Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Salon in the Globe

Russell Smith, one of our Salonists, in the Globe on the Salon. A very balanced treatment.

I think that I should take a moment to clarify a thing or two, however. It is not, as Smith has said below, and that other bloggers and reporters have said, that we think the Salon stories are simply better than Urquhart's picks, or all of Urquhart's picks. That would have been ridiculous. There are many excelent stories in the Penguin anthology. Caroline Adderson, Annabel Lyon, Leon Rooke, Timothy Taylor, to say nothing of Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Alistair MacLeod. And, as Michael Darling pointed out in his review -- the only real review of the anthology in CNQ -- there are many others (Lynn Coady, Thomas King, Carol Shields). Our argument, really, is that there were many others that were left out, and more than a few very questionable choices and decisions (Adrienne Poy/Clarkson's story is highlighted in almost all coverage, but this is not the only one. Just as problematic is the use of biography as a framing device at the cost of excluding some of the salon writers Jane Urquhart evidently admires. (As I ask in my intro., does an Ondaatje memoir tell us, really, more about the short story in Canada than an inclusion by Norman Levine? Or are there other considerations here?) ). And that, as Russell rightly points out, we feel that many -- though by no means all -- of the most stylistically innovative writers in the country were left out.

Anyway, enough. Next up: Russell Smith

Short? Yes. Sweet? Not even sort of

August 28, 2008

If you haven't heard of the fun polemic raging around a recent anthology of Canadian short stories - a debate not only about what defines Canadian literature but also about what short stories are; in other words, an important debate - I'm not surprised. These things used to happen on the front pages of major newspapers (Yes, honestly: France's conservative Le Figaro published an avant-garde poetry manifesto on its front page in 1909), but of course they seem trivial and recherché now, like an argument among crochet enthusiasts.

I was bubbling about this the other night to a producer of TV news on the CBC who unabashedly yawned and rolled his eyes until I stopped. (To its great credit, however, the CBC Radio show Q did do a segment about it. You can get it as a podcast on their website; it's the first piece on the Aug. 20 show.) Anyway, now is your chance to go to the largest newsstand you can find and buy two Canadian literary quarterlies, and dig in to a feast of elegant nastiness.

The argument is over whether the massive new Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, published last fall as the definitive anthology of this famously Canadian genre, and edited by the famous novelist Jane Urquhart, is truly representative of our best writers. The two magazines in question are The New Quarterly, a journal specializing in new short fiction and poetry, and Canadian Notes & Queries, a magazine specializing in critical essays and reviews. (I think it was the parodically dusty name of the latter that so turned off my TV friend: The name reflects the journal's former incarnation as a research tool for bibliophiles. It is now much more interesting than it sounds.)

These two organs have published, in tandem, a joint response to the Penguin book. They have combined short stories and critical essays into what they are calling the Salon des refusés: The stories here collected are those that were not considered important or representative enough to make it into Urquhart's collection. The editors of the "salon" think these are simply better than Urquhart's choices.

I am, I admit, connected in one way or another to both these magazines, and one of my stories is included in their alternate anthology. Spearheading the angry response to the Penguin book (and angry it is, full of invective and accusations) is my first editor and literary mentor, John Metcalf; the editor of CNQ is Dan Wells, who published my last book. But I am also friends with Urquhart, someone I like and admire, which makes my reading of the withering attacks on her somewhat unpleasant. This web of connections is of course the plague of Canadian literature; it is precisely what has kept us from engaging in spirited debate of the British or French variety, and - at least I know Metcalf would argue - that has led to a standard of publishing and prize-giving which is undoubtedly mediocre.

Perhaps most woundingly, Metcalf, in his introduction to the CNQ issue (called Thinking About Penguins), calls Urquhart a "popular entertainer." He queries whether she is of the same calibre, as an artist, as the editors of the equivalent Irish and U.S. anthologies (Colm Toibin and Richard Ford, respectively). Metcalf derisively takes issue with every one of Urquhart's criteria for inclusion; questions her competence, as a novelist, for the task; and dismisses her understanding of the genre as "appalling ignorance." It's stomach-curdling stuff if you know everyone involved, and of course thrilling for the worst of reasons.

What is it that has made Metcalf, Wells and Kim Jernigan (the editor of The New Quarterly) so mad? Put very roughly, they see it as a conflict between the apologists of content and those of form. Urquhart has arranged her stories by theme - the immigrant experience, memoir, the family, myth and so on - and those themes do seem to have been chosen to be of interest to those who would try to understand something about Canadian history and identity. The best-known Canadian authors are all in there - Munro, Gallant, Atwood, Ondaatje (a strange inclusion, since his contributions are not short stories) - as well as dozens of other brilliant and varied writers (a total of 69, for almost 700 pages).

The objectors say that the majority seem to be chosen because of their great popularity, not because of their skill or innovation in this particular genre. Metcalf et al. point out that their own favourite short-story writers - linguistic gymnasts such as Mark Jarman, Douglas Glover, Terry Griggs and Diane Schoemperlen - tend to be published by small presses and literary magazines, and yet best represent the stylistic flair that is the hallmark of this, our most sophisticated, genre. And they have not been included. Some of Urquhart's selections, they argue, seem to have been made through not entirely artistic criteria: The story from the former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson is, for example, possibly a feel-good choice because of who the author is.

The only way for you to decide if this makes any sense is to go out and buy, first, the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, which will give you a year or so of fascinating reading at a steady pace; and, at the same time, both The New Quarterly and Canadian Notes & Queries, which will do the same.

Why is this contretemps important? First, because this particular artistic genre is one in which Canadian artists excel, and is therefore an important Canadian contribution to global culture; and second, because it provides a glimpse into a much larger resentment, common among artists and intellectuals, about the political ways in which our official culture is created. You will find no more fascinating illustrations of subtly differing approaches to literature. And finally, the sheer pleasure of reading so many brilliant and exciting pieces of fiction, along with their analyses, may turn you off the bestseller lists forever.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Refusing the Refuses

As it is in the interest of continuing the debate about short stories in Canada, and will prove, one hopes, that this Salon exercise has not been an orchestrated attempt to discredit both the Penguin and Urquhart brands -- conspiracy-theories in CannedLit, sadly, run rampant -- we turn our attention to Steven Beattie's Shakespherian Rag, a fine blog, one of the best in the country, and his 31 Days of Short Stories. Today, a contribution from fellow blogger and bibliomane Nigel Beale, who argues that Virgil Burnett is, at least by the evidence at hand, a much better writer than Clark Blaise, Norman Levine and Hugh Hood; and that, further, the only story worse than Hood's Williamstown is Clarkson's Ring Around October.

You can read his rather ... interesting post here:

Let's do a taste test, shall we:

First, Burnett.

"As he studied her from his place at the far end of the table, Roscelin felt his resistance to her beauty weaken and crumble, as if some temple in his brain had been exploded to dust by the advent of a new and superior religion. He would not, indeed he could not, restrain himself any longer. To do so, he admitted at last, would be to attempt to deny all the precepts of destiny."

A representative paragraph: there are much worse. I chose it because in a few short lines it pretty much gives you the entirety of Burnett's medieval tale (and tale, here, is the operative word. That or yarn. Nothing exemplifies the difference between a modernist short story and a 19th-century style yarn as does a comparision between Burnett, and, well, just about anyone else in the Salon {and the best of Urquhart's selections}.) Where Beale criticizes, for example, Blaise's use of alliteration (???), we get here crumbling resistance, inability to restrain oneself, and romantic destiny. Hmmm: no, no second-hand Gormenghast here.

Let's go with Hood now, the worst of our Salonists, by Beale's estimation. Finding a representative paragraph is not as easy here, as much of the story progresses via dialogue. But this paragraph, picked from a scan, comes close:

"There are no trees in the Town of Mount Royal; this is a fact. Here and there one finds a stunted shrub or two; but when they lais out the developments during, and just after, the war, they bulldozed down all of the trees, a bad mistake no one seems to regret. Without noticing it, the citizens live on an arid plain where the grass yellows in May. If the land were clear prairie they would see this; but admidst the ranch houses the desert effect is half-obliterated. That you can't sit in your own backyard in July because of the glare seems to be taken for granted by all but me. It takes me an hour and a half to drive two miles to work, because of a bottleneck at a level crossing. In wintertime, it takes much longer."

