Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a... book!

Well, I have it in my hands, Cartography, this product of a 13 year gestation. Delighted I am, but U.A. Fanthorpe captures that sense of our poems never quite living up to the perfection we'd aspired to (which is why we keep trying?!): "As usual, when they're together, and bound, I feel ashamed of them. Individually, they had a right to exist. But when they gape out at me, cheek by jowl, I feel like a mother with a whole clutch of unsatisfactory children."

Anyway, it is here, and it is particularly lovely thanks to a cover image by the quite extraordinary Calgary artist Colleen Philippi, whose art has blessed the cover of three of my books now. The launch will be lovely too, and I hope anyone in the area will come and celebrate with me on May 3.

Supper tonight will be arroz con pollo which I haven't had for a very long time, and which I saw described as the Cuban cousin of paella. I can't help but admire a meat dish that incorporates both starch and vegetable, yet doesn't come across as a casserole. Or maybe I'm just falling for an exotic sounding name for good ol' chicken and rice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

88 years later

Today would have been my mother's 88th birthday.

In her honour, I made a batch of her oatmeal squares, which I rediscovered in England under the name of flapjacks. These ones are not as sticky as flapjacks, which use golden (or corn) syrup as a bonding agent instead of a glue of brown sugar and butter. Rather they are, at their best, crispy with a slightly raised border and a subtle chew in the middle. And they are wheat and dairy free. Melt half a cup of butter or margarine; add three-quarters of a cup of dark brown sugar and then two cups of quick oats and half a teaspoon baking soda. Press lightly into a square (8x8) cake pan and bake 10-20 minutes at 350f. Cut while warm and remove to a plate or baking rack.

I have been reading a bit of Heather McHugh, who read in Vancouver last year. A poet of terrifying intellect, she is a very funny reader - I think I was responding to some essence of irony that we must surely attribute to her Canadian parentage. It is comforting to know she is just across the water in Seattle.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Words on the Water and after

So: the Words on the Water writers festival (check out the virtual tour of Campbell River!) was a good old time. We arrived, on a day of brilliant sunshine, at 8:30 sharp and purchased $40 worth of tickets for all the day's readings, of which there were eight, in four sessions. We heard that the Friday night gala had been a success, and were offered a few newly added (thank you fire department) seats for the Saturday night literary cabaret. But in the end we decided against staying for the evening as well, since all the readers were the same as for the daytime sessions, and we felt in our bones - and a few other places - that sitting through the first 8 hours of readings was probably enough.

Evelyn Lau kicked things off with some poems from her new collection, Treble. She talked about the autobiography of writing: even when she's writing fiction, she said, she's in the story. She came across well and was warmly received by the audience; though she had some serious zing in some of her poem endings I opted to spend my cash instead on another gorgeous Gaspereau poetry collection by Jan Zwicky, Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. As she'd been asked, she talked a bit about philosophy, music and poetry and how these come together for her; and she quoted Don Paterson, in an introduction to his translations of Spanish poet Antonio Machado, who'd observed that Spanish is a guitar, while English is a piano.

We had a break then, with treats supplied by Save-on-Foods, the official festival sponsor. Although I'd raised an eyebrow when I saw the supermarket was also selling the books, after a day feeding on their goodies (including a very nice lunch buffet) I came round. But it would have been nice to see a local independent bookseller, if there is such a thing in Campbell River, reap a little of the benefit of the event, which saw about 150 people attend the day's readings.

We heard some prose then, from Claudia Casper, and some poems - read in his characteristic moaning growl- by poet, typographer and bringer of tales from the Haida, Robert Bringhurst. One of his suggestions was that all Canadian children should be required to learn at least one indigenous language so that they may read, in their original words, stories in which humans are not the most important elements.

And stood in a long long queue for lunch, after which we had more prose, from Annabel Lyon who talked about music, prose and law school, and read a bleak little tale she'd gleaned from a murder trial she'd once watched; and some new and hilarious writing from our favourite storyteller David Carpenter.

Another break and we sped toward the finish with poetry: first, Gregory Scofield demonstrated that had he chosen another path he could easily charm the words from the trees as a singer. Then Patrick Lane wrapped things up with a reading from his memoir and a few newer poems. He remarked on once being stunned to discover that a metaphor he was teaching about a wren was lost on a group of first year university students, only a couple of whom were aware that a wren was a bird.

We enjoyed a sunny afternoon drive back to Courtenay, where we stopped in to enjoy a bit of gin and some patatas bravas and some spicy squid in garlic yogurt at the Union Street Grill and Grotto before pressing on to Fanny Bay to put our feet up and rest our weary heads. In the morning we scooted back down the island, pausing to make a side trip to Thetis Island for lunch, and then on to Victoria in the sprinkling rain.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Glosas & a few words about rejection

I've been working on a glosa arising from a quatrain by our late lamented high priestess of Canadian poetry, Gwendolyn MacEwen. An interesting thing, the glosa. Aside from Marilyn Hacker, who seems to have tried every form invented, you don't really see them much by any but Canadian poets. That PK Page has a lot to answer for! In her inspiring collection, Hologram, she defines it as a stanza form, based on a quatrain by another poet, consisting of four 10-line stanzas where the 6th and 9th lines rhyme with the 10th. (Pah, child's play, sez I after wrestling through 9 stanzas of terza rima..)

But my research tells me that it is also considered pretty much a nonce (love that word) form, also known as a glose (that seems to be how the Americans spell it) and that you can use any number or kind of lines as your starting point: they need not even be poetry. Neither is there any law that says the stanzas must be ten lines or follow any particular rhyme scheme.

The art of it is, I think, firstly to find a way to make the source lines your own, so that they have - fully - two lives; and secondly to walk a fine balance between bringing your poem to its own life and paying appropriate tribute to the source poet's words. Choosing those source lines is difficult enough, and it's good to know we can look beyond quatrains for them.

Rejection. Ouch: it never stops hurting, but I guess in this world so overcrowded with words we can't write without it. One of the AWP sessions in Austin that I wasn't able to make centred on The Resilient Writer, a collection of interviews with writers who survived to talk about rejection. Meanwhile, I found a blog about rejection by an editor who helpfully and comprehensively explains the nature and context of rejection letters... in a way that doesn't hurt... TOO much.

So up here in Fanny Bay we might not have escaped another day of rain, but we did get a bucket of oysters for supper last night, and this morning a real live rainbow!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chicken and rhetoric

What I was really craving last night - and had defrosted a small flock of chicken thighs in anticipation - was Chicken Jeera, but too late discovered that the nub of ginger in my fridge was mummified beyond reconstitution. Claudia Roden to the rescue! Her Mediterranean Cookery has been endlessly helpful to me in the past, and last night she gave me Pollo al Rosmarino, which instructs that a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a couple of halved cloves of garlic be heated in a mixture of butter and oil, to which you add and brown your chicken pieces (I had 6 thighs), and then throw in a glass of white wine, some salt and pepper, and turn it down to simmer for half an hour. Very nice it was, molto facile; eaten with potatoes, onion and zucchini cubed and cooked in lemon, butter and garlic, with a bit of fresh asparagus, it was just the thing to end the day.

Anyone who read Jill Tedford Jones' article about Elizabethan sonnets and country and westen lyrics may have been as intrigued as I by the sheer number of rhetorical devices named in the piece. We use them in our poetry all the time, without necessarily knowing what they're called. Tedford Jones speculates that "the student in Queen Elizabeth's day could probably easily identify and create more than a hundred such devices," while I could define perhaps half a dozen. So I'm going to work through these ones, consciously injecting one or two (devices, not terms) into new poems, and who knows, if you're really unlucky, perhaps make my conversation more polysyllabic from now on. I found a couple of helpful sites - American Rhetoric and The Forest of Rhetoric - to help me get started. Here's my Greek chorus:

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Words and water

Just looking ahead to a weekend's literary merrymaking in Campbell River. The Words on the Water writers festival, being held in the Maritime Heritage Centre, starts on Friday. Even with a disabled website (some tragically ill-timed mishap involving corporate changes in their service provider ownership, coupled with who knows what associated administrative problems) they've managed to sell out their weekend passes and their Friday and Saturday night events.

We're hoping to get to the Saturday daytime sessions at least, which will feature Evelyn Lau, Jan Zwicky, Claudia Casper, Robert Bringhurst, David Carpenter, Annabel Lyon, Gregory Scofield and Patrick Lane.

Because we can't get into evening readings, I reckon we'll be forced out onto the cold wet streets in search of alimentary culture instead. One pilgrimage I am never too sorry to make when I'm in Courtenay is to Tita's, which I bet is the best Mexican food on Vancouver Island, or I'll eat my sombrero.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Leonard on form

At the beginning of February, CBC presenter Shelagh Rogers - the best voice in the west? - interviewed our national icon Leonard Cohen about his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. She talked to him about poetry as well, and he had some interesting things to say about the benefits he'd had from working within the "obligation of rhyme". "Lift your heart in gratitude," he says, because it lets you discover congruencies you'd never otherwise encounter. He likes form too:
“Form imposes a certain opportunity to get deeper than your first thought... I don’t have any ideas and I don’t trust my opinions… but when you submit yourself to a form then… you’re invited to dig deeper into the language and to discard the slogans by which you live, the easy alibis of language and of opinion… If you look in the Spenserian stanza for instance, which is a very, very intricate verse form where you have to come up with many rhymes of the same sound, you’re invited to explore realms you usually don’t get to with your ordinary easy thought… I consider my thought stream extremely uninteresting and it’s only when I can discard it that I can say something that I can get behind.”
While you're hanging around the CBC site, try searching 'Leonard Cohen': I stumbled upon a CBC Archives clip of him reciting poems back in 1958...


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Some live to travel, others travel to cook

When I was in Santa Fe last September, I took a few classes at the Santa Fe School of Cooking to get me oriented to my new surroundings. Mostly demonstration classes, except for a hands-on session on roasting chiles and pressing tortillas, they were a fabulous introduction to the town and the food, and a great way to pass the morning, ending with a gourmet lunch prepared before our eyes.

Our chef was Rocky Durham, who was absolutely wonderful: a passionate travel resource for his home town, a quirky advocate of southwestern cuisine - though marked forever by his classical French training - with a well-travelled palate to draw on, and of course a life-long love of good food. One of the best parts of the class were the dining Q and A: Rocky gave his unadulterated opinion of any local restaurant we cared to ask him about, and both tourists and locals (there were some in all the classes I attended) shared their picks as well. But if you go there… just don't expect to leave without a bag of chiles and seasonings from the cooking school's well provisioned gift shop.

Rocky gave us a few enduring tips for the road as well. One very useful one was to invest in a cheap electric coffee grinder, and another was not to buy ground spices, but rather to roast whole ones (cumin, cinnamon, oregano etc) as needed in a dry pan and then grind them in aforementioned grinder. It can be cleaned easily, he said, by whizzing a spoonful of plain white rice or salt or fresh bread crumbs. Works like a damn.

One of my classmates, by a strange coincidence, was an American expat living in London, who works at Divertimenti, a stellar cookware shop that has branched out into cooking classes. Though I still have some of their cookware, I've never attended their classes, but I have been to some at a much beloved cookbook shop in Notting Hill's Portobello Market, Books for Cooks, which were endlessly interesting and delicious as well.

And now, after a morning canter along the Gorge with old Anton, I must return to a meditation on rhyme. I'm giving a short presentation on rhyme to the form class on Wednesday; so far I have identified 34 kinds of rhyme and around 40 poetry forms that use rhyme (including 5 different sonnet forms). My favourite kind of rhyme so far is Procrustean Rhyme: rhyme on words which have no conventional rhymes. Uses the method Procrustes used on his victims: stretching them if they were too short to fit his bed, and lopping something off if they were too long. So you end up truncating words (enjambing them awkwardly with hyphens) or extending them into phrases.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cauliflower and cumin

Two of my favourite things. Is cauliflower brain food because it looks like brains? And can one have too much cumin in one's life? So I was delighted to come across a quick and easy recipe for Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Cumin and Lime. With fresh lime juice, it puts, in fact, three ingredients I like all in one place. A wonderful smooth soup, very pretty and zippy. And it's vegetarian (if you substitute vegetable for chicken stock) and wheat free. I personally would be reluctant to lose the cream but you could omit it from a veggie portion and make it dairy free as well.

If you want to feel even better about eating it, try buying locally grown cauliflower if you can. Here's a clever site where you can log your Food Miles. Not only do you support local farmers, you cut pollution and transport prices, and get fresher food to boot.

Back on Epicurious there was also an intriguing little snippet about cooking an egg in a glass of vodka (who thinks these things up??)

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Good spreads

I used to use Epicurious a lot, until they started littering their site with pop-up ads, including the kind that crawl up your screen till you click them away. But I recently revisited them and either my pop-up blocker works better these days or they've done away with the ads.

I see Epicurious' editor has a blog now (you have to sign up for their mailing list to comment though) in which she discussed one of my favourite things from England, Marmite, and observed that taste preferences are somewhat polarised on the matter. There are those of us who think it is an indispensible item for the larder, and those who would only use it to poison the slugs, all of which is tastefully documented on Marmite's own site.

Personally I think a lot of those who try it once and gag are simply using too much, in quantities appropriate to something milder, like peanut butter. But it's very concentrated so must be spread very thinly to enjoy it properly; I think using lots of butter is also important. And it is a wonderful thing to have on hand to flavour soups and gravies: totally vegetarian and wheat-free to boot. Marmite has an interesting marketing campaign; what other brand actually sells sloganed ("J'déteste Marmite") t-shirts to its detractors? And who buys them?

Once when I visited Amsterdam, a helpful local suggested I buy pindakaas as a good typically Dutch treat to take home. I had to tell her we already had peanut butter, which I suppose other countries might claim as typically theirs as well. Interesting , this proprietary pride in snack foods.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Music 'n poetry

Just received my brochure for the Wired Writing Studio which starts with the Banff Centre residency October 2-14, 2006. A wonderful thing is Wired. Robert Hilles and Marilyn Dumont will be excellent poetry resources. Fred Stenson runs a comradely ship, with the hilariously droll technical support stylings of Chris Fisher. The food's not bad either, and there are some great deals on concerts for participants: I began my lifetime of fandom to the Jaybirds early in my stay, and also attended a bone-shaking appearance by Steve Earle and the Dukes (I prefer him acoustic, thanks, but good to have had the experience). And the Calgary/Banff Wordfest happens during the studio time as well. Geez, what am I waiting for??

Among the many musical offerings we noticed in Austin, the best ones all seemed scheduled to begin after we left. The rodeo, the SXSW conference, everyone but AWP seems to schedule music. (Actually that's not fair: there was a boogie night at AWP that we were simply too whacked to attend.) Playing in town after we left: Eliza Gilkyson, Ruthie Foster, The Gourds, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Lucinda Williams, Rhonda Vincent. It's not fair it's not it's not. But I have to think, on the other hand, why do I know about these people? Because I have seen them play way up here, at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay/Comox, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. All that is except Bela and he comes up here from time to time, so I live in hope. And except Lucinda, because you have to have some event to look forward to.

So I spent yesterday meditating on oulipo. It sounds like about as much fun as you can have with poetry, but I need more than that, or do I mean less, to move me in a poem, and I wonder at the wisdom of narrowing the readership of the already microscopic readership of poetry for the sake of intellectual gymnastics. Old fartism I suppose, and there are doubtless many fine, coherent examples out there I wouldn't guess were oulipean. Christian Bok certainly made headlines with Eunoia a couple of years ago, each section consisting of poems made of words that use only one vowel. Damned clever it may be, but it's not for me, except in small doses. There's no getting around the fact you have to compromise the sense of a line when you're performing that scale of legerdemain. Anyway, I found a charming interview by John Ashbery with Harry Mathews, the only American oulipoean, which was worth the journey.

So the point of all this was that we had to invent our own form and write a poem in it for last night's class. I decided, since I was in sonnet mode, to mess with that. I took the end-rhymed words from an existing sonnet (arbitrarily chosen; I used Richard Wilbur's Praise in Summer) and used them as the first word of each line of a new poem. To escalate the challenge, I decided to invert the metre into predominantly trochaic pentameter (which makes sense since the chosen words were stressed syllables from the end of iambic pentameter lines) and to rhyme as best I could the first word of the line with the last, so that the poem still rhymes (murderous rhyme scheme too: ababbcbccdcdaa), but it does so at both ends of the line, which pleased my symmetrical soul. Some of the rhymes had to be feminine rather than masculine, and a lot of them are very loose, but I did what I could. And I thought I should mirror, to some extent, the meaning of the source poem, so mine is a rant about winter. It took me so long to write it ended up being an imperfect first draft and I'm waiting for workshop feedback next week before I carry on working it, but I enjoyed the challenge.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sonnets a-gogo

Double-barrelled week for me, this. I missed last week's class on sonnets and am plunging in to the one on oulipo. Thought I'd catch up on last week by reading the always readable Don Paterson's introduction to his anthology, 101 Sonnets. He did not disappoint:
"Academics, in particular, have talked an awful lot of rubbish on the subject of rhyme; they often make the crucial error of failing to understand that the poem ends up on the page as a result of a messy and unique process, not a single operation."

"Rhyme always unifies sense, and can make sense out of nonsense; it can trick a logic from the shadows where one would not have otherwise existed."

"…[the sonnet is] a box for [poets'] dreams, and represents one of the most characteristic shapes human thought can take. Poets write sonnets because it makes poems easier to write. Readers read them because it makes their lives easier to bear."

And the anthology is a little treasure, not least because of Paterson's brief notes on each piece tucked away at the back of the book. So helpful to have had someone else do the brow-clutching and rhyme analysis for us.

I also enjoyed reading the American queen of formalism, Marilyn Hacker, who wrote the chapter on sonnets in An Exaltation of Forms. She notes that the North American rant against form often uses the sonnet as its kicking post, and that this scale of objection is absent from British and Irish debate "perhaps because the sonnet, if an 'interloper' from the Romance languages, nonetheless has five hundred years of history in their literature..." And nonetheless herself finds early and perhaps unexpected examples in American literature: Ezra Pound, H.D. and Gwendolyn Brooks.

What both poets say is that sonnets have had a bad rap, to be tagged as difficult and constricting. But poets, it seems - if the Oulipians are anything to go by - not only thrive on difficulty but invent it if it appears to be lacking in their lives:

Raymond Queneau, Oulipo’s co-founder: Oulipians are "Rats who build the labyrinth from which they will try to escape."
As for eats, this week has been a wash since return from foodsville, TX. Not least because there's been no time to get to the grocery store and I've been surviving on things I stashed in the freezer before I left, and a few limp vegetables that survived my absence. I did attempt cajun blackened ribs last night, but although they were acceptably spicy, I'd call them undistinguished. I think I prefer tomato-based rib recipes. The spice mix will be employed in further experimentation once the weather warms enough to bring out the barbecue.

Anyway, Anton the awesome is returning for indefinite stay tomorrow. Maybe I'll make him some Flea Fighting Biscuits to welcome him home? These rely heavily on garlic and brewer's yeast to work their magic. Gives dog breath a whole new dimension...

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Collisions with poems

Here's another quote from the Don't Ask Me What I Mean anthology:
"The poet only speaks one way. He hears nothing back. His words as he utters them are not conditioned by a real ear replying from the other side... He never knows who will collide with [the poem] and maybe even use it as a different utensil from what he intended." --W.S. Graham
A good 'un for anyone who's had their poems workshopped or reviewed... or indeed even had their poem used in a sermon. Which was my experience: a friend googled me a few years ago and discovered the text of a Mother's Day sermon based upon my poem The Boston School of Cooking Cookbook. I wondered how the sermonizer had found it (he was from the Unitarian Universalist Church, in Chandler, Arizona) until another friend mentioned she'd seen my name in a women's poetry anthology, Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry, which I discovered came out in 1996. I bought my contributor's copy from Abe last year. According to the permissions listed in the book, the poem appears courtesy of Iris, where it first appeared, and from whom I never received a contributor's copy either. Who knows why. I'd probably moved by the time the poem appeared in the journal. That all happened back before googling and email made it easier to track people down I guess.

I'd also had to buy my own contributor's copy when I discovered (by googling myself this time) that my poem Circle Game appeared in Thru the Smoky End Boards: Canadian Poetry About Sport & Games . But that was after a few fruitless go-rounds from my publisher to them at Polestar / Raincoast. I'm always charmed to appear in anthologies, but it gets tiresome when it actually costs me money to have my poems published.

The well-travelled poet Glen Sorestad has just returned to Saskatoon from a different part of Texas. We've been doing a kind of long distance duet lately: I went to Saskatoon a couple of days before he left for Victoria. He returned from Victoria the day I left for Victoria. And we both left for Texas the same week. Down in Brownsville he was part of a reading which to his surprise and delight the local paper actually reviewed. Good on them. What kind of world could this be if we were able to get poetry books reviewed in our newspapers, and readings too?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Pick-up sticks & nationalism in poetry

Phew, so much everything to get back to after Austin. My millions of things to do are scattered twig-like all over the floor of my life. Much thinking involved, very tiring.

One meantime item is news from my UK correspondent about a fine poet friend, Stephen Watts, who has secured a dandy position as an Embedded Poet in Inverness. Who could imagine having so many new roles to aspire to in one's lifetime?

Been thinking a lot about AWP, and the nationalistic tendencies of poetry that I certainly grew up with. AWP opens up a whole world of American poetry to me that has been completely out of the sphere of my experience both in Canada and England. My experience of the UK poetry scene opened up another such world to me in the nineties. And now I find I know, for example, the name of Mimi Khalvati as fluently as that of Lorna Crozier as fluently as that of Maxine Kumin, and yet (with a few exceptions of course) none of these names evokes the smallest flinch of recognition if uttered to well-read poetry readers outside the countries in which those poets are stars.

There are issues around publishing and distribution of course. Canada is understandably protectionist in its cultural business: a choice between keeping a culture alive or being swamped by the giant next door. So we focus as best we can on supporting our local cultural icons and building a natural literature. Not all that our writers address in their work is going to be of interest or relevance to those outside our borders, though more of it could be than manages to disperse itself. The internet is offering that much at least.

But I suspect it could be also as simple a barrier as time? Who has time to keep up with world poetry? I am awash in books I'll never manage to read in my lifetime and feel I will hardly be able to absorb more. I'm having enough trouble catching up on what happened in Canadian poetry the 13 years I was away, staying up to date with British poetry, let alone approaching the poetry of other nations. But I'll keep trying.

What was interesting at AWP were the amero-centralist attitudes you encountered everywhere. AWP I think aspires to present itself as an international body but doesn't seem to me to really acknowledge its position as a predominantly American institution whose issues will be unknown elsewhere. People I'd never heard of were repeatedly described by panel moderators as "needing no introduction". The poetry competition scandals and passionate debates about anthologies I heard reported are about American poetry competitions and American anthologies. Those scandals and debates mean zip to poets outside the US, because the competitions, anthologies and participants are unknown outside that country.

A number of the individuals staffing book fair stands of major US literary magazines asked me what the perception of their magazine was in Canada. Nil, I had to reply: nobody I know knows who you are. Survey a room of writers in Canada and you'd barely get a flicker if you mentioned journal names like Ploughshares, or Kenyon Review or even Poetry Magazine. Just as I have no doubt you'd get blank looks if you surveyed outside Canada the titles Malahat Review, Descant and Fiddlehead. I only encountered the US titles by reading the lists in the back of The Best American Poetry anthology series, to which I am hopelessly addicted. And my addiction is purely rooted in the contributor comments that mostly follow their bios: those contextual offerings are the next best thing to a poetry reading.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

The end of my Austin

Well it was a delicious last day in Austin. We braved temps in the high twenties (while it was snowing in Victoria??) to get to the conference centre for the last day of AWP panels. I slipped into the book fair for a final decisive purchase: Robin Skelton's The Shapes of Our Singing which I hadn't realised was even in print. Very succinct and comprehensive - not to mention conveniently alphabetical - listing of forms both common and obscure.

As if I'd invoked him, Skelton's name was mentioned early in the first panel I went to: The Poetic Sequence, when Madeline de Frees confessed to having taught at one time at UVic when he was still at the helm, and said he'd told her poetic sequences mean never running out of things to write about. We heard also from Chase Twichell, attending AWP as both publisher and writer, reading - too briefly for me - from Dog Language which I'd picked up earlier at the Copper Canyon stand(--hey, she owns an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix: she must have *some* excess energy!) ; Matthew Zapruder; Gregory Orr; and Erin Belieu, who gave us a hilarious introduction to her ferociously angry sequence, In the Red Dress I Wear to your Funeral.

The arguments given for the poetic sequence seemed at times to be similar to those for writing novels: lots more room to explore your topic, scope for making giant leaps and conjoining disparate ideas. And an opportunity to scope out some formal challenges: Orr, on the subject of his Orpheus & Eurydice, talked about using myth as a known narrative against which he could pose lyric moments to illustrate points of crisis in the story - a kind of "between the lines" approach to the subject that touched some sympathetic nerve in me and made me think this might be a good touchstone. Zapruder used a repeating name in a descending position in each of twenty 20-line poems as a response to grief. De Frees quoted Arthur Koestler who suggested the laws of association are multiple and varied: if two things occur to you at more or less the same time, they are connected, and you as the poet become the connection's vehicle.

Moving right along I went to Blogs, Boards and Online Journals: Salons for the 21st Century. We had some big names in blogging: Ron Hogan (, one of the oldest poetry blogs around), Rodney Shankar (Drunken Boat), Tony Tost (Unquiet Grave), Joshua Corey (Cahiers de Corey), and editor Robin Beth Schaer moderating. Lots of ground covered: blogging every day will improve all areas of your writing; aspects of engaging in the dialogue with other bloggers - pro and con; differences between the way online journals, listservs and blogs shape a dialogue (differing in the amount, type and direction of the communication); corporate uptake of blogs ("now HarperCollins has started a poetry blog, is the end in sight?"); the way that online journals have separated poetry publishing from "prestige journals" and offered a forum for publishing writers from around the world who might never have found their way into US print journals. And more and more.

For my interests it was rather too male dominated, which I hadn't realised was bothering me until the chasm was opened by a late question/comment from a woman blogger who said (contrary to earlier discussion about blogs being a primarily male domain and not much participated in by women) that she knew a lot of women bloggers, and that they were writing to keep in touch with one another's lives rather than to air opinions or theories. That she knows women who've unsubscribed to listservs that get taken over by male argument. That the blogs of women she knows are not single-focused (e.g. purely on writing), but sprawl across the whole of their lives, so might include writing, parenting, work and (yes!) dinner. And that because they are just "my blog" and not "THE (or A) blog, on xyz" they may simply be passing beneath the radar of male bloggers who focus on and read the more specific blogs (as her husband does) and go unremarked in more academic links. It seemed an extension of male/female attitudes to compartmentalisation, agreed one of the panellists. The topic of women's literary (and whatever) blogs seems to be a panel topic in search of a conference.. Meanwhile, there is WOMPO, a listserv devoted to the discussion of women's poetry.

On I went to Low-Residency MFA Programs and the Pedagogy of Online Classes, which was a panel from the University of New Orleans. Because they were up on their distance ed methods, and the residency parts of their programs are taught in Spain, Italy and so forth, they suffered less than many of the other faculties when Katrina hit. Yeah, tempting program (though apparently they lose a few students during the running of the bulls at the Fiesta of San Fermin each year)!

In the online courses, they do online workshopping and the instructors present had conflicting policies on whether to allow or require students to edit their posts, and whether to delete posts or not for example in the case of personal attacks. They found students were typically very careful and sensitive in their comments on their classmates' work, though discussions sometimes got heated.

One of the former students said low-residency programs were a very different experience depending on whether you started with the residency or plunged straight into online, but felt they were a good model for a writing life, because staying on track with the workload imposed a solitary discipline that was helpful down the line. She thought there was less of the sense of loss that residency MFA program grads might experience after a year or two of close contact, as low-res students were already used to staying in touch over distance. Another former student offered some suggestions for building community in online classrooms: add a forum for the kind of idle chitchat that takes place in face to face classes; post pictures of students to personalise the dialogue; include an opportunity for students to introduce themselves; ensure students have some basic html to make posting easier (how to add italics, links etc.); encourage face to face meetings at conferences etc.

One discussion came up about the expectations, on the part of students, that instructors would respond instantly to questions and were sometimes kept waiting too long (e.g. for technical questions); vs. instructors who had let the online workshop take over their lives. One instructor commented that a couple of hours in a face to face workshop seemed a positive luxury over the 20-30 hours per week they were spending teaching online ones. But on the other hand, online gave them the luxury of considering and revising their responses to creative work and to posts.

And then for something completely different I tried Ballads vs Ballads: Poetry and Songwriting. For me the two most interesting discussions were those of Charlotte Pence, who teaches in Nashville, and songwriter Tim Jenkins. Pence said that a quarter of her students were music majors so songwriting was central to them, and she studies song lyrics with them as a bridge to a study of literary lyrics. She discussed a theory that compares the structure and rhetorical techniques of country and western song lyrics to Shakespearean sonnets and referred us to an article by Jill Tedford Jones for more on that topic.

Jenkins told us about the process used in songwriting workshops, which sounded not unlike poetry workshopping - same but different. They start by determining the structure (rhyme scheme, chorus use/not etc.) and whether the song follows and acknowledges the expectations and history of its structure. They go through the musical/lyrical stress lines, matching the stresses in the music to those in the words (are they natural, appropriate). They look at the "genre goals" - does the song follow the rules of its form (for example, in country and western, you need to introduce all the characters in the first couple of lines). Then the rhetorical situation: who's going to be singing this, you or someone else, because that affects a number of things about it. They look at the use of words as instruments for singers: vowel sounds for emotional impact (e.g. a long "e" held over time tends to make a singer sound strangled). He demonstrated live with his guitar which was a nice change from straight panel discussions. They recommended Pat Pattison's books, and commented briefly about transporting poems into songs (Jenkins says he loves doing this, but will almost always have to "tweak" a bit - maneuvering rhymes and sometimes restructuring lyrics to make them work with the melody). A comment came up about cliche as a communal sense of emotion in song lyrics: part of an emotional register that works in song rather than poetry, and part of why country and western songs include, or perhaps require, puns and cliche.

The final session was Prosody for the 21st Century. The panel was Annie Finch, Timothy Steele, Marilyn Taylor and Thomas Cable. Impossible now to summarise but the message - both from the panellists and from the size of the audience (I counted about 100) seemed to be that there's a lot of metrics about, whether deliberate or instinctive, and that we need more than iambic pentameter to fill the gap. There was talk of Derek Attridge's Rhythms of English Poetry, and his alternative scansion of beats and off-beats rather than conventional foot scansion, which seems to work better with freer verse forms. The point was made that you can of course scan anything, but what makes something metrical is repetition with pattern.

After a last sweep of the book fair, we headed to Tesoros for some focused browsing of a whole lot of everything and slipped out when the store closed. For food du jour we went back to Cuba Libre for Sopa de Poblano - fabulous, with a side of fresh chopped tomato, cilantro, tiny cheese cubes, fried tortilla strips to add - followed by coconut shrimp with a jicama sweet pepper salad (I wouldn't call it slaw as the menu did). Judy had black bean soup with plantain chips and a pair of dense, rich crabcakes. We sprinted back to the Hilton on mojito moccasins and caught the end of Timothy O'Brien's lecture and finally what was left of the Academy American Poets Poetry Extravaganza - the end of Mark Jarman's reading (particularly wanted to hear him if only to rid myself of longstanding confusion seeing his name and thinking of Canada's Mark Anthony Jarman); Marilyn Nelson's triolets charmed me, and I found her a dab hand at rhyme in other pieces she read.

And that - other than packing a small but incredibly heavy library of acquisitions into the suitcases - was that.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Middle day

An easier pace yesterday; I only attended three sessions at the AWP conference, and had it not been for a regrettable lack of wisdom in touring the book fair when I had two hours to spare, I would have emerged with much lighter bags and heavier purse.

I started my morning with a panel on the Pros and Cons of Poetry and Fiction Contests. These are hugely important in American literary publishing: more than one panellist observed that there would be very little, if any, poetry published in the US without them, as contest income makes up a huge part of small press production costs. Scott Cairns, who runs the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, admitted to entering at least 100 competitions himself before having his first poetry collection published. He speculated that some 10,000 manuscripts hit the floors of American literary competitions each year, of which maybe 1000 are published. "The scandal and embarrassment," he said, "is that those few who are published are subsidised by those thousands who'll never win."

Cairns' judging process is instructive: he first reads the nearly 500 manuscripts entered in his competition for "style and linguistic density": basic competence, really, which reduces the number by half. He then employs his own biases and preferences for lineation, which brings numbers down to about 100. He then looks for a narrative arc, or some coherence as a book, leaving him with 40-50 publishable manuscripts. These he must - somewhat arbitrarily - prune down to no more than 10-12 manuscripts to hand on to the judge.

Next stop was The Art of the Anthology. The editors of the now (in American poetry circles) notorious anthology, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, Cate Marvin and Michael Dumanis, did not explain to the cognoscenti present what I learned later, that their anthology had been the subject of anonymous vitriolic personal attacks on blogs. Kevin Prufer, whose The New Young American Poets anthology had inspired them, opined that "any good anthology will make people angry" - though of course what Marvin and Dumanis experienced sounds more like craziness than critical rage. An interesting group of editors made up the rest of the panel. Veteran anthologist Alan Michael Parker talked about his eccentric The Imaginary Poets project which required contributors to translate and gloss a poet they'd made up; Denise Duhamel was readying Saints of Hysteria anthology of collaborative poetry for launch; and Arielle Greenberg was looking for a new publisher for her anthology of essays about women poet mentors, written by women poets, after her first one backed out on the grounds it was not academic enough. They were surprisingly unified on the subject of paying minimal or no fees for including poets in their anthologies, on the grounds the poets would sell more books through the anthology's promotion. They also pointed out that they were writers too, and were sacrificing a year or more of their own writing to put an anthology together.

Accidental Dominance: The State of Small Press Publishing was a panel of young publishers of independent, alternative presses - Fence Books, Nightboat Books, Ugly Duckling Press and Action Books. They talked about the collaborative nature of their work and the community they are building through publishing and cooperating.

After that, there was an excellent reading by American poetry stars Donald Hall and Jane Hirschfield, and we stepped back into the blasting early evening heat to find a restaurant. Today's pick was Sol y Luna, a terrific Mexican restaurant on our favourite street, South Congress. My chicken chipotle plate was delectable, and so were Judy's eggs with plantain. I'd had a sliced pork sandwich from my bbq mecca, Ironworks, for lunch, and I loved the pork as much as the beef I had on my first visit there: it was spicy, smoky and pepper-crusted.

But our biggest thrill of the day was being offered seats (ma'am!) on the bus by a chorus of young men who leapt to their feet at our burdensome approach. Too many's the time I've watched Canadian and British beardless youths slump into their headsets when elderly or overwhelmed passengers get on public transport: nine times out of ten it's the women who step up. But it's no surprise here. All round, we've been absolutely knocked out by how friendly and helpful everyone we meet here is. These Texans are somethin'!

Off we go to start our third and final day at the races.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

AWP: The madness begins

Day one of the conference over and already I feel limp as an old pile of carbon paper. Eight hours, five sessions... so much passed over, unseen, unheard, unread. A few Canadian writer friends emerging from the 4000 faces: Eunice Scarfe, Caterina Edwards and Aislinn Hunter.

My first session was Formal Play in Modern poetry, a group of young poets giving papers. Bryan Penberthy (or, oh lordy was it Brian Spears?) talked about attempting to harness persona for a book-length sequence of Robert Johnson poems. Listing Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red and Michael Ondaatje's Collected Works of Billy the Kid among his models, he explained how he eventually stopped trying because he felt he was imposing his voice or his idea of Johnson on his subject. "My voice is my voice," he said, "and I have a hard enough time telling my own story without channelling someone else."

I flew the considerable length of two considerably long buildings to find Bird-Witted: Birds in Modern Poetry, where there were many allusions to Elizabeth Bishop and readings of her poems "The Sandpiper" and "Little Exercise". Michael Sowder explained some of the reasons genus corvus (crows, ravens) had populated his poetry for many years; for example because corvus is sacred to Apollo, god of poetry. The panel's own eccentric poetry god Gerald Stern warbled his way to the podium on some old bird tunes, "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and "White Cliffs of Dover" among them. He read a couple of poems on his bird of choice, the cardinal.

Back I galloped to my original starting point, where I learned about the Academy of American Poets' survey of poetry reading in USA. The report has yet to be released, but we learned some surprising facts, for example that current readers of poetry are more involved in all leisure time activities except watching television than are readers of things other than poetry. They are also more socially engaged than non-poetry readers, so the myth of the poetry lover as lonely weirdo is incorrect (phew!). The man from the NEA told us about its survey on involvement in the arts (not just poetry) which found that less than half - 46% - of all US adults have read anything at all - poetry, fiction, drama - in the past year. There are some valiant attempts in the US to boost interest in poetry through programming such as Poetry Out Loud, a national program of poetry memorisation and recitation for students, and National Poetry Month (coming up quickly: April!).

Moving swiftly and decisively down the hall, I heard the editors of a clutch of the "monoliths" of American literary journals - the Missouri Review, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Georgia Review, the Kenyon Review and the Southern Review - talk about some of their issues. Like why they were all white bearded men (four of five had goatees!) when their readers and contributors aren't. But also about the importance of university funding to what is invariably a loss making enterprise, albeit a crucial part of the cultural life of American literature, and "one of the few art forms where the practitioners can be the patrons," said one editor, urging us all to subscribe.

I managed the first half hour of The Poetry House at 20 reading before collapsing onto a bus and resting up for the evening speaker, Walter Mosley, who described his only previous experience of an AWP conference, back in 1989. He said he'd felt like a fraud as he was unpublished and not teaching writing, but he warmed to the sense of a community of writers that he found at that meeting. And, as in a good fairy tale, he returned home from the conference sporting that post-conference glow, got a helping hand from a fellow writer, and found an agent, a publisher and enduring fame. He had some fine words to say about the value of writing for writing's sake, the great good fortune of writers who can turn their many obstacles into subjects for their writing - a true poetic justice, he said - and who can and must witness to the injustices of our time and place because we have the words and the voice to do it.

And food? We walked in the steps of Janis Joplin (and Frank Zappa, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and a zillion others) to Threadgills for some home cookin'. Chicken and dumplings (with free second helpings) were on special, but we opted for fried catfish, which was right tasty.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Austin ABC

A is for Art: we ambled on up to AMOA where the Christo and Jeanne-Claude exhibition was running with an informative little documentary. We came out of there just itching to wrap something - anything - up in saffron fabric and a bit of old string...

B is for Barbecue!At last! I have been initiated. On the recommendation of a local gal working the AWP registration desk, we walked behind the convention centre to the Ironworks, which provided authentic and delicious Texas barbecue with all the fixin's. Perched over a creek (where we spotted a jumbo turtle - snapper? - and three smaller ones frolicking, or perhaps terrorizing one another) with plenty of autographed testimonials on the walls, it had lots of selection for carnivores and even a good little salad bar and tasty beans for the vegetarians. A couple of locals gave me some guidance for choosing my meat. "In the south-east," she drawled, "they *think* that barbecue is pork. But in Texas, it's beef." And so it was.

C is for the fabulous, the legendary and the conveniently local Continental Club, where we attended happy hour and the musical stylings of blueser Gary Clark Jr. Lanky is one word for him. Limber of plectrum are a few more. To these old ears he proved that good things come in threes: "Shame, Shame, Shame" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" were among his repertoire. Best of all, he was playing for tips at an hour we could manage (7pm). There are two late night shows, 10pm and midnight. If we have the stamina for a return visit post-conference one night, he's playing again on Friday, and the Seatsniffers from Belgium (?) are on tomorrow.


Tacos to typewriters

Yesterday's rambles took us from commerce to culture. We caught the 'Dillo, a handy free bus service in reproduction trolley cars, and alighted opposite the Texas State History Museum, where we dodged flocks of school children to get to the excellent gift shop, stocking up on postcards and a few portable Texas flavoured knick-knacks.

By the time we got to Guadalupe on the other side of campus, it was high noon and we had to rustle up some grub. One of the travel forums had mentioned the Chipotle Grill, which was crowded with grateful students eating their incredibly good tacos and burritos for around $5. Thus fortified, we carried out a gruelling investigation of every clothing store in the area - and there are many, all of them apparently catering to twenty-something anorexics - after which we found our way to the Harry Ransom Center to see the Technologies of Writing exhibition.

Its many wonders included a note written to Arthur Miller in lipstick by one of his wives (not, apparently, Marilyn); and a sequence of 8 radiograms written by Ernest Hemingway, reporting from Madrid in 1935. One of them described "gastric remorse from excellent pre-battle celebration." A letter from Tennessee Williams described how his Jaguar had crashed into a tree in Italy, after he'd taken two or three medicinal swigs from his thermos to counteract his nervousness, and he was struck on the head by his portable typewriter, which was damaged worse than he was. There was a page of manuscript from The Green Dwarf, by Charlotte Bronte, in such microscopic print the curators explained it must have been written with a sparrow feather quill. We saw Anne Sexton's typing manual, and her Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter. Also one of Edgar Allen Poe's writing desks, and a splendid "writing chair" created for one Compton Mackenzie.

We also visited a gallery on South Congress, Yard Dog Folk Art, where we saw some pieces by Tom Russell. Not *that* Tom Russell, we wondered? But yes, the writer of Navajo Rug (and my personal favourite, Road to Bayamon) is also a painter. Not my cup of tea, glass of beer, sip of water, but good on him just the same.

Disappointingly, Chipotle Grill was to be the culinary highlight of our day. We had a spectacularly average supper at Guero's Taco Bar. The place - a cavernous silver room - was heaving with diners even at 9pm on a Tuesday night, so in my most charitable mood I can speculate that perhaps there are more reliable choices on the menu than the red snapper and vegetarian dishes we ordered. And nicer wait staff. Say no more.

Our momentum slowed by an incipient cold for one and a resurging migraine for the other, we decided to pass on the poetry open mic at Ruta Maya and ended the evening watching The Philadelphia Story and hoping for more stamina in the morning. We're expecting a high around 30c today after which it should cool to the mid-twenties again...


Monday, March 06, 2006

Texas time

We left Victoria on Sunday morning, dressed in our winter clothes, appropriate to the 5 degrees or so that it was at 5am. And when we stepped off the plane in Austin at around 6 that night, it was 24 degrees (78f), and muggy. Which of course means we must go and buy new clothes at the earliest opportunity.

Which is not yet. We got distracted today by wandering through our neighbourhood - Soco (South Congress), a funky, fashionable area of alternative art galleries, great restaurants and even Allen's, the cowboy boot emporium where we tried on many colourful pairs but decided we didn't have the $300 - $400 necessary to complete our ensembles.

We have been knocked out by the food. We are dangerously near Magnolia Cafe, which is a 24 hour diner serving more than above average food. Had a chicken piccante there last night which was cooked in wine, lemon and capers with some smoky heat to season it to perfection; served with a mountain of grilled vegetables - yellow zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, and a foothill of garlic mash. Judy had an amazing bowl of black beans with a cornmeal cake generously larded with jalapenos (we liked the way it showed on the bill: 'japs in cake'). All washed down, of course, with a couple of Lone Stars.

Before dinner we'd made our way to a fabulous grocery store, the Farm to Market, which stocks amazing local products including Texas honey, Austin salsa verde, spelt crackers, fresh yogurt, great and varied cheeses, and gorgeous crusty bread. Friendly owners who volunteered their services as advisors on anything we wanted to know about Austin.

Lunch today was terrific as well: the South Congress Cafe, very chic and stylish with friendly staff and wonderful food - a duck and oyster gumbo followed by a seared ahi tuna salad with avocado vinaigrette for me; a shrimp and artichoke soup and a garden salad with jicama and a lime chipotle dressing for Judy, and some purdy pink hibiscus flower iced tea to drink.

Tonight we stopped in at a wonderful place, Cuba Libre, which we'd wanted to see because they advertise Martini & Manicure nights on Thursdays ($10!). They had great decor - leather benches and raw glass lampshades - and the most excellent entry: you open the front door and just as you're wondering how to tackle the floor to high ceiling sheer curtains, they part magically at your first step, giving you a splendid grand entrance. They promised the best mojitos in Austin - they were very good indeed - and it being two for one appetizer night, we had plantain chips with pineapple mojo sauce and chipotle ranch dip, and some plantain-breaded oysters with a heap of lovely black beans. So much for supper.

We haven't seen any cowboys, or even horses, but we have seen a lot of grackles! And last night we met a couple of Texas-sized cucarachas americanas. Too big to step on, too small to wrassle, so we compromised by relocating the one we captured: it scampered off to start its new life on the streets of Austin, and we wish it adios and good riddance.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

What did they mean by that

Just the other rushed afternoon, when I was short of both time and protein for dinner, I consulted the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and ended up making good ol' salmon loaf, which I adulterated with some fresh dill and chopped capers. (It tasted a lot nicer than it looked.) Fannie recommended serving it with mustard sauce, and although I thought I was craving some lovely home-made tartar sauce, this was just as satisfactory, very yum and apparently can be used for a veggie dip as well. I used about a cup of strained yogurt, a tablespoon of Dijon, a teaspoon of prepared mustard, a tablespoon of minced onion, a tablespoon of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Dinner out of the way, I went back to reading - slowly so it doesn't have to end - Don't Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in their own words, from Picador. It's a collection of the pieces written by the poets whose books have been selected as quarterly choices for the Poetry Book Society, a kind of book of the month club for poets, which has been selecting a best book published in Britain each quarter since the 1950s. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes so far:

"It's embarrassing to discuss your own poems in print. You come across as either an awestruck fan of your own genius or a tedious explainer of jokes." --Michael Donaghy

"What keeps me writing poems - besides the sheer self-entertainment value of playing with language - is the impossible hope that one day I will produce that perfect poem, the one that is balanced precisely on the knife edge between comedy and tragedy, or at least between silliness and sincerity. As it is, every poem I have ever written loses its balance and falls to one side or the other." --Billy Collins

The other morning we saw three harbour seals wending their way toward Portage Inlet, and a lone fisherman on the bridge, which make us suspect that the herring may be running, which means spring is here! Doing his bird dog best, Anton has spent a challenging week here on the Gorge helping local water fowl to find their way back into the water where they belong. Luckily, as demonstrated, he can do this on one foot while holding a yellow rubber bone in his mouth. So talented. I am hoping to have him back, possibly on a dogshare basis, after I return from Austin. Over and out till Texas!

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Workshops that don't cost a thing, and one that is worth every penny

"I like to write for performance, but I end up doing things which are somewhat beyond my capacities as a performer... What I can do, at a poetry reading, is give you an impression of what a piece would sound like if it were performed by somebody else more competent than myself."-- James Fenton (Don't Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in their own words. Picador, 2003)
Last night at Mocambo, we had the excellent John Gould - always droll and delightful - reading with a terrific discovery, Canadian-born, Vermont-based poet David Cavanagh. Definitely one worth seeking out.

I've been a follower of the Guardian for some time, not least because of its extensive poetry coverage. Last year they began offering an online poetry workshop which is a great thing to try if you're feeling stuck for ideas.

Another place that offers workshop ideas is Mslexia magazine. A good and useful website and a worthwhile extravagence to subscribe to the print copy.

And on the other side of the coin... well a pile of coins really... ok, to get to the venue might take quite a *big* pile of coins, with some paper thrown in... check out Tamar Yoseloff's workshop in Crete coming up in June - no idea how full it is, but if you can do it, do it. I did last year, and I'd happily do it again. Have you ever seen such a delicious workshop space, or a more focused group of writers? Man, the calories we burned working on those writing exercises... This particular taverna, Notos, served the best kolokythokeftedes, tzadzki, octopus and much more besides. Our favourite lunching spot.

My first time in Greece, and yep I really get it now, why everyone who goes there gets misty and wistful talking about it. The food, the food: everything just tastes better under a Cretan sun.
Here's a little bite from one of the pieces I wrote in Tammy's workshop:

Kalispera, Good Evening

An evening breeze, kalispera,
blows us towards dinner, till now
the only Greek I’ve ever spoken:
fluent in haloumi, moussaka, souvlaki,
names grown tender
in the memory of my mouth...


Friday, March 03, 2006

Outsider arts

My dear pal Nancy has been taking a course called The Picture a Poem Makes, at The Poetry School in London, and she sent me a link her classmates have been sharing: UbuWeb, which describes itself as "a completely independent resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde, ethnopoetics, and outsider arts". Just the place to find those elusive Gertrude Stein MP3s.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Making a living in one of the worst paid job markets in Canada

A little rant, for the record.

This morning I was approached, through a tip from a well meaning colleague, by a technical recruiter from Calgary who was looking for a technical writer in Victoria. But it was a junior position, and she offered me $20 an hour! That, I told her, is what my cleaner charges. This is the second recruiter in a six month period who's offered me $20 an hour for tech writing; the last one was in Vancouver, for heaven's sake. I think there is more pure dignity in working as a cleaner for that kind of money than as a technical writer, so I turned it down -- in the interests of not driving the salary standards for professional writers any further towards the basement than they already are.

Who is accepting such wages, and can you please stop?

I think this also demonstrates the perils of agency employment vs contracting for a living; through the sweat of our brows we are offered the opportunity to subsidize the decent wages the recruiters are making. They do not seem to understand that there is a difference between a permanent salaried job with benefits that can be quoted as a theoretical hourly wage, and a contract position that requires us to patch a living together from a month here and a month there, and pay our own health care, training, holidays and overhead. Grrr.

Meter mania

The lovely Saskatchewan-born neo-formalist Elizabeth Bachinsky shared her passion for sonnets with Kate Braid's form class in Nanaimo last night. She is very fond of palindromes and Sapphic stanzas as well, and her first book, Curio, included a translation into anagrams of part of The Wasteland. She has done some wild things with Google search results too.

There was a preliminary discussion of meter, and while reading the chapter on Iambic meter from the excellent text, An Exaltation of Forms, we ran into diverging opinions on how to scan the line, which I now learn is "oft-debated" in scansion: "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought" (--Shakespeare, Sonnet 30).

Kate said that Keith Maillard had once told her that it was important not to confuse rhythm with meter and that this had made sense of the metrical world for her. If I'm paraphrasing her correctly, she said that rhythm has more to do with the emphasis we might put on a line when we read it, and meter is the more abstract "unreal" template we put over that line to measure it, within the context of the rest of the poem.

I'm still puzzling on that, but I found something that supports Maillard's view, if music and poetry are this strongly connected, on a page about music theory. It says:

Many modern conceptions of rhythm and meter place them in opposition. Rhythm is often defined to consist of the actually sounding durations of music, while meter is the alternation of strong and weak beats, or the interaction of pulse strata, that are inferred from the rhythm. Rhythm is thus conceived as emerging and active— a "concrete" patterning that is measured by, and heard to work with or against the "abstract," deterministic, rigid metrical grid.

Does that make sense to anyone? A couple of us thought the line (see second paragraph above) could be scanned as more or less straight dactylic tetrameter (quibbles over whether "silent" could be read without an initial stress, in context), but others wanted to put it into iambic pentameter with a double ionic (unstressed/unstressed/stressed/stressed) foot in the middle and a trochaic substitution in the first foot.

Ok, any [other] prosody geeks out there? For the rest of us, I like this page for a nice basic summary of meter. And I was having a little fun today with this one that has some online quizzes and tutorials on prosody.

And for those of you who prefer food, here's what I had for supper last night (Rich Leek Tart, it's called). Obviously I have a long way to go as both a cook and a food photographer, but it was pretty tasty. The leeks were sweated for about half an hour, with minced shallots and a couple of sliced mushrooms, before being mixed with strained yogurt, swiss cheese and eggs, and the result was sweet and dense; it almost tasted like I'd added sugar.

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