Sunday 16 November 2014


Three Ways of Not Saying Something
André Narbonne

1. You're missing quite the river. It's working out its cricks -- stretching in the sun.
I walked by on my way home from downtown.
I thought something large was passing, but it was just the expansiveness of it all,
Anyway, that's what you're missing. I thought you should know that.

2. Here's what you're missing today:
The river is changed. I walked by it, laden with problems, on my way from the LCBO, and it was voiceless. Today is warmer but the sunlight is a vague patchwork that doesn't heat. It's not the same verb.
Yesterday when I pulled myself up from other things I expected to see a freighter and was surprised to find, instead, three white swans staring back at me. Imagine: three swans – the magic number of the trinity and other narrative functions. I felt cheated by the mythological implications. I felt like I wasn't viewing anything in particular, like discovering that the meal I was eating had been eaten before by so many other people it could no longer be said to have a flavour. That's what I thought, but, happily when I looked further I found two other swans. So five. I thought, that's good and irregular. When I looked for more I realized that the narrow bits of open water (imagine cracks in a window with some of the knife-like pieces missing) were overpopulated with birds, but they were darker than the swans and had to be understood differently, had to be made visible through some sleight of realization.
Today I didn't see a single bird. I didn't hear a gasp or a pop. No voice, no life. If you look near the shore you'll see the ice is piled up in flat sheets the scattered way discarded paper sometimes lies beside a printer when something difficult is due. It frames the centre of the river, which is mostly open. Yesterday's voice seems to have smashed a channel of broken knife blades.
But you'll see all that when you come back. Maybe you'll have birds. How strange they should be there on a day when the river was so loud.

3. The first time I saw the river
it was summer and a man was
selling French fries from a
truck and that was comedy and
the other trucks on the bridge
were gravitas and
the river was the sort of idiot
you can never master and
the clouds were steel
traps clamping a church
in their uninspired significance.
The day felt like a carnival of nothing.
How could it change?
It didn’t change.
The first time I saw the river I didn’t
know what I was looking at.


Our mother had the wrong kind of children
Ellie Hastings

Enough happened
to peel delicacy
from our palms
not yet wide enough
to have our fortune told.

On days we could not stand
tall enough
to reach up,
crossed fingers could not save us.
Cleanliness was holy
water. Cleanliness was sharing a bath.

But like children cement themselves
in sidewalks
and skinned knees are still
on driveways,
we’re buckled in.
Our own fortune happened



By Christopher McCarthy


There he is
on a bicycle.

Bad timing
up my nose.
Through walls

he and his
wife fought
long – hard.

Still, looks
shatter with
a grin / a firm

She says she’ll
kill herself but
don’t believe it.
He’s Hughes of the 
Fox not fingernails.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

"scaling letters" an a/g review

scaling letters: rob mclennan and How the alphabet was made
by Aaron Daigle

            rob mclennan's How the alphabet was made, subtitled [an instructional]. What this 2014 chapbook instructs might be the characterization of the alphabet. Getting ahold of slippery letters seems a recent poetic preoccupation in Canada: Christian Bok's eunoia formally constricted himself to one vowel in each word, rob suggests a concept behind each letter and uses that as the limitation.
            The chapbook is unassuming in appearance, but the cover hints at the project. The first fifteen letters of the alphabet are bubbled with a corresponding hieroglyphic, alluding to a time where letters were not abstracted from concepts. Though there are fifteen poems in the book, they do not correspond to the letters on the cover.

            "A" is "shocked, an appetite." We say "a" when surprised or opening mouths.
            "B" is "bewitching," sexual.
            "C" is musical, "Below middle" C, and describes how music blurs distinctions, "conflate"s.
            "F#" is "A failing, flustered," struggling.
            "G-d" is spiritual.
            "Hh" is "connecting, land-bridge."
            "M" is "miracles."
            "O" is "A flower, two              out       of this grief."
            "Ph" is a doctor, "Chemicals and the subsequent mouth."
            "r" is for regret.
            "U" is displaced, "Snowfall: we need less / a person,"
            "V" is "The basic mysteries               adrift, / a shrapnel feeling."
            "xxx," is the "basic mystery" of sex: "Such Hubble shapes   in crinoline; vernacular / ethics, tiny / bubbles, baubles. Take it / all off." Where "Outside: / is very, very bright."
            "Zed" is Canadian, "The Story of a mailman, shallow     bed of bone / and whispers."
            Some stylisms cohere the chapbook. mclennan uses commas and semicolons to disrupt full sentences. As he isolates the character of each letter, he suggests a unifying link to this letter may be found in disparate words, something that resists linear narrative: "Sidebar, notion; plants and seeds and trees from earth, a suspect, carnage; a suspect vehicle, / what you would wonder: we / were not an end. / Pegasus, thy lusty Minotaur; some alphabets believe" ("A"). These italics provide a second level of text, the equivalent of theatrical asides and parentheses.
            The poetry leaves gaps in syntax just as much as the page, space for the imagination to fill. "An impure whiteness, shark" ("Ph"). By arresting normal conventions of thought with a firm grounding in the senses, the body responds to these poems on an intuitive level, shaking a reader from complacency. Not least of which when the reader themselves is urged to "Name, me out of mourning, back into display. Top of the stairs" ("r").
            Most effectively, mclennan's keen observation eye leads him to startling assertions about the nature of reality. These types of sentences disrupt logical sequences while concisely starting a powerful metaphor. For example, "This wooded moment, perished like an owl" and "Horizon frames us, just as much / the television; composed of fragments; throttled-ground, // a quell between the bones" ("Hh"), "We, who are wondrously large / present no difficulty to an empty room" ("A"), and "What the dog knows." ("V"). Much of mclennan's poetry juxtaposes the large and the sall, the individual and the environment. The value of a strong metaphor or image cannot be understated.
            mclennan suggests that our conceptions of language are constantly shaped and infused by what we perceive. It's easier to sense and feel the presence of a letter when a title points to it. By virtue of being connected in that poem, the poet asks the letter's function: what is particularly "B" about "Bestial everywhere, a blade               of synapse, / blazing; we                   ride a long time on the subway." By simply titling each poem after a particular letter, instances of that letter on the page are bolded in the imagination.

            I hope mclennan expands or revisits this project. Nine letters remain to be told of the alphabet. There weren't any major criticisms I had of the chapbook. I'm divided on mclennan's habit of beginning a line with a comma – it maintains the aesthetic ambiguity of ending a line without punctuation while clarifying the grammar in the sentence. Beyond that, "These eyes, yes, a thousand" ("G-d") thoroughly enjoyed the chapbook. How the alphabet was made? Perhaps through a mind to observe, concepts to describe, and a world to realize.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Review of an October Performance of M. NourbeSe Phillip’s 'Zong!'

 Missing The Boat: Zong! Reading[s] & Performance in 2013
 Joseph LaBine
            After viewing Julian Alystyre’s video “NourbeSe at Naropa-Wake for Trayvon Martin”[1] and participating in a group reading at the University of Windsor this October, I think it is necessary to highlight the differences between conventional, one person readings of Zong!, by Philip herself or individual readers,  and collaborative performances, like the two I’ve just mentioned. Something occurs during the performance of the text—something—that is phenomenological. It disrupts the usual encounter of reading because the experience of reading is fundamentally altered when the text is read in a group. By performing Zong!, I believe readers move past abjection in the text and transcend the horror of the historical narrative intertwined with the poetic.
            Recently, I have seen several articles attempting to describe the effect felt at collaborative public readings of Zong[s], or responding to performances of Zong!—performances both watched and/or engaged in. Of note, are Susan Holbrook’s “M. NourbeSe Phillip’s unreceoverable subjects,” an essay which responds to a performance by Phillip only and Janet Neigh’s “Dialogues with M. NourbeSe Philip,” which describes a group reading. For the singular reading Holbrook suggests the reader is unable to transcend the horror of the historical account delivered in the poems—the murders that occurred on the slaveship “Zong”— the performance does not end with “joy and relief”; the slaves are drowned, their voices reduced to silence, “the story can never fully emerge” (Holbrook par. 1). I was inclined to agree until witnessing the phenomenon of a collective group reading of the work. Neigh describes an experience similar to mine:
Handing out about twenty photocopies of Zong!, [NourbeSe] provided the audience with page numbers and instructed us to read these pages along with her without worrying about staying in unison. A mesmerizing cacophony ensued, as voices moved under, over, and around each other. (Neigh par. 1)
So far, no one (to my knowledge) has conducted a study of these performances and theorized how they might change meaning within the text. This is my main concern, because Zong! is a work that requires multiple reading strategies, multiple interpretations of voices/languages/words/silences, it seems apt that performance-reading is one of the methods we consider critically. I am particularly interested in how oral and aural aspects of the text—the zongs heard and spoken at a reading—change our interpretation of the poems on the page. I am focussed on a certain mnemonic function that interrupts syntax and how we read the text internally, thus changing meaning—reversing our memory of the narrative as we hear and re-hear the poems verbally. I am not the only person to read the text in this way, Jasper Appler has argued in “ZONG! a Narrative Told Without Telling” that performance is the life of the text, “narrative relies on the oral and aural for animation…even in a private reading the text takes life only once you speak it” (1). This is true. The verbal phenomenology of Zong! interrupts how we receive the meaning of the text internally. Phillip’s exclusion of punctuation and syntactical markers allow the text flexibility to change with aural interruption; the rhythm and flow of the poem changes like the movement of waves.   
The “mesmerizing cacophony” that Neigh describes parallels the recording of the uWindsor reading available via this YouTube link:
By comparison this recording (and overall experience) makes the single-voice performance of Philip reading “Zong 5” from “Marcella Durand’s Pennsound Picks” (available on the Jacket2 website), seem small and pointed rather than offer the poignancy of the larger reading. The individual voice does allow listeners to focus more on the words it is speaking, there is a singular intonation or incantation, but this type of reading limits meaning and the possibility for multiple meanings by mnemonically reinforcing one way of interpreting Zong!. I have written elsewhere about Dislocation poetics as a function of diaspora literature. To put it simply, I believe the horrors of the slave ship are represented in the text of Zong!; families were separated, passengers were placed beside other Africans that spoke different languages, the cargo was divided according to size, shape, and sex. The fragmentation on the page reflects the dislocation felt by the enslaved Africans travelling on “Zong.” We, as readers, experience the horror of the historical narrative and text abjectly—we are beside ourselves when trying to interpret the fragmented text but our experience mirrors the dislocation felt by the passengers aboard the ship.
            I believe this dislocated horror is the main significance/problem surrounding reading method and mnemonics in the text. Neigh’s observation that participants in the Waterloo reading were given photocopies is also worth considering—disorientation is heightened when readers work from fragments rather than the whole book with its index and glossary as reference. The experience of reading aloud becomes almost entirely aural (the rustling of paper can be heard on the Windsor recording) as participants try harder and harder to make sense of the fragments they have been given. At the uWindsor reading, I read from a printout of early publications of “Zong!#25 and Zong!#26”[2] from the journal boundary 2. I found that because I only had a small portion of the first sequence of poems that I quickly ran out of reading material and had to repeat lines. Towards the end of our reading I noticed a mnemonic shift in what I was reading. Because of the lack of punctuation, I picked a rhythm and inserted my own punctuation and syntactical interpretations. I will say that there is no wrong way to read Zong! but repetition has a function of entrenching one reading, however, when the momentum of the rhythm of that repetition is set by a group and the groups shifts, slows, or speeds up—these phenomena of collaborative reading forces participants to adopt different mnemonic structures change their inserted markers, syntax, and ultimately the interpreted meaning of the poems. I noticed a line-shift in the piece I was reading. At the start of the recording my voice can be heard reading the lines:
was the cause was the remedy was the record was the argument was the
delay was the evidence was overboard was the not was the cause was the
was was… (Philip, boundary 2, 8)[3]
Because of a shift in rhythm of the group, something that occurred by accident possibly, something, I omitted a “was” so that “the cause” became “the remedy,” which became “the record,” but a new record and one in which my thinking about the narrative had changed.
In my first interpretation, I clung to the events recounted in the notes on the case of Gregson v. Gilbert (Philip 210-211). I tried desperately to associate meaning to words during the dislocated act of reading aloud amongst many other voices. However, the only meaning I could associate was that of the atrocity itself, the horror that in the eyes of the captain and crew “the result was justified” (8).  The slaves still had no voice and the speaker of my zong was the cold emotionless court room reporter. However, after the omission of the “was” something spiritual happened; agency shifted, the passengers became the speaker, became one voice speaking from underneath the water. My interpretation began to move past the horror and transcend it. The poems now became about giving silenced voices agency.
            There is such a possibility for multiplicity of meaning and variety of interpretative methods within Zong!. But, because of the fragmented nature of the text and underlying historical narrative, readers like myself will cling to the historical narratives to construct meaning. Orality, the divergent rhythms of a group reading, mnemonic turns, these are the keys to shifting agency and giving voice to silence within the poems. Neigh classifies the group method as part of “Phillip’s ongoing commitment to poetry as a radical mode of historical inquiry and radical protest” (Neigh par.1). Every reading becomes either an opportunity to reinforce the horrific narrative, or to revise memory each time by interrogating what voices might have said.

Works Cited
Appler, Jasper. “ZONG! a Narrative Told Without Telling: Evocations of Mythology in Zong!.” Companion Reader to M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!. Windsor, ON: Flat Singles Press, 2014.1-29. Print {Forthcoming}.

Holbrook, Susan. “M. NourbeSe Philip’s unrecoverable subjects.” Jacket2. Kelly Writers House, 29 March 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

Neigh, Janet. “Dialogues with M. NourbeSe Philip.” Jacket2. Kelly Writers House, 17 Sept. 2013. Web.18 Nov. 2013.

Philip, M. NourbeSe. “Deadly Notes: Atlantic Soundscapes and the Writing of the Middle Passage Slave Ships.” Conference Paper. University of Windsor. 28 Oct. 2013. Print.
---. Zong!. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 2008. Print.
---. “Zong! #25 and Zong! #26.” Boundary 2 33.2 (2006): 8-9. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

Shockley, Evie. “Going Overboard: African American Poetic Innovation and the Middle Passage.” Contemporary Literature 54.4 (2011): 791-817. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

[1] “NourbeSe at Naropa-Wake for Trayvon Martin” is certainly a ‘performance’ rather than a simply a large scale reading of the text. Alystyre’s video on Vimeo is private, was viewed privately, and thus I’ve only cited it within the body of this essay. However, I think it is crucial that video or audio recordings of performances like this one should be put into the public domain. The participants in the “wake” dressed in white and held candles throughout the reading, these elements designate performance and are crucial to forwarding the text as performance art.
[2] Philip, M. NourbeSe. “Zong! #25 and Zong! #26.” boundary 2 33.2 (2006): 8-9. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. The number and positions of these poems in the book have since been reversed with the journal version of now “Zong! #26” appearing first on page 43 with the number 25 with the block sequence following on page 45 with different line breaks.
[3] For the purposes of continuity I have decided to work through the original journal publications of the two poems I read at the reading. The pages cited are from boundary 2.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Cindy Chen on Tourbin’s Posthumous Tribute - The Stream and other poems

Review: Dennis Tourbin’s The Stream and other poems - a posthumous tribute - above / ground press, $4 

By Cindy Chen

a celebration of an artist’s life in eternal motion

The three poems included in the book, “The Stream,” “Morning in Paris,” and “In Her Apartment in Paris,” are published in reverse order of their original dates of composition. Together, they seek to analyze the realities of mortality and dread in an inherently beautiful world. Tourbin’s speaker achieves awareness without abandoning hope, employing imageries in these three poems that capture both darkness and light within our natural (dis)order. Perhaps due to the fact that the last piece, “In Her Apartment in Paris,” is also the earliest one in this collection, the chapbook does conclude with an undertone of hopeful innocence.

