Thursday, November 29, 2012


Buy any two backlist trade books, including 2011 titles (at 20% off), and you will receive a spring 2013 poetry book for FREE. See the flyer for more information. Go to now! Sale ends December 31st.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of Gunmetal Blue: A Memoir

A section reprinted from a review of Gunmetal Blue in subTerrain (vol. 7.61 2012)

"I could not put Neilson’s work down. I was compelled to finish it—and this alone speaks for its merit. He writes from an unusual place: a doctor-poet saddled with the weight of depression who writes from all these vantage points. He opens his Prologue by finding common ground between doctoring and poetry: The major characteristic of the practice of poetry and medicine is that both can always be done better.” From here, he maps out the ways in which the circumstances of his life traverse each other: how medicine influences poetry and vice versa; how poetry led him into a downward slide, how both doctoring and poetry heal his inner wounds, and how his knowledge of medicine intersects with the healing process."

"In the first two chapters, “Uncle Miltie and the Locked Ward” and “Mental Illness,” Neilson describes his descent into “madness”—his gradual loss of purchase on a life that supposedly offered stability, status, and respect. The first chapter takes us through his attempted suicide—walking off a third-storey balcony because death seemed like the best way to escape the pain. His survival means that he becomes his colleagues’ patient in the hospital where he himself works. He eventually spends six months in a psychiatric ward where he is forced to confront his depressive mood disorder and decide to get better. This is an important distinction that Neilson is careful to make: he decides to forego electroconvulsive therapy, climb out of the cavernous darkness on his own and find wellness in his profession, his marriage, and family life—and as a poet."

"In the second half of the volume, Neilson’s tone changes. He tells stories of doctoring and care-giving, of ethical and internal conflict and of professional conscience. In essence, he looks outward at the mechanics of his calling. This provides some much-needed balance, made innovative by a somewhat academic appreciation of other doctor poets. While in places, Neilson’s writing could have been tighter, his work left me with a sense of completeness, of someone having come full circle through challenge and heartache—back to health."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Reprint: Review of Not With a Bang

CanLit for Little Canadians (Oct. 2012)

While reading Not With a Bang, I felt as if I was holding a cousin of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat and Wept (1945) — a novella of such intensity and poetic intelligence that it does not spend the time drawing readers towards a climax but simply catapults us to it and keeps us there for the entire book. Although the title of Gail Sidonie Sobat's newest book is derived from a line in the final stanza of T. S. Eliot's poem, The Hollow Men,

"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper"

suggesting an ending of indifference, Not With a Bang harbours no such apathy, but rather presents its beginning, middle and end with zeal for living.

After he is charged and convicted of a crime, seventeen-year-old Jan is instructed to stay away from Snake, the drug dealer with whom he'd been associating, and given community service at the Glamorrah Seniors' Hospice. Although his community service seems tortuous at first, Jan finds himself curious about his charge, seventy-two-year-old Al Coxworth, a man who seems to know a lot about music, poetry and life in general. More importantly, Al is the man "who bothered to listen to him." (pg. 56) Without even noticing, Jan begins to appreciate and recognize the validity and value of Al's comments and opinions, taking Jan from an angry, self-absorbed teen (still dealing with his father's infidelity and his parents' subsequent and acrimonious divorce) to a compassionate, open-minded young man. It's not surprising that with his growing attachment to Al and the guidance he provides that Jan is determined to help Al when he asks for assistance.

While Not With a Bang has a commanding plot and one that I choose not to give away in this review, it's the characters that drew me to embrace its story. Jan is hard-edged in his vocabulary, his actions, and his relationships and is probably more similar to a typical teen than not. Al sees him as "a kid who coulda." (pg. 8) On the other hand, Al is a man with a poet's heart who lived through the "make love, not war" 1960's but still seems a mix of contradictions. As different as the two are, the emotional guidance and unconditional support that Al provides brings Jan to provide the same for his new confidant.

Gail Sidonie Sobat is an expert in addressing critical issues for teens in uncharacteristic story lines. Her teens are always real (though not always likeable) with authentic voices, likely taken from her vast experiences as a teacher and writing mentor for YouthWrite, a camp for young writers. She eloquently tackled homosexuality and homophobia in Chance to Dance for You (Great Plains, 2011) and anorexia and mental illness in Gravity Journal (Great Plains, 2008) and now suggests readers think about drug use and euthanasia as embedded issues. Without forcing her own ideas on her readers, Gail Sidonie Sobat allows glimpses into worlds that some readers may never experience, thereby increasing awareness, or that some have experienced, thereby providing validation for their realities. Not With a Bang is neither far-fetched nor commonplace but insightful, challenging to views usually long-held, and sublimely powerful. I've learned never to expect less from Gail Sidonie Sobat; I've never been disappointed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Malahat Review of Hummingbird

The Malahat Review (Autumn 2012)

Anyone who writes with the flourish and intensity of John Wall Barger deserves to be read and re-read. His ability to linger over a scene, to ruminate over its history and give himself over to the poetic impulse is complete and genuine. That capacity reaches its apex in the title poem of Hummingbird, a wild subterranean journey into the underbelly of modern Mexico that takes as its model similar descents in the works of Homer, Virgil, and Dante:

…I turn to face Octavio Paz,
eyes broad & generous, he takes
my hand—where are we going? I ask
he smiles, leads me back to market,
now a blueprint of hell, mobs of urban nomads,
lawyers, fishermen, scabby-headed urchins
converge on a man in a straw costume
panting, bleeding at the mouth…

Barger not only asks questions but, in the intemperate fashion of Dante and Virgil, tries to participate in the assault unfolding before him, only to be held back by his guide on the journey, the much loved Mexican poet, Octavio Paz. Unlike his predecessors, however, Paz remains silent and promises nothing beyond what other artists, including Seamus Heaney and painter Frida Kahlo, are pleased to teach Barger going forward. No idealized Beatrice or souls of the dead await Barger by journey’s end, only a communion with great poets, there to invigorate Barger’s art: “blind Akhmatova, powerhouse / bandaged in alpaca, with cane & jar / ploughs her way through these sleepwalkers, / I sing with her of firedogs, blindfolded horses....” Together, Barger and Akhmatova “sing arm in arm of auguries / dead friends” until “exposed, I wake outside my spiral shell / into my real life, the one that’s been waiting / on the El Rosario where slain warriors / return as hummingbirds, where this world / touches the other….”

The swell and roll of images remind me a little of Lowry’s Under the Volcano (also referenced in the poem), a drunken immersion in the chaos of modern Mexico that doesn’t hesitate to link Mexican culture and deadly contemporary politics—witness Barger’s encounter with a murdered Mexican in the street “sneakers blown / off, fly down, temple gashed, eyes open / stomach soft as a broken wing.” Barger’s poem is effective because of its commitment to the brutality of images and to a carefully conceived rhythmic strategy that meshes with that brutality. Comparatively short lines, enjambments, and deep indents drive the poetry forward, give it a wonderful immediacy borne up by an abiding, fearful curiosity very much in keeping with Barger’s predecessors and the subterranean narrative tradition out of which he is writing here. A fascinating poem, and well worth the journey.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Elisabeth Harvor's quotable


What can be retrieved of what’s
lost is this morning’s cool question

as I hurry past Room 19 to see a nurse
part the sky, then turn to untie

the flaps of a hospital gown
exposing skin too old to wince

at the held glint of a needle,
the bed with its crank

to raise a headache up,
to lower a headache down

while in Room 29 the eyes
recall happier turns in the heart’s

mobile weather, in memory’s
bold cargo: leg paint and cigarettes

to ignite the whirl
of dancing the night away

the nights a destroyer
would dock in the harbour,

music floating out over the long shine
of that bay of bays, the Bay of Fundy,

while a long row of pale legs begins stepping
backwards, then in long unison surges

forward to the crash of movie surf,
crash of cