Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New York Times Review of Diane Schoemperlen 'By the Book'

Bit of overdue, but noteworthy news: The New York Times Sunday Book Review featured By the Book: Stories and Pictures by Diane Schoemperlen in their December Holiday Issue. Dan wrote a great post about the enthusiastic coverage her book's been getting over the past month, and how we all feel about its success. Very gratifying to see that others in the media understand and appreciate this beautiful, brave, risk-taking collection, too.

If you're interested in learning more about Diane's process, and how she collected, chose, and assembled the collages that run with the stories in By the Book, you're in luck: not only did Diane write an essay about the subject for The Story Prize blog, she was also featured on a recent episode of CBC's Definitely Not the Opera with Sook-Yin Lee. You can listen to her interview here. (It starts around 39:15.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lemon Hound interviews Kerry-Lee Powell; Inheritance selected as part of Toronto Star's Christmas Gift Guide

Word is starting to spread about Kerry-Lee Powell's Inheritance, the searing poetic debut about PTSD and the redemptive power of song by the winner of the 2013 Boston Review Fiction Contest. 

The Toronto Star
warns its readers that "this remarkable debut collection isn’t light reading: the dark pulse driving it is family history as trauma and the devastating legacy of war," but goes on to say that "its tight rhythms, startling images and vivid, arresting turns of phrase make it utterly compelling." So compelling, in fact, that The Star selected it as one of their picks for their 2014 Christmas Book Guide

Another sign of Powell's rare accomplishment is that Inheritance has won the admiration of award-winning experimental poet and Lemon Hound proprietor Sina Queyras, who has called it one of her favourite books of the year. Canada's leading online magazine of the avant-garde sat down with Kerry-Lee earlier this month, and the resulting conversation between Queyras and Powell is fascinating. Here's a taste:

When I wrote “The Lifeboat” I had been more or less bedridden for a couple of years with what later turned out to be a manageable illness. At the time I had no hope of recovering, and I’m convinced it was this despair that allowed me to imaginatively relive my father’s experiences. I understood, fully and with compassion, why he had taken his own life. I was half-asleep with the window open and a notepad beside me when the last line seemed to rise out of my bed sheets like a swelling chorus, drowning out the voices of the children playing in the park across the road. It was a serious moment, perhaps one of the most serious moments I’ve ever had.
My task was then to pare the poem down to its barest elements, try to attain, to borrow a phrase from Plath, ‘the illusion of a Greek necessity.’ I wanted to strip away as much extraneous detail as I could to show that the poem wasn’t only about my father’s tragedy but about how grief is handed down in memories and in song. The poem is a lifeboat, bearing its reader back into the past to relive my father’s terrible experience. It seemed essential to find the music in each line, to ensure that it came as close to embodying its own message as it possibly could. I think, too, that a formal poem engenders its own sense of inevitability. In this poem, I wanted the rhymes to be uncluttered, but at the same time to toll and echo like bells, to resonate the way my father’s traumatic memories and suicide continue to resonate in my life. One of the great things about art is that grief needn’t be banished or ‘cured’ or disavowed, but can instead be given its full due.
As the interview makes clear, Powell is that rare poet who can talk about her craft with an attention and care that rivals the achievement of her poetry, and I'll leave you with an excerpt from her excellent essay "Falling In Love With Poetry: It's Complicated!" which just recently appeared in The New Quarterly. It discusses how Kerry-Lee's discovery of Leadbelly and Lighting Hopkins provided a lifeline during her "shitty jobs as an underage cocktail waitress, [and] chambermaid at a biker motel," blossoming into a secret love affair with the poetry of John Donne, Plath and others, a veritable crash course on "how to be human." Inheritance is available in better bookstores and online from Biblioasis. 
With its roots in the underworld and its high notes in the transcendent realm of the spiritual, the unearthliness of blues music endowed my own lack— of money, an identity, power—with pathos and a borrowed fervour. The lyrics and the music seemed contradictory and oddly complementary: a melancholy voice chronicling the solitudes and transience of human life with a subversive, life-affirming brilliance. I was falling in love with poetry, although I didn’t know it at the time.

Happy 10th! Eugene McNamara on For As Far As The Eye Can See and Straight Razor and Other Poems

For me two Biblioasis books that touched me where I live were collections of poems.

The first is Salvatore Ala's Straight Razor and Other Poems (2004).  These poems resonate with love: for his father, mother, grandmother, wife, children and sacred places. Windsor, Tuscany, Sicily.

Beginning with Frank Ala's barber shop. The poems roam far away but always come back.

Dennis Priebe's design and typesetting make a beautiful rendering of Sal's words in space. It is a wonderful thing to hold as well as read,

The second book that hit me where I live is Robert Melancon's For As Far As the Eye Can See (2013). Elegantly translated into English these poems are deep in the author's Quebec and afford someone like me who only knows that belle province from visits to Montreal a deep insight into lived life.

Both of these collections begin with geographic specifics but both poets lead us from there to the universal.

A friend of mine sometimes thanks me for "juice" gleaned from reading my poems. Both of these books do that for me. Thank you for them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Upcoming FROM THE VAULT events!

Love for Schoemperlen's By the Book

There's been a fair bit of love for Diane Schoemperlen's By the Book: Stories and Pictures of late, some of which has already hit, and some of which is coming down the pipe.  First up, Stacey Mae Fowles gave Diane's book a very smart review a few weeks ago in the Globe and Mail: 

"By The Book reveals with even more vibrancy Schoemperlen’s reconstructive impulse, this time in full glossy colour, with a more sophisticated hand and more depth of source materials. Culling the contents of long-forgotten encyclopedias, handbooks and hilariously dated how-tos, there is less of Schoemperlen’s own voice here and more of a virtuoso performance in found text and visual poetry. ... she reveals herself to be a curator of both juxtaposition and connection, luxuriating in the way language works and what feelings it can conjure when laid on the page."

The November issue of Quill and Quire also contained George Featherling's fine review of the same.  After discussing her process and how the stories work, Featherling offers up the following:
"Her wit, however, is just the glaze on her serious intentions. One need not squint to see that between the lines Schoemperlen is using history to ridicule our own societal certainties or even to protest Canada’s increasing authoritarianism. In every case, she looks for fresh ways of pushing the boundaries of Canadian fiction. She is an original."
We, of course, couldn't agree more, especially about Diane's wit, and her pushing of boundaries.  We've been pretty clear, on Thirsty and elsewhere, what we think of this book: I have been fascinated by it since it arrived a year and a half ago, and it's sent me scuttling back to Diane's earlier work like Forms of Devotion so hungry I've become for more.  This is a book which challenges what both the story and book can do as forms; it's also as joy-filled as a book can be.  

For the full Quill & Quire review, which is paired up with Molly Peacock's Alphabetique, please go here.  

Speaking of joy, Diane talked about how By the Book brought more joy to her than she's experienced in her writing in years on DNTO this past Saturday.  Working on By the Book, she told Sook Yin Lee, reminded her of something she'd forgotten over her years of trying to make a living as a writer: creation is supposed to be fun.  The theme of this episode of the show was garbage, and Diane turned the concept on its head, by showing how the detritus of one period can be transformed into the art of another.  It's a fascinating 9 minute interview, which begins approximately at 38:45, continuing until 47:45.  Take a listen here: