Monday, November 30, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mary Hickman

Mary Hickman is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she received an Iowa Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Boston Review, Colorado Review, jubilat, the PEN American Poetry Series, and elsewhere. She is the author of This Is the Homeland (Ahsahta Press, 2015) and teaches creative writing at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

It has been really wonderful to be able to give the book to the poets I most admire and whose work directly inspired the poems. There is a poem in the book that I wrote in response to a poem by the German poet Anja Utler after I had come across her poem online and been floored by it. A few years later I got to meet Anja, to give a reading with her, and I even managed to convince her to blurb the book! She is also translating a section into German. I’ve been able to participate in these kinds of exchanges much more now that I have the physical object of the book to trade and give.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My father is a poet. He doesn’t publish but he did once take a class with Bill Knott when he was still St. Jerome. When I was a child, maybe six or seven, he worked nights and I didn’t get to see him much. But he left little poems for me on post-it notes that I found when I woke. And I began to leave him poems in return. Poetry has always been an act of correspondence for me and comes out of a desire for connection.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
So far it seems that I’ll write a lot of material quickly in a burst and then revise it for a decade. It’s a slow process for sure.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I’m never working on a book from the beginning. I’m mostly just writing a lot of terrible stuff and cursing the muses for deserting me. Then something clicks—I’m there, it’s happening. I don’t know how I got there but I’m there, I’m on the vein. Which of course makes it feel like it will never happen again. The idea of having a larger project really appeals to me but it just isn’t how it has happened so far. Poetry continues to feel like magic. Maddening, maddening magic.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like hearing poems out loud—mine and others—and being in a room of people with a shared investment in the revelatory work of poetry is usually pretty great. Most of the readings I’ve attended in the last decade have been at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa. If you haven’t been, you’ve got to go! Even Obama has been to PL.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I continue to write about injury, loss, and recovery in terms of the relationship between time and material, the endless involutions of representation in art, and what might be said of possession or resurrection in our passing, material world. As the painter Jenny Saville says, “I paint flesh because I’m human.”

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’ll defer here to a quote that sums up the ethos of the International Writing Program, a place where I have had the good fortune to meet fierce, brilliant writers from all over the world: “Only connect.”

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential! Homeland benefitted immensely from the keen editorial eye of Janet Holmes. And many of the very best edits and even the title came from the generous efforts of Eleni Sikelianos. The book would not be what it is without the work of many amazing “outside editors.” 

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
When I was first entering my MFA program, a good friend advised me to try to hypnotize myself into not thinking about status, career, publishing, etc., and instead to hold onto the mysterious thing that makes me write—to pay attention to that. She said that if I did get freaked out and stop writing, not to worry, to just talk poetry and read read read and think and I’d write again. This advice has made a huge difference in my life.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m in the middle of writing my dissertation right now and it is difficult! But there is also some comfort in having an outline and following it. And when I can synthesize a pool of ideas and nail an argument, it’s a little like getting a line just right.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Anyone who knows me knows I am always searching for the perfect routine. The only constant so far has been coffee.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Interviews. Pretty often I’m reading a book of artist’s interviews. David Sylvester’s book of interviews with Francis Bacon is very good. And I just started reading Talking in Tranquility: Interviews with Ted Berrigan (O Books, 1991).

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine trees.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Visual art and dance.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m very Spicer-focused right now as I’m writing about his fantastic first editions. He’s always a major influence and touchstone for me.

“Going into hell so many times tears it/ Which explains poetry.”

“Tell everyone to have guts/ Do it yourself / Have guts until the guts / Come through the margins / Clear and pure / Like love is.”

I’m also reading Cole Swensen’s beautiful new book Landscapes on a Train. Her ear is flawless!

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Finally become really fluent in Mandarin.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I am tempted to say surfer. But really I do think I would make a decent therapist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
When I did try something else (medicine), it made me write even more!

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I mentioned her before but I’ll emphasize her amazingness here. engulf--enkindle by Anja Utler, trans. Kurt Beals (Burning Deck).

A sample (from “counter position: an interweavement in nine parts”)
– perceive: furrow –


just at the opencuts: set free
to stand, sense, to drift now am: pitching to you through the: fissures hear – you speak of
waste heaps, of scree of: implanting, the
windrose, -wheel speak of: rotating, glistening
rotor blade you say – it: pitches, now, pitch, as a veined arm, a wing plows: its back, engraves furrows through earth-smoke through dead nettle fields
and at last: on the shoulder blade dulls down
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve been finishing up edits for my second book, which will be out in 2017, and have been working on some more landscape-driven poems. I spent last year driving back and forth between Iowa and Nebraska and all that road and space has begun to enter my work in a prominent way.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Shannon Maguire, Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina


the process by which pedestrians on the ground surface enter the story is a measure of the rate at which the city is able to absorb in fall – the season hosts its fair shard of protests

the city itches per hour on the anterior or posterior aspect of the lower capacity of its nouns to decline root action in favour of spikes in vibrational output

omens are sometimes analyzed using runoff & channel flows to predict a downloadable field guide to how ocelli err on a moonless night

begin the discovery elks at any lost historic rail line in the cliffs of query, salmon, beltline & gardens, with leisure spaces in your shortage of drinking water & poker hand

point feet using odometer set two steps past Go Train of drought

enjoy nature through a series of mouth panels where sites of occupation or story happenstance

lift the Vale of Avoca bridge as a substitute for a test pattern or to straighten street; or leverage the bright water’s rust

The second volume in Shannon Maguire’s projected medievalist trilogy is Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2015), following on the heels of her debut collection, fur(l) parachute (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here]. As the press release informs, this new collection “is an innovative variant of the sestina form (a medieval mechanism of desire that spirals around six end words).” As part of an interview-in-progress forthcoming at Touch the Donkey, she opens a conversation on the trilogy as a whole:

I’ve been gradually working on the third book of my “medievalist trilogy”—right now I’m calling it Zip’s File. That’s where the poems that you’re reading here come from, and I’ll say more about them in a moment, but first I feel I should say something about the books that precede it because all three tease out one aspect of a larger question that I’ve been trying to work out, which is something like: How has Western culture influenced the literary, cultural, sexual, and political bodies that we’re living inside now and what role did/does the English language play in transmitting, producing, circulating, and maintaining gender, racial, and sexual difference? And how does change come about, linguistically, socially? Since (dammit Jim) I’m a poet and not a social linguist, my research has to be conducted and reported in poetic form... whatever that is! bpNichol’s statement (borrowed from Ludwig Wittgenstein and modified) “word order equals world order” is tremendous because it emphasizes the practice based/ processual effects of object-relations. So, modern English is a Subject-Verb-Object language, where the subject is grammatically assumed to have agency and the object is grammatically assumed to be passive. We make it “easy” to tell who is doing and who is being acted upon because it’s built into the spacial dimension of our sentences: they start with the actor and end with the...patient. But Anglo Saxon or Old English grammar was less obvious in terms of how it appeared on the page. Like Latin, the dominant Western language of commerce and authority at the time, Old English was a highly inflected language meaning that it had eight possible cases (or forms) that any noun could take, and a noun’s relation to other parts of speech depended on which form it took. This has several consequences, the most fun being that words had flexibility on the page and often the relations between words had to be thought out more carefully (as any student asked to parse a sentence in front of the group can attest). These are endlessly fun features for the contemporary poet!

It’s fascinating to see how Maguire’s particular research has spawned such an expansive poetic project, specifically one that explores how languages such as Latin and Medieval English have impacted the ways in which those living in contemporary Western culture exist, interact and interrelate. Much like poets Erín Moure, Lisa Robertson and Margaret Christakos (and numerous others), hers is a poetry constructed as a field of research, and one that could easily fit into far more than a trilogy of books.

Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina is constructed in seven sections, the first six of which—“NOISE,” “LETTERS,” “PLEASURE,”CROWD,” “VOLUME” and “INCORRIGIBLE”—spool and spiral throughout the length and breadth of the book, akin to strands of DNA, leaving the final section, “TORNADA,” as a kind of coda. While the book might, at first, appear to be structured as a tapestry as opposed to any linear expression of narrative, each section opens, spreads apart and each progress toward an accumulation that leads to, if not a conclusion, but a logical place at which to close. There is something lovely about the way her poems is scattered with writing on ants that end up taking over her entire narrative. Is this, in the end, simply a poetry collection on ants? Hers is a machine in which every piece is concurrently moving, much like the ants, as, towards the end of the collection, she writes:

we need a better English word than “colony”
to describe a measuring cup full of ants
an ant brain
is an elastic snap of lines’
responsive bodies

It is also curious to note another title of language/form poetry writing around research on ants, from Maguire’s “exploded sestina” to the prose poems that make up American poet Sawako Nakayasu’s remarkable The Ants (Los Angeles CA: Les Figues Press, 2014) [see my review of such here]. Either way, I’m impressed at the ambition Maguire has for her writing so early, given that her first two trade poetry books are part of such an expansive project; even Robert Kroetsch was a few poetry books in before he understood “Field Notes” as a life-long poem, most of which (but for some earlier works, and a few produced at the end that hadn’t yet been included) were reprinted in his Completed Field Notes: The Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch (University of Alberta Press, 2000). What might this mean, as well, for what might follow, once her trilogy is finally complete? In Myrmurs, Maguire’s is a language poetry composed with a lyric lilt and tone, one constructed with precise measure and a musical ear.

Coarsely toothed meadows
kerning silver-gray airs on inked high bed

Collation of sepals, obovate corsets
knuckle & lever rubbed with resin

Forms a stain in the wound
grasses swung back, attaching to covers

Excess twine to protect leaves
glandular long-hairy perennial

Margins bristly, folded or unfolded
volvere (“LETTERS”)

As well, Maguire isn’t the only contemporary poet utilizing medieval research for the sake of book-length poetry projects—Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy, for example, has long been working with and around medieval research—but Maguire’s research goes deeper than playing with historical information and the structures of medieval culture, pushing down into the bare bones of the language itself.

Epiphyte. Because she cannot, carry across

Shikimic & cinnamate. Hawk-moth unimpaired by warmer upper
layers is this red flapping of sound. Wetlands in first & third
courts of the moon

Krill & boundaries of mouths. Most dry ripple. More arid
sentiments. She laid down by. Its own food this method produces
Tongue that exceeds. A word or certain land

Abiota, your new endearment. By which you are present in this
absolute humidity. When they brutalized, they translated. Me into
her hands. I rainband there

Red snow. Calligraphy of algae. As once the red tide bloomed
Eskarne. Mouth muscles clam. Upwelling light. Tint in negotiated
water. Neap

Narrow needle-shaped bodies are navigable words which trade or
travel along the spine

Eolian. Said of soils. Of fish flows. Syllables. Myrmecography on
desert varnish. Ghost myrmekite.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Backwater Review (1997-1999): bibliography, and an interview

Leo Brent Robillard is an award-winning author and educator. His novels include Leaving Wyoming, which was listed in Bartley’s Top Five in the Globe and Mail for Best First Fiction; Houdini’s Shadow, which was translated into Spanish; and, Drift, which was long-listed for the Relit Award. The Road To Atlantis is his most recent novel – tracing a family’s dissolution and healing following a tragic accident. He lives in Eastern Ontario with his wife and two children.

Q: How did Backwater Review first start?

A: While attending Carleton University, I had the opportunity to edit the small literary journal Box 77. It was produced by the English Literature Society. I began there as a proofreader and member of the editorial board, then took over as editor of the magazine for three issues. I graduated from Carleton University in 1996, and this put an end to my involvement with that publication. But I guess you could say that I had been bitten by the bug.

I come from a small town in Eastern Ontario. Prior to my time at Carleton, and my move to Ottawa as a young man, I had no inclination about the existence of a Canadian literary scene. That there were other people like me – writers and poets – was a revelation. I couldn’t let it go.

I had made many friends who were involved in writing and publishing during my Ottawa years – people from the Ottawa scene, and others who had passed through the city’s various Reading Series like TREE, Sasquatch, or The Dusty Owl. I suppose my way of staying in touch was the creation of Backwater Review.

I’m sure that my initial vision was much grander. I was young and fired up about writing. I wrote in my first editorial: “Here you will discover the future conscience of a nation, of a time, of a place. This is a spawning ground for words.”

My goal was to have it distributed nationally. And it was. You could find it in magazine shops and bookstores from St. John’s to Victoria. We ran annual writing contests and gathered a few advertisers to help finance it.

And, you know, we did publish some very good writing. Especially poetry.

Q: I didn’t know you were part of Box 77! I remember Warren Layberry and Steve Zytveld, and even had work in there… Did you base Backwater Review on any journals in particular? What were your models? What other journals or presses existed around at the time?

A: I was reading stuff from all corners back then. I had a great deal of respect – and still do – for the long-running established journals like Grain, The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire and The Malahat Review. If anything, I was modelling Backwater on their successful formats and appearances. I wouldn’t ever have called Backwater “edgy.” It was always about the writing. We weren’t trying to “be” anything. It was really more like, “If you build it, they will come.”

There were a number of journals cropping up all over the place back then. In Ottawa alone I remember your above/ground press offerings like Missing Jacket and Stanzas; there was Bywords and Hostbox and Hook & Ladder and Box 77. There was a funky little number called Graffitifish. The Carleton Arts Review was something back then, too.  But one of my favourites was Richard Carter’s short-lived Yield. He really had a particular aesthetic in mind.

When you mention literary scenes, people default to Toronto or Vancouver. But there was a lot going on in Ottawa.

Q: I agree completely. During the mid-1990s (a couple of years before Backwater emerged) there were a dozen self-described literary journals in Ottawa, and yet, we keep being overlooked as a literary centre. Have you any thoughts on why that might be?

A: It certainly isn’t for a shortage of good writers – Andre Alexis, Elizabeth Hay, Alan Cumyn, Mark Frutkin, Charlotte Gray, Brian Doyle... All these people live or have lived in Ottawa. And they are only the ones who jump immediately to mind. But beyond established writers, what a healthy literary journal scene suggests is dynamism, vibrancy and promise for the future. This is where writers cut their teeth. The discussions that take place in these small literary collectives help shape and foment the country's eventual aesthetic.

It has been said that all great writers got their start in a small magazine. It is certainly true that Backwater published some eventual heavy hitters. For instance, Tim Bowling went on to win the CAA Award for Poetry and was several times short-listed for the Governor General’s Award, and even The Writer’s Trust for The Tinsmith. Stephanie Bolster won the Governor General’s Award for White Stone – which contained poems originally published in Backwater. Claire Mulligan’s The Reckoning of Boston Jim was short-listed for the Giller in 2007. And Russell Thornton is short-listed for this year’s Griffin Prize. This is but a partial list. You, yourself appeared in the magazine, and have gone on to win the CAA/Air Canada Award, as well as the John Newlove Award. Susan Elmslie won the A.M. Klein Prize. All of these writers graced the pages of Backwater in its brief three-year existence.

And many of them – if not actually from Ottawa – passed through one of its myriad Reading Series. That’s how they learned about Backwater. I remember personally soliciting Tim Bowling and Stephanie Bolster after sets they read in downtown Ottawa pubs.

So as for being over-looked, your guess is as good as mine. But it probably has something to do with book publishing and money. Chaudiere Books must find it pretty lonely, for instance, as a book publisher in Ottawa.

Q: What are you most proud of the journal accomplishing? What are your frustrations? What had you been hoping to achieve?

A: I am most proud that good writers considered submitting to it. I never felt that Backwater had to settle. George Murray, John B. Lee, D.C. Reid – we had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.

In some respects, this ties in to what we hoped to achieve. We gave good writing another venue. There can never be enough opportunity to promote Canadian writers and writing.

And of course, this is also linked to the greatest frustration. At its height, Backwater had a little over 200 subscribers – but most of these people were writers themselves. I suspect even those who picked it up in a bookstore were writers, more often than not, looking for another potential market.

I see small press journals as literature’s best kept secret. I suppose that I had hoped without strategy or success to change that. But poetry, and good literature in general, are a hard sell. People like to digest their entertainment passively, and these things require engagement, reflection and time.

The same awards I’ve been mentioning here – while equally vital to writing and publishing – can sometimes be a limiting force as well. Readers, too often, use them as to do lists. If you aren’t on those lists, you don’t get “done.”

But I don’t want to sound bitter or melancholic. Because I’m not. Journals remain relevant for a different reason. I can see that now. They are valuable for their sense of peer review and writer development. They validate writers and their writing at an important stage in their growth. The beginning.

Q: Did your time producing Backwater Review have any effect on how you approached your own writing?

A: When I completed my first novel in 2003, I knew exactly where I was going to submit it. I think I might even have known as I embarked upon writing it. Backwater didn’t just receive good manuscripts; as a review outlet, we received a lot of great books as well. I became very attuned to the market for fiction and poetry in the Canadian literary press. Much more than I am now. Turnstone published fantastic books, and I knew that my style of writing would appeal to them. I knew the moment that I finished reading Margaret Sweatman’s Sam & Angie, which I reviewed for Backwater, that Turnstone was the place for my work. By complete coincidence, Sharon Caseburg was their Acquisitions Editor at that time (and still is). We had published her poetry years earlier in Backwater. I don’t think that had any bearing on my eventual publication contract – and I certainly wasn’t aware of this particular connection when I sent my work off – but I’m sure that name recognition and familiarity may have gotten the manuscript out of the dreaded slush pile. A decade and four novels later, I am still publishing with them.

So I am not sure if editing made me approach writing differently in a stylistic sense. But I am sure that it made me take my work more seriously. More professionally. I began to understand that good writing took on many different forms, and that there were venues for each of those forms. In a way, my growing knowledge of the literary landscape legitimized what I was already doing. I knew I had a place and a potential audience.

Of course, it never hurts to read, and to read good writing in all of its forms, either. As an editor, I had no better opportunity to do just that. Did I learn anything from that apprenticeship – even at a subconscious level? Maybe. Probably.

Q: What was behind the decision to suspend the journal?

A: Time. And maybe money. But mostly time. My daughter was born in December of 1999. So I was a new father, a new teacher. I had moved away from Ottawa, and didn’t have the same network of writers and reviewers around me. Unless you’ve ever produced a small press journal with a skeletal workforce of volunteers, you can’t imagine the amount of work. Throw in diaper changing, sleepless nights, and 75 essays waiting to marked, and well…

We actually had a Volume IV planned. The submissions were in. We had the artwork. But we were just exhausted. My wife, a translator and teacher, was the assistant editor, so she was living everything that I was living. And basically, life just got in the way.

I resurrected Backwater briefly back in 2007, as an online review outlet for Canadian books. But was forced to take another hiatus. This past summer, I revamped the blog entirely ( I post to it at least once a week on Sundays. I still review Canadian literary press books. Sometimes I post essays, or travel pieces, or snippets of something else. But the focus is reviews. It’s work. But a lot less. And it’s fun. Always was. Always will be.

Backwater Review bibliography:

Volume I, Number 1. Spring/Summer 1997. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editor: Leslie G. Holt. Copy Editor: Caroline Bergeron. Poems by Stephanie Bolster, Ian Whistle, Lisl Swinehart, jason cobb, Behrouz Fallahi, rob mclennan, Richard Carter, Christl Verduyn and Caitlin Hewitt-White. Fiction by Dan Doyle, Matt Holland and Claire Mulligan. Interview with rob mclennan by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Naomi Watson-Laird, Donna Sorfleet, Richard Carter, Leslie G. Holt, rob mclennan and L. Brent Robillard.

Volume I, Number 2. Fall/Winter 1997. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editor: Caroline Bergeron. Copy Editor: Steve McKibbin. Poems by John B. Lee, Craig Carpenter, Brian Riggs, Susan Elmslie, Tim Bowling, Richard Carter, Stephanie Bolster, Jennifer Gavin. Fiction by Claudia Graf and Larry Rowdan. Interview with Susan Elmslie by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Paul Sorfleey, Carl Mills, rob mclennen, Richard Carter, Donna Sorfleet, and L. Brent Robillard.

Volume II, Number 1. Spring/Summer 1998. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editors: Caroline Bergeron and Richard Carter. Poetry by Alison Watt, Jason Rama, Paul Benza, Merilyn Lerch, Joe Blades, Claire Latremouille, Russell Thornton, Edith Van Berkley, and Errol Miller. Fiction by Tsigane Bristol, Rita Donovan, and Cliff Burns. Interview with Rita Donovan by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Carl Mills, Richard Carter, Nancy Leech, and L. Brent Robillard.

Volume II, Number 2. Fall/Winter 1998. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editor: Caroline Bergeron. Poems by George Murray, Susan McCaslin, Jason G. Santerre, Stephanie Bolster, Matt Santateresa and Russell Thornton. Fiction by Richard Scarsbrook, Stan Rogal and Marguerite Carrière. Interview with Stephanie Bolster by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Mausumi Banerjee, Nancy Keech and L. Brent Robillard.

Volume III, Number 1. Spring/Summer 1999. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editor: Caroline Bergeron. Poems by Keith Ebsary, Tony Cosier, rob mclennan, D.C. Reid, Antonia Banyard, Betsy Symons, Brian Burke, Jason Rama, Ronnie R. Brown and Margaret Malloch Zielinski. Fiction by Suki Lee and Michael Bryson. Interview with D.C. Reid by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Mausumi Banerjee, Nancy Keech and L. Brent Robillard.

Volume III, Number 2. Fall/Winter 1999. Editor: L. Brent Robillard. Assistant Editor: Caroline Bergeron. Poetry by Flanagan Wolff, Damien Potter, Astrid van der Pol, Michael Trussler, Sharon Caseburg, and Lyle Weiss. Fiction by Aliki Tryphonopoulos, Randy Schroeder, and Anne Burke. Interview with John Buschek by L. Brent Robillard. Reviews by Jesse Craig Bellringer, monna mcdiarmid, and L. Brent Robillard.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ongoing notes: Meet the Presses (part two,

[the room, preparing: including Karl Jirgens, Denis De Klerk and Noelle Allen] See the first part here.

Toronto ON: If you aren’t already aware, Catriona Wright (poet and former Ottawa resident) has co-founded a new publishing venture, Desert Pets Press, with Emma Dolan, and some of their first publications include the anthology 300 Hours A Minute (2015) and E. Martin Nolan’s Poems From Still (2015). As their website informs: “Desert Pets Press was founded in 2015 by illustrator Emma Dolan and author Catriona Wright. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, the press publishes limited edition poetry and prose chapbooks and strives to combine exciting contemporary writing with innovative design.” Subtitled “Poems About YouTube Videos,” the chapbook anthology 300 Hours A Minute includes a series of playful poems (being exactly what the chapbook title suggests) composed by a variety of predominantly-emerging Toronto poets and fiction writers including Michelle Brown, Kathryn Mockler, Vincent Colistro (he has a first poetry collection due in spring with Signal Editions), Andy Verboom, Daniel Scott Tysdal [see my review of his most recent poetry collection here], Laura Clarke, Jess Taylor, Suzannah Showler [see my review of her first poetry collection here], Matthew R. Loney and Spencer Gordon.

Ted Talks

then TED foams at the mouth
forgetting to stop. TED co-opts cud as a fertilizer

two point oh. Won’t hold a microphone so one
is fastened to TED’s head. TED says hands are keyboards,

keyboards are dead phonemes. TED walks
atop a ramp atop the universities, whose popinjays cock

their heads up and balk. Cued to a power point,
TED points to its hegemony, Gemini, Jesus, Fancy Pants,

the real regressives. TED shocks she who opens
herself to touching it. Insteads are part of the prix fixe

of TED, such is its kindness, to offer hope. TED knocks
on my wall, in the voice of a friend, who shared this article,

who shared this article, who aired this sharticle,
who dares this icicle of shart? TED talks

and before long we’ll all be forced
to listen. Full stop. (Vincent Colistro)

The argument of the collection, “poems about YouTube videos,” is reminiscent of the anthology Dinosaur Porn [see my review of such here], with the argument/prompt that sparked the project seemingly as random, but for the fact that the Ferno House anthology had submissions that were much further “out there” than the poems collected here. Wright, an emerging poet herself, appears to favour a particular flavour of the short, observational lyric, one that would fit very much in that space where the editorial visions of publishing houses Vehicule Press, Nightwood Editions, ECW Press and Wolsak and Wynn might meet. Along those same lines is E. Martin Nolan’s Poems From Still, a collection of short, meditative lyrics that weave through a gentle pacing. His poems reference hurricanes, including Katrina, and the resulting damage left behind. Nolan’s poems are thoughtful and empathetic, and centred very solidly in concrete facts and situations.



In Detroit, on TV, they show the storm after.
It goes on, moves north, still the shape it was.

In Ohio they read of it,
how it’s coming there,
feeding that recently droughted land.

In Katrina’s rain the small hard flowers
of Ohio’s weeds rejoice.

II         IN OHIO

The man turns from the window, the same
rain hard on the window he’s stopped at
to see the storm die over land.

The woman on the stairs stops.
She holds folded clothes.


A: To get the real Taino god
of the storm take the wooden face
carved into mid-scream, face the storm
and forget any carved wood.

What appeals about this press, apart from the strong work and the graceful design, is in seeing how they work to engage with their immediate, local community, and producing work by numerous poets, many of whom haven’t yet made a name for themselves. There is much here worth paying attention to.