Category Archives: Poetry

Pockets, by Stuart Ross

bookcover-ross-pocketsWhen I first read (well, devoured) Pockets by Stuart Ross, I rushed to Goodreads with my delighted reaction. I thought I would go back and expand on those thoughts for here on the blog, but you know what? I like that initial burst of enthusiasm so much, I’m just going to tuck it in here as is …

Fresh from the last page of this exquisite, poignant poem/novella, let me just tumble out some reactions, like a grateful exhalation. Pockets is a unique meditation on childhood and grief, shifting from dreams and hallucinatory half-dreams to sharpened-pencil-precise memories and images. The shifting continues between childhood and seemingly reluctant adulthood (“I was driving a car, but I can’t remember if I was a child or an adult. I reached a hand to my face. It was rough, unshaven. I was an adult.”) … from fleeting happiness to bewildered despair, from love to anger to yearning. Throughout, the title hovers and takes many forms. Pockets are places of safekeeping and secrets withheld, but most strikingly, pockets turned out (like those of a Red Skelton clown) denote everything from poverty to generosity denied to being drained of every last resource.

Each segment of these beautiful and sometimes quietly harrowing reflections is bottom justified on the page, and even that gives a sense of a narrator who has perhaps reached rock bottom in reconciling his sorrows. But … “Then, out of the sky, my mother’s hand reached down.” So small, Pockets invites you to turn to the beginning and read it again, where new pockets of grace and consolation will be revealed.

Pockets by Stuart Ross (ECW Press, 2017)

Thank you to the publisher, ECW Press, for providing a complimentary copy of Pockets.

Celebrating the beautiful book object – Dart, by Alice Oswald

Most recent of poet Alice Oswald’s many accolades is the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, for her 2016 collection Falling Awake. While the words on the page are glorious unto themselves without further enhancement, it is even more enchanting and satisfying when an accomplished poet’s beautiful words are showcased with rich and gorgeous packaging. Such is the case with Oswald’s early work, Dart, produced in a special edition by publisher Faber & Faber.

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Artist Jonathan Gibbs’ design feels very attuned to how Oswald approached the extended poem’s subject matter, as she describes it:

“This poem is made from the language of people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two years I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters – linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a songline from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes into another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.”

I don’t know what Gibbs’ creative brief might have been for this lovely assignment, but the phrase “river’s mutterings” seems captured perfectly by the lush tumblings of leaves and strands and colours on the cover.

Dart, by Alice Oswald

Dart, by Alice Oswald

This inviting book has already inspired me to share its contents:

Dart, by Alice Oswald (Faber & Faber, 2002, 2016)

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.

bookdiary1

I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …

bookdiary2

Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

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  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

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  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

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In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

Another postscript (added March 17, 2017)

emsley-book-journal2Sarah Emsley has segued a career teaching writing at Harvard University to her beautiful blog, where she writes about Jane Austen, Jane Austen for kids, Edith Wharton, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other writers, and about places she loves (especially Nova Scotia and Alberta). I am thrilled that she has taken a cue from this blog post to restart her own handwritten “books read” journal … and oh my, her journal and mine are twins!

Saying thanks to The Poetry Extension and other hard-working poetry purveyors

I was recently asked to offer a testimonial for an arts initiative called The Poetry Extension. I was happy to do so, as I’d very much enjoyed their first (I hope of many) productions:

Here’s what I had to say:

I’m both a poetry reader and attendee, where possible, of poetry readings. I enjoy both the word on the page and the word brought to life. I’m blessed to live in a city that has much to offer in the way of literary events most days of the week. The majority of those events happen because of hard work by organizers, performers, venues and contributors.

If you can’t get out and/or you aren’t blessed to live somewhere that has lots of live literary events, the next best thing are virtual events. What’s wonderful about virtual events – in addition to being able to enjoy them in your pyjamas – is that they can bring together artists and performers for whom it might be difficult to be together in the same city or on the same continent, much less the same venue. That’s where initiatives such as The Poetry Extension are so brilliant, and why I was so effusive about the first of their events in March, 2016:

Amazingly, this virtual event established a balance of both professionalism and intimacy that you might not think possible in a bunch of colliding video screens in different countries. All of the readings introduced unique poetry voices in a warm, friendly, accessible format. I look forward to more such productions, and hope that The Poetry Extension can get the support it needs to make more of them possible in future.

