Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Montreal Gazette Review of Ormsby's Time's Covenant

A review of Eric Ormsby's selected poems appeared in the Montreal Gazette in early October, but I only found out about it now. There used to be a time newspapers and journals used to let you know when they were going to review your work; now, unless, they need a photograph or some additional information, the publishers aren't informed at all. So much for professional courtesy.

Nor am I picking on the Gazette: few places bother to let you know of these things. Even the BC Award for Non-fiction did not let us know that Lorna's Cold-cocked had made the longlist. And Zach Wells wife Rachel Lebowitz was shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award and only found out accidentally after the winner was announced. Why is it that a few quick emails can't be sent, some effort made to let the publishers and writers know at least the same day as the announcement? It seems a very small thing.

The review below is okay. I object to Fagan's assertion that Ormsby's poetry is not for those who want to be made to "feel," whatever that means: there are many powerful poems here which certainly express a wide range of emotions, and can produce many, many feelings in a reader: wonder, awe, sadness, melancholy, love, humour, tenderness. I expect what Fagan means is that these poems are not sentimentally trite or sugar-coated or simplified; that the intellect is engaged as heartily as the emotions. Or at least that's how I choose to take it, as he'd then be right.

I do appreciate the following, though, and feel honoured to have Biblioasis put up there with Gapsereau: Time's Covenant, his new volume of selected poems, has been published by Biblioasis, one of two fairly new houses (the other is Gaspereau Press) specializing in handsome literary productions worth buying simply for the pleasure of owning beautiful objects.

No argument with that, at all.

The review:

Born in Georgia and raised in Florida, Eric Ormsby spent more than two decades in Montreal as director of libraries and a professor of Islamic studies at McGill University. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker and the Paris Review, while his fiercely traditionalist literary opinions are often strongly asserted in the New Criterion's review pages and in a regular literary column for the New York Sun.

Ormsby now lives in London, but he began his career as a poet in Canada, and most of his poetry books (he also publishes scholarly works in the field of Islamic studies) have been published by Canadian presses. Time's Covenant, his new volume of selected poems, has been published by Biblioasis, one of two fairly new houses (the other is Gaspereau Press) specializing in handsome literary productions worth buying simply for the pleasure of owning beautiful objects.

This good-sized volume contains a generous selection of poems written from 1958 to the present, and should please readers who enjoy well-crafted, metrically conscious work that thrives on intellectual playfulness. There are some evocative poems about small things in nature - moths, bees, lichen - that draw their comparisons from the human world. There are poems about growing up in Florida (in which we learn, not surprisingly, that the poet was paid 10 cents a line by his grandmother to memorize Shakespeare). And there are poems that draw on the author's knowledge of Islam.

Ormsby likes the sound and feel of words as well as their sense, and at times his poems become as ornate as a jewel-encrusted necklace ("Articulated stars assert / Eclosion of the gold-sewn chrysalids"). Yet he can be spare when necessary, stating simply, for example, "I have always found railways stations sad."

He is not for those who like poems that make them feel, nor for those who prefer their language casual. But if you enjoy reading poetry aloud for the richness of its sound, and you keep a good dictionary by your side, then Time's Covenant is for you.

The NEW New Quarterly

The newly designed New Quarterly arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Unlike so many other literary journals and magazines I can put aside, the New Quarterly demands immediate attention. The issue didn't disappoint, and for those interested in getting an advanced taste of what's coming down the Biblioasis pipeline, I urge you to take a look. There's a spectacular story by Alexander MacLeod entitled Good Kids, destined for his first collection with Biblioasis (Fall 2008 or Spring 2009).Kathleen Winter's story French Doors, from her just published collection boYs, can also be found in the fiction section of this issue. There's also a short excerpt from Mike Barnes' memoir of art and madness, The Lily Pond, to be published in late summer/early Fall of 2008.

There's also a new Hero story by Terry Griggs -- we published one of them as a Biblioasis Short Fiction Chapbook, and there's not a collection of short fiction I covet more for this press. There's also a short essay by CNQ Contributing Editor Amanda Jernigan. Another short essay by Terry Griggs, a new story by K. D. Miller, reflections on Real Estate by Elizabeth Hay, and much else: another damn fine issue.

And a quick head's up: something very interesting and exciting involving Biblioasis and The New Quarterly (& just possibly, CNQ) is in the works. Stay tuned for more details.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cold-cocked Longlisted for the BC Award for Canadian Non-fiction

Wonderful news, folks! Lorna's swell book -- I believe I may have told you that it's a special tome -- Cold-cocked: On Hockey has been shortlisted for the BC Award for Canadian Non-fiction. It's one of the more lucrative prizes in the country, sitting pretty at $40,000.00. Buys a lot of hockey pucks, and could get a family of four swell season's tickets to all Vancouver Canucks games. So vote with your wallets, and pick up a copy: let's let the sales figures do the talking.

The shortlist will be announced in November. As I said, it's a stacked list. But c'mon: do you want to read about Hockey or Lord Beaverbrook? Hockey, or salmon-spawning?

Good luck to all (though, of course, especially to Lorna: cue Hockey Night in Canada theme!)

Announcement below:

Longlist Announced

The jury for Canada's largest literary non-fiction prize, the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, has just released its longlist for 2008. Ten titles are on the longlist for the $40,000 prize, representing a wide range of subject and originating from publishers across the country.

Longlist for the Fourth annual British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

Title: Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself
Author: Donald Harman Akenson
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press

Title: The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory, and the Death of Wild Culture
Author: Tim Bowling
Publisher: Nightwood Editions

Title: At the Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914 to 1916
Author: Tim Cook
Publisher: Viking Canada

Title: The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and Son
Author: David Gilmour
Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers

Title: From Harvey River
Author: Lorna Goodison
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Title: Cold-Cocked: On Hockey
Author: Lorna Jackson
Publisher: Biblioasis

Title: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Author: Naomi Klein
Publisher: Knopf Canada

Title: Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir
Author: Marina Nemat
Publisher: Viking Canada

Title: Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy
Author: Jacques Poitras
Publisher: Goose Lane Editions

Title: Portrait in Light and Shadow: The Life of Yousuf Karsh
Author: Maria Tippett
Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Jury Chair David Mitchell notes: "The quality and diversity of the titles on this longlist are testimony to the enduring strength of Canadian non-fiction. As a result, the work of our jury has been and continues to be extremely challenging."

From the longlist, the jury will select a shortlist, to be announced in November 2007. The award presentation will take place in late-January 2008 in Vancouver.

The jury for the 2008 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction comprises:
David Mitchell (jury chair), a well-known political commentator and historian whose career has spanned both the public and private sectors. Mr. Mitchell is currently Vice-Principal, Advancement at Queen's University. His published work includes the notable biography, W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia.

Patrick Lane, one of Canada's finest poets. Mr. Lane's award-winning works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction have been published around the world. In 2005, Mr. Lane won the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for his memoir, There Is a Season.

Sandra Martin, a senior features writer for the Globe and Mail. Ms. Martin is a past winner of the Atkinson and Canadian Journalism Fellowships and gold and silver National Magazine Awards, as well as the author of the just-published book, The First Man: Daughters Write About Their Fathers.

Previous winners for the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction include:
Noah Richler for This Is My Country, What's Yours? (2007)
Rebecca Godfrey for Under the Bridge (2006)
Patrick Lane for There Is a Season (2005)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why I love

Okay. This is definitely pushing it. I stand by everything I said a couple of posts ago. But there's more to this story than there was last Saturday. And now that Q&Q and Good Reports have made this more than my own semi-private rant, I better take a few minutes and spell out the rest.

As I said, I stand by everything in my LOATHE post. One of the main reasons I in the end joined LITDISTCO was that I seemed unable to get my books onto as an independently distributed publisher. And the truth is, though joining LITDISTCO has resulted in innumerable benefits -- not the least of which is not spending anywhere between 5 and 40 hours a week packing and chasing down orders -- has not been one of them. There's been headache after headache, almost exclusively tied, by their own admission, to problems with their system. It's bothered me more, perhaps, than it should, but bother me it has.

This last event, the proverbial tipping point, however, it turns out, was not amazon's fault at all. Though we've been dealing with this problem for a month, it turns out the bibliographic data being sent to amazon did "not have an imprint or publisher code in (the) ONIX feed to us (amazon). Without this code," it was explained to me, " our ordering system does not know where to place the product."

What this means, of course, is that this instance was not amazon's fault, but my distributor's. It was reasonable for my distributor to assume that this was merely another example of the regular bibliographic snafus we've been experiencing -- along with many other publishers and distributors across the country -- but it was not. And in the interest of fairness, it's important that this be understood. This last instance was not yet another example of amazon-related issues (though to be fair to my distributor: perhaps the reason the error in my bibliographic info was not noticed was because it had all the markings of one): it was our own.