No fireworks here, admittedly. Just careful observation, and a layering of image, metaphor and dialogue, quiet technique, which adds resonance to a powerful story about, as much as anything, the final journey (to Williamstown or otherwise) we all must take. Certainly, at the very least, when compared to Burnett's medieval posturings, a much, much stronger story.

We won't even get into comparing Hood and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Really, what would be the point? So there's not much more to say. Beale says it all. Take the Constance and Williamstown challenge, and see for yourself

Monday, August 25, 2008

Review of Young's Moonbathers...

... in the Winnipeg Free Press. Are they one of the ONLY metropolitan newspapers which review Canadian poetry with any regularity any more? Certainly they seem to review it MORE than any other paper I know of. Kudos and thanks due to Walker Morley and everyone at the Winnipeg Free Press who are still willing to give that most un-commercial of collections -- the poetry book -- weekly attention.

Here's the part of the review dealing with Young's Moonbathers. As far as I know this is the first review of this collection thus far, which is a bit ridiculous, considering her previous two collections received G-G shortlist nods. But t'is the way of things these days.

Free verse impressive for its rhythmic control

Victoria writer Patricia Young's ninth book of poetry, Here Come the Moonbathers (Biblioasis, 80 pages, $18) is beautifully crafted, subtle and emotionally intense.

Young's free verse is impressive for its rhythmic control. Notice the double stress pattern here, the one long line, and then the return to pattern:

Why the bone clock?

Who the bone clock?

What to say about the bone clock

except it stopped when the world was still caterwauling

tooth and claw.

Young doesn't simply produce one kind of rhythmic variation. In Twenty Questions she deploys a casual five stress line: "Dad smells of mulched leaves, something sweetly organic./ Pulverized beach shells spill from his eye sockets."

She also has a rare gift for metaphorical thinking, where a metaphor is initially somewhat mysterious, and then comes into perfectly logical focus:

Your perfect life is not a poem after all.

Which is fine except your blood is full of magnets.

You'd like to smuggle yourself out of the abandoned city

but you're stuck to the fridge... .

Friday, August 22, 2008

Salon des Refuses: The Toronto Launch

Jack, David (ECW), Karen Haughin? (Descant)

Sharon English, Heather Birrell in conversation; Adrian Michael Kelly and Kim Jernigan

Rebecca Rosenblum and fan club.

A blow hard, blowing. Mike Barnes, English and Birrell looking on on stage. Paul Wells from Macleans at the immediate right.

Wells, Barnes, English.

To forestall a lawsuit: that is the TINARS mascot reading the TNQ and not Penguin's ... well... penguin. Unintentional irony: there's been a lot of that going 'round.

Rebecca Rosenblum meets Steven Beattie, whose Shakespherian Rag is a must read: especially this month, with his marathon 31 Days of short stories.

Steven, Rebecca and someone I should recognize, I think, but Can't. Help! (Davidson?)

Wells, Barnes, English.

English, Birrell, Beattie.

Wells, Barnes, Birrell.

Barnes, English, Birrell, Beattie.

Sorry: there are two of these, but damned if I'm taking this one off now.

Wells, Barnes, English, Birrell, looking in Kim's general direction.

Chris Reed, TINARS mastermind, and Kim Jernigan, editor of the New Quarterly.

Kim Jernigan.

The only one who needs introduction at this stage is Adrian Michael Kelly, far right, who's Imprint of Foxes piece in CNQ is worth the cover price on its own.

Thank God that's over.

Photos courtesy of Gabrielle de Montmollin. Alas, put up in reverse order, but what else would you expect from this bibliophilic luddite? Rumour has it that Vancouver and Montreal events are in the works, likely others. We'll keep you posted.

Star Gazing Seth-style

The Star Gazer, according to Seth. From the Idler's Glossary, which hit press this morn. Something I hope to do plenty of this weekend with my trusty binoculars, my $10 garage sale telescope and the all-important tumbler of cheap scotch. That should help keep all of this Salon nonsense in the proper perspective.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rebecca Rosenblum: A Profile

It's been a month of profiles for Rebecca Rosenblum, who's ONCE should hit the bibliomanse driveway sometime next week. A New Quarterly interview, with three stories; a longer interview/profile in CNQ; and now a profile in the Jewish Canadian News, which hit the newstands today. You can read it by following this link:

Rebecca's ONCE was also given a starred review in the September edition of Quill & Quire, though I've not yet seen the review myself. I believe the only other starred fiction title of the issue was Miriam Toews's new novel, so t' is good company to be in. Congrats!

Incidentally, you'll be able to catch Rebecca all over the place next month. She'll be reading September 7th at Eden Mills, where ONCE will be publicly available for the first time. She'll be launching in Toronto at TINARS, at the Gladstone, on September 15th; and she'll be in Winnipeg at Thin Air on the 24th. More Rosenblum events are planned in October and November as well, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Salon des Refuses on CBC's Q

Adrian Michael Kelly, author of The Imprint of Foxes, an essay in the critical section of the current CNQ half of the Salon des Refuses, was on Q radio with Jian Ghomeshi this aft., and did a fine job representing all Salonists. The discussion is now part of the Q podcast, and can be listened to here:


Toronto Star Review of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets

A review of Jailbreaks in the Toronto Star.

"These poems can be read without even being aware that they are sonnets. Their apparent informality, even within a formal structure, is part of their appeal."

Not quite the "Belongs in every school library in the coutry" endorsement of the Winnipeg Free Press a month or so back, but, still, gets the word out.

The review can be found here:

The true story: Charles Foran, Anna Porter and Donald Antrim talk about mixing fact and fabrication in memoirs

Charles Foran talks to Anna Porter and Donald Antrim in a Words at Large Podcast on CBC's website, recorded during Montreal's Blue Metropolis in May. A pretty interesting discussion, on truth, lies and memoir.

I've noticed with a lot of these organizations that they almost never mention a writer's book with a small or independent press, even if it is, as is the case with Charles, their most recent title. Harper Collins looks much more impressive, I suppose, than Biblioasis in the by-line. {Though it is possible that I am just growing paranoid. Alex Good pointed out that with the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories what unites all of the writers is that they have made the jump from small presses to big presses (with the exception of Virgil Burnett, Adrienne Clarkson and Carol Windley). Even in Mrs. Urquhart's response to Q&Q about the Salon, she singled out three of about 5 writers associated with larger houses, ignoring those who are mainly associated with small, independent ones. Good wrote that small presses should feel truly dissed, and he is right, I think. As usual, more perceptive than the rest of us.

Trolling through the discussions about the Conservative Government's assault on art funding last eve, I came across the suggestion, more than once, that if work is good it is going to get noticed. If it falls beneath the radar, it more than likely deserves it. It's obvious that this is an opinion shared not only by Joe and Jane Canadian, but by editors and copy editors at the Big Houses, national and independent media and others as well. READ: Big=good; small=less-so.

Oh, hell: rant stemmed. Time to close these brackets.}

check out the discussion here:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Idler's Glossary: The Cover

A first look at the final Idler's Glossary cover. The glossary should go off to the printer tomorrow. The book was designed by Seth, who did a fabulous job: cover, endpapers, 3 title pages, 30 word definition illustrations. It's a gorgeous production, or will be, with embossing, metallic ink, on a nice uncoated stock. I'm thinking, if I can squeeze in the time, of doing a hand bound edition of 20 copies using a version of the endpapers as the covering paper. More on this later. Let me know if you might be interested in a copy of this edition.

