Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cathy Stonehouse v. The National Post

For those of you who've been following Cathy in The National Post over the past couple of months, you'll know that Steven Beattie's review was not a strong endorsement of her work. He took issue with her subject matter, and characterized her "fictional universe" as a place where "innocence is always corrupted, and the defenceless are always prey to random acts of malevolence."

Cathy, who has written at length about the relation between humour and tragedy in her own work for the Post, has responded to his critique on her blog. If you're curious, I'd encourage you to take a look. It's heartening for anyone who's ever struggled with the difficult process of reviewing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Report on David Hickey's Open Air Bindery

Available online here.

I'm always interested to see particular images recurring in a poet's work. Not in a signature, grand thematic flourish, like with Yeats's gyres, but in subtle, leitmotif fashion, in ways that the author may not even be conscious of. In a novel such repeatedly struck notes are easier to spot, and usually they appear for a more obvious purpose - often, for example, being used as shorthand to represent a character's habit of mind. But in a collection of poems, especially of the contemporary, confessional lyric sort, one can't help feeling a bit like a Freudian analyst, taking notes on a symbolism that the poet chatters at his fingertips.

I don't want to throw David Hickey on the couch, and in any event his new book, Open Air Bindery, doesn't have a hidden agenda. The title itself alerts us to what will be the dominant pattern of imagery: one associated with inner and outer states, the open and the bound. The first poem, "Open Voyage," is one of the most inviting introductions to a book of poetry you'll read and immediately establishes the ruling conceit of systole and diastole, with a painting of a boat on the Nile magically expanding outward - "the figure living within its framed wooden borders" pushing herself beyond the picture frame and cruising around the poet's room - and then receding inward ("her small ship gliding into the painting's / canvas, into its beginnings").

We might flag those two words "living within." The next poem sets before us another picture, an x-ray, which reveals the author's inner being or "essential self" nestled within "the wetsuit of my body." The poem after that, "The Garden Shed," begins with the poet asking of the title structure "Could I live in this / thing?" But while both of these poems evoke the notion of containment, neither expresses feelings of confinement. Indeed quite the opposite; the effect is expansive. Every work of art is concerned with getting things in - not just employing techniques and devices, but putting the universal in the particular, somehow containing life itself. There is the canvas, the unexposed film, the blank, white page. Now: how do I live, put life, in this thing?

And so all art is a sort of life within, one that, like the boat on the Nile, takes on a life of its own. The concluding series of poems, "Snowflake Photography," plays with the question of what the world looks like inside of a snowflake: a "short lifetime / framed in a frozen / ecology." Within that single crystalline particular may in fact reside a world, "the universe's tidy / store of time tucked inside":

it's without
pictures or words; just pages

and pages of white,
which is what the world

looks like where
you're sitting: pages

pages and pages of white,
the work of some careful

pressman minding
his craft

as he lays
out the fields below.

This Unwritten Book of Snowflakes is a fascinating meditation on art. Of course it is written, snowflakes are something made, but like the book of moonlight (subject of another poem), whose pressman also works in "an open air bindery," the life within has no fixed meaning and no frame. No two editions of it are alike.

All of this could get to be a bit metaphysical if it weren't grounded in Hickey's grasp of the particular, the feel of kitchen tiles under bare feet and the familiar squeak of floorboards. Expanding that notion of domestic ground just a bit one might even see in the leitmotif I've been focusing on an island aesthetic. Hickey is a native of Prince Edward Island, and when he writes about how "blue edges a map of land" he we see him imagining another fluid frame around a life within. Those blue edges are like the incongruously watery shores of suburbia in another poem, or even the "rivered grain" and "wooden channels" of a tabletop that the poet's books seem to float upon. This is the poetry of endlessly rocking tides: lapping up the land, and then retreating to borderless geographies.

Touches bloquées: Marsha Pomerantz on the PNR

Opening the door of his chest he shows, painted inside, the body of
his soul ... 'Here is the place,' he says, 'here.'
Dennis Silk, on Cesare the Somnambulist, a marionette

Felicity or not
I had a large doll with a gauzy dress and bonnet, maybe called Felicity, maybe called nothing at all. She was made of rubber, which eventually cracked: the palms of her hands parched with drought, and the wads of felt offal inside her came out. There was no rhyme to it at the time. I cried. Gradually the voice box in her stomach, too, wore out: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to ... keep ... I couldn't remember: what comes next?

The rest is available in PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Subterrain reviews Brown Dwarf

If you're looking at the new issue of Subterrain (which you should!), you might want to check out page 65. Here's a taster of the review:

"With a storyline that is both appealing and disturbing on many levels, K.D. Miller's Brown Dwarf explores a significant event in main character Brenda Bray's young life using dual temporal points of view. The novel explores the difficult path Brenda navigates with her depressed mother, her tenuous grappling with her obesity and the reasons behind it, and the dual nature of her connection with Jori--a need to be accepted and loved traversed by a flirtation with lesbian desire."

On stands now!

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Vivid Portrait of 1930s Romania"

Quoth Cynthia Ramsey, of the Jewish Independent:

"It is hard to say which is the more intriguing, Mihail Sebastian’s novel, The Accident, or the author himself. Fortunately, the sixth publication in Biblioasis’ International Translation Series includes both stories."

By all means read on.

The Winnipeg Review on Two Biblioasis Titles

The July 15th issue of the Winnipeg Review features Clark Blaise's The Meagre Tarmac as well as Marius Kociejowski's The Pigeon Wars of Damascus. Here's some of what the Review had to say. And as an FYI: the picture you see to your right, which ran with the Tarmac review, is the house that Blaise lived in when he was in Winnipeg from 1950-54.

Thomas Trofimuk on The Meagre Tarmac:

I’ve struggled with this review. It’s late. I’ve filed it late.You see, I’d finish writing a version of it and then looked at what I’d written the day after and realized I’d not quite captured the approach I was trying for. Or, I hadn’t quite captured the essence of the author’s stories. So I would re-write my review. I would go over my notes again, maybe re-read a couple of the stories, reflect, and then begin again ...
So, why the struggle to write this review? I think it’s because having returned to a few of Blaise’s stories twice, and a few got three readings, I found new depths, new insights, and ways of reading each time – and that’s a bit disconcerting, especially when I’m trying to nail down a particular understanding. Each time through, the stories grew in scope and consequence. Isn’t that a brilliant problem though?

Jess Woolford on Pigeon Wars:

The Pigeon Wars of Damascus is a fascinating and at times challenging book that reminds us, “We cannot feed on the picturesque alone.” As Kociejowski observes, “We go places, and automatically we edit out what we don’t like. The world is composed to the shape of our own desires. I find myself where no tourist ever goes unless it is to take the shortest route elsewhere. What are the stories here? If I can’t describe what happens here, what right have I to speak of anywhere else?”

For the rest of the reviews, click below.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Light Lifting Makes O'Connor Prize Shortlist

The Irish Times announced this morning the shortlist for The Frank O'Connor International short Story Award, and Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting has made the shortlist of six. He's among pretty heady company: Yiyun Li, the first winner of the 35,000 pound prize, nominated a second time for Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; Saints and Sinners, by Edna O'Brien; Death is Not an Option, by Suzanne Rivecca; The Empty Family, by Colm Toibin; and Marry or Burn, by Valerie Trueblood.

Alex will be flying to Ireland to participate in the festival, where the winner will be announced September 18th.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Nothing Works For Sure: An Interview with Joshua Trotter

Over at the Walrus blog, Jacob Arthur Mooney has posted an interview with Josh Trotter. Here's a taste:

Joshua Trotter’s debut, All This Could Be Yours, slipped quietly into (better) bookstores earlier this year and quickly became something of a totem among the poetry-reading public. A small number of people seem to like it a great deal. I’m among them. The Montreal poet’s eclectic, unformulaic approach to form has resulted in a book of language games and sci-fi–flavoured experimental riffs that stick around in the reader’s mind, both propelled by sound and sustained by content.

