Saturday 24 December 2016


Every Year A Christmas Tree
        Christopher McCarthy

At the Christmas tree farm, two middle-aged men burn a brush fire. Families newly arrived and hangers-on stand beside the warmth. Everyone waits for the tractor to come back and take us up the hill to the harvesting field—row upon row of balsam fir.
      We’ve all paid fifty dollars to be driven up the hill, to select our own best tree, to cut it down and have the tractor bring it back. It’s an additional two dollars to have it wrapped in netting afterwards.
     The men burning deadfall build up their tower of sticks. It crackles, sap sizzles and pops. Jolly music plays in the background. The fire and, at its edge, see a child’s snow suit. Yellow, green, and purple, mock primary colours. Orange dances around it. The snowsuit’s collision of colour, its block pattern alone, tells its age.
     The arms of the jacket are just back far enough from the box of flames that they are changing colour, darkening a shade, and stiffening.
     Daylight fire bright which star will we see tonight? 
     The tractor returns with the bimmelbahn, flatbed cars in tow. The driver circles-semi around the fire, then reverses, bunching up backwards caterpillar-style. Hop everyone of us on except the men burning the fire, and older people from one of the other families who sip luke-warm coffee contentedly.
     The driver knocks down a milk crate for anyone needing a boost onto the platform. ‘All on?’
     We turn away, whiplining straight to go. Brace seated. Ride. UP, UP, UP, snow but more mud, evergreen Christmas around our hectic train. Bumps bump. Look up. See a grey-porcelain winter sky. Feel cold. Hear the choke of the tractor smooth-out as its wheels touch dry terrain. Out.
     Step down (some use the milk crate again). Fairytale style forest appeals to us all. The farmers’ rows of fir—dense and brush-cluttered— make magic this man-made wood.
     Still. There’s no breeze. Jovial talk bursts, through gloom clouds light shines ready for the tree hunt. Families break off. Go. Go. Sun shines.
     Our silence breaks bletchley with the crunch, crunch, crunch of footsteps treading on the backs breaking hundreds of snails. There are thousands of snails (not alive) littered on the forest floor. This is odd. Why?
     Move to the clearing. Blue blue up, dark brown down, a Honda stained with earth from the tire up, parked by the tree line. A yellow sign nailed to a pine reads ‘10’, below it and stump-lined on either side, ‘reforestation area’, and on the ground here is a skull. It looks like a rabbit’s head. Pick it up. Hare skull for an art deco piece—a gift for sister—cleaned and sterilized and some jewels in the eyes. It will stand out on the day with all the other glitter and garland green. In the bag with the saw goes it. It goes.

                            *                          *                           * 
     Hoist up trees and attach them to roofs of cars. Stand around. The bell jingles. ‘Available. Available.’ The tractor driver searches for new passengers. No one in the parking lot pays him any attention.  A horse drawn sleigh carrying several tourists passes down a snowy laneway.
     Gloom gloms blue sky with globular grey. Noon settles. Dirty air smolders with the fire on the far side of the lot. Adults aver the ‘lovely, fresh trees’ they now secure to their roof racks. Our one, nearly six feet from stump to star, lost inches to sawdust. Cut fresh and tie tightly. Bow saw bag and bunny trunk stowed, bundled, we bunch into the back seat. Door swung open to tie.
     More and more families get into cars to go. Dirt mixed with snow makes snirted mox. Down each exit each family, each set of tires scrawk banal, gone. Done. Hold breath for exhaust fumes.
     Only two empty cars in the lot now. The farmer’s Dodge pickup with seven or eight trees strapped in its bed, rusts silently.  Tucked in beside the parking lot attendant’s shelter, a yellow VW Bug—almost fifty years old—wheels removed, up on cement blocks, rusting too. It does not go.
    ‘Blue spruce available on this side and Fraser fir at the other end.’ The bell jingles still.
     The fields edge away to become highway.  
     Arrive home. Untie ties. Stand tree in tree stand. Remove net. Get camera. Snap. Snap. The tree must open up. Leave it alone. Branches drop down.
     Out for lunch. Eat eggs and tomato. Chat. ‘Great tree.’ ‘It is.’ Plan a nightwalk in the Christmas market. Those that want it can drink Glühwein at the entrance as we wait to pay six dollars for tickets to go in. Go. Go. Go. Go.
    It is so dark that the personal only looks personal amidst the false light, the large, fake tree predominant, and all her false glimmering stars rising with floating (hanging) jellyfish up the black sky. Hot pots hiss. Boiling maple syrup is poured to glace over icy snow. Chatter rings. Carollers on stage sing.
     Eat smoked meat and Käse-Sandwich. Eat Bratchäs with pickled pepper, sautéed onions, and Schweineschnitzel on a pretzel bun. Eat Liège style waffles and Kartoffelspiralen swaying on swivels. Eat roasted pecans, cinnamon-glazed, and Gebrannte Mandeln. Eat chocolate dipped, dough-fried dessert.
     Twirl around each and every vendor. Shop in shops. Turn to cross through grounds. Skirt round people standing. Avoid people carrying stacks of gifts not looking. Bear left. Bear right. Skate across snowy, salted brick. Snowflakes dance down and disappear over cooking fires, hot oil, over lit grills. Footstep a snowy ballet set to banter and bouncing Bublé. Crack nuts in teeth. Get back in the car. Nom nom’d in exultation.
     He lies in mystery. See black ice on the dark, dark road.
     Skid snowy. Go toward the median. Jaunt into an otherways turn. Turn again. Turn on your side. Roll. Roll. Roll your oats over. Overmix the porridge, seatbelt jolt. Pick those glass shards out. Crash berry blue. One of us has sicked all over the floor of the smash.

