Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ongoing notes: Meet the Presses (part four,

[the immediate view from my table, with Paul Dutton preparing his table in the far background]

Curious that I chose, semi-randomly, to review two small press literary journals in this post. Both include poems by Emily Izsak and Victor Coleman, from his “People Who Died” project. What are the odds?

Cobourg ON: Recently, Cobourg writer, editor and publisher Stuart Ross [see my recent Ploughshares interview with him here] has been talking about his plans to produce a sequence of new poetry journals, each with only one issue to their name. The latest of which is The Northern Testicle Review #1, which Ross describes as “featuring work by over 25 amazing poets from Canada, the U.S., Norway, Argentina, and South Korea. It’s ‘Issue #1 — The Final Issue!’ And it’s produced in a format I’ve never used before: letter-size sheets stapled down the left side into cardstock covers. As for the title, it’s a response to New Orleans poet Joel Dailey’s mag The Southern Testicle Review, which contained some of my work.”


Tradulent prevadores
preek plassully
frin meg rumb.

Struggly crancies
crill crevulent
gron heb hungk.

Ravended shteeps
shtog arn dovelled

Queek, Queek.
Pronk, Pronk.
Pronk, Pronk.

Ogglygy. (Jason Camlot)

The issue contains poems by a whole slew of poets, including Alice Burdick, Jason Camlot, Allison Chisholm, Victor Coleman, Joel Dailey, Laura Farina, Mallory Feuer, debby florence, Jaime Forsythe, Loren Goodman, Richard Huttel, Emily Izsak, Mark Laba, Benny Langedyk, Lance La Rocque, Claire MacDonald, Kathryn Mockler, Sarah Moses, Leigh Nash, Nicholas Power, Tom Prime, Nikki Reimer, Laurie Siblock, Dag Straumsvåg and Hugh Thomas. Really, the appeal of any publication edited by Stuart Ross is twofold: knowing that there is going to be a list of ‘usual suspects,’ which happen to be a series of poets doing strong work (Burdick, Laba, Huttel, La Rocque, Nash, Power, Thomas, etcetera) as well as an intriguing series of new poets. Ross is a generous and varied reader of literature, and you might never know just who you might be introduced, or even re-introduced to by picking up one of his journals. The real fun is wondering what the next journal might just be called.

Papaveroideae calling

from realms of isolated wind and chatter
trill of the absolute desert
piles of schizo zirconias upturned in

fields and no pupils in sight
how lavish the feast
of memory   how crude

the starved echo of
a frost-tolerant safe
it’s snowing on shut lashes

the birds are electric   the wires are ashes
hark! fuzzy void of love-blip
lone shiver of losing

don’t hang up
goodness loitering paces and jags
a hiccup in the hollows

a boot on the line
I do not recognize the voice
on the other end

some silence of poppies (Claire MacDonald)

Toronto ON: I’ve been a fan of COUGH magazine for a while now, the official/unofficial occasional journal of the “bpNichol Lane Writers Group,” edited and produced by a different member of their informal group with each issue. The ninth issue, guest-edited by Brock Hessel, includes work by James Irwin, David Bateman, Brad Shubat, T.A. James, Victor Coleman, Emily Izsak, Michael Boughn, Michael Harman, Oliver Cusimano and Android Spit. I’m not sure who did the artwork on the cover and throughout, but would suspect the editor, given he is listed as “editor/artist” in the colophon; a safe supposition, I would think. The artwork is odd, jarring and lively in a rather interesting way. Part of the enjoyment of COUGH comes from both the mix of styles and the roughness to some of the work, including work by more experienced writers such as Coleman and Boughn alongside work by, for example, Cusimano and Bateman. There is always such a lively energy to the issues they produce, and while everything might not be perfect-polished, it seems entirely not the point. One of my ongoing favourites of the group has to be Toronto poet Emily Izsak [see her “Tuesday poem” up at dusie here], who now has a first trade collection forthcoming from Signature Editions in spring:

Mar. 8th 74 to Union Station 07:32

The bone parade
nonstop and hypnotic
injury en route
to holistic carriage

Quixotic language
warlike in direction
flares up
in habitual trickery

A hand in the bird
is worth two in the bush
Truth recumbent
on holey anatomy

A spoof on the lube
that got us into
this tunnel in
the first place (Emily Izsak)

After going through her chapbook [see my review of such here], I’m curious to see what she can do in a larger space (I think she is a poet that is going places). Otherwise, there are more than a couple of further highlights to the issue – including Android Spit (a piece I would love to hear performed publicly) and Michael Harman – but the Oliver Cusimano poems really jumped out at me as well [looking forward to including his work in an upcoming issue of Touch the Donkey]:


Invading oneself takes imagination
engaged by other houses to drag
across garden expanse as many heads
of state in denial as it can to

really spin down its clock tower in the
fashion described massively & stored at
owned facilities, or another version
what route below has hardly any response

pleasure dissolves freeze it exerts anyway
before flower turns on its euphorizing
scent displayed further in the locked heart
on open views as one’s self becomes by and

therefore for itself analogized
pēdals uncapping from automatic thigh. (Oliver Cusimano)

Friday, December 09, 2016

On beauty

Toddler negotiates the coffee-table against a backdrop of bookcases. The lowest two shelves are protected by baby-gate; not as a barrier constructed between spaces, but to guard the volumes themselves. He pulls books. A postcard, business card or press release might slip to the floor. A cover might tear. We do this to protect our collection, protect ourselves from the stress and worry of damaged or misplaced titles. You might ask: why have so many? We have books, and new titles arrive daily. One upon one upon one. It is a system of weeks before stacks from the desk absorb into shelves. We attempt a small sense of order. By author, the books are alphabetized by letter but not yet within each letter. Sm beside Sa beside Sl beside Sp. There isn’t the time. With small children, one might consider the shelves by themselves as quite the accomplishment. They might just be right.

In all of this, there is barely a chance to breathe. To breathe. There is no such thing as a chance to breathe. I haven’t a moment. I am always in motion.

He is constantly in motion. I remember thinking, also: I am always in motion.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fence magazine #32 : fall/winter 2016

It’s remarkably rare for the editorial of a journal to respond in such a way as Fence has to one of its own editors, as Charles Valle writes in his articulate and deeply sensitive editorial [see the full text here]:

            Earlier this year, the Fence editorial staff had several lengthy and intense discussions sparked by [editor] Rebecca [Wolff]’s insensitive Facebook comments on the Purdey Lord Kreiden/Michael Taren video and a poem with a racial slur in the title she wrote and read in public. The longest thread ran 56 emails deep. We were hurt and angry and disappointed in various degrees. As a person of color, as a friend, it felt shitty. As a colleague, it felt deflating knowing people would associate and attribute the words and actions of the public face (Rebecca) with the other 15 editors.

Long one of my favourite American journals, I’m pleased to see Fence discussing the actions and words of a single editor, responding to such as an organization, and attempting to move forward. The editorial ends with:

            Earlier in the year when we were reeling from Rebecca’s insensitivities and gross articulations of white privilege, we discussed several actions and proposals. Some of the actions were prescriptive and could be easily and quickly implemented. Others were more radical in scope.
            The consensus is that we do not want any tokenizing gestures. We want action and we want our actions to be intentional and transparent. We want to publish majority POC, majority Queer.
            We recognize a structural problem. We are in the process of a rethinking, a paradigm shift, a self-administered kick in the ass. In the next couple of years, Fence will continue to evolve and iterate. We will take risks. We will make mistakes. We will learn. We will refine. We are committed to making Fence a place that writers of color care about. We need you, dear reader, to hold us accountable.

Obviously, a discussion of the new issue can’t help but include a mention of such an editorial (I was completely unaware of any of this until reading such); while I’m not wishing to pour salt on any wounds or make matters worse, nor wishing to distract away from the actual content of the issue itself, but such a public admission by such a long-standing journal is not only brave, but required. I applaud them for such, and hope they can find their way forward.

On the television
A woman carves from a stack of rice krispie squares
Human breasts.

I feed cut watermelon to my grandmother.

I am low and found; I am high and found.
When I read that part to my mom over the phone she
Cries. It’s sad
She says.

I put my ticket there on her Visa.

The next day my cousin sends me a message.
I read the message.
Then what I do is call my mother.
Now you don’t have any more grandparents!
She’s crying – and good now
I am
Too. (Aisha Sasha John, “In August I visited my Gran.”)

Entirely separately to that, the issue itself holds some damned fine work, and the opening pieces by Toronto poet Aisha Sasha John, “from I have to live,” is just stunning, as are works by Emily Abendroth, Amanda Nadelberg, Henry Israeli, Elizabeth Robinson (a personal favourite) and Debora Kuan. The prose pieces by Khadijah Queen, also, apparently composed as breathless reminiscences, are incredibly striking; I would like to see more of these, please:

I was nine or ten when I met Minister Louis Farrakhan at Mosque No. 27 on Crenshaw

I was nine or ten when I met Minister Louis Farrakhan at Mosque No. 27 on Crenshaw everyone kept saying how he wouldn’t be giving that many appearances anymore because he had cancer & I stood in line with my mother & sister to meet him we had on our white MGT-GCC uniforms my mother was a captain so she had on a fez & my sister & I had pristine head scarves the same thick material as our dresses & starched to perfection the line was really long but we were close to the front so my white patent leather shoes hadn’t yet started to pinch when I climbed the steps of the dais & he held both his hands out for my hands & smiled & his skin was so clear I remember how shiny it was not in a greasy way but a bright kind & he called me little sister & asked my name & said it was the same as his wife’s & he expected me to live up to its greatness

Consider for a moment, if you will, the remarkable fact that American poet Cole Swensen is working on a sequence of poems under the title “LISA ROBERTSON: SEVEN WALKS,” clearly referencing Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. I am very excited to see where and how these poems end up:

The petal was another one; it undid, and then one again, one pale room
over the market turning pink. It is early in the rhythm of the theater of

the soon. We walked the vowel into an archive through windows rent
apparent by bombing, entirely morning – light can seem to strike light in

a spear that breaks, but we are used to the broken, and so built a library. (“The First Walk”)

There is also a numerical work by Kyle Booten, “Laminations (after Ed Ruscha),” reminiscent slightly of the numerical works by the late Canadian poet Wilfred Watson (a kind of writing I haven’t seen anyone replicate or be influenced by, to my knowledge; I fully suspect Booten has never heard of Watson); while the numerical systems (each stanza repeating the cycle of three) might not be connected to the works of the American artist Edward Ruscha, the text itself does seem to be influenced by him, as the poem opens:

1:         Thanks to the doctors. I
2:                     123023 Wilshire B
3:                                        Honey

The issue also hosts a healthy folio of “Other Worlds,” a section of, as folio editors Andrea Lawlor and Trey Sagar call it, “new writing that called itself speculative, or fantasy, or science fiction, knowing that innovative writers have been working inside of and into these genres for years.” The folio includes works by M. Milks, Nathaniel Mackey, Elizabeth Breazeale, Kathryn Davis (as well as an interview with her conducted by Rav Grewal-Kök), Michael Holt, Brenda Iijima and Metta Sáma.

I will die as young as any other man who has ambition. I will die with thirty pieces of silver in my mouth. I will die with gold coins on my eyes. I will die with no hunger …no hunger. I will die filled and flesh-clean …lithe. Leader will call me Traitor …Judas. I will call him Liar. Dragon. Skins made of pounded copper flattened gold mica stolen from lands he called Empty of People. People, Leader said, have Souls. And all Souls Follow Leader. We killed those who refused to flee and Leader called us Holy Warriors. We drank the blood warm from the dying bodies we crushed their bones and fed on their marrow …Dragons, Leader said, we’ll all be Dragons …Too many unrecorded years have come and gone and I am no longer the boy raked from the trash. I am a man. I never believed in Dragons. I am a Man. Leader may no longer eat from my flesh. I am a Man. I will die covered in my sins. I will die a Man. I will die with no shame. I will die a Man. I am a Man. I never believed in Dragons. (Metta Sáma)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ongoing notes: the ottawa small press fair (part two,

So many notes! And of course, see my prior notes here, as well as my ongoing notes on Meet the Presses, also.

Ottawa ON: I’m very pleased to see dream punk (A Bywords Publication, 2016), a first chapbook of poems by Ottawa poet and clinical psychologist Ron Seatter, produced as part of The John Newlove Poetry Award Chapbook Series, judged by Matthew Rader and run annually by

I like the meditational quality of Seatter’s poems, the quiet subtlety of his observations. The poems are strongest when they are direct, precise and exploratory, rippling outward in a slow and quiet manner.

no i in buffalo

no we
in sagittarius

saucy riders

border guards

interstates of


ok, there is an ‘us’

admitting the zodiacal

lingual nodules

tons of lawlessness
but deliberate

on chewed highways

Ottawa ON: Natalie Hanna’s battleaxe press, along with producing chapbooks, has been producing small single-poem pamphlets as a broadside series that, at least for now, focuses on Ottawa poets, most of whom I really haven’t read much by. The first four in the series are “I don’t but she do but she ain’t so I won’t” by Liam Burke, “The Child Who Didn’t Make A Sound” by Jennifer Pederson, “the ‘pataphysics of internet dating” Amanda Earl and “civilian” by Mia Morgan, each produced in editions of one hundred copies. The designs for such are rather straightforward (which isn’t a bad thing), and produced on far better paper than most chapbooks I’ve seen lately. I’m intrigued by these, and curious as to see where the series might go next. The end of Morgan’s three-page poem reads:

daddy will always think
in walls
            them versus me
            us versus them


like the ocean
            there versus here


[what some random kid typed on the late William Hawkins' typewriter]

Kingston ON: I’m intrigued by the very small chapbooks that Michael e. Casteels’ Puddles of Sky Press has been producing lately, some of which include but a single poem on a single page. Some of the most recent in the series include Alice Burdick’s CHORE CHOIR (2016), Nick Papaxanthos’ Very Uncomfortable (2016), Lillian Necakov’s ASK (2016), derek beaulieu’s VEXATIONS 2: XEROX WORKCENTRE 5755 (2016), Dale Tracy’s What It Satisfies (2016) and Casteels’ own The Shape of Things to Come (2016), each produced in runs of seventy-five copies.

A black cloud swirls over our city, flies so thick they block out the sun. No one sleeps for the ever-present drone. The moment dinner is served they descend and ravage the meal. We’re left making thin soups with whatever bones we can find. Our repellents are futile. Our coils of flypaper remain bare. We swat at them, but they zip past like tiny spaceships at red alert. They’re evolving faster than we are and soon we’ll be the ones buzzing around the streets looking for something to believe in. (Michael e. Casteels)

There is something quite lovely about the very small chapbook, and not many publishers work to embrace such publications. Obviously, derek beaulieu’s No Press produces such, as did damian lopes’ fingerprinting inkoperated (a press that recently has been known to release the occasional item again, after a break of a decade or more), but they are few and far between. These little items are quite striking, in part because they contain so little text, and thusly, demand a great deal of attention.