This is a catalogue of what I've been reading, with brief notes on each book.
April 5/10: Michael Lista: Bloom.
March 13/10: Dennis Dutton: The Art Instinct.
March 2/10: Suzanne Hancock: Cast from Bells, for review.
March 1/10: Camille Martin: Sonnets, for review.
February 26/10: Russell Wangersky: Burning Down the House.
February 22/10: Suzanne Hancock: Another Name for Bridge.
February 17/10: Shane Neilson: Call Me Doctor.
February 1/10: Steven Heighton: Patient Frame, for review.
February 1/10: Suzanne Buffam: The Irrationalist, for review.
January 14/10: Beth Bachmann: Temper, re-read for review.
January 13/10: Damian Rogers: Paper Radio, re-read for review.
January 11/10: David Zieroth: The Fly in Autumn, re-read for review.
Dec. 28/09: Damian Rogers: Paper Radio.
Dec. 22/09: Beth Bachmann: Temper.
Dec. 22/09: Kathryn Borel: Corked.
Dec. 16/09: David Zieroth: The Fly in Autumn.
Dec.15/09: David Manicom: Desert Rose, Butterfly Storm.
Dec. 4/09: Robyn Sarah: Pause for Breath.
Dec. 3/09: ed. Shane Neilson: Approaches to Poetry: The Pre-Poem Moment.
Nov. 27/09: Yukio Mishima: After the Banquet.
Nov. 19/09: Joe Denham: Windstorm.
Nov. 17/09: Stephen Rowe: Never More There.
Nov. 16/09: Imre Kertesz: Fatelessness.
Nov. 15/09: Maryanne Wolf: Proust and the Squid.
Sep. 15/09: Czeslaw Milosz: The Captive Mind.
Sep. 2/09: Cormac McCarthy: The Crossing.
Aug. 23/09: Soraya Peerbaye: Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names, for review.
Aug. 08/09: Wayne Clifford: Learning to Dance with a Peg Leg: Three Dozen Tunes
for a Third Mate.
July 30/09: Knut Hamsun: Pan.
July 27: John Barton: Hymn, for review.
July 26/09: Robert Bringhurst: Selected Poems, for review.
July 26/09: George Whipple: Swim Class and Other Poems, re-read for review.
July 25/09: Craig Poile: True Concessions re-read for review.
July 18/09: George Whipple: Tom Thomson and Other Poems.
July 17/09: John Berryman: 77 Dream Songs.
July 15/09: Halldor Laxness: The Atom Station.
June 26/09: Jared Diamond: Collapse.
June 19/09: Lorna Crozier: Small Beneath the Sky, for review in Quill & Quire.
June 11/09: George Whipple: Origins.
June 10/09: Craig Poile: True Concessions, for review in Arc.
June 9/09: George Whipple: Swim Class, for review in Arc.
June 3/09: Les Murray: The Biplane Houses.
June 2/09: Matt Rader: Reservations.
June 2/09: Frederick Seidel: Ooga-Booga.
June 1/09: Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott: Homage to Robert Frost.
May 22/09: Jeramy Dodds: Crabwise to the Hounds.
May 15/09: Wayne Clifford: Jane Again.
May 12/09: Jason Guriel: Pure Product.
May 7/09: Serge Patrice Thibodeau, trans. Jo-Anne Elder: One, for review
in Quill & Quire.
May 7/09: Serge Patrice Thibodeau: Seul on est.
May 4/09: Jen Hadfield: Nigh-No-Place.
April 29/09: Carmine Starnino: This Way Out.
April 24/09: Gerry Cambridge: Aves.
April 20/09: George Mackay Brown: Letters from Hamnavoe.
April 6/09: George Mackay Brown: Beside the Ocean of Time.
March 27/09: Edwin Muir: An Autobiography.
February 25/09: William Faulkner: Light in August.
February 20/09: Lisa Robertson: Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip,
for review in Quill & Quire
February 16/09: Karen Solie: Pigeon, for review in Quill & Quire.
February 15/09: Christopher Patton: Jack Pine.
February 09/09: Amir D. Aczel: Pendulum: Léon Foucault and the Triumph of Science.
January 30/09: James Langer: Gun Dogs, for review in Quill & Quire.
January 29/09: Bruce Chatwin: Anatomy of Restlessness.
January 29/09: Catherine Graham: The Red Element. Re-read for review
January 27/09: Souvankham Thammavongsa: Found. Re-read for review
January 25/09: Margaret Avison: Listening for review in Quill & Quire.
January 21/09: Catherine Graham: Pupa.
January 21/09: Souvankham Thammavongsa: Small Arguments.
January 20/09: Robert Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz: Kafka.
January 17/09: Jim Crace: The Devil's Larder.
January 16/09: Walid Bitar: The Empire's Missing Links, reread for
review in Arc.
January 14/09: S. Anthony Barnett: The Story of Rats: Their Impact on Us,
and Our Impact on Them
January 9/09: Rawi Hage: Deniro's Game.
January 6/09: Robert Dessaix: Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev.
January 3/09: Walid Bitar: The Empire's Missing Links for review in Arc.
January 3/09: Catherine Graham: The Red Element for review in Arc.
January 3/09: Souvankham Thammavongsa: Found for review in Arc.
January 3/09: Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita.
December 27/08: Mike Barnes: The Lily Pond.
December 22/08: Harold Hoefle: The Mountain Clinic.
December 11/08: Jason Heroux: The Emergency Hallelujah.
December 9/08: Stephen Fry: The Ode Less Travelled.
November 24/08: Sachiko Murakami: The Invisibility Exhibit.
November 20/08: VS Ramachandran: Phantoms in the Mind.
November 19/08: Gillian Wigmore: Soft Geography. I had the pleasure
of meeting Gillian in Ottawa, where we traded books. Unfortunately, she had none
with her at the time, so I had to wait until I read in Prince George to get it.
Glad I did. This is one of the strongest debuts I've read.
November 5/08: Rawi Hage: Cockroach. How did this book win almost
none of the awards it was nominated for? A flawed ending, in my opinion, but not
flawed enough to ruin its acidic brilliance. We need more books like this.
November 1/08: Tim Bowling: The Book Collector, for review in
Quill & Quire. Yet another wildly uneven collection from Tim Bowling. Very
talented poet, who dilutes his best work thru over-publication. Still some excellent
poems in here, including the title piece.
October 27/08: Cormac McCarthy: The Road. I had a hard time getting
into this one (just about gagged on the scene in which father and son share an
improbable Coke), but it got more and more compelling as it went.
October 20/08: Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter. Oh, look, here
I am reading more Greene. This is a tremendous novel, a kind of sadsack Heart
of Darkness. Greene's characterization is so damn credible.
October 15/08: Ivan Klima: My Golden Trades. An excellent series of
autobiographical stories, blurring the boundary between memoir and fiction. Both
Klima books I've read have been exceptionally good; I'll have to keep an eye out
October 13/08: Graham Greene: England Made Me. I've got to read more
Greene. What an acute psychologist. Not to mention an exceptionally good stylist.
September 20/08: Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist. A gift
from my mother-in-law, whose book recommendations are usually spot-on. Not this time.
I found the narration clunky and stilted and the message completely unsubtle.
September 16/08: Pierre Berton: The National Dream. Plus ca change...
Political shenanigans, scandals, great mean, intrepid explorers. Who said Canadian
history was dull?
September 15/08: Don Domanski: All Our Wonder Unavenged. Can't see
why this won the Governor General's Award. Flabby. Occasional glimmers are overwhelmed
by pages of dross.
September 13/08: Jim Crace: Quarantine. Hard to say if this is better
than Being Dead, but it's close. A bold bit of historical revisionism,
offering an alternative explanation for the origins of the Christ myth. The character
of Musa is one of the most compellingly unlikable I've encountered in fiction.
September 5/08: A.F. Moritz: The Sentinel. I've read a lot of Al's
books. I want to like them better than I do, but his writing, for the most part,
just ain't my cuppa. Still, some very fine poems in the book, while others seem
more autopilot compositions.
August 27/08: Jim Crace: Six. A modern love story, set in an unidentified
city. Not Crace's best, but still very good.
August 25/08: Adam Sol: Jeremiah, Ohio for review in Quill & Quire.
An electrifying read. JO is a novel in poems, following a latter-day madman/prophet
and his faithful sidekick Bruce thru the wastelands of post 9/11 America. The eccentricity
of the speaker lets Sol write some poems it's hard to imagine someone getting away
August 24/08: David O'Meara: Penny Black, Noble Gas for review
in Quill & Quire. O'Meara's third book is his quietist to-date; possibly
his most mature. If this sounds like faint praise, it isn't. O'Meara's one of our
best poets and this book confirms it.
August 13/08: Jim Crace: The Gift of Stones. Love this one. As with
so many of Crace's books, it's essentially about telling stories, but not in a precious
or pretentiously pomo kind of way. I love how varied Crace's settings are. This
one takes place in a stone age village.
August 11/08: Norman Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself. This is
a book about neuro-plasticity. Absolutely fascinating and very well written.
August 6/08: Don Domanski (Brian Bartlett, Ed.): Earthly Pages; reread
for review in Arc.
July 28/08: Jeanette Lynes: It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield
Poems for review in Quill & Quire. I'm not generally a fan of the
bio-sequence, but Lynes does a good job.
July 23/08: Stuart McLean: Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe. Loaned to me
by a co-worker who insisted I read it. And I have to admit, the stories are fun--
and occasionally quite moving. As far as guilty pleasures go, one could do far worse.
July 19/08: Don Domanski: Earthly Pages: The Poetry of Don Domanski
for review in Arc. I liked the earliest poems in here best. I don't see what
the fuss about Domanski's recent work is. Most of his longer poems are poorly edited
rambles, and I have a hard time buying into the mystical dimensions of his writing.
July 12/08: Jim Crace: The Pesthouse. Not Crace's best, but an absorbing
read nonetheless. Set in post-apocalyptic America, following manifest destiny in
reverse, as emigrants move from west to east in hopes of passage across the Atlantic.
July 1/08: Matt Rader: Living Things. Reread for review in Arc.
May 24/08: William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying. Why don't I read more
Faulkner? What a brilliant novel.
May 19/08: Shane Neilson: Exterminate My Heart. A beautiful limited
edition book, with woodcuts by George A. Walker. The quality of Shane's poems is
uneven, but the book as a whole is deeply moving. I'm editing a manuscript of Shane's
work for Biblioasis right now and will be taking a number of the poems from EMH
May 19/08: Jeffery Donaldson: Palilalia. Donaldson doesn't publish
collections often, but when he does they're worth waiting for. One of the smartest
and most skilled poets in the country. The long poem "Museum" is worth the cover
May 13/08: Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses. The last book of
McCarthy's I read was Blood Meridian, which I found wildly uneven: brilliant
passages alternating with awful over-writing. AtPH is much more restrained; maybe
less electrifying, but on the whole far more successful. I'm looking forward to
reading the next books in the trilogy now.
May 6/08: Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird. Technically, I didn't
read this, I had it read to me. What a treat. Deserves its rep as one of the great
American novels of the last century.
April 18/08: Matt Rader: Living Things. No way I thought Matt Rader
had this kind of book in him. His first collection was strong, but not exceptionally
so. This book is remarkable, especially for three poems, "The Great Leap Forward,"
"War" and "The Ocean Voyager" (a west coast adaptation of Rimbaud's "Le bateau ivre."
April 17/08: Wayne Clifford: The Exile's Papers, Part One: The Duplicity
of Autobiography. This is as uneven as a sequence of more than a hundred
sonnets is bound to be, but the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
I'm really looking forward to the next installments.
April 6/08: Paul Muldoon: The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures. This
is virtuoso criticism. Matt Rader calls Muldoon's technique "stunt reading," and
I think that's apposite. Sometimes the leaps he makes are a bit much, but on the
whole, this book opened up a whole new avenues for reading poetry.
April 3/08: reread of Jim Crace: Being Dead. This time, I read it
aloud, for full appreciation of the cadences of Crace's prose. What a book.
March 31/08: Eric Miller: The Day in Moss, for review in Quill & Quire.
A breakout collection for Miller, full of his usual virtuosity, but with far fewer
of the flaws that weakened his last collection.
March 28/08: Karen Houle: During, for review in Quill & Quire.
Some good lines here and there, but didn't do much for me.
March 26/08: Brian Greene: The Fabric of the Cosmos. I read this over
many, many months. I had to keep putting it down because it made my head spin. Quantum
physics is hard. But Greene does a beautiful job of making it as accessible as I
think it can be.
March 18/08: Peter Richardson: Sympathy for the Couriers. I think
Peter Richardson just keeps getting better. I love the interplay of serious and
playful in his work.
March 04/08: Colin Browne: The Shovel for review in Quill & Quire.
Browne sometimes goes in for the Kootenay School of Writing in-joke, but the man
can write. The best pieces in the book are somewhere between poem and essay. The
lineation is quite arbitrary in these pieces and could have been done away with,
but that doesn't affect too much the impact of the writing itself.
February 28/08: Domenico Capilongo: I Thought Elvis Was Italian for
review in Quill & Quire. Oy, what a bad book.
February 26/08: John Newlove: A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems
of John Newlove for review in Arc. An excellent selection of Newlove's
poems, with a head-scratchingly turgid afterword by Jeff Derksen. Why? Newlove's
range wasn't great, but no one in Canada has written pain and misery like him. Which
is a compliment.
February 20/08: Richard Outram: South of North: Images of Canada for
review in Arc. A posthumous collection of poems commissioned for musical
adaptation, and to accompany images by Thoreau MacDonald. Often quite beautiful,
tho a tad repetitive. This is a bit of a different Outram than readers familiar with
his work might expect; more imagistic.
February 07/08: Kevin Connolly: Revolver for review in Quill &
Quire. A very strong collection. There are a few poems that seem more personal
than one expects from Connolly, which is a welcome departure. One of his weaknesses
is a penchant toward glibness.
January 29/08: Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia. This was sent to me by
Oliver Sacks, in return for a copy of "Achromatope" (a broadside poem based on his
case study "The Case of the Colorblind Painter." As always, a fascinating read.
The stories in Musicophilia, as the title suggests, deal with auditory disorders.
January 20/08: Seamus Heaney: District and Circle. A solid collection,
but I'm not sure that Heaney has any more great work in him.
January 16/08: Les Murray: Fredy Neptune. Somewhere between epic and
novel. The verse is uneven, as is bound to be the case with such a long poem, but
the story is consistently riveting. Probably one of the great poetry books of the
January 15/08: Ted Hughes: Letters of Ted Hughes, ed. Christopher
Reid. Absolutely absorbing read.
January 15/08: Don Paterson: Nil Nil. A very good, occasionally excellent,
debut poetry collection, from a poet who has emerged as one of the leading figures
across the pond.
January 08/08: Matthew Stewart: The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza,
and the Fate of God in the Modern World. A lucidly and entertainingly written
work of philosophical history. I'm left needing to read some Spinoza. He seems
like my kind of guy. Leibniz, not so much.
December 23/07: Tim Lilburn: Orphic Politics for review in Quill
& Quire. Tim Lilburn used to write good poetry. Really good poetry. He now
writes pseudo-vatic convoluted philosophy soup. This reads like a bad parody of
his strong work from the past. Give it a pass; I give it a fail. I do recommend
checking out his book A Tourist to Ecstasy, however, if you can find it.
December 17/07: Randall Maggs: Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems for
review in Quill & Quire. A flawed book with many redeeming qualities. Maggs
does a very nice job imagining and depicting the character of Sawchuk, but I have
to wonder if this book might have been better as a work of prose creative non-fiction.
Maggs' prosody is errant (sometimes tight, but often slack) and the book is too
long by half (perhaps like Terry Sawchuk's career?). There are many bright spots
in it, however it may require a bigger hockey fan than me to forgive all the flaws.
December 11/07: Daryl Hine: Recollected Poems 1951 to 2004 for review
in The Fiddlehead. A big book to chew on and a hard one to generalize about.
Hine is a preternaturally gifted metrist and the straitjacket constraints he often
embraces evince a kinship with verse mountaineers from the troubadours to Auden,
not to mention the radical experiments of writers following Oulipo ideas, such as
Christian Bok. His versecraft is always brilliant, often virtuosic, even if some
of the poems boom hollow. But all poets fail most of the time and one of the things
that can make a poet of interest is how distinctly he or she fails. And Hine is
about as distinct as anyone in Canadian poetry. He is in many ways the Canadian
poet who wouldn't be, even while he never gave up his citizenship. And some of
the poems here really should be recognized as being among the best we've got.
December 03/07: Steven Pinker: The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window
into Human Nautre. Another indispensable book by one of my favourite
contemporary thinkers. Especially brilliant are his chapters on metaphor and swearing.
Anyone who writes--hell anyone who reads and has a sense of curiosity--should read
November 20/07: Grace E. Winterpumpkin: This Grace. Grace Winterpumpkin
is something of a Pessoan conundrum, writing as she does in four very distinct styles,
which I have dubbed--take note, Winterpumpkin scholars--the Dodds style (a sort of
densely packed surrealism), the Foreman style (a kind of quirky, offbeat sociology),
the Kotsilidis style (an edgy, death-obsessed lyricism) and the Trotter style (an
effortlessly formal metaphysics, somewhat reminiscent of Stevens). A remarkable
addition to Canadian poetry, This Grace is no disgrace, but a triumph!
November 20/07: Sharon McCartney: Against. A powerfully emotional
and very tightly-strung suite of 26 poems, with woodcuts by George A. Walker. This
is, I think, Sharon's best work to-date, and beautifully presented, as always,
by Frog Hollow Press.
November 14/07: Colin Carberry: Ceasefire in Purgatory. A poet whose
work I knew nothing about until I had a drink with him and his publisher, Goran
Simic, in Toronto recently. Carberry was born in Canada, but raised in Ireland,
and his poems have a very Irish cadence to them. There is some really high-quality
poetry, mostly rhymed and metred, in this book; especially powerful is a terza rima
poem called "Revenant." I'm going to have to track down his past works.
November 11/07: Tim Bowling: The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death
of Wild Culture for review in Vancouver Review. An uneven, but often
excellent, memoir by a prolific (uneven, but often excellent) poet. The book is
both passionate and informative and transcends its flaws (which are most often
characterized by lyric self-indulgence).
October 30/07: Jay Ingram: Theatre of the Mind. A highly readable
and informative book on consciousness, a notoriously elusive object of scientific
inquiry. I wouldn't put Ingram in the first tier of science writers, but he's no
October 24/07: George Johnston: The Essential George Johnston. A
wonderful collection of the late George Johnston's work, edited by Robyn Sarah.
I was enormously pleased that the publisher quoted some words of mine on Johnston
for the cover. Click
here for more detailed comments on Johnston.
October 22/07: Niels Hav (tr. Patrick Friesen & PK Brask): We Are Here.
I saw Niels read from this book recently at the Vancouver Writers' Festival, and
he was delightful. So's the book on its own. Wonderful, despite the funding obstacles,
to see foreign-language poetry being translated in Canada
October 21/07: Simon Armitage: The Universal Home Doctor. Like most
of Armitage's books I've read, this one contains some work that is professionally
skilled, but also many poems that justify his stature as one of the most highly
regarded contemporary poets. He might even be the best contemporary poet of his
generation writing in English.
October 17/07: Jason Guriel: Technicolored. A very strong first collection
of poems. I've been impressed with the prose and verse of Jason's that I've
encountered in magazines lately and have the feeling, good as this book is, we'll
be seeing even better work from him down the line.
October 13/07: Jim Crace: Being Dead. One of the best contemporary
novels in English I've read. Unflinchingly unsentimental but still beautifully
resonant in its treatment of human relationships and life/death in general, a bold
novel of ideas--and some of the finest English prose I've ever encountered.
October 10/07: Stephen Brockwell: The Real Made Up for review in
Quill & Quire. An uneven collection, but the best poems in this book--and
there's a good clutch of 'em--make it well worth checking out. Particularly impressive
is a long poem called "Ingredients for Certain Poems by Al Purdy." There are also
a bunch of poems in the book that are the result of conceptual experiments using
transcription and voice recognition technology. Some of these work well as poems,
but for the most part they're no where near as compelling as the more "traditional"
work in the book.
October 09/07: Sarah Lang: The Work of Days for review in Quill
& Quire. A sharp first book, a disjunctive long poem that flirts with confessionalism
without descending into its self-indulgent depths.
October 08/07: Monica Kidd: Actualities for review in Quill
& Quire. A pretty humdrum, middle of the road book of Canadian Lyrics.
October 08/07: Robert Bringhurst: Everywhere Being is Dancing for
review in Quill & Quire. Bringhurst's polymathic brilliance continues to
astound me. Besides erudite and eloquent essays on a broad variety of topics, this
volume includes some translations of poetry from native languages and ancient Greek.
Gaspereau has also published this book in a deluxe boxed set, along with The
Tree of Meaning. Both books I recommend without reservation.
September 30/07: George Ellenbogen: Morning Gothic: Poems New & Selected
for review in Quill & Quire. A fine gathering of poems by a senior Canadian
poet who has received very little attention in this country (probably because he's
not been prolific and has spent most of his writing life outside of the country).
The section of "selected" poems is on the whole much stronger than the "new" poems.
September 09/07: George C. Williams: The Pony Fish's Glow. Pretty
good book on evolution, most valuable for how it sheds light on certain aspects
of "design" that render incredible any claims for there being an intelligent, purposive
designer behind the shape of things.
September 02/07: Earle Birney: One Muddy Hand, for review in Arc.
A long-overdue re-issue of the best work of one of our most significant poets. Editor
Sam Solecki could have done more in terms of selecting poems (he bascially reprints
the last Birney selected, adding some work that post-dated that book), but still,
it's a very good thing to have Birney in print, in however imperfect a volume. He
was doing things, particularly early in his career, that have a strong affinity
to the spontaneous renovations of traditional forms being carried out by a lot
of present-day poets.
August 26/07: Diane Ackerman: A Natural History of the Senses. A
gorgeously written tour of the five senses. More poetic than scientific, but still
full of fascinating information.
August 18/07: JD Black: Black Velvet Elvis. Reread for review in
August 16/07: Fraser Sutherland: The Matuschka Case. Reread for
review in Arc.
August 02/07: Arc Poetry Magazine's "Forgotten and Neglected" issue: Normally,
I don't list magazines here, but then, I don't normally read magazines cover to
cover and this particular issue is really more anthology than magazine, collecting
12 essays on 13 poets and appending a selection of verse to each essay. Not all the
poets are necessarily worth remembering for the virtues of their writing; a surprising
number are, including my own subject, Kenneth Leslie. But all of them are interesting
in one way or another, making for a fascinating read on the whole.
July 31/07: Fraser Sutherland: The Matuschka Case. This selected poems,
covering over 30 years of publishing, is a model for how these books should be done.
Containing some 70 poems over 83 pages, it has clearly been edited unsentimentally--
a rare thing, when Selecteds are so often these days 200-300 pages. Sutherland isn't
a poet of great technical or tonal range, but at his best, he's a poet of great
intensity and he is occasionally very funny. The best poems strike me as the sort of things
Larkin might have written had he written free verse. The less effective work (maybe
one third of the poems) tends to be flat in the way that so much free verse is,
lacking in musical grace and figurative flair, really little more than prosy anecdotes.
But on the basis of the strongest work, most of which seems to have come earlier
in Sutherland's career, I'd have to say that he's a sorely underrated poet.
July 19/07: Christopher Hitchens: God is Not Great. But Hitchens is.
There's a bit of overlap between this book and Dawkins' The God Delusion, but
not much. Very lively, very smart and pretty damn hard to gainsay. A tad broadstroke
at times--I would have liked to see a sharper distinction drawn between modern
monotheistic religions and pagan polytheistic beliefs, for instance--but sometimes
broad strokes are needed to cut down big trees--even when they are rotten at the
July 16/07: John Lofranco: Aerobic Capacity. Another beautifully made
chapbook from the good folks at Frog Hollow Press. This is a collection of 21 poems,
all about running, a subject its author, a competitive long-distance runner, knows
intimately. The best poems--and there's a handful of them--capture that intimate
knowledge, and the passion that attends it, memorably. Other poems are marred by
a feeling of excessive strain and labour in language and metaphor, lacking the flow
of a race well-run. Still, a lovely little book that makes what has always seemed
to me a peculiarly masochistic form of insanity (I used to run some myself) compelling.
July 10/07: Erin Moure: O Cadoiro. This is probably the most interesting
of Moure's books that I've read. It's explicitly lyric and backwards-looking towards
the Portuguese troubadours. There are some annoying and pointless typographical
oddities in the poems, almost as if to say, "look, I'm still being "innovative,""
and this book will, like much of her recent work, probably be irksome to people
unversed in Romance languages, but there's a great deal of quite beautiful poetry
on offer too.
July 3/07: Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist. Wouldn't have finished this
if it weren't for the fact that I was deadheading on the train and had nothing else
to read. The story itself is fairly compelling, even if archetypal, but the spiritual
quest element of the narrative is delivered in a repetitive, simplistic and heavy-
handed manner. It seemed especially so to me reading it on the heels of such an
acute psychologist as Dostoevsky.
June 29/07: Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground. A novel I've
been meaning to get to for some time. Is there anyone writing the novel of ideas
today to rival FD? Maybe Saramago. Anyway, a brilliantly lapidary little novel.
June 28/07: Christopher Patton: Ox. Dense, knotty, allusive and musical,
this is spiritual poetry of real depth and material engagement. Robert Bringhurst
has provided a cover blurb for Ox and it's not surprising, as there are many
ethical, spiritual and aesthetic points of intersection between Patton's poetry and
Bringhurst's verse and prose. But Patton's use of syllabics in this book distinguishes
his work from Bringhurst's--and from pretty much everyone else writing today. Clearly
a first book long in the making and ruthlessly trimmed of fat.
June 27/07: Justin Clemens: The Mundiad. A bizarre, bawdy and hilarious
social satire, reminiscent of Pope and Dryden--especially Pope--in style, but
perfectly modern in diction and subject matter.
June 22/07: Robyn Sarah: Little Eurekas: A Decade's Thoughts on Poetry.
A very thoughtful collection of Robyn Sarah's prose, which I've been reading with
enjoyment and admiration for years. Robyn has good insights not only into the minutiae
of craft, but into the bigger picture of publication and audience as well.
June 22/07: Margaret Atwood: The Door for review in Quill & Quire.
Atwood appears to be running on fumes. Why not retire?
May 29/07: Simon Armitage: Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid.
Great to see a Canadian-published collection by Armitage, one of the best poets
working in English today. Armitage is a very professional poet and some of the work
here feels more well-turned than inspired, but the best poems are as good as anything
I've read in recent poetry.
May 21/07: J.M. Coetzee: The Life and Times of Michael K. I read a
novel by Coetzee every once in a while and can't understand why I don't read more.
Maybe it's the intensity of the writing that demands it be taken in small doses.
This is a brilliant, compact novel dealing explicitly with the political turmoil
of South Africa.
May 06/07: Herbert Kohl: A Grain of Poetry. Not a bad book for people
looking for an unintimaditing introduction to poetry.
Apr. 07/07: Oliver Sacks: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
Another very interesting book by Sacks, though in this earlier work he doesn't seem
to have quite developed the narrative technique that makes his more recent books
Apr. 05/07: Lisa Robertson: The Men. This is the first book of Robertson's
I've read. To be frank, excerpts of past work struck me as too theory-inflected to
make for compelling reading. But this is a self-described "lyrical book" and while
it is by no means unelliptical, it is beautifully readable and occasionally quite
moving. Writers like Robertson and Moure, having spent much time at the borders
and fringes of poetry and poetics, seem to be moving inward in their mature work,
back towards the lyrical heart of poetry and back in time towards the original
lyricists. I think this is a good move for writers of their intelligence and talent;
it will probably take some years, if not decades, for the soi-disant avant-garde
to follow them there.
Mar. 28/07: Barbara Nickel: Domain for review in Quill & Quire.
This book was a long time coming and well worth the wait. Nickel's one of the very
best poets of her generation and this book is masterful.
Mar. 21/07: Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurst: The Raven Steals the Light.
A marvellous collaboration between two consummate artists.
Mar. 16/07: Herbert Kohl: I Won't Learn from You. A compelling collection
of essays on education. Kohl's at his best here when he's most personal; when he
is most explicitly political, he often wanders onto thin ice and his admirable
egalitaranism bleeds into inadequately examined political correctness. For example,
in one piece, he criticises American history texts for portraying the history of
African-Americans as the history of an enslaved people, without talking about what/who
those slaves were prior to being taken to the US. Fair enough, but Kohl doesn't
acknowledge the fact that in many instances they would have actually been slaves
in Africa--that the history of slavery is more complicated than our usual assumption
that white Europeans are masters and black Africans are slaves. He also says that
Conrad is racist, which, even if true to an extent (tho to what extent is highly
questionable, since JC didn't think very much of his own race and was himself an
audible, if not a visible, minority in the England of his day), is an irresponsible
Mar. 09/07: George McWhirter: The Book of Contradictions. George and
I traded books when we met a few weeks ago. Yet another poet who has received
insufficient critical attention. I love this book. George is wonderfully irreverent,
but serious when it's called for and the language in these shambling poems is
exuberantly musical. A sequence called "Ovid in Saskatchewan" is especially impressive,
but there's a trove of great stuff in this book. I'm going to have to dig up some
of his older works now.
Mar. 07/07: Kenneth Sherman: Black River, for review in Quill
& Quire. A book-length poem about the eponymous Ontario river. Of course, it's
about much more than that, quite allusive and metaphorically dense. Very spare in
technique, but by no means impoverished. An interesting read.
Mar. 07/07: Craig Poile: First Crack. An uneven first book with a few
very strong poems. I've seen some of Craig's more recent work and have been quite
impressed. Apparently, we've got some of his poems coming out in the next issue of
Canadian Notes & Queries.
