Sunday, January 17, 2016

Poetry as fact-finding: "MOUNTAIN" and The Mount Royal Tunnel

In this intriguing CTV News video, "Forbidden Montreal: Inside the Mount Royal Tunnel", we see the railway tunnel through Montreal's mountain.  The tunnel also appears in my poem, "Mountain", in Shimmer Report.  Wikipedia tells us itl was built in the early years of the last century to give the CNR access to downtown Montreal. By any reckoning it was a major project, and is still the second longest railway tunnel in Canada. Funny, I wrote the poem without knowing of its existence. After penning the poem, I went online to see if we had indeed, as I say in the 4th line, "tunnelled through" our mountain, and discovered we had! Poetry, too, can be a form of fact-finding.


We’ve placed a cross on your shoulder, 
erected a transmission tower,
planted a spindly flag.

We’ve tunneled through you,
necklaced you with roads, paths, 
apartments, mansions clutching 
like pearls at your throat.  

You, who pressed forth
forced by unrelenting magma, 
who rose
earthen breast, back

Now the city gathers round,                                         
temples, spires
obeisant to your deep bass voice—
but freeways, office buildings, industrial parks

We live beside you in tiny flats
watch phantasmal screens,  
eat, recline, 
groom ourselves for the daily backandforth
squirm into leather
for nights in halogen town.

Still—certain hours—you block the sun:
chilled by your encroaching gloom,
we peer from windows, terraces, to see you 
throw off our ropes and stays, to loom.

-- from Shimmer Report (Ekstasis Editions, 2015)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Photos from Shimmer Report Launch, Oct. 14, 2015

About forty guests came to this launch at The Word, a storied, steadfast brick-and-mortar bookstore in the McGill Ghetto.  Among those pictured above: Adrian King, owner of The Word, et moi (picture 2 from the top); Cora Siré et moi (7); Maxianne Berger & Jean-Pierre Pelletier (8); Jan Jorgenson & her husband Ted (9); myself & my wife, Jocelyne Dubois (10); Elise Moser, Cora Siré, & Hugh Hazelton (11). Many books were signed and sold.  Thanks Adrian and Donna for hosting the event and arranging the food & drinks, to all of you who attended! It was a great evening!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shimmer Report Montreal Launch: The Word, Oct. 14

It's just been confirmed: the Montreal launch of Shimmer Report, my latest collection of poetry, will be taking place at The Word, 469 Milton St, on Wednesday October 14 at 7:30 pm.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Shimmer Report in Ekstasis Catalogue

The Ekstasis Editions catalogue is now online, with Shimmer Report in it.  The book won't be out until August or September, but you can order in advance here.

Here's the text which will appear on the back of the book:

Shimmer Report tells of a couple who do not fall in love so much as ascend together into love from their own dark places. He, a poet, musician, teacher; she, a visual artist and author, has also had to endure the psychiatric system. Life and love are but a shimmer—but this is a report on hard realities, as well as on flashes of colour, delight, and whimsy.

Years of suffering
like gas into flame
have drawn air
into your light—
a leaping, lambent figure
in mist, burning bright
Shimmer Report is a book of searing honesty and shy grace. To read its poems becomes an act of witness as Brian Campbell explores his city and his heart, evoking the requirements of love as well as the vexed nuances of survival. I admire his courage.”
~ Mark Abley, author of The Tongues of Earth 
“In Brian Campbell’s Shimmer Report, the poet asks, “What dilemma is this now?” Using urban, multi-language Montreal for a backdrop, and a palette of telling details in shades of wit and compassion, Campbell explores today’s creativity and relationships through echoes and upshots of complicated pasts. These are poems of love and survival—in spite of, and because of, the curiosities of the world we live in.”
~ Maxianne Berger, author of un renard roux/a red fox

Shimmer Report: Cover

The cover of my upcoming book with Ekstasis Editions... the image is detail from a painting by my wife, Jocelyne Dubois.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shimmer Report to be published by Ekstasis

Great news! My latest poetry manuscript, Shimmer Report, has been accepted for publication by Ekstasis Editions. It's to come out this fall.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Zachariah Wells -- Career Limiting Moves

My review of Zach Wells' Career Limiting Moves is up at Rover.
Zachariah Wells isn't one to shy away from an argument. His collection of critical writing Career Limiting Moves is pugnacious, hilarious, and illuminating.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Book recommendation: Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott by Mark Abley

Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947) was a disturbing enigma.  A career bureaucrat, he was the overseer of Canada’s destructive Aboriginal schools policy—but also one of our country’s important poets.   It was natural for Mark Abley, a fine poet himself as well as socially concerned journalist, to imagine bringing Scott back to life in order to have a conversation.  The ghost story—or more precisely, a series of interviews with a ghost visitor—is a superb narrative strategy, injecting humour, irony, and drama into what could have been a pretty dry slog had Abley simply followed a more conventional research paper format.  Abley portrays Scott as a product of his time, and yet open to persuasion; he contrasts mores, manners, mentality and even linguistic usage in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.  An absorbing and delightful read!  Highly recommended…

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Nina Bruck video + CBC interview

From Julie Bruck's FB page:
For friends of Nina B's, a video by Raphael Bendahan, that ends with her chapbook launch reading.
Also, CBC Books has re-posted David Gutnick's mini-doc on Nina from The Sunday Edition.
It's a tonic for me to see and hear the fully-engaged Nina of 8 years ago. She so enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame, and she would have loved this, too.  (--Julie Bruck)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

RIP Nina Bruck

My wife and I loved her and her poetry. Her chapbook, Still Light at Five O'Clock Raphael Bendahan and I published when she was 85 -- and I treasure my one remaining copy. She was a kind woman, serene in her whimsical intelligence and wisdom. All my condolences to her family and other friends.
Somehow, I deleted this post. A strange way to undo what can't be undone. I'll try again, with that same heavy heart:
Died peacefully at home in Montreal on February 1, 2015, at 92.
Nina was a poet, photographer, and open-hearted observer of the beauty, injustice, and oddness of life. We were lucky to have her love and her whimsical humour for so long.
Predeceased in 2013 by her husband, Gerald Bruck, she is survived by her sons, Jerry Jr. and David, her daughter Julie (Lewis Buzbee), and her adored grandchildren, Zoe and Jacob Bruck and Madeleine Buzbee, by her nieces and friends, and by her loyal caregivers during her last years, especially our dear Hermie Granados. 
At her request, there will be no funeral service. A memorial gathering of her family and friends will be planned in the coming months.
Donations in her memory can be made to Chez Doris (, or to the charity of your choice.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bridging Solitudes: review of books by Maxianne Berger and Annie Molin Vasseur

My review of un renard roux/a red fox by Maxianne Berger and La voix de l'ombre by Annie Molin Vasseur is now online with Rover.

These two small poetry books, both bilingual editions, carry far greater impact than their diminutive size might suggest.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Private Collection

On Saturday night I launched my new Sky of Ink chapbook, A Private Collection, a series of ekphrastic poems inspired by works of art in my home. Appropriately enough, it was a private launch in my home. About 25 people were present, including a number of artists (some of whom are featured in the chapbook) and writer friends. We all had a wonderful time.

The private goes public: the private launch in my home of A Private Collection, a chapbook of poems inspired by works of art in my house. Recorded Nov. 8, 20...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Line by Line, E-Books Turn Poet-Friendly (New York Times)

I remember my first e-book anthology -- actually a book of essays including a lot of poems, Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem. Line breaks were so badly mangled and the text so riddled with errors I eventually ordered a hard copy. Kay Ryan's Selected, which I downloaded the hour I read she had won the Pulitzer Prize, fared better because her short, skinny poems could be easily formatted in unalterable PDF images. I don't generally order poetry in e-book format -- I like to thumb through poetry books and dip into them -- but this is interesting news.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Mariela Griffor: The Psychiatrist

Child’s Eyes

People say that children see and hear things
they themselves cannot see or hear,
and this child breaking into
the room to hug and kiss
his grandmother, Wilma,
hasn’t seen me yet.
I am afraid of his eyes,
touching like a hummingbird
the cornea of my eyes.
I don’t want him to see
the puddle of
old pain and rusty love
that grows inside of me,
the spider web of my disappointment,
a beaten heart that
has never overcome the loss of him.
I am afraid of this child
running around with his two frank
years, afraid of me breaking.
I’m sure he would scream
if I let my pupils touch his,
and the room would look
at me knowing the truth of
what he sees.
I am afraid and old,
smashing day after day
a memory of innocence.
I know too much.
My mind is fragile.

This is a favourite poem of mine from “The Psychiatrist”, Mariela Griffor’s latest collection, sent to me for review by Eyewear Publishing last year.  Searingly poignant, simply put, the poem expresses — in a way I don’t think I’ve seen elsewhere — how one can feel confronted and even intimidated by the innocent life force of a young child.  With this poem, I have only one — albeit small — quibble: it’s with the antecedent of the pronoun “him” in the line “has never overcome the loss of him”.  We can assume it’s not the child itself, but a man, an adult love to which she is referring — Ignacio, perhaps, mentioned in an earlier poem, or the unnamed subversive in “Love for a Subversive”, the unnamed lover in “Rain”?  There is probably some way around this, but at the same time, that pronoun in this poem has its own brute force. 

Mariela Griffor was born and raised in Chile, and came into adolescence and early adulthood under the Pinochet regime.  As a young woman, she joined a revolutionary group, and doubtlessly ended up on a blacklist.  In 1985, she left Chile for Sweden under involuntary exile.  Much later, in 1998, she moved with her American husband and two daughters to the United States, where she is now Honorary Consul for Chile in Michigan.

Here are poems of subversion, exile, and solidarity that ache to be told: elegies for friends who were tortured or disappeared, evocations of nights of insomnia, furtive meetings under code names, a character sketch of a relative who was a possible undercover agent for DINA (National Department of Intelligence.)

All contemporary Chilean poets – indeed, Latin American poets – write under the shadow of Pablo Neruda.  Indeed, Ms. Griffor will soon be coming out with a new translation of his Canto General, published by Tupelo Press. Her own style, though, doesn’t bear a trace of his lush, surrealistic influence.  She reminds me of certain Eastern European poets — Czeslaw Milosz, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Wislawa Szymborska among others  — or of her own countryman, Nicanor Para: poets that speak unvarnished truths with simple irony and measured declaration. In some later poems in the collection, the Griffor’s free verse becomes rather too prosaic for my taste:

My grandfather did not talk about what Mr. Monzalves said,
but it was clear that he knew that my grandfather
was a sympathizer of Allende and that he had come to deliver a warning.
Just before I left Chile the last person I met from the Front
in Santiago was my commander
His real code name was Wolf.
I told him I was planning to leave the country because I could not avoid the surveilland anymore and my good friend,
the lawyer Inunza, had arranged for me to go to Sweden or France.

In a patch like this one, I wish that the author had fashioned an introduction or searched more deeply for lyricism in her subject matter.   In most places, though, her straightforward style has its own strength and sensibility.

The title of the collection raises expectations that it will concern mental illness, or perhaps relate a series of psychiatric consultations.   The brief title poem, however, is the only one where a psychiatrist is featured; there he figures as a voice of authority in the narrator’s head that the poet summarily shoots down to get on with her life. 

Mariela Griffor’s “The Psychiatrist” is well worth buying and reading.  I look forward to seeing more of her work.

Monday, March 31, 2014

RIP Bill Knott

Bill Knott

The way the world is not
Astonished at you
It doesn't blink a leaf
When we step from the house
Leads me to think
That beauty is natural, unremarkable
And not to be spoken of
Except in the course of things
The course of singing and worksharing
The course of squeezes and neighbours
The course of you tying back your raving hair to go out
And the course of course of me
Astonished at you
The way the world is not

I enjoyed this poem a lot when I encountered it on today's AAP Poem-a-day. I love its ease and casual (seemingly casual) brilliance, hallmarks of Knott's verse. Then I discovered by scrolling down that its author had died only a couple of weeks ago. Quite a shock.

I first encountered Knott online about ten years ago, ordered his renowned early collection, "The Naomi Poems" at considerable cost through Abe Books, and then his self-published selected, "Goodbye to Prisoner", from the blog of the author himself. We had some correspondence, but he struck me as cagy and bitter, with a harsh penchant for self-deprecation that seemed both a kind of exaggerated put-on, but also genuine, borne of profound self-hatred.  Then I got very busy, and our dialogue fell off.  This article in the New Yorker confirms those impressions, and tells us more about his life and work. Like one of the writers quoted there, I learned to admire him from a distance.

Is the "not" at the end of the first and last lines a play on the author's name? It certainly becomes so, inevitably, in that final, fatal light. (A light all good poetry is written in, of course.)  Anyway, RIP at last, Bill.  Your work will endure.

Friday, March 28, 2014

This is a Generic Brand Video

Check out this generic brand video based on Kendra Eash's brilliant poem, This is a Generic Brand Video.  It spoofs every buzzword-laden corporate feel-good video ever made.  Be sure to click through to the poem, originally published on McSweeney's.  I daresay in its deadpan way it works just as well on its own.