Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cold-cocked: the cover

A first glimpse of the cover of Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked: On Hockey. Designed by David Drummond, this is the first cover we've hired out. It won't be the last, and I hope it is the first of many Drummond Biblioasis covers. I love it. It's simple but smart, brimming with attitude and passion. Captures the book wonderfully.

Now that Vancouver's made the second round and the UVic semester is nearly finished, I'm hoping we'll be able to convince Lorna to post a bit on the series, and what Vancouver needs to do to get past Anaheim. Scoring a goal now and then might be a good place to start.

home is where

(Five Star Homes: 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars)

Never the Twain

The burghers look insane to me,
With their kids and pups, with their SUVs;
I’m sure I look the same to them–
Parked on a side street, chewing a pen.

(Only 2,349,876 plots your broker today!)

Biblioasis in Montreal

Here's a short list of Montreal events with Biblioasis authors, beginning with tonight's appearance by Robyn Sarah at the Blue Met. Others to follow...

Wednesday, April 25th: 9 PM: Robyn Sarah will be reading at Blue Met as part of the Soiree de Poesie in the HÔTEL DELTA CENTRE-VILLE - VERRIÈRE AB. Also reading Carmine Starnino, Dennis Lee, Erin Moure and others.

Thursday, April 26th: 2PM: Ray Smith will be launching The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins, at Dawson's College, Montreal, in the Rose Lounge (7th Floor). All welcome.

Sunday, APril 29th: 3:30 PM: Robyn Sarah teaches a workshop on Poetry at Blue Met, at the HÔTEL DELTA CENTRE-VILLE - SUITE 530.

Friday, May 11th: 7 PM: Ray Smith will be launching The Flush of Victory at Paragraphe Books in Montreal, 2220 McGill College Ave. (catered)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Heeeere's Jackie ...

Ray Smith's The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins, came back from the printer yesterday, and is set to be unleashed on the world. A pseudo-Canadian espionage farce, it has been waiting to be published for close to 30 years. When I called Ray today, he was out on the porch, waiting for it to arrive. I'm quite excited, and proud, to finally be able to give it to him.

It should not have taken so long. Bottomly is perhaps the most despicable anti-hero in Canadian literature -- sexist, loutish, conniving, drunken, immoral, insulting, depraved, thieving, lazy, and just about anything else you might care to add -- but there's more to him than this. His most compelling virtues: he is never boring, often terribly funny, and a sharp eyed critic. He -- and Smith, through him -- have targeted many of Canadians most cherished assumptions: that we are peace-loving and open-minded prominent among them. "Scratch a Canadian," Bottomly tells a Swedish banker he's trying to swindle, "You'll find a lout." A lot of people might disagree with him, but after reading this book it might prove difficult not to add loutish-ness to the list of Canadian national characteristics.

So, why did The Flush of Victory take so long to get published? From what I gather, because the handful of publishers who saw it before me feared it would give too much offense. I've worried for a few months now about the reception this book will receive. There will be those who will miss the humour, the satire, and the rather pointed barbs. There's nothing I can do about this.

As a friend of mine said recenty, "Bottomly's a crude piece of work ... but you would have to be an idiot to find him offensive." That there will be idiots out there, I'm quite certain, but it is certainly time to stop worrying about them.

A is for Atwood

One of Fall's titles is John Metcalf's follow-up to An Aesthetic Underground, Shut Up He Explained. Part memoir, part travelogue, part literary criticism -- wholly Metcalf -- it weaves several disparate strands and genres into a convincing amalgam and compelling literary form. David Helwig, reading an excerpt published in CNQ, has called it an Anatomy, after Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy: quotation, digression, obsession. I think David is quite right.

Over the next couple of months, as we ready Shut Up for publication, we'll be posting the occasional note and excerpt from it. Today's comes from 'the Century List,' a long critical chapter devoted to the best Canadian short story writers and their contributions to the form. In honour of Margaret Atwood's reception of the 2007 Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix, we thought we'd offer up this segment on Atwood as a short story writer:

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the author of six collections of short fiction, Dancing Girls, Murder in the Dark, Bluebeard’s Egg, Wilderness Tips, Good Bones, and The Test. She has been internationally lauded for these volumes but I remain unconvinced. While her wit and intelligence are obvious the stories in general fill me with disquiet. My unease revolves around what she wrote in "An End to Audience" which I quoted from in my talk at Alcalà de Henares: "I believe that fiction writing is the guardian of the moral and ethical sense of community. Especially now that organized religion is scattered and in disarray, and politicians have, Lord knows, lost their credibility, fiction is one of the few forms left through which we may examine our society not in its particular but in its typical aspects; through which we can see ourselves and the ways in which we behave towards each other, through which we can see others and judge them and ourselves."

She goes on: "Writing is a craft, true, and discussions of the position of colons and the rhyming of plastic and spastic have some place in it..."

Her statement in the first quoted passage that fiction enables us to examine our society "not in its particular but in its typical aspects", and the implication in the second that the craft of writing is separable from and subsidiary to the "message" of the writing, fundamentally differentiates Margaret Atwood from most of the other writers on the Century List. Characteristically, she is committed to presenting ideas and political positions. The central problem with fiction which advances ideas is that we can take issue with the ideas advanced as ideas; we can disagree intellectually with particular moral and ethical positions or with the political ideas of left, right, and centre. But it is impossible to "disagree" with our experience of the particularities of a Mavis Gallant story.

All too often her messages seems to me to urge a raucous and almost hysterical feminism. Bill Hoffer used to grump that Atwood’s work was most appreciated "by girls of the most unpromising kind". Doubtless less perceptive criticism than irritated misogyny. Yet the work does have designs on us. She does indeed want to send us messages. And like telemarketing, they’re messages I’m not interested in listening to. It comes down to a question of artistry. I would stand, rather, with William Faulkner who is supposed to have said to a lady who asked him what message he had wished his book to send that had he wanted to send messages he would have used Western Union.

Clark Blaise reviewed Wilderness Tips (1991) in the Chicago Tribune and wrote:

"...she works a secure but narrow band of settings and characters. Men still murder, women still create. The stories are not profound and certainly not charming. What they are is stylish, very, very Atwoodian."

He went on:
"In the duality of the sexes, men and women can never be intimate. They can never fully trust or be worthy of trust. Like great scarred hunting cats, they gather in temporary prides for gorging and breeding and seem curiously susceptible to urges unworthy of their cunning and experience. Atwoodian men are especially ineffectual, over-matched little boys, worthy of giggles even in the height of their passions."

Despite such savage and ghastly stories as "Hairball" in Wilderness Tips Atwood can be generously funny. What follows is an excerpt from "Hurricane Hazel" from Bluebeard’s Egg (1983). The story is an almost perfect comic performance. The feminist position which is inherent in the story is not advanced as an argument; the uncouth young male, Buddy, is seen through the grave eyes of the narrator as something as alien as a being from Mars, and the rituals of teen courtship are described almost as by an anthropologist observing the rites of savages.