                            *                          *                           * 
     Sit on a bench for a long time gazing at real stars. Shock shocks.  How do you know you don’t have a concussion if you have one but think you don’t?
     ‘Thank God everyone is fine.’
     Thank Him. Give thanks the car is a write-off. Give thanks in secret. Give thanks especially that the saw didn’t loose from the saw bag. Retrieve the bunny head. 
     Arrive home. Undress. Untie bandages. Tie new ones on. Stand by tree. Decorate. No one wants to sleep. We laugh-laugh-laugh. This is the fattest fir we’ve ever had. It doesn’t fit in the room. Its shapeless wide is filled with decades of ornaments. Get camera. Snap. The tree has opened us up. Drop down. Most go to bed.
     Fire glows embers to cinders to ashen nothing.
     Downstairs, in the laundry room, in the deep sink, clean the bunny head. Solvents smell. Scrub the eye sockets. Soak gore. Leave it alone for awhile. Watch TV in the side room. Come back.
     Drain the drecky dark liquid. Dry dry. Work the towel into every hole. Sand smooth. Smooth bumps. Take off grit. Apply linseed oil with a rag. Let dry. Wait. Watch more TV. Hours pass.
     Buff every surface. Go back over it with a higher grade paper. Roughen the sites for the bijoux. Play Bowie’s ‘blackstar’ (at a hushed volume). Stick the fake jewels on. Blacken the eye cavities. Dust the skull with glitter. Dull the shine.  Finish.
     Sleep late, late into the morning of Christmas Eve day.
                            *                          *                           * 
     It’s a shrunken head. Wrapped, balled-up in newspaper, under the tree, tied off at the neck, the gift of a skull. Add a green bow.
     O. Henry. Oh Henry.
     All day is for sitting around. Parents phone insurers. Leave to pick up rental car. Wooziness settles in. Sit around. Get up. Sit back down. Is that the concussion or a head rush?
       Watch heads in duffel bags. Decorate the hall. Watch Donnie Gyllenhaals. Make merry for fish supper. Rally. Wear a blonde wig for most of the evening as a joke. Everyone is marked, saddened by thoughts crashing.   
      Watch more after dinner. Crouch in a ball. Curlcrunch (in human approximation) of suitcase square. Every movie seen a hundred times, watch them again with eyes shut.
       Seat-jolt awake. Still morning still. No stirs stir. Winter birdsong, mist moistens each edge of the basement window. Go up from here.   Up the stairs.
     Grown in the night, she has overwhelmed the gifts nestled at her base. The tree and the living room are one and the same being. She overwhelms every ornament hung in adulation. Her bows and brambles, gold beaded, stretch into the hall, scrape walls, climb stairs, darken windows with the force of ancient forests. Thousands of years of growth, grown at a snail’s pace, are, in an instant, covering our house.  She encloses every corridor in evergreen labyrinth. She covers each sleeping family member, wood on wooding the doors to rooms, greening them, greening them in.
     Step. But step where? False steps fir fall greening green underneath green. Her chokehold is an embrace.
     Every year is a different tree, a different feeling, and this year Christmas is sad. Yes! Our bedrooms, beds, and the living room, the same as it has always been. All the best to make amends in.

Christopher McCarthy | Toronto | 2016

50 Days of Prose

"Gently the woodsorrrel and the dove explained the confirmation and guided my return. When I came out of the woods onto the hill, I had pine needles in my hair for a bridalwreath, and the sea and the sky and the gold hills smiled benignly. Jupiter had been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars." (Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept)

Using the quotation above as a dropping off point, for the next fifty days, Flat Singles Press will publish poems & essays on the 'fullness' language in prose. Gently like the woodsorrrel, but explaining like the dove, we hope to include many voices, new & old, in our discussion of The Poetics of Prose (to borrow Todorov's title,) and to probe contradictions, intersections, similarities, transformations (what Brigid Brophy sees as "metamorphosis" in By Grand Central). Why does poetic prose remain apart from verse forms? Why does prose seem apart from poetry generally? Is there indifference? Is there maligning? What is a bad line? Where do we draw the line? How does prose become poetic? 

There are many questions to consider. The answers may take various creative & critical forms. Our aim is to respond in prose. We welcome any submissions, particularly those taking up these questions, new ideas, and the relevant theories & histories through which we may explore the 'fullness' of prose.

***EMAIL all submissions to with the subject line, '50 Days of Prose'.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

"Festival of Readers" derek beaulieu

Last week Flat Singles printed a visual poem by derek beaulieu in an edition of 10, all made on old envelopes commemorating this year’s “Festival of Readers,” a three-day literary festival in St. Catharines which ran from 13-15 October 2016. The festival partnered with “The Concept of Vancouver” Two Days of Canada academic conference series, Niagara Artists Centre and the St. Catharines Public Library. According to beaulieu, the poem was “written @ the table, scanned in Calgary, printed in Toronto from introductions made @ the fest.”

Link to Flat Singles on derek beaulieu blog here:

photo credit: derek beaulieu | Calgary  AB |  2016

Another McCarthy Review (Flat Singles)

Review of VANCAL by Christopher McCarthy, Flat Singles Press, 2016.
By Brittni Brinn


We may think the cover of a book is a promise. In the case of Flat Singles’ Leddy Library series, however, you never know what you’re going to find inside. The recent chapbook in this series, VANCAL by Christopher McCarthy, is no different. “Everything you ever wanted to know about UWindsor’s main library,” the cover reads, accompanied by a full colour image of students enjoying a study break outside the Leddy Library. It’s a brochure you would expect to find at an information desk or in a campus Welcome Week package. It blends into the mundane comings and goings, it promises practical information. It shows us that poetry is an expert at camouflage, hiding in the everyday, just waiting to be discovered. It breaks our expectations and laughs with us as we realize our assumptions were incorrect. We may not get what the cover promised, but after the initial confusion we do experience a sense of satisfaction from sharing in this artistic joke.
VANCAL is concerned with language, specifically language having to do with city transit. McCarthy juxtaposes this everyday set of terms with traumatic wartime images. In the first poem, McCarthy compares a tattered bus transfer to a soldier who survived the war, clearly setting up this parallel that continues throughout the rest of the poems. Transit terms like at the front, report, and service migrate with startling ease to wartime. We learn in “Vice” that the poem is set in WWI, where Tom matter-of-factly dies over and over again.  Through this fresh approach, McCarthy startles us into thought about the implications of war by using everyday language usually associated with transit.
“90 minutes” especially evokes the experience of riding transit. Flashes of houses outside the window, things people are wearing, the printing on the thin paper bus transfer are impressions we can expect from an hour and a half bus ride. The speaker transitions into wordplay, breaking up “Calgary Transit” into character names “Cal” and “Gary.” The repetition of “Red” not only refers to Calgary Transit’s “Red Line” route, but also evokes bloody wartime scenes. Underneath the mundane yet intimate details of a Calgary bus ride is a societal memory of violence, tying the present to a past war. McCarthy combines two separate columns on the transfer to create “700 conditions… 600 Route schedules/ 500 Route maps/ 400 Service announcements.” These read as an overview of a soldier’s wartime experience: a numerical collection of drills, journeys, and rules that once added up are overwhelming. All of these numbers represent potential traumas experienced by a soldier, whether physical, emotional, or psychological.
In the last poem, the term alive & well appears. Not clearly associated with transit, we can assume that this term breaks through language to the other side of an experience, whether it’s riding a bus or going through a war. After their transfer runs out and they fail to find an alternate form of transportation, the speaker, not a usual transit taker, finds themselves a survivor of the Red Line, faced with another scene connected to war:
The workers lying in the shade evoke soldiers side by side in a trench; it also reminds us of corpses laid out after a battle, or rows of graves. The intimacy of these bodies contrasts the loneliness of the speaker, who has been on a long journey and has not yet reached their goal. The depth reached by this simple scene demonstrates McCarthy’s ability to use the everyday to encapsulate complex personal responses to trauma.

