Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mackerel, holy.

I've never felt so nervous -- or so inexplicably nervous -- typing an e-mail as I did last summer when asking Robert Kroetsch if he would blurb my collection, Vs. What, I asked myself as I pressed send, is the worst case scenario? It was a toss-up:

1) A reply of "no."
2) No reply.
3) A reply of "who are you and why are you bothering me?"

But, as is almost always the case, my fear was unwarranted. His response was as swift as it was enthusiastic. I mailed off the manuscript and within a few weeks had a beautiful quote for the back cover of the book. It still makes me beam every time I read it.

I met Robert the year before, at the Banff Centre where I was part of the Writing with Style program. He was there as a Visiting Fellow, writing and reading and listening to students read. I was star-struck by his presence, but too shy to approach him.

One afternoon he gave a beautiful reading of his recent work. As he read, one of his hands trembled. I know it was likely age-related, but it looked like he was writing, always, with an invisible pen.

Later that week, I read too -- one of the first times I'd read the boxing poems to an audience. I felt strong and powerful and I could tell that the little audience was engaged. After the reading, Robert came up to me and, unfortunately, I've forgotten everything he said after "Holy mackerel."

I've rolled those two words, in his voice, around in my brain so many times, they've been tumbled smooth. I'll relish them forever. And more, now that he's gone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I was thrilled, then immediately terrified, when Kerry Clare asked me to contribute a reading list to Canadian Bookshelf. And, later, when I asked for an extension -- something I've never, ever done, even in school -- she upped the anxiety ante by saying she'd await my list with "gleeful expectation." Gulp.

The rules were pretty simple: 5-10 Canadian-authored, currently in-print, books on any theme I chose. Easy, right? Well, as it turns out:

A) I'm not as well-read as I like to think I am,
B) I mostly read pretty conservative, mainstream stuff, and almost exclusively fiction (wha?),
C) I don't have a great memory for books I've read, even ones I've loved,
D) I'm not very good at choosing.

So, the assignment proved to be a challenge, though a fun challenge. After many trial run lists on a variety of themes, I settled on the easiest one of all (not far-off from my sister's suggestion: "Canadian-authored, currently in-print books I like"), one where anything could fit. (OK, not quite everything. The list is sadly lacking in Leonard Cohen. I also wanted to work in This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall*, but just couldn't swing it.) Regardless, here it is.

("Heavyweight titles" is much less clunky than "mostly novels about the prairies and/or war and/or kids." Wouldn't you agree?)

* I googled the title, to get an image for the top of this post, only to discover that the Gordon Korman classic is now called This Can't Be Happening and was re-released in 2003 "with a new look and updated text (updated to match today's economy and slang)."  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writing on the Wall

It's not every day I get an e-mail from someone saying: "Hey, I want to put your poems, ginormously sized, on the exterior of a building in an area with tons of summertime foot traffic, and highly visible from the cafe patio right across the street. Is that all right?" My reply: "um, YES!"

It's even sweeter that the building in question is the one that houses Pan Am Boxing, where I'm incredibly proud to be a member. To have my poems on those particular walls is a huge honour.

I knew the panels were coming, but I was still surprised to see them when I headed into class last week. For one, they're much larger and more eye-catching than I'd envisioned. There are also more of them: seven panels (when, for some reason, I thought there would be four) covering the ground floor and second floor windows.

I can't think of more prominent, or appropriate place for, promotion for my book and I'm thrilled with how great they look (especially pretty with the flower baskets on a beautiful June day) and I'm hoping it will encourage more people to consider poetry-scaping.

Check them out next time you're in the Exchange District: Arthur at McDermot, across from Cake-ology. (And while you're there, why not check out the club? I can't recommend it more highly.)

Now, here's hoping they don't tagged.

Merry merry month of May

May has come and gone, and with it: May Day.

As usual it was a busy and productive month of writing (minus a 6-day business/pleasure jaunt to Vancouver) and of loving/hating May Day. But, for the first time I didn't beat myself up when I didn't write a new poem every friggin' day. (Which I have managed to do before, but under self-imposed conditions that I can only describe as inhumane.) I met my own goal of 20 new pieces, all about Edouard Beaupre. (You remember him, the tall guy.) And I didn't even cheat by posting stuff I'd already written, which I'd kind of planned to do.

Where I failed was keeping up with, and commenting on, other poets' work. Gone are those early May Days of hitting post at 11:59 pm, then cruising everyone's work into the wee hours where we'd agonize over line breaks together. Or, at least that's the romanticized version I choose to remember.

I still don't know where exactly the Beaupre poems are going -- but they're tending toward prose (?!?), cowboyism and what I hope will be a dark, wry, intriguing character. After spending a month with Edouard, I feel like I'm getting a sense of his voice. (And a sense of how much research is likely warranted, which I find vaguely frightening.)

But, I'm off to a kind of start, and for that I'm thankful. I'm thankful too, to the May Day crew, for another year of thoughtful writing, reading and solidarity.