"Hurricane Hazel" has for me only one flaw and it is that place in the story where Margaret Atwood intrudes into the comic texture to hammer home unnecessarily a point that was being made delicately by the whole shape of the scene. I draw attention to this because it illustrates my reservations about her editorializing, her deforming didacticism.

The narrator and Buddy along with Trish and Charlie are swimming in Pike Lake and, typical Atwoodian detail this, "Part of a hot-dog wiener floated near where we waded in, pallid, greyish-pink, lost-looking."

Under a shady tree Buddy plights his troth.

"Then he said, ‘I want you to have something.’ His voice was offhand, affable, the way it usually was; his eyes weren’t. On the whole he looked frightened. He undid the silver bracelet from his wrist. It had always been there, and I knew what was written on it: Buddy, engraved in flowing script. It was an imitation army I.D. tag; a lot of the boys wore them.

‘My identity bracelet,’ he said.


It was years later too that I realized Buddy had used the wrong word: it wasn’t an identity bracelet, it was an identification bracelet. The difference escaped me at the time. But maybe it was the right word after all, and what Buddy was handing over to me was his identity, some key part of himself that I was expected to keep for him and watch over.

Another interpretation has since become possible: that Buddy was putting his name on me, like a Reserved sign or an ownership label, or a tattoo on a cow’s ear, or a brand. But at the time nobody thought that way. Everyone knew that getting a boy’s I.D. bracelet was a privilege, not a degradation, and this is how Trish greeted it when she came back from her walk with Charlie."

Messages. Messages.

It may be that Margaret Atwood’s best work in short fiction will turn out not to reflect the bleak world of "great scarred hunting cats gathering in temporary prides for gorging and breeding" as Clark Blaise put it. She is not so much "stylish", as Blaise said, but, rather, fashionable. Her talent is, as he said, "not profound" and her best work in short fiction just might be in the idiosyncratic bits and pieces in Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems, Good Bones, and The Tent.

Monday, April 23, 2007

for the extreme golfer

For the Extreme Golfer

Tired of straight, too-sane golf? You may be ready for "The Thorazine," our new, 4126-yard, single-hole golf course tucked cunningly between the century-old asylum buildings and refurbished outpatient services on the grounds of the former Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital. Highlights include the already-legendary dogleg around hydrotherapy, the punishingly monotonous approach through occupational therapy, and a variety of unnatural/natural hazards including insulin shock, sudden restraints, and chemical roughs and bunkers guaranteed to test every iron in your bag and then some. Pictured is the appalling finish, over a treacherously fast asphalt green in search of our infamous "phantom hole."

Afterward, why not recuperate in our clubhouse where you can sit back, relax, and hallucinate on our patented indoor/outdoor couch, complete with complimentary brick?


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hockey Night in Victoria

Lorna Jackson is reading tonight at the League of Hockey Nations Conference in Victoria. For details, please check out:

Whether she'll be reading from this fall's Cold-cocked: On Hockey or next Spring's Flirts: The Interviews (with her Bobby Orr and Janet Jones Gretzky "interviews") I'm not certain.

She's also in good company: Mark Anthony Jarman, Bill Gaston, and Stephen Brunt, among others. I've been meaning to read Jarman's Salvage King Ya! for years. Saw it recently on a friend's shelf, and I think I will order it as soon as I finish this post.

Cold-cocked is a fabulous hockey book, perhaps the first book-length NHL fan appreciation by a woman. More importantly, Jackson is smart, sassy and in-tune, and presents a much more interesting portrait of the sport as the complex creature it is than almost anything else I've looked at on the subject. It has me following the sport closely again for the first time in years, appreciating things about it I'd forgotten, or never noticed in the first place.

A small taste of Cold-cocked:

"Vancouver is a hockey town though easterners don't see it that way and never have. We fill the seats at the Garage night after night, and still a player or owner or Toronto broadcaster crowns Toronto the country's hockey mecca and claims the game for themselves. We are told that hockey fans grew up playing on frozen ponds; that hockey as Canadian identity stems from the bitter cold winters, the ice and snow, the flatness of the landscape and the vast horizon of winter. Fuck that noise. Joe Sakic, Brendan Morrison, Paul Kariya, Scott Hannan, Cam Neely, the Courtnalls, not to mention players who found ice elsewhere in this temperate province -- Port McNeil, Kelowna. It's a little like claiming country music only lives and breathes in Nashville: good for Nashville, but a lie. Ask Keith Urban from Australia. Ask Ian Tyson who grew up on Vancouver Island. You want ice? Thirteen thousand years ago, it was 1500 metres deep where downtown Vancouver stands, but the ice age ended. We moved on."

For a couple days, at least, Victoria B.C. is the literary hockey capital of Canada, and I, for one, wish that I could be there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Best Canadian Stories

I've just learned today that the first story in Kathleen Winter's short fiction collection boYs, 'You can keep one thing', has been selected for inclusion in an upcoming volume of Best Canadian Stories. Congratulations. The lead story in this fall's collection, it's a tale of culture shock, of a family that moves from England to Newfoundland, told in the voice of the young and naively perceptive heroine Maggie Carter.

This is not the first Biblioasis author to make the Best Canadian cut. Leon Rooke's novella Balduchi's Who's Who -- which was the first Biblioasis short fiction chapbook, and in my opinion the best thing he's ever written -- was selected by Douglas Glover for the current (2006) anthology. Patricia Young's story 'Hapless Girl' -- as yet unpublished, but hopefully destined for her second Biblioasis short fiction collection -- will appear in this year's anthology.

Speaking of Patricia Young, she has been selected as the 2007-2008 writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick. Another of her stories, 'Pool Man,' will be appearing in the next issue of the Fiddlehead.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sealift CD

My CD recording of 24 poems from my book Unsettled has just come back from the printers and it looks great.

If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, please see my website for payment details.

To hear a sample of the work included on Sealift, click here or here.


The first story in boYs, You can keep one thing, describes this old butcher shop in Bill Quay, in the industrial northeast of England - new lamb, sawdust and suet. The story takes place in the 1960s and the butcher, Sharp's, was there until a couple of years ago, when it was bought by community spirited artist Clare Satow, whom I met as she busked with her friend and accordion at Newcastle's tyneside Sunday market. My dear wish is to find Clare and ask her if she would play accordion while I read the story at Newcastle's fantastic Side Gallery and cafe next summer. Are you there Clare? How about it? I love the way you invited local people to contribute their memories to your community textile map of Tyneside, and how, when I visited Hainingwood Terrace, you were giving a young girl from the street a swath of exotic sari silk to use in the piece. It inspired me to start my own community art/textile project with young people here in Newfoundland, which we call The Crochet Hour. We make one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces, and plan to have a show in June. Amen for childhood, and mentors, and lengths of silk from India and Kathmandu!

Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas is back today from the printer, our first title of 2007. It looks wonderful, always a relief.

