Book News & Reviews




If you want to be updated on this weblog Enter your email here:

rss feed

Friday, July 29, 2005
I've got nothin....


Nothing to say. 

No thoughts to put out there. 

It's been weeks since anything of note entered my mind.

Reading alot.  Sorting lots of books.  Looking at the sky.  Wondering...

Someone said to me in an email "sinking sink sunk".  What the hell? 

Why must we sink? 

SO many of us are in that same leaky boat. 

Why?  What the hell is going on? 

What the hell ISN'T going on?

I think Ginsberg said "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...starving, hysterical, naked".

At least "destroyed...starving...hysterical...naked" suggests some sort of activity...some sort of action...some sort of state of being.

It's like we are a generation of limping chameleons that can't decide if we are going to be a dark sombre blue or a shiny happy yellow. 

I long for green.

Hope yer well.

Posted at 12:43 am by marcuse71
Comments (3)  

Monday, July 04, 2005
Stagnant pools of water....

With the rain, comes the threat of mosquitos breeding in stagnant pools of water.

That's what I keep hearing:  "stagnant pools of water".

As one who loves simile, metaphor and everything inbetween, this phrase is a gas.

To me, it relates to everything:  history, culture, friends, family and books.  All of which can become quite stagnant over time, leading to the multiplication of blood sucking vermin in the form of angst, repression and just plain boredom.

While rereading Kerouac (I've read "On the Road" five times during the past month) I came to realize that the author - as cool and hip as he was - simply does not hold up.  Kerouac has become stagnant.

One's maturation and experience kills Kerouac, dead.

I wanted to love it - again! - each time I read it.

In fact, I kept rereading it with the hope that whatever it was that caused me to aspire to beatdom (in my mind, at the very least) during my youth would somehow resurface. 

Yet, it didn't happen.

The entire narrative seemed so bloody false and contrived.  Is it possible that a vanguard novel like "On the Road" can become so powerfully overwrought that it, too, morphs into cliche?  If so, how sad!

There was not one point in the novel where I believed  a word or experience being related by Sal Paradise.

Of course, it is fiction.  I understand that.

But, when a philosophy becomes transparent and a way of being becomes cliche, what the fuck is one to do?

When history, culture, friends, family and books don't stand up to experience and maturation...?


I'm surrounded by stagnant pools of water.

Posted at 11:47 pm by marcuse71
Comments (3)  

Thursday, June 30, 2005
Books you gotta read and cannot find....

0Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer.  By Stuart Ross
Anvil Press.  ISBN: 1-895636-65-5.  $16 CAN / $14 US

Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer is equal parts literary memoir, advice for the emerging writer, and reckless tirade. Ross has been active in the Canadian literary underground for a quarter of a century: he's sold thousands of his books in the streets, published and edited magazines, trained insurgents in his Poetry Boot Camps, and started Canada's first Small Press Book Fair. Where the media focusses only on the glamorous literary lives of its few superstars, Ross gives us a glimpse into How Writers Really Live. In Confessions, he declares himself the King of Poetry, explores his floundering Jewish identity, wanders into the best bookstore in Canada, offers a crash course in avoiding writing, pisses off his publishers, runs a renegade Canada booth at the International Book Fair in Managua, and begs egomaniacal young writers to stop bugging the hell out of him. Many of these essays are culled from Ross's bimonthly "Hunkamooga" column in Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar. Others are written specifically for this collection.

First Writes. Editors: Kelley Aitken, Sue Goyette, Barbara Scott.
Banff Centre Press.  ISBN 1-894773-16-0. $18.95 CDN - $14.95 US

It’s one thing to sign on for the long and lonely apprenticeship that is the life of a writer; most writers have, or eventually develop, a certain talent for that kind of solitude. But when it comes time to approaching publishers, and, if accepted, embarking on contract negotiation, editing, launching, and publicizing that first book, the experience of crossing the line from private to public space can be daunting — even overwhelming. The editors of this anthology have survived their first-time publishing experiences. Afterward, they found themselves asking: With all the books out there about how to be an effective writer, why hasn’t somebody published a book about this transition?

First Writes explores the trepidations and triumphs of becoming a published author. In it, Canadian writers describe their "first writes" experiences by writing openly, sometimes scathingly, and often hilariously, of their expectations and insecurities, humiliations and triumphs at every stage of publication. In this collection, novelists, playwrights, poets, filmmakers, and short story writers offer anecdotes, musings, and reminiscences on the often bewildering process of having a first book published.

For those who have published, there will be pangs of recognition; for those who are hoping to publish, it will certainly provide a rough idea of the road ahead, and the knowledge that when you embark on it, you’re not alone. Less a manual than a companion, it is the kind of book authors wish they could have consulted when they faced their own "first writes."

Speaking in Tongues.  Editor: Maggie Helwig.
Banff Centre Press. ISBN 1-894773-17-9. $18.95 CDN - $14.95 US

While writers living in exile have much to say, they often lack a space to be heard. Speaking in Tongues offers the personal reflections of writers in exile — many now living in Canada — as they engage with and interrogate the act of translation.

As one writer living in exile has said, "Crossing borders, one after another, is a bloody devastating experience, but an experience done and over. Translating the self into another self through another vocabulary is what we face, right after we have finished the crossing. It is the last border, and it is invisible. And it is there during the ‘translation’ period that we slip away."

This anthology of exilic writing addresses the experiences and challenges of exiled writers — many working in a second language — and they move to "carry over" their lives from one context to another.

The editor of Speaking in Tongues, Maggie Helwig, sits on the PEN Canada Board of Directors. PEN Canada works within Canada and internationally to promote freedom of expression and aid writers persecuted for the peaceful expression of their ideas. PEN Canada is working to establish partnerships to assist writers whose professional and cultural contributions have been imperiled by the need to leave their countries of origin.

The Burning Alphabet.   By Barry Dempster.
Brick Books.

The Burning Alphabet confirms and extends Barry Dempster's reputation as one of Canada's most respected poets. Underpinning these poems, as in his previous work, there lies an unswerving dedication to emotional and spiritual honesty, clear-eyed recognitions rendered without pomp. In one section, "Sick Days", he focuses on that "other place" of chronic illness. Other poems present arguments against suicide, and explore the tropical wonders of a woman's closet. The closing section renders, with great candour and poignancy, the powerful love-hate relationship with an aging father. Dempster writes as though it were simply natural to have speech and song cohabit with such grace.

The World is a HeartbreakerThe World Is a Heartbreaker. By Sherwin Tjia.
Coach House Books. ISBN: 1-55245-153-4. CDN $ 15.95

The World Is a Heartbreaker inaugurates a new subgenre: imposter poetry. This collection is a set of 1600 pseudohaikus, bite-sized chunks of poetic goodness shotgunned at the distracted masses.

What’s a pseudohaiku? It’s the poetry of pure indulgence, a three-liner without the constraint, the pretension or the 5–7–5 syllable form. The subject matter? Relationships, cats, insecurities – themes recur and build into a kind of non-linear narrative.

These micropoems are easily digestible yet remarkably acute, a catalogue of scattered thoughts and pointed observations that go down like potato chips – betcha can’t read just one.

Sometimes sexy, sometimes scandalous, sometimes sentimental, but always three lines long, these pseudohaikus are the future of poetry in a world awash with sound bites, news clips, catchphrases. There are no pleasures like the guilty ones.

Thirty Seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences.   By Jan Zwicky.
Gaspereau Press. ISBN 1554470013. $18.95 CAN / $16.95 US

For the past several years, Jan Zwicky has been developing a definition and working examples of the word "lyric." Her writing has taken the shape of poetry and philosophy, neither necessarily confined to the traditions of those genres. Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences is the latest in this ongoing focus, previously explored in collections like Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1998) and in her philosophic works, including Lyric Philosophy (1992) and Wisdom & Metaphor (Gaspereau Press, 2003).

The songs in this collection are odes, addresses and apostrophes, to household fixtures, human emotions, shades of light, seasons, stretches of land, departures, sounds and solitude. Working with the most associative details, Zwicky has whittled encounters with her subjects down to their integral and resounding notes. A single light shining from a house in the winter is the bathtub’s call to its tired owner. Dew on the grass is the long note of calm in a hurried departure. Every presence contains absence, every pause embodies continuation, every house has "one chink open to the wind." These are songs to the negative space around solid shapes. Wild grape, nuthatch and August are in part defined by the time around their existence. Bath, laundry and grate have a life both for and beyond their owner, and it is upon these tensions that the poet’s fondness develops.

Zwicky’s musical sensibilities give these poems their resolve. The precise lilt of her verse amounts to a resonating frequency for each of her subjects, with the O of each address sounding the driving note. In music Zwicky has captured the energy and suddenness of realizations like homecoming, departure, familiarity and alienation. Her songs walk the tightrope between thinking and being, steadying and strengthening the act of imagination that maintains contact between past, present and future.

The seven studies in this collection signal a slower tempo, a downshift into the clipped stillness of memory. Summer months, garden gate, childhood house and silent afternoons are summoned to the surface for a look. These give way to six silences: three-line moments of pause or hush that request careful entrance and exit. Like still lifes or haikus, these silences suspend time within time. Basil springs motionless, grass ripens, pollen settles. As with the absences contained in her songs, Zwicky’s silences embody the tenuous balance between thought and experience.

Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences is a vital addition to a remarkable body of work. Zwicky’s lyricism proves to the senses what lies within the parameters set by her prose.

White Salt Mountain. By Pete Sanger.
Gaspereau Press. ISBN 1554470048.
$27.95 CAN / $24.95 US

In this remarkable follow-up to Spar: Words in Place (Gaspereau Press, 2002), Peter Sanger explores the scope of words in time. Offering significant new material to the study of linguist Silas Rand and poet John Thompson, Sanger introduces Susan Barss and Florence Ayscough, notable but largely unsung contributors to Rand’s and Thompson’s work. With the same passion for reading and exploration, along with several of the neighbourhood landmarks, symbolic imagery and literary influences that first emerged in Spar, Sanger joins the lives and work of key authors and translators in Canada’s literary history. Sanger’s unique and far-sighted approach to words and time illuminates critical intersections between authors, readers and texts.

"White Salt Mountain is a mystery," says Sanger. "The consistent theme of the book is the source and meaning, at the most profound levels, of its title. This book fits into the literary category also occupied by Poe’s ‘Gold Bug’ story and more recently by A.S Byatt’s Possession about the detection of the real life of a Victorian poetess and the parallel life lived by the modern detective literary scholars…. The reader of White Salt Mountain participates not only in the detection of a phrase but also in discovering Florence Ayscough and Susan Barss, discovering certain feminine continuities in Canadian cultural history which had been lost…. At base, White Salt Mountain is structured according to the most ancient of narrative forms – the quest for hidden and lost treasure. Its Shangri-la is St. Andrew’s – its Treasure Island rests in the Bay of Fundy"

On a journey to MacMaster Island in Passamaquoddy Bay, New Brunswick, Sanger introduces the work of nineteenth-century translator and poet Florence Ayscough. He provides the first comprehensive account of Ayscough’s life, including her years in Shanghai, her study of Chinese, her collaboration with American poet Amy Lowell on translations of Chinese poetry, and the influence of these translations and others on the Canadian poetic idiom that persists today.

Sanger’s work illustrates the power words carry across time beyond their volumes. In his discussion of New Brunswick poet John Thompson’s Stilt Jack, a collection that continues as one of the most widely influential works in Canadian poetry, Sanger works from inside and outside of Thompson’s words, bringing to life the poet’s guiding mythology and influences, and testing them in transit and in conversation with other texts.

Sanger’s final chapter begins in a canoe on the Shubenacadie River as he sets out to locate ‘Grandmother’s Place’, described in Silas Rand’s Legends of the Micmacs. Sanger also presents his recent discovery of Rand’s original transcripts of two stories told by Susan Barss in 1847, among the earliest surviving records of Native storytelling in North America. Sanger’s sleuthing, and the kinds of parallels and intersections it brings to light, embodies a departure from the conventions of literary criticism into a style of reading that is grounded in locale and attuned to the way a literary culture takes shape over time.

Probing Minds, Salamander Girls and a Dog Named Sally.
By Harrison Wright.
Gaspereau Press. ISBN 1554470056. $27.95 CAN / $24.95 US

Probing Minds, Salamander Girls and a Dog Named Sally is a meandering memoir of growing up along the back roads, orchards and hillsides of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Harrison Wright’s hardy sense of humour, love of adventure and confident voice usher us into a world characterized by fascination and delight with life. Wright regales with stories about friends, farming, beat-up cars, rousing get-togethers, pets and wildlife, unattainable college girls and home-brewed adventures. Coupled with these are his reflections on life and the particulars of growing up. Like a roughly hewn Garrison Keillor, Wright records his daily passings through his landscape. Set "on a small winding dirt road with a No Exit sign at the end of it," these narratives are told thoughtfully, with ease and humour, and a solid sense of self and place.

Wright demonstrates a similar approach to life and writing: testing the limits, then going beyond them. Probing Minds is a treatise on living well and a coming-of-age memoir set against the well-worn landscape of Nova Scotia’s agricultural region. The collection is comprised of sixteen narratives, many of which you can bet have been told once or twice on a back porch on a hot afternoon or next to the wood stove on a cold January evening. At twenty-six, Wright has learned a thing or two, but has not lost touch with the best of his earlier exploits. He relives a day spent building an aerial shortcut across a deep gully, the joy of digging a hole for the sake of a hole, and the kinds of adventures that emerge naturally on a farm: spring burning, engine fires and near misses with tractors. Alongside are sobering encounters with nesting pheasants and leopard frogs, and silent afternoons spent tilling fields; experiences that centre him in the natural world. Probing Minds, Salamander Girls and a Dog Named Sally is the product of an unwieldy imagination, thoughtful outlook and Wright’s refreshing willingness to have a laugh at his own expense.

"A lot of these stories were actually inspired somewhat by depression, or as a counter to depression," says Wright. "It’s a common theme in the world today; I don’t know if the world’s a more depressing place, humankind is more self-inspecting, or if in the information age we feel we just know too much. I’ve seen it in my life, in others, sometimes in myself. But sometimes things happen, things I feel sort of excited about, or I’ll get this surge of something in my brain that makes me glad to be doing what I’m doing, or maybe there’s some mystery about that I want to be a part of. Most of the stories are me trying to capture those things that make life livable and enjoyable, things that when they happen you know you will remember them. These stories are a giant list in my pocket."

Posted at 08:38 am by marcuse71
Comment (1)  

Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Mea Culpa....

Where I have been and what I have been doing is - of course - irrelevant. 

The fact of the matter is that I have been doing NOTHING with my life except working, reading and existing. 

The fact of the matter is that I have NOTHING to say about anything or anyone.

Society, Politics and History tastes like chicken.

Recent Arts and Culture is also - surprisingly - chicken-like in texture and taste.

The heady days of spouting off and actually challenging the lame nature of Canadian Arts, Culture, Literature and Civilization are now behind me.

I've decided to embrace my mediocrity and revel in the fact that I, too, am part of the problem and there is very little I can do about it.

I can continue to read books that matter.

I can continue to buy books that matter.

I can continue to observe those around me who I find interesting.

I can continue to dream of The Other (me, but not me).

I can continue to dream that You are living a life that DOES NOT taste like chicken.

And yet, taste is relative.

Taste is derivative.

Regardless, there is nothing more that I can do but to perpetuate - and perfect - my parasitic nature and become the flea, sucking the blood and life out of others in order to nourish myself, however delusional and insubstantial such nourishment may actually be.

So be it...

Posted at 11:17 am by marcuse71
Comment (1)