Friday, April 29, 2011

Two picture-poems combinations in "qarrtsiluni"

It gives me great pleasure to invite you to check out today's issue and podcast of the literary magazine "qarrtsiluni".

It features two picture poems combinations from a series that Tatiana Burghenn-Arsénie and I have been working on for a while and that I mentioned in my previous post.

 We hope you'll enjoy them:


According to an online source, qarrtsiluni is an Eskimo word for "expectant silence."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two picto-poems published in "dandelion"

The latest issue of dandelion (volume 36 issue i/ii) , (“literature and art on edge” ) edited by Emily Carr, assistant editor Kathleen Brown, is now in bookstores. 

The issue includes two "picto-poems" (drawings and poetry) created by me and Tatiana Burghenn-Arsénie, an artist living in Berlin. 

They are part of a theme-based series of picto-poems (which is now almost a book) that the two of us have been working on for a while.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The 2011 Griffin Prize Shortlist is out!

The 2011 Griffin Prize shortlist.

Poems are linked in from the authors' respective pages. 

Monday, April 04, 2011

Awaiting the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize – Mind Map 4 of 4

 Last but not least I would like to talk about the poetry of the third judge in this year’s panel for the Griffin Prize.

Born in 1950 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Tim Lilburn is the author of critically acclaimed poetry books and essays and the winner of the 2003 General Governor’s award for the volume Kill-site.

His latest poetry book, Orphic Politics (2008) is a superb work of poetry, a multi-layered creation in which the author’s forays into linguistics and philosophy seconded by a no holds barred poetic imagination take the reader on a roller coaster of amazement and delight.

As is the case with all seminal poetry books, there are multiple ways of approaching the reading of Orphic Politics. Given the symphonic nature of this book, my aim is to provide a few notes that capture my understanding of it on the first go around.

The context, provided by the cover of the book:
 “…utterly compelling exploration of the body’s fall into illness, an Orpheus-like descent that serves as the unexpected basis for a new way of taking in a world and signals the emergence of a contemplative politics.” 
(“Contemplative politics” is explained in this fascinating interview with Tim Lilburn).

The architecture:
the book is divided into several mini chapters, an introduction that sets the stage of the sick man, located at the center of a cosmogony of healing whose meaning and intent emerges as we progress through the book:

“I’ve been pensioned a shield of bees
below my chin, under earliest skin: a bridge, a sleeve of industry.
The MRI tech asked if I like country or classical.”
(Orphic Hymn)

The introduction provides us with some clues: the title of one of the poems is “If metaphor is theurgy, it must form”.

Verses talk of

 “Roman-candling around the henosised ear, towering nose,
pheromones of the aquatic cat; a squirrel plays dead in the green cloud, bottom dipped smell.”

“I camp between the bricks and the wood
of the house of this pleroma, the fizz-treed emanation ground.”

where the highlighted/linked words are an indication of the pervasive  powers of invocation, ritual and magic and of poetry perhaps clad in its least known archetype: the healing one.

Several quotes from Socrates and Iamblichus, act as partitions-theme bearers for the next three mini chapters: a hyper space of eros, Acherontic despair and magic of the minutia in the surrounding space.

“Someone wearing a vest of radon implants
coaxed my tongue to be sweetly laid out in a kurgan of rain.”
(This, Then)

I found the following chapter, prefaced by a quote by Henry Corbin and Muhyiddin ibn ‘Arabi an interesting vision of recitals as a healing trajectory towards the next chapter in which I thought (guided by its opening quote from Suhrawardi) was the step towards renewed energy.

“Sunflowers, wet sparrows,
grind in their throats into a vinegar fog over the ground,
where Pythagoras lies, stroking the bear”
(Late Summer Energy)

These signposts, hidden within verses or the arbitrary confines of the sections in the book, cannot however break the continuum of the poems, nor their essence.
An essence I would describe as a linguistic adventure set against a uniform yet shifting, tundra-like landscape, reminiscent of the Canadian expanse, a stretched-out musical hieroglyph extracted from the archeological pits of words, history, geography, natural sciences, philosophy and yet again and most significantly from those of the pits of words. Words, words, words – the enduring beauty of Tim Lilburn's book.

Some links
The poem: Under North America in Walrus

An interesting review that quotes the poem A Surgery against Angelism

 Based on my reading of this last book, I would like to amend the “composite sketch” of the unknown winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize to:

Look for a book of poetry:
  •  in which green is a key visual component
  • has the viewpoint of an ash, soot and snow covered universe
  •  stretches timid tendrils into experiments in the absurd. 
  • where the memory of teen years and young adulthood plays a role. 
  • is likely to make use of a language with little forays into prosody
  • is likely to present a prose poem structure, averaging >18 lines per page.

Tomorrow the shortlist will be announced and it’s likely to indicate how far out this composite sketch was.

We will investigate the huge discrepancies in the next posts.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Awaiting the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize – Mind Map 3 of 4

To attempt to reach out to an unknown poetic space, mapping it from inside fiction pages appears a daunting exercise, even if the context of this post - as was the case with the previous one -  is made of conjectures, whose  objective is a playful guessing game. At best.

But play we will, ne fût-ce pour vous en donner l'idée, as a French poet once said -  if only to get an idea. 

One of the judges for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize is Colm Toíbín
Toíbín was born in Ireland in 1955 and his fiction and non fiction body of work has garnered major literary awards. 

Mothers and Sons is a collection of short stories, whose characters and events, each captive in their own tightrope universe, appear – on the surface – to share a fragile link through a relationship of a long standing literary tradition.