While I'm on all things idle, I've finally got the Royal Order of the Indolent blog going more regularly -- all this blog work is getting in the way of my ability to idle. This week, I've gathered Robert Louis Stevenson's wonderful essay, Apology for Idlers, where he argues "Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself." As well, you'll find "An Invitation to Lubberland," from a 1685 Broadside, the early version of the hobo's heaven popularized by Harry McClintock in "Big Rock Candy Mountains." In Lubberland you'll find that:

The rivers run with claret fine,
The brooks with rich canary,
The ponds with other sorts of wine,
To make your hearts full merry:
Nay, more than this, you may behold,
The fountains flow with brandy,
The rocks are like refined gold,
The hills are sugar candy.

"Rose-water is the rain they have,
Which comes in pleasant showers,
All places are adorned brave,
With sweet and fragrant flowers.
Hot custards grows on ev'ry tree,
Each ditch affords rich jellies;
Now if you will be ruled by me,
Go there and fill your bellies.

"There's nothing there but holy-days
With music out of measure;
Who can forbear to speak the praise
Of such a land of pleasure?
There may you lead a lazy life
Free from all kind of labours:
And he that is without a wife,
May borrow of his neighbour.

Go check both out:


CNQ/TNQ Salon Newsflash

Adrian Michael Kelly will be on CBC radio's Q talking about the Salon des Refuses and the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories tomorrow afternoon.

There will also be coverage of the Salon in an upcoming issue of Macleans magazine. Stay tuned for more information.

More to follow...

Monday, August 11, 2008

"One of the sharpest literary debates this country has ever seen..."

Just three days before the official launch of the CNQ/TNQ Salon Des Refuses (don't forget to join us at the Gladstone in Toronto this Wednesday, August 13th, doors at 8:00 p.m.) Alex Good had this to say about our joint venture in the Toronto Star:

Did anyone see this coming?
When The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, edited by Jane Urquhart, came out last fall, it was greeted with the generally deferential reviews expected of such an exercise in cultural authority.
Almost a year later, this 700-page tome has become the flashpoint for one of the sharpest literary debates this country has ever seen.

For the full article, check out

Friday, August 08, 2008

Salon des Refuses Photos: Take Two!

There we are!

An article appeared in Quill & Quire about the Salon, Omni edition, last eve. There will also be something in the Sunday's Ideas Section -- we've moved out of the book pages ghetto -- in the Toronto Star.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Salon Des Refuses: Pages Display Photos

Photos courtesy of Chris Reed, TINARS mastermind. Though there's no CNQ in the window. What! Already sold out! As it should be.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

CNQ/TNQ Salon Des Refuses

CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries and TNQ: The New Quarterly
welcome you to our


A critical and artistic response to The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, edited by Jane Urquhart, in which we tweak the beak of the Canadian Penguin and put forward work by twenty of the best short story writers in the country not included in said anthology:

Mike Barnes, Heather Birrell, Clark Blaise, Sharon English, Cynthia Flood, Keath Fraser, Douglas Glover, Terry Griggs, Mark Anthony Jarman, Elizabeth Harvor, Steven Heighton, Hugh Hood, Norman Levine, John Metcalf, Bharati Mukherjee, Patricia Robertson, Diane Schoemperlen, Ray Smith, Russell Smith and Patricia Young.

* * *

With critical contributions and appreciations by Caroline Adderson, Steven Beattie, Don Coles, Michael Darling, Stephen Henighan, Adrian Michael Kelly, Annabel Lyon, John Metcalf, Eric Ormsby and Michael Winter, among others.

Curated by Daniel Wells and Kim Jernigan

* * *

To be launched at Pages Books and Magazines's 'This is Not a Reading Series' at the Gladstone Hotel in toronto at 8:30 pm, August 13th, 2008, with a panel discussion on the role of criticism, canon-making and the state of the Canadian short story. Panelists include Kim Jernigan (editor of TNQ) as moderator; Salon Refuse-niks Mike Barnes, Heather Birrell and Sharon English; CNQ Salon critical contributors Steven Beattie and Adrian Michael Kelly; and CNQ publisher/editor Dan Wells.