Here's the back cover bumpf:

A reader-friendly miscellany of essays, appreciations, reviews, and conversations, published in newspapers and literary magazines over the past ten years, and addressed to a broad audience, these are pieces that will resonate equally with the lay poetry lover and the specialist. With new material to contextualize individual pieces and weave them together, the collection explores all aspects of a life in poetry: reading it, writing it, teaching it, editing it, publishing it, reviewing it. In lively and lucid prose, Robyn Sarah reflects on her experience in all of these areas, sharing her convictions, her enthusiasms, her gripes, and her passion for the subject. A bonus section, "Collaborations," includes voices of other Canadian poets Sarah has engaged with, among them Steven Heighton, Eric Ormsby, Dennis Lee, and Robert Bringhurst. Little Eurekas is an invitation to poetry, a book full of variety and surprise.

Little Eurekas is now available for on-line ordering at the biblioasis website (, and is available on, and from your favourite bookseller. (We now have national distribution, so if you've had trouble trying to order our books before, please try again: there should be no difficulty now.)

as Mike Barnes wrote as a comment to an earlier post:

read robyn sarah's upcoming book. i've read certain essays in magazines and can't wait to read the rest. to ensure i get a copy, i've ordered one in person, over the phone, and online. no need to emulate my goofball multimedia paranoia, but...find your way to a copy. robyn's humane and generous perceptions, her mindful responsiveness to poetry, may change the way you think, feel, respond to poems yourself. it's done that for me. she uses nudges more than cudgels, but that doesn't mean it's soft-focus "all is cool" stuff...on the contrary...she lays down strong lines you'll question, disagree with...but the point is, there's ample room in her essays for opinion, admiration, explication, love and loathing. not all will find their notions verified, but all may enter. that's rare i think. check it out.

Robyn, incidentally, reads at the Mad River Literary Festival in Conneticut next Wednesday, and at the Blue Met twice the week following.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

in honour of "poo-tee-weet?", late father of "shit."

kurt vonnegut died. and i'm not quite used enough to the fact to master his iconic "so it goes." (which he derided as his own "clumsy" attempt to imitate celine's hallucinatory comradeship with death.) i'm left with the childish rudeness vonnegut said he was paid to produce (i'm not usually paid for mine, at least not much):
people had got down on vonnegut in recent years, if they hadn't forgotten him entirely, saying that his recent books were tedious repetitions of what he'd done better before. vonnegut, scouting out ahead of his critics like any good artist, thought so too. i heard him say so on a tv talkshow a couple of years ago. he said he'd felt he should stop trying to write, and had done so repeatedly, but then fell off the wagon from time to time. he also got off a couple of good lines at the expense of BushCo. the audience roared, kurt looked pleased.
good for him.
no, it feels cheesy to imitate him...and though it's shockingly simple to do passably, it's just as shockingly, and more surprisingly, difficult to do well. he is the father of a whole generation--multiple generations now--of whimsiests, but as with any father, the debt is not easy to acknowledge, can be galling to remember. the short folksy sentences and paragraphs, the ironic takes on popular culture, the "what the hell...?" licensed storyspinning, even the pictures ("my drawing of an asshole" in Breakfast of Champions): versions of these are all on the bigbox bookshelves today, they were all in vonnegut. but, at his best, the rhythms that float merrily along and then drop without warning over the falls, the brass tacks tossed in with the party balloons, the fantasy that roams at lightspeed but bounces back home...the loose-feeling but intricate braiding of all this....
so rare. (and the tics of his style, like the tics of celine's, are so contagious that you want to rid yourself of them, scratch them off anyway you can...or at least cover up where you got them.)
he welcomed asides, so here is one: there is a moment in a Sopranos episode where Christopher, the film buff gangster, seeing Martin Scorcese get into a nightclub ahead of him, shouts out impulsively, "Kundun, Marty! I loved it!" Marty doesn't turn but perhaps he heard the defense of his lesser, dissed work. any artist deserves to be judged by his/her best. the penchant to do otherwise is perverse, like harping on the one time a master casserole-maker put in too much pepper.
this has gone on too long. i wish it could have been focused, pithy, heart-catching, like kurt vonnegut at his best: Kilgore Trout crying "Make me young, make me young, make me young!" to his creator (Vonnegut)...the character who had a penis millions of miles long, but all but 5 inches of it were in another dimension...the aliens in The Sirens of Titan manipulating all of human history to get a part for their broken spaceship...the obese, good Mr. Rosewater--"This is the Rosewater Foundation. How can we help you?"--and his nemesis, venal Norman Mushari who had "an enormous ass, luminous when bare"...and the Nazi memoirist of Mother Night, who "served evil too openly, and good too secretly"--
it would be easier to multiply these examples by the hundreds, either sending people screaming from this blog or, much much better, running out to check their sources...but i'm quoting from memory, since my vonnegut books are mostly in storage with my vinyl albums from a few moves in succession back almost two decades now. i suspect vonnegut is in storage with a lot of people, metaphorically and literally.
shit. i miss all of that stuff. sometimes. i also hate clutter. it depresses me sometimes to the point where i want to nuke rooms. leaving them clean white with wood floors, ready to start again. which i suspect is, more or less, one of the main impulses behind the chaotic off-loading that, at its best, makes vonnegut's novels unforgettable carnivals, and at their worst, rummage sales.
but i remember the best and forget the worst. it's one predilection i'm thankful for.
this is already too long and cumbersome. i have to crop off other things that occur to me. it's difficult to know what to call the deceased. "vonnegut" seems too cold, too anybody/everybody if i didn't know him at all (which i didn't?). "kurt" seems too cute, too presumptuous, as if he was a friend (which he wasn't?). it used to drive me crazy when my friend spoke of "bob's" new album, meaning dylan's. it's hard to get a handle on the famous you can live with. sometimes, after they die, i don't know what to feel...or if i should, if i can, feel anything. especially if the mourning is a one-million-cannon affair. after john lennon died, i kept having the subversive (it seemed subversive) thought that he was as alive to me as he ever was. i had the songs, photos, interviews. there wouldn't be any more, but then again, there hadn't been any more decent ones in years. yet...? it was confusing. so is this.
shit. (maxim i'm learning by rote--my rote--today: the simpler a stylistic tic, the faster it gets tiresome. "shit" x "shit" = "shit" squared)
vonnegut gave kilgore trout the thought of having his tombstone read: "Somebody. Sometime to Sometime. He tried."
i suspect vonnegut, who talked openly of his depressions, imagined it as a suitable epitaph for himself. or, since he talked equally openly of his pessimism, for anybody.
i would answer it at the moment with what a character in another novel by another writer said to somebody who shrugged and said he tried:
"bullshit. everybody tries. you succeed." vonnegut, kurt, did too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Books in Canada

A very positive review of David's Saltsea in Books in Canada. I can't quote it all for you here (later, later), but reviewer Michael Greenstein writes " ... At the beginning, the reader has to adjust to the shifts in perspective, but once the reader becomes more familiar with the characters, the novel succeeds beautifully, thanks to Helwig's poetic, dramatic and cinematic talents. Multiple streams of consciousness make it seem as if the spirit of Henry James or Virginia Woolf were hovering over Helwig's Island. ..."
It is an excellent review, much better (though equally full of praise) than the Globe review of a few weeks past. Greenstein delves more deeply into the book here, into its structure, motifs, music. The review is only marred by one line, the last in the review, though this has nothing to do with David or his novel, but with us:
"Only some faulty typesetting diminishes Helwig's fine figures."
An odd statement, offered with no explanantion, and one I cannot understand, as I think Saltsea -- with one small exception, a bleed issue on the title page which did not get caught (& remains easy to miss) -- an elegantly typeset book. The only thing I can think of is the reviewer may not be a fan of the unjustified margin. In any case, I have sent a query to ask him. I would never bother a reviewer about their perception of a book, but design is another thing. Perhaps he can point out where we erred here, and I may learn something.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


One of our Fall books is a collection of short fiction by Newfoundland writer Kathleen Winter. Kathleen won the 2nd Metcalf-Rooke Award last year. When John started working with her, he discovered that there were dozens of other stories no one had seen and asked to see them. They were, in John's words, a goldmine, and several have made their way into this collection. Kathleen has also penned a few others over the past several months, and a couple of these have also made the final cut. The result is that the final collection I'm currently reading is substantially different from the initial one, but much, much stronger for the changes.

We have finalized the collection, then, but a title for it continues to evade us. We've narrowed it down to three:

You can keep one thing,
I was visiting my parents in hell.

We are leaning, I think, towards boYs, though I also very much like You can keep one thing.

On Kathleen's blog, she has asked which title people respond to, so I thought that I would ask the same question here.

For those of you who would like to check out Kathleen's author blog (we drank cachaca and smoked the green cheroot), it can be found here: There's an interesting entry on one of the stories in her collection.

Time's Covenant

Time's Covenant brings together almost all of the poems from Eric Ormsby's five previously published collections, together with a healthy selection of new and previously uncollected poems. It is due back from the printer by month's end as well, our sole spring poetry title. It is, however, a major one: nearly 300 pages, by one of the best poets writing in english, anywhere. If you have not read him, you should. John Updike has said that he "is a most excellent poet, resonant and delicately exact with words and objects. Ormsby's reverent attention to things as they are lights up every page with a glow." Norman Doidge in Books in Canada has said that "Ormsby is one of the most talented poets writing in the English language at this time -- that is to say, not one of the hundreds of fine poets writing, or one of the finest Canadian poets -- but one of a handful of the best meditative poets writing in the English language."

Looking back, years from now, I expect the publication of this book to be one of Biblioasis' defining moments. It is a defining book, Faber&Faber-like, and I am immensely proud to have it.

From Time's Covenant, two new -- or at least previously unpublished -- poems:

To a Bird in Winter

Thicket-whisperer, you

Cherish austerity,

Your small claws blue

Beneath the raggedy

Habit of subzero

Song. And you will

Tutor me, flit-hero,

Accentual icicle,

Prophet-minor of cold-

Crunched twigs and nettle-

Skeletons; your bold

Coal-chip pupil settle

On me, where I follow

You, farther into hiddenness,

Aswarm in the swallow

Villas now left summerless.

Remembrance of the sun

Fleches your retices;

Icy octaves bangle your dun

Beak that curettes crevices.

Cauterized, chipper, astute,

You concentrate the frigid waste

In fierce fluff, my modest flute

That whistles to the holocaust.


Time re-invents itself. The clock re-winds.

The monuments are tricksters who quick-change.

The careful calibrations of the past

Jigsaw when we fit the pieces in,

Resist our patterns, re-array themselves.

9/11 shuffled the prism. We are lost

in reconfigured mazes that project

old assumptions on old labyrinths

blown open to the wrecker’s ball.

Rats in tunnels gutted by clinicians,

We press outmoded switches and are zapped.

In Knoxville now, these melancholy scraps

Of fresh forebodings drove me to the malls,

In hellish July, across the parking lots,

Searching for Dairy Queen among the few

Shriveled maples that gave off no shade.

For a Dr. Pepper I would give my soul

I thought, ice cream and apocalypse

Possessed me, in America,

Along the Interstate. Where were the goats

I milked in the South Carolina of my childhood?

The salamanders I kept captive in a chamber pot

At the evangelical hotel? A searing

Sameness cauterized the malls, only

The acned Jesus of the Cumberland

Was dowdy, ragtag and ridiculous,

--therefore to be believed in? Bourbon

remains, all passes, even sin. Asphalt

taste of water, gasoline bouquets

blooming out of puddles, ghosts

tadpole the upturned hubcaps scummed with rain,

biscuits and grits at sunup, flapjacks

on the griddles, the final cadenzas

of the frogs at dawn beyond the propane tank ...

Monday, April 09, 2007

on blogger, on dancer

it's hard not to feel like an asshole when posting a blog. it's not just that the masses are always wrong (though i often suspect as much, or act as if i do), but more a deep skepticism that anything offered on such a promiscuously vast scale could be in any way valuable. or in any way unique: a million other bloggers will push "Publish" when i do at the end of this. in a room filled with that many monkeys at typewriters, you still won't get Hamlet, but you just might get this blog entry.
it's my second blog in a week, after a half century plus of non-blogging. i wonder if this time, too, the walls will whisper "ass...hole."
if it happens too often i'm bound to quit.
there's the sense i have, too, that all internet functions beyond personal emails (and even those in certain spectral-paranoid phases) serve above all corporate commercial interests, either explicitly or implicitly. a billion bloggers served.
but a predilection for some kind of anti-salmon that has to exhaust itself, turn off its self-survival juices, to swim with a current...may not have much to do with reason or logic. its promptings may be purely temperamental. may be congenital for all i know.
the only undeniable fact is that when i see a line forming anywhere, an urge that envelops my toes and what's left of my hair and all points in between pushes me hard in the other direction. any other direction. the urge can be fought; i have fought it, often. usually with a line-joining inner wail of "wrong...wrong...wrong..."
is it wrong? the jury has heard testimony either way.
but the urge, like the dude, abides. i first read charles bukowski in german, in a smeary little german magazine, in a little german town where i visited a fathomless blue pool fed by an underground spring and what was left of the Dachau concentration camp. i came back to canada and began hand-copying and then typing out bukowski poems from his first chapbooks that i found in, and couldn't remove from, the rare books section of McMaster's library. i thought i was the only person in the world reading this stuff. i'd hopped a freight train and had it all to myself. but long before i saw people wearing bukowski tee shirts, i knew it was time to get off.
similar examples abound and could be multiplied ad infinitum (and "Published"). i've enjoyed listening to panel discussions on occasion, but the couple of times i've been on one, i've known without a doubt that there was more action--and perhaps even more wisdom--in the nearest coatroom.
it could be called pathologic as well as temperamental. it has been called both.
but the merits of queue-joining are documented too. when i accompanied my first girlfriend to our high school graduation dance, i had no doubt i was joining a bleak march of clowns--i couldn't tell her this, which was part of my/our problem--whose pageantry was the tics of pure senselessness: pinning the corsage under teary-savage parental eyes, driving the borrowed buick that mocked me mercilessly, the wet-towel-snapping doofus crowned as king, his busty brainless queen, the sadistic french teacher in a checkered suit...but
--and this is a but the size of the blessed blogworld itself--
...that evening ended making out (the first time for both of us) on the thawing grass of a reservoir, stiff cold grass atop the immense sloshing vaults that fed the city's taps, unfastened and shoved-aside rented fabrics and gasps and hilarious laughter at the dance floor shuffling that, for a few hours at least, provided all the redemption high school needed (which was tons)...and proved that, catatonic-sweating rides in buicks aside, alien assholes from 5 years of corridors suddenly your pals aside, we had a present and even a future (a brief one) that was glorious.
but i don't think we could have got to the reservoir without the dance.
(that may be a failure of imagination on my part or it may actually be the case. the jury's still out on that one, too...)