Live or virtual, not only is it wonderful to attend such events, but it’s really rather easy to say thank you for the time and effort that goes into these vibrant offerings. Even a tweet, a Facebook comment, a quick email message are all gratifying ways to let our artists, poets, writers, performers and organizers know they are appreciated, and to let others know about the eye-opening works and events that might just be a click away. (Note, for example, that the next Poetry Extension online gathering will be livestreamed on Wednesday, August 31, 2016.)

2015 literary events … and looking ahead to 2016

As I observed in 2014, we’re tremendously blessed here in the Greater Toronto area and beyond that, to southwestern Ontario, with a year-round wealth of live events through which one can experience the joy of the written word. You can hear those wonderful words read aloud, you can meet the writers, you can purchase their works (and often get them signed or inscribed), you can celebrate with fellow booklovers. The places in which these experiences take place run the gamut, from libraries, bookstores, lecture and performance halls, to pubs, coffee shops and living rooms. It’s important to support local and regional events, but if you have fewer live options in your neck of the woods, more and more, you can still be part of literary events in the ether, as readings and panels are broadcast and livestreamed online. You can be in a remote location or under the weather and in your jammies and you can still partake of literary delights.

Reviewing my 2015 literary outings (most of them to live events, but also a few online), it looks like I went to about the same number of events, but to somewhat less of a range of venues sponsored by specific organizations, publishers and so on. This year, Toronto Public Library’s programming (between their eh List Canadian literature offerings and their Appel Salon events) seemed to hit a very appealing sweet spot, and we found ourselves heading to a number of their events.

With every event I attended, I did my best to tweet in advance that I was attending, and then where possible and with the permission of those with whom I was attending, I tweeted quotes from and observations about the events while they were in progress. I’ve captured a selection of those tweets, including retweets from others attending the same events, here:

 

As it was heading into 2015, my goal in 2016 is to do even more, if I can, to support authors, publishers and booksellers by attending and talking about their events.

toronto-public-library
January 22, 2015
Appel Salon – Toronto Public Library
Venue: Toronto Reference Library
Writer: Peter Carey
Host/moderator: Jared Bland
Peter Carey, Australia’s two time Man Booker Prize winner, read from and discussed his new novel Amnesia with The Globe and Mail‘s Arts Editor Jared Bland.

toronto-public-library
January 29, 2015
Appel Salon – Toronto Public Library
Venue: Toronto Reference Library
Writer: Miranda July
Host/moderator: Sheila Heti
Filmmaker, artist and writer Miranda July enjoyed a congenial interview with author Sheila Heti, in front of a very receptive capacity audience. Read more about the event here, and replay it here.

one-book-one-chicago
February – April, 2015
One Book, One Chicago Reading Sprints for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
It was a reading event promoted primarily for readers living in Chicago, but because it included an online read-along component, I was able to take part in the One Book, One Chicago Reading Sprints for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon from Toronto. The program is described here, and I wrote here about what I got out of it, which was a great experience reading a captivating book.

rowers-reading-series
March 2, 2015
Rowers Reading Series
Venue: Central, Markham Street, Toronto
Writers: Elisabeth de Mariaffi, George Murray, Waubgeshig Rice, Kathleen Winter
Host/moderator: Heather Wood
The Rowers Reading Series is a monthly literary reading series based in Toronto, which runs the first Monday of the month, from October to June. The series showcases the finest poetry, fiction and nonfiction writers from diverse backgrounds, as well as selected emerging writers. The reading series was incorporated in May 2007. The March 2nd, 2015 lineup is described here.

ifoa2
April 9, 2015
McClelland & Stewart Poetry Night at International Festival of Authors (IFOA)
Venue: Brigantine, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Madhur Anand, Dionne Brand, Kevin Connolly, Lorna Crozier, Liz Howard, Cassidy McFadzean
Host/moderator: Jacob McArthur Mooney
Read more about this event here.

Since its inception in 1974, the International Festival of Authors (IFOA), which started as the Harbourfront Reading Series, has played an important role in the cultural life of Canada. IFOA presents the finest international novelists, poets, playwrights, short story writers and biographers, and provides Canadian writers with an internationally recognized forum in which to present their work. IFOA events range from weekly readings to their annual fall literary extravaganza to initiatives for younger readers.

anansi-logo
April 15, 2015
Anansi Poetry Bash
Venue: The Tranzac, Toronto
Writers: Shane Book, A.F. Moritz, Erin Moure, Karen Solie, David O’Meara reading on behalf of Elise Partridge
Host/moderator: Damian Rogers
This was yet another evening of compelling readings from the latest crop of fine poetry coming from House of Anansi Press, a storied Canadian publishing company founded in 1967 by Dennis Lee and David Godfrey, and early publisher of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Matt Cohen and other writers forming the foundation of modern Canadian literature.

shabe-sher
April 28, 2015
Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night)
Venue: Beit Zatoun, Markham Street, Toronto
Writers: Timaj Garad, David Bateman
Host/moderator: Bänoo Zan
Read more about this event here.
The most diverse poetry reading and open mic in Toronto, for more than two years Shab-e She’r has been bridging the gap between diverse poetry communities, bringing together people from different ethnicities, nationalities, ages, disabilities, religions (or lack thereof), poetic styles, voices and visions.

toronto-public-library
May 19, 2015
Toronto Public Library Author Talk and Lecture Series
Venue: North York Public Library
Writer: Anne Enright
Host/moderator: Marci Ien
Man Booker Award-winning bestselling author Anne Enright read from her latest, The Green Road and was then interviewed by Canada AM’s Marci Ien.

toronto-public-library
May 27, 2015
Toronto Public Library Author Talk and Lecture Series
Venue: North York Public Library
Writer: Marina Endicott
Host/moderator: Alissa York
Giller-shortlisted Marina Endicott visited with her new comic novel, Close to Hugh. She and author Alissa York enjoyed a warm, wide-ranging conversation.

griffin-logo2
June 3, 2015
Griffin Poetry Prize 2015 shortlist readings
Venues: Koerner Hall, Toronto + livestream
writers: Eleanor Goodman, Wang Xiaoni, Marek Kazmierski, Wioletta Greg, Michael Longley, Spencer Reece, Shane Book, Jane Munro, Russell Thornton
Host: Scott Griffin
Founded in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize is the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in English, with international (including translation) and Canadian prizes. The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry aims to spark the public’s imagination and raise awareness of the crucial role poetry plays in our cultural life. One of the most coveted Canadian arts events tickets are those to the annual Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings, which are now generously shared via livestream so poetry lovers around the world can enjoy them.

toronto-public-library
September 17, 2015
Toronto Public Library eh List Author Series
Venue: Toronto Public Library Beaches Branch
Writer: André Alexis
André Alexis read from Fifteen Dogs, which was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize at the time of the reading. The book went on to win the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust award.

toronto-public-librarySeptember 24, 2015
Appel Salon – Toronto Public Library
Venue: Toronto Reference Library
Writer: Salman Rushdie
Host/moderator: Brent Bambury
Read more about and replay the audio of this event here.

word-on-the-street
September 27, 2015
Word on the Street
Venue: Harbourfront, Toronto
In its new Harbourfront Centre location, Toronto Word on the Street (one of several Word on the Street festivals across Canada) invited booklovers to participate in hundreds of author readings, discussions, and activities, and shop in a marketplace that boasts the best selection of Canadian books and magazines anywhere.

September 27, 2015
High Park Reading Festival
Venue: High Park, Toronto
Writers: Liz Howard, Amanda Jernigan, Jim Johnstone, Stevie Howell, Phoebe Wang, Anna Yin, Jeff Latosik, Ian Williams, Priscila Uppal, Ken Babstock, Alexandra Oliver, Damian Rogers, Madhur Anand, Ben Ladouceur, A.F. Moritz, Robin Richardson, Daniel Renton, Julie Cameron Gray, Helen Guri, Laura Clarke, Bardia Sinaee

project-bookmark
October 1, 2015
#RaiseAGlass4Alistair for the Bookmark for Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief
On October 1, 2015, Project Bookmark launched the 14th bookmark on Canada’s literary trail, commemorating Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief on Cape Breton Island. Part of the cross-Canada celebration included a virtual toast using the hashtag #RaiseAGlass4Alistair.

ifoa2October 24, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Poets’ Summit
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Brecken Hancock, Talya Rubin, Zachariah Wells
Host/moderator: Erin Balser
Read more about this event here.

October 25, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Short and Sweet
Venue: Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Samuel Archibald, Kate Cayley, Tim Conley, David Constantine
Host/moderator: Steven W. Beattie
Read more about this event here.

October 25, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – At Language’s Edge: Poetry in Translation
Venue: Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Anna Aguilar-Amat, Erín Moure, Martí Sales
Host/moderator: Oana Avasilichioaei
Read more about this event here.

October 25, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Poets reading
Venue: Pub Hub, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Brecken Hancock, Kate Hargreaves, Jeff Latosik, Andy McGuire, Talya Rubin, Zachariah Wells, Liz Worth
Host/moderator: Oana Avasilichioaei
Read more about this event here.

October 27, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Artist talk with John Burnside
Venue: Pub Hub, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writer: John Burnside
Host/moderator: Steven W. Beattie
Read more about this event here.

October 27, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Poets reading
Venue: Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Claire Caldwell, Ulrikka S. Gernes, Stevie Howell, Damian Rogers, Deanna Young
Host/moderator: Jessice Moore
Read more about this event here.

October 28, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – 25th Anniversary of CBC Radio’s Writers & Company
Venue: Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Aleksandar Hemon, Caryl Phillips, Zadie Smith
Host/moderator: Eleanor Wachtel
Read more about this event here.

October 30, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Best Canadian Poetry Launch
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Barry Dempster, Richard Greene, Stevie Howell, Amanda Jernigan, Jeff Latosik, Jacob McArthur Mooney, A.F. Moritz, Shane Neilson, Hoa Nguyen, Alexandra Oliver, Karen Solie, Priscila Uppal
Hosts/moderators: Jacob McArthur Mooney, Molly Peacock
Read more about this event here.

October 31, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Authors reading
Venue: Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Michel Basilières, Farzana Doctor, Milan Jesih, Anakana Schofield
Host/moderator: Ania Szado
Read more about this event here.

October 31, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – In Conversation with Damian Rogers and Karen Solie
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Damian Rogers, Karen Solie
Host/moderator: Ken Babstock
Read more about this event here.

October 31, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Authors reading
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Kate Cayley, Elizabeth Hay, Mark Anthony Jarman, Jim Shepard
Host/moderator: Sheniz Janmohamed
Read more about this event here.

November 1, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – In Conversation with Rosemary Sullivan
Venue: Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers/guests: Chrese Evans, Rosemary Sullivan
Hosts/moderators: Anne Michaels, Grace O’Connell
Read more about this event here.

November 1, 2015
International Festival of Authors (IFOA) – Poetry Games
Venue: Lakeside Terrace, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Writers: Christian Bök, Claire Caldwell, Richard Greene, Stevie Howell, Andy McGuire, Shane Neilson, Alexandra Oliver, Damian Rogers, Dane Swan, Priscila Uppal
Host/moderator: Steven W. Beattie
Read more about this event here. (Andy McGuire was later crowned the competition winner.)

scotiabank-gillerprize
November 9, 2015
Scotiabank Giller Prize 2015 finalist readings
Venues: Koerner Hall, Toronto + livestream
writers: André Alexis, Samuel Archibald, Rachel Cusk, Heather O’Neill, Anakana Schofield
Hosts/moderators: Richard Crouse, Carol Off
The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, who passed away from cancer the year before. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction – long format or short stories – and endowed a cash prize annually of $25,000.00, the largest purse for literature in the country. Over 20 years later, the prize now provides $100,000 to the winner and $10,000 to each finalist. Part of the celebration of the finalists for the prize includes public readings and presentations of the nominated works, which are also presented via livestream.

al-purdy-poster
December 8, 2015
Al Purdy Was Here documentary
Venue: Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Toronto
Writers: Al Purdy, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood + more
Host/moderator: Director Brian D. Johnson
What does it take to carve out a career as a poet? Why on earth would anyone attempt it? Al Purdy Was Here is the portrait of an artist driven to become a great Canadian poet at a time when the category barely existed. Al Purdy is a charismatic tower of contradictions: a “sensitive man” who whips out a poem in a bar fight; a factory worker who finds grace in an Arctic flower; a mentor to young writers who remained a stranger to sons. Purdy has been called the last, best and most Canadian poet. “Voice of the Land” is engraved on his tombstone. But before finding fame as the country’s unofficial poet laureate, he endured years of poverty and failure. Learn more here.

toronto-public-libraryDecember 10, 2015
Toronto Public Library eh List Author Series
Venue: Toronto Reference Library
Writers: John Geiger, Alanna Mitchell
Award-winning Canadian science journalist Alanna Mitchell and John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society presented Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus.

To get the new year off to a promising start, I hope to attend the following:

pivot-readings
January 6, 2016
Pivot Readings
Venue: The Steady Café, Toronto
Writers: Derek McCormack, Andy McGuire, Jane Munro
Host/moderator: Jacob McArthur Mooney
Learn more here.

… and who knows where it will go from there!

As I asked last year, I’d love to get your comments, here or on Twitter (sent to @bookgaga, please), on your favourite literary events of the past year, and what you’re looking forward to in the new year.

  • Did you attend any of the events listed above?
  • Did you see any of these same authors, but at different festivals, venues, etc.?
  • What were your favourite literary events of the year?
  • Who are your favourite literary programmers in your area?
  • Did you attend any virtual literary events last year?
  • What literary events are you looking forward to attending in the new year?
  • Who would you like to single out for praise for championing and organizing literary events in your community?

2015 reading list (so far)

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As I’ve done in years past, I’m taking a look at (well, near) the halfway point in the year at the books I’ve read so far, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve always pointed out, it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always useful and interesting to stop and reflect a bit where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Of the 24 books I’ve read so far this year, 2 were non-fiction, 7 were poetry and the balance of 15 were fiction (novels and short story collections). Three of the books were rereads. Two books were works in translation. Fifteen of the books were by Canadian writers. One book was read aloud in its entirety (er, over a period of time, not in one sitting), which is a wonderful way to share the experience with another reader/listener.

  1. The Gallery of Lost Species
    by Nina Berkhout
    (reread)

  2. Mrs Killick’s Luck
    by Christina Fitzgerald

  3. Hard Light
    by Michael Crummey
    (reread)

  4. Fire and Air
    by Erik Vlamincky, translated by Paul Vincent

  5. The First Bad Man
    by Miranda July

  6. 10:04
    by Ben Lerner

  7. Life is About Losing Everything
    by Lynn Crosbie

  8. The Devil You Know
    by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

  9. Into the Blizzard
    by Michael Winter
    (read aloud)

  10. Breathing Lessons
    by Andy Sinclair

  11. Backup Singers
    by Sommer Browning

  12. Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects
    by Catherine Graham

  13. Safely Home Pacific Western
    by Jeff Latosik

  14. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
    by Michael Chabon

  15. My October
    by Claire Holden Rothman

  16. The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out
    by Karen Solie

  17. Human Voices
    by Penelope Fitzgerald
    (reread)

  18. A Serious Call
    by Don Coles

  19. One Night in Mississippi
    by Craig Shreve

  20. Close to Hugh
    by Marina Endicott

  21. Daddy Lenin and Other Stories
    by Guy Vanderhaeghe

  22. I Shall Not Hate / A Gaza Doctor’s Journey
    by Izzeldin Abuelaish

  23. Something Crosses My Mind
    by Wang Xiaoni, translated by Eleanor Goodman

  24. Tell
    by Frances Itani

Currently in progress:

  • Just Kids
    by Patti Smith

  • Laws & Locks
    by Chad Campbell

  • Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 1968-2000
    by John English
    (read aloud)

How is your reading going so far in 2015?

How do you read a poetry collection?

book-goodman-wang-somethingHow do you read a poetry collection?

  • in one sitting, in the order in which the poems are presented in the collection
  • a few poems at a time, but still in the order in which the poems are presented in the collection – reading over a period of time, interspersed with other reading
  • dipping in and out in no particular order

… or in some other fashion …? Does it depend on the poet, on whether or not it is a first read or a re-read, if the collection is new work versus selected/collected?

My most recent poetry read was Something Crosses My Mind by Eleanor Goodman, translating from the original poems in Chinese by Wang Xiaoni. I read the collection a few poems at a time, in the order in which the poems are presented in the collection, and read it over a period of time, interspersed with other poetry, fiction and non-fiction reading.

700 poets … and me

weddynge-breakfaste-punch


A little postscript …

A little over a year ago, my lively poetry-inspired virtual table welcomed 500 poets and translators. Now, 200 more poets and translators have joined a festive gathering that now verges on … well, the possibilities (revelations, touching civility, mayhem …) are breathtaking. As you scan through the list below, you’ll see pairings of poet guests that are poetry unto themselves.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other generous and eclectic #todayspoem contributors. While I continue to imagine what this 700 poets and translators I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … again, I’m fantasizing about the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The following are links to more information about each of the unique poets, lyricists, writers who stray into the poetic and translators from whose work I’ve tweeted in just over three years. I’ve highlighted new additions in bold, but in fact, I’ve done my best to check every link in this post to ensure that each provides something interesting, useful – or in the case of a few souls that have managed to elude the all-seeing eye of the interwebs, at least something identifying – timely, whimsical and so on. The links include personal and professional web sites, blogs, journals, articles, interviews, reviews, essays, biographies, obituaries, appreciations and bibliographies.

I kind of hope that these might be starting points for others to explore these artists, too. The excerpts from their work that I incorporated into #todayspoem tweets are also saved as part of the Today’s Poem Pinterest board.

Image from Project Gutenberg’s Manners & Cvftoms of ye Englyfhe, by Richard Doyle

The collective effect of all the todayspoem contributors is warm, powerful, inspiring, too. steviehowl, I love what others share every day.

Back to top

Where to find Canadian poetry online

bookcover-lemonhoundPoet Jacob McArthur Mooney recently sparked a discussion on Facebook about online publications with a mandate to publish new work by Canadian poets. With his go-ahead, I’m moving the list that resulted from the discussion here. Where I can find them, I’ve added links and Twitter handles. Broadening the definition just a bit, there are some publications on this list that have a print counterpart. I’ve also added a few web sites that go back a bit in terms of Canadian poetry history and archives, and some that might be now defunct in terms of publishing new material, but still offer interesting selections and back issues (and hey, you never know – sometimes these things come back to life!)

The intent here is to give people a starting point to explore and discover poetry created and published by Canadians. Are there any sites or resources that should be included? Let me know via the comments here or by email at vicki@bookgagabooks.ca.

Satisfying Clicking Sound, by Jason Guriel

“Avoid writing if you can. If you can’t, avoid cliché, and be precise. Don’t try to ‘express yourself’; self-expression usually amounts to expulsion. Try, rather, to connect with another: picture a smart but demanding reader, and try to hold her attention.”
– Jason Guriel … on hoarding and keeping your best lines off Twitter

I’m pleased to welcome back guest book reviewer Rebecca Hansford, who previously reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood here on the the Bookgaga blog. Rebecca recently graduated from Queen’s University, where she studied Biology and Psychology. As she previously observed, “Majoring in science instead of English was a tough choice for me as I have an electric passion for reading. I particularly enjoy fiction that integrates scientific facts, environmental issues and dystopian societies.”

bookcover-satisfying-clicking-sound

In Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound, the poet explores the contrasting elements of nature and technology currently existing in our society. Guriel’s style is of writing demands the reader’s attention in a profound yet disturbing way. For instance, Two Girls Splitting a Set of Earbuds describes two girls as flesh conjoined by an iPod, illustrating our dependence on our newfound technology and our inability to communicate without it. This brutal yet honest style of poetry is seen throughout his work, causing any reader to pause and ponder his thought, even possibly becoming repulsed at times. In his poem Poetry is Barbarous, Guriel fully exposes the vulgarity of his writing, as he compares a snowfall burying plastic swans and rabbits to real animals being buried to the throat. This vicious, yet captivating style of writing is seen throughout most of Satisfying Clicking Sound.

Although most of Guriel’s poems are blunt and difficult to digest, there was some free verse poetry with a more flowing style. In the Washbasin, Guriel compares painting and watery reflections to emphasize how the narrator feels he can live up to his father’s shadow. This poem was genuine, and the painting metaphor was beautifully tied into the poem. Dead on Arrival was another poem that appealed to me. Guriel remarks that stars are not aware of the fact that they burned out light years ago and therefore, they may not be aware of who they are themselves. Similarly, since we live our lives with the knowledge that we will die, is life futile? Will we ever know who we truly are?

In short, Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound is a fantastic read if you are interested in a more modern style of poetry. However, the last half of his work does bring forth some beautiful poetry with a less hard-hitting and vulgar style. Nonetheless, Guriel uses imagery in an astounding manner as he broadcasts his ideas regarding technology and society in a brutally honest manner. He will almost certainly hold your attention throughout his work.

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel.