaking, beautiful. Consisting mainly of still lifes, shots taken around his apartment, or through his window, the way he captured light, or honed in on an image was quite amazing. In the best of them there was a near abstract quality, where the object dissolved into light and colour and line. Kertesz started using the Polaroid camera late in life, in his mid-80s, when he was more and more confined to his house due to infirmity, and when he could no longer develop film in a darkroom due to vertigo.

The show runs at the Bulger Gallery on Queen St. until late December. I may head back when I'm in Toronto the week after next. If I had $4000, I'd have bought one of them. As it is, I really couldn't afford the book I purchased. But viewing them at the Bulger is free. I urge everyone who can to do so.

The Ryszard Kapuscinski launch

Edward Wendt, who has set up the Kapuscinski Fan Club on Facebook, Shadow of the Sun, brought a camera to the launch and recorded it. He's agreed to let me post/link -- whatever this old (or not-so-old) luddite can manage -- so that y'all can get a taste. It really was a wonderful night, and I'll try and post about it later tonight, with some more photos.

For the readings check out here:

and here:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Books in Canada Review of Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant

A wonderful review of Eric Ormsby's Time's Covenant: Selected Poems in Books in Canada this past month.

Books in Canada
Last spring, This Is Not A Reading Series-the popular Toronto reading series in which writers are encouraged to do anything but read their own work-hosted a discussion on poetry and the environment. Towards the end of the evening, the moderator read a poem to a panel of poets from Gaspereau Press. It wasn’t his, and it went like this:

The stately ripple of the garter snake
In sinuous procession through the grass
Compelled my eye. It stopped and held its head
High above the lawn, and the delicate curve
Of its slender body formed a letter S-
For “serpent,” I assume, as though
Diminutive majesty obliged embodiment.

The garter snake reminded me of those
Cartouches where the figure of a snake
Seems to suggest the presence of a god
Until, more flickering than any god,
The small snake gathered glidingly and slid,
But with such cadence to its rapt advance
That when it stopped once more to raise its head,
It was stiller than the stillest mineral
And when it moved again, it moved the way
A curl of water slips along a stone
Or like the ardent progress of a tear
Till, deeper still, it gave the rubbled grass
And the dull hollows where its ripple ran
Lithe scintillas of exuberance,
Moving the way a chance felicity
Silvers the whole attention of the mind.

The poem is called “Garter Snake” by ex-Montreal poet Eric Ormsby. After his reading, the moderator asked the panel of Gaspereau poets if “Garter Snake” could be considered an “environmental poem.” It was a neat move, an attempt to right a discussion (that had been veering more and more into trendy politics) by reminding the panel that a poem’s prime responsibility is to be excellent. At least, I thought it was a neat move. I didn’t anticipate George Elliott Clarke’s swift, showman’s quip a well-timed beat later. “Garter Snake” he said, is about the poet’s penis.
Give credit where it’s due: Clarke’s crack was funny. It drew its laugh from the audience, myself included. But there was a slightly knowing, even self-righteous note to the laughter. The audience laughed because it knew (as Clarke, a good comedian, gambled it would) that Ormsby had committed a laughable faux pas, at least for a male poet: he had written a sincere, reverential poem about a phallic-shaped reptile, minding its own business in nature. Apparently no one had told Ormsby that it’s no longer de rigeur for a male poet to exercise his “othering gaze”, his “patriarchal power”, his “coloniser’s language”-there’s an M.A.’s worth of clichés to choose from here-on a poor, defenceless garter snake. Even my earlier use of the word “captured” inadvertently characterises Ormsby as swaggering hunter-poet.
We’ve reached an odd moment when a poem as exquisite as “Garter Snake” can be so crassly, but craftily, dismissed. It’s into this moment that Biblioasis has delivered the gorgeous Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems, which compiles Ormsby’s first five collections, plus the usual uncollected rarities, and a new sequence, “Time’s Covenant” for the completists (I like to pretend Ormsby has a rabid cult following; he certainly deserves one).
But before turning to the first poem in Time’s Covenant, newcomers should check the date of Ormsby’s first collection, Bavarian Shrine and other poems, (1990) against his date of birth (1941). Ormsby has taken his time as a poet; he has, instead, had a busy career as a noted Islamic scholar and contributor of expert opinion to periodicals. At a time when poets publish early and often (with what David Solway has gauged as “CV-driven velocity”), Ormsby moves at the kind of unhurried, understated, underwater pace that would have suited Elizabeth Bishop-or one of the sea creatures an Ormsby poem frequently nets with well-knit words.
I write “nets” because Ormsby is not an environmentally friendly poet. That is, his poems don’t trouble with the “relationship” between interloper-human and interlopee-nature. In the typical Ormsby poem, the players and props enjoy fairly fixed positions: the speaker (usually an “I”) looks, while some object (usually an animal, or bit of bric-a-brac, or hunk of Florida real-estate) gets good-and-looked-at. Ormsby, clearly, is one of our most voyeuristic poets. And in our more moralistic moments, we might be troubled by the way the speaker in an Ormsby poem seems to blame his gaze on his chosen object, as if the object was just asking to be objectified. Indeed, like good environmentalists we might not agree with the Ormsby speaker who claims that “mannequins / Sport . . . alluring alcoves of thigh” and conch-shells “draw / The eye, and then the fingertips, inside.” We might even (reasonably) balk at the recurring adjective “virginal”, or one speaker’s insistence that an old woman’s “Old / Velvets insisted on being felt.” With a little theory under our belts, it would take little effort to diagram the way an Ormsby speaker first appropriates and then composts nature into convenient truths. For example, in “Grackle”, an oblivious grackle does its thing, but the speaker thinks the grackle’s “repertoire seems meant to flatter / Us by mimicry and so exonerate / Our grosser faults.” Elsewhere, a similarly oblivious scorpion “made [the speaker] dream of voyages,” while another poem asks, “Is gazing a favour that gazed waves bestow?” And there’s that garter snake, which, Clarke suggests, exists to celebrate the size of something else. Again and again, the natural world seems to provide Ormsby with an opportunity to celebrate his own capacity for seeing and, by extension, his self. If properly primed by an angry professor, some of us might feel inclined to heave that cinderblock of a word, “humanist”, at Ormsby (not too long ago the cinderblock would have been “bourgeois”).
But to flail Ormsby to the row-in-unison beat of the latest, already out-of-date theory is to not only ignore an inconvenient truth (good writing is good voyeurism) but to ignore the fact that Ormsby is an activist-an activist for what he calls “all negligible things.” The speaker in an Ormsby poem can usually be found peering into cracks, crevices, corners, and alcoves; or loafing about abandoned foundries, neglected gardens, and the less touristy stretches of the beach. While the poetry of an Adrienne Rich frequently campaigns for the sort of marginalised groups that have mandates, Ormsby’s poetry sets up camp on actual, physical margins-the edges and baseboards to which skin follicles of all colours are eventually swept. Like the weed mullein, his poetry “domesticates / Small desolations and . . . pinches place / From peripheries where places cannot be . . .” He then populates these “peripheries” with “negligible things” like combs, pebbles, nails pried “[o]ut of a powdery corner,” and just about anything that can stick to the sole of a shoe. (Had Ormsby been the hapless motorist stranded between highways in J.G. Ballard’s cult novel, Concrete Island, I suspect he would have been perfectly happy amid the debris.)
He collects animals, too, but he’s poetry’s most liberal zookeeper since Marianne Moore. Like Moore, he’s not after big game; his poetry consistently sides with the underdogs and squatters that occupy all of those aforementioned cracks, crevices, corners, and alcoves: garter snakes, moths, spiders-critters few hunters would want to bag and stuff. Ormsby, of course, is no hunter; he’s a packrat and his body of work is a richly musty fleamarket of poetic curios and near-obsolete words, lovingly collected. “The refrain in his poems is not ‘I am,’ observes Amanda Jernigan, but “‘I like.’ He is a verbal spendthrift, a connoisseur of the actual, the mortal world’s not-so-secret admirer.”
Some of us might prefer a more explicitly outraged poem that exposes, say, the squalid environmental conditions in a sweatshop. Ormsby prefers to consider how perfume bottles “showed their clumsy seams /-mere factory casts!-running up their backs / Like a wind-stunned thread of tears.” That’s exquisite. In fact, such spot-on lines posit a principal reason for reading Ormsby: to witness extraordinary feats of verbal description. If Auden was right, and poetry is basically just “memorable speech,” then Ormsby has given us much to remember. As a “verbal spendthrift,” he may sometimes send us to the dictionary, but the trip is usually worth it. Like the cellar in his poem “Cellar”, Ormsby “gives / Reluctant nobility to . . . disowned things” in language that deserves to be memorized:

We saw the lightning lace the school’s façade
With instantaneous traceries and hairline fires,
Like a road map glimpsed by flashlight in a car.
(from “Rain in Childhood”)

The conch is the trumpet of solemn festivals
And its pinnacle-auger-threaded,
Spire-sleek, piquant as lance-
Tip or the brass casque of a khan-
Scalpels the roughened currents asunder.
But the russet life that hides inside,
Whose flesh tastes good in broths,
Flinches from the light.
(from “Conch-Shell”)

I thought of the kingdoms it had crept
Through under the ground, spud-
Smug, amid the dust of the bones of shahs
And eunuchs, those generations of the Flood,
The Colossi and the Accursed,
The Great Hunger and the hegiras,
Telemons and ostraca and, worst,
Immense anti-archives of dirt.
(from “Episode with a Potato”)

His toenails clicked their little castanets, His ankles and patella cadence-clacked,
His nipples pizzicattoed with a taut
Epidermal anthem of delight,
His piccolo of penis piped its glee,
And even his shy balls in their goathair sack
Blipped like muffled bugles when he walked.
(from “Love Among the Dunes”)

The rails that stretch away in parallel
Abraded brightnesses dismay, like those problems
In your old mathematics book at school…
(from “Railway Stanzas”)

But here, before the open waves, where beach
umbrellas bloomed in tulip rows…
(from “My First Beach”)

“[T]hese are just a few of the things I can’t bear not to quote,” Randall Jarrell once wrote, in an essay on Marianne Moore’s poetry. “I haven’t yet come to the things I want to quote-I may never get to them.” So, too, with Ormsby’s oeuvre, where brilliant image follows brilliant image with such frequency, the reader is quickly spoiled. At their worst, Ormsby’s poems can seem like mere catalogues of gorgeous description, with little in the way of narrative or argument to tie the riches together. Even Ormsby’s fine book Araby (2000)-devoted to the misadventures of Jaham and his sidekick Bald Adham-works less as a coherent, book-length narrative than a collection of individually excellent lyric poems that just happen to star the same cast.
At their best, however, Ormsby’s poems form a body of work that could easily double as a primer on poetic perception. There’s little in the way of typographical hijinx; the poems responsibly align themselves with a left margin that, in turn, confers on each line the dignity of a capital letter, and their matter-of-fact titles like “Nose”, “Grackle”, and “Rooster” can appear deceptively banal. Such titles, however, seem to constitute a self-imposed challenge, forcing Ormsby, time after time, to rise above banality and deliver the best poem we’ll ever read about a nose, a grackle, or a rooster. Elizabeth Bishop was great at this game. Nevermind that her mentor, Moore, wrote a fine poem called, “The Fish”; Bishop’s “The Fish” has the last word just as Ormsby’s poem, “Rooster”, has the nerve to take a shot at supplanting Bishop’s own “Roosters”. Certainly no poet, not even Bishop, has better recorded the rooster’s “dark, corroded croak / Like a grudging nail tugged out of stubborn wood . . . ”
Ormsby, then, may just be another poet’s poet, but that’s no label to sniff at. Although not much recognised in her lifetime, Bishop-famously described as a “poet’s poet’s poet”-has since eclipsed many of her contemporaries. And though we may laugh at the easy joke of one of Ormsby’s peers, it’s worth noting that “Garter Snake” originally appeared in The New Yorker. Ormsby’s poems, in other words, have reached beyond the boundaries that have consigned so much verbally hum-drum Canadian poetry to its narrow but deserved place, next to the vacuum cleaner. Poems like “Garter Snake”, “Grackle”, “Rooster”, “Song for an Ironing Board”, “The Song of the Whisk”, “Childhood House”, and a growing handful of others, are built to last-just in case we stop laughing long enough to recognise them for what they are: classics, daring us to supplant them with our own.
Jason Guriel (Books in Canada)

boYs: Michael Crummey's Favourite Book of 2007

My regular copy of Quill & Quire was in the mail this afternoon. A Q&Q best of 2007 issue, with a separate supplementary guide inside. A lot of reviews from the past year at Q&Q, and some colour call outs, where they've asked prominent Canadian writers what their favourite books were. Michale Crummey chose Kathleen Winter's boYs. "Winter's narrative voice is complex and completely engaging; the stories are quietly hilarious and heartbreaking." Can't wait to use that on the second printing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The 3rd Annual Metcalf-Rooke Award

We have decided to present the 2007 Metcalf-Rooke Award to the work of Rebecca Rosenblum. Rebecca’s writing is daring, extraordinary, and proof of a sterling imagination. Her collection of short stories, Once, shows considerable vigour and originality. Rebecca has a striking ability to “see things new,” and she comes at these stories from a fresh, slanted, beguiling, unfamiliar angle. Many of these stories are wondrous. Thrilling, in fact. Rebecca’s strongest work invariably contains soul-awakening surprises that fill a reader with wonder. The best of her stories are, we think, rather brilliant.

-- John Metcalf & Leon Rooke

Rebecca Rosenblum completed her MA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Toronto in 2007. Her recent publications include Exile Quarterly, echolocation, The Danforth Review, The New Quarterly, Qwerty, and Journey Prize Stories 19. Rebecca lives in Toronto.

Rebecca will receive a $1500.00 prize, a publishing contract with Biblioasis (with Once set for Fall 2008 publication), a regional book tour (including an appearance at the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival), a leather bound copy of her book, and a special pre-publication profile in The New Quarterly.

The other shortlisted titles are: Grant Buday for his novel, Dragonflies; Bruce Johnson for his novel Firmament; and J.J. Steinfeld for his collection of short fiction, Contemplating Madnesses. Congratulations to all for their fine work.

The 2007 Metcalf-Rooke Award is co-sponsored by Steven Temple Books, The New Quarterly and Biblioasis.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Review of Saltsea in Canadian Literature

David Helwig (Author)

Saltsea: A Novel. Biblioasis

Search for this book at

Reviewed by Greg Doran

Saltsea is a “beach-novel” for English Majors. Helwig has crafted an engaging novel that captures the long shadows and soft breezes of summer. The novel is set at the Saltsea Inn on PEI, and it focuses on the various guests at the Inn, their stories, and the past. The Inn is not only the central setting but also the narrative focal point for the novel. Every place has many tales to tell, and Helwig allows Saltsea to tell its stories, both past and present.

The novel has a cinematic quality both in its descriptive passages and its narrative structure. Helwig foregrounds this cinematic quality through Robin, one of the waitresses in the Inn’s dining room, who uses cinematographic language to describe the events at the Inn. Through detailed descriptive passages, Helwig embeds the reader in the environment of the Inn, where there is “a line of weeds and shells at the previous high water mark, and in the middle distance, waves falling in an endless foaming reiteration on a small sandbar.” Helwig’s writing is both poetic and panoramic, and it defines the setting in such concrete detail that it conjures smells and sounds to accompany the images.

Along with its descriptive passages, the novel’s cinematic quality is expressed in its narrative structure. Helwig uses a shifting limited omniscient narrator, similar to a point-of-view camera shot. Each narrative section is focused on the perspective of one of the many characters who inhabits the novel. The narrative focus is often “handed off,” like a baton, between characters. This style of transition creates a multilayered narrative structure designed not to follow a single plotline but to convey a larger sense of place, and the people who inhabit it. Before leaving the Inn, the professor goes to give a gift to Lizze McKellan, another guest. The professor is the narrative focus until he gives her the gift. At that point, the focus shifts to Lizzie. The resulting shift highlights an engaging narrative structure that creates a larger perspective, while still maintaining the intimacy associated with a first-person narrative. This narrative structure is similar to the one employed in Kurosawa’s Rashomon, where the same event is described by several characters. As a result, Saltsea forces its readers to construct the “truth” from these fragments.

The fragmentary nature of the narrative extends into the past, which is an underlying theme in the novel. Furthermore, it is the one theme that ties several of the storylines together. For example, the history of the Inn is explained through the character Barbara. It used to be a summer residence, owned by her American industrialist father, where she came as a child. Later, it was a hippy commune for Barbara as a young adult. Currently, Barbara has returned to the Inn “to find the past.” Barbara is not the only character with a connection to the Inn and its past, but she has the most prominent connection. The excavation of the past is present in many of the plots that intertwine in the novel.

