Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
my waves begin,
who juggle sand,
who gather in
the wrack of land
and cast it up
upon the sea.
This is no common
I weave them gold
and green and grey
to the horizon
where they break.
I ravel in
the shuttle's wake.
And each day's labour's
lost, they say.
They do not see
how, slowly, the
is worn away.
Some even tide
the night will fail
(it is but weft)
and day reveal
my landfall: as
you know, your sail.
You can find the other seven here.
Word has reached us in our suburban onion field that Amanda has had yet another poem, from another collection that is in process, accepted by Poetry Magazine. Congrats!
Monday, March 28, 2011
Sorry for the sound of my steps
on the floor—wherever I
walked, it creaked. There was a new
moon above and I swallowed the dark
(it still comes out now as I speak).
Sorry, too, for the door, I didn't quite close;
the cold pulled you out of your sleep.
It's what the new moon does: it
deals out the stars; it dances, it drinks
and it cheats. All day long,
the planet revolved; it turned in
the troposphere's keep. With new moon
above, I swept through the dark. Then
I swept the dark off my feet. Still
I'm sorry, this morning, when
I came back to bed, if my hands had lost
all their heat. It’s an old tune, love,
what you lose in the dark,
what follows you back to the sheets.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
In the sixth book of Paradise Lost, as day breaks on the second day of the War in Heaven, the angels of God view Satan’s troops as they gather together in a conspicuous knot. The angels had been victorious the day before, and while their leader Zophiel cautions them to remain “aware” (546) of their foe’s power, the predominant feeling is one of surprise and relief. The forces of evil have not scattered, as expected, and won’t have to be chased down. So the armies collect themselves; the fighting is about to commence; and then, briefly, there is a pause.
This moment is one of the two instances where Milton uses the word “interview” in the poem: “At interview both stood / A while” (6.555-56). It appears again in Book 11, in Adam’s vision of the future, when he witnesses a marriage ceremony, and where the rites seem at first to be a “happy interview, and fair event / Of love and youth not lost” (11.593-94). In this second instance, it seems clear that the “happy interview” is an interview not to be trusted. All is not as it appears. The tents that Adam saw, we are told, belong to the family of Cain, and are in fact “the tents / Of wickedness” (11.607-08).
In the first example there is also deception afoot. Satan’s forces have created a war machine, a device of “devilish Enginrie, impal’d / On every side with shaddowing Squadrons Deep, / To hide the fraud” (6.555). The attempt of the devils to hide the Engine is what the good angels are seeing when they stand “At interview.” They catch only a partial glimpse of the Engine itself. The results of this interview are disastrous: the good angels come close to losing.
The Miltonic interview might at first seem somewhat removed from, say, a press interview, or (dare she say it), a job interview. In some senses, however, it is also exactly the same. Both are opportunities to watch someone disguise what they wish to keep hidden—and that, frequently, is evil. And if, as for Blake, a “true Poet” is one who is “of the Devil’s party without knowing it,” then one who interviews a poet must be prepared to move among devils to spot them.
In that spirit, then, the Thirsty blog is proud to present The Devil's Engine: a series of interviews with Biblioasis authors. In celebration of National Poetry Month, the first four installments will focus on verse, but other genres and forms will follow. Altogether, the focus of these interviews will be what our writing reveals, what it conceals, and how much of either it ought to do.
Check back over the next few weeks for thoughts by Marsha Pomerantz, David Hickey, Joshua Trotter, Salvatore Ala, Zach Wells, Robyn Sarah, Goran Simic, Amanda Jernigan, and more.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Reading Combat Camera, A.J. Somerset’s brave and gritty debut novel, one discerns here and there evidence of influence from Nathanael West’s classic Miss Lonelyhearts: the disillusioned and powerless protagonist trapped in a job that threatens to destroy his soul; the amoral boss given to endless philosophical pontificating; the vivid depictions of the squalor and desperation of the lost and disowned. For West, all that squalor was easily found in America during the Depression. In Combat Camera, the sordid setting is the realm of hardcore internet porn. Any influence from Nathanael West, however minimal it may actually be, is of course a good thing, but unlike the great American satirist, Somerset offers his protagonist something Miss Lonelyhearts never gets: a viable opportunity for redemption, a possible second chance. West was never so cruel.
Once a prize-winning freelance photographer and first-hand witness to the bloody conflicts in El Salvador, the West Bank, and Chechnya, among other hellholes, Lucas Zane is lost. Damaged, in a number of ways, and burnt-out, Zane simply exists, alone and beyond hope, in a tiny apartment in Toronto. But Melissa, one of the porn “models” he photographs, presumably recognizing a decent person and potential ally beneath the numb exterior, begins to wake Zane up and starts giving him ideas. Not the usual ideas, not the kind you might expect, but ideas instead about reviving his career, returning to legitimacy. Zane even starts to act on these ideas, despite his better judgement.
For the rest of the review, please go here.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Goran Simic has nothing against butterflies, but he can't write about them.
In 1992, Serbian nationalists began their siege of Sarajevo. Simic was a well-known and well-read author, and no friend of the nationalist cause. He had criticized it in print, citing the xenophobia and hatred that came with it. The bookstore he owned and his family home were shelled and destroyed. His mother and brother, and many friends, were killed.
"I'm so happy to see my face every morning," he said, over a plate of spicy fish at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Edmonton recently. "Oh my, look, you're still alive. Once you survive horror, everything else is wonderful."
First, the late Susan Sontag helped get him out of Sarajevo. Then PEN Canada, an organization committed to protecting freedom of expression, brought Simic to Toronto in 1996, where he was a senior fellow at Massey College. At that time, his English was poor. He was one of the best-known writers in the former Yugoslavia, but once his fellowship year at Massey College was finished, and he emigrated to Canada, he was obliged to find work.
He found himself as a labourer in a Holt Renfrew warehouse.
"There is no country in the world that wants a poet," he said.
"They want a bricklayer or a computer scientist. Many authors get lost."
Since last fall, he has a salary and an office at Stanley A. Milner Library as Edmonton's 2011 writer-in-exile. He has been, for much of his career since the siege of Sarajevo, a "war poet," interpreting what he had seen, heard and smelled during and after the siege of Sarajevo - his sophisticated, multicultural hometown, an Olympic city, "the Jerusalem of Europe" that was reduced to what Simic has called an "ashtray."
It has been his job to ensure, in some small way, that what happened is not forgotten. "They're still digging up bones," he said.
In the fall of 2006, at Litfest, author John Ralston Saul challenged the City of Edmonton to host a writer-in-exile. As a university city, an arts city and a city of immigrants, it seemed a natural fit.
Few of the people who heard his speech knew what a writer-in-exile was. But a week later, then-city councillor Michael Phair, John Mahon from the Edmonton Arts Council, professors and administrators from the University of Alberta, MacEwan and Athabasca universities, and representatives from organizations, such as the Writers Guild of Alberta and Litfest, were meeting over a cheese tray at City Hall with the executive director of PEN Canada on speakerphone.
Less than a year later, Edmonton's city council chambers were jammed to welcome Jalal Barzanji, an Iraqi writer, as Edmonton's first writer-in-exile. Saul returned to make a rather astonished victory speech, suggesting that Edmonton's collaborative model - currently between the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Arts Council, with an office donated by Edmonton Public Libraries - could be a model for the rest of the country. Next came Rita Espeschit from Brazil and Sheng Xue from China.
Barzanji, Espeschit and Xue were enormously active in the role. So is Simic. His poetry and short stories have been published around the world, his opera librettos - a long collaboration with British composer Nigel Osborne - have been performed all over Europe. His puppet theatre shows are now classics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A full-length documentary has been made about him, When You Die As A Cat. Simic and Serbian writer David Albahari, who has lived in Calgary since 1994, are two of the most famous writers in Canada - though few Canadians have heard of them.
This weekend, Simic will launch his first book of poetry written in his adopted language, a marvellous collection called Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman.
He is currently working on a book of short stories about Alberta and translating Canadian writers into Serbo-Croatian. We met on one of the coldest days of the year, and Simic was the only person in downtown Edmonton who wasn't complaining about the weather. Like butterflies, weather isn't among his preferred themes.
He has been thinking about his experiences as a persecuted writer and as a war survivor, as he watches the demonstrations in the Arab world.
"It's a great victory for freedom of speech," he said. "It's proof that people can change history.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Click here for CBC Sydney.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
This is why, when the Samarian woman asks if Jesus can quench the thirst of his people, Jesus’s answer is so compelling. “Art thou greater than our father Jacob,” she asks, “which gave us the well?” “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again,” replies Jesus. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
To have the Spirit, Christ suggests, is better than having a well (which, in ancient Samaria, was already a pretty good piece of luck). The metaphor of ‘living water’ releases the Samarians from a dependence on external signs and physical wants. One need no longer troll the desert looking for water as a symbol of God’s grace, for, as Christ suggests, God’s grace abides eternally within; His presence is imminent to all.
So. There are no oases in the Bible. In neither the Old nor the New Testament. Not in the former, because relief and respite were as nomadic as God’s people, and thirst used to smite God’s foes; not in the latter, because we are told true sanctuary resides in the Spirit. Either way, the result is the same: the good book is oasis-free.
* * *
I’ve been thinking about this since Thursday. Thursday was my first day at work. Dan had come in to my office to explain some of the finer points of writing sales handles for our distribution catalogue in the States. The phone rang; Kathleen answered; the conversation was brief.
“It was those people again,” she calls out from the other room. “It’s happened twice in the past few weeks.”
“What people?” asks Dan. “The Christians? They call all the time.”
“Yeah,” says Kathleen. “I don’t know why they keep thinking we publish religious books.”
I look at Dan. He looks back at me. I start to smile. It had never occurred to me before.
“It’s because,” Dan says, “of the name.”
* * *
So. I thought about this for a while. I concluded the Christians could have thought any one of three things.
The first thing was—improbably—that we are an oasis for bibles. (I imagine empty pages flocking to us and pressing their faces into globes of ink, that have bedewed the floor with scripture).
The second—more probably—was that we are an oasis for the Biblically-minded. That’s what got me wondering about the oasis itself, and thinking perhaps there was an oasis metaphor in the Bible that I’d missed, some sacred palmy pool to which they were referring, and which my Catholic education had bypassed. So I read. I thought, no, it seems there’s no reference. More so, the joke’s on them. Looking for an oasis in the Bible is a mistake. The real oasis is in Heaven.
It was the third idea—the least probable, yet the most suggestive—that gave me pause. I had been thinking about signs. I had been thinking about what it means to feel oneself in the presence of God (or, for that matter, of many gods). Water in the desert? A pretty clear sign. So is Jesus, standing there, in person, speaking in his own voice. But a few generations down the line, what happens?
What happens is, the manna eventually runs out, and the voice of God grows faint. All one has is stories: one has books. For the majority of people divine presence is a matter of hearsay. And the more distant one is from that sense of original presence—a presence that for Thomas Love Peacock characterizes the iron age of poetry—then the harder it is to find one’s oasis, one’s figurative place of rest.
That’s why I love the stories of Augustine and of Mohammed. They mark a threshold. Augustine, not yet a Christian, is brought to a Bible, told by a voice to take it and read; and Mohammed, visited by the angel Gabriel, is commanded similarly. Read. The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr. In both cases, divine presence points to its own record, and says it is I.
* * *
Today marks my second week on the job. I’ve drunk a lot of extraordinary literature. And I have no doubt that Biblioasis is a place where people, thirsty for quality, have come. In the last seven days I’ve read unpublished poetry by Amanda Jernigan and David Hickey; I’ve read Claire Tacon’s forthcoming novel; I’ve read the newest collection of short stories by Clark Blaise, which is the closest thing to manna anyone will taste this year. All this has reinforced to me that Biblioasis, like Jacob’s well, is a place from which discerning readers will draw for many years; it is a place they will never find dry.
Yet as I settled into my office, and as shades of Augustine and Mohammed began to peer over my shoulder, it occured to me that this press believes in more than being an oasis for literature. Biblioasis, I thought then, may well believe that literature is the oasis for us all; and a good book is the best kind of presence, holier than blood and more thirst-quenching than wine. I look forward to working amid such spirit.
Joshua Trotter’s debut poetry collection, All This Could Be Yours, won immediate favourable reviews for no reason other than its authenticity and aesthetic simplicity.
When Michael Lista of the National Post picked Trotter’s release as one of the five best collections of poetry of 2010, he made it clear that having only one Canadian on board was not another Canadian content quota-based choice.
“To include Canadians’ work for publication based on any other rubric than their merits is to prolong artistic infancy,” he stressed.
Trotter recently moved to Montreal and is pleased to have a job that allows him to stay at home and do what he loves to do: write poetry.
He claims to have no particular theoretical concerns and, like many other writers, he writes because he has no other choice, and because doing otherwise would mean his own demise.
As a result, his collection of poetry is less than a book in and of itself, but an expansion of and an expedition into his own metamorphosis.
Unlike most contemporary poets, who are often reluctant to seek comfort in traditional styles, Trotter is not afraid to explore all of them; he sneaks effortlessly into sonnets and refuses to call iambic pentameter an archaic formula.
It is as through rhythm and rhyme in most of his poems make a way out of his brain, and it is this same phonetic property that helps him brush off any imperfections when he reads them out loud.
“In front of an audience, a poem’s chaff becomes obvious. Public readings are an excellent threshing tool. All the dumb, boring, show-offy stuff becomes evident,” said Trotter in an interview on Canadian poet rob mclennan’s blog. “During readings, I edit on the fly.”
Beyond the sonorous quality comes the subject matter, which is an unusual coalition of memory and illusion, and a valiant attempt to render them tangible. His poems, as if they had a life of their own, are merely canals connecting a flowing and flexible stream of consciousness.
His airy style alludes to fictitious landscapes as much as it does to a “weightless, insubstantial, ordinary mortality”—and language serves to connect the dots between these. In this panorama, it is nature in all its immensity that fills the void.
Don’t be surprised if you feel the spirit of e.e. cummings running and jumping through Trotter’s poems, for there is a lot of material with as much comparable confusion and potential in here.
Stay tuned for Trotter’s upcoming public readings in Montreal sponsored by Biblioasis this March.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
What I did not want – despite mentioning the hoped for publishing program experience – was a publishing professional. This is neither the place nor the position for someone who would think of him or herself in such a fashion. Into my seventh year as a publisher, I’m still nowhere near professional status, and don’t expect I’ll ever be so. I’m not sure it’s something I even aspire towards. This is still very much on-the-job training; I am still, on my best days, having too much fun; I am learning too much; I love it too much. And that, more than anything else, mattered to me. Finding someone who might just share the same enthusiasm for the work that I, most days, still have. It’s the only justification one can have for the long hours, the meagre pay. (Oh! That there was even meagre pay!) You must find it meaningful. “Blessed,” Thomas Carlyle writes, “is he who has found his work,” and I consider myself quite lucky to have found my own. More than anything else, I wanted the person I eventually hired to bring the same enthusiasm to the job. I wanted to know that, whomever we hired, they would care for our books and our writers as much as I do. As it was our new hire that reminded me of the true and fitting meaning of the word amateur, I believe that we have found the right person.
We had a dozen or so applications and letters of intent; we quickly narrowed these down to half-a-dozen, then three, and finally two. We wavered near a week between these, switching back and forth. We finally settled on Tara Kathleen Murphy, and not even a week into her involvement with the press we know we’ve hired someone quite special, who has already, in a few days, contributed to the press in several meaningful ways.
Tara comes to us from Western, where she is working on her doctorate in English. Before that she worked at McGill under Robert Lecker, where she finished a Master’s Thesis on the Porcupine’s Quill and Gaspereau Press, perhaps the two presses I most admire (& collect) in the country. She worked at the Word bookstore in Montreal under Adrian King-Edwards, one of the finest booksellers in the country. Tara has given a lot of thought to the role of the independent press in Canada, to the relationship between the physical book and its contents; she has a solid understanding of the industry and the independent press scene in particular. She’s a very fine editor, copy-editor, poet and artist; she has a good head for publicity; she’s an exceptional reader; and she seems to have solid administrative sense. She’s a bibliophile and book collector (I’ve never really been able to trust book people who are not). And she wants to get that old platen press in the garage up and working again. Bless her.
Just as importantly, she knew our books, bought our books, loved our books. She was familiar with our authors; particularly our poets. And she spoke of a small press life as one, at least in part, of service and community, and of the importance of finding meaningful work. It was as if she had read my mind.
But perhaps it is best to let Tara herself speak. Thirsty readers will be seeing a lot of her around here over the coming weeks and months and years, as will anyone else who deals with the press: at shows, readings, events, conferences. Many of our authors can expect to hear from her directly quite soon as well.
From her cover letter, applying for the Salary-Serf position. When I had read this, I had a sense I may have found my assistant:
"Part of this fastidiousness stems from my love of books as objects. I've been building my library for years, and right now I'm nourishing collections of typography manuals, small-press ephemera, and books about books. I couldn't say which item is my favourite (though my first-edition Memoirs of Montparnasse, unearthed in a church basement sale and bought for a dollar, is high on the list). What I can say is I've always believed that we have a moral obligation to produce quality work that lasts. Whether it's the extra fifteen minutes spent on a press release, or the extra cash spent for a sheet of Zephyr Antique Laid paper, the care we take speaks for itself. It's the best way we have of showing others that the stories we tell matter.
"I have always been personally invested in how books are made, and for this reason I have an enormous respect for the small press world. There's also no question that my interest in printers and publishers has done a lot to shape my own work ethic, which has served me well. It would be a privilege to apply my skills in an industry that I love, and to work for a press that I so deeply admire."
And it is a privilege to have her working with us.