Saturday, December 22, 2007

Calm Things

I'm really pleased to report that the title essay of my (as yet unpublished) book, Calm Things has been published by Cezanne's Carrot, an online magazine out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Of course, I was attracted to the magazine by its title. Cezanne said: "The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."

I love the presentation of the essay, and the editors, Barbara Jacksha and Joan Kremer, were marvelous to work with. If you have a little time in between gatherings over the holidays, or just need a wee escape, here is
the link to the essay. Wishing you all a calm and beautiful holiday season!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Your Stationery Should Not Have Flowers On It

"The energy that accrues around messages is extraordinary, mystical, immeasurable." This is Carolyn See in Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. The book came out in 2002 and I reviewed it for the Edmonton Journal at the time. I hadn't expected to like it much for some unknown reason. Maybe I thought I was above or beyond it. But I did like it, found it quite endearing in fact, and have since come back to many of the ideas in it often over the years. One thing that I initially rolled my eyes about was her chapter on the 'Charming Note.' But the more I thought about it, the more I liked this whole idea and have been preaching a version of the same thing ever since. In essence, her advice to writing students is this: "write one charming note to a novelist, an editor, a journalist, a poet, a sculptor, even an agent whose professional work or reputation you admire, five days a week, for the rest of your life." The notes are not to ask favors, and are to be gracious and short. I love that she gives tips on the best kind of paper to write charming notes upon: " 'half-sheets,' stationery that is five by eight inches." She continues, "Your stationery should not have flowers on it. It should not be in the form of a greeting card with a Manet or Monet reproduction on the front. The stationery should be about you, not some French Impressionist. It shouldn't be unnervingly clever, unless you're unnervingly clever. It should be as classy as you can stand it to be." See talks about an author who changed her life, and she wanted to tell him this, but then he died. She'd missed her chance to say what a huge impact this particular person had made on her life, and on her writing.

I admit that I've never been able to keep up the pace that See expects of her writing students - five charming notes a week. But I have written a few to writers I admire and have always gotten back a rather wonderful note from everyone I've ever written. And I've received notes about my work also and this is always a tonic - a delight!

The reason I've been thinking about the Carolyn See book again was that I was contemplating cleaning out my big desk drawer with the hanging file folders (decided against) and came across a letter Rob, my husband, had received from Guy Davenport. Rob (a painter of still life) had read Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature and was moved to write a short, spontaneous note of thanks and admiration to Mr. Davenport. Certainly he didn't expect a reply back, but one arrived - a very generous and beautifully typed note (no errors!) on excellent, thick, personalized letterhead. (Photo below). Davenport passed away in 2005.

I've been tickled with the little notes I've received on facebook or over email, but there really is no replacing the charming note.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Become a Torture to Those I'm With

I lately had a volume of poetry pressed into my hand on a rather cold winter's night. Arriving home, I propped myself up in bed under wool blankets and goose down comforter to peruse the book itself. On the cover is what appears at first glance to be a snowflake, but upon further looking is a design composed of rabbits, insects, teapots, birds and leaves. The book is Old Winter, by Anne Le Dressay who has lived at various times in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa. As is my strange habit, I always read the last poem first, and this is also the title poem. Here it is:

Old winter

The snow is tired. It has thawed
and frozen, thawed and frozen, and its edges
have become ice crystal, blank space, and dirt.

When it was fresh, it caught and held
every speck of dust, froze every wandering
bit of trash. Now it releases
one by one a winter's

The snow is broken, worn, faded grey,
pocked with dirt where the sun
has probed.

Even the new soft white
fresh from last night
cannot cover the scars, cannot disguise
how old this winter is.

- by Anne Le Dressay

Reading this poem has me thinking about winter poems in general. I think most Canadian poets end up writing at least one poem with the word 'snow' in it. I have succumbed to the winter poem business myself in Blue Feast, with "Winter is Never Tranquil." There's something terribly pleasant about reading winter poems while sipping hot chocolate or tea by the window and watching the white stuff come down. There are a number of them on the UChicago Press site, on, and there are a couple by Sylvia Plath here. Does everyone have a favorite poem or line from a poem about winter? Mine is from Rumi: "My worst habit is I get so tired of winter / I become a torture to those I'm with." Though I have to say, this year I am rather pleased with the snow and rather less of a torture than usual, which I attribute to daily outings to Terwillegar Park with ol' four legs, our black lab. Below is a picture of the beaver pond there - the whole place has a sort of Narnian quality in the snow.

If you're done thinking about winter poems, heaven forbid this early in the season, and would like to instead ponder winter movies, you might take a look at a recent post by blogger Amanda Earl.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Canada Reads Poetry

I was thrilled to hear Icefields by Thomas Wharton had been picked as one of the Canada Reads titles. Not only do we share a couple of publishers (NeWest and M&S), he's from Edmonton and it's always great to see local people do well.

Not that it will ever happen, but I was thinking how cool it would be if there was a poetry only version of Canada Reads. I started to dream about my top five poetry picks. If I were on the panel which book of Canadian poetry would I choose? (Yes, it's good I know how to amuse myself. As Dorothy Parker once said, "I am beginning to have more and more piercing doubts that my fontanel ever closed up properly"). Keeping in mind that if you asked me this question tomorrow, the answer might be different. But right this very second I would pick these five: Lemon Hound by Sina Queyras, Selected Poems by Phyllis Webb, Earthlight by Gwendolyn MacEwen, Silence of the Country by Kristjana Gunnars, and Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson. Gee, what do you know, they're all women.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Poem by Kimmy Beach

When I Skate

you need a great song like “Urgent” by Foreigner
or “Bang a Gong” by T-Rex
just the right pace and beat
I’m the best skater girl on the rink Friday nights
lots of other girls have more makeup
more expensive jeans
but nobody beats my moves
my killer skates and beat-up wheels

my calves are firm and lean
friendship bracelets ride my wrist
under the cuffs of my white blouse

my skates fly me through the building
coloured lights on my hair and shoulders
I rex along the straightaways
scrape the edges of my wheels every few seconds
to slow myself down behind slower skaters
or just show off my noisy skates

I take the next corner my right skate points forward
the left faces backward
I lean into the curve, legs spread, my body’s momentum
carries me through the turn
my skates in opposite directions

I build up speed on the long path to the next corner
hold myself tall and coast fast
add a tiny push to the side if I start to slow
my trucks always oiled sail the length of the rink
body straight arms at my sides
letting bass guitars pulse through my wheels
up my legs into my groin
I’m strong and turned on
my jeans tug at me I lean back into a curve at the corner
pull one foot back behind the other
let it hit the rink hard
in a reverse crossover along the straight edge

I close my eyes for just a second longer than it’s safe
feel the air on my eyelids at my throat
Susan will join me halfway through the song
we rex side by side our skates in perfect rhythm
crossing over on the same beat
the right skate lifts from the floor before each crossover
left then right on the long stretches of rink

she skates behind me
hold the belt loop at the back of my jeans
we are a gorgeous train of perfume
hair spray perfect synchronicity
we’re irresistible and we skate
our pulses listen and match the music
our hair bobbing at our temples in response to the movement
her fingers at my spine
skates carrying us

This is a poem from Kimmy Beach's latest collection - in Cars published by Turnstone Press. Previous collections are Nice Day for Murder: Poems for James Cagney, Alarum Within: Theatre Poems and fake Paul. Kimmy captures the mood of the 80's frighteningly well in this new book. The music, the cars, the hair, the recklessness. I was at Kimmy's launch of the book last week, and talking with her and another friend afterwards, we played with the idea that this book of poems could be made into a fantastic musical. I think this could be possible because of all the various way Kimmy pushes the boundaries of what poetry can be in this collection.