Brooklyn is a novel that traces the evolution of Eilis Lacey as she moves out from Ireland to Brooklyn and then returns to Ireland for a short while when her sister dies. I found an interesting article on Toíbín’s fiction --> here .

Toíbín’s prose is terse, economical when it comes to any element that does not corroborate the movement of the characters throughout the plot, with virtually no superfluous nature descriptions or musings that might constitute an entry point for a poetic interlude.

“But he knew that there was nothing else he could do except move forward in what was, with the exception of fox and wild-boar tracks, a flat, virgin whiteness, seeming innocent, almost beautiful, utterly harmless, its treacherous nature lying in layers under its blank surface."
From Mothers and Sons

"When they came to the bottom of the lane, and peered over the edge of the cliff, they saw that the sea below them was calm, almost smooth. The sand close to the water’s edge was a dark yellow. There was a line of sea birds flying low over the waves, noiselessly. There was a vague mist that masked the line between the horizon and the sky but otherwise the sky was a pure blue."
From Brooklyn

To me, Colm Toíbín’s prose, viewed through the lenses of these books, appears to be a territory mediated by soot and ash whose veil causes characters to turn out somewhat differently than one would expect them to.

Based on this perception, and as a continuation of my previous post, I’d like to amend the imaginary ‘composite portrait’ of this year’s winning book to:

Look for a book of poetry:
  •  in which ‘green’ is a key visual component
  • has the viewpoint of an ash, soot and snow covered universe
  •  stretches timid tendrils into experiments in the absurd. 
  • where the memory of teen years and young adulthood plays a role. 
  • is likely to make use of a terse, concise language with little flourish or forays into prosody

I’ll finalize this ‘composite sketch’ in my next post.

Awaiting the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize – Mind Map 2 of 4

I discovered Ms. Twichell’s poetry on the’s website after reading that she would be one of the judges for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize.

It was Ms. Twichell’s poems that actually made me ask: from the hundreds of poetry books that are submitted for the Griffin Prize, what kind of poems would appeal to this particular poet-judge? 

Which made me re-read her poems and attempt to sketch, within the space of a few lines,  a somewhat tenuous mind map.

In her poems, Ms. Twitchell paints a stark universe, an after the fact poetic interior and exterior, struggling to reach both balance and a tipping point in a vision imbued in tempered, stilled and crystalline grief:

"In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,

and the ghost of child-grime--
that infinite smudge of no color--

blows off into the afterlife."

 (The Blade of Nostalgia)

Sadness loses its rawness in Ms. Twichell’s poetry, to become a dense and distilled aura that sets the boundaries of the poetic discourse: a concise manner, akin to aphorism-making, and a scattering of glittering metaphors against a bleak backdrop, which is meant to have an enhancing effect.

"I’ve been wandering
where the cold tracks of language
collapse into cinders, unburnable trash.
Beyond that, all I can see is the remote cold
of meteors before their avalanches of farewell. "

(To the Reader: If You Asked Me)

I read about Ms. Twichell’s experience and interest in zen poetry and hence the possible koan-like atmosphere in her poems – although my suspicion would be that the cause effect relationship works likely in the opposite direction, i.e. a propensity of brevity and memory-cum-stillness may have elicited interest in exploring other approaches to art:

"Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth."


Undoubtedly, Ms. Twichell’s poetic art can hardly be summarized in a post of this size.

Hence, I’d like to move on to the next point, which - I cannot emphasize this enough -  represents a personal viewpoint created simply out of sheer enjoyment while waiting for a literary event.

What kind of wining poetry book would we be looking at, based on the above?

Look for a book of poetry:
  •  in which ‘green’ is a key visual component
  • has the viewpoint of a snow covered, dark planet
  •  stretches timid tendrils into experiments in the absurd. 
  • where memory and animals play a role

We stop here before the next post.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

As the Wheel Turns – Awaiting the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize – Mind Map 1 of 4

I’ve always been in awe of the glitz and glamor of literary awards, of the books that surprisingly/predictably get/miss them and, of course, of their respective authors.  

Some simple notions turn to mind maps in the present & insignificant blog post: Olympics & track events, Hollywood and the Oscars, and well… The Griffin Prize and the poetry books that suddenly everyone wants to read.

In as far as track events are concerned, it’s a fairly straightforward process: the starting block, the raw nerves, the sprint & the mad dash to cross – head first - the finishing line.

But how about poetry books…how are they judged? – which minute balance can weigh the afterburn of a metaphor or the segue into the next page?

Clearly a different kind of scorecard is in play.

I’ve been following the Griffin Poetry Prize for a couple of years now.

Each year a new detail has added to the experience: the date marked in my calendar, the reviews in The Toronto Star, the Book City bookstore on Danforth Ave. (at Logan) in Toronto which carries  the Griffin Prize anthology and the winning books right at the time the winners are announced, a blog post, and a Twitter account.

This year, another point fills me with exhilaration.
I’d like to imagine what the winning books might look like based on who the judges are and how they write - a day-dreaming adventure in a maize of unsubstantiated conjectures.

As the wheel turns for the yet another laureate poet in the days to come, I will try to mind map, from the gradins of this blog, what his/her poems may look like.

If you'd like to follow along – head first – I’d be very glad if would be back for my next three posts. 

Friday, April 01, 2011

April Is National Poetry Month

April is a month made to measure for poetry.
A couple of events going on:

So, on the first day of the month, when we gleefully think of poetry, a quote from the poem Vestibule by Chase Twichell:

"Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth."

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