Relit Awards

Two Biblioasis titles have made the Relit Longlist: Leon Rooke's Hitting the Charts: Selected Stories, in the story category, and David Helwig's Saltsea in the Novel. Disappointed not to see Patricia Young, Mike Barnes, and David Hickey there, as there's no doubt that each is better than many that have made the cut, but t' is the way of these things.

Speaking of those three, we'll be doing a new book by all of them in the next year or so: Patricia Youngs' first poetry collection in nearly a decade, a brilliant and very moving memoir on art, memory and madness called The Lily Pond by Mike Barnes, and David Hickey's wonderful first children's book.

Last year, both of our titles by Goran Simic made the Relit longlist, and his From Sarajevo, With Sorrow made the shortlist for poetry (losing out to Leon Rooke's first poetry collection, Hot Poppies.) For those of you who have not read From Sarajevo, With Sorrow, you should order yourself a copy. It's powerful stuff.

And while I'm speaking of '08 (& beyond), we have another Simic collection in the works, a selection of his best pre-war poems, which will be made available (with a few exceptions) for the first time in english. In Canada (& elsewhere in the english speaking world), Goran is known solely as a poet of war and immigration. But he had a varied and successful career as a writer and poet before the war, and we are hoping to broaden the understanding, appreciation and audience of Simic with this new book.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tony Calzetta & Gabrielle de Montmollin

I spent much of today -- alas! under the weather -- in the company of friends and artists Gabrielle de Montmollin and Tony Calzetta. Tony brought as a housewarming present two small hand-coloured drawings, one which bears a fair resemblance, and was likely an early sketch for, the painting above. For my kids, he said, but damned if they're going to get them. In my will perhaps!

I love Tony's work: its playfulness, the whimsy of his line, the colour. His work is vibrant, and when seen at close range (many of his canvases are very large) impossible to ignore. I own two prints, an artist's book, and have been nickeling and diming and trading my way for over a year now for a painting. I'm getting close, and hope to have one, finally, finally, by the time I make it up to his Toronto studio in June.

I'm also hoping to publish a book of his illustrations some day. John Metcalf has been planning to write a book on Cazetta for a while now; perhaps after he finishes Shut Up He Explained.

Tony's a Windsor boy, born and bred, graduated from the University of Windsor Art Program in the mid 70's, after an aborted career in Detroit as an accountant. He's proof that a few decent people have come out of this city.

Gabrielle I met through Tony. I own one of her photographs, from the Bird Women series. It's an image I've grown to love. It's metamorphic: a woman becoming a bird. I keep it on a wall in my office because it frightens my eldest son. There is something very dark about a lot of her images, though I don't see it in this one as much: I think it is quite beautiful, engaging, unforgettable. But you can't argue with a four year old.

I hosted a small art exhibit of Gabrielle's work as part of a reading series I was trying to get off of the ground, seven or eight of the Bird Women images. The owner of the cafe was so bothered by them that he had me take them down immediately, as he did not think them appropriate for a downtown establishment. (Gabrielle uses naked barbie dolls in this series). This from a man who's businesses are within spitting distances of illicit massage parlours and strip clubs.

The bird woman above is an example of her work. Alas, I could not get a copy of one of the images I own, though you can see it on her and Tony's website,, the Bird Women Series, image number 7.

Incidentally, Tony is working with Leon Rooke on a new artist book, involving prints, stories, and pop-ups. He dropped off the 19 Rooke pieces, with attendant drawings, today. It promises to be a hell of a book. I'll keep you posted as it develops.

Shaman Drum & Reading The World

A little over a week ago, I went with Kitty Lewis to Ann Arbor for the day to scout out US bookstores as a way to investigate how we could learn, as small Canadian literary presses, about the US market. We arranged to meet for lunch with Karl Pohrt, the owner of Shaman Drum Books.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Windsor, I used to go to Ann Arbor frequently. It is the home of the University of Michigan, and is among the prettiest towns in Michigan. It's also one of the best book towns in the United States. Within 3 or 4 blocks, there used to be about two dozen bookstores, including the original, flagship Borders (which makes Chapters and Indigo appear as piss-poor as they actually are), Shaman Drum, several other special interest bookshops, and at least 6 wonderful antiquarian stores (of which Jay Platt's West Side Bookshop (with its fabulous gallery of original Curtis photographs) and Dawn Treader's remain the best). We would spend a day in Ann Arbor, hit the indie record shops (where I first chanced upon Tom Waits), and the used bookstores. We'd stop for a pastrami sandwich and a few pints at the neighbourhood deli. Somehow, we completely missed Shaman Drum. Perhaps it was because it was a new bookstore; perhaps, given the name, we assumed it would be of largely native significance. Yet it was truly the gem of the bunch.

Before Lunch, Karl gave us the tour of the place. He's been a bookseller for nearly 30 years now, and is still very passionate about it. He specializes in scholarly books, with a large selection of general history, literature, philosophy, art and other titles. His poetry section must have, conservatively, 3500 titles. Canadian writers in a variety of editions -- American, Canadian, British -- are well represented on his shelves. He stocks hundreds of books in translation, many of which you never see on regular store bookshelves. I found a the centennial edition of the Collected Beckett -- 4 volumes, Grove Press -- and a fairly obscure McCarthy novel, Sunset Limited. I came close to walking out with much more.

Karl knows a bit about publishing: in the 70's and 80's he ran Bear Claw press, publishing two early books by Howard Norman, among others. Over lunch he talked about the US independent bookselling market, and what we as Canadian publishers would need to do to get their attention. The independent market, much like in Canada, has been decimated by big box stores: Karl estimated that there would be 50 key stores in the entire country we might count on as accounts, and perhaps 200 we might be able to deal with in any fashion at all.

