Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ray Smith is Heading Home

Ray Smith is packing the last of his belongings and preparing to leave Westmount for Cape Breton. The Westmount Examiner and Wayne Larsen say farewell.

Turning the page: New book, new life for Ray Smith

by Wayne Larsen

Turning the page: New book, new life for Ray Smith
As one of CanLit’s original enfants terrible of the late 1960s—barging onto the literary scene right in that sweet spot of rebellious creativity—Ray Smith can never be classified as a ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ writer; that label was forever denied him four decades ago with the publication of his first book, ‘Cape Breton is the Thought-Control Centre of Canada.’
But then, Ray Smith has never been one for labels. And anyone familiar with his relatively small but potent body of work will agree that no author of Smith’s quirky versatility deserves to be categorized at all.

The only thing that can ever be safely stated about Smith is that he is among the country’s best yet under-appreciated writers — a novelist and satirist of the first order whose witty and irreverent prose have surfaced once again in a brand new novel, ‘The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins’.

As the first in a projected series of what Smith describes as Bottomly misadventures, the title character is introduced as a Canadian air force intelligence officer hot on the trail of a bizarre series of military murders and other assorted crimes, misdemeanours and absurdities. The result is a complex, comic tale that unfolds like a walk through an unfamiliar neighbourhood — you never know what awaits around the next corner.

The narrative style, different again from most of Smith’s previous work, fluctuates between elegant and downright rude and never lets up in its sheer lack of respect for anything even remotely respectable. As usual, nothing is sacred in Smith’s topsy-turvy view of the Canadian establishment. And in the grandest tradition of contemporary satire, he gleefully shoots down everything in his path. This may be Major Jack Bottomly’s misadventure, but the very bureaucratic military setting provides Smith with countless opportunities to flaunt his gift for lampoon — and he takes full advantage of each one.

"Jack is not the kind of guy you'd want to spend a lot of time with," Smith says of his

character — a man whose flaws really do fill a book.

Going home

The publication of ‘The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins’ comes at a major turning point in the author’s life. He has recently retired from a 35-year career as an English teacher at Dawson College, where he became well-known among hundreds of students over the years as ‘The Man Who Loved Jane Austen’ — not coincidentally the title of his 1999 novel.

Not only that, but after living in Westmount since 1982, first on Burton Avenue then in a basement apartment on Grosvenor just above Sherbrooke, Smith is moving out.

Now, he says, he’s going home.

Home for Smith is Mabou, a village on Cape Breton, where he was born and raised. He may have lived and worked in Westmount for most of his life, made the daily trip to Dawson along Sherbrooke Street and buried himself in research at the Westmount Public Library, but hearth and home has always been the house built by his grandfather in Mabou, a dozen miles from Inverness.

Smith speaks of Mabou with the affection and pride of a true native son. Describing it as the most musical village in Canada, he claims that if he were to take a 4-iron and hit a golf ball in Mabou, chances are it would fly over someone who has a CD out. Names like Rankin, MacMaster and MacIsaac — giants of the East Coast music scene — drop left and right as Smith describes his neighbours and their relatives.

Cape Breton may not be acknowledged as the thought-control centre of Canada by most Canadians, but from now on it will serve as the creative centre of the universe for one of our most original literary minds. He is leaving Westmount, but with more of Jack Bottomly stories on the way, we definitely have not heard the last of Ray Smith and his finely tuned sense of the absurd.

• 'The Flush of Victory: Jack Bottomly Among the Virgins' by Ray Smith is published by Biblioasis and is available at most bookstores.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sold for $8.00 & a CNQ Sub: the new Metcalf cover

Brenda Schmidt's take on John Metcalf's new book, Shut Up He Explained, is so much better than ours we've decided to use it for the book. Here's the latest version. Perhaps the first book cover designed by a blog reader (though who, other than us, would admit to it?). And the price couldn't be better: $8.00 and a one year sub to CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries. Though we may forget to send a subscription renewal form when the time comes ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Word launch photos...

Adrian introducing Eric Ormsby
Eric Reading
Adrian and Robyn
Eric Signing
Simon Dardick, publisher of Vehicule Press, with Jason Camlot

More launch photos, courtesy of Carmine Starnino.

Biblioasis at the Word

Adrian introducing the authors
Robyn Sarah
Eric Ormsby reading
Robyn Sarah reading
Eric, Carmine Starnino and guest celebrating outside the Word.

Photos, provided by Simon Dardick, of the Word launch of Eric Ormsby's selected poems Time's Covenant and Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas. Sounds like it was a packed, and wonderful event. Our thanks here at Biblioasis go out to Lucille and Adrian King-Edwards, who hosted this for us. From all accounts they did a magnificent job.

lower case love (with field reports from Mike Barnes)

A Street in Kelowna

Anytime of the day or night but especially
after 2 a.m. we could get
into it:
"You piece of shit you're not crazy
you're just using that as an excuse
to see HER."
"That's an exaggeration."
"Who sat beside you two days THE OTHER
time you OD'd and right after your
discharge you buy her a fucking bathing suit?"
"That was before."
"Go fuck yourself."
"After you."
And then there were the
gestures accompanying this soundtrack:
a fist through a cabinet door
ASSHOLE painted in 3-foot-high dripping
red acrylic on a car (hers)
slammed doors shattered plates shredded letters
(mine and hers).
She said she could never decide
if I was plain crazy or crazy
like a fox, though I maintained
the answer was always both
for everybody
she kept looking for traces
of sanity, i.e. guilt,
it was the last thing
we had left to decide
and my competency hearing
dragged on far longer than
was wise.
I think the craziest thing she ever
saw me do was on a street in Kelowna,
10 years and a thousand miles from
where we'd been together;
she saw me coming and bundled
her little girl across the street
to keep her from meeting me
and I pulled up short and
acted surprised.

Monday, May 28, 2007

ATTN: All Biblio(asis)philes resident in Montreal

A quick reminder to you few Montreal Biblioasis-friendly folk that Eric Ormsby and Robyn Sarah will be launching their new books at the Word tonight at 469 Milton St. (in Montreal, of course!). 7:30 pm. 16 bottles of wine from what Adrian has said, and someone better be there to enjoy them, damn it! Drag all the friends, family and (being Montreal) flaneurs, you can lay your hands on. Make a (small) scene. And, if anyone has a digitial camera, snap a few pictures for me, will you?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Robertson Launch

Patricia Robertson's launch went well last night in Whitehorse, with initial estimates at about 70 copies sold: certainly a Biblioasis record! The interview on the CBC and the article in the Yukon News the day of the launch certainly didn't hurt. The article was interesting, and I've copied it below: STORYWRITER IS PREPARED TO MEET CREATIONS IN HEAVEN
by Rhiannon Coppin

A young woman drifts without direction through her days until a dramatic car accident forces her to confront her fears and vow not to stall on making her dreams reality.It may sound like a fictional cliché, but such is real life for Whitehorse-based author Patricia Robertson."I remember lying in my hospital bed - it was June - and looking out the window. It was beautiful out there," she recalls. Robertson is the author of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize nominee City of Orphans and of the Metcalf-Rooke Award short-listed collection, The Goldfish Dancer. The Goldfish Dancer will be officially launched with readings and signings Friday night at Arts Underground on Main Street.

We meet in Robertson's living room in downtown Whitehorse, which has been commandeered by a rambunctious one-year-old husky-lab mix named Freya.After licking the hands of all parties in sight, Freya resigns herself to lolling restlessly, half on the couch and half on Robertson's lap. Robertson's typing has slowed of late. She's nursing a broken left wrist: a gift from Freya, who hasn't yet learned the finer points of leash protocol.

In the relative calm, Robertson drinks a cup of a white tea blend and describes the catalyst that moved her from the realm of wannabe to actual writer, or someone committed to practising the art and craft of words. She had been unconscious when the ambulance brought her to the hospital inVancouver, where she lived at the time.Though most of the damage came to the tissues and ligaments in her right leg, her brother startled her by describing the remnants of her car.

With two weeks in the hospital, Robertson had time to reflect, to assess, to take stock. She wasn't satisfied, and she wasn't fulfilled. She had some success with freelance journalism, but she had been drifting away from her own writing, spending most working-hours editing the craft of others.

She had known at a young age that she had the mettle to make it as a writer, but she wasn't writing or making a name for herself. She was in her late 30s. It was crunch time. "I thought, 'either I do this or I die,'" she says. She had visions of quitting work, and running out of employment insurance cheques, and finding herself homeless on the streets of Vancouver; but the dramatic alternative - spiritual or mental death -was no better for Robertson. She made a resolution: "I'll go try this. If I fail I fail, but I can't get to the end of my life and say, 'My God, I didn't try.'"

Newly obsessed with becoming a published writer, Robertson had a writer's doubt. She wondered if success in fiction would elude her, and even if she was simply delusional to think that she could be a real writer. In The Goldfish Dancer, her just-released and latest collection of five short stories and two novellas, Robertson's characters echo her own struggle with their own mind-altering and sanity-challenging obsessions.

One of the stories in the collection, My Hungarian Sister, is a semi-autobiographical account of a young British schoolgirl who becomes obsessed with a newspaper photo of a young Hungarian refugee during the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The British girl decides to adopt the refugee, and uses creative means to attempt to track down the foreigner. My Hungarian Sister was published by Maisonneuve in June 2006. The dark-humoured short story has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, and has also been selected to appear in the Journey Prize .

Robertson's favourite piece is the novella Girl with a Cello, which is set in Manchester in the early 1900s. "It's essentially the story of a very young girl, a young servant, in Manchester and she eventually ends up in the household of a prominent cellist in the Halle orchestra," Robertson explains. "The seed of that story is autobiographical because my grandmother actually went into service at 11, as this girl does, and ended up being a cook for a cellist called Karl Foulkes who was the principal cellist in the Halle orchestra." Having grown up in nearby Lancashire, Robertson was able to visit the house where her grandmother had worked throughout her youth. Unlike the writer's grandmother, the young girl in the story becomes romantically involved with a young student of the cellist. What captured Robertson's imagination was Manchester's historical reputation as a centre of radicalism. Karl Marx lived there, and it was essentially the birthplace of England's trade unionism. Set before the First World War, Robertson's account of this young girl's life as a servant encompasses the increasing anti-German and anti-Jewish sentiment and tension of the time.

"I've lost interest in what I would call domestic fiction," she explains. "To me, it's deeper and its more meaningful if the backdrop is historical or socio-political."

The title novella, The Goldfish Dancer, follows the story of a mixed-race granddaughter of slaves who, as a teenager in 1914, leaves Ontario to seek better prospects in the US. She finds work with a woman who breeds goldfish, and becomes obsessed herself with conjuring a particular kind of goldfish. In New York, she starts working as an exotic dancer, integrating goldfish into her act, and earns great acclaim and success onstage.

"I don't know where that story came from," Robertson says, shaking her head. "No idea. I just remember having this image of a woman who used goldfish in her act - either physically wore them, or her costume looked like agoldfish." Her stories start with fragments, she says. Either sentence or an image comes to mind, and often ends there.Many of her ideas never make it outside her head. But some images come back again and again. If she becomes obsessed with the character, haunted with an image, then she gets to work. "I do feel very strongly that I'm telling the characters' stories, that they want their stories told and they've chosen me to tell it for whatever reason," she says.

Writer Audrey Thomas has a fantasy: when she dies and goes to heaven, her characters will be there waiting for her. With that kind of prospect, a writer of fiction had better be accountable to the worlds she creates, says Robertson. With The Goldfish Dancer, Robertson manages once more to be true to her characters, while manifesting her own once-imagined reality: "I can't imagine my life without the writing in it."

Biblioasis presents the launch of The Goldfish Dancer: Stories and novellas,by Patricia Robertson, Friday from 5 to 8 p.m., at Arts Underground (lower level, The Hougen Centre). Mac's Fireweed Books will also be hosting a book signing at a later date.

A Reader's Take on Shut Up's cover

Thirsty reader Brenda Schmidt offers this up for $8.00 and a one year sub to CNQ. Now that's something we can afford!

Any other takes out there?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kapuscinski under attack in Poland

Ryszard Kapuscinski has come under attack in Poland for supposedly making a faustian pact with the Communist authorities that allowed him the freedom to travel and write about what he did. There's been a lot of this kind of thing in recent years. Kapuscinski, of course, is no longer around to defend himself, but he has plenty who are willing to do it for him. Ian Traynor is one of them, and defends him at the Guardian (picked up by the Quillblog here in Canada, with reference made to our upcoming collection).

For Traynor's take, check

Shut Up He Explained: The Covers ...

What we have above are five initial cover treatments for John Metcalf's Fall release Shut Up He Explained. Part memoir, part travelogue, part work of criticism, it's an odd beast of a book. Couple this with the fact that it is quite funny, and we're not sure exactly how to approach it.

I started with wanting a purely typographic cover, and came up with the idea of the divided black-white jacket. I also liked what Chipp Kidd did with a few books, where he literally just reproduced the first several paragraphs of the book for the dust jacket. John's introduction is so good that it seems to me that if we could get people reading the book before they even opened it -- before they were even aware that they were reading the book -- that would be all to the good. But I wasn't, and still am not, certain of this, so began to think of other ideas.

The travel aspects of this book serve both as metaphor and organizing framework, so it hit me one night that a ship might provide an interesting cover image. But I still wanted to maintain a largely typographic approach. I wanted an edge to it, I wanted it to be simple and clean. I wanted there to be a joke of some sort connected to the image. From there it was not much of a leap to think of a sinking ship. I went through a bunch of image banks, but most of the shots were too complex or detailed; the one I did like would cost close to $800 US, more than I could afford to spend. So I stopped, and went back to the proverbial drawing board.

A short while later, I came up with the idea of the life ring. When a ship has sunk, what, often, is left? Flotation devices. The life ring, floating in the water. It had the benefit of being simple, clean, allowed for an uncluttered, still largely typographic cover, was significantly ambiguous, odd when juxtaposed with the actual title of the book. I, at least, think it's a touch funny. Not everyone will get the joke (but, then again, not everyone will get John's either.)

None of the above treatments are likely to survive unscathed. Other options already present themselves. John Haney has sent a photograph of a group of old folk strapped into their preservers, sitting with legs crossed in a ship lounge: a detail may yet work from this. And if I am to reopen this to a largely photographic treatment, I may yet have to go back to the image banks: there were several arresting and apt images I've chanced upon over the last few days.

Any thoughts out there on what works? Anyone read the excerpts published in CNQ, The New Quarterly, elsewhere? What think you?

The Biblioasis Flash Interview : One : Eric Ormsby

(interviewed via email by Carmine Starnino)

This is technically your second selected, though the first with a
Canadian publisher
(For a Modest God was published with New York's
Grove in 1999). Can you speak briefly
about the process of
selection (or reselection, as it were) and the differences between

the two books?

This selection proved to be quite different as I had five books,
instead of three, to choose from. I was surprised to find that some
of the poems I'd omitted from the earlier selection held up better
than some I'd included; or at least, I liked them better now.
The Grove volume also showed the influence of George Bradley,
the editor, whose tastes are a bit more "classical" than mine;
he excluded some of the weirder pieces. But I found poems, some
of them among the more recent ones, that I now disliked rather
intensely. Others struck me as quite flawed and I rewrote or
revised them.

What's your sense of the new poems in the book? Do they
represent new territory for

The "new" poems aren't all so new. I've always kept poems back
for ten or even fifteen years before publishing them. But the
previously unpublished or uncollected poems do seem to me
substantially different; they deal with human situations more
than my earlier poems which tended to be about objects,
especially plants and animals. I also use different formal
devices in these poems.

You’ve been living in London for nearly two years now. What are
your impressions of the
city and its literary community?

I don't know that "community" is the proper word! The London
poetry scene is bigger and more varied than that in Canada, and
inevitably so; you have the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, as well,
and that complicates the situation, usually for the better.
I've kept my distance by and large from that scene, partly out
of diffidence, partly out of a certain sense of deja vu. In
London, the same log-rolling goes on as everywhere else; there's
a distinct chumminess that prevails. I avoid the poets who move
in packs anyway; they remind me of feral poodles on the prowl,
feisty but toothless.

Any good UK poets Canadian readers should know about?

I've been glad to find some excellent poets whose work I hadn't
known before. Among the "older" generation, I'd mention Alan
Brownjohn and Peter Porter. I admire some of John Burnside's work.
And I think Mimi Khalvati is a brilliant poet, too little
appreciated, here or elsewhere. "Fetch," the new book by Tamar
Yoseloff, a transplanted American poet, is excellent and
impressive. I tend to prefer the poets who stand apart; in this
respect, the hermit-poet Aidan Andrew Dun, whose "Vale Royal" is
a quirky masterpiece, seems exemplary. And of course I admire
expatriate poets, like the wonderful Marius Kociejowski, ignored
in Canada but appreciated -- though not adequately -- here.

For many of the younger Canadian poets, independent music --
especially its lyrics --
has had a big impact. How important is
music as an influence on your work? Do you listen
to contemporary

Yes, music is essential to me. But I don't listen to much
contemporary classical music, about which I'm ignorant. I prefer
rock, blues and country-western, especially Emmie Lou Harris,
Patti Griffin and Lucinda Williams. And of course, the classical

Music is a prime inspiration for me; like a lot of other poets,
I wish I could capture some of its tonalities in words.

Where would I go to find a decent bow-tie?

Yes, bow ties are essential to the writing of poetry; knotting the
tie is at once delicate and decisive, like the final couplet of a
good Shakespearean sonnet. You can find nice ones at Turnbull and
Asser on Jermyn Street in London; or, the best of all, the company
known as Beau Ties in Middlebury, Vermont.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Goldfish Dancer

Patricia Robertson's Goldfish Dancer has arrived. It's our fourth trade book this fall, and brings the spring publishing season more-or-less to a close. And today the books arrived in Whitehorse for tomorrow's launch. So we got that one in by the skin of our teeth.

They're planning a hell of a show up in Whitehorse, and there's been some good attention paid. Patricia is set to be interviewed on CBC at noon tomorrow: I'm hoping to catch it via some sort of online feed. And the Whitehorse paper is doing a profile of her as well in tomorrow's paper. Wish all of our releases and launches received that kind of attention from the locals.

Talking about launches, those of you in Montreal, please remember that Eric Ormsby will be launching his Time's Covenant together with Robyn Sarah (and the Montreal launch of Little Eurekas) Monday, May 28th, at the Word Bookstore.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lost in Translation

My own love affair with literature did not begin with Canadian books. Indeed, I came rather late to Canadian literature, in my 2nd or 3rd year of university, when a creative writing prof put into my hands Clark Blaise's Tribal Justice (pairing this with Ishiguro's Artist of the Floating World). A short period of literary nationalism followed, where I read Canadian writers voraciously, though I'm afraid a little too uncritically: Margaret Atwood, the rest of Blaise, Callaghan, Davies, Findley, Laurence, MacLeod, Munro, Ondaatje, Richler and company. Some of it was excellent (the Blaise, the MacLeod, the Munro, the Richler); some of it was middling (the Atwood, the Davies, the Ondaatje); and some of it was downright bad (the Callaghan, the Findley). Enough of the bad -- which included all of the Canadian historical fiction then in vogue -- cured me of the worst excesses of literary nationalism, and saved me from a career trying to teach it.

No, I became hooked as a more mature reader largely by works in translation. In high school Voltaire and Diderot and Camus; in university Rabelais (whom I was introduced to by Davies in that poor novel The Rebel Angels: enough of a gift that I will always remember Davies fondly by association), Sartre, Nietzsche, Kafka, Kundera, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Stendhal (especially Stendhal), Dante, Cervantes, and too many others to name. Most recently, the work of Patrick Chamoiseau, who's Texaco and Solibo Magnificent are two of the most thrilling, unsettling and playful novels I've read in recent memory (especially the latter, available on almost any remainder table in the land for under five bucks).

I've talked to a lot of my friends, writers, publishers, and art policy wonks, about this, and it has been fascinating that the same has often held true for them. The initial hook, locking them in to this literary life of near penury, was the work of a writer in translation. Not english writers, whether they be Canadian, American or British, but French writers, German, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Russian. Which raises some interesting questions, but also serves to emphasize the importance of translation to all literatures, that we must come to understand how interconnected world literature is. As Kundera points out in his latest essay, The Curtain, without Rabelais, Sterne would not have penned Tristam Shandy (one of the more interesting paths not taken in the history of the novel: the novel as continuous digression); without Sterne, no Diderot, or at least no Rameau's Nephew; without Cervantes, no Fielding, without Fielding no Stendhal, or at least not the Fielding or stendhal we know today. The list is a long one.

Kundera quotes Goethe: "National literature no longer means much these days, we are entering the era of Weltliteratur -- world literature -- and it is up to each of us to hasten this development." Not a plurality of national literatures, then, but one literature. Though now, nearly two hundred years later, we still seem too concerned with the national.

This has certainly been true in Canada, at least insofar as our criticism goes. Whole tentative geneaologies have been created for Canadian literature, pure Canadian patrimonies, that could not be further from the truth. Munro was not influenced by Scott's "Village of Viger," Knister's painful stumblings, Callaghan, the 'touted' father of the Canadian short story, but by Americans, Flannery O'Connor, British writers, others. The same holds true of almost every other Canadian writer I've seen, heard or read interviewed (with the exception of Michael Winter, who cites Norman Levine, though I'm sure there must be others.). If I had the chance to ask Paul Glennon I'm sure he'd mention Borges, Kafka; Jarman Cormac McCarthy, perhaps Celine.

When I began this press, I can't say that I had any intention to begin an extensive translation program. I've not been that organized about it. I've allowed myself to be taken where my enthusiasms would have me. But it is not really surprising that we began to publish translations early. Our 2nd and 3rd titles were translations, Goran Simic's From Sarajevo With Sorrow, and his short fiction collection Yesterday's People. We have a Selected Simic, hopefully for 2008. I've mentioned in an earlier post the Ryszard Kapuscinski poetry collection; and today the contract came in for Ondjaki's Good Morning, Comrades!, a novel about the Angolan civil war as told by a young boy. A bittersweet, poignant, and lyrical short novel, I believe it will be the first book by the Lusophone Ondjaki published in English (though another is in the works by Aflame Press in England). We're hoping to release this title next spring.

Comrades is translated from the Portuguese by Stephen Henighan. We'll also be doing his follow-up to When Words Deny the World in the spring of '08, entitled A Report on the Afterlife of Culture. Though Stephen returns to some of the themes of the first book, this book largely looks at world literatures and languages and the threats they face from a variety of sources. It's a smart, thoughtful book.

Stephen has up to this point donated the translation of Comrades, largely because he believes in the importance of translation, Ondjaki, and this Biblioasis translation series. There's some hope I may be able to pay him a small fee if a Portuguese government grant comes through, but this is by no means certain. This says something about the plight of translators in Canada, as each of the translators we have thus far worked with have largely worked for free. Though they contribute as translators to literature in Canada, if not exactly Canadian literature, they often have no access to the grants and funding that keep everything else afloat. Their work is a form of mission, often. Even with Canadian writers who do not write in english, french or a native language, getting their works translated can prove an almost insurmountable task. Language, not citizenship, seems to be the most important consideration, which I think a problem that needs addressing.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Zach Wells reads Edip Cansever

Hopped over for a look at Career Limiting Moves, Zach Wells' blog (he has a certain way of putting things that cuts right to the heart of the matter, don't you think?) to see an entry on Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas and Edip Cansever. Robyn has an appreciation in Eurekas of a poem of Cansever's called Table, and Zach has made a recording of it that can be found here: Give it a listen.

Zach, by the way, has just released a disc of poems from Unsettled (Insomniac) called Sealift. Zach's a fine reader, and this is a fine disc, worth the price of purchase, whatever that may be (I got mine for free when I visited him in Vancouver last week). It also has him dreaming of starting a literary recording company of sorts. Anyway, you can get a taste ofSealift by poking around CLM: there's a lot of good stuff to be found (& as you might expect, the odd "opinion" or two as well.).

Zach's blog, for those few who may not know where it is, can be found at:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vehicule Press Blog

For those interested, Vehicule Press out of Montreal has started a press blog that I expect will be worth checking into from time to time. It can be found at:

Time's Covenant

Time's Covenant: Selected Poems came in from the printer today, 20 boxes on a 52 foot truck: talk about overkill. I loaded them from the street, 3 boxes at a time, in my sons' red wagon. When I finished the manual labour, I poured myself a coffee and sat down with a copy for nearly an hour. Poems, for me, always read differently, and often better, bound and properly typeset: I'm not sure why that is. Of late, we have been so rushed here that I've not taken the time to relax with a book when it arrives: but for this one, a long, long process, I needed to do so. I'm very relieved to see that everything seems as it should.

It's a very attractive book, elegantly understated in design, classic looking, I think: a casing fitting the poems found within. This is a book I'm very proud to have been a part of. We were supposed to release it last fall, but a lack of money and time forced us to postpone a season. I hope everyone thinks it worth the wait, and I thank Eric for his patience and faith: there were times, I know, he despaired this ever getting finished. But it is, and it is something I think we can both be very proud of.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ryszard kapuscinski

This photograph is by the late Ryszard Kapuscinski, and very likely destined to become the cover of his poetry collection, to be published by Biblioasis this fall. It's had several working titles: it came with the title Ecce Homo, which I did not like; we've titled it tentatively The Things of this Earth, which we love, but which Ryszard seemed less keen on, as he was afraid it might get confused with one of his reportages. The translators have most recently come up with the title I Wrote Stone: The Selected Poems of Ryszard Kapuscinski; I Wrote Stone is the title of a short aphoristic poem, and may well work as a title for the whole.

We were originally going to commission a linocut portrait of kapuscinski, but I find this photo so striking I think it needs to be the cover image. I love the human footprints interweaving with the animal in this cracked and barren landscape.

Kapuscinski's poetry will be interesting especially to any who have read and loved his works of non-fiction. It is thoughtful, philosophic, often aphoristic; engaged morally and politically with the world around him.

It was his deepest wish to see this collection before he died: we did not at the time expect there to be any need to rush. I spoke with him on the phone in September, and all seemed well; he talked to the translators about coming to Canada and the US in support of the collection. How wonderful that would have been! But he died in late January rather unexpectedly, from complications arising from surgery.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Goldfish Dancer: The Launch

Patricia Robertson's The Goldfish Dancer: Stories and Novellas, will be launched in Whitehorse Friday May 25th, at Arts Underground (lower level, Hougen Centre), between 5 and 8 pm. Please join us for appetizers, music, a reading and signing.

I believe that there will also be a signing at Mac's Fireweed Books in Whitehorse the following day.

Please check back for further details.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eric Ormsby/Robyn Sarah Launch

Eric Ormsby will be in Montreal the last week of May to see his son graduate from McGill, so we're taking the opportunity to launch his Time's Covenant: Selected Poems. He'll be doing so alongside Robyn Sarah, who will be having the Montreal Launch of Little Eurekas: A Decade's Thoughts on Poetry. A wonderful and fitting pairing. What's more, Adrian at the Word -- who once upon a time, or so I've heard, ran one of the best poetry series in Montreal -- will be hosting it at the Word bookshop, at 469 Milton street. It will be happening Monday, May 28th, at 7:30 pm. Anyone within a day's drive of Montreal should try and be there. I'm going to try and make the trek from Windsor, if I can find someone to watch the kids.

For those who do not know, Robyn Sarah will be reading in Kingston this Wednesday, May 16th, at Novel Idea at 7pm.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Al Moritz, Shane Neilson and Frog Hollow

Today I received in the mail two volumes from Caryl Peter's Frog Hollow Press. One is the deluxe edition of Al Moritz's new chapbook Now that You Revive. The 2nd is a volume of correspondence, edited by Frog Hollow Press editor Shane Neilson, entitled Editing Moritz. Both are beautiful, as you would expect. But also very interesting and important, a wonderful pair I intend to really get into this weekend. Shane and Caryl deserve congratulations for these, and anyone interested in Al Moritz (or simply beautiful books) should pick them up. Further information can be found here:

We, of course, still have a few copies of our Biblioasis Moritz chapbook available for any interested.

Switching Gears: CNQ

Back from Vancouver, which proved to be much too short and far too long: too short, because it was beautiful and I wanted to see so much more of it. Also, because I had so little time with Patricia and Terence Young -- who put me up in Victoria for a night -- and Zach Wells, who did the same in Vancouver. It was wonderful to meet finally Michele Adams and her partner Ryszard Dubanski, who had me over for supper for an evening, a wonderful meal of B.C. salmon (melamine free, I hope), and Lorna Jackson, who was in mourning because her beloved Canucks ... well, let's just say they did not play tonight. Others as well, Sandy and her partner John Gould, of Kilter fame, who I'll be reading as soon as I find the right box.

But the work on my return. Difficulties at the printer, as a book cover bleed was missed and will have to be reprinted, pushing us razor close to launch deadline. A SALM grant for CNQ, due Tuesday. Bibliographic miscues. Correspondence, a week's worth. Copy-editing some fall titles.

Mainly though, CNQ 71, now within a few days of being at the printer. It will be a hell of an issue, 104 pages, our best by far. Robyn Sarah on publishing (too much) poetry, Mike Barnes on Libraculture, Alex Good on the state of book reviewing in Canada, Matthew Fox on last year's Giller, Roy MacSkimming interviewing Jack McClelland (yes, from the grave), Zach Wells on Peter Sanger, a profile of Caroline Adderson, and the first of a series of columns by Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau fame on book design. Poetry by Craig Poile (of Collected Works fame). A fabulous piece by Mark Callanan on Thaddeus Holownia, David Balzer on the crisis in Canadian art criticism, and Liz Wylie. Reviews by Carmine Starnino -- a fabulous piece, this -- on Karen Solie, accompanied by a host of other fine reviews and reviewers: Patricia Young on Sharon English, Steven Laird on the 06 G-G Poetry shortlist, Patricia Robertson on Clark Blaise. Asa Boxer, James Pollock, Shane Neilson. If this isn't the best literary bargain in the land at 7.95, I really don't know what is. Subscribe folks, or at least pester your newstand to get you a copy.

Incidentally, we'll be relaunching the new CNQ site to coincide with Issue 71. It can be found at There will be additional articles, archives, interviews, reviews. Also another blog, at So please keep an eye out.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Vancouver Calling

For the last three days I have been in Vancouver for the LPG AGM. I've been staying at the Ramada -- formerly the Niagara Hotel -- on West Pender Street. Right beside the hotel is a wonderful antiquarian bookstore by the name of McLeod's, where I have been stockpiling a small cache of Canadian books and literary mags. Our conference sessions have been at the SFU campus a block away, and besides a few cab rides, I've seen about two blocks of this fair city. Even the mountains have only occasionally made their presences known.
What I have discovered, though, is that Biblioasis has a connection to this very block. When I walk out the Ramada's doors, directly across the street is a two or three storey building with lion heads decorating the front. In the mid-70's a group of young students started a press -- anarchist in vision -- on the top floor of this building and called it Pulp press. Within a couple of years, a young Windsorite, Dennis Priebe, was on a cross-country train trek, and hooked up with a writer by the name of D. M. Fraser in the train's bar car. They spent most of the ensuing trip -- through the prairies and Rockies, drunk and engaged in coversation. Fraser -- guru to Stephen and Tom Osborne and the rest of the Pulp Press gang -- told the young Priebe to come by one day, and he did.
At this time, Dennis has a stock of about 10,000 books in a warehouse in Calgary. He wanted to open a used bookstore. He came by one day to drink with Fraser, and met Osborne and company. He needed a job, and Fraser convinced Osborne to give him one. It was expected -- by both parties, I expect -- that this would be a temporary arrangement, but Priebe stayed on, with a few brief interludes, as a pressman and typesetter, for more than two decades.
Flash forward to the summer of 2003. A man I recognized as a customer at my used bookshop from a few years back came in with a couple of boxes of very good stock, and while I was looking through his wares he asked me for a job. His timing could not have been worse. Tracey Trudel, a retired school librarian, had just started working in the shop; if I remember correctly, it may well have been her first shift. But Dennis persisted: he could do many things. He could build me shelves in the basement, get it organized so that we could begin to keep track of what we had. He'd work full time, as long as it took. He thought he could do it for $200.00 a week. I talked it over with my wife, and then decided it would be worth giving a try.
Dennis proved himself invaluable. He worked hard, got the books organized, shelves built. We got to know each other over the following weeks. Went out for beers. I eventually learned that he'd always wanted to work in a bookshop, so that he thought this a dream come true. More interestingly, that he had spent most of his career working, in various capacities, in book and magazine publishing. As a pressman with Pulp's printing arm -- the name of which escapes me now -- a typesetter with Pulp, later Arsenal Pulp. Typesetting and doing other editorial jobs with Geist. Typesetting and book design with Vancouver Desktop Publishing, including freelance work for Douglas & McIntyre, among others.
I was very interested in publishing, but had no idea how to get into it. Like most people, I suspect, I had not thought it something one simply did. Surely you needed training, experience, access to a vast stock of specialized knowledge? At the very least, a long apprenticeship with an established publisher? Dennis assured me that was almost universally not the case (a fact I can certainly confirm now: most people who try an internship or apprenticeship in book publishing never return to it. It's a profession for ignorant fools and knaves, though they (or we) be all the more blessed for it.). I had the enthusiasm and he had the experience. Together we could turn Biblioasis into a literary press. His words vapours into an already addled brain, and Biblioasis Press was formed.
Without Dennis, Biblioasis would never have become a literary press. I would have continued selling my second hand wares at 519 Ouellette, or somewhere else, slowly turning into Steven Temple. What a fate! and thank heavens someone saved me from it. Many others have contributed to Biblioasis's rather rapid development since -- most notably my wife Alexis, who pays the bills, puts up with long hours and does not seem to mind too much that this business seems not to bring in a stitch of income (she's thinking of taking out an ad in the next issue of CNQ: 'AGE Financial: keeping Literary Publishing Alive in Emeryville, Ontario.'), John Metcalf, and a whole host of mentors and friends (Kitty Lewis, Tim Inkster, Jack David, Gary Dunfield...). But Biblioasis would never have tried to become a press if it had not been for Dennis Priebe walking in that day (Nicholson Baker's Size of Thoughts on the top of his pile of books) and making himself a job, making an offer I simply could not refuse. And that would not have happened had he not met D.M. Fraser on a train to Vancouver, had not Stephen Osborne given him a job. So I feel connected to this area, and if I see no more of Vancouver on this trip, I am very happy to have been able to wander through this small part of it.
It's been wonderful to get to know some of the people Dennis worked for in those days. Friday evening, Geist threw a party for the LPG publishers, and I met and talked with Stephen Osborne. It's been great to get to know Brian Kaufman of Anvil (who threw, with Karl Seigler of Talon Books, a barbecue for us Saturday evening) a little bit more, and Rolf Mauer of New Star. Dennis' friends and co-workers and peers, and now, I'm very happy to say, my own as well.
I also managed a signed copy of the first edition of Jarman's great hockey novel Salvage King, Ya! from Brian, so it looks like I'll be reading it soon after all.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

National Magazine Award

Hot on the heels of learning about Patricia Robertson's Journey Prize Anthology Inclusion, we've learned today that the same story has also been nominated for a National Magazine Award. Congratulations are again in order!

This is Patricia's second National Magazine Award nomination for stories found in The Goldfish Dancer. The title story, published last year in the Malahat, was also nominated.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Journey Prize

We just learned today that Patricia Robertson's story My Hungarian Sister has been selected for inclusion in the upcoming Journey Prize Anthology. Originally published in Maisonneuve, Patricia had to work with Maisonneuve Fiction editor Matthew Fox to shorten and reshape it -- the original, to be published in this Spring's The Goldfish Dancer, is of novella length.

A wonderful piece of news as we ready to launch Patricia's 2nd collection of short fiction this month.

Biblioasis Spring List

A look at this Spring's list. Robyn Sarah's Little Eurekas and Ray Smith's The Flush of Victory are out in stores now. is a bit behind in getting them listed -- they're up, but only listed as available for pre-order.

The last three titles this spring are at the printer, and we expect them back some time next week. These include Patricia Robertson's wonderful 2nd short story collection, The Goldfish Dancer, Eric Ormsby's selected poems Time's Covenant, and the 2nd Biblioasis Renditions series title, Ray Smith's A Night at the Opera. I think this as strong and varied a literary list as any out there this spring. Hopefully, there will be something on it for almost everybody.