Mar. 06/07: Don Coles: How We All Swiftly: The First Six Books. I'm
now a convert to Coles. The best poetry in here is immortal stuff, virtuosic in
its subtlety. Especially moving is Little Bird, a book length epistle to
the poet's late father.
Mar. 05/07: Joseph Conrad: The Nigger of the Narcissus. It dragged
in parts, but there's much of Conrad's characteristically gorgeous prose and profound
psychological insight in this book. A bit of foreshadowing for Heart of Darkness,
too. Have I ever mentioned that HofD is one of my alltime favourite books? Well
it is, and I get mighty tired of hearing people who haven't read it calling JC a
racist because they have read Achebe's essay on it. Think for yourselves,
Mar. 05/07: Tom Wayman: Full Speed Through Shoaling Water, for review
in Quill & Quire. A dull, prosy and overlong collection of poems.
Mar. 04/07: George Murray: The Rush to Here. I've been anticipating
this book for a while, having seen several of the poems in draft form and in the
gorgeous Frog Hollow Press chapbook A Set of Deadly Negotiations. I'm not
disappointed. A very strong, unified suite of sonnets, uniquely structured around
thought rhyme. George isn't the first poet to use this technique, but I've never
known one to use it so systematically. He's really opened up new territory within
Mar. 02/07: Alex Boyd: Making Bones Walk, for review in Quill &
Quire. A solid and promising debut collection, with one or two very strong
poems. There's an imagination at work here that I sense needs to be unleashed--or
maybe leashed more tightly, which often amounts to the same thing in poetry.
Mar. 01/07: Agnes Walsh: Going Around with Bachelors, for review in
Quill & Quire. An uneven collection. It comes with a CD, which unfortunately
I didn't get to hear for my review; I have the feeling that the insubstantiality
of a lot of the pieces would be given another dimension by a good reading--and
Walsh has the reputation of being a very good reader.
Feb. 27/07: Brian Turner: Here, Bullet. A collection of poems written
by a veteran of the Iraq War. In a few of the poems--especially the title piece--
there's the kind of intensity one would expect from such a book, but overall,
surprisingly, there's a kind of MFA polish and distance that makes much of the
work feel, I hate to say it, like tourist poetry. Maybe this is reflective of the
sort of war being fought down there, as compared to the bloody, muddy trenches
endured by Owen and Sassoon.
Feb. 11/07: Joseph Conrad: Youth. An early novella, not Conrad at
the height of his powers. But there are some stunning passages and it's interesting
to see this as a trial run of a frame narrative told by Marlow, the narrator of
Heart of Darnkness, which is one of my all-time favourite books.
Feb. 09/07: Dennis Lee: Yesno, for review in Quill & Quire.
A fascinating, though flawed, continuation of Un. The two are really one
book, as signalled by Un ending after section V and Yesno starting
at VI. I think some of my dissatisfactions with Un may well have had to do
with its being patently incomplete. At any rate, this stuff is not easy to apprehend
and insists it be reread. Not just because it's hard, but because, at its best,
it sings quite strangely and beautifully.
Feb. 08/07: Lorri Neilsen Glenn: Combustion for review in Quill
& Quire. The title of this book is misleading.
Feb. 07/07: Anne Compton: Meetings with Maritime Poets. A big fat
collection of 16 interviews. I have to admit I only read 14 of them because I had
no interest whatsoever in the two I skipped. Of the ones I read, a mixed bag,
ranging from incredibly banal to dull to interesting to brilliant. Compton asks
a lot of good questions, clearly based on close and acute readings of the poets'
work. Must have been a helluva lot of labour to assemble and edit.
Jan. 29/07: Dennis Lee: Un. There are a few good stand-alone
poems in this much-ballyhooed book, but this collage of syntactic fragments, portmanteaux,
neologisms, puns and soundplay, while challenging and interesting in a technical
way, can get a bit tedious. It doesn't have the pressure of Celan (even in
translation), whom Lee has cited as a major influence for the shift in
technique. It has the definite virtue of brevity. He's got a new one coming out,
a sequel of sorts to Un, which I'll be reviewing for Quill & Quire.
Jan. 25/07: Leon Rooke: Hitting the Charts: Selected Stories. Wow.
What a dazzling book. What a bold writer. Rooke's stories are vocal performances
more than prose. I can't recommend this highly enough, especially to people
interested in short fiction and what can be accomplished in the margins of the
Jan. 23/07: Meaghan Strimas: Reverence, Life. A very nicely produced
little chapbook of poems by my pal Meaghan. There are some quite saucy, though
disarmingly moving poems here. She's got a bit of the light/dark play of Stevie
Smith going on.
Jan. 22/07: Mike Barnes: A Thaw Foretold. A fine, very moving
collection from a poet you don't hear much about. Formally accomplished, emotionally
stirring. A lot of the poems compel re-reading.
Jan. 21/07: Victoria Finlay: Colour Fantastic non-fiction work, a
biography of the rainbow and a travel quest narrative. The writing's strong and
the subject matter completely fascinating.
Jan. 15/07: Oliver Sacks: Island of the Color-Blind. Been getting much into
Sacks of late. Terrific writer, humane, smart and funny. This book has two long
essays, both based on travel in Micronesia. One about an island afflicted with
genetic achromatopsia, the other about one of Sacks' amateur passions: cycads. Very
Jan. 03/07: Geoff Dyer: Anglo-English Attitudes. A collection of journalism
from one of the more eclectic writers out there. Always entertaining, sometimes
bitingly satirical, at other times devastatingly serious. Dyer has an incredible
range of curiosity and has become an amateur expert on subjects as diverse as
photography, jazz, and boxing. The only other book of his I've read in its entirety
is his off-kilter biography of DH Lawrence, which I absolutely loved. His stories
based on the lives of jazz legends are very fine too.
Dec. 13/06: Harold Bloom: The Art of Reading Poetry. The intro to Bloom's recent
anthology of Bloomerific poetry. A decent essay, but not as interesting as some of
his other criticism.
Dec. 13/06: Peter Trower: Grogan's Cafe. Peter is one of my favourite
Canadian poets, and I had the opportunity to meet him in person recently for the
first time, at which meeting he gave me a copy of this, his first novel. It's kind
of rough, but a good story and a page-turning read.
Dec. 12/06: Robert Bringhurst: The Tree of Meaning. Brilliant book.
There are few people smarter than Robert Bringhurst. These 13 talks, given over a
decade of lecturing, contain some of the most original and riveting scholarship of
Dec. 05/06: Oliver Sacks: An Anthropologist on Mars. Fantastic
collection of case studies and an excellent companion to other nonfiction reading
I've been doing on brain function. The essay on a colourblinded painter inspired me to
write a dramatic monologue, which will be published in the spring of next year as
a letterpress broadside by Frog Hollow Press in Victoria.
Dec. 04/06: Shane Rhodes: The Bindery. For review in Quill &
Quire. This is the first Shane Rhodes book I've read. Not great. A few pretty
good poems, but the collection as a whole is pretty tepid. And too long.
Dec. 01/06: John Donlan: Domestic Economy. Had breakfast with John
and his wife recently, at whose home my wife and I will be housesitting come spring.
We gave John our books and he gave us two of his. Interesting style in this one.
Somewhat reminiscent of Ashbery, but tighter than most Ashbery I've seen. They're
free verse, but all of them are sixteen liners in quatrains. Reads kind of like
oblique diary entries, but not in that icky confessional/anecdotal way.
Nov. 29/06: Steven Pinker: How the Mind Works. An excellent book,
although not my favourite of Pinker's thus far. The Blank Slate and The
Language Instinct are pretty tough competition. I found the more technical parts
on neural networks hard to get my arts brain around, but most challenging in this
tract on the functioning of the mind was what to make of it when page 468 was followed
by 437, then went in sequence to page 468, again, followed by 501. Truly, a
conundrum! How does the mind account for the redundancy and the apparent gap?
Nov. 23/06: K.I. Press: Types of Canadian Women. For review in
Quill & Quire. A very enjoyable book, consisting of old photographic portraits
of women and accompanying monologues. Witty and bitingly funny, but not glib. This
book could've been done wrong in so many different ways, and given that I didn't
like what I'd read of Press's work in the past (Spine, to be specific), I
feared the worst when asked to review this one. Glad I didn't let my prejudice
dictate my decision.
Nov. 23/06: Robert Finley et al.: A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory.
For review in Quill & Quire. These "essays" are transcripts of talks given
at a writing programmes conference. A couple of the five pieces stand alone, but mostly
one gets a "you had to be there" vibe from the book. It's pretty monochrome, too,
in that all the essays are unremittingly serious; Aislinn Hunter's contribution is
playful, in a way, but it's the play of a very serious child. Not to say it all
should have been the opposite, but at least one jocular or ludicrous contribution
would have been welcome. Not the best idea for a book, in my opinion. Commission a bunch
of poets to write about an abstraction and you're likely to get what you asked for...
Aside from Hunter's essay, there seemed to be almost no awareness of scientific
discoveries and research in the field of memory--even hostility to science. This
isn't to say that science should be privileged exclusively, but it's pretty ridiculous
to talk about a physiological brain function, even in metaphorical terms, without
any awareness of how it might actually work. People like Oliver Sacks and Steven
Pinker I love reading precisely because they balance hard science and humansit arts;
too bad the poets seem to be so far behind the curve.
Nov. 22/06: Nick Thran: Every Inadequate Name. A very good debut
collection from a young poet. I can say young, even at my tender age, because
Thran was born in 1980, which means he shouldn't be this good, but he is. His
poetry is hip, but not in the hipster doofus way a lot of contemporary verse is.
His references to popular culture and contemporary life don't feel strained and
programmatic in the least, but are simply elements of this poet's environment.
Formally, there's nothing orthodox in this book, but nothing overtly experimental,
either. Thran does have a knack for the well-timed rhyme, but doesn't appear to
use rhyme as a structuring device--although the quatrains of his excellent poem "Isolation
Camp: A Letter" are built around the "o" sound of words like "not." I saw him read
from this book recently in Toronto, and he reads very well, too. If his best work's
ahead of him, as his age would suggest, Nick Thran's a serious new presence in
Nov. 21/06: Chris Banks: Sparrow & Arrows. A beautifully made handsewn chapbook with a letterpress cover from Biblioasis. I'm
not generally into the sort of poetry Chris writes, which is very colloquial/conversational/anecdotal for the most part, not
all that formally inventive. That said, a couple or few poems in this book remind me that it is still possible to write good
free-verse poems without high-octane craft--even if it's very, very hard to sound distinctive while doing it. Although there
are slacknesses and bits of padding in some of these poems, the craft is solid on the whole and very subtle at its best. Chris'
strength seems to be far more the sentence than the line. There are some gorgeously balanced long sentences in this little
book. I'll have to take a close look at his next trade collection, which should be out any time now.
Nov. 20/06: Rachel Lebowitz: Hannus. When I first met Rachel in the
fall of 2000, she was starting work in earnest on this book, a multi-genre biography
of her great-grandmother. Over the years, I've been reading it in many versions,
piecemeal and in its entirety, offering encouragement, suggestions and observations
(some useful, many more disposable; Rachel's always been able to distinguish between
the two, fortunately) and watching it grow. I also watched in frustration as it
got rejected by a number of presses until one with the imagination to appreciate
the gaps and layers of the book and with the artistic vision to do it visual and
physical justice as a book spoke up and took it on. It is damn good--I am damn proud--
to see it finally printed and bound in such a beautiful format (kudos to Beth Follett
at Pedlar Press and Zab of Zab Design & Typography). All it needs now is lots of
equally dedicated readers.
Nov. 17/06: Kenneth Leslie: The Poems of Kenneth Leslie. On the strength of the 28-sonnet sequence "By Stubborn
Stars" alone, Leslie is one of the very best poets this country has known; this book contains a number of excellent poems
besides, including the outstanding longer works "Cobweb College" and "O'Malley to the Reds." On top of that, he led a
remarkable, even an incredible, life. It's nothing short of a sin that most of his work has been out of print for thirty-plus
years. I'm reading this book in preparation for an essay on his work commissioned for publication in Arc magazine's
"Forgotten and Neglected Poets" issue. Hopefully my essay goes some way to sparking new interest in Leslie's work, but what's
really needed is a new selection of his poetry. Publishers? I'll gladly volunteer to edit it.
Nov. 13/06: J.D. Black: Black Velvet Elvis. Carmine Starnino recommended I check out this book and I'm glad
he did. Its author's obscure; I keep an ear close to the ground for good poets in this country so it's a surprise when a book
of this calibre appears to come out of nowhere. Black is a part of no scene, has published only one poem from this book in a
magazine, has a fascinatingly varied background and since this book's his first at the age of fifty-five, I'd guess he's been quietly at
work at the craft for some time. A ton of formal variety on display here, from sonnets laced with rough diction and tough talk
to experiments in the constrained forms of Provencal troubadours and the double-dactyls of Hecht. Very refreshing to find a
poet not afraid or ashamed to write light verse. There's humour in these poems and, to risk a cliche, humanity in the broadest
sense of the word. Makes me wonder how many other obscure figures are out there quietly writing good, authentic poems. Probably
at least as many as there are talentless frauds and washed-up careerists winning prizes and critical praise.
Nov. 12/06: Mark Anthony Jarman: 19 Knives. Smoking good collection of stories. The prose is as dense and
playful as good poetry, reminding me much of Nabokov, rifted with gritty Western realism to boot. Lots of variety in
technique, highly experimental without being experimentalist. Often funny, frank, brutal, all at once, without drifting into
the realm of tough-guy posing, a vulnerability underlying all the bravado. I can see why this book is a touchstone for a lot
of younger short-fiction writers in this country and I'll be reading more Jarman before long.
Nov. 01/06: Montaigne: Essays. Trans. J.M. Cohen. There is uncommon sense and penetrating honesty in this work.
Something that should be required reading for anyone wanting to write, especially criticism of any variety or autobiography.
Oct. 28/06: Paul Muldoon: Moy Sand and Gravel. I'm on the fence about Muldoon, I have to say. He is unquestionably
brilliant and a master of form, but I often find his poems too clever by half. That said, I did very much enjoy, and became
enraptured by, the long poem that ends this book and a number of the smaller ones are gems as well.
Oct. 27/06: Charles Bruce: The Mulgrave Road. A very tight book of poems, which won the GG way back in '51. Bruce
is plainspoken, no-nonsense--not hard to tell how he became a master journalist--but still manages to ferry an awful lot of beauty,
along with truth, into his poems of Nova Scotian folk, land and sea. I'm looking forward to the new and long overdue edition of his
poetry and prose from Signal Editions.
Oct. 27/06: Sean Johnston: All This Town Remembers. I heard this guy read from this book in Kentville, NS recently
and decided I had to break my usual rule about not reading contemporary English fiction. His style is unassuming, but the prose
nevertheless builds significant rhythmic momentum, the dialogue is crisp and credible and the characters full-blooded. There
are those out there calling for a moratorium on small-town fiction in this country, but as long as it's this well-done, I see
no need for such drastic measures.
Oct. 25/06: Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion. A wonderfully spirited
and eloquent defense of atheism and a near-airtight refutation of religious belief.
For Dawkins, religion is a disease of the mind, much like a virus or a chemical
dependency. I'm strongly inclined to agree. This book should be required reading
for anyone harbouring doubts about the faith in which they were raised. Those with
no doubts will never be convinced of anything they don't already believe. A fool
and his money may be easily parted, but a fool and his doctrines are damn nigh
inseparable. One small criticism: I'm astounded that anyone could write a book against
God and Religion and nowhere in it even mention Nietzsche, much less grapple with his
iconoclastic thought and writing.
Oct. 22/06: Richard Wilbur: Collected Poems. A master of elegance.
There's fine work throughout, highly polished, perfect in its parts, and a number
of the sort of poems that should secure any poet a permanent perch on Parnassus.
As with any Collected Works, there are more poems I don't really care for than
really gripping pieces, but that's not a reasonable criticism of a life's work in
Oct. 15/06: Peter Sanger & Thaddeus Holownia: Ironworks. Beautiful little collection of photographs and accompanying
poems about rusted metal objects that Sanger has collected. The version I have is unfortunately, the affordable trade book. I
would love to see the ltd. ed. with the photos in colour.
Oct. 15/06: Peter Sanger & Thaddeus Holownia: Arborealis. A stunning piece of bookwork from Anchorage Press, Holownia's
private press. The photographs are of Newfoundland and together with the poems are woven into a sort of narrative of navigation
on land and sea. Very compelling, both as object and text.
Oct. 14/06: John Metcalf: An Aesthetic Underground. A very fun-to-read memoir of Metcalf's often quixotic travels
in Canadian Literature. Probably of greater interest to someone involved in the literary scene, but with bits that should
entertain and touch any reader. Especially moving is a scene between Metcalf and the then-dying John Newlove.
Oct. 14/06: Peter Sanger: After Monteverdi. Lovely little chapbook with some very good poems in it.
Oct. 13/06: Re-read of Peter Sanger: Kerf.
Oct. 12/06: Re-read of Peter Sanger: Aiken Drum.
Oct. 01/06: David Hickey: In the Lights of a Midnight Plow. I introduced the poetry of David Hickey to Dan Wells
of Biblioasis, so it was with some pride that I read the finished book. Dave is a very gifted poet and some of these poems as
good as any being published by poets our age. He has a wonderful ear and a gift for metaphor.
Sep. 27/06: Mary Dalton: Red Ledger. For review in Quill & Quire. Some excellent work in this collection,
even if it isn't altogether as tight as Merrybegot. When Dalton's on her game, she rocks.
Sep. 21/06: Imre Kertesz: Liquidation. Intricately post-modern, but still very readable and quite disturbing novel
from the Nobel-Prize winning author. He does successfully what a lot of contemporary writers fail at in structuring a "meta-
narrative", or story about story-telling. So often this feels gimmicky, but it is absolutely integral and not at all trivial
in this book.
Sep. 19/06: Re-read of Peter Sanger: Earth Moth. I wasn't as enraptured with this book as the first time
I read it, though the best poems in it are truly excellent. Sanger seems to be so set on stripping his poems of anything
resembling cliche that they sometimes feel cramped, cloistered, gnomic. They feel so deliberately constructed that they're
almost private (and, based on his criticism, I don't know that he'd see this as a bad thing) and hold the reader at bay. He
tends to be at his best in a descriptive mode in which he lets the valencies of the language do the metaphorical lifting; he
occasionally betrays this good tendency by making analogies more overt. But as a student of the via negativa, he
certainly makes a more compelling artistic argument than such fellow-travellers in apophasis as McKay, Zwicky and recent work
by Lilburn. I often find there's something not quite credible in the poems of these three, not quite earned, more gesture than
geste. In Sanger's work this is rarely the case.
Sep. 18/06: Re-read of Peter Sanger: The America Reel. This is Sanger's first collection of poems, from
1983. It feels like a poet not quite sure of what he has to say or of how to say it; the style is unsettled. There are inklings
of what's to come inEarth Moth, but some of the poems feel derivative of John Thompson and other simply feel, if not unfinished,
inconclusive. Not that poems have to have conclusions per se, but I like Yeats' comment on a poem clicking shut, audibly, like a box.
A lot of the poems here end with the lid ajar, and I can't figure out why--or if--this should be so. Other poems haven't distanced themselves
sufficiently from their source text, and so feel padded with fact, which is an unusual flaw in Sanger's poetry, which is, or at least becomes
after this book, flensed to a spare minimum of connection and explanation.
Sep. 16/06: William Empson: Seven Types of Ambiguity. A brilliant work of criticism. I don't think reading poems will
ever be the same again. I say this in earnest. The tricky thing is going to be shelving all the explosive ideas here somewhere
in the back while writing--even while revising--poems.
Sep. 13/06: re-read of Peter Sanger: White Salt Mountain: Words in Time. I have a few problems with this
book. Sanger dedicates an awful lot of space to the biography of Florence Ayscough, whom he claims is underappreciated, yet
he can't quite bring himself to say was a very good writer. It turns out that his interest in her has a lot to do with her
translations of Tu Fu being a footnote to John Thompson's Stilt Jack, a favourite topic of Sanger's. He also misses
the opportunity to do an in-depth treatment of Bliss Carman's pernicious influence on the early works of Robert Frost--a
topic which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been dealt with elsewhere. Overall, there's a streak of sentimental
nostalgia in the book, which nevertheless has some of Sanger's characteristically profound insights and beautiful prose.
Sep. 08/06: Simon Armitage: Killing Time. Excellent long poem. In 1000 lines, Armitage rings in the millenium.
This kind of civic engagement is uncommon in contemporary poetry, and when it is done, it's not often this good. Armitage is
particularly good with catalogues, accumulating details until they add up to something more substantial than the sum of their
parts. Lots of wit and humour to be found here too: true signposts of moral and literary seriousness.
Sep. 02/06: re-read of Peter Sanger: Spar: Words in Place.
Just as gorgeous and wise a little book as I'd remembered. With Earth Moth,
it's up there as my favourite of Sanger's.
Sep. 02/06: Bruce Chatwin: The Songlines. How have I never read this
book before? (Probably because I didn't listen to my mother, who finally bought
me a copy. Thanks, Lynne!) Along with Hugh Brody's The Other Side of Eden and
several works by Barry Lopez and Nietzsche, this book has become a touchstone for
some pet theories/obsessions I have about humankind's essential nomadic impulse.
And it's a terrifically compelling read, unflinchingly written. Chatwin never stoops
to idealization of the "noble savage" nor succumbs to self-flagellating white guilt.
Sep. 01/06: Robert Allen: The Encantadas for review in Quill &
Quire. An uneven, tho occasionally mesmerizing, long poem.
Aug. 16/06: Steven Pinker: The Language Instinct. Another brilliant
book by one of my new favourite writers. This should be required reading for anyone
who is or wants to be a writer and/or a teacher. Or even a parent, for that matter.
Interesting also to see how the specific topic of this book opens up into the broader
investigations of The Blank Slate.
Aug. 05/06: Mark Abley: The Silver Palace Restaurant. For review in
Arc. An uneven collection. There are a few pretty good poems, but an awful
lot that feel like they could've been written by anybody.
July 24/06: Thomas Heise: Horror Vacui. For review in Vallum.
A formally interesting, occasionally arresting, collection (more of a long serial
elegy, really) from an American expat now resident in Montreal. It's not entirely
my cup of tea (not a lot of tonal range), but it's very well done, especially for
a debut book.
July 22/06: Anne Szumigalski: When Earth Leaps Up. For review in
Quill & Quire. A posthumous collection from one of Canadian Poetry's best-
loved figures. Unfortunately, the poetry itself is no great shakes. Not awful
(mostly), but not all that great either.
June 30/06: Elise Partridge: Fielder's Choice. I met Elise at my
reading in Vancouver a few months back. I'd been meaning to read her book for some
time prior to that, and now I'm glad I did. She's technically brilliant, but what
makes her best poems good is that the technique is in service to powerful, barely
restrained emotion. Looking forward to her next book (with Anansi, I hear).
June 29/06: Halldor Laxness: World Light. Halldor Laxness can do little
wrong in my book, at least with what I've managed to get a hold of in English
translation. This tragi-comic kunstlerroman (similar to The Fish Can Sing,
but more epic in scale) is at times hilarious and at others downright depressing--
particularly if one has any ambitions for poetic achievement.
June 22/06: James Fenton: The Strength of Poetry: Oxford Lectures.
An interesting and insightful series of lectures.
June 20/06: David Solway: Modern Marriage. I find Solway very uneven,
but this sonnet sequence definitely contains some of his best work.
June 14/06: Margaret Avison: Always Now: The Collected Poems, Vol. 2.
I might wait till I've got vol. 3 and her new collection read till I say anything
at length about Avison. She is without doubt brilliantly inventive, but the overt
piety of many of these poems shuts me out--in a way that the religious poems of
Donne and Hopkins don't. I'm trying to figure out if Avison is a great poet or
simply an eccentric one. A few lines do stick about in my head, but an awful lot
just kind of flows by.
June 08/06: Michael Gazzanigga: The Ethical Brain. An interesting
book, tho not as good as Gould, Pinker or Dawkins or Fortey for writing style.
Felt a bit too self-consciously topical, too.
May 21/06: Sandor Marai: Embers. This novel started off slowly--I
was tempted to put it down--but then became completely riveting. Most of it's dialogue,
but it works. It would adapt very well into a play or film, if it hasn't already been made.
May 14/06: Barry Lopez: Resistance. I have read a lot of Lopez's
short fiction, and while it is quite good, it's still his non-fiction works
(especially Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men) that grab me best.
This is a highly unified collection, a response to the current State of the World,
and unfortunately, it seems a bit like that; the stories seem somewhat pushed
into existence, almost as tho they put up their own resistance.
May 07/06: Edwin Muir: The Estate of Poetry. Terrific little series
of lectures, with some valuable insights into the modern predicament of being a
poet. It was written in 1955, but some of the observations Muir makes about poetry
and its audience are, if anything, even more accurate today.
May 06/06: Les Murray: Learning Human. A big, fat selected poems from
the most famous contemporary Aussie poet. And judging from the best poems in here,
that fame is well-deserved. When Murray's on, he's briiliant, and perfectly sui
generis. Love the combination of--and tensions between--urbane intellect and no-nonsense
May 04/06: George Elliott Clarke: Black. I reviewed what I thought was the unbound galleys of this book for Quill & Quire a couple of months ago, but it turns out I was mistakenly sent an early draft manuscript of the book instead. The finished book is much, much better than what I reviewed. In fact, there's actually very little overlap in content. Not only are there poems in the ms. that didn't make the cut in the book, but there are poems in the book that weren't in the ms. And the whole thing is about half the length of what I was given to review. A really unfortunate fuckup on the part of the publisher. The book is very similar in variety and quality to Blue, a book I like quite a lot. There are weaker poems in it, to be sure, but some very fine work as well in Clark's trademark combustible and bombastic style.
May 03/06: Steven Price: Anatomy of Keys for review in Quill & Quire. An excellent, impressive, ambitious debut book. It's a long poem about the life of Harry Houdini, written in a wide variety of poetic forms. There are some minor flaws in it (a bit of overwriting, a bit of homiletic wisdom-dispensing, a bit of gimmicky diction, and some evidence of over-editing), but the virtues of the writing easily outweigh them. Wonderful to read a debut book--any book!--that is both about something and masterfully crafted.
Apr. 29/06: Randall Jarrell: No Other Book. What a critic. The essays in this book are new touchstones for my own reviewing practice.
Apr. 28/06: Alan Dugan: Poems 3. Pretty good, but didn't like as much in this one as in the previous two. So far, the only poem that's really stuck with me is "Love Song: I and Thou" from Poems. John MacKenzie, at my suggestion, posted a recording of it on his blog, and subsequent discussion of it prompted me to write the following response to it:
LOVE SONG: THOU ALONE
And if I pay out sufficient
cordage, will you hang
yourself? By Christ, I'm tired
of the self-dramatics
of martyr-complex men. Get off
the cross, Alan, your lot's no worse
to bear than any other's-
unless it be mine to live
with a self-despising fool
like you. No, as attractive
as the offer to join you
in your shack of hazards is,
I'll have to pass. Get your
shit together, man, contract
what you can't do yourself,
tame that rage, straighten
what is bent, then call me
and we'll talk. Until then,
I've better things to do
than cater to the vanity
of men. If you're so stupid
as to pin your southpaw
to the cross, I'm not the one
to nail the right, nor will I
pull the left one with the claw,
but leave you dangling there
until your weight undoes
your work and you're left lying
in the sawdust to lick
your blessed wound.
Apr. 21/06: Tim Bowling: Fathom. The latest chapter in the Book of Bowling, this collection has the usual felicities and flaws of the previous six (six!!) books: a lot of overwriting, which is the waste product of a poetic ambition that creates the occasional extremely powerful poem--and there are a few to be counted here. It's getting near time for a very well-edited selection of Bowling's work, which will I think showcase him as one of the very best poets in this country over the last ten or so years.
Apr. 20/06: Robert Bringhurst: Ursa Major. Hard to judge this by reading it, as it's a polyphonic masque, so it lacks the aspects of overlapping voices and dance. Wish I could see it; it must be magic in a good performance.
Apr. 15/06: Margaret Avison: Sunblue. A lot of God and Christ poems in here that don't do a whole lot for me, but I love her play with language and there are a couple poems in this collection that are among her best.
Apr. 14/06: Thomas Lynch: Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans. An uneven book. The style and voice are consistently engaging and sometimes Lynch is really damn funny, at others extremely moving, but some of the material seems to be included for no greater reason than thickening the spine of the book. I bought it in hardback so I could get the author to sign it. Otherwise, better to wait for paper and save $15.
Apr. 11/06: re-read of Don McKay: Strike/Slip for review. I've written an in-depth essay saying mostly what I don't like about McKay's poetry, primarily because most people are rather fulsome in saying what they do like. I've always enjoyed McKay, but find he underachieves, sells his own poems short, is sloppy. This collection is as good and bad as Another Gravity or Apparatus.
Apr. 6/06: Don McKay: Field Marks, ed. Méira Cook. For review. An odd selection of 35 poems, seemingly chosen more to illustrate points made by the editor in her introduction than because of any particular excellence of the poems. Or maybe it's just that you could pick any 35 of McKay's poems and it would amount to the same thing...
Apr. 4/06: Geoffrey Hill: Canaan. Don't pretend to understand much, on a rational level, but you can't fake the oracular heft of poetry like this. Can't say I love it, but am in awe of it.
Apr. 4/06: Edward A.E. Nixon: Nights in the City of the Dead. A chapbook by a guy I met at a reading in Toronto in February. He writes a kind of Big Theme poetry that few can pull off pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see if/when he publishes a full-length collection.
Apr. 4/06: Ken Babstock: Airstream Land Yacht. Some of the poems in here are too elliptical by half for my taste, but it's interesting to see a talented younger poet with a couple of books under his belt fork off in new directions. At least a couple of the poems in this book are as good, or better, than anything else he's written. I saw him read from the book a couple of days after I read it, and he said it was a more "mature" collection than the first two. I agree.
Apr. 3/06: Peter Sanger: Sea Run: Notes on John Thompson's Stilt Jack. Another impressive piece of literary sleuthing by Sanger. Personally, I don't care much for the approach, but it has its uses and you have to admire his doggedness in pursuing it.
Apr. 3/06: Alan Dugan: Poems 2. Got turned onto Dugan by a friend and glad I did. There's a sly directness to him I really like, and a few poems are very strong indeed.
Mar. 31/06: Alan Dugan: Poems.
Mar. 31/06: Peter Sanger: "Her Kindled Shadow...": An Introduction to the Work of Richard Outram. This is quite the feat of criticism and an obvious labour of love. As Carmine Starnino has argued, I'm not sure how much this book will help to save Outram from obscurity, but it is nevertheless a very useful companion to the work for anyone who already knows what a terrific poet Outram was.
Mar. 28/06: Elizabeth Bachinsky: Curio: Grotesques and Satires from the Electronic Age. Parts of this book I thought were brilliant, especially a section of letters/diary entries/interview fragments/etc. in the voice of Antonin Artaud. Other parts got into the arbitrary cut-up and anagrammatical games of Dadaism, which do less than nothing for me--as I've already told Liz. But this book alongside Home of Sudden Service show a very sharp mind combined with a great ear, range and ambition aplenty.
Mar. 25/06: Richard Outram: Mogul Recollected. Not my favourite Outram book, but it has a couple of amazing poems.
Mar. 25/06: Richard Outram: Selected Poems 1960-1980. Interesting to come to this early Outram after reading the later books. There's a gnomic density here that opens up as he matures and expands his tonal range. Still, some gorgeous work here.
Mar. 24/06: Holly Luhning: Sway. To be honest, I was disappointed in this book. After meeting Holly in Saskatoon and hearing her read a very funny poem and another chilling dramatic monologue, to read this book, which feels like it could've been written by any prairie farm kid who went to CW school, was a letdown. I look forward to bigger and better down the road.
Mar. 22/06: Don McKay: Strike/Slip. See above.
Mar. 22/06: Michael Schmidt: Lives of the Poets. Boy, what a brick of a book! Schmidt's very strong for the most part, until he gets into the 20th Century, at which point he becomes rather tendentious and fawns over poets he knows personally and has published himself. He would've done well to cut it off at 1950 or so, because it makes for a pretty damn weak conclusion after 900 strong pages. Overall, an excellent survey of English-language poetry, though with significant blindspots.
Mar. 19/06: Peter Sanger: Aiken Drum for review in Quill & Quire. A mixed-quality collection. Some of the poems are every bit as good as the best in Earth Moth, but others bog down in discursiveness or opacity. A gorgeous book, one of the lovelier produced by Gaspereau, which is saying much.
Mar. 12/06: Elizabeth Bachinsky: Home of Sudden Service. I met Liz at my reading in Vancouver, after a couple of months of corresponding, and she was proudly clutching her fresh first copy of this, her second book. She takes familiar subjects--growing up in small towns and suburbs--and invigorates them with formal precision and edgy language. During my tour, Liz and I started, at her suggestion, a correspondence in sonnets, which unfortunately has lapsed after seven poems--her fault, not mine! A pity because it could have got very interesting. Well, for me at least.
Mar. 03/06: Richard Dawkins: The Ancestor's Tale. An accessible, well-written, compelling account of evolution, starting from humankind and making a Chaucerian pilgrimage back to the dawn of cellular life. Should be required reading for creationists and other idiot zealots of the Christian Right.
Feb. 16/06: George Elliott Clarke: Black for review in Quill & Quire. I've long been a fan of Clarke's work, which made this latest book doubly disappointing. Although, the qualify the negative review I gave it in Q & Q, it turns out that the "galleys" I got were more like an early draft from which much of the weakest material has been pruned. An unfortunate gaff on the part of the publisher, letting completely unedited material out into the public.
Jan. 25/06: Wayne Clifford: An Ache in the Ear. Published in 1979, this was Wayne's last trade book before On Abducting the 'Cello appeared last year. It's quite amazing to look at the two books side by each. They reveal that in the interval Wayne was doing what every good artist has to do, i.e. challenging his aesthetic assumptions, forging new ways of writing, evolving his style. There's evidence of what would come in AAitE already, as there are three sonnets in this book. Wayne didn't simply jump on the recently renovated sonnet bandwagon, but has clearly been thinking about the form for several decades. Paradoxically--at least according to those who mistakenly think form constraining--Wayne has emerged as more free-wheeling and unpredictable in his more formal poems. There's a kind of stiffness in some of the writing in this book that I don't find in 'Cello. That said, it's still full of intoxicating sound and stimulating thought, and is simply gorgeous as a piece of bookmaking. If only Coach House was still doing work like this instead of the commercialized, hip, glib ironies that seem to dominate their poetry list.
Jan. 23/06: Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. This is essential reading for anyone at all engaged with arts, politics or science. Pinker makes necessary, sane and eloquent arguments for ditching a score of delusions that have determined the direction of much contemporary thought and policy. He can be a bit broadstroke at times, particularly in areas in which he is not an expert such as the arts, in the name of making his point, but this does no damage to the overall validity of the point itself. This book was particularly bracing for me as it gives scientific validation to a lot of the central articles of my own thought and artistic practice.
Jan. 19/06: Christopher Wiseman, In John Updike's Room. For review in Arc. I've heard many good things about Wiseman's work from people whose opinions I generally trust, but I found this book bogged down in a kind of sepia tone nostalgia and its plain style was often indistinguishable from unexceptional prose. Which is strange, because Wiseman does often show himself capable of formal virtuosity; I can't figure out why he strays from it so often. There is a core of good to very good poems in the book, but it's a selected volume that fills circa 200 pages, far too many of which contribute to nothing so much as the width of the spine.
Jan. 13/06: The New Canon, ed. Carmine Starnino. A provocative and highly readable anthology of younger Canadian poets. Naturally enough, I question some of Carmine's inclusions and exclusions, but on the whole this book is so much more exciting and varied than the standard fare out there. But most of all, I question his decision to cut off the junior end at a 1975 birthdate because, as he notes in his intro (which presents a terrific and refreshingly unpolemical argument), had it been otherwise, I would've been in!
Jan. 11/06: Anne Carson: The Beauty of the Husband. Occasionally sharp, often dull and on the whole far too cool to really get me revved up. I don't hate Carson's writing the way some seem to, but I don't get what the fuss is about her either.
Jan. 11/06: Lynn Crosbie: Liar for review in Quill & Quire. The confessional mode at its most self-indulgent. I have a hard time imagining this book being published if it were written by someone with less standing in the literary world.
Jan. 08/06: Eric Miller:In the Scaffolding for review in Arc. A wildly uneven collection. Miller's like a free-swinging slugger: always with an eye to driving one into the upper deck, but often striking out. There are brilliant metaphors, images and similes in this book, but only a handful of the poems aren't failures. With tighter structure, more discipline, a better filter, Miller could be one of the best poets writing in this country. As it is, however, most of his work is frustratingly underachieving.
Jan. 02/06: Patrick Warner: All Manner of Misunderstanding. Warner's first collection of poems, but a very mature book. I love the cadence of his line, the mixture of dark and light, his offbeat way of seeing. There's a spirituality in this book--as in his second--that is far too tough and hard-earned to slide into the soft goo that so often is the habitat of so-called spiritual verse.
Jan. 02/06: Patrick Warner: There, There. A re-read for review in Arc. I liked this book even better, and got more out of it, the second time around, which is always a good sign.
Dec. 28/05: Halldor Laxness: Independent People. The masterpiece published prior to Laxness winning the Nobel. I've read four of Laxness' novels in recent months and I love them all--and they're all so different, while still being characterized by his characteristic blend of dark humour and tragic pathos. This book's more of a realistic historical (alhtough the events in it take place not that long before the time of writing) novel than, say, Iceland's Bell, but it draws in subtle ways on the Sagas and myth. It's easy to see why this book is regarded by many as the quintessential Icelandic novel.
Dec. 6/05: Thomas O'Grady: What Really Matters. An immaculately crafted collection of poems from an expat PEIslander (childhood friend of my late cousin, no less). O'Grady's a prof of Irish lit and his study of poetry from the Emerald Isle is evident in the metred cadences and tightly structured stanzas of his poems. Sometimes they come off a bit stiff and archaic, and the nostalgic sentiment in them I have a hard time identifying with, but the poems are quite often moving and are occasionally barbed with ironic wit.
Nov. 30/05: Bernd Heinrich: Mind of the Raven. A very interesting and well-written book on raven behaviour by a scientist who's spent much time studying and raising ravens. I wish there'd been more cultural history thrown in with the scientific research and anecdotes, but otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Nov. 29/05: Eric Cole: Man & Beast. Very strong first collection of poems by an Irish-born elephant keeper living in Ontario. Most of the poems are sonnets and many are about animals (both of which factors go a long way towards ingratiating this reader to them), and besides that, they're very well-made. And Cole is that rare thing: a poet with something to say.
Nov. 24/05: Richard Outram: Dove Legend. In this long late collection of poems, Outram is by times dazzlingly brilliant and puzzlingly opaque. He has a well-earned reputation for being a "difficult" poet, but I think his reputation will rest with his less densely allusive work. "Barbed Wire" alone, in my books, merits immortal remembrance.
Nov. 22/05: Evie Christie: Gutted. I'm named in the acknowledgments of this book, so can't pretend to be objective. But I'll say this: Evie's poems have a gutsy edge and dark humour that's uncommon in the pretty genteel province of Canadian poetry. And the best ones are very moving.
Nov. 21/05: Richard Outram: Benedict Abroad. There are some gorgeous moments in this book, but on the whole I'm not as crazy about it as I am of other Outram books I've read.
Nov. 20/05: Jen Currin: The Sleep of Four Cities, for review in Quill & Quire. Very "well-crafted" book of quasi-surrealist poems. There are some original images and good lines, but ultimately the poems feel too arbitrary in their construction to cohere. One gets the sense of a poet trying so hard to be different that she loses sight of more important considerations.
Nov. 20/05: Goran Simic: Yesterday's People. A powerful collection of short stories, covering similar territory to Simic's poems (the Bosnian war, the ambivalence of immigrants), but by no means redundant. The stories are particularly effective for their blend and balance of the tragic and the farcical. They are unmistakably Eastern European in flavour, but quintessentially Canadian as well.
Nov. 18/05: Amanda Lamarche: The Clicheist, for review in Quill & Quire. Mixed first collection of poems. Some of them are quite dull--not surprisingly, these were the ones chosen to represent Lamarche in Breathing Fire 2--but others have a terrific vernacular edge and/or formal inventiveness.
Nov. 17/05: Peter Sanger: Kerf. A beautiful little chapbook comprising a suite of fifteen somewhat cryptic curtal sonnets. Sanger's verse takes work, etymological unearthing, but it's well worth it. Far more than simply abstruse, the difficulty of these poems is due to their being flensed to bare essentials--without sacrificing musical grace in the least.
Nov. 16/05: George Murray: A Set of Deadly Negotiations. Another gorgeously produced chapbook by Victoria's Frog Hollow Press. George's sonnets are disturbing meditations, quite unlike anything else I've seen done with the form, particularly in his use of thought-rhymes.
Nov. 7/05: WH Auden: The Dyer's Hand. I didn't get a lot out of some of the essays in this book, in part because I hadn't read all the works Auden was discussing, but he does say a lot of things that I think are indispensable to any poet or critic.
Oct. 29/05: Richard Fortey: The Earth: An Intimate History. Fascinating book on plate tectonics. Fortey not only knows his geology, but knows how to translate it to the layman, with illustrative analogies and similes. He's also a very literate man, as reflected by his range of reference and excellent prose.
Oct. 26/05: Suzanne Buffam: Past Imperfect. A re-read for review in The Antigonish Review.
Oct. 26/05: Eric Ormsby: Daybreak at the Straits. A strong collection from one of the modern masters of verse technique. Sometimes that technique overpowers the subject matter, but there are also some very moving poems in the book, and some very amusing ones as well.
Oct. 25/05: re-reading Pino Coluccio: First Comes Love for review in The Antigonish Review.
Oct. 20/05: Don Paterson, ed.: 101 Sonnets. Terrific little anthology on one of my favourite poetic forms. Particularly enjoyable are Paterson's brief notes on the poems.
Oct. 18/05: David Seymour: Inter Alia, for review in Quill & Quire. Mostly uninteresting debut collection of poems. I do like his sequence of prose poems on Huddie Ledbetter and another long poem on silence (how's that for a contradiction in terms?), but on the whole, the poems are unsurprising and often derivative of other Canadian poets, particularly Don McKay.
Oct. 18/05: Shawna Lemay: Blue Feast, for review in Quill & Quire. Blah.
Oct. 06/05: Peter Sanger: The America Reel. An older collection of Sanger's poems, they are often much looser than the work he's published over the last fifteen years. Some interesting stuff here, but for my money, a far cry from his '91 collection Earth Moth.
Oct. 04/05: Pino Coluccio: First Comes Love, for review in The Antigonish Review. Very strong debut collection. Coluccio writes primarily in very tight rhyming structures, with a refreshing penchant for light verse. Often very funny, often very moving. In some poems, far too close to Philip Larkin.
Oct. 04/05: Jeffrey Wainwright: Poetry: The Basics. Very readable book on prosody, if somewhat cursory. But the title promises nothing more substantial, so I can't really complain. Excellent resource for someone looking for a way into English poetic technique.
Sep. 28/05: Wayne Clifford: On Abducting the 'Cello. Terrific sequence of sonnets. Clifford mixes up the sonnet form in an amazing number of variations, blending high and low registers and subjects to great effect.
Sep. 27/05: Umberto Eco: Baudolino. Disappointing book. Maybe I'm just outgrowing my taste for Eco's novels, but this one seemed especially flabby and static, like Voltaire's Candide with a glandular disorder.
Sep. 20/05: Christopher Logue/Homer: War Music. Wow. This book is amazing; I'm going to have to track down Logue's further "translations" from Homer. The anachronisms and colloquialisms in the book occasionally irritate, but are remarkably effective for the most part.
Sep. 14/05: Don McKay: Deactivated West 100, for review in Quill & Quire. An uneven book; the first part's pretty weak, but there are some excellent poems and essays in the latter sections.
Sep. 06/05: Suzanne Buffam: Past Imperfect. Very impressive debut collection of poems. She walks a thin line between restraint and disclosure, both formally and emotionally and is often quite funny, in an understated sort of way. Her work reminds me in some ways of Elizabeth Bishop, a favourite of mine, but in other ways is far more idiosyncratic and oblique.
Aug. 30/05: Karen Solie: Modern and Normal. This book confirms what I suspected after Short Haul Engine: that Karen Solie is one of the very best poets now writing in this country. Smart, tough, funny, moving and impeccably made, Solie strikes a fine balance--often wanting in contemporary collections--between ironic distance and emotional immediacy.
Aug. 22/05: Harry Thurston: A Place Between the Tides: A Naturalist's Reflections on the Salt Marsh. Gorgeous meditation on the turning seasons in a unique liminal ecosystem.
Aug. 17/05: Michael de Beyer: Change in a Razor-backed Season, for review in Quill & Quire. A very interesting second collection, much better overall than his first book. de Beyer could well be developing a very unique voice, though I think he's in danger of painting himself into a vocal corner; I'd like to see more range from him to complement his exceptional focus.
Aug. 15/05: John Glassco: Selected Poems. I am constantly amazed by the neglect suffered by some of our most exceptional poets. John Glassco is one of them. His poems deserve to be kept in print.
Aug. 09/05: George Sipos: Anything but the Moon for review in Quill & Quire. Mostly dull collection, with a few bright spots.
Aug. 07/05: Philip Roth: Portnoy's Complaint. A riot of a novel. Easy to see why it was so controversial in its day, but hard to imagine it causing the same stir today.
July 30/05: Carol Ann Duffy: The World's Wife. Tremendously enjoyable
collection of dramatic monologues. A lot of books with similar politics are dismal
failures, but Duffy leavens her feminism with wit, humour and stylistic verve.
July 25/05: Mark Kurlansky: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the
World. A very entertaining and informative read.
July 17/05: John Newlove: Apology for Absence: Selected Poems. Newlove
is very highly regarded in certain circles. Let's hope that his readership isn't
too circumscribed, because his poems are exceptionally fine. Tough and moving. My
unlce tells a story of how Newlove, after doing a reading in Charlottetown, was
staying at his house (next door to mine). A fan tracked him down the morning
after the reading and asked Newlove, badly hungover, to read him a poem. Newlove
responded, "Gimme a dollar." Which says almost enough about what you need to know
to appreciate the man's poems.
July 13/05: David Sedaris: Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy.
Hilarious and often moving collection of essays.
July 12/05: Richard Outram: Man in Love. Tremendous collection of
poems by one of our country's finest and most underrated poets.
July 10/05: Peter Sanger: White Salt Mountain: Words in Time. A great
folowup to his previous prose book, Spar. It goes off the rails a bit at
times. A book about following digressions, I wish it had followed some as assiduously
July 10/05: Brian Joseph Davis: Portable Altamont, for review in Quill & Quire. A true piece of shit of a book. All clever-clever, haha one-offs, it has nothing to make you want to re-read.
July 9/05: Lazar Sarna: He Claims He Is the Direct Heir, for review in Quill & Quire. A fine and strange collection.
July 7/05: Margaret Avison: Always Now: The Collected Poems, Vol. 1. I don't find her work uniformly successful by any stretch--I find much of it too opaque--but Avison definitely deserves her reputation as one of our best and most original poets.
July 5/05: Lisa Moore: Open. I'm bowled over by the technical skill Moore possesses, but I find that at times this skill actually interferes with the stories. They sometimes feel too well-crafted.
July 2/05: Re-reading Brenda Schmidt: More Than Three Feet of Ice for review in Arc.
June 30/05: Halldor Laxness: Under the Glacier. A strange and innovative fable of modernisation in an isolated Icelandic valley. Laxness has become one of my favourite novelists, and none of the three books of his I've read remotely resembles the others, except insofar as the same grim Nordic humour pervades them all.
June 29/05: re-reading Steven Laird: Charlatan for review in Arc.
June 25/05: Barry Dempster: Letters from a Long Illness with the World. A daring thing to do, write a book in the voice of one of the 20th Century's greatest poets (in this case, DH Lawrence), but Dempster pulls it off. A powerful little book.
June 18/05: Lyle Neff: Bizarre Winery Tragedy. For review in Quill & Quire. A mostly disappointing collection of poems, with a few bright spots.
June 18/05: Re-read of Lyle Neff: Ivanhoe Station. There's a poem in this book, about the poet's father, that has set the bar for Lyle Neff. In his two subsequent books, he hasn't, unfortunately, written anything to match it.
June 17/05: Trevor Corson: The Secret Life of Lobsters. A very entertaining and informative book about the mysterious and delicious crustacean. Corson writes from the perspective of lobsters, lobster fishermen and lobster scientists, primarily in the state of Maine, and does a wonderful job of weaving the threads together.
June 16/05: Brenda Schmidt: A Haunting Sun. A promising first book of poems, many of which are tautly structured and contain surprising images.
June 10/05: Barry Dempster: The Burning Alphabet. For review in Quill & Quire. A book with some very strong poems in it, but with a bit too much padding on the whole.
June 07/05: T.S. Eliot: On Poetry and Poets. Invigorating collection of essays. I especially like Eliot's revisionist takes on Milton. I'm not a huge fan of his poetry, but Eliot's essays should be required reading for anyone interested in poetry as a reader or writer.
June 05/05: Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: The Nettle Spinner. A page-turner of a postmodern fable. Kathryn's a friend of mine, so I have a hard time being objective, but I will say that I found some parts of the book worked much better than others. The action happens in three distinct narrative threads: 1)the present, with the protagonist and a possibly imaginary hermit holed up in a shack deep in the woods of Northern Ontario; 2)the recent past, in a tree-planting camp in Northern Ontario; and 3)the distant past in a fairy tale about a prince and a girl who spins nettles. Kathryn does a good job of weaving the threads together herself, but I find that thread 1) is less convincingly rendered than 2) and 3). But I enjoyed the novel on the whole very much; read it practically in one sitting, which is rare for me.
June 04/05: John Sayles: The Anarchists' Convention. A mixed, but often brilliant, collection of stories from the acclaimed film director. A story about a renegade trucker is especially memorable.
June 01/05: Brenda Schmidt: More Than Three Feet of Ice. For review in Arc. I happen to know that Brenda's one of the few people who reads this log, so she'll just have to wait till the review comes out.
May 31/05: Stephen Brockwell and Peter Norman: Wild Clover Honey and The Beehive: 28 Sonnets on the Sonnet. For review in Arc. A brilliant bit of dialectical banjos, taking up a lot of the oft-iterated pros and cons of the sonnet form--and doing it in very witty, well-made verse, to boot.
May 26/05: Richard Van Camp: The Lesser Blessed. Excellent short novel about growing up Native in a northern town. Memorable characters, sharp dialogue, piercing insight into the serious problems and occasional moments of joy involved in being an aboriginal teenager in contemporary NWT.
May 24/05: C.R. Bouck: The Crucible. A curious book I happened across recently. A sequence of soliloquies in the voices of various Arctic explorers, this book appears to have been self-published in Nova Scotia in 1999. There is no information at all in the book about its author, and none to be found on the web, beyond the fact that he published this book. Which is too bad, because the poems, though they cover well-trodden ground (or ice, in this case), are quite different from any other writing I've seen on this subject and Bouck displays an effortless ability to shift gears from elevated diction and formal meters to slang and free verse. One wonders how many other such rough gems are hiding out there in the bare tundra of Canadian poetry.
May 23/05: Salvatore Ala: Straight Razor and Other Poems. This is a beautifully made book, but unfortunately, most of the poems are disappointingly precious; Ala takes stabs at the vatic mode, but he doesn't seem up to it. His best poems tend to be the more personal ones, enriched by particular details.
May 16/05: Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems. Jeffers' didacticism can be at times offputting--though one doubts whether someone as misanthropic as he would care if he was offputting or not--but his vision of the decline of the American empire ("America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire") feels especially prescient and chilling today. The best poems are brilliant, in both music and vision; Jeffers can get away with things that a lesser poet never could. His long narrative poem, "Roan Stallion," is outstanding.
May 10/05: Matt Rader: Miraculous Hours. For review in Quill & Quire. Very impressive first collection of poems. Rader has craft to burn and a compelling dark vision of life. Some of the poems feel a draft or two shy of done, but many others are real showstoppers.
May 9/05: Ross Leckie: Gravity's Plumb Line. Ross Leckie takes a long time between books and it's well worth the wait. His poems are mostly meditative and philosophical but aren't the least bit static thanks to the taut rhythms and dense music from which they're built. A poem about the poet's father, "Sleeping Over" is especially moving. And the book is another gorgeous piece of design work by Gaspereau Press.
May 9/05: William Hawkins: Dancing Alone: Selected Poems. Bill's a friend of mine and a very close friend of my uncle Chris (who did the cover art for this book, as he has for I think all of Bill's books). This is the first book he's published in decades and it's a treat to see his best work gathered in a single volume. There's uproarious humour and wry irony, but also laconic melancholy in these poems and Bill does some wild things with syntax that are still very fresh. I'm told that 300 people turned out to the Ottawa launch of the book, so hopefully word spreads and Bill will find himself some readers who don't know what they've been missing.
May 9/05: Jennifer LoveGrove: I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel. For review in Quill & Quire. A solid collection with some powerful poems, driven by violent surreal imagery. LoveGrove leans a bit too heavily on the image to carry the poem in many cases, however, leaving language lagging behind.
May 9/05: Patrick Warner: There, There. A really fine collection of poems. Warner displays a wealth of technique, harnessed well to its subjects. Often creepy and dark in their vision, reminding me a bit in their cadences and imagery of the poetry of Matthew Sweeney, these poems linger in the mind long after they've been read. Especially disturbing is a poem called "The Bacon Company of Ireland."
May 9/05: Matt Robinson: Tracery & Interplay. A gorgeously designed ltd. ed. chapbook of poems from Victoria's Frog Hollow Press. This is a poet who shows a great deal of phrase-forging ability, but unfortunately the memorable bits are often smudged in a hazy ice-fog (the poems are all about hockey) of syntactic fits and starts. It feels as though what maybe started out as a signature style, as a way of writing that suited one or a couple of poems, becomes a habit, a stylistic tic that amounts in most cases to over-writing. Robinson's poems are at their best when he narrows his focus to particular sensual details; they tend to lose emotional force when he indulges in a very Canadian-Poetry strain of instrospective wisdom-dispensing.
May 3/05: Goran Simic: From Sarajevo, with Sorrow, trans. Amela Simic. For review in Books in Canada. Remarkable reading these two books side by side. One becomes quickly aware that Harsent took unreasonable liberties with the poems in his translations (which were based on translations by Amela Simic). Certain things are missing, others added, forms are altered, phrases fancied up. This book is a much-needed piece of salvage work on a very important collection of poetry, with a substantial number of excellent new poems added, sixteen of which were either translated, or written originally in English, by the author, now resident in Canada.
May 03/05: Goran Simic: Sprinting from the Graveyard, trans. David Harsent.
Apr. 30/05: Ivan Klima: My First Loves. Every now and again I read a book that I feel was written with me specifically in mind. This is one of those books, though I think it would have a powerful effect on anyone with a modicum of intelligence and sensitivity. It consists of only four stories, unified by the theme of first love. The different voices and settings and Klima's use of leitmotifs make the book at once sharply focussed and various.
Apr. 26/05: Steven Laird: Charlatan. For review in Arc. A very impressive debut collection, full of dense music and exciting formal experiments.
Apr. 19/05: Miroslav Holub: Shedding Life: Essays on Disease, Politics and Other Human Conditions. Brilliant prose collection on an incredibly diverse range of topics from the renowned Czech poet and immunologist. Often drily funny, Holub does not suffer fools gladly, but doesn't take himself too seriously either. There are some really profound insights into the world, at both micro and macro levels, on offer here.
Apr. 12/05: Jan Zwicky: Thirty-Seven Small Songs and Thirteen Silences for a review in Quill & Quire. Painfully precious at times, dully obvious at others, and on the whole imprecise and repetitive, though it does have moments.
Apr. 9/05: Alice Burdick: Simple Master. Re-read for a dialogue review on Bookninja.com.
Apr. 8/05: Michael Kenyon: The Sutler. For a review in Quill & Quire.
Apr. 7/05: Peter Sanger: Earth Moth. This is an incredible collection of poems. Sanger should have a much greater reputation than he does. These poems are charged with an intensity of thought and idiom that put me in mind of Hopkins. Hopkins fans, at any rate, will find much to admire in this book. I'm also a big fan of Sanger's short collection of essays, Spar: Words in Place.
Apr. 5/05: John Ashbery: Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Ashbery's not altogether my cup of tea, but there is undoubtedly some fine and interesting writing in this book, particularly "Voyage in the Blue" and the title poem.
Mar. 30/05: James Fenton: An Introduction to English Poetry. A breezy and accessible book on prosody. A good introduction, but a bit brief and unrigorous for anyone already steeped in the craft. Worth reading for some of the anecdotes alone, however.
Mar. 28/05: Uwe Timm: The Invention of Curried Sausage, trans. Leila Vennewitz. Charming little novel, only very tangentially concerned with the eponymous processed meat product. Really wonderful framed narrative storytelling.
Mar. 20/05: The Poems of Catullus, trans. Peter Whigham. There's so much more to Catullus than I'd assumed from the handful of poems I'd read. The long poems in the middle section are especially entrancing. This translation seems better to me than most of the laboriously rhymed versions you see in anthologies.
Mar. 17/05: Erin Mouré: Little Theatres. For review in Quill & Quire. I liked this book better than I thought I would, based on what I've read of Mouré's work in the past. Some of the poems are quite simple and beautiful and, impressively, written in both Galician and English. There's also a lot of irritating theory-driven philosophizing, unfortunately, but still worth a look.
Mar. 16/05: Shannon Bramer: The Refrigerator Memory. For review in Quill & Quire. Strong collection. No real standouts, but no really weak work either.
Mar. 15/05: Alessandro Porco: The Jill Kelly Poems. See my review of this on The Danforth Review.
Mar. 11/05: Wislawa Szymborska: Nonrequired Reading. Often hilarious collection of quirky reviews of a variety of odd books. Great bathroom reading.
Mar. 7/05: Frank Davey: Back to the War. For review in The Rain Review. Incredibly dull and prosaic collection of memoir-type poems.
Mar. 3/05: Jonathan Bate: John Clare: A Life. A well-balanced and engaging biography of one of my all-time favourite poets.
Mar. 3/05: Harold Hoefle: Spray Job. A chapbook given to me by the author at a party at his house. A great range of voices and techniques in such a short collection. I'm looking forward to a longer book when he gets around to publishing one.
Feb. 20/05: Margaret Atwood: Survival. Finally got around to reading this after years of meaning to. Atwood makes interesting arguments and makes them persuasively, but I think ultimately this kind of self-conscious definition of a national literature by theme is more reductive than useful, providing shortcuts for academic study, while excluding some very interesting writers who don't fit the profile--and excusing some not so interesting ones who do.
Feb. 17/05: Peter Van Toorn: Mountain Tea. I can't get enough of this book, which is now one of my favourites of any age or region. I'm working on a long essay on it. Stay tuned.
Feb. 15/05: Hugh Brody: The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. A penetrating anthropological study (though perfectly accessible to the layperson) of the differences between agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies. Gorgeously written, with a perfect balance of abstract theory and concrete firsthand experience.
Feb. 11/05: Margaret Avison: Concrete and Wild Carrot. Avison's someone I haven't read nearly enough of. This book is very good, but I'm still not convinced it should have beaten out P.K. Page's Planet Earth for the Griffin Prize. I'm going to have to get my hands on the recently published Collected Poems of Avison now to get a better idea of what she was up to prior to this book's publication.
Feb. 10/05: Tony Harrison: Selected Poems. Every now and then I come across a poet who seems to me indispensable. Tony Harrison is this kind of poet. Awesome tension between formal poise and vernacular crudity. His long poem "V" is a devastatingly unflinching work of art.
Feb. 9/05: David Solway, Random Walks. Though I'm often ambivalent about Solway, I really like this collection of essays, which contains a wide variety of subjects, styles and approaches. When he's on his game, Solway is smart, iconoclastic, and very funny, if a tad overfond of verbal curios.
Feb. 9/05: Kevin Connolly, Drift. For review in Quill & Quire. Uneven collection, occasionally very bright, but often quite muddled.
Feb. 7/05: Don't Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in Their Own Words, eds. Clare Brown & Don Paterson. I couldn't put this collection of artist statements down. Fascinating to see how so many different sensibilities can approach the same craft in so many different ways. Anyone who tries to write poems should pick this book up.
Jan. 24/05: Richard Outram, Hiram and Jenny. I finally got around to reading this book, sadly, after Outram's suicide. A really gorgeous loose narrative, with none of the obscurity/difficulty I'd been led to expect in Outram's work.
Jan. 23/05: Sharon McCartney, Karenin Sings the Blues. Sharon and I are acquaintances, so I can't be objective, but I think she does some interesting, often humorous, things with the dramatic monologue.
Jan. 20/05: Todd Swift, Rue du Regard. For review in Arc. There were a couple of decent poems in this book, but otherwise it felt pretty flat to me.
Jan. 19/05: Harold Rhenisch, Free Will. For review in Arc. Very weak collection. Rhenisch has some skill, but he tends towards self-indulgent cleverness and prolixity. Some of these poems just go on forever.
Jan. 16/05: John Reibetanz, Mining for Sun. This was highly recommended to me by a couple of people, but I found Reibetanz carefully wrought verses ultimately too artificial to persuade me. He also comes across as unsconsciously paternalistic in some poems, which really rubs me the wrong way.
Jan. 16/05: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. McCarthy's blood bath of a novel is sometimes extremely powerful, but at other times badly overwritten. Worth reading, but the gap between the best and worst parts of it is frustrating as hell.
Jan. 13/05: Lorna Crozier, Whetstone. For review in Quill & Quire. A dull and uninspired book of poems.
Jan. 11/05: Al Purdy, Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems. Although this "Collected" leaves out a fair bit of Purdy's oeuvre, he's still a poet better enjoyed in slim selections. When he was on his game, he was one of the best, but he was often off it.
Jan. 08/05: Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own. Wonderful book, full of fascinating ideas. I'm going to have to get around to reading her novels some day.
Jan. 01/05: Pietro Aretino, The School of Whoredom, trans. Rosa Maria Falvo, Alessandro Gallenzi & Rebecca Skipwith. Hilarious and scurrilous satire from one of the most notorious writers of his day. It hasn't aged a bit, at least not as rendered by these translators.
Dec. 27/04: Carmine Starnino, A Lover's Quarrel. For review on The Danforth Review. Carmine's a friend of mine and sometimes an editor of my freelance work, but I often quarrel with his judgments. Which is exactly what he encourages more of. An important book for anyone who cares about Canadian poetry.
Dec. 19/04: Dave Cameron, Continental Drifter. A travel memoir relating the author's trip by Greyhound bus from Dawson City, Yukon to Key West, Florida. Dave's a friend of mine, so can't pretend to be objective about the book, but I found it well-written and entertaining, a good mix of humourous anecdote and poignant introspection.
Dec. 16/04: Osip Mandelshtam, Selected Poems, trans. James Greene. A fine, though slim, translation of an often poorly translated, immensely important Russian poet.
Dec. 12/04: Mao Zedong, Poems. Don't know who translated these poems, as it doesn't say inside my copy of the book, but they're not that bad. There's a bit too much of "red flags waving" and "armies of millions marching" and "stirring strains of L'Internationale", but Chairman Mao is capable of the odd sublimity as well.
Dec. 11/04: Walid Bitar, Bastardi Puri. A sneak preview of a book to be released by the Porcupine's Quill in the spring. Very interesting collection of poems, unusual fusion of 'avant-garde' and 'formalist' poetics. More intellectually engaging than emotionally rewarding, very urbane on the whole, but also quite angry at times and very witty. Challenging book.
Dec. 07/04: Jesse Byock, Viking Age Iceland. Fascinating historical/anthropological text, incorporating the Sagas as primary source material.
Dec. 06/04: George Johnston, Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems. A highly underrated poet. Some of his stuff is light, but all of it is highly skilled and a few poems deeply moving.
Nov. 30/04: Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy, for review in Canadian Notes & Queries. Fascinating inside-look at the Canlit scene from the perspective of one of the most prominent people on that scene. Of particular interest to me was the dialogue with George Johnston, because the two had such different styles.
Nov. 22/04: Robyn Sarah, The Touchstone: Poems New & Selected. An enjoyable few days getting acquainted with Robyn Sarah's oeuvre. Her work is generally more quietly introspective than I usually like, but very deftly executed. She has a wonderful ear and some of her poems are very fine indeed. I think A Day's Grace the strongest of these collections, which bodes well for future work, since it's the most recent of the three.
Nov. 17/04: Robyn Sarah, Questions About the Stars.
Nov. 17/04: Robyn Sarah, A Day's Grace.
Nov. 16/04: Tim Bowling, The Memory Orchard. An extraordinarily stirring book. It has weak moments, to be sure, but Bowling's best poems are among the best being written in this country. They should be read.
Nov. 15/04: Jan Zwicky, Robinson's Crossing. I fail to see why Zwicky is such a highly regarded poet in this country. There are a few decent poems in this book, but most of it is flat, anecdotal prose, sometimes chopped into lines, sometimes not. And rife with precious poeticisms. She clearly has intelligence and ability, but none of the discipline required of a poet.
Nov. 12/04: Carmine Starnino, With English Subtitles. I enjoyed Carmine's first two books, but neither of them is remarkable in the way that this new one is. A helluva lot of fun and occasionally heart-wrenching too.
Nov. 12/04: John Terpstra, Disarmament. A very solid book of poems. Terpstra handles the free verse line well, with persuasive music; his themes are often spiritual, which makes him a somewhat unusual poet in this day and age. Not entirely my thing, but he does what he does very well.
Nov. 11/04: David Manicom, The Burning Eaves. A very fine collection of poems. Worthy of the Governor General's Award nomination it's received.
Nov. 11/04: Roo Borson, Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida. A mostly dull diary/travelogue sort of book, full of pseudo-profundity and poeticisms galore.
Nov. 04/04: Ray Hsu, Anthropy. A very interesting first collection of poems. Sometimes excessively intellectual/academic, but at other points quite powerful, particularly the opening sequence of poems about Walter Benjamin.
Nov. 04/04: Breathing Fire: Canada's New Poets. There are a few people with real talent in this anthology (n.b.: my work was turned down for it), but on the whole it's incredibly dull and consists mostly of unimaginative reinterpretations of unimaginative Canadian poems.
Nov. 02/04: Philip Roth, The Breast. Surreal novella, modelled after Kafka and Gogol. Unflinching look at human nature. Often very funny.
Oct. 29/04: Joseph Conrad, Nostromo. Conrad, one of my favourite novelists, at his bleak best, except for the ending, where he seems to lose steam.
Oct. 28/04: Simon Armitage, Dead Sea Poems. A stellar collection, especially the long poem that ends the book.
Oct. 19/04: Desiderius Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, trans. John Wilson. The translation, though a bit dated, is great fun to read and Erasmus is needle-sharp in his satire. This book is as modern and relevant now as it ever was.
Oct. 15/04: The Epistles of Horace, trans. David Ferry. Once again, a fine book of loose-limbed translations by Ferry. Horace, more and more, is becoming a touchstone for me.
Oct. 13/04: A.F. Moritz, Song of Fear. I always find it hard to believe that someone can be at once densely intelligent and still so prolific. Moritz is very impressive when he's on his game, but much of his poetry, of which I've been reading a lot lately, is, while powerful in its parts (rhythm, imagery, ideas) somehow disappointing in its totality; it fails to get a proper purchase on the imagination.
Oct. 13/04: Patrick Suskind, Perfume. A very intriguing novel with a very unlikeable protagonist. Suskind's focus on the olfactory is something ill-attended to by most writers.
Oct. 06/04: Ross Leckie, The Authority of Roses. An excellent collection of poems from a poet whose name one doesn't hear mentioned as a top poet in Canada, but who definitely should be considered so.
Oct. 01/04: A.F. Moritz, Rest on the Flight into Egypt. One of our best poets at his best.
Oct. 01/04: Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese. Hard to say how faithful to the Chinese Rexroth is (he admits to being quite free at times), but this is a really gorgeous selection of verse.
Sep. 30/04: A.F. Moritz, Night Street Repairs.
Sep. 27/04: Thomas Lynch, Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality. Unfortunately, this book doesn't measure up to his first collection of essays and actually repeats quite a bit from it. Still, some very good writing, even if it does suffer from sequelitis.
Sep. 24/04: Geoffrey Cook, Postscript. Damn! This book, a debut collection of poems, was a long time in the making and it shows. Geoff and I will probably be in the running for a few of the same prizes this year. No fair, is all I can say.
Sep. 21/04: Susan Glickman, Running in Prospect Cemetery: New and Selected Poems. Though domestic poetry is not usually my cup of tea (though I hasten to add that it's of very limited use as a label), I very much enjoyed my first exposure to the poems of Susan Glickman. There's a great deal of wit and resilience in this work.
Sep. 21/04: Patrick Suskind, The Pigeon. Stunning novella about an urban hermit who is one day confronted by life's shitty ugliness. Great book.
Sep. 20/04: Brian Bartlett, Wanting the Day: Selected Poems. A re-read for review in The Fiddlehead. Brian's someone I know fairly well, since we live in the same city. Some of his poems I like very much, but I find he can be very uneven--even in this Selected, which one expects to highlight the felicities and buff out the flaws of several decades of writing.
Sep. 12/04: Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies in the Dismal Trade. I saw Lynch, a funeral director by profession, read his poems in Montreal a few years ago and was instantly impressed. His prose is every bit as fine; the perfect balance of humour and elegy, faith and scepticism, satire and conviction. Though I can't agree completely with all of his views, he is a conservative in the best sense of the word; it is not change that he laments, but change for its own sake, the re-invention of the wheel, mindless 'progress'--and what is lost in the bargain.
Sep. 07/04: Don McKay, Camber: Selected Poems. There's no denying that Don McKay has significant talent. This Selected, however, should have been more selective. The quirks and idiosyncracies of McKay's style wear thin, and one wishes that he would have ironed more of them out in revision, and paid closer attention to how and where he breaks (or doesn't break) his lines; such decisions often seem arbitrary.
Sep. 06/04: Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms. Though Hemingway's clipped prose sometimes verges on the autistic, and though the dialogue between Lt. Henry and Catherine Barkley is at times sickening, this is nonetheless a wrenchingly powerful book and deserves its place in the 20th century canon.
Aug. 30/04: Halldor Laxness, The Fish Can Sing. Funny and touching coming of age story. A very different book from Iceland's Bell, proving that the Nobel Laureate Laxness was a tremendously versatile artist.
Aug. 29/04: Paulette Jiles, Celestial Navigation, for review in Books in Canada. A few good poems, but overall it shows its age (though it was published only 20 years ago). Not a book I'd've chosen to reprint.
Aug. 21/04: Patrick Lane, Go Leaving Strange. This collection has its moments, but mostly it says that poets past their prime should publish selectively, and not rush out with a 120 page volume a few years after their last book. The strain shows.
Aug. 11/04: Joseph Conrad, Almayer's Folly. Interesting to read the first novel of this preeminent English prose stylist. Occasionally purple and overblown, but a compelling story, with all of Conrad's great themes already laid out.
Aug. 05/04: Don Paterson, The White Lie: Poems Selected and New. An excellent selection of one of the best British poets going. I'm still more of a Robin Robertson fan, but Paterson is hot on his heels.
July 23/04: David Solway, Director's Cut. Terrifically entertaining, if sometimes unbalanced, book of essays. Solway does say much that I agree with, and, more importantly, says it well.
July 21/04: Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence. An important and generally highly readable theory of the history of English poetry. Bloom makes himself an easy target sometimes, but he has a remarkable mind.
July 19/04: George Elliott Clarke, Gold Indigoes. Not Clarke's most compelling work, but a gorgeously produced little chapbook.
July 12/04: Alice Burdick, Simple Master. An odd and strong collection. Not quite sure what I think of it yet...
July 10/04: Katrine Marie Guldager, Crash, translated from Danish by Anne Mette Lundtofte, for review in The Review. Very gripping little chapbook of gnomic prose poems. Rumour has it that a full-length collection of translations of her work is forthcoming. I look forward to seeing it.
July 02/04: Longinus, On the Sublime. Sublime in and of itself, this classic of criticism.
July 01/04: Peter Van Toorn, Mountain Tea. A re-read in preparation for an essay.
June 30/04: Hart Crane, The Bridge. I've got to read more Crane. Dazzle and dash of language. Odd that he seems to have fallen out of favour with AmLit canon-builders.
June 29/04: Horace, On the Art of Poetry. He speaks with tremendous and still valid authority on the craft. If only more would-be poets heeded him instead of Charles Olson...
June 28/04: Sun-Tzu, The Art of War. This edition was riddled with typos, but that matters little. Sun-Tzu's observations, both common-sense and at times downright lyrical, have applications far beyond the battlefield.
June 27/04: Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, Nine Visits to the Mythworld, trans. Robert Bringhurst. I have a hard time believing what a fuss some people made about Bringhurst's supposed 'appropriation' of Haida stories. It's hard to imagine a non-Haida coming at this material with greater respect. It's hard to imagine another poet rendering it so well. This should be required reading for all Canadians.
June 27/04: Triny Finlay, Splitting Off. A highly mediocre first collection, sure to win prizes and accolades galore.
June 19/04: David Solway, Franklin's Passage for review in Arc. A rather dull, repetitive, pedantic exploration of the Franklin mystery. There are a few gems--Solway can write--but really this could have been condensed to a suite of a half-dozen poems.
June 18/04: Shane Neilson, The Beaten-Down Elegies for review in Arc. Powerful debut chapbook from one of the more notorious characters on the CanLit scene. Betrays a bit of the roughness of a first collection, but the craft and emotional pull of the poems cancel the small flaws. Gorgeously designed ltd. ed. handbound chapbook from Frog Hollow Press.