In terms of stylistics, Tourbin’s language leans towards the purposeful mundane. There is a languidness that blankets descriptions of both everyday routine as well as a horrifying terrorist threat. However, his matter-of-fact tone only enhances his speaker’s anguish during the overarching psychological journey of looking inward in order to see outward.

Tourbin’s writing is languid, but it is not still. Every stanza, in some instances, every line presents a new picture, a new motion, all strung together like the individual frames of a movie. There is an undeniable filmic quality to Tourbin’s language, and his poems are all, ever-moving in our minds’ eyes. 

Thursday 13 March 2014

"A Range of Dates" Jack Goodall on rob mclennan

Review of rob mclennan's from Hark: a journal /$4

By Jack Goodall

A quote from "Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France" 

     Name of a city, date between 1124 and 1955. Impressions of the place. Transport. Objects. Writing. Science and thought process. Light. Ontology. Wordplay.

A poem from the chapbook

   "Saint-Adèle, 1914"

    Calamitous, a ski resort. Chalet Cochard. In the beginning, I don't know. 
    Stakes deployed to language. I can't tell you now who said what. What 
    particular abyss. The hot tub, decommissioned. Stripped of fiction, sheets. 
    A hotel, and its ambiguous relationship with desire. A cottage, blends. 
    Municipal. Is taxing, taxes. Parkland sky. Demands the right of secession. 
    In writing, must locate yourself in writing.

A review

mclennan's poetry is imaginatively presented in the form of journal entries in response to postcards from his now-wife, poet Christine McNair. The entries take on a new & greater meaning with this courtship in mind. It's all very brief and personal and at times impenetrable, drawing on references ecclesiastical (St. Augustine's in Ramsgate) and musical (John Cale, Paris 1919).

Perhaps feeling duty bound by his roles as head of above/ground press and occasional writer in-residence, mclennan goes into great detail explaining 'from Hark...' This does indeed contribute to the book's romanticism and explains its odd mix of self-consciousness and intimacy.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Jack Goodall's Take On Camille Martin’s ‘Sugar Beach’

Review of Camille Martin’s ‘Sugar Beach’ — above/ground press $4
By Jack Goodall 

Torontonian, Camille Martin started the decade with a prolific run of books, chapbooks and magazine publications as well as her collage work. In her new collection Sugar Beach she further develops her distinctive style and captivating, flighty approach. With allusions to music and performance art, Martin charts a series of sensations with language that suggests the fleeting and sensual. In the case of "More Jars Than Lids," the anatomy of a plant and it’s growth are presented in tumultuous humanistic terms through a free fall of kinetic verbs.
 This insular human perspective emerges in other poems, in which Martin almost feverishly compiles imagery, which though consistently interesting, at times appears overly busy. No image is dwelt upon for too long before identifying an existential problem. Martin is far more interested in the extraordinary than the everyday and there is a distinct reoccurring discrepancy between reality and the imagined object or self, between how we see and how we’d like to see. When speaking of the fantastic or undeniably beautiful, she never lessens her analytical powers. A comic strip hero is portrayed as “the petulant rebel, brute strength exceeded only by the capacity to whine.”

 Martin’s references to different artistic mediums in many of the Sugar Beach poems suggest a life not lived but imagined through art. In "Ddoppelgänger Lament," she portrays herself as a detective who, perhaps through her intellect, is entirely without mystery, continously covering “already- solved swindles” and living “a life of unbroken crime.” As with the superhero in "Requerimento" and the birds of "Birdless," Martin writes in terms of reality impregnated with human cynicism that seems modern and unromantic. But the combination of the sacred and human is the key to Martin’s originality and is perhaps at its best demonstrated in the melting Antarctica of "Endless Regressions of Heavens." It’s an involving , beautiful and unnerving piece.