These numbers are fairly dismal, certainly. I mean, we're talking about a country of over 230 million people. So, what Karl is saying, is that he figures there's about one excellent independent bookseller for every million people in the U.S. (or, at least, one for every million who might be interested in dealing with us as foreign publishers). But the situation is not so very different here: there are some publishers I know who figure there are only 40 to 50 key independent accounts seriously interested in Canadian literary titles, in Canada! My own admittedly quite limited experience does seem to bear this out.

But not all was doom and gloom at lunch, either. He was eloquent on the continuing importance of the bookseller to a community, and was himself a very good example that even a single committed and passionate bookseller can make a difference. In response to the Iraq War, Karl got together with a group of booksellers and started a project they came to call Reading the World ( It was Karl's hope that by making translated literatures more widely available to Americans, they would come to have a better understanding of other peoples and cultures, and that, over time, this improved understanding might come to have some positive impact on American foreign policy. Though it is too early to tell what impact this program might have on policy, it is certainly already a success: in its 3rd year, 200 bookstores take part in the program, handselling selected translated titles.

I found this particularly exciting. Biblioasis is devoted to translation: our 2nd and 3rd trade books were translations from the Serbo-Croatian of Goran Simic; we have a translation of Ryszard Kapuscinski's coming this fall; the first publication in english by the Angolan lusophone writer Ondjaki (Good Morning Comrades!, in a translation by Stephen Henighan -- more on this anon) and another title by Goran Simic coming in the Spring of 08. Karl seemed genuinely interested in these titles, and our future translation programme, and I hope to get at least one of them in the Reading the World lineup for next year.

The Reading the World line-up is an interesting one, running from the familiar (Cesare Pavese) to the completely unknown (or at least to me), and from countries from all over the world. It occurs to me that it would be nice if we could interest Canadian booksellers in a similar program. We would not even have to stray too far from home: there are many Canadian writers writing in languages other than English or French, well regarded in their homelands, yet unknown here. Ha Jin told John Metcalf a year or so ago at the Humber School that some of the most celebrated Chinese writers live now in Canada, though they cannot get the funding to get their work translated into English or French. Alas, a fate common to many of the exiled writers who now call Canada home, though that is a subject for another post.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Little Eurekas

Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas: A Decade's Thoughts on Poetry, will be back from the printer a week from tomorrow. It's a marvellous collection of essays, reviews, interviews, and appreciations. Robyn's criticism is really a wonderful thing: thoughtful, generous, elegant, and honest, it takes criticism back from the critics. It is written with a poet's eye and sensibility, with an understanding of the history of the form, and with obvious love. These essays also explain, in an accessible manner, how poems work, and this is, for me, at least, a rare thing: so many critics in this country seem more in love with their own voices and pronouncements than with engaging the work of the poet being discussed. This is not the case with Robyn's essays in Little Eurekas. Several of these essays have helped me find entry into the work of poets I'd not been able to appreciate previously: her essays on George Johnston and her review of August Kleinzahler stand out as examples. Her thoughts on publishing, editing and teaching poetry have changed how I will approach my job as a publisher of poetry going forward. Her reviews have helped to set the standard of what I want to see from my reviewers: honest consideration, elegance, passion, and a clear argument and explanantion.
Like any good collection of criticism, this is certainly a book that poets should read. But what separates it from so many that are published, it is also a book geared for general readers. It helps to take the fear out of approaching a poem for the first time, the fear of making a fool of oneself. Robyn is not merely another obscurantist; with these essays she pulls back the veil, makes things understandable. There's a lot of good old fashioned common sense here, a much maligned concept, but in Robyn's hands very powerful.
The pre-publication interest in this collection has been a bit astonishing. We've had close to a dozen requests for galleys and review copies. We go into the spring season knowing that there will be several timely -- and likely quite positive -- reviews. Robyn has been invited to read and teach at the Blue Met in support of this book. A couple of teachers have suggested that it might very well be something they put on their course list. It's all very exciting, and gratifying.
Here's a few choice quotes from Little Eurekas:
On poetics

“I believe that a true poem, whatever its subject or style, has a density of meaning, a felicity of language and an authenticity of feeling that cannot be faked—a mysterious synthesis that doesn’t happen every time a poet picks up a pen, but is born of some urgency of the moment.”
On publishing poetry

“I am all for the publication of healthy amounts of poetry—but if most new poetry releases go unread, unnoticed, uncritiqued, and unsold (even second hand!) surely something is not right about the way in which poetry is being published.”

“I have heard the view that publishing as much poetry as possible is a way of making sure good poems get published. In effect this asks the reader to do the editor’s job: to hunt for the gold in the ore, separate the what from the chaff. I don’t think readers can be blamed for not wanting to do this work.”
On editing poetry

“A ‘workshop habit’ can, I think, cultivate an entrenched insecurity about one’s own intentions as a poet—an inability to judge one’s own unfinished work, to decide when a poem is finished, and to stand by one’s choices in full knowledge of why they were made. Such knowledge is hard acquired, and it comes of long, solitary wrestling with one’s own texts.”

“A good poetry collection is not just a bunch of poems stuck between book covers. A good poetry collection is of a length commensurate with its substance, has been assembled selectively, and has been arranged intelligently. Thought and attention have gone into the presentation of the poems. The typesetting and layout departments have been given clear instructions. Nothing has been left to chance.”
On reviewing poetry

“Where are the reviewers who will recognize a poverty of metaphor in a poet’s work, and name it? Where are the reviewers who have anything at all to say about sound? who notice and are able to discuss a poet’s grasp and handling of form? or the niceties of diction in a poem? or the role that syntax, yes, good old grammar, the building-stuff of rhetoric, plays in this person’s poetics?”

On form in poetry

“Traditionally, poetry’s magic was partly formal, carried by metre, rhyme, and patterned structure. When these were abandoned for free verse, it became easier for people to call what they were writing “poetry”, but it did not make it easier to write good poems. This is not well understood today, even by people who should know: editors, publishers, critics.”
Incidentally, Robyn will be reading at the Blue Met April 25th, and teaching a 2 hour workshop on poetry Sunday, April 29th.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On Deep Wells

We are having trouble sorting out the system for making comments. (Whether we already have an old gooogle account.) However. I think Zach's Canzone is terrific. I don't think I want to compete with it.

(The last stanza does have a tiny hint of 'Thank God I'm at the end.')



I don’t think I’ll ever learn; I am always
Biting off too big a chunk, finding myself under-
Equipped—that mo-ped goof putting down the highway’s
Fastlane convinced his Rocinante nag’s a way
More impressive machine than it is, with more
Power than a hundred Arab horses—to thread the ways
Wended by the big boys, always
Stumbling blind, as through a maze, no means to leave,
No strategy to break the weave of branches and leaves
Some clever bugger designed and made
To trap me. Catch is, that bugger’s me, I’ve made

This maze and caught myself, just as I’ve made
All the problems that ensnare me. I always
Do this, I’m like a bee attracted to pomade
Expiring in an over-gooped hairdo, drowning in limeade
For following my nose to sugar, crushed under
A tire for schnozzing up a roadside flower. Unmade
By drink and lust, slapped down by every barmaid
On this coast, I still keep coming back for more—
And all I get is more
Rejection. Well, I guess I’m lying in the bed I made,
To cadge a clichéd phrase. I should probably leave
Now, but I don’t want to leave,

Not just yet, there’s work to do before I leave
For good. I don’t want to quit until I’ve at least made
Something of myself. I find it hard to believe
This world’s such an awful place of unrelieved
Tedium and pain as some poets seem to always
Say it is. If that’s how you feel, please leave
It to the rest of us to love and cleave
To. Me, I like to wander streambeds, poking under
Stones to see what creeps and crawls beneath the under-
Story, what clings to the shady side of leaves.
No matter how much I see and learn, there’s more
Waiting at the stream’s next turn, so much more,

Even in the acidic pine-needle mor
Strewn on the forest floor. So please, believe
Me when I say there’s more
To this than mere survival on a soulless, mor-
ibund sphere. Yes, we kill, but look at all we’ve made.
Nothing’s killed that’s not reborn—sometimes more
Beautiful than it was before, or at least no more
Evil. This is how it’s always
Been, change the only constant, always
Shifting, ever flowing, like a stream, but more
Like the old man’s river: no new thing under
The sun and no great harm in blunders.

Yes, I know, I’m nothing but a dunder-
Headed fool with no more
Sense in my skull than a child, but wonder
Trumps sense so often, I can’t help but wonder
If children don’t know more than we do. Believe
What you like, but don’t under-
Value strangeness and love; listen to the thunder
Abaft your mother’s breastbone. The world’s not made
For you, but you can make it yours if you’ve made
The right commitments and plundered
What you need. There’s always
Time to change tack and find new ways

To travel trammeled roadways.
Now I part with you, this thing I made,
But before I take my final leave,
I would like to have just one more
Line before I wriggle out from under…

-ZW (your turn, David)

the love diet (nutritional field reports from Mike Barnes)

When His Mom Found a Lover in the Neighbourhood

We were all much happier.
Ian's learning wasn't always under
attack and my teaching
wasn't always under surveillance.
We actually got more done–
like times on the boss's lunch
when you just relax and do the job.
Afterwards, before I left, Ian
would show me a new card trick
he'd learned from the internet.
The Vanishing Jack, The Stubborn Ace,
he was getting good.
Beside my water cup Alicia
started setting out a cookie or a tart,
a ham and cheese croissant
or a bowl of homemade corn chowder.
Instead of hovering dismayed
she'd just see us started
then fluff her hair in the mirror,
smiling at herself
and knotting a new scarf, then
"Be good, Ian," and off
she'd walk lightly down the steet.
It was a good six months.
Then one day in April I
opened the door and Ian
was his old hyper-sullen self,
no sign of the Bicycle deck,
Alicia's hair was limp, her shoulders
round, she radiated murk
and I was back to plain old
tapwater again, we all were.

Response to Daniel

One Pantoum (current version)

The season will inevitably come.
Close in the air the scent of salt and musk.
Time slips downstream, twilight fading to dusk.
Distant, unceasing, thrums a secret drum.

Close in the air the scent of salt and musk.
Soft lashes quiver, bees in the treeflowers hum.
Distant, unceasing, thrums a secret drum.
Each seed secretes gold oil within its husk.

Soft lashes quiver, bees in the treeflowers hum.
Blood-starved mosquitoes raven to their task.
Each seed secretes gold oil within the husk.
Fruit ripens, the mossed peach, the purple plum.

Blood-starved mosquitoes raven to their task.
A throat will nicker softly, then grow dumb.
Fruit ripens, the mossed peach, the purple plum.
Lips whisper as they ask what they must ask.

A throat will nicker softly then grow dumb.
Time slips downstream, twilight fading to dusk.
Lips whisper as they ask what they must ask.
The season will inevitably come.


Accidental Anonymity

Pantoum post is by D. Helwig Forgot to sign it.

You Just Never Know/Notes on Poetic Form

In a letter a few months ago my friend the concert pianist and poet, William Aide, mentioned a poetic form called the pantoum. I had perhaps heard the name as that of some exotic form, but never paid much attention, didn't again this time, my mind on other things. Then recently I came on the name once more and googled it to see just what one was like. To my astonishment I found I'd written one fifty years ago. Yes, really, fifty years, long before the rest of you were born. As an undergraduate I came on a Baudelaire poem called 'Harmonie du Soir', in a complcated form with repeats and rhymes. Couldn't resist making a translation. Now I discover that it is the very thing. A pantoum.

I got the message from the universe and sat down wrote four of them over the next few days, of which, so far, I've kept three. Bill Aide has also challenged me to write a Canzone, (see Auden) a sort of double sestina, but I'm not taking the challenge. Too many repeats even for a compulsive rhymer.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Horticultural musings from the left coast


Western bards are wont to garden
And muck about in rubber boots—
Here there’s little frost to harden
And all this rain breeds shallow roots.

-Zach Wells


Ray Smith's savage farce, The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins, is at the printer and due back mid-month. A pseudo-Canadian espionage (Canadian espionage? Is that farce enough for you?) thriller about a loutish anti-hero who sets out to profit from a joint CIA-KGB conspiracy to steal a clapped-out Canadian airplane, it is, in the language of back-cover bumpf, uproarious. But there's more to it -- and Bottomly -- than may be immediately apparent.

Speaking of back cover bumpf, here's The Flush of Victory's:

Author Ray Smith has correlated the recent electronic version of the Confession with the Dubai Typescript and the even earlier Hong Kong Holograph. In a feat of unparalleled investigative journalism he has travelled the world corroborating the sordid and still highly sensitive details which are to this day denied by the intelligence services of five nations. A saga of perjury, peculation and perversion.

- The murder by CIA operatives in Vancouver of Captain E. Saunders of the Directorate of National Defence Intelligence/Air

- The murder by Squandron Leader Charles Kingsford Jones of the Royal Australian Air Force of an officer of the RCMP.

- The murder of the CIA agent known only as 'Hubble', trampled to death by horses ridden by rogue RCMP officers.

-The embezzlement by computer fraud of millions of Canadian Government Dollars and the involvement of Zurich through the Zurcher Kreditanstalt.

- The unlawful confinement in Ottawa by officers of the Royal Canadian Navy of agents of SIS and their subjection to incessant buggery.

Among many other, even more horrific occurences...

Sleuth Smith has done for the RCAF, the CIA, SIS, and the RCMP what Woodward and Bernstein did for Watergate.


Also, advance (quote-unquote) reviews:

“. . . As solid a case for the re-introduction of book burning as I’ve read in many a year. And, come to think of it, public hanging . . .”
—Albert O. Mangle

“Hilarious, but unfair to the Navy.”
—Captain Jack McClelland, RCN (ret.)

"I was very . . . unamused.”
—Northrop Frye

“If you publish this scabrous trash, it will set Canadian Literature back fifty years.”
—Desmond Pacey

“Maudzie Cawlisss!”
—Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste

“Does that son of a bitch expect to get his royalty cheques in the mail?”

“I think we might just have a look at Smith’s income tax returns.”

I’ll have his *?!#%*!% balls for bookends!”
—Paul Hellyer


With any luck, old Jack should finally be bookshelves across the country by month's end.


I've my own blog, but I'm glad to see this new un up 'n' runnin. An ill-advised post, perhaps, as I've been oot imbibin pints with my good friend Geoff Cook--on a x-country visit--and hatchin' plans to launch an equally ill-advised publishing venture, but ne'ertheless, a poem in progress, en route to obscurity, if not infinity (might be the first part of a sequence, but have yet to figure that out):


Off-grid and valley-
Bound, haphazard home, propped on posts
In a sea of shifting shale:
Frame for a family’s
Incipient hopes.
Hammer taps slap studs,
Rebound off valley slopes
Like the clapper in a copper bell
Hung upside down and feebly
Rung. To hell
With clapboard, we’ve got what walls
We need and junks enough to keep
The Jotul roaring heat
Through the newborn baby’s blood.

Zach Wells


PS: congrats to Senhor Hickey, whose work I am very pleased to have introduced to Dan once upon. There are at least a couple of other strong books on that list (Thran 'n' Price), so there's no shame in placing, but hope for winning.

Monday, April 02, 2007


David Hickey has been nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for his first collection of poetry, In the Lights of a Midnight Plow (published August, 2006).

David Hickey’s In the Lights of a Midnight Plow (ISBN: 1-897231-09-1, $18.95) is a beautiful collection of carefully crafted poems. It has been well reviewed on Good Reports and the Danforth Review, and was included as one of the best recent Canadian books of poetry by Alex Good in his Year in Review. A graduate of UNB, David has lived in P.E.I. New Brunswick, Labrador and Quebec. He currently lives (& watches the stars) in P.E.I.

In the Lights of a Midnight Plow is available from any fine independent bookseller (including The Reading Well in PEI and Wordsworth Books in Waterloo, Ontario), at Chapters and Indigo and online at,, and via the Biblioasis website at

Other shortlisted authors and titles include:

a broken mirror, fallen leaf by Yvonne Blomer (Ekstasis Editions), Tacoma Narrows by Mitchell Parry (Goose Lane Editions), Anatomy of Keys by Steven Price (Brick Books), Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists by Angela Rawlings (Coach House Books), and Every Inadequate Name by Nick Thran (Insomniac Press).

The jury consisted of Heidi Greco, Brian Henderson and Alison Pick.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors' tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers. The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets.

The winner will be announced at the League of Canadian Poets Annual General Meeting, June 9th, in Edmonton.

A review that appeared in the Globe & Mail of David Helwig's Saltsea, for those of you who missed it.

If you're fond of sand dunes and Saltsea air
By David Helwig
Biblioasis, 214 pages, $28.95

What better setting for a novel than a hotel? What better place to find a wide range of characters who have been arbitrarily thrown together? One thinks of such absorbing and entertaining past novels as The Hotel New Hampshire, by John Irving, or Hotel Honolulu, by Paul Theroux (to say nothing of the old Arthur Hailey bestseller, Hotel).

David Helwig's Saltsea takes place in a summer vacation spot called the Saltsea Inn, on the coast of Prince Edward Island (which former Ontarian Helwig now calls home). Having only last year published The Names of Things, a lively memoir of his life in CanLit, Helwig comes right back with a novel that may be his finest.

The inn was once the summer residence of New York millionaire Arthur Melcot. It ceased to be a family retreat after Arthur's granddaughter Barbara used it for a time as a hippy commune. Saltsea sat empty for years, but has since been bought by retired civil servant Lawrence (Log) Gardiner and his wife Janet. They have turned it into a pleasant inn that boasts good food and a relaxing beach.

The novel spans a few summer days as people come and go, people such as:

Monica, who brings her two little boys and worries about what her husband is up to back in Toronto.

Meta, an earnest lesbian archeologist from Montreal, who sets up a dig on the Saltsea beach, hoping to find proof of visits by ancient Norsemen. She's accompanied by her provocative young friend Adrienne, who plays on both sides of the street, as they say.

America and James Onley, attractive young New York newlyweds on their honeymoon. The wealthy would-be actress America happens to be the great-granddaughter of the former owner and the daughter of one-time hippy Barbara.

Lizzie McKellan, recently widowed; she's come here before with her husband and she's longing for companionship: "Desire came on her as a powerful, strange half-nauseous ache. She was afraid that one of these days she would discover herself making overtures to a plumber or telephone repairman."

An elderly man known simply as The Professor, who is scouting the area for a summer house; he's haunted by strange dreams and by his wife, who controls his actions even though she stayed in Toronto.

Overweight widows Marg and Doris, happily trying to videotape everybody.

Then there is America's mother, Barbara, who's become a drunk; she arrives to try to reclaim some of the good memories of her hippy youth. Also onto the scene comes Lucas, handsome piano-playing son of the current owners. You know it won't be long before he makes a move on lovely America.

Besides these and other guests, there is Palmer McVeigh, who's been doing odd jobs around the inn since it was a private residence. He spends much of his spare time playing poker with his imaginary friend Adolfo. When he picks up the Onleys at the airport, America thinks he looks like George Burns.

There's the local minister, Father Bob Watkins, who may not be as innocent as he looks. And there's the hotel staff, headed by Peeters, the live-in cook who's raising pheasants in cages out back for future special dinners; with his brooding sous-chef Darren, and three waitresses: lazy Kayleen, crazy Jasmyn and the perky and hard-working Robin, who has aspirations of being a filmmaker.

Helwig does a remarkable job of developing every one of these characters, and you hate to see any of them leave. As they meet and observe one another, the encounters are conveyed through crisp dialogue and just enough description.

Helwig is equally effective when he brings everybody together -- for dinner in the Saltsea dining room, or at a concert, where America and Lucas perform and The Professor recites poetry. And he builds suspense around Meta's excavation: exactly what has she dug up, both literally and figuratively?

Even Palmer McVeigh's dog has personality: "The dog gave him a look as if he'd heard enough stupid human remarks and would appreciate it if Palmer would just be quiet."

As a reader, you feel as if you've gone to this quaint place for a vacation and met all these intriguing people, and you have the privilege of knowing what they think about themselves and each other. Helwig's considerable accomplishment is that he makes you care about all of them. Since he gives you lots to laugh about, as well as some insight into the past and some mystery, you come away from Saltsea feeling that it was the best damned vacation you've had in a long while.

Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg novelist who has been following Helwig's work since reviewing two of the four books called The Kingston Novels in the early 1980s.