McCarthy represents wartime experience through his breakdown of everyday language associated with transit. He effectively parallels elements of transit with the details of a soldier’s experience and by doing so presents a unique perspective on what it means to survive. Just like the misleading cover of the chapbook houses a work of poetry, McCarthy uses language associated with transit to consider the deeper implications of wartime experience and survival.

Monday 24 October 2016

Review of McCarthy (Flat Singles)

VANCAL, Christopher McCarthy, flat singles press, TorontoON., 2016. no price, paper.  

What I have here is a twelve page quick chapbook by a postcard writer, who also rides public transit in person and in spirit. No mention of postcards in this double stapled offering, though I know personally of his postal predilection.  This chapbook sounds more akin to automatic writing or stream of consciousness, in which one thought or event leads to another and another, and so forth. Even so, surprisingly it snags reality, or what should be reality, with its motion. The book’s pivot is on a found bus transfer “haggard & torn/ like it had gone through the war.” “Vice – Tom Cusses” begins as a blurry war poem – from the front lines a death – scratches its (the poem’s) head in incredulity (“numbers aren’t substitutes for words”), shifts to hey, “Here’s my bus” and finally transfers as a call and response.

This transfer                                                    You have survived
is valid                                                             your first experience
for the day only                                               survived
                                                                        the deception
                                                                        of bus transfers

Or, to put it another way: “for one day only/ you must live & die.” Once McCarthy gets rolling he becomes rhythmic. In “Calgary transit” he verily sings “Miss the bus/ Miss the cab/ Miss the show/ Miss the internet/ MR Lonely.” After that “062 rant transfer” sounds more like a chant than a rant, and “90 minutes” brings us back onboard: “Red sock/Red house//Red rock/ Red route.” This is fun writing devoid of preciousness and seriousness. It’s exactly what you’d want to read riding any city’s public transit.

Reviewed  bAndrew Vaisius, approximately 260 words. (Pictures below.)



Friday 7 October 2016

A Look 'Round - a/g REVIEW

Rev. of George Bowering’s That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go?

                                                     by Joseph LaBine

     There is a baseball on the cover of George Bowering’s latest chapbook from above / ground press. The baseball is a new Chicago poem in six numbered parts. This little chap is delightful. It complements Bowering’s classic Baseball (1967), nearly fifty years after the fact, “The white sphere / turns, rolls / in dark space” still.

     The new poem, “That Toddlin’ Town / Baby, don’t ya wanna go,” is ‘set’ during May 4–9, 2016, at “Miller’s Pub”; the “Art Institute”; a bathroom in the “Palmer House” Hilton; then, down on “Wabash,” and to a game at “Wrigley,” before finally departing from “O’Hare.” All of these places are key sites in Chicago but they also form a ball’s trajectory, a parabolic sequence, or a long weekend stay. The poem is a trip down to Chicago but Bowering’s poetry emphasizes looking rather than anecdote. (Batters have to have a ‘good eye’.)

