30 May 2006

The More Easily Kept Illusions : The Poetry of Al Purdy

Edited and with an introduction by Rob Budde

Much-loved, cantankerous, and brilliant, Al Purdy galloped across the Canadian literary landscape for decades, grandly embodying the self-taught and hard-living image of the 1960s and '70s poet. The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy is a selection of thirty-five poems that includes some of his best-loved and unearths lost and ignored treasures.

Robert Budde introduces the collection with an overview of Purdy's tumultuous life of letters, his legendary personality, his outrageous antics, his peers, his influences, and the history of his publishing career. Reorganizing Purdy's body of work, this collection also re-interprets the chronological and thematic development of his writing. Choosing poems for a book like this is necessarily an act of literary criticism and Budde takes care to balance the various critical attentions that have structured the historical responses to Purdy's work. The selected poems will mix lesser-known gems with Purdy's greatest hits. Teachers, poetry-lovers, students, and writers will rediscover Purdy's unique voice. Those who are new to his work will get a full and rich sense of the man some have called the last Canadian poet. Also includes an Afterword by Russell Morton Brown.

Al Purdy's down-to-earth voice populates thirty-three books, including The Cariboo Horses (1965), North of Summer (1967), Sex & Death (1973), and Piling Blood (1984). The two major collections of his work are The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (1986) and Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (2000). Purdy died in Sidney, BC on April 21, 2000.

Russell Morton Brown is a professor in the department of English at the University of Toronto. An editor for the University of Toronto Quarterly, the editor of The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, and co-editor with Donna Bennett of the New Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, he was also Editorial Director of Poetry at McClelland and Stewart for five years.

Get your copy here.

29 May 2006


SENIORS by George Stanley. 16 pp ISBN 0-9735337-8-1 @ $8.00.

"There's a hidden and perhaps secret fierceness of spirit in the quiet sardonic wit of these poems, their dismay at the comic helplessness of aging and its conditioned delights, the narrowing horizons of the ordinary, and muted wonder at its flavour. "Words have to come out of the world" puns one of Stanley's flat down-to-earth illusory rejections of the illusory. There's
a toughness in the complexity of such ironic comedies, and delicacy in their recurrent thought on words, on poems, on where they come from. There's not one casual utterance in the everydayness of Seniors, but there are currents of strong feeling. One reads, and rereads, and then one reads again." -- Peter Quartermain

ORDER FROM Peter Quartermain OR Nomados P.O.
Box 4031, 349 West Georgia, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3Z4

George Stanley was born and raised in San Francisco where, in the sixties, he was part of the San Francisco Renaissance which included Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer. He moved to Vancouver in the seventies where he became associated with New Star Press, and The Grape (an underground newspaper). He has been active in Canadian politics, unions and alternative media. His books include Gentle Northern Summer (New Star, 1995), At Andy's (New Star, 2000) and his selected works, A Tall, Serious Girl (Qua Books, 2003). His poems are proof that a straightforward approach can accommodate a sense of mystery. Stanley still resides in Vancouver.

George Stanley is teaching an intensive UNBC creative writing class this summer:

ENGL 470 - Creative Writing - Poetry (A1)
Lectures and workshops in the craft of writing poetry.
MTWRF 9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Terrace BC
July 24, 2006 - July 28, 2006

This is a chance to work with an amazing poet and teacher! Contact Judith Lapadat for more information.

26 May 2006

Dr. Barry McKinnon, Honoris Causa UNBC

On Friday, May 26, 2006, Barry McKinnon was given an honorary Doctor of Laws from UNBC. From the Convocation proceedings:

"Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present, for the degree of Doctor
of Laws, 'honoris causa,' Barry Benjamin McKinnon.

Wallace Stegner, Western American writer and teacher, wrote “a place is not a place until it has had a poet.” For this place, Prince George, that poet is Barry McKinnon. But a poet imagines a place into being beside itself and we don't want to hear that. Prince George is hard place to be a poet and it is perhaps a medal for bravery that we bestow today.

In a 1971 statement in Al Purdy’s Storm Warning anthology of new Canadian poets, McKinnon testifies that “I started to write poetry as an act of rebellion—to claim an identity that was my own.” To me, this sounds very much like the mindset of a young idealistic UNBC. And, like the struggles of an outpost identity, it takes a lot of integrity to stick with it. For over 35 years, Barry McKinnon has suffered the budget cuts and downsizing, the redistribution of resources to more practical programs than creative writing, and the stigma of being from a smaller urban centre. But Canadian writers like the late Al Purdy and George Bowering were keenly aware of his work. Canadian letters acclaimed him critically and celebrated him. He has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the top poetry award in the country. New York knows his work. Prince George scarcely knows him. Such is the nature of the poet.

So despite all obstacles here he is, many books later, and it was last year that I heard him say that he finally felt at home here. Ironies clothe Barry and I am sure he finds this ceremony a bittersweet irony. 'Cavillatio causa'. I hope it is worth one of his famous wry grins.

I’ll deign to introduce him with one of his own poems. Being from Prince George you will all know this one: It is called “Bushed”

I am in a desert
of snow, each way
to go, presents an equal
choice, since the directions, &
what the eye sees is the same

if there were some sticks, you would
stay & build a house, or
a tree would give a place to climb
for perspective. if you had a match, when
the wind didn’t blow, you
would burn the tree for warmth, if
the wind didn’t blow & you had a match

there is this situation where love
would mean nothing. the sky is
possibly beautiful, yet the speculation
is impossible, & if you could sing, the song
is all that would go


(McKinnon, Barry. The Centre: Poems 1970-2000. Vancouver: Talon, 2005:. 2.)

I therefore have the honour to ask, Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the
Senate of the University of Northern British Columbia, that you confer
on Barry Benjamin McKinnon the degree of Doctor of Laws, 'honoris causa.'"

19 May 2006

Hit the Highway

Every year the UNBC/GAIA (General Arts Interest Association) anthology of student writing seems to get better and better. This year's version is called Loose-Leaf Highway and is on sale at the UNBC Bookstore and Books & Co. The editors are Heather Glasgow, Earson Gibson, Nathan Frost, Denielle Wiebe, and Charlyn Bulandus-Polard. The cover image (seen here) is by Laura Bell.

17 May 2006

Chapbook Display

Books & Co. on 3rd Ave. has a new display case for local chapbooks. If you have an attractive chapbook, bring it in to sell on consignment. Jim Brinkman does reserve the right not to stock books if he chooses. Rob Budde has developed a brief introduction to chapbooks which hangs above the case.

16 May 2006

Meredith Quartermain on Geography

A fragment of a Meredith Quartermain interview with rob mclennan:

MQ: Further thoughts on place: Is Canada a place? or a word? The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the Spectacle is language itself, that the very communicability which humans have can operate as an alienating totalitarianism. Human cultures live in words; words are the quintessential places. Agamben also argues that for the first time humans may now experience themselves as linguistic beings; they may stop looking through language at mirages of things beyond and instead recognize the way language empowers some and disempowers others — the way language controls masses of people without their consciousness.

rm: How does one define geography in those terms? Considering how much you write about geography, do you think it become a self-definition?

MQ: Geography means writing the earth, or you might say writing the world. It seems to me that the act of writing the world is the act of creating it. As such I would hope that this writing keeps rewriting itself, or that writers, as geographers keep rewriting the world-space, and keep approaching it as an act which must unfold in the presence of a plurality of such actors (geographers), so that there is no definitive world or definitive geography, but rather an ongoing discussion or network of stories. I am at the moment deeply engrossed in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, which sets out the ancient Greek notion of a public realm where such a discussion could take place, free of the preoccupations of the marketplace, and free of the necessity of subsistence. She argues that this public realm is now completely filled up with the society of jobholders, leaving no room for world-writing in the way I imagine might be possible as a political discussion. Currently our whole lives are taken up with the two aspects of subsistence and necessity: labour, and consumption, which really are entirely private matters. This is not so because it has to be, but rather because of the forces that have come to dominate our culture. I am indebted to Robin Blaser for leading me to Arendt’s work. Much of what has preoccupied Robin Blaser has been the recovery of such a public world, and of course Hannah Arendt’s work is seminal to his investigations.

As to whether geography can amount to self-definition, I think it’s completely impossible to define oneself in the kind of world-writing in the public realm I’ve described. The whole point of a public interaction between world-writer geographers is a story that must be told by someone else. Who the geographer is unfolds in the interaction. However, that said, I am constantly aware of the geography of language, the contours, rifts, subductions, tectonic plates of the medium in which we exist. A sculpturing of our land-base has already occurred over the millennia of linguistic evolution and we too can erode it, or upheave it, and we can also map it.

You can find the rest of the interview here.

11 May 2006

In Defense of Rawlings

In response to recent events in which Angela Rawlings has been publicly slagged, we the undersigned wish to vehemently express our love and respect and admiration, both personal and professional, for Angela and our opposition to personal attacks against members of our literary community.

Angela, we love and respect you, your community-building impulse and pro-activism, and your brilliant, brave, truly inspired writing project. You inspire and teach us how to build positive community and to lead an integrated artistic life.

Angela deserves our thanks and protection when some among us engage in misguided bitter shallow sarcastic and often sexist behaviour which seems aimed only at finding negative attention and inflicting cruelty.

We also wish to commend Jay Millar, who has found himself in a difficult position as publisher and blog host, for navigating what has been a confusing week.

We realize this letter may provoke general curiosity and concern from those in our community whose backs instantly go up at injustice. We would like to confirm that recent defamation against Angela by specific individuals in the experimental writing community is the tip of an iceberg that we've all observed melting down for some time, and that there have been other targets of abuse as well.

This defamation has taken the following forms, among others: Colleague writers have mocked and/or attacked other writers maliciously and ongoingly in public spaces -- including at readings, and on blogs and websites; and, Colleague writers have colluded in the sexist parodying of the body and private person of female members of the literary community, including at a public reading and on blogs and websites.

Let's ask that we all pay attention to how we treat each other, and if there are future occasions on which we see our colleagues being slagged, that we stand up to it and challenge it directly and openly and quickly. The lex list can be a space of discussion and social justice, which does not mean that we reduce our critical polylogue. Perhaps it means we take ourselves more seriously as writers and humans, read each other's artistic production and, instead of lampooning the generalized idea and quality of our artistic projects, we give it the substantive consideration it deserves.

The below list of signatories is not intended to be exclusive. We believe and know that our concerns are shared by many others in the community. We welcome responses and further dialogue, and we invite you to post this Open Letter on your blog and website to publicly support Angela and others who have recently experienced harassment and to promote equity and collegiality in our community.


Sandra Alland
Gary Barwin
derek beaulieu
Gregory Betts
Christian Bok
Rob Budde
Brea Burton
Stephen Cain
Margaret Christakos
Jason Christie
T.L. Cowan
James Dangerous
Beverley Daurio
Carmen Derkson
Kate Eichorn
Chris Ewart
ryan fitzpatrick
Jay Gamble
Jocelyn Grosse
Nadia Halim
Sharon Harris
Jill Hartman
Kevin Hehir
Maggie Helwig
Neil Hennessy
Bill Kennedy
Jani Krulc
Sandy Lam
Camille Martin
Colin Martin
danielle maveal
Lynn McClory
Jordan Nail
Katherine Parrish
Andrea Ryer
Jordan Scott
Natalie Simpson
Natalie Zina Walschots
Alana Wilcox
Rachel Zolf

Post-geographic Poetics and the Globalized Aesthetic

This view of Canadian & Prince George poetics comes out of discussions with Ken Belford about issues surrounding representations of place in poetry.

A while ago I made the argument that a Prince George poetics had more to do with writerly influence than any sense of landscape or geography. I argued the poetics were less about logging and more about the vicarious presence of writers like Creeley and Spicer. At the time, this didn’t seem to be a problem but now I ask, why? Why wouldn’t the land affect poetics? What about our culture renders art for the most part un-placed? Is this placelessness akin to the way communities have become interchangeable because of the proliferation of chain stores and fast food restaurants? Is it another sign of our complete self-imposed alienation from the earth? Are poetics susceptible to a dominant global economic ideology that erases difference in the face of exchange value?

On the one hand, lyric poetry has long erased the particulars of the land in favour of the pastel romanticisms and idealization needed for proper anthropomorphization. Early British-affected poetry transplanted names and descriptions from Europe over top the silenced and erased landscape underfoot. Contemporary nature writing often has no relationship with the land—it is described from a distance like painting in watercolour from a car. There is no engagement, knowledge, or vulnerability involved. The land is a thing to be aesthetically used. Nature writers become like travel writers with all the inherent traps present: generalization, stereotype, disrespect, consumption, misappropriation, etc. The ‘use’ of the land by “nature poets” is akin to our society-wide and violent ‘use’ of the land in other ways (logging, hunting, pollution, etc). It is representation that denies the land’s own subjectivity for our own pleasure/’truth’/ exploration. “Nature writing” has been around for centuries and so has the human plundering; the two are complicit. In postcolonial studies, one of things we’ve noticed is how often the colonizer romanticizes the colonized (the African, for example) and that romanticization becomes a tool in the colonizing process; the colonized is easily understood in certain safe terms and, so, controlled. Art becomes complicit with economic and military agendas. Are we doing the same when we invoke aesthetically pleasing images of nature? Belford’s alternative he has called “lan(d)guage poetry” because it enters into a dialogue with the land and explores how language has constructed “nature” for various purposes. Closed is that comforting but damaging distacne created between culture and land.

Tim Lilburn articulates this distance as a kind of unapproachable strength but his application of superlatives (“infinity”) in the passage below describing land is also a kind of containment: “Augustine speaks of that world one enters when one prays as ‘the land or region of unlikeness.’ I think everything is the region of unlikeness. Everything is distant, far, discrete, itself, non-representative, ultimately non-colonizable, wild. In its wildness it also feels like infinity, it has the unspeakability of infinity. When you encounter that you're left with courtesy; you can't name it so you bow to it, give it regard. Regard replaces language.”

Language poetry and other avant-garde writing can be post geographic in their disavowal of the referent. Poems about larger language structures and other poems do not need to have any connection to the land. These poetics are typically urban and mirror the urban desire to erase place in favour of more cosmopolitan, international, or generic designs.

There are some writers who have delved into the poetry of place in profound ways. Recently, Meredith Quartermain’s Vancouver Walking explores the urban place along personal and historical avenues. Daphne Marlatt in books like Steveston, has entered into a poetic dialogue with place. Barry McKinnon writes first and foremost about Prince George and the identity this place affords. These are all about place as urban or settled; McKinnon has very little affinity to the land outside city limits. Aritha van Herk, who is interested in cartography and narrative, wrote Places Far From Ellesmere, a book about her literary experience with the arctic island. Ken Belford writes about a land that is not urban, not even rural, but mountain and out there. Knowledgeable in the ways of the aboriginal, the Gitxan, and the intricacies of interior waterways and wildlife, Ken poetically connects land and language into “lan(d)guage poetry.” Even he, though, is connected via the internet and writes about places far from here; because of technology is afforded the ability to transcend place and write about Labrador.

The danger here is that one might assume I am advocating that ALL poetry needs to be land based somehow, that postgeographic poetics is ‘bad’ and ‘lan(d)guage’ poetics is ‘good’. Not at all. It is the dominance of the postgeographic aesthetic that I am uncomfortable with. Is the prevailing poetic placelessness healthy? Might part of ‘poetic truth’ be to decode the language of oppression we’ve come to learn when addressing “nature”? Where, exactly, am I?


Listening with Courtesy: A Conversation with Tim Lilburn. Interview by Darryl Whetter SCL/ÉLC, Volume 22.1:1997. 135-144