One further thing. After ranting in the LOATHE post, I felt no better. Instead, I dug up the email address of the one amazon employee I've ever had any professional dealings with, and I sent him an email expressing my frustration with amazon over this, and suggested that they buy all of our front-list titles so as to ensure that they have them in stock, so as to solve this problem once and for all. This gentleman looked into it, and brought the real reason for the problem to my attention. He still proceeded to agree to buy all of our titles anyway. Moreover, a couple of other employees who were copied in on the email by another party contributed to the solution in quite a graceful, generous and satisfying manner. Which just goes to show: find the people within the bureaucracy, tough as that may be, and good things will happen. As with Chindigo, there are those who will help you if and when they can.

This does not mean, of course, that the larger issues of amazon (& Chindigo) do not stand: the discounting, price-cutting, the steeper and steeper discounts, the returns ... but it does serve as a reminder that there are those out there working at these companies who are aware of the problems and are working to rectify them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Inside Hockey. com

Lorna Jackson is now writing a column for,. the first of which is up. To check it out in the original (the site is worth a gander), go here.

As Lorna has posted it on her own blog, however, I think I can get away with an old cut & paste below.

Lorna is also reading this Friday in Toronto, and should be on CBC's Q Thursday. More information to follow.



It usually happens to me early October, Hockey Night in Canada on the little television upstairs, Maple Leafs home to Tampa Bay maybe. Colour man Don Cherry pitches his first mega-snit of the year, tells the kids at home that hockey players should be manly warriors and not visor-wearing Franco-sissies, and my teenaged daughter leaves the room because I’m shouting and shaking so much she can’t enjoy Vincent Lecavalier’s post-goal hug with Martin St. Louis. This year, though, my first rage came late, and Dandy Don didn’t start it.

Another network—the usually relevant TSN—recently commissioned a poll to track Sidney Crosby’s relative celebrity status in Canada. He’s likely the best hockey player in the world, they figured, but does that make him a cultural icon? Quiet the irritated voice in your head shrieking why why why would anyone waste the time of 1000 (500 men, 500 women) busy folks. On a list of Can-stars of all ilk—actors, musicians, celebs—Sid finished #6, between Avril Lavigne and Nelly Furtado and a couple behind Wayne Gretzky. (Even though they didn’t ask anybody in Quebec—huh?—Celine Dion was still #1.) On its own, the poll seems a silly and undignified way to treat athletes, but not enough to make me shout and shake.

But then: “In a game dominated by male fans,” says the report’s voice-over, and my mad-o-meter starts to rise, “it’s no surprise that men appreciate Crosby’s play with the Pittsburgh Penguins.” Men, ya see, know what it takes to finesse circus-assists from your knees while demon d-men hack your Nova Scotian face with sharp sticks, or to use your impossible quadriceps to power through a surly Slovakian centre’s desperation backcheck. Because men get it. They know stuff. They dominate the game with their amazing hockey sense.

And women? They who make up close to half of ticket buyers, depending on where you find your stat? “Crosby’s popularity is surprisingly high among women.” Cue the cute blonde on the street: “He’s young, he’s hot, he’s got tons of money…” she says. And cue the pretty gossip girl-slash-cultural critic from Entertainment Television: “You know what?” she sporty-spouts, “Youth and wealth are powerful aphrodisiacs.”

Back to HNIC. The Canadian public broadcaster is doing fine work to respect female fans and to acknowledge that women watch the game, understand it, are passionate about NHL hockey and its players, and get it from the inside, too: women play. Cassie Campbell—of the gold-medal-winning 2002 Olympic team—interviews players rinkside and gets them to seem personable; between periods, we get on-ice lessons with a veteran player/coach drilling pre-teen co-ed players. The goalie usually has her hair ponytailed. For a league desperate to woo new fans and re-stoke its old ones, this approach to broadcasting seems not only sensible, but strategic. There’s plenty of game for everybody.

Do women enjoy the next-door handsomeness of hockey players? Do men see in Crosby the boy they couldn’t be or the son they never had? Of course, and vice versa. Fans choose athletes not only for talent and competitive star-power, for their ability to bring home the Cup. They also align themselves with character. In Vancouver, veteran Trevor Linden sets the standard for civic duty and humanitarianism, and men admire him as a gentleman and a saint who raises his game for the playoffs. He’s also the one guy women from 14 to 90 would marry in a minute, providing he quarterbacks the 5-on-3 kill, wins every draw from Joe Sakic, and doesn’t stiffen those curls with too much gel. Drafted into the city at 18, Linden has grown up in front of fans for almost two decades and has shown skill, grit and heart on the ice. His hand-eye may be on the downslide, but his appeal is still complex and important.

One day, Crosby’s appeal will be, too. In the meantime, those who profit from the game and its #1 draw are a little too desperate to assign legendary status to a kid so young his whiskers droop.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Online Audio Interview with Lorna Jackson on the

An interesting audio interview with Lorna Jackson concerning Cold-cocked has been posted on It can be found here:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why I loathe

Over the last couple of years, I've read many, many diatribes about Chapters and Indigo (Chindigo, for short.). As an independent bookseller -- admittedly, largely used, though I did carry select new titles, and was always willing to order in books for customers -- I instinctively shared this sense of collective distrust. I found Chindigo's overall selection of titles -- given the space, the potential -- woefully inadequate, the general competence and knowledge of their "associates" often rating close to illiterate. Before I got into publishing, I had no real idea how it was that such horrible titles ended up on endcaps and "power tables"; how so many shitty books ended up with Heather Reisman's little purple sticker. Now, of course, I realize that Heather's favours are not freely bestowed, that those power tables cost plenty, and that Chindigo buyers often determine what makes it onto power tables, and that many of these buyers have less knowledge, taste or passionate interest in literature that their minimum-wage floor-walkers.

Zach Wells has on more than one occasion ranted about all of the above, and much else besides. No self-respecting author (I paraphrase here), he's said more than once, who cares about their industry would shop at Chindigo. Their practices are loathsome; they're destructive. They are unnecessary. He's directed his readers to go to the independents, or to buy their books online from amazon and other such e-retailers.

I certainly would not defend Chindigo. I've my concerns about them as well, though I've had to modify my opinions quite a bit since dealing with them. In many ways, really, outside of their bureaucratic lurching, I've found them fairly decent to deal with. Since getting an account as an independently distributed publisher about a year ago -- when I was told by many, including my own sales force manager, that they would never deal with me (the myth of Chindigo's ruthless intractability dissolves as soon as you find a person to correspond with, and this did not prove that difficult) -- I've found that they've done just about all I could expect of them, with only a couple of exceptions. They've taken almost all of our books; their returns, thus far, have not been any higher than I expected; they have paid me in a timely fashion (compared to some independents who have accounts a year past due). They've put my books out where people can find them, and have kept them much longer than the 6 weeks to 3 months I'd been told was the average shelf-life for small press literary titles. (My only real complaint is their staunch determination to see Lorna Jackson's Cold-cocked as an exclusively regional title, refusing to order it for stores across the country, and refusing to let me purchase the necessary power-table space. We're still working on this, though with diminished expectations. An example of a short-sighted buyer, and the difficulty of being a small press publisher: if it was really worth the coverage, wouldn't a larger player be handling it?) Now that I am nationally distributed by LITDISTCO -- though this occasionally seems to bring some other problems -- I've the added benefit of having one of the best discount schedules of any publisher in the country.

No: the "bookseller" who has caused me the most frustration and stress is not Chindigo, but Their bureaucracy makes Indigo's seem positively customer-oriented. Their bibliographic information is consistently messed up; we have to fight with them to get our books in stock. They regularly, and seemingly for no reason, list our books as out of print, or not currently available, or not yet available, even months after the book's release. One day the book is listed as available, with a couple of copies in stock; the next it is no longer in print. Twice in the last six months they have stopped listing our books as available the week immediately following a glowing Globe Review, the time when we are most likely to receive direct orders for our titles. I know for a fact that our distributor and sales force have repeatedly addressed this with amazon, with absolutely no success: go online today, the week after a positive Toronto Star review, 2 weeks after a rave of a Globe review, for John Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained, and you will find it unavailable for anything but pre-order, a month after it's official release, and after numerous bibliographic updates which should have remedied the problem. There is not a doubt in my mind that this has cost us at least several sales, and maybe more. And anyone who knows anything about small press publishing in Canada knows that every single sale counts.

But it's even worse than this. Amazon has regularly -- I've had several people email me about this over the last year -- canceled orders for our titles -- along with those of other literary presses -- that they had received from amazon customers; what makes it worse, they've then sent out messages informing these customers that the titles that they requested were out of print. This is again tied up to the company's fucked up bibliographic management, but it's effect is doubly serious: not only do we lose the sale of the book, they have informed the customer that the book is no longer available, which means many of these buyers will not bother looking elsewhere. People have been brainwashed into believing that if it isn't available on amazon, it isn't available.

I can also tell you that amazon's practices are at least as questionable and loathsome as Chindigo's, and likely more so. They ruthlessly squeeze publishers and distributors for a higher discount, charge exorbitant amounts for their promotions and advertisements, and, as a small independent publisher, make us jump through many more hoops that Chindigo. They also sell gift cards and candles, and a host of other shit that people often use to make fun of Chindigo (somehow, for some reason, it's okay for an online retailer to stock candles and coffee and dried soup mix, but not for a more traditional book retailer.)

Though it would require another post -- this one is already too rambling and too long -- amazon's propensity to sell almost all books between 15-50 percent below list is also seriously damaging to the industry in a whole other way (a couple of quick reasons: it trains the consumer to expect deep discounting, when books themselves are already quite often under priced; and it leads to further pressure on distributors and publishers who are already operating on razor thin margins (the increasing frequency of net-clauses in author contracts is caused to a large extent by the squeezing of publishers caused by deep discounting.)

So, in answer to George and Zach and others who seem to think that, in the battle between the two corporate book behemoths, amazon is the better alternative to Chindigo, I must respectfully disagree. remains the worst option for purchasing books in the country, and I'd argue just as passionately as Zachariah that those who care about the industry should choose to shop ... just about anywhere else.

Geist review of Goldfish Dancer

Geist magazine reviewed Patricia Robertson's Goldfish Dancer in issue 66, it can be found online here:

I've copied it in below --likely illegally. Luddite that I am, I can't seem to get the links to take.

The Goldfish Dancer

Patricia Robertson is not a prolific writer—The Goldfish Dancer (Biblioasis) is only her second collection in over a decade—but in this collection she offers stories that draw you in and make you forget about time: a rare gift. I read one story, then another, then another. . . Set in Europe and North America, in the past and the present, these are short stories and novellas that explore the complexities of human relationships. In “Graves of the Heroes,” the protagonist sets off on the noble search for the grave of her great-uncle, who fought in the Spanish Civil War. But in a country where she is a foreigner and cannot communicate, she ends up trusting others based on the commonality of language (and not necessarily a person’s actions), straying from her goal and crossing boundaries (for better or worse) that she might not otherwise cross. If Robertson’s characters have one thing in common, it is journeying. They travel—literally or figuratively. They go to “foreign” lands, they have trouble communicating and their inability to find their way leads to tests of their “goodness.” Robertson’s protagonists are fundamentally “good” people. In the novella “After Annabel,” a character explains that being an exile is something that you don’t get to choose. In fact, The Goldfish Dancer is a collection of stories about exiles. As they head in one direction, something comes along and they are sucked into situations that they didn’t choose; and here they are, for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Goran Simic interviewed by CBC

It's good to see that Goran is back: an interview from the CBC. Wish they could mention the 2 books he's done with us since Immigrant Blues. We're supposed to be doing a new collection of poems -- or even a Selected pre-war Simic -- next year,though it's been hard to pin Goran down.

Goran Simic Interview

Goran Simic(photo: Luna Simic) Goran Simic was born in Bosnia and has published many volumes of poetry, drama and short fiction. His work has been translated into nine languages and been published and performed in several European countries. One of the most prominent writers of the former Yugoslavia, Simic and his family were trapped in the siege of Sarajevo. In 1995 they were able to settle in Canada as a result of a PEN Freedom to Write Award and he became a resident at the University of Toronto's Massey College as part of their writer-in-exile program. PEN's Writers in Exile Committee supported Simic's integration into the Canadian writing world, and he and poet Fraser Sutherland collaborated on a short-run collection of poetry called Peace and War, as well as a theatrical piece. In 2003, Brick Books published Simic's first full collection of poems in Canada, Immigrant Blues , translated by Amela Simic. He continues to write and give readings.

Can you describe the situation (or circumstances) that led you to make the decision to come to Canada?
I wouldn’t be surprised if nobody remembers collapse of Yugoslavia 15 years ago, division of Bosnia forced by elected national parties and then, three years long siege of my hometown Sarajevo, the horror which lasted longer than any nightmare. Simply, because the wars succeed each another so quickly now that we’re in danger to forgetting them as new ones come along. So, as politically engaged writer who kept idea of multi-religious and multinational Bosnia alive, naturally I was named as ideological traitor from those who have the same national background as me. I lived with my children in the city which at the end of war resembled more of ashtray than of once respected city who used to host Winter Olympic Games in 1984. At the end of war I drove red line and find just 11,000 people killed during the siege, two new graves (my mother and brother), destroyed family house and my bookshop, tired of spending more time in graveyard than on desk. I knew it’s time to go, and to follow natural instinct which say, “It’s better to be wounded than dead”, the moment I saw my little family resemble walking skeletons. And personally, most decisive moment was when I realize that I am not afraid to die anymore. I left the city as writer who lost battle but not war, with my children and few bags of books including my own to remember who I am.

Thanks to late Susan Sontag I was settled with family in Italy for one year and after that PEN Canada did the best to make Canada my destination. Twenty years ago if someone predicted that I will settle in Canada I would call him lunatic.

What was your life as a writer like in the former Yugoslavia?
I live in Toronto almost 12 years and I am afraid that I have the same syndrome of romanticizing the past as most exiled writer has that need. But the truth is that ex-Yugoslavia resembled, a little, Canada being home for different nationalities living together for hundreds of years. As professional writer I enjoyed social and health security, society didn’t measure writer by how much money they earn but by what is final product, state politics was left oriented but with back door opened to “mild capitalism” and political system was suspicious of anyone dare to change masses point of view. But as the writer I can’t complain running literary magazine, having my own bookshop and easily having a lot of readings over the border of Yugoslavia. One of the reasons why I stayed so long in Sarajevo lay in the fact that I didn’t want to believe illness of destruction, or fate of Yugoslavia will ever come to Bosnia. I was wrong. And I don’t hide it. You can read it in my poetry.

You were one of the most prominent writers of the former Yugoslavia. When you moved to Canada you had to start almost anew as a poet and writer. Can you describe what this transition was like?
I read biography of great Canadian poet Gwendolyn McEwan and while reading one thing in her life just hit me as a metaphor of my survival as a writer: Once she was penniless and went to the nearest bank to borrow some money but she was told by clerk that she has to bring something to prove to the bank that she is eligible for loan and what she did was something that I would do. She went home and come back to the same clerk with her ten published books and what she got from clerk was rejection: it’s worthless. I can find myself in that moment when she was told that she spent whole life writing something worthless. I had the same feeling coming here with my books published somewhere else. The sense that nobody really cares who you are was challenging.

Since I arrived to Toronto I was attending more celebration speeches than voices who can offer me a job just to survive. It was really painful moment in which I realized that nobody expected poet to come but future carpenter, mechanic or someone who can contribute to society by paying taxes. The only job I could find in that time was position of manual labourer in Holt Renfrew wear house, just next to airport. It’s painful period, not because description of my job was that company needed just strong arms but not my brain, but because the time remaining to my writing after I arrive home wasn’t enough. The funniest thing was that once my selected poems was published in Holland I took the flight on Thursday to have a book launch in Anwerpen next day just to get back to work on Monday to behave the way my job description was. At the end it wasn’t that bad experience ‘til I was told that executives don’t like my article published in “Globe and Mail” arguing with the way big companies laid off simple workers before Christmas holidays, just to avoid paying them salary for Christmas break.

But anyway, my major concern was that me as exiled writer had concern that the speed I was learning English is appropriate to the speed I am forgetting the language I came with. Plus, over that, as a writer I was
dealing with issue of dictionaries of English Language which became my Bible in sense that I followed belief that if you jump in the river don’t pretend you are not swimmer. Will I ever be able to learn English properly? I have doubt. But I have a need to express myself in the language I live with for such a long time that I feel oblige even just to try. I did experiment with some of my poems and it worked and sounded good, and after that I wrote entire opera libretto in English and it sounds good, and now I can’t stop myself thinking about to write new poetry book in English. Language is like a glue: once you get into it you can’t get rid of it.

Since moving to Canada you have published several books of poetry, been shortlisted for awards, and founded Luna Publications. Where do you get your drive and motivation?
This a great country if you want to get lost or to start new life from the beginning. On the other hand it’s terribly difficult to replace your past, beliefs, and continue with your life and profession. Here exists a huge gap between friendliness and politeness…how most people describe Canadian mentality…but you can get lost in that gap easily looking for friendliness. Cactus can survive Northern Pole temperature only in room temperature. Coming here I knew that I will become kind of hybrid writer with roots deep in the past and head in reality and I simply knew that I can’t afford myself to stop because there’s too many things I still have to say which I can’t say in some other forms like delivering pizza or carving. I guess it’s question of how much energy you have personally and how much heart do you have to give. And I am truly thankful to my dear Canadian friends, I would be half of person without them. I always believed that publishing is on my way. This is not about money because as things go only suicidal people jump in restaurant and publishing business, which I experienced both, but that pleasure publishing the voices that you give a chance nobody can measure with money. There is a “mission” in everything man does, little like a bug or big like giraffe, but “mission”.

How has PEN Canada assisted you as a writer? What impact has their support had on you?
PEN Canada was my first step and I am really grateful to PEN people working to get me here and it’s huge list of people I should thank. As much as I am grateful to late Susan Sontag who did her best to organize it. If sometimes in future PEN finish the mission and cease to exist it will be a moment that we can say that world is a perfect place. But I am afraid we are fare from that point. I was one of the founders of Bosnian Pen and for me PEN is conscience of the time we live in.

Immigrant BluesYour writing has been translated into nine languages. How, if at all, does translation change the writer’s intent or meaning?
I have so many problems with nuances lost in translations. Sometimes I feel happy not knowing so many languages but I believe that if writer have strong idea what to say and how to say, there is no bad skilled translator who can make it less valuable. I am sad only if some reader tells me that meaning of some of my writing was twisted in translations, or printing errors. I have so many objections concerning some translations and “versions” but I try not to talk too much about it because I highly respect translators as ambassadors who don’t care about state borders. Pity, here in Canada some cultural institutions, avoiding to finance translations, behave like there is nothing interesting out of Canadian border. I am afraid that America and Europe is more open to introduce and learn from the voices out of English speaking countries.

What, if anything, are the differences writing in your native tongue versus writing in English?
Sometimes I dream in English, sometimes in my dreams I speak in my native tongue. And I have the same problem if I can’t remember some word to express myself in my dreams as in reality. Few years ago I did experiment writing some of my poems directly in English, and that poems sounded the way I wanted to hear it. It happened that publisher from Serbia asked me to translate those poems in Serbo-Croatian language (which in fact doesn’t exist officially) and after I did it, it sounded to me so plain and with so little blood in veins that I was almost ashamed. This is a writer’s nightmare. Recently I wrote entire opera libretto in English and I liked the way it sounds in English as in Bosnian as well. Who knows, maybe I am getting better bridging that gap but definitely the worst exile writer’s nightmare is that the progress you do in other language is on the same level as regress you feel in the language you were born with.

Why did you decide to become a writer?
Poetry language, I believe was my first language I feel comfortable with in sense expressing myself. As a school kid I wrote poems and publish it in magazines even at that I wanted to become painter. But nobody in my family was big fan of arts. My mother would come to my room in the middle of night to turn down the light because she was afraid that I will lose my sight reading so much. Later on, when I was in my twenties, my father was proud to read my name in newspapers that I was awarded for poetry. Mother, almost illiterate, would spend nights reading my books trying to figure out what I that missing between the poetry lines that she couldn’t comprehend. Sometimes after my twenties my father tried to convince me to get some steady job and to write poetry in my spare time. But it was too late. I was already infected. And I still can’t get rid of that infection. Since then I was infected by other forms like drama, short stores, librettos, as well. No cure for me.

What books or authors have most influenced your life?
There is one book I clearly remember was the book I read by myself first time. It was Pale Alone in the World, book for children that influenced me most. It’s about one boy who wake one day alone in the city and without control of parents he could take a freedom to drive streetcar and to eat sweet as much as he wanted. At one moment he realized that he doesn’t enjoy freedom anymore because there is nobody around him that he can share that happiness with. After that I introduced myself to the huge family of world writers learning more than giving. Sometimes I ask myself the same question and still can’t find out who’s writing influence me most: Yates, Brecht, Borges, Popa, Celan…Lennon, Cohen, or Radicevic, Crnjanski, Andric. I would say: everybody. But going to my maturity I learned that I always loved poems more than authors. Even I never separate individual life of authors from their poetry.

What advice would you give to writers starting out? Would your advice differ for those who live in countries without as many freedoms of speech? If so, how?
1. Don’t be afraid of who you are. But don’t look at yourself in the moror too long because that person you see is not who you are.

2. Don’t give up. But make balance asking yourself: am I writing just because it’s easiest way to express myself? Only you will know the answer. But have on your mind that if your readers find the answer that only you know, you have to start asking yourself the same question you started with.

3. Who am I to give you advice?

G.G. Poetry Grumblings, courtesy of Zachariah

Over at Career Limiting Moves, Zach has a few things to say about the G.G. shortlist for poetry. It can be found here:

I've been battling pneumonia and lord knows what else the past few weeks, and don't have much energy to enter any fray at the moment. But needless to say, I've been thinking about the G.G.'s, the Gillers, Urquhart's Penguin Anthology of the Canadian Short Story (which is really a bloody mess, leaving out as many of the important short fiction writers in Canada as it includes. Nor can the excuse be one of space limitations and differences of taste. Ondaatje as a writer of short fiction??? Include him by all means in almost any other anthology, but short fiction? Adrienne Clarkson??? Sure, she was our Governor General, but a short story writer??? Charles Ritchie??? A wonderful diplomat, an exemplary diarist -- I love him myself -- but a short story writer??? When writers as wonderful and talented and central as Clark Blaise, Terry Griggs, Norman Levine, Keith Fraser, Mary Borsky, Stephen Heighton, Sharon English, John Metcalf, Russell Smith, Diane Schoemperlen, Mike Barnes and so many others are not included? I mean, there's 60 stories for Christ's sake, 600 pages. And this Anthology -- by virtue of it being a Penguin -- will immediately become the standard reference on the subject for years. It's too, too shame making, and it leaves me felling tired. {Though perhaps my general sense of exhaustion is tied more to all of the shit wreaking havoc with my lungs. Let's hope so.})

More, very likely, on all of this later. For now, read Zach. He puts forward a couple of our own titles as deserving of a G.G. nod: Ormsby's Time's Covenant, and Hickey's Midnight Plow. (In the interest of full disclosure, Zach's one of ours here at Biblioasis, so discount these suggestions if you wish, but read him anyway: there's a lot to chew on in his post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Metcalf in the Toronto Star

The Star -- via Alex Good -- reviews John's Shut Up He Explained.

Still the grouch, and still essential
[John Metcalf's wandering, untidy scrapbook is, like the man, too vital to ignore, Always a passionate as well as provocative observer, charting the cultural decay]
October 14, 2007

Shut Up He Explained:

A Literary Memoir Vol. II

by John Metcalf


398 pages, $36.95

The explanation behind the odd title of this second volume of John Metcalf's literary memoirs, which is taken from the punch line of a Ring Lardner story, comes as part of an introductory chapter on the matter of "Titles."

It is, however, the subtitle that requires comment. Coming close on the heels of 2003's An Aesthetic Underground, Metcalf's new Shut Up He Explained: A Literary Memoir Vol. II, is not a memoir at all. It talks a bit about what the sometimes controversial author and editor has been up to in the last couple of years – primarily cruising the Mediterranean and taking the editorial reins at Biblioasis, another small press — but its focus is less on autobiography than other matters.

The form it takes is that of a Metcalf Reader or Miscellany, a book that, like Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading, both serves as a statement of aesthetic principles and a demonstration of those principles in action. An unreconstructed modernist, Metcalf believes in showing rather than telling, and so his prescription is to read by example. The result is a wandering, untidy book that proceeds by digression, anecdote and much cut-and-paste. But it is also an essential part of any discussion of Canadian writing today.

Metcalf realizes that his is a select audience, as "very few readers actually read words. They read themes, characters, and plots and so are deaf to the blandishments and subtleties of our better writers." His corrective position – sometimes referred to as the "aesthetic approach" – is very much an editor's-eye view of literature, one as fascinated with the writing process as the reading experience. It also requires a great deal of quotation, often at length, which is an occasionally alienating luxury not afforded to reviewers (one reason style is a subject rarely dealt with in reviews).

Much of what Metcalf has to say will be familiar to anyone who has followed his crusades over the years against bad writing, thematic or political criticism, the irresponsibility and incompetence of the academic establishment and the "malignantly stupid pride" of Canadian cultural nationalism. Indeed a fair bit of material has been recycled.

But there is some interesting new stuff as well, including a fascinating exercise in reading himself and a lengthy introduction to a projected anthology of the best Canadian short story collections from the past century.

Ironically, the book feels in need of an editor. Even given the messiness of the miscellany form and Metcalf's cut-and-paste method, the presentation could have been tightened considerably. A couple of chapters might have been left out without losing anything, and many of the quotations – though it's nice to enjoy the luxury of quoting anything at length these days – go on far longer than is necessary to illustrate the points being made.

Metcalf is aware enough of his reputation as the crank of Canadian letters to reference it himself. And it would be surprising for a writer whose signature motif is entropy – "decline, fallings away, defeat, degeneration" – to not be a bit of a grouch.

But the crank label is only part of it, and neither the largest nor the most important part.

Metcalf has always been a passionate as well as a provocative observer, actively concerned over the progress of cultural decay. For decades now he has been a vocal champion of the aesthetic approach and the sort of writing represented in the alternative canon of his Century List.

Style, he goes so far as to say, can be a form of "salvation." Entropy, though ineluctable, may be redeemed.

Alex Good's website of book news and reviews is

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More Victoria Butler shortlist coverage...

An article published yesterday in the Victoria Times-Colonist.

Husband and wife vie for city book prize
Katherine Dedyna
Times Colonist

An exciting literary evening will climax Oct. 17 at the Union Club when one of five local writers wins the $5,000 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize.

"If people want tickets, they should get them quickly," says Victoria Book Prize Society president Bess Jillings, noting only 200 of the $10 tickets remain available.

The event features readings by the five finalists, refreshments and a chance to mingle with the authors and have books autographed by finalists.

The 2007 finalists include a husband and wife as well as last year's winner. They are:

- Bill Gaston, author of Gargoyles, a book of edgy short stories nominated last year as best English-language fiction for the Governor General's Award. According to publisher House of Anansi, gargoyles are "physical manifestations of the disfigurements and contortions to which we human beings subject ourselves."

- PK Page, one of Canada's most acclaimed poets, for Hand Luggage, her poetic account of her years spent travelling as the wife of a diplomat. It's a book of "penetrating observations and probing questions arising from richly varied cultural experience frankly and lovingly examined," says a review by Stan Dragland on the website of publisher Porcupine Quill.

- Patricia Young, known previously for her poetry, for Airstream, 14 short stories published by Biblioasis that, according to the publisher, "explore the small victories and lurching disappointments" of everyday life in unsentimental style. To wit: "a house fire sets in motion the end of a marriage as a couple re-examine the meaning of truth and commitment."

- Terence Young (Patricia's husband), a St. Michaels University School teacher, for his book of poetry, Moving Day. Publisher Signature Editions notes that "some poems touch on the dreamy qualities of memory, its tendency to slip into the magical, and still others turn a quirky eye onto child-rearing, education, home repair." Young is a previous winner for his novel, After Goodlake's.

- Mark Zuehlke, last year's winner for Holding Juno -- his view of the Normandy invasion -- this year goes back to the War of 1812 with For Honour's Sake, a non-fiction account published by Knopf Canada. "This is a really readable history of that war," says Jillings.

Zuehlke explores who really won through "never-before-seen archival material" and covers not only the horrors of war but the unsatisfactory negotiations in Ghent that ended it but have resonated for nearly two centuries, says the publisher's website.

The five finalists were winnowed from about 50 entries. Local authors, who did not make the cut include Silken Laumann (Child's Play; Random House); Terry Glavin (Waiting for the Macaws; Penguin) and Katy Hutchinson (Walking After Midnight; Raincoast).

The jury will be revealed on the evening of the awards; MC will be John Gould, a past Giller Prize nominee and University of Victoria writing instructor.

The Victoria Butler Book Prize is funded by the city of Victoria, with administrative and some event costs covered by philianthropist Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. Other contributing sponsors include the Union Club, the Greater Victoria Public Library and the Magnolia Hotel.

Tickets are available at Munro's, Bolen Books, Ivy's or by calling 592-1464.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Victoria Butler Prize News Release

For those who don't know, Patricia Young's Airstream made the short-list. It's a stacked one: Gaston, Page, Zuehlke, and Patricia's husband Terence. Anyone in the area might want to consider attending: from what I understand it's a pretty swell event.

Tickets on Sale for Victoria Butler Book Prize Awards

Date: Tuesday, October 9, 2007 For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Tickets are now on sale for the 4th Annual City of Victoria Butler Book Prize gala awards presentation to be held at the Union Club of British Columbia on Wednesday, October 17, 2007. The City’s $5,000 prize is awarded annually to a Greater Victoria author for the best book published in the preceding year in the categories of poetry, non-fiction, children’s books, fiction and biography.

The 2007 finalists include:

Bill Gaston Gargoyles (fiction), published by House of Anansi

PK Page Hand Luggage (poetry), published by Porcupine’s Quill

Patricia Young Airstream (fiction), published by Biblioasis

Terence Young Moving Day (poetry), published by Signature Editions

Mark Zuehlke For Honour’s Sake (non-fiction), published by Knopf Canada

The winner will be selected by three jurors, comprised of professionals from the writing, library, and book- selling community.

Open to the public, the event will feature readings by the five finalists and will provide guests with the opportunity to meet the writers and have their books signed. This year’s Master of Ceremonies is John Gould, an award-winning author, a teacher of creative fiction at the University of Victoria, and a past Giller Prize nominee.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance at Bolen Books at Hillside Mall, Ivy’s Book Shop on Oak Bay Avenue and Munro’s Books on Government Street, or by calling 592-1464. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door. Refreshments will be served and there will be a no-host bar.

What: 4th Annual City of Victoria Butler Book Prize Awards

When: Wednesday, October 17, 2007, Event starts at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Union Club of British Columbia, 805 Gordon Street

Founded in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies and is sponsored by the Greater Victoria Public Library, the Magnolia Hotel and Spa and the Union Club of British Columbia. The Victoria Book Prize Society establishes the policy and criteria for the prize, appoints the jury and administers the competition.

- 30 -

For More Information:

Gail Price Douglas, Community Development Planner Bess Jillings, President

Parks, Recreation and Community Development Department Victoria Book Prize Society

(250) 361-0358 (250) 592-1464

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A review of Rooke's Hitting the Charts from the Danforth Review

Better late than never: a good review of Rooke from the Danforth.

And, if you've not seen him, he'll be reading on Friday in Toronto at Type Books, and Sunday in Ottawa as part of the International writer's fest. Go if you can: you won't be disappointed.

Hitting the Charts

by Leon Rooke
Biblioasis, 2006

Read the TDR interview with Leon Rooke

Reviewed by Michael Murphy

If Walter Benjamin is right, and the art of storytelling is dead, then Leon Rooke’s Hitting the Charts is surely an anomaly. While most books are meant to be read in private, this collection of short stories begs to be read aloud, in front of a live audience. From "The Deacon’s Tale" to "Biographical Notes," the theatrical quality of Rooke’s stories, combined with his merciless attention to form, presents the reader with a corrective to plot-driven, stale prose. For anyone who’s had the pleasure of hearing Rooke perform, the reading experience is only slightly less intense.

Hitting the Charts spans across almost three decades of Rooke’s career. Yet, the stories feel as fresh and inspiring as any current writing in Canadian fiction. Rooke’s sentences seem to come from the mouths of caffeinated children, unwilling to stop for breath, stretching across entire paragraphs and pages. The effect can leave a reader bewildered. But Rooke’s humorous manipulation of language never fails to invigorate, enchant, and, most importantly, entertain.

In "Sixteen-year-old Susan March Confesses to the Innocent Murder of all the Devious Strangers who would Drag Her Down" (one of many brilliantly-titled stories, second only to "Winter is Lovely, isn’t Summer Hell"), a sixteen-year-old narrator recounts a tale of frustrated, unrequited love with a fitting lack of periods and commas. "Mr Reeves," she imagines herself saying, "I know it’s crazy and absurd and out of the question even but I declare myself I yearn I ache I love you Mr Reeves for god’s sake don’t let me keep sitting here too fragile in this instance even to remove my eyes from your face O tell me what I should do how I might give myself help me Mr Reeves because this has never happened to me with those others I shall show you in our lake for I am my father’s virgin." Susan March’s verbose narrative seems to take place entirely within her teenage mind, one too frenetic for line breaks or verbal restrictions. "O! O! O! to catch my breath!" she cries, mimicking the breathlessness of her weary reader. As wearying as Susan March’s narrative might be, if the story were told any other way the young girl’s teenaged, scatterbrained urgency would be lost. Many of Rooke’s better stories demonstrate a similar reliance upon form, including the last one in the collection, "Biographical Notes." Told through brief biographical statements, "Biographical Notes" is about a controversial filmmaker and the different people he has met and influenced throughout his life. Here, as elsewhere, Rooke takes a good story and makes it better by telling it in a new and energizing way, with a definite focus on the telling.

Although I am calling Rooke’s works stories, John Metcalf insists in the foreword to Hitting the Charts that Rooke’s stories be thought of as performances. He writes that the "most fruitful way to approach Leon is to think of him as a jazz musician in full flight of improvisation … Sometimes the story takes off; sometimes, it peters out" (9). Indeed, there are few stories (or performances, improvisations) in this collection that peter out. The rare exceptions to this rule are the stories that seem to sacrifice content too readily for the sake of form. For example, "Hanging Out With the Magi" and "The Problem Shop" both begin strongly, but end without purpose. The former tells a confusing story about a family that lives with ghosts, and ends with the reception of a baby in a box, and a man in a tree. Although the reader wishes to make sense of these events, the conclusion fails to pull them together, and the story loses impact as a result. "The Problem Shop" suffers from a similar lack of cohesiveness. The ex-con protagonist seems to want a longer story than he gets, and when his problems are solved by heading out to sea on an ancient schooner, the reader cannot help but wonder if heading out to sea, into an open environment, is not simply Rooke’s way of telling us he couldn’t think up a better ending.

While some of Rooke’s less satisfactory pieces leave a little to be desired in the way of content, it helps to remember that these stories take on entirely new shapes and directions when read aloud. On the page, "Gypsy Art" is a condensed, hard-to-follow car accident of words, chronicling the misadventures of the wandering Fazzini. But if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Rooke read the same story aloud, the story’s wandering becomes Fazzini’s wandering, and you begin to get a sense of what it means to "hit the road."

Benjamin may be right — storytelling may be a lost art form. But Rooke presents a pretty strong counter-argument. There’s a history to each word he pronounces, each sentence he constructs. At times, his stories are tender and engaging. At others, bawdy and irreverent. Mostly, though, Rooke just knows how to tell a good story well. With him, it’s the telling that matters.

Michael Murphy has contributed to filling Station, The Windsor Review, and All Rights Reserved. He teaches writing in London (the Canadian version) and is a compulsive used book shopper.

A Drive-by Reading: Kathleen Winter at Concordia

Kathleen Winter reads in Montreal next Monday: details on the poster above.

You can also catch her reading with Leon Rooke this Friday at Type Books on Queen Street in Toronto (7 pm start), and in Ottawa, with Leon and John Metcalf, as part of the Ottawa International Writers' Festival.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Hockey Season Begins

A new post from Lorna Jackson on the national pastime.

New Game, Same Old

An interview I did a few weeks ago with reveals the startling revelation that I did not pick Markus Naslund in my hockey pool this year and tells why. But so guilty and disloyal did I feel after that interview, I joined another pool and chose Naslund while others scoffed. I’m glad I did.

Last night versus Calgary Flame Mikka Kiprusoff, he picked up the puck in his own end, powered Swedishly—teamless and bleak like an Ingmar Bergman character—down the wing and wristed a quick, off-balance and screened shot between goalie and post. Jim Hughson—congenial, articulate and smooth Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play dude—has said Naslund-of-old could shoot into a teacup, but this retro-Nazzie goal drew only excuses and justifications: Kiprusoff, as they say in the latest and lamest of hockey cliches, “would like to have that one back”; it was a softy, a fluke. Seriously?

In overtime, a handful of seconds to go, Hughson was already mid-chewout—he believed that had Naslund not left the point to dig for a scrambled draw he would have been in position to grab it and shoot—when Naslund found the puck anyhoo, muscled around a defender, passed improbably to Mattias Ohlund who shot hard and clean high-slottishly. Daniel Sedin, as always, tucked the wee rebound across the line.

Fave moment of the game: third period and amazing hulk, Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf, chases down the puck in his own end thinking icing call; Naslund goes after him on the boards, believing no-call. Phaneuf is about 6’3” and 210 pounds. Naslund is 5’11” and 195 and 12 years older than the gifted 22-year-old. The whistle to signal icing comes late, just as Naslund bumps him as he should. And we catch young Phaneuf outraged and shouting at Naslund like a cranky kid up past his bedtime, “That was fucking late!” as Vancouver’s captain does his familiar fed-up and testy removal of mouth guard, reasons tilty-headed with the ref, and stutters off to the penalty box for so-called roughing.

So the Canucks win the game with seconds to go. Daniel: goal and assist. Naslund: same. Ohlund, too. Alex Burrows was a wizard on the penalty kill, five-on-three a couple of times. And who gets picked for the 3 stars (remember: a couple of nights ago analyst Kelly Hrudey referred to Calgary as “we”)? First: a Flame. Second: a Flame.

In the earlier televised game—Montreal and Toronto—what last year was the Mastercard 3-star selection is now sponsored by Steelback beer, which host Ron MacLean suggested should make sidekick Don Cherry happy. Steelback, we recall, acquired naming rights to the new home of the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, and so what used to be the Sault Memorial Gardens became the Steelback Centre, yet another hockey arena named to erase the ghosts of veterans in favour of the false god of commerce. (Here in Victoria, the new arena for the Salmon Kings was to be called Save-On Foods Arena until veterans and their families lobbied to restore the Memorial from the original Memorial Arena.) Later, the Steelback beer commercial comes on: gorgeous blonde shimmies her estimable cleavage up to the bar, asks for her beer in a can, and then a double-entendred flirt about size ensues with the bartender. The punchline: “size matters.” Beer, blondes, boobs and boytalk: if this is the new NHL, axe the shootout and sign me up for the old game. Saturday night shouldn’t be so confusing, or so adolescent.

It was an evening of mixed messages. I love the new instructional breaks. Former players get host MacLean on the ice to run drills with a bunch of hotshot kids and they learn a new skill. Smart, clear, fun: hockey. But then, later in the broadcast, MacLean and Colin Campbell (Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations for the NHL) and retired winger Scott Mellanby, sit suited and handsome in their sleek leather club chairs, and they watch a pornographically large flat screen play and replay and play again and again—slower this time—young (and now ultra-suspended) Steve Downie’s headshot on veteran Dean McAmmond. We watch them watch. We have all seen this hit many times. And Mellanby’s expertise is welcome, but the three men look at the screen and so do we, and none of us is given the option to look away. Over and over, Downie leaves his feet, launches himself to attack another man’s head, and we are expected to watch.

Once—the night it happened—was enough. Why must we see it so often and so slow? Cherry tells the kids it was a dirty hit and wags his don’t-do-it finger at his implied audience. But any kid still awake and paying attention can see that if you do that kind of thing, the world makes it look big and important, watches and seems to enjoy watching.

We’re told that over the summer, the League sent teams instructional DVDs in order to qualify and quantify the criteria by which to judge a shot to the head not only illegal but punishable by suspension. Players were warned; it didn’t sink in for Downie. Instead of watching MacLean watch the hit last night, I’d like to hear those criteria and hear the pundits apply them to certain hits that have stained my imagination. Kyle MacLaren’s playoff clothesline of Richard Zednik a few years back. Should Chris Pronger’s elbow to the same concussed head of Dean McAmmond in last year’s playoff have gotten more than that measly one-game suspension? Would the outcomes of Steve Moore’s unpenalized hit to the head of the reaching and vulnerable Markus Naslund—the concussion, the bone chips vacuumed from his elbow, the missing wrist shot, Moore’s own broken neck—been different had the League made Moore sit for a few games?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Globe Review of Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained

The Globe & Mail reviewed John Metcalf's Shut Up He Explained in yesterday's book section. An excellent, thoughtful review, the kind which should actually sell books. Hallelujah! Only (gad)fly in the ointment is the title, which I've been assured was not of the author's choosing. Unfortunate, as it does not capture the true spirit of this book: celebration.

For those who have no interest in reading the whole review, here's the heart of it: "Shut Up He Explained ... is obligatory reading for anyone who cares about aesthetic vitality, the state of the nation's literature and the essential importance of very good sentences. ... John Metcalf will make you think very precisely about just what kind of literature you want in Canada, and about what kind of literature we in fact have."

Obligatory reading, folks. Needless to say, we could not agree more.

Metcalf: still Canlit's gadfly


A Literary Memoir, Vol. II

By John Metcalf

Biblioasis, 398 pages, $36.95

Martin Amis, who with his father Kingsley appears more than once in the engaging pages of John Metcalf's new memoir, Shut Up He Explained, has said that by the age of 70 a lot of writers ought to be kicked upstairs like a senile auntie or crusty grand-maman. The charm has long since faded, sadly, and she's only stinking up the place.

When an aging nabob of a nation's letters chooses to publish his memoirs, there can be similar cause for discomfiture. It's as though, having seen the reaper at the end of the tunnel, the old boy feels compelled to cull mouldering animosities, or the days of Oxbridge green and golden, before retiring to the attic with the Peak Freans and the sherry.

Double delight and relief, then, to see that as he approaches the age of 70, John Metcalf is still writing with the same élan that animates almost every line of his distinguished oeuvre. Despite occasional slackness and some syrupy nostalgia for mumsy-England, Shut Up He Explained (a companion volume to 2003's An Aesthetic Underground) is obligatory reading for anyone who cares about aesthetic vitality, the state of the nation's literature and the essential importance of very good sentences. It is also a moving record of time past and friends lost, a shimmering and often comic account of recent travels, and - Metcalf being Metcalf - a sometimes prickly if not intemperate j'accuse.

But therein lies part of the fun in reading Metcalf's non-fiction. Dismiss him if you will as the Pooh-Bah of Humbug, but no one in Canadian letters offends quite so well - or half as usefully - as he. Like Irving Layton before him, or Stephen Henighan now, John Metcalf will make you think very precisely about just what kind of literature you want in Canada, and about what kind of literature we in fact have. To read Metcalf on literary excellence, and on the techniques that make for it - as when, for instance, he spends an instructive chapter of Shut Up He Explained comparing the footling syntax and caricatures of Morley Callaghan to the precision and power of the early Ernest Hemingway - is to be powerfully reminded as to the centrality of style.

A long-time critic of the "deeply unhealthy connection between literature and nationalist politics," Metcalf has paradoxically become our greatest literary protector. No one - no one - has done more in this country to develop and promulgate a literature of which we can be proud. Against mainstream and commerce-driven preferences for "the mildly hysterical writings of Timothy Findley," the "creaking, fustian English" of M. G. Vassanji, or the "566 pages of Maritime Grand Guignol" that is Ann-Marie McDonald's Fall On Your Knees, Metcalf raises in Shut Up He Explained the bulwark of "the Century Club," or 40 books of short fiction published between 1900 and 2000 that represent, in his view, the best writing that Canada has produced.

Some of Metcalf's choices - Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant - will hardly surprise. More than a few - Annabel Lyon, Mary Brodsky or even masters Clark Blaise and Norman Levine - will be all but unknown to any but aficionados of the genre. After his list, therefore, Metcalf provides a critical discussion of each author's work. The result is a chapter of more than 100 pages. It could be used profitably by developing writers who aspire to more than, as Metcalf quotes Gallant, "pallid little 'I' stories," or it could be used, as well, in CanLit or criticism classrooms to provide for students an alternative to the Ideologiekritik and other gobbledygook they often get in place of aesthetic understanding.

But I suspect that many will find Metcalf's Hall of Heroes a bit of uphill work. Too often his critical apologia will consist of long quotations from book reviewers who merely echo Metcalf's views, or long quotations from the work of the writer in question at which Metcalf essentially points and says, "See?"

Metcalf is at his best in this singular book not when he is attacking or defending his contemporaries, but when he is rendering and remembering in a manner reminiscent of his fine short stories. When he visits Chekhov's White Dacha, for instance, or when he memorializes a sadly destitute and infirm Norman Levine, we see at work an enviable eye for small and transient (and therefore almost holy) detail.

A fan and ideal reader of Kingsley Amis, Metcalf says he wouldn't give "chopped liver" for the work of Martin, but Kingsley's brilliant son understands the marriage of Time and Talent, and Metcalf would do well to remember it. Savouring the talent on display in Shut Up He Explained left me hoping that, with his adorations and devotions so unequivocally in place, Metcalf will, as his own time draws a little closer, scabbard entirely his rattling sabre in favour of giving us a new collection of his diamond-precise and iridescent short fictions.

At work on a collection of new short stories, Adrian Michael Kelly is also guiding a group of university students in Oshawa through the aesthetic pleasures and pitfalls of Canadian literature.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Anything but Hank

The above image is by the phenomenal illustrator/artist Eric Orchard, who is illustrating Biblioasis' first children's book, Anything But Hank (authored, if you do not know, by the husband wife team of Zachariah Wells and Rachel Lebowitz). Set to be released in the Fall of 08, it will be a gorgeous book.

Eric has his own blog, where you can see other paintings he has done for Hank, in addition to numerous other illustrations. His blog can be found here:

Another illustration can be found here:

To see the actual illustrations, with their depth, colour, texture, is amazing. I had them for 24 hours before passing them along to Carleton Wilson, who will be typesetting Hank. We should have an initial mock up soon.

Eric is also slated to illustrate David Hickey's first children's book, to be published in 2009.

Profile of Kathleen Winter in the St. John's Telegram

Just in case you were beginning to think that it was all Cold-cocked, all the time...

E-mail error brings good fortune print this article
Metcalf Rooke Award helps gain Winter new readers

Special to The Telegram

Local author Kathleen Winter is revelling in the events surrounding the national release of her latest book, all of which were never supposed to happen.

The St. John’s-based writer, and Telegram columnist, was recently named recipient of the 2007 Metcalf Rooke Award, which recognizes the work of new and up-and-coming Canadian writers.

Initially, Winter sent a manuscript of her most recent work “boYs”, a collection of fiction short stories, to John Metcalf, who she thought held the post of senior editor of the Porcupine’s Quill, an Ontario-based press.

“I actually sent it to the wrong publisher because he was always with the Porcupine’s Quill,” Winter explains from her home in Holyrood. “Unbeknownst to me he had left that and gone to Biblioasis.”

Nonetheless the manuscript finally reached Metcalf, who read it, contacted Winter and prompted her to enter it in Biblioasis’ competition.

“He called me right away and let me know that it had come at a time when he was accepting submissions with Leon Rooke for this award,” says Winter, who agreed to let it be a part of the competition.

The stories in her book, Winter explains, are “about how people relate to each other.

“There are a lot of men in the stories and most of the stories are seen through the eyes of women.”

Five of the stories were pulled from the vault, she says. “I wrote those when I was in my twenties.”

The remaining stories are a collection of her works from the past few years.

When she found out she had won, Winter was ecstatic that she would have the opportunity to expand her readership to a bigger audience.

With the award came a publishing contract with Biblioasis, who pressed 1,500 copies of “boYs” and provided her with a regional tour to promote the book.

She has already made stops at the Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival, the Eden Mills Writer’s Festival and in October, will be traveling to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, where she will officially be awarded the Metcalf Rooke Award.

She even plans to take her tour to her birthplace, a small town in Northeast England called Bill Quay.

Though she and her family moved to Newfoundland when she was only eight years old, one of Winter’s priorities is to share her writing with the places she has called home, such as England, but also Corner Brook, where she grew up, and St. John’s.

Now 47, she is finally realizing her “number one goal in life … to have readers.”

As is often the case with new publications, Winter realizes critics have the potential to determine a book’s success, but it doesn’t seem to worry her.

“It doesn’t make me nervous,” she says. “I’ve been seriously working on this material so I really believe in it. I can’t see how any review could really crush me at this point. I’m just too old for that,” she laughs.

The book’s official launch will take place in the Port Room of the Downtown Courtyard Marriott on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.

On Oct. 7 she will also chat with readers and sign copies at Chapters on Kenmount Rd. from 2-4 p.m.

Winter is also planning to travel the island to share her book with others. Anyone interested in having her do a reading for any community group, school, library or book store café, can email her at

Cold-cocked reviewed in the Georgia Straight

Book Reviews

Cold-Cocked: On Hockey

Book Reviews By Brian Lynch

Everything comes back to the gamein Lorna Jackson
Everything comes back to the gamein Lorna Jackson's Cold-Cocked.

Cold-Cocked burns with hockey's passions

By Lorna Jackson. Biblioasis, 206 pp, $19.95, softcover

Pro hockey is like any good story. It has its heroes, villains, and clowns, and plot twists that play out from game to game and season to season.

Vancouver Islander Lorna Jackson knows this. And she understands that, as with fiction, the more attention, commitment, and resourcefulness you bring to the tale being told, the richer it gets. Her new book, Cold-Cocked: On Hockey, is proof of that.

Cold-Cocked: On Hockey
by Lorna Jackson

Out of two Vancouver Canuck seasons–the 2002–03 and 2003–04 campaigns–Jackson creates a hockey-themed fugue that reaches into the most intimate details of her own life. Childhood memories of watching Hockey Night in Canada with her father in the late 1960s lead to a kind of elegy for his years as a young pilot in the Second World War. The injuries she witnesses in the game mesh with reflections on the limits of her own middle-aged frame. Her devotion to Canucks captain Markus Naslund makes her feel "old and pathetic…for having a crush on a golden young man who wasn't even born on the coast of Sweden when I graduated from high school in Vancouver". All of this is steeped in sardonic humour and backed up by a grasp of the game itself that is surprisingly nuanced, seeing how Jackson only returned to being a hockey fan at the age of 48, after decades away.

Cold-Cocked is not a book for all hockey devotees. Those who like Ron MacLean's fireside reminiscences may be freaked out by the fantasies Jackson regularly has about a heartfelt, sex-charged relationship with Todd Bertuzzi or Trevor Linden. If that's the case for you, then it's quite literally your problem, as the book is nothing if not one intricately personal perspective.

More generally, though, it must be said that Jackson could have done with fewer shows of contempt for some of the fans she runs into at games. Is there really anything wrong with discussing stats or a goalie's performance with your seatmates? Jackson often seems to think so, silently calling one guy who does this "Mr. Narcissist", a risky charge to level after so many passages describing Naslund as her "pretend boyfriend".

Still, such a shortcoming is bound to appear in a book this bravely revealing. You're left to wonder what further insights into life's farces and frustrations Jackson might have had if she'd watched all of the Canucks' 37-year history with the same intensity.

Lorna Jackson interviewed in the TYEE

Another article/interview in BC's TYEE came out this morn. Haven't seen it yet, but from what I hear we made the cover of this one. And if this interview doesn't sell you on Cold-cocked, then nothing will.

What I need desperately is to get Lorna on Hockey Night in Canada, maybe an After 40 Minutes segment. Face to Face with Don Cherry, watch him change more colours than one of his godawful ties. Or suits. More than anyone else, that man needs a day with Russell Smith, esq., someone who will finally, finally teach him how to dress. At 500.00/day, perhaps it might be worth all of us Thirsty readers chipping in a few bucks to purchase the man some fashion sense. Though it would do nothing, alas, for crap that comes out of his mouth.

'Cold-Cocked': The Hit of Hockey

Lorna Jackson on why we really watch the puck drop.

View full article and comments here

By Geoff D'Auria

Published: October 5, 2007

According to Lorna Jackson in her new book Cold-Cocked: On Hockey, we must read hockey like a good short story. We have to see the games as scenes, and the players as characters, actions as words -- a booming slapshot, an impossible deke, a body sacrificed against a blocked shot, a meaty fist upside an unsuspecting head.

And we have to put them all together and build our own meaning and come up with our own reasons about why this story is important (or not). This is our communal story, so we have to resist the version of the story imposed by a frenzied media or a corporatized NHL.

"Players don't make meaning," Jackson explains, "spectators do."

And this book is about that: about how to read the game and reclaim it from those who narrowly interpret it as a man's game, as a game of "warriors," as a single-minded quest for Lord Stanley's Cup (said with the tremulous, disembodied voice of Hockey Night in Canada).

"The NHL machine ignores people like me," Jackson writes, "women who abhor the easy cliché, the hypermasculine rhetoric. Okay, they build arenas that resemble shopping malls for us. Oh, and kudos, boys, for the ridiculous girlie replica jerseys with the figure-flattering cut and raglan sleeves so we can pretend to have boobs like Shania Twain. I don't want to be Markus Naslund and I don't want to shop."

Clearly, this is no textbook read on the sociology of sports and gender (although Jackson admits that exploring how women experience the game differently was a starting point).

It's as much about her relationship with her daughter (a huge Ed Jovanovski fan) and her father (Béliveau) and her husband (tellingly, no preference reported), as it is about the game. And this is the point. It's a meditation on how Jackson finds her own meaning in the game, giving us all permission to do the same.

The Tyee spoke with Jackson recently to explore these ideas (and her mysterious relationship with Markus Naslund). We offer you this as your pre-game warm up for the first game of the season, tonight. Watch your groins.

On the allure of Olympic gold medal kisses and the 'new NHL man'

"What drew me in was watching those guys on the ice with their kids and kissing their wives and hugging their mothers, and just seeing them as a different sort of character than they had been in the '70s when I was [first] watching -- I mean, there were characters like Derek Sanderson that appealed to me as a teenager -- but I think I wanted a more complex character if I was going to watch that story and be involved in it now. And I got them."

On Italian bastard meets Nordic god

"I think they've got the right idea [in promoting this new NHL man]. I was drawn back in and I am more compelled by the characters, but then if they're going to keep me, they better pay up and give me a bit more [in terms of stories and complex characters].

"But also, it's so easy in Vancouver -- the narrative kind of took off on its own. Naslund and Bertuzzi, as characters, are interesting guys and with a really neat friendship -- the surly Italian bastard and the golden-haired Nordic god. So, it is really easy to be compelled."

On Bertuzzi and Naslund as Lenny and George from 'Of Mice and Men'

"I was reading Of Mice and Men again because I love the book, and the moment where Lenny squishes the mouse -- like, he's got this mouse in his hand and it's a caring, gentle moment and then... [deadpan voice] it's dead [chuckles]. And he doesn't get it; he doesn't know his own strength, and yet, George looks after him. It's a caretaking relationship. And it's also just a beautiful relationship between men based on aggression and loyalty and love. And one where ultimately a really hard decision has to be made about that relationship."

On Bertuzzi blame

"We're all changed by having to face what we got out of that situation, what we called for in that situation. Media, fans, all of us who've watched it on the screen a million times and got some sort of thrill out of it -- we were complicit. And if we looked at that and thought of it, you'd come back to the game a little bit differently. Not necessarily negatively, either.

"I didn't come back to the game horrified by outrageous violence. But I am less willing to accept a high hit to the head; I cannot stand to see that anymore. And I do distinguish between violence in hockey or fighting in hockey and what Bertuzzi did."

On how men think like women

"It's risky generalizing about anything, sports included, and especially men and women in sports. And I think when I started writing the book I thought that there was going to be a really clean division between [the supposedly male obsession with statistics and winning and "player as warrior" myth] and how women read the game. And then I did a fair bit of research reading around on fan response to sports in general, you know, lots of sociology of sport literature and stuff.

"Most of that indicated men don't really see sports as an obsession with statistics, and so on. They actually see it with imagination, as well. And they see it aesthetically, using phrases like 'pretty play' and 'beautiful goal.'

"But I still believe that the dominant sport journalism, broadcast or print journalism is obsessed with stats. And I think men are more likely, maybe, to be satisfied with that. And I don't think it's as interesting for women but I also don't think for a lot of men it's that interesting, either.

"I think women are looking for other things: they're looking identification with players, they want to have a Trevor Linden lead the team because they want to be like Trevor Linden and they want to marry Trevor Linden, you know? And maybe men are doing that [identifying with players] too, but they're less aware of it.

"I think you choose a player to emulate or one that is going to represent you because they represent some aspect of your values, or you want to get a hit off of their values.

On firing the Don Cherry narrator

"There's something in the gaps in a good short story. There's mystery. There's magic. You can [put it together for yourself]. And you'd better. You don't check your brain when you go through the turnstile. And you don't let Don Cherry do your thinking for you. There's no reason to."

On the athlete as warrior

"You can't get away from it in all sports, and hockey in particular. [Puts on hushed and earnest voice] 'Yea, that is right. Players are just like warriors. Whoa. Am I ever excited about this. And, oh, there's Don Cherry with his dead soldiers in Afghanistan on Coaches Corner. Yea, there is a connection! And I am being patriotic!'

"Well, I think it's a dangerous thing, a dangerous narrative to accept, especially on a Saturday night watching entertainment with our kids. And I don't think it's accurate. And it's a cliché. And all clichés and narratives need a good shake and I think that one does, as well.

"So part of me is offended by that 'warrior as hockey player' and vice-versa. And in part, that's [what let me] go back into looking [in her book] at my Dad and thinking about him 'cause he was a nice guy, you know? A nice, gentle man who was actually a soldier and a warrior and he was never the same afterward [World War II].

"I don't like hockey players to be idealized and I don't like warriors or war to be idealized. And when you put those two together, I think it's a thin reading of the game and of the players."

On whether she's in a hockey pool this year


On whether she recommends picking Naslund


On whether her answer to that was based on her telepathic and imaginary relationship to Naslund (as described in 'Cold-Cocked')

"[Laughs] I'll just check in with him.

"No, it's based on watching him skate a little bit in camp, and I watched last year very carefully and I have concerns about his body. I love him. I love his play. I think he's fabulous but I haven't chosen Naslund in my pool, [adds quickly] but I'm willing to trade for him if things improve.

On what story the Canucks are telling this year

"I don't think they've gotten started yet on that story. I mean, the story right now is 'How are we going to be more fit so that our groins don't hurt.' [Laughs] I read that they're starting to do yoga, which is probably a good step in that direction. What a hoot! Can you imagine Phil Esposito in Lululemon pants doing yoga? Or Derek Sanderson? I mean, good lord. But, I mean, they better figure it out, with all these groin injuries. [More laughter].

"They're so young. There's a rebuilding going on and there's a different identity being formed. So, I don't know if the story is started yet. I don't feel part of a story, let's put it that way. I mean, it's too easy to think that Bobby Lou [Roberto Luongo] is the main character here. I don't want him to be, for some reason. I don't want the goalie to be the main character who is the hero and the saviour because that's not an interesting story. If it's as simple as, 'if he stops it, we win,' it's not a [complex enough] story."