Trotter and I exchanged emails about the book and his creative process. That correspondence is shared below.

JACOB MCARTHUR MOONEY Thanks for doing this, Joshua. What’s most striking about All This Could Be Yours, at least in terms of content, is its diversity of interests. You really take from across the culture, and from science and the social sciences. At the same time, the poems possess a sort of self-containment as individuals, giving the book a real “collection” feel. Despite a handful of recurring motifs and characters, the book’s unity comes from disunity: it’s a book of poems, rather than the less specific “book of poetry.” How do you feel about unity in the context of a book of poems, as it relates to the assumed necessity (especially with a first book) of a singular voice?

JOSHUA TROTTER I spent a lot of time attempting to coerce the book into coherence — in terms of style, in terms of content, in terms of voice — and I found I could not force it to happen. At least, not without damaging the poems. So, as it says on the cover, it’s a book of poems, rather than poetry. The poems are self-contained organisms, I hope. The book is their exoskeleton. It took me awhile to be okay with that. I have long been a fan of books with a distinct, consistent tone. Recurring images, morals, themes, grammatical forms, even words. It is a wonderful feeling to buckle yourself into such a Volvo, to let it carry you from page to page in comfort and relative safety. Yet, as I read more, as I get older, I’m becoming more interested in books that jump from place to place. Books that go off-road, scratching the paint, dragging the muffler — books that are willing to drive without insurance, perhaps a little drunk.

I have the feeling that my next book (if there is a next book) will have to carry more voices than the first. We use this term, voice, but to be honest, I’m not sure what it means. I know the creative writing adage about “finding one’s voice” — like finding an oil deposit or a missing dog — but to be honest, I have found that I have many voices. They tell me contradictory things. If there are other people like me — and I assume, statistically, that there are — the adage would serve us better by telling us to choose a voice, rather than find one. But then, I’m not very good at making choices.

For the whole review please go here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Start Profile of Terry Griggs

There is a new profile of Terry Griggs up at the Start Stratford website, with some great photographs of Terry at home in Stratford. Here's how it starts:

Terry Griggs isn’t shy about her love affair with language.

“I read the dictionary for pleasure,” she said. “You can pull a whole story out of a word.”

Speaking with to two 13-year-old interviewers (and fans) about her most recent effort, a young adult novel called Nieve, she revealed that the main character’s name was found in a dictionary.

“It’s a Scots’ word meaning ‘fist’,” said Griggs from her Stratford home, “which makes it an appropriate name for a character who must deal with all the menace invading her world.”

Nieve, short-listed for the 2011 Red Maple Award, is about an observant girl who notices small faces of evil creeping into her small town. The changes she notices – spiders on her toothbrush; weeds with minds of their own; a supply teacher that seems too good (or bad) to be true – start slowly but pick up to a fever pitch until it almost encompasses her community.

Though Nieve has been well-received and her Cat’s Eye Corner trilogy written for younger children were best-sellers, Griggs is possibly best known for her adult work. Her collection of short stories, Quickening, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Rogues’ Wedding was a nominee for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She won the Marian Engel Award in 2002 and her books The Lusty Man and Thought You Were Dead are widely praised, with the latter on the Globe and Mail’s Best of the Year selection list.

In creating stories for different ages, Griggs doesn’t see a big distinction between the two.

“I tend to just write for anyone who might want to read the book,” Griggs said. “I sink into the world I’m creating. I get into that state of mind where the unconscious is more accessible . . . and things start to come up from the basement.”

She certainly doesn’t “dumb it down” when it comes to writing for younger audiences.

“I respect children’s intelligence too much!” she said. “One of the things that crops up in both my books for adults and for children is a respect for intelligence. Maybe I’m pushing the boundaries a bit by keeping the language rich, but kids I meet have said they’ve never read a book like it before.”

for the full profile, please go here.