Helwig has created a wonderful novel that captures the experience of summer travel. It is the perfect novel for quiet summer days. The final narrative perspective is given to the young Eleanor, who is newly arrived at the Inn with her parents and siblings, as she plays on the beach. This section is the only one focused on Eleanor, and it suggests that the stories at Saltsea will continue, even though the novel does not.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Metcalf-Rooke Award: The Book

Above, a few photos of the leather-bound copy of Kathleen Winter's boYs. We were a bit behind with it this year, so it just went off to Kathleen (who very well may be seeing it here for the first time). Beautifully bound in half leather, with raised bands and hand marbled boards, in a custom leather and paper slipcase, by a good friend of mine, Dan Mezza, t'is a work of art. The winner of this year's Metcalf-Rooke award, set to be announced at week's end, will receive a similar volume.

Breaking award news: one of the deans of Canadian antiquarian bookselling Steven Temple has recently agreed to co-sponsor the Metcalf-Rooke Award, which will help to ensure that we can keep it going long into the future.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kapuscinski/Translation Series Launch this Friday, November 23rd

Biblioasis launches Ryszard Kapuscinski's selected poems I Wrote Stone and the Biblioasis International Translation series at 8pm, Friday, November 23rd, upstairs at This Ain't the Rosedale Library (483 Church Street). With readings by Kapuscinski's translators Diana Kuprel and Marek Kusiba, and by special guests Goran Simic, A. F. Moritz and Stephen Henighan. (Please spread the word to any and all who might be interested.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Metcalf-Rooke Award Shortlist

It took a little longer this year to winnow through the manuscripts, but we're ready to announce the shortlist to the 3rd Annual Metcalf-Rooke Award. After sorting through more than 50 manuscripts, John and Leon selected the following four:

Grant Buday. Dragonflies. (Novel)
Bruce Johnson. Firmament. (Novel)
Rebecca Rosenblum. Once. (Short fiction)
J. J. Steinfeld. Contemplating Madnesses (Short fiction)

We'll be announcing the winner on Friday, November 23rd. The winner will receive a $1500.00 advance, a publishing contract with Biblioasis (with their book set for Fall 2008 publication), a book tour (which will include an appearance at the Ottawa International Writer's Festival), a leather bound copy of their book, a special pre-publication profile in the New Quarterly, and other as-yet-to-be-determined perks.

Congratulations to the shortlisted authors.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A few photos from Bookfest Windsor, 2008 Edition

A few photos from last weekend's lit festival. Good times spent with John and Clark and George Murray and Derek Weiler. Too tired to get into it all now: I've spent the last 48 hours re-jigging my computer, which crashed yesterday morn. But will try and report on anything new soon.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Full Telegram Review

Thanks to Russell Wangersky for sending the electronic copy of yesterday's Telegram review of boYs, found below:

Winter shows flair for form

Sullivan, Joan

The two dozen short stories in "Boys" aptly display Kathleen Winter's
with the form. She enters and exits on tantalizing notes, catches
people on
intriguing arcs of crisis, and can nail a character or define a scene
in a

"Boys" (which could as easily be called "Girls," but, what the heck,
Winter's volume and she can call it what she wants) unfolds in
voices, with some related works delivered from a singular throughline
perspective, and many others as stand-alone narratives from different
a few men, and even the first person.

Whatever the point of view, Winter is always there, with her own
honed and final choice of word and tone. She knows what she's doing,
reading these stories is a real pleasure, with lots of beautiful lines
savour and a couple of plot turns that made me laugh out loud.

The first batch of stories focuses on Marianne, born in England but
transplanted to Newfoundland by an (overly) adventurous father. She
for inclusion but, among many other things, her school uniform is not
right. In despair, she writes her grandmother in Bill Quay. The

"'Dear Maggie, don't put all your stock in having that uniform because
number one, you aren't going to get it. If your mother doesn't like
something that's it. She put salt in my tea not once but twice. I never
anything to your father because he's stuck with her now but that's the
your mother is. Number two, your tartan might not be like the other
tartans but with tartan you are never the only one wearing it. There is
always a clan you belong to. If you keep your eyes peeled you will see
rest of your clan. You will know each other even without the tartan.
looking all your life. Don't tell about the salt whatever you do.'

I told about the salt."

But Marianne also keeps her peepers on alert for her fellow clan
and her findings are one connection in the following run of stories.

Then the narrator shifts, but always carries Winter's whetted

"This is one of those suppers when a surface crack in the household can
into a structural one."

"No matter whom she discussed it seemed to take her a maximum of thirty
seconds to reduce them to a rubble of tragic events and twisted

"Even Lena knows the magical star paths of Bach."

It is a consistent precision, with intricate but never-dropped threads
foray into imperiled family pets, homeless men in Bowring Park,
berrypicking, violin-making, and lonely old women trying to remember
childhood games. Of that character, Winter writes: "She sat with a
in her lap for a long time." It is a tender, perfect image. A few
stories falter, but very few. The rest are really gorgeous.

My only real complaint is the rather disturbing cover: it is amiably
coloured but rather sadistically askew.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

boYs reviewed in the St. John's Telegram

Kathleen Winter's boYs, her first collection of short fiction published in September (& which garnered her the M-R Award) was reviewed in todays St. John's Telegram. I only have the first couple of lines as it seems not to be available online, but they're pretty glowing. Which is, of course, not a surprise.

Here they are:

"The two dozen short stories in "BoYs" aptly display Kathleen Winter's flair with the form. She enters and exits on tantalizing notes, catches people on intriguing arcs of crisis, and can nail a character or define a scene in a sentence."

I'll get the rest to you as soon as I can.

On a somewhat related note, we're ready here to announce the shortlist of this year's Metcalf-Rooke Award, and will do so as soon as we've been able to notify those shortlisted.

Q's Podcast on CBC

If you would like to hear Stephen Marche make a fool of himself on CBC (with a little help from Q&Q's Nathan Whitlock), you can go to the Q podcast site, and check out the November 2nd podcast.

While I was looking I found a podcast of the show with Lorna Jackson and Steve Paiken: October 25th, perhaps a 1/3 of the way through the podcast.

Both can be found here:

On Longlists, Stephen Marche (& being Long in the tooth)

Lorna over at Cold-cocked has posted on being long-listed for the BC Award for Canadian Non-fiction. But what she says about Stephen Marche's foot-in-mouth contortioning in the Star and on Q (hope I can find a podcast of that) is much more interesting.

Too tired to go into festival-related matters at the moment: perhaps later tonight or early tomorrow. For now, read Lorna. As usual, she's both stylish, savvy and right.

Not a Winning Game

I’m delighted that Cold-cocked: On Hockey was named last week to the longlist of the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-fiction. It’s the award’s fourth year, given by the BC Achievement Foundation in recognition of worthy literary non-fiction nationwide. The value went up this year from 25k to 40k making it the most generous non-fiction prize in Canada. (That would buy a lot of deer fence, I’m just saying.)

For writers, it feels better to be on a list than off. And when you’re shunned by prize lists—my books, plenty of times—the typical response is both fight and flight: “Screw the bad jury, anti-creativity culture, youth-centric publishers, all the dirty capitalists,” and then in the resulting midnight bubblebath, “I’m a fat old ugly stupid loser.” So what I have to say is, of course, influenced by the intoxicating fumes of semi-formal recognition.

The fine 31-year-old writer, Stephen Marche, has recently criticized the state of CanLit, specifically the shortlist for the Giller Prize. In an urbane and punchy—and erratic—article in the Toronto Star, and today on CBC Radio’s hip afternoon show, Q, Marche suggests that the Giller list represents all that’s wrong with Canadian writing: the writers are too old, the lit too oatmealy, too reliant on a literary style he believes came into vogue in some bad past decade, too establishment. He wonders, Where on the list are the young edgy writers, the CanLit equivalent of those he saw in Brooklyn where he was working recently? We call it a novel, he says, because it’s supposed to be just that. And he was mean to John Metcalf and Martin Levin, assuming that these men are more problem than solution. (Seems an undeserving nest to shit it: Metcalf has long edited and consoled unconventional writers like me who seem to fit Marche’s preferred formula, and Levin is likely the reason Canada’s newspaper still has a Books section at all and gives writers something to do Saturday morning while scarfing the day’s first tea and apple fritter.)

What’s old? For Marche, 40 might be the cut-off, but then he says, really, it’s more to do with a writer’s sensibility and willingness to ride a skateboard to work. What’s good? Well, the good CanLit is that which is endorsed by Americans before being accepted here. In other words, the Yanks know their art, we don’t because we’re messed up still by pesky post-colonial blah blah. See, the writers of ours the Yanks love—Douglas Copeland, Sheila Heti, etc—haven’t made it to the Gillers. Marche’s logical fallacies are dizzying, his assumptions about excellence and hierarchies worrying, his essentializing and generalizing and prescribing seem cranky and old-fashioned. Cue the bubblebath.

The Giller shortlist may be tepid, and we can and should debate the relative merits of the books on it, but to discover all those boxes he wants to check, Marche need only have looked at the 15 titles on the Giller longlist: young writers and their first books; innovators in form, technique and plot; small presses taking chances (Oops, wait. He didn’t complain about the major publishers taking over the industry and foregoing creative risk-taking because their marketers are making editorial decisions. That was me. Marche is a Penguin man, lucky duck.)

The jury system is the democratic way to decide these things—and come on: it’s now the Scotiabank Giller Prize; it’s not all about art—and as with any other democratic dance, missteps happen. And as in any cultural or social endeavor when elders, based on their lifelong commitment to a mostly thankless pursuit, earn the honor and privilege of mentoring and adjudicating their peers, mistakes are made, or we think they are and then realize, twenty years later, that we didn’t understand as much as we thought we did. Any book reviewer (me, for example) knows how flittery aesthetic judgement can be. But we keep reading and judging because we believe the debate matters, that writers deserve our considered attention, our hardest thinking. Silly old fools.

I feel very lucky to be included on such a great longlist. Many worthy books are not on it (the bad part of longlists: more statistical reasons for self-doubt in those left off). The jury has selected 5 men and 5 women from diverse geographies; some small presses (Goose Lane, Biblioasis, Nightwood), some medium (Anansi, Thomas Allen) some big (Viking, M&S, Knopf); a couple of poets (Tim Bowling and Lorna Goodison) and a rock star (Naomi Klein); literary non-fiction has been allowed a wonderfully broad definition that includes history, biography, religion, memoir. And, yippee, sports.

After listening to Marche this afternoon, I looked at the many Governor General’s Award non-fiction lists over the years, and only three times, I think, has a sports book made that shortlist. Dave Bidini’s brilliant and beautiful Baseballissimo? Nope. In 1983, Ken Dryden’s The Game lost out to a biography of Lord Byng. Aside from really really wanting deer fence, I hope my book’s inclusion on the BC Award list will offer reassurance, consolation and maybe inspiration: keep at it long enough, write how and what thrills you, work so hard your brain smokes, and eventually you may be read a little by nice people, even if you’re a woman with bad knees in her fifties writing about hockey, sheep, Vancouver Island, and war, even if you wrote a book that the medium and large presses ignored, shunned, refused to risk.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bookfest Windsor -- 2008 Edition

Bookfest Windsor is on this weekend, and it is set to be another good one. Kicked off with a single event last Sunday, when Ray Robertson came down (pictured above). Part of the Chatham, Ontario hostile take over of Canlit ( a movement which would otherwise involve ... well ... me) we spent a good many hours plotting and spluttering and imbibing Saturday night. The wee hours. Talked more about Steve Earle and Fred Eaglesmith and bluegrass and blues and the radio-music void that was 1980's Chatham Ontario than we did CanLit, but that's the way it should be. I'm not much for your regulation community-building (outside of the Biblioasis community, that is), but us literate Chathamites, we need to stick together.

Tonight, in a couple of hours time, I entertain Clark Blaise and George Murray, of Bookninja fame. IT should be another interesting evening. Tomorrow the rest of the weekend crew comes into town: John Metcalf, Derek Weiler, Paul Glennon, Gil Adamson, Lawrence Hill, Alistair MacLeod and many others. I'll be hosting a panel discussion on Canadian publishing Saturday afternoon, a discussion that a couple of years ago nearly broke out into frontier-town-like violence. Which, in some ways, is appropriate. If you happen to be in the Windsor area, try to make it down, as it should prove quite interesting.