      Approached in this way, the language of “That Toddlin’ Town” seems less effervescent than its predecessor Baseball. It’s more perceptive, focused on closer observations, and bleak ones. Number “5.” begins with Bryce Harper in the ballpark before dropping down for closer introspection, line by line:

                        in a home run
                        park saturated
                        with fried onion smell.
                        His shoes
                        were pink for
                        mother’s day
                        against cancer,

                        not the Cubs.

 “That Toddlin’ Town” is also funny and playful, sharing in the humour of Bowering’s original ode to the game, but this time with a wondrous dose of crankiness:

                        What did they
intend in
naming the toilet
paper “Envision”?

We are all looking. This is the unifying theme. Bowering simply connects the act of looking with the imagination. The result is the crack of clean contact between the ball and—

                        Unless it or
                        the sky is
moving it can’t be
a skyscraper.

    Strong stanzas encouraging us to wonder, like this one, are tempered by commentary about “cheerless texters” trapped on Smartphones: “Most people / though are looking / downward at info / they might want.”

     Six small, three-stanza sections, six iconic locations, six days, all looking, making snark-comments, all implicitly dedicated to the start of baseball season, and it is a pleasure to read “That Toddlin’ Town” as a single poem at the end of baseball season.   

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Review of Kilby Smith-McGregor

“swelling that anticipates”: Review of Kilby Smith-McGregor’s
Kids in Triage (Hamilton: Buckrider, 2016)—80 Pages—$20
 by Joseph LaBine 

     Kilby Smith-McGregor won the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award and her debut poetry collection, Kids in Triage, explores elegiac and sorrowful lyric forms.

     The book is a dizzying overcoming. Its media-stained elegies point to kitschy common fetishes: fear, emergencies, deviant sex, public and private grief. Smith-McGregor insightfully acknowledges how we value surface truths. The opening epigraph from Wallace Stevens is a curious touchstone in regard to this theme:

It is a violence from within
that protects us from a
violence without.

     Stevens’s lines inform Smith-McGregor’s most emotive poems and, particularly, “The Wife of the Man I’m seeing”:

                                    Gets hold of me in the shower, slides
                                    her fingers down my ribs and cups
                                    my belly from behind. I’m afraid she’ll
                                    jam her pinky in my navel and deflate me,
                                    or pry out the umbilical root and pull.  (58)
Here the title drops down and, as with every breaking line, “slides” arrestingly to surprise the reader each time: fingers slide, hands cup a “belly”; breaking the line between “she’ll / jam” quite literally jams the syntax, the comma “deflate[s]” the sentence; but none of these are more tantalizing and threatening than the concluding image in the last line of the stanza, “pry out the umbilical root and pull.”

     The word economy of “The Wife of the Man” and the effect of its line breaks make it a great poem. It is one of Smith-McGregor’s best - mysterious and yet direct, powerful but vulnerable, deeply maternal. In a small space one sees the driving motifs of the collection some of these include pregnancy, motherhood, divorce, the entitlement children feel they have, grief, and both physical and emotional trauma.

     The aim of the more ambitious, technical side of Kids in Triage is to catalog impossibilities / miscatalog. The headier poems in the book frequently elide clarity, confound, and confuse the reader. Brecken Hancock notes this is part of Smith-McGregor’s technique, “to provide a diagnostic manual for the mess of the human condition.” But many of these poems are bereft of meaning and will leave the average reader wondering whether or not they are failures. The notes on pages [69-71] help with some of these longer sequences especially the poems that fail to establish an emotional connection through the use of the lyric mode, like “Untitled (NO RADIO)” and “From The Artist’s Private Collection.” Such academic pieces would be better served in a thesis or a project where requisite theories and the motives for using them are outlined more clearly. 

     Kids in Triage is a varied debut but the poems that dare to be conventional (rather than experiment for the sake of it) show tremendous promise. Smith-McGregor has a seeming predilection for the spoken word, what Gil Adamson calls her “gusts of cadence [and] fired language.” Hearing the book’s more muddled poems spoken aloud may draw them out more.

     Charming design by Wolsak and Wynn (and zephyr paper from Coach House) make Kids in Triage an impressive book. The author is also a “freelance graphic designer” by trade and while the cover is gorgeous in red, and while it anticipates the author’s ode to the colour with “Red pools. / Red glances. / Red glares.” (26-27); one expects a little more from the appearance and visual layout of the poems themselves.