Monday 30 November 2015


colour in blue   Priya Bryant

how can you write a love song when you’ve never been in love?
easy, darling, just copy the way they snap their fingers,
like t
his –

trampling the kelp corpses into another world
the glass cuts our pebbled feet.
even those soft pink cathedral arches cannot escape.

quiet ripple now, book stacks. silence never warmed to you but it will sell you the Collected Essays of George Orwell for four dollars, no more, no less a child because you ripped out your own seams, because you crumpled like moths I slam through my open window, babies whose leafy flutter stains expensive carpet

alone again. a mud-churned gasping. a shaking turn;
your Arthurian rise through strangle-green muttering algae, your sodden freckles, your hair-drip as you light a cigarette. embalmed rage, splinter-quick.

you think that fate is an old man, eyes waterlogged with age, but you are wrong. fate is a teenage girl. she blows translucent pink bubbles and giggles when they pop. she kisses the wrong boys in dark corners, inhales the wrong aftershave, burns tequila stripes, rum shivers down her throat to forget. cliché holds her hair when the bile fights back.

fate swings her legs open as she curses God and his botched creative streak, how he left her to pick up the fag-ends and empty cans. fate is frightened of the future. she is the most frightened of all. 

Priya Bryant | North London | Fall 2015

Friday 20 November 2015


Two  Philip  Marley  Poems 

not titled

With the rich missed
for the last time, and
our eyes wiped of
grief, the gazing up, over,
done, and our homes now
facing Babylon; — it seems
time to let out the pink rabbits;
sing for what’s unbidden;
sight the silent hoof in dim
moonlight; brush; ask
the time of every home in
Bedlam; fling back the trollies;
wave our handkerchiefs as
hammers; and come back
through the same eye of
the needle.

An Ontology of Chairs

the image of the
child dancing on
a narrow chair,
stamped as the
seal of the universe.

wide chairs at
the tops of stairs
to protect us
from dreams-

when you licked
my face
because our chairs

that raised chair
for those
who have the Latin:

any fire you
set that
burns a chair
a potential

the child
dances until
Tereus eats
at his ancestral chair.

though I tremble
with the thought
of being eaten, any
lone chair wrings out
my death.

all the hard
bones carved
into us; half-
blind from chair’s

too many
have been asked
to hold
a mind together.

a blue heron
on a chair— still,
calm, heedful —
my thin legs,
my wings.

Philip Marley | Toronto | Fall 2015

Tuesday 3 November 2015



You are invited to a 
Launch / Reception 
for two new books by Phil Hall 

My Banjo & Tiny Drawings
(Flat Singles Press) 

Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, A Selected Collage
 (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) 

Le pluvier kildir, translated by Rose Després
(Pris de Parole)

Massey College     4 Devonshire Place 
November 25, 2015 

5:00 - 6:30 pm Cash Bar / Words / Music

Wednesday 28 October 2015

REVIEW: Pearl Pirie (BookThug, 2015)

“The Hem in Vehement”: a review, the title poem,
& Pearl Pirie’s the pet radish, shrunken

Jospeh LaBine

     If you glanced at BookThug’s Spring list for 2015, you may not have noticed Pearl Pirie’s exciting, new collection of poems, the pet radish, shrunken.  Here’s some basic information about it:

Cost—$18.00; paperback, also available as an e-book; edition—800; length—96 pgs

It’s been described as, “the world in words in miniature,” an “incidental collation of plays on a Scrabble board,” and a foray into words inside words; but Emblazoned on the back of the book, Dapne Marlatt offers the following blurb:

In Pearl Pirie’s poems, language ferments, foments a ‘vinegar vigour.’ Flipping the labels off contemporary mores, cooking with sound, she offers quick food for thought. Keep up with her if you can.

These descriptions are not wholly satisfying though, because they do not interrogate Pirie’s lusty, zesty use of language, nor do they explore word play in the individual poems.

     One of the best poems in the pet radish is the title poem, which represents, in miniature, the humour of the collection at its best. The speaker’s quirky observations are framed in an arms-length perspective rather than the traditional, close lyric addressing a lover. Here it is in toto:

            the pet radish, shrunken
            it’s kept as the head of operations
            for the methadone gaffe. no one question.

            magical thinking bile is required
            to med the agate ditz of comfy.

            look at that dory, minus the hunky
            it’s as seaworthy on the tines of gale.

            pr is the inevitable start of any time
            of prayer. the blitz howls its own oaths.

            such putz work avoids the snip snap of soars
            of the tachyon pulses of the fatal laws of later.

            sidestep the rule of: fresh is best.
            much is tucked inside the virulent must.

            recall: even the most buxom blues thin, thin out
            by dawn. to pray is to flick a spraying fez of gold.

            chin up, birth enzymes of a slug’s swagger
            to shrink the antlers of their onwards despites.   (tprs 76)

One might speculatie that the radish at the “head of operations,” is a scrotum, not a vegetable; the “methadone gaffe” is likely the euphoric blundering resulting after coitus; the multi-coloured, “ditz” – airheadedness “of comfy,” is orgasm.

     Before this explanation gets too deep, or intense, errr…another poem, “how to root out the normal,” brilliantly explores the codification of sexuality in language and offers some context for further discussion. It examines the “fruit machine,” what Pirie defines in her note as:

a device for a homophobic program run by the federal government in the 1950s and 1960s. Subjects were made to view pornography, and the device measured the diameter of the pupils of the eyes, perspiration, and pulse for a supposed erotic response. (tprs 10; 92). 

In “…root out the normals,” Pirie employs an n+7 method (rough translation, a form of Oulipo, ‘Ouvroir de littérature potentielle’)—a method of selecting different nouns from the dictionary (or another source text) just ahead of the initial poetic impulse: i.e. “the impulses of the test homosexuals” becomes “the impulses of the text hyenas” (10, my italics); but later, also, “turning hyacinths” (10). Hyacinths also denote beauty, and with it, a beautiful sexual connotation (See The Waste Land & Eliot’s “hyacinth girl”); but combined with the tension of homophobia in the verb turning, as in converting. Wonderful words emerge from this type of noun play: “hyacinth” (also “hyenas”) revises the negative resonance of the word “homosexuals” within the original fruit machine text. Pirie shows through Oulipo that homosexuals, like hyacinths, are beautiful.    

     This method of masking words is used to greater effect in title poem. The line, “look at that dory, minus the hunky,” tantalizes a look in the dictionary for a different d-word.  While “minus the hunky” reveals a disembodiment with “seaworthy” qualities that do not go unnoticed, nor do the “birth enzymes of a slug’s swagger / to shrink…” because what is true of the slug is also true of the post-coital penis, the slimy trail, its semen. The sex act: “the blitz howls its own oath,” and the sexual connotation of this poem, the performance being expressed (like the lack of sexual imagery in the “making children from scratch ’n sniff” poem), is only one meaning within a vibrant language filled—brimming over with potential: “to pray is to flick a spraying fez of gold,”—the line is as elusive as it is orgasmic. Put that “fez” atop your head and cry out: “much is tucked inside the virulent must!”  

     In 2011, Pirie won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative poetry. The three main sequences offered in the pet radish show that this award is well-well-well deserved. But it would be foolish to think that this means much, beyond small recognition for good work. However, it does raise a question about that word innovative, a lyrical quality Pirie arrives at by challenging language to break apart into component words and meanings. Try the word generator page at, and have fun with more matryoshka words like hem in vehement.

     If anyone is “vehement” about anything, it is readers who have snapped their pens (or laptops) in half, made furious by the thought that they did not [, could never] write the pet radish, shrunken. Pirie entices readers with cartoonish, sing-song lyrics, the words ring out their music, this is poetry sung to an air:

             pulp fiction & meadows & gun
            a dagger
            a digger
            a 2 o’clock trigger
            how a summer comes undone
a cord of wood & an axe have begun.
to begin
you begin
the lifted swing
under long slanting afternoon sun.      (tprs 91)

The jolly atmosphere of “Scholars” (the final poem of the closing sequence) is rivaled in the earlier sections by clever attempts to undermine negativity and twenty first century cyncism: “shall we turn this can’t / into a canto?” (tprs 44). In “from the annals 1,” the phrase, “wild dust bunnies (hereafter w.d.b.)” recalls the over-used American abbreviation for “weapons of mass destruction”: w.m.d., and offers an ironic political gloss at depth of the speaker’s joyful levity (tprs 31). The comic turns are thematic to the playfulness of the collection: Pirie’s word play tests the cultural constraints of language (i.e. the fruit machine and constructing gender identity). She tests the sexual and political intentions of ordinary turns of phrase.
     Earlier versions of poems in the pet radish originally appeared in several magazines: the Ottawater, Touch Donkey, Peter F Yacht Club, and The Best Canadian Poetry 2014. However, Pirie and BookThug poetry editor and award winning author, Phil Hall, finalized the collection together, working towards what reads as sustained thought/argument. An editor in her own right, Pirie publishes little miniature folded chapbooks under the phafours press imprint. Hall supplied the drawing for the cover illustration and title image. Copies are available through your local bookstore and online at

Wednesday 1 July 2015

REVIEW: Lillian Nećakov (Apt. 9 Press)

Nećakov’s “Giant Cockroach…Agility Sentences”

In The Lake Contains an Emergency Room

Christopher McCarthy
     Lillian Nećakov lives in Toronto where she has been writing and publishing poetry for the past 30 years. In her most recent book, The Lake Contains an Emergency Room (2015), a beautiful hand-sewn chapbook produced by the Apt. 9 Press, in Ottawa, Nećakov revisits memory, fathers, the absurd, death, abuse, birds, agility sentences and surrealism.

     The move to subvert reality in the new poems is an imaginative step in line with earlier work. Nećakov was one of the featured poets in Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence, (Mercury Press, 2004) and is currently editor of the Surrealist Poets Gardening Association. She is also the author of the Sickbed of Dogs, Polaroids, Hat Trick, The Bone Broker, and Hooligans. Her work is published in numerous anthologies and magazines in Canada and the U.S.A., in China and throughout Europe. This new book boasts a breezy form that resonates, even after multiple readings, all while veiling the dark depth of these poems with humour.

     The Lake Contains an Emergency Room contains only the suggestion of surrealism balanced with memory, and at times, anecdote. There is a surrealist timbre to the eighteen poems featured in the new sequence; however, this effect is well balanced, emotional, and immediate. There is a sense of reality through animation:
                                                                     Story Cycles

                                                                     My cloud rots around the alcoholic
                                                                     mothers delouse their children
                                                                     there is a function to the orchestra
                                                                     we plant rubber seeds

                                                                     occasionally whalebone and ivory sprout.

This is a small example of the kind of fragmented lines, what we might call, “Agility Sentences.” The name derives from title of a Nećakov poem but it also informs the poetics; each line drags closer towards a line break, and finally pulls down, down; while every poem culminates in a single period which is often the only form of punctuation used.

     Nećakov has been writing agility sentences for some years now.[1] It is fortunate that, with this recent work, readers can put a name to the form. And it is an engaging form, and a jarring one, as each break engenders new signification: “my bicycle wheel / spins / inconsolable shadows.” It starts out expected, wheels do spin, but with the following break, the image bursts out—as light casts its shadow through the spokes—the focus shifts to what the object is doing. This creates an emotional distance between the speaker and language.

     The winding down of each line, stanza to stanza, down to the inevitable full stop, affects the scan and often necessitates re-reading the previous line. This method achieves an absurd brilliance in “Collecting Twigs,” and “Small Brains,” the latter is fabulous and is possibly the best sustained balance between surreal description and narrative in the book.

     The only shortcoming of The Lake Contains an Emergency Room is failure of the effect of some of its italics. It is often unclear why italics are used. Do italics mark the use of a quotation? Are they meant to achieve a thin irony by evoking another, separate lyric voice? Their effect may become more obvious in a larger collection but the heavily italicised sections of “Burn It,” “Poser,” and “Sedna from Northern Baffin Island” smother the poems. They could be dropped for the sake of the clean clutter-free style Nećakov employs elsewhere.

     The poems in this sequence form a fine thematic unity. Family figures, like fathers (see the anti-hero in the wonderful, “You Are Not My Hero”), are a recurring topic throughout. The combination of gentle humour, absurd reality, and nostalgia has a sinister counterpart in the darker poems of The Lake Contains an Emergency Room. The lyric voice of the observer is always shifting age and perspective.

     The author’s interview with Rob McLennan published six years ago is fair indicator of her thoughts on where memory and surrealism intersect:

                                     8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
                                     Today, I love pears. My dad has a pear tree in his garden; I grew up with them                                      falling all around me.[2]

Nećakov grasps that what is absurd is also real. Projectiles, funerals, cycles, the “Small Years” (oh christ this is it / …this is it) menstruation, “the hurt gone now / a deep moon coming up,” render simple everyday occurrences in language that make the events seem fantastic or terrifying.

[1] See “Two Poems,” from 2014, “In the Woods” and “Tragic Dressmaker”; published by MadHat Lit.
[2] rob mclennan, see the “12 or 20 questions”(2009) interview with Nećakov for the above/ground press blog.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


Pearl Pirie

romantic painster, louder, I can’t even hear you bleed

jumping school drop-
out, spine rhymes with itself
muscles too taut to spit cusses


tourniquet, turn a quaint what? tune a kit, tuna kid, done
orchids, (lie alkaline), dumb as orchards (Palestine)

doom NASCAR, gloomier child, Rumi eyeshot
(there is a field) roomie’s eyesore, hot om, ye sorrel

homesick oral, (there must be a prayer for this) om
throne a sorrow (meet you there), thorned a Zorro.

-can you wake up this word?
- look up or wake up? 
I usually wake up a word by tickling its left serifs

the hottest part of me is the tangent of our combined heat
— the point of your shoulder against my temple

the temple, that part of my head, my idiolect’s headwaters
that icebox robot of bone that runs on its tin feet towards 

the odg, a god, a dog, or sense of odd, and winds me back to our
shared ticks.  if it’s an idiolect we share, is it a dialect? a bialect? 

a bi-election this separation into the unnaturalness of having—wait,
eight limbs? does that mean we are
an octopus finally? ou une autobus? we idle and sidle and sit.

the coldest part of me is the C of your ear as it rests on my scalp.
soft sounds of hair is ocean is ohh. 

where are you warmest? can I riffle deep under your shirt?
is it here? may I ask? will you answer me that?
or will I have to find out for myself?
we are countries apart in the politesse of public.

the land under the land has no lines that match anything
we devise.  Palestine or lines of  pants or panty lines.
tan lines, police lines. threat and thread and red and unread
and always one more means
to an and and an and.

there are real things to do, if
we are insistent on peace. if we
act instead of throw money, patience
and petittions at. there are people
to feed, talk to, carry heavies for.

if are well-healed before well-heeled
we must each horn and powder 
one’s own arrow of anemone
(out beyond ideas of wrongdoing)
break bread and eat, share.
sense is ours for the remaking.

present, accounted for, is everyone
with family who die more reliably
than rain that lifts itself in petticoats
diagonals of dandelions in dialogue
the whole width of The Possible
(when the soul lies down in that grass)
turn a cat loose on the birds
and two kills a week, half for sport
half left in indifference. the grief
of heart family of loss of gloss of
eyes turned etiquette away, quiet
the midnight mental paintings.
tête-à-tête quite suppressed.

insert bird, birds and sloppy generals
(out beyond the ideas rightdoing)
no, don’t invoke Hitchcock again.
unfinger your eyes and see. not
hand-me-down movie clichés
to replace observations. are you
at the end of your trope yet? yet?

to beehive to behave to behove,
(there is a field) stone unturned,
left unpaved, a corn row owns 
and forms itself  from what it has
sown in sequence in sun sequins. 

what was allowed, farm-sown?
let us dye. aloo palak arm-thrown.
one world of surface, depths of
convoluted believing anything.
(the world is too full to talk about.)


silk curls tumble over suit man. 
the light polishes his bald spot.
I want a pen to write hearts on it 
(as if that will fix everything).


strum feathers by the fountains, so foreign for the brahman
the sparrow myna, shady. what’s fated for ermine or tending to debris.
you’re the hallways and the tables that I stream to, folding light
that I bliss for, swell and well, goodnight, oil-barrel myna, tangled nude.

strumming hairs of my guitar on a nippy slippery weekday
a schlock with ardour. I see dense bones lift for my chains.
conscious and adhered as those sheened eyes of sparrow myna
she's berating me with the ladle from a dove
of the lonely strawman, her plucked down.

sparrow myna, squawking radio, barrelled myna, can't you see
you’re the hallways and the tables, are the rooms and walls and light
the space I miss, hood your eyes, sparrow myna, that’s my news.
sparrow myna, I love you.


Pearl Pirie's lastest collection is the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015). She is a host of Literary Landscape on and president of KaDo, a group for eastern varieties of writing including haiku and

Thursday 25 June 2015


Brittni Carey (Windsor, ON)


Plunder, Early Canadian Glass (1961)

the present        grows out of all that went before

it is increasing                in the future, as in the past

it is difficult to picture                without many forms

Cameron Anstee lives and writes in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press.

Monday 13 April 2015


by Karl Jirgens

Instructions:  Read the following passage from George Eliot’s Middlemarch and respond to the question below. 

__A__ felt a surprise which was quite unmixed with pleasure, but __A__ did not swerve from the usual politeness of greeting, when __B___ rose and explained her/his/its presence. __A__ was less happy than usual, and this perhaps made her/him/it look all the dimmer and more faded; else, the effect might easily have been produced by the contrast of ___B’s____ appearance. The first impression on seeing __B__ was one of sunny brightness, which added to the uncertainty of __B’s__ changing expression. Surely, __B’s__ very features changed their form, __B’s__  jaw looked sometimes large and sometimes small; and the little ripple in __B’s__ nose was a preparation for metamorphosis. When __B__ turned her/his/its head quickly __B’s__ hair seemed to shake out light, and some persons thought they saw decided genius in this coruscation [sparkle]. __A__, on the contrary, stood rayless.

Question: Identify characters A and B, in the above passage. Fill in the blanks above by choosing from among the pairs below (some illustrations provided), or enter your own answer in the space provided:

A. Bozo the Clown
B. Charlie Chaplin

A. The Dalai Llama
B. The Buddha

A. Pamela Wallin
B. Mother Teresa

A. Kwame Kilpatrick
B. Nelson Mandela

A. Lady Gaga
B. Maria Callas

A. Dull ennui
B. The Endless Mundane Vagaries of Life

A. Mary's Little Lamb
B. Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain

A. The apostrophe
B. William Shakespeare

A. The cracker and cheese
B. The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro

A. Anne of Green Gables
B. Godzilla

A. The humble oboe
B. The Brandenburg Concerto

A. Unabashed Gluttony
B. Dante’s Inferno

A. The Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner
B. The Black Hole V4641-Sgr (in the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way)

A. The common stone
B. The Great Pyramids of Giza

A. The exclamation mark
B. The Big Bang

A. The dyslexic Army
B. Mary

Or, fill in your own selection:

A. ________________

B. ________________