Tag Archives: BookThug

Trains & poetry were meant to be (fall readings)

I have a great fall lineup of readings, starting with Grey Borders in St. Catharines, Ontario, on Friday, September 23 – two weeks from today.

I’ll be reading with Shannon Maguire, Aisha Sasha John, and Zorras Multimedia Troupe—a treat to be reading with these terrific poets! And many thanks to Eric Schmaltz and the Niagara Artist Centre for making this event happen.

Then on to Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Washington DC, and New York.

I’ll have copies of Codes of Public Sleep and Sonnets at each stop on the tours, but if you’d like to get a copy now, just go to my website, which lists clickable vendors for these books.

I’m doing all these trips by VIA Rail and Amtrak. There’s nothing better for writing than a window seat on a train . . .

Camille Martin

Sampling Jay Millar’s Other Poems

Gibsons, BC: Nightwood Editions, 2010
Order from Nightwood Editions

          I could wax on about Jay Millar’s contributions to the Toronto poetry community and beyond as publisher of BookThug, co-founder of the Toronto New School of Writing, and poetry instructor (at TNSOW and George Brown College). And he probably wears more hats than I’m aware of. In short, a tireless and generous opener of doors for poetry to happen.
          But Millar is also (and to my mind, first and foremost) a wonderful poet, one of the few whose work I keep returning to for inspiration. I’m most familiar with the last four books of this already prolific poet: ESP: Accumulation Sonnets, False Maps for Other Creatures, The Small Blue, and Other Poems. And it’s from his latest that I want to offer a sample.
          Though I’m not really doing full-fledged reviews in my “Sampling” series, I’d like to mention just a couple of things that I admire about Other Poems. First is the subtle but pervasive theme of impermanence and mortality, which owes much to his understanding of natural cycles of creation and erosion, emergence and decline. To break the eligiac spell, Millar occasionally offers bouts of pure playfulness, as in “TRANSLATIONS FROM THE THE” (below).
          Also, although Millar’s lyric voice often flows in a conversational diction, he’s also an artist of the beautifully sculpted sentence, as in

How to desire that crackle trees half
empty of leaves crackle?


Or could you possibly hear how
long the walk to chorus-less songs the lingual tics
are as likely as any to empty into.

No mere exercises in parsing (though that’s a pleasure in its own right), the complex and quirky syntax of these sentences draws us closer, in the act of unraveling them, to the heart of the matter. “Crackle” as both a noun and a verb draws attention to itself as the sound of autumn’s decay (as does “half / empty”), which makes the juxtaposition of “desire” with such decline even more jarring. And there’s something tautological about “the crackle that trees crackle.” The circular structure emphasizes decay as a natural and inevitable process in the cycle of life.
          And in the second sentence, “how / long the walk” meshes with the long and rather twisted syntax of the sentence, both of which speak to the mysterious and largely unknowable journey between thought and utterance (and poem).
          One more reason to get the book: Rob Lemon’s fantastical bestiary of images on the cover and throughout the book.
          Here’s a sampling of poems:


How to desire that crackle trees half
empty of leaves crackle? A mind that
will run their minimalist instincts
through an environment only to
build nests into the whole of the sky. So
ghostly I recall some talk about
their presence, like names for mammals,
truncated communication that
listens carefully to the dispersed.
To listen to the wind is to see
a love, the feeling of settling love.

Autumn: some landscape the edges of the sky pulled
toward the earth for leaves to kick up the wind.

Can you sense the moment leaves halt for a fleeting
distraction of silence? Walk listens aloud

for the sound. What all the nameless creatures name. Some
relationship between two species in which one

obtains nutrients from the bodily function
of the other. Or could you possibly hear how

long the walk to chorus-less songs the lingual tics
are as likely as any to empty into.

after Robin Blaser’s “The Medium”

I wandered around in the woods
all day thinking of the ‘you’

in so many poems camaraderie invented
hung from the trees, their threads

any community that existed only in minds
anything I might address a poem to, but don’t

what’s out there and never will be
a space between the trees filled with insects or air
images for the future to unravel
or imagine they may have caught
a glimpse of simply
by reading the scripts

What points to itself inwardly,
and whispers. We want to participate,
speak for the dead, care for them,
care about them, tell them ‘we believe’—

the characters deep mirrors of broken text
lead you expertly suspended

I wandered around all day.
Whose woods is this? What lives here?
Will anyone record their thoughts?
Who will maintain the boxes?

Surely no one could invent themselves
without somewhere to store the keys.

I’ve never been handed the invitation.
I’ve slept, it’s true, but never dreamed here—
What would be the point?

This place is not sacred
enough to speak to anyone
as long as I’m thinking of you.

Driving the machinery deep into the landscape
Had been slotted into a very particular slot because it—
The whiteness—hurts my eyes most days.
Perhaps it was selfish, or a little unsettling,
How this particular light cast our shadows
Considering the weight of darkness
Was certainly quiet, how you say
The trying to figure out all the angles
That morning we gathered near the beach to ask
How the sun could bother to raise again, the impression
So hard against those who arrived.
Meanwhile, we are gathered here in a fashion
All the others wrote for us, and they keep on writing—
If anything it is a wondrous distraction.
I can only say this because
When the time came to interpret the script we saw
Water continue to erode the rock.

Some modern song a trophy
Mock sprocket undergarment triad

Forces jibe, people wander,
The hotsprings bike an awful

To the point. Meanwhile, there’s
A decent ruckus with the flab.

Pot lid. Stereophonic drywall.
The basement denies the haircuts.

Five or six melons? I’ve rooms
Enough for mechanical tarts,

No vague limp television morph—
Titanic invasion again. Death toll

Blue shirt and trouser roll. Heard
The new bowl? It’s deep. Round

Here chirp clunk and garble.
Give it effort. Give it a home.



Camille Martin

One for the Neglectorino Project*: Florine Stettheimer

* Click to see the Neglectornio Project
          An aside before the main attraction: I’ve been hard at work/play editing “Looms,” my poetry manuscript that I describe as a series of layered narratives. So with my energy going into this and other creative projects, I’m taking a break from writing reviews and close readings and for the time being I’ll just post poems from books that I’m reading, with book cover scans and where possible, links to sites where the books may be purchased.
         I might come back to these books or poems and write more about them at another time, but for now . . . pure poetry! I hope you enjoy my selections.

Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto
Florine Stettheimer
Edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo
Toronto: BookThug, 2010
order from BookThug
order from SPD Books

         First, just out from BookThug, Crystal Flowers, a collection of short poems and a libretto resurrected from a relatively unknown American modernist poet and artist, Florine Stettheimer (1871 – 1944). Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo compiled and edited this collection, which includes a generous and helpful introduction to her work.
         These deceptively simple poems—sometimes reminiscent of nursery rhymes—are often tinged with Stettheimer’s signature sardonic humour and her sense of the gendered complexities and imbalances of her time. There is something reminiscent also of Japanese poetry traditions in her ability to limn vivid images within succinct verses and to subvert the set-up emotional reaction with a hairpin turn.
         I’m including a couple of her paintings following the poems.


I broke the glistening spider web
That held a lovely ephemère
I freed its delicate legs and wings
Of all the sticky untidy strings
It stayed with me a whole summer’s day
Then it simply flew away—

A human being
Saw my light
Rushed in
Got singed
Got scared
Rushed out
Called fire
Or it happened
That he tried
To subdue it
Or it happened
He tried to extinguish it
Never did a friend
Enjoy it
The way it was
So I learned to
Turn it low
Turn it out
When I meet a stranger—
Out of courtesy
I turn on a soft
Pink light
Which is found modest
Even charming
It is a protection
Against wear
And tears
And when
I am rid of
The Always-to-be-Stranger
I turn on my light
And become myself
[I found pink hearts]

I found pink hearts
soft to the touch
stuffed with fragrance
nestling among her underthings
I gently stole one
jammed it
full of pins
and hung it up
                    my Saint Sebastian.
Adventure in Larchmont

Scaredly cackling the stray white hen
Hopped up the steps of the kitchen stoop
Chased by a sleek green-eyed cat—
I saved the chicken from attack
Altho’ my taste was that of the cat.
The 13th of October

A black butterfly
with a long black shadow
was there
in my room
when I switched on the light
In the very middle
on my coppercolored carpet . . .
It was motionless
it looked permanent
it thrilled me
with horror . . .
The grey walls
grew icy
the Japanese prints
did harakiri . . .
In my chill terror I make a vow:
I shall do my room
in white and gold
and paint gay flowers
on the walls
and honey bees
and white butterflies
and the song of birds
and the sun’s bright rays!

Florine Stettheimer, Family Portrait, II (1933)

Florine Stettheimer, Sunday Afternoon in the Country (1917)



Camille Martin

The Language of Desire to Speak: Joseph Massey’s Exit North

          Another just-received and welcome addition to Jay MillAr’s BookThug brood: Joseph Massey’s chapbook Exit North.
          In these poems, Massey depicts experience as a cross-hatch of perspective, sensory traces, and memory interlaced with symbols that continually learn and put to the test their nature-shaping patterns. If perception’s chaos is sorted out, linguistically occupied, cross-referenced with emotion and memory, it is also underlaid with emptiness: the page on which so much was believed to be written turns out to be blank.
          Experience lures language, which just as inevitably fades into silence just out of reach of the desire for the culmination of the senses in names, familiar and knowable. Attempts to understand, to order, to see yield “rhythms / looped through / the musicless field.” And this filtered experience of clamour full of trenchant detail leaves its traces as “an echo / gathering more / and more silence.”
          Massey’s poetic language enacts the rich mental process of knowing laced with the futility of perceiving the “sky clouded / by cloudlessness.” If, however, in the end we are left only with the desire to name, “to find / a word there,” that desire mitigates the abject state of being within impenetrable confusion: “the impulse [to speak] is enough.”
          A sampling to whet the appetite:

The Process

outside sounds
double the day’s

indoor confusion.
How to untwine
noise, to see.

There’s the bay,
highway slashed
beneath; water

a weaker shade
of gray than this
momentary sky’s

widening bruise.
The page turns
on the table, bare

despite all
I thought was
written there.

* * * *


From this hill’s vantage
all things become
whatever wind
makes them.

Electronic church bells
peal past overlapped
crow calls—

one left
a car lot.

* * * *


Cut grass, gasoline,
mound of rotted
weeds in a vacant lot

—the scent cast,
dense, with
each breeze—in

flustered shade.
What’s in a day’s
name: its slowly

summoned rhythms
looped through
the music-

less field—after-
noon’s clamor:

cars, deflated
bass lines
at a red light,

an argument
rattling the blue
aluminum trailer.

* * * *

Camille Martin

Pixel-Gene Hybridity: David Dowker’s Machine Language

Also received from BookThug’s 2010 subscription package, David Dowker’s Machine Language, a futuristic present haunted by shades coming into being and vanishing, shape-shifting texts, and cyborgs in the production line of a linguistic factory that manufactures mirages both magical and nightmarish. The atmosphere is suffused with coded signs and electrical currents, the screen inhabited by a hybrid of pixel and gene finding its muse in the common denominator of its nuptials.

A sample:


The sum of my self’s semblances.
An ache made shapely, maybe.
The itinerary of evasions: a most literary
sequence of eventual despair. A sense of
momentous indecision in the unquiet air
around here and no argument to reconcile
to, insistent intense as the discussion is.
This text entity actualized. Vast gasps
of syntax and sighs of delighted wrap-
around. A delicate instrumentality
hidden in the etymologies.
The feel of your fonts.
The tragedy of your line breaks.
The fragrant breezes flutter but
the poetic veneer is as apparent
as the insect which utters such
vernacular (o capacitance o
valence). Hypnotized by the spin
of a charming beginning. My darling
diplomat, de-mystified but never colonized.
A lesson in illegitimacy, illegibility of
the writing on the new and improved
axiomatic wall, depraved may
the flowering be, denied as mere raving.
Consider this dissonance. That is not that,
though. The map is not the genetic
expression of a mountain of hats.
Our cartoon existence predisposes us
to such extensions, such attachments.
Loony tunes to elucidate this feeling of
“that’s all, folks” and happy trails to you.
Until we are meat again. Easy habitation
in the light of another order of being.
Do we read by this illumination
or, merely burnished, turn to each other
and, chastened, make plans to abandon
plans of abandonment? Is this
the commission we were suborned for?
A brief, baffled season of leisure
to wax and polish our carapace, then
make space for the next regeneration?
Why else this fabled tale unscrolled,
scryed and de-scribed? Meanwhile,
in another part of the factory we see
demons sorting “abandoned car parts”
and angels huddled over lathes
(wings pinned behind their backs
and visors shielding beatific faces).
It is not clear what is turning,
but it is screaming.

David Dowker, Machine Language (Toronto: BookThug, 2010), 29-30

Camille Martin

Mark Goldstein, from Tracelanguage

From my just-received subscription stack of titles from BookThug, a couple of poems by Mark Goldstein, from Tracelanguage:

By word of mouth,
a deafening volcanic rush
opens on a flooding mob
of anti-artists – your surrender
in effigy, an afterimage or
well-chosen title.

Ill, you threw the words away
giving yourself to the tidal sway
and all that held you . . .

Your absence testifies
to the nudity of each beginning –
a kingless burden
in death.

* * * *

Between channels
a white noise clouds the signal
pressing the words I wrote
to reveal, in a shaky hand
the root among us
remaking slate from slate
syllable from syllable, unearthing
the copper-light of the begging bowl
beneath the ruins
we became.

* * * *

This stand of groundlessness
splinters no core
its shared breadth

This stand
cut deeply by riverbed
yields nothing but the
pockmarked, panicked

* * * *

Mark Goldstein, Tracelanguage (Toronto: BookThug, 2010)

Camille Martin