June 16/04: John Smith, Strands the Length of the Wind. Smith is a highly underrated, if not vastly ignored, poet. His work merits a wider readership, but most readers probably aren't smart enough to see where he's coming from or where he's going.
June 15/04: John Smith, Sucking-Stones.
June 15/04: John Smith, Midnight Found You Dancing.
June 14/04: John Smith, Fireflies in the Magnolia Grove.
June 13/04: Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1967-68. Charming and of course brilliant series of lectures by one of the last century's more interesting thinkers and writers.
June 10/04:Halldor Laxness, Iceland's Bell. An epic historical novel, heavily influenced by the Icelandic sagas. Satirical, hilarious, grim, brilliantly written. Laxness, a recent discovery, is now one of my favourite novelists.
June 10/04: Steven Heighton, The Address Book. A very good collection, solid throughout, though it didn't excite me as much as The Ecstasy of Skeptics.
May 19/04:Jorge Luis Borges'The Garden of Forking Paths. I didn't like this as much as much as his first collection of fictions, but it's good in spots and the title story is quite brilliant. Most of the other stories seem almost like rehearsals for it.
May 18/04: Shadow Cabinet by Richard Sanger. A very tight collection, marked by sharp wit and formal poise. Sanger has a great knack for the dramatic monologue, especially.
May 18/04: Head Arrangements: 12 String Poems for Huddie Ledbetter by David Seymour. A gorgeous little chapbook of narrative prose poems about the life of a blues' legend. I'm a bit leery of this sort of biographical art, as it's so often done poorly, but Seymour transcends the limitations of the genre.
May 17/04:Karen Solie, The Shooter's Bible. A hefty chapbook of new poems from one of my favourite contemporary poets. Masterful stuff. Dark and smart and witty; just the right mix of engagement and detachment.
May 16/04:Jesus Lopez Pacheco, Poetic Asylum: Poems written in Canada 1968-1990, trans. Fabio Lopez Lazaro. Quite a stirring collection of poems. Occasionally too politically idealistic for my liking and there are a few multi-media experiments that don't translate too well into text, but overall very good stuff.
May 16/04:If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, trans. Anne Carson. A gorgeous rendition by Carson, appropriately leaving the gaps unfilled.
May 14/04:Erin Mouré's Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person, her 'transelation' of Alberto Caeiro/Fernando Pessoa's The Keeper of Sheep. It's basically a faithful translation, but with transpositions and occasional interjections. The speaker is Eirin Moure, instead of Alberto Caeiro, the setting is Toronto instead of Portugal, the sheep are all stray cats. Mostly enjoyable, occasionally very good. Some of the transpositions work, others are less fortuitous, even gratuitous. Makes me wonder why this counts as Mouré's own writing whereas other translations aren't seen that way, in terms of what qualifies for Canada Council funding.
May 11/04:Olena Kalytiak Davis' And Her Soul Out of Nothing. I read her second book first, and liked it very much, but I think I like this one better. The two collections are radically different; this one much more straightforward, less self-consciously experimental than the second. At any rate, there's some gorgeous poetry in both.
May 07/04:Matthew Sweeney'sA Picnic on Ice: Selected Poems. Gathered from twenty years of the poet's best work, this is a dark, sometimes creepy, often funny and consistently high quality book. Very rare to see a foreign poet (Sweeney is Irish, living in England) published in Canada. It would be wonderful to have more of such well-honed selected works printed locally. There are unfortunately many bureaucratic obstacles standing in the way (or at least not helping in the production) of such work, however, so it takes an unusual amount of commitment and vision to make it happen.
May 06/04:Tom Wayman'sDid I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993. These poems are the work of a writer with noble intentions, but very limited talent and strange notions of what is 'mature' and 'juvenile' in art. Most of the poems are long-winded, dull and didactic.
May 05/04:Peter Richardson'sAn ABC of Belly Work. Great follow up to his first book, A Tinker's Picnic. He quietly goes about writing poems of great emotional range and subtle sophistication that can be either goofy or deeply moving, but are always highly readable. Peter and I are, so far as I know, the only airline cargo handlers publishing poems in Canada. He's retired now, and I've quit, so there's a vacancy to be filled; union position, too.
May 02/04:Peter Trower'sHaunted Hills & Hanging Valleys, Selected Poems. This is a superb gathering of Trower's best work. I've been a great fan of his poetry ever since I first discovered it while on holiday in British Columbia a few years ago. He is regrettably under-rated, or outright unknown, east of the Rocky Mountains, and has been misleadingly typecast as a "logger poet." His best poems are as good as anyone's; hopefully, this selection will help more people realize it.
May 02/04:Adam Getty'sReconciliation. Very strong debut collection of poems. I was at times quite blown away by the formal skill and intellectual agility of Getty's writing, wedded to gutsy, no-nonsense subjects; poems that are committed on all levels.
April 28/04:Ricardo Sternberg'sBamboo Church. Sternberg's poems are elegant and philosophically meditative but also deeply personal (although with his gift for the dramatic monologue, one is never quite sure who is speaking) and sensual. Lots of wit and subtle touches that are easy to miss if you're not paying close attention. A lovely book on the whole.
April 27/04:A.F. Moritz'sEarly Poems. This is a collection of Moritz's first four books of poetry. Challenging stuff, but well worth the work. There's a relentless intelligence and dark beauty about these poems that enfold the reader into their matrix. I'll be reading more Moritz in short order.
April 21/04: After months of piecemeal philosophical pondering in the blue room, I've finally finished Friedrich Nietzsche'sThe Birth of Tragedy. It falls apart in the second half, as Nietzsche himself later acknowledged, but a highly eloquent and original book, nonetheless. If I re-read it, which I imagine I will at some point, I'll skip the latter sections.
April 20/04:A Sudden Sky: Selected Poems by Ulrikka S. Gernes, a Danish poet, translated by Patrick Friesen and Per Brask. Translations of foreign poetry are dismayingly rare in this country, largely, I think, due to restrictions placed upon funding for them by the Canada Council. I would dearly love to see more books like this one supplant a few of the mediocre nothings on most houses' lists. Really powerful stuff; spare and mostly simple diction, but fierce imagery and brilliant use of metaphor give the poems great emotional weight. Poetry with all the necessary urgency of, well, poetry.
April 16/04:The Backyards of Heaven, an anthology of poetry from Ireland and Newfoundland & Labrador that I'm reviewing for The Danforth Review. A great concept for a book, though somewhat flawed in execution. Too many poems included for reasons other than quality, and on the whole just too many poets (167 by my count). But a heckuva lot of good poems too. Worth checking out.
April 12/04: Jorge Luis Borges'A Universal History of Iniquity. I read Borges' Selected Poems a while ago and loved many of them, but this is my first foray into his famous fictions. I really enjoy the play of idea and story, fact and fiction here. If I were to ever write fiction, I think it would be in this sort of shamelessly 'intellectual' manner. Thoroughly entertaining, as well as hyper-intelligent.
April 08/04:Di Brandt's poetry collection Now You Care. This is the only book on the Griffin Prize shortlist that deserves to be there. This is a hell of a powerful book of artful social protest. Significant, important art.
April 06/04:Anne Simpson'sLight Falls Through You. Not as bad as Loop, but not terribly memorable, either. Simpson's one of these poets who writes poems that impress juries, because they are well-composed, but lack the original heft and sincerity to make a lasting impression. Decent, but forgettable.
April 05/04:Anne Simpson's poetry collection, Loop. This, too, was nominated for the Griffin, and again I am disappointed. Simpson's a much better writer than Greentree, and she writes on weightier topics, but I find her work loaded with ponderous poeticisms that make it impossible to enjoy. A couple of poems almost hit the mark, but the self-important tone of the work as a whole keeps me from engaging with it.
April 05/04:Leslie Greentree'sgo-go dancing for Elvis. This was just shortlisted for the Griffin poetry prize, and I'd never heard of her, so I thought I'd see what the fuss was about. Verdict: I'd like some of what the prize jury was smoking to make this book seem good. Thoroughly prosaic; read like notes towards a novel more than anything. The odd decent line and funny moment, but that's it. Even on the level of story, never mind the flat writing, it fails because of a narrator/protagonist consumed by bitterness, self-pity and envy, whose state of being seems to be one of permanent inertia.
March 29/04:Yukio Mishima'sConfessions of a Mask. A brilliant and disturbing novel, part coming of age story, part historical novel (WWII Japan, although this was more or less contemporary when Mishima wrote it), part ruthless psychological self-examination.
March 25/04: An anthology of New British Poetry just out with House of Anansi Press. Yes, that's right, foreign poetry published in Canada. The apocalypse must be a-comin! This is an excellent anthology, if only because it's introduced me to some good poets, and some very good, with whom most Canadian poetry readers are bound to be unfamiliar. The selections are brief and the scope broad (36 poets from England, Scotland and Wales), so it's a primer more than anything. The text is unfortunately marred by a jarring number of typos, which one hopes will be corrected in future editions. But printing problems aside, it's great to see a Canadian publisher putting out some non-Canadian poetry. Hopefully more presses follow suit.
March 22/04:Mordecai Richler'sSolomon Gursky Was Here. A completely absorbing, piercingly intelligent and hilarious novel. This is possibly the Canadian epic, if such a beast exists; certainly more compelling than the most skillfully executed earnest coming-of-age-in-rural-wherever tales that are legion in our literature.
March 19/04:A.M. Klein'sThe Rocking Chair. Klein displays a great deal of verbal virtuosity and formal elegance in this 1948 collection and there are some good poems included here, but ultimately I find it more impressive than enjoyable and he can get rather heavy-handedly didactic at times and anachronistically archaic at others.
March 18/04:David Ferry's translation of Horace'sOdes. I don't have the Latin required to comment on the fidelity of Ferry's versions (but if you do, this edition is, conveniently, bilingual), but as poems they are resplendent. This is an incredible book, with great rhythmic and moral authority. Not the least of its virtues is the even quality, even more remarkable because this is a complete edition of the odes, from beginning to end. Horace was clearly a master craftsman and Ferry does his example no mean justice.
March 16/04: Scottish poet Robin Robertson's second collection, Slow Air. This is a shorter and in some ways tighter work than his first book, A Painted Field, but really it is a strength added to a strength. Both books are superb and Robertson's one of the most powerful poets writing in English today. Intelligent and elegant but tough and imbued with blood.
March 15/04:Sherrill E. Grace'sCanada and the Idea of North. An academic study on southern Canadians' artistic conception of the North. She makes some interesting arguments and observations, but her prose is larded with academic references and jargon that make what she's saying needlessly complicated at times. Nevertheless, she writes well about interesting work and her curiosity about and passion for the north is well conveyed.
March 12/04:Tomas Tranströmer'sSelected Poems, 1954-1986. Sweden's most renowned poet of the last century, rendered by several translators. These poems are image-heavy and metaphor-rich, oneiric and cthonic and occasionally apocalyptic--in all senses of the word. Poetry of the north: should speak to the Canadian soul--but will also appeal to fans of Lorca. It's not hard to see why Robert Bly is drawn to both poets.
March 10/04: Re-reading Irving Layton'sA Wild, Peculiar Joy: Selected Poems for review in Books in Canada. Layton is one of my favourite poets of all time, and in my opinion, Canada's most important poet ever. I'm a bit disappointed, however, to see a 'new' publication that's so unimaginative. Other than an introductory essay by Sam Solecki and some prose snippets of Layton on poetry at the end, the text is exactly the same as the 1989 edition, and that one had manifest flaws (too much weak newer stuff that should have been jettisoned in favour of stronger older material). I imagine we'll have to wait till Layton shuffles off until we see either a comprehensive Collected Poems or a more definitive Selected.
March 08/04:Geoffrey Leech's textbook, A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. Perhaps this provides undesirable insight into my essential nerdiness, or just into my own methods as a writer, but I love books on technical poetic theory. A very readable primer on an interesting subject, though there's little of note here for seasoned readers and writers of verse.
March 07/04:Anne Wilkinson'sHeresies: The Complete Poems, a new critical edition published by Signal Editions, which I'm reviewing for Books in Canada. Wilkinson's a very talented minor poet, as even her editor, Dean Irvine, admits. Strengths are wit and verbal dexterity; persuasive rhythms and a flexible approach to form. Weaknesses are lack of originality (much of her style feels derivative of Dylan Thomas) and range, along with occasional opacity and rigidness. I find much to admire, but little that really sinks its hooks into me--tho her "Letter to My Children" is spectacular. It's good to see skillful poetry being given its due and not allowed to fade into obscurity.
March 03/04:Peter Van Toorn'sMountain Tea, a recent re-release from Signal Editions that I'm reviewing for Books in Canada. Wow. This guy is GM Hopkins good. How has this book been out of print so long? This is a poet everyone should read.
March 02/04:Paul Vermeersch'sBurn. Paul's my editor at Insomniac, so I can't say anything bad about his stuff :) Seriously, tho, this book has a lot of strong work in it, especially considering that Paul was only 26 or so when it was published. "Shadowing the Medivac" and a few others give me shivers, which is rare enough with any poet.
Feb. 26/04: Tim Bowling's second poetry collection Dying Scarlet. These poems are good, occasionally very good, but he's really tightened things up since then (1997), in terms of the sophistication of his craft. Tho I have to say, I liked this collection much much more than his later book Darkness and Silence which I found really quite bad, especially for such a gifted poet.
Feb. 25/04: Re-reading Joe Denham'sFlux. Won't tell ya what I think of it yet, as I'll be reviewing it with George Murray on Bookninja soon.
Feb. 23/04: Jonathan Swift'sDirections to Servants. Occasionally laugh-out-loud satire, but he tends to tell the same jokes over and over in slightly modified form. Not Swift at his swiftest. In fairness, however, the book was never finished and was published posthumously.
Feb. 22/04: Re-reading Tim Bowling'sThe Witness Ghost for review in Canadian Literature. This is a very moving collection of poems from one of the best younger poets writing in Canada today. I've had mixed reactions to other stuff by him, but this book is really something.
Feb. 20/04: Re-reading Noah Leznoff'sOutside Magic for review in Canadian Literature. Leznoff's a fine poet; the intensity of emotion, sharpness of wit, virtuoso vocabulary and kinetic surge of his line are what I like best about him. Few Canadian poets use the exclamation mark so convincingly.
Re-reading Gil Adamson'sAshland for review in Canadian Literature. I liked this more on the first read. It's very solid and weird, but ultimately too emotionally distant in its narration to keep its hooks in me.
Walter Kaufmann'sNietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Kaufmann is my man for all things Nietzschean. I only read his translations, and this scholarly biography is indispensable to anyone who really wants to get a handle on Nietzsche's thought. Kaufmann is a brilliant writer and rigorous scholar.
Federico Garcia Lorca'sPoet in New York. A masterpiece. Lorca is one of the last century's greatest poets and this is some of his best work. Bleak, vivid, surreal, violent, beautiful.