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.

Sunday, March 02, 2014



Mornings after we gave up words, we still loved
to lie and graze the day awake
watching our old chit-chat thatch the street like rain.

Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon
now the dead grow sound limbs to stand upon
nourished by discourse we once loved.

In their sodden crypts they sigh awake
solitary, listening to the rain
heartened by our lost and rousing homilies—the rain

engaging vacant brains it falls upon
until everyone we love or once loved
is dying tonight or lying still awake

listening, for our sake, as rain rains the dead awake.
There’s something diplomatic about rain
strewing cool phrase upon cool phrase upon . . .

But here I pray that none whom once I loved
has held words they loved from rain; I’m held awake
by heavy sentences the rain might lay upon them.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Back again...Hello!!

In October last year, I said goodbye to this blog, saying I would transfer its functions to my website. But, because of formatting defaults on that website that I didn't like and couldn't easily change, I've decided to reopen this blog.  On my website's blog I'll announce news -- upcoming shows and the like -- but here I'll quote poems, write opinion pieces, etc.  I've moved some postings here from that blog... anything dating from last Oct., in fact.

So here I am, again! Adieu becomes au devoir.  Tangled in the woodwork, coming out of it, as always!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


by Jane Hirshfield

My skeleton,

you who once ached

with your own growing larger

are now,

each year

imperceptibly smaller,


absorbed by your own


When I danced,

you danced.

When you broke,


And so it was lying down,


climbing the tiring stairs.

Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,

what is left of you,

will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone,

cracked harp of ribcage,

blunt of heel,

opened bowl of the skull,

twin platters of pelvis–

each of you will leave me behind,

at last serene.

What did I know of your days,

your nights,

I who held you all my life

inside my hands

and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life

inside your hands

as a new mother holds

her own unblanketed child,

not thinking at all.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Fun evening...

Tonight I went to a book launch by Mansfield Press, at a beautiful venue, the Cardinal Teahouse, 5326 St-Laurent, upstairs from The Sparrow. Bought new offerings by Jason Camlot, Stephen Brockwell, and Glen Downie — much of it very clever work, and some it, to their credit, deeply felt.  Have been reading it all evening.

The Cardinal Teahouse... another great Montreal retreat for bookish, kindlish laptop nomads.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

W.B. Yeats: An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Sunday, October 13, 2013




with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

World of Glass by Jocelyne Dubois -- finalist for the Paraphe Hugh MacLennon Prize for Fiction

My wife Jocelyne Dubois’s novel, World of Glass, is one of the finalists for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
She’ll be taking part in a reading of all the QWF awards finalists on November 6, 6 pm at Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal.  The winners will be announced at the QWF Awards Gala on Nov. 19.  Details & ticket info are to be found at
Needless to say, we’ve been celebrating all day.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!    
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes. 
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,    
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities? 
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,    
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering 
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,    
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing? 
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,    
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood 
To seek a shelter in some happier star?    
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood, 
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me 
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree? 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review of Jocelyne Dubois' World of Glass in Montreal Gazette

My wife Jocelyne Dubois' debut novella, World of Glass, was reviewed last May in the Montreal Gazette, both in print and online.  A very touching, perceptive and eloquent review by Madeleine Thien. Thien is the award-winning author of Simple Recipes, Certainty, and Dogs at the Perimeter.
It is reproduced here.

A new world is easily shattered
By Madeleine Thien, Special to the Gazette May 10, 2013 6:06 PM

Jocelyne Dubois makes powerful observations about the mind’s interior in World of Glass, narrated by a Montrealer whose joy gives way to terror.

In Jocelyne Dubois’s debut novella, World of Glass, a young woman named Chloé arrives in Montreal. She is poor and “knows no one in this city,” but she is happy. These streets will be a testing ground for her, a place to build her dreams.

At first, Chloé excels. She falls in love and Montreal takes on a new radiance. She is aware, perhaps even hyper-aware, of small details: the particular colour and shape of things, the way objects touch but never merge. Her paycheques arrive and she imagines furnishing her apartment: accumulating new sheets, a table and chairs, waiting patiently for “a vase I truly like.” Her life is about to be filled in. “I am young still, I belong,” Chloé tells herself. “I speak French to Claude and to everyone in this city. This creates a new person in me. The way my laugh comes from deep within.”

When the love affair ends, Chloé finds herself retreating from the world. At first her grief feels like something familiar, a ripping heartbreak, but then it grows into a more insidious disturbance. She is constantly afraid. Soon, Chloé can barely speak. She looks out at the books piled up on her floor, “Books I have not all read. Books I cannot read now.”

What follows next is unexpected and terrifying: Chloé falls through the looking glass. The old Chloé disintegrates (“I am invisible to everyone I pass”) and a new one comes into existence in a locked psychiatric ward in a Montreal hospital.

Dubois makes powerful observations about the mind’s interior, about what it feels like when our own thoughts endanger us, about what it means to need help, about what it is to be seen, and treated, as less than a human being, about what it costs to come alive again.

She writes with a dimensionality that resists the simplified ways in which both the hospital and the outside world might render Chloé. She writes, in fact, with a kind of passionate realism — an extraordinary feat when describing a setting in which feeling and colour are wiped out to make a “safe” environment. Despite the fog of over-medication, Chloé never stops observing details: a man who lies on a sofa, his “faded blue packsack crushed against his chest,” or the “short, silver hair” of the psychiatrist. Hibiscus flowers are “erect pistils surrounded by frilly skirts.”

The opening image of Montreal is overlaid with a detailed rendering of the locked ward so that what is real and what is mad, what is visible and what is hidden, are offered as part of a surreal double exposure:

“I sit next to a woman who holds two knitting needles but no wool. I watch her knit invisible wool.”

“Betty walks in and says, ‘You’re ready for the day room.’ ”

These tense sentences have a cumulative power, like watching someone slowly tear apart a piece of fabric.

Halfway through the book, a woman named Louise pays a visit to Chloé. Louise, it turns out, is a writer working on a play about madness and she wants to see where Chloé sleeps, to find out “what it’s like to be on the inside.” She takes a tour, all the while scribbling notes, and leaves after a “polite hug.”

Afterwards, Chloé tells us, with just the hint of a smile, “It occurs to me that Louise forgot to ask how I am.”

Dubois is not Louise; she is not that kind of writer. She has not come to borrow or beg, or even simply observe.

Rather, Chloé describes her world (objects, ideas, family) with a frank precision. Illness has re-drawn her life and, more than ever, details matter: the world of glass, despite its myriad fractures, is real. Chloé knows that her disease, a chemical imbalance of the brain, is perceived by others as a spiritual failing. Yet the beauty of the text shimmers with a brave awareness: we only have this single, brief life and the way that we perceive the world is, in the end, what makes it ours.

Like other celebrated Montreal writers, from Hubert Aquin and Lise Tremblay to Nelly Arcan and Rawi Hage, Dubois writes provocatively about mental illness and those who fall below Montreal’s smooth surface. World of Glass discovers the woman that Chloé becomes, the love she chooses, and the hesitant rebuilding of family, trust and self. It is a remarkable work.

Madeleine Thien is a Montreal-based writer. Her most recent novel is Dogs at the Perimeter.
World of Glass by Jocelyne Dubois Quattro Books 120 pages, $14.95
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Friday, September 06, 2013

Language Matters...

Launch of Language Matters Anthology

Interviews and selections of 22 Quebec anglophone poets

Tuesday, Sept. 10, 7:00

Bain St-Michel, 5300 rue St-Dominique, Montreal

I’ll be playing a couple of my songs at this event!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rhea Tregebov review

My review of Rhea Tregebov's All Souls' is up at The Rover.

A little excerpt-teaser:

All Soul’s Day is a day of prayer to help the dead trapped in purgatory on their journey to heaven. It is celebrated in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches; the latter observes several All Souls’ Days throughout the year. In some parts, most notably Mexico, it is celebrated as the Day of the Dead.

The title poem in Rhea Tregebov’s newest collection constitutes a thoroughly secular take on the notion. Often when a poet brings together a collection from seemingly disparate elements, a unifying concept comes only after much reflection, and this was likely the process here. “All Souls’ Day” is a poem that succeeds in its limited aims, but it is not by any stretch a major poem. Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the power of the concept in giving the collection scope and resonance. However slender the thread, it does serve to string these pearls together; and there are definitely some pearls.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rhea Tregebov: Two poems from All Souls'


Some moon -- full, and fall.
So close it grazes the houses.
The clocks gone back now -- six
and it's near dark. That moon
bright, though, and this city. Cars,
their lights, wash by on pavement
made for them. This sidewalk,
its dates marked in concrete
(1977, 1992), made for me.
By someone. That someone
a soul now perhasps, body
done, in earth. Winter soon.

This poem is supplementary material for a review of Rhea Tregebov's latest collection, All Souls, soon to appear in The Rover.  Here another poem not at all referred to in the review, but that I post simply because I enjoyed it. 


Spring in Winnipeg, no small thing.
My parents are cleaning the windows
with vinegar, with newspapers to dry.
They stand on either side of the glass,
each others' reflection, each others'
shadow. My father on a ladder outside,
my mother in. My mother sees my father,
sees her own image faint, my father
sees only her, the window an imperfect
mirror, imperfect transparency.
Their hands move in concert
in circles from corner to centre,
steady, serious.  My father
has found a spot for her, she's found
a streak for him.  They're
looking after things.  Soon
it will rain, soon wind will spread
the prairie dust, months will give up
their lives against the glass, perhaps
a chickadee, perhaps a sparrow. Soon.
But now, the surface is clean.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Jocelyne Dubois' World of Glass: Toronto Launch

A photo I took of my partner Jocelyne Dubois reading from World of Glass, her novella, which had its Toronto launch at Q Space last week. It was a fabulous event -- well attended and an occasion for re-acquaintence with old friends.

And in the hotel room while getting ready for the event, I took this one.  How about this for an author's photo?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nice Poem -- I'll Take It

So poetry plagiarism does take place -- who would've thunk it?  For a long time, plagiarism was the concern primarily of songwriters, fiction writers -- any art form with potential money in it.  But think again:  what with all these lucrative prizes...  Anyway, this article in the NY Times is an eye opener.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

RIP Jack Gilbert

I just learned today that Jack Gilbert, one of my favourite contemporary poets, died on Remembrance Day after a long battle with Alzheimer's. He was 87. Here's a poem that was posted on AAP's Poem-a-Day.  It does resonate with the reconsideration of a life.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It's the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean

on the other side of the island while

love was fading out of her, the stars

burning so extravagantly those nights that

anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed

like a visitation, the gentleness in her

like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back

through the hot stony field after swimming,

the sea light behind her and the huge sky

on the other side of that. Listened to her

while we ate lunch. How can they say

the marriage failed? Like the people who

came back from Provence (when it was Provence)

and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

but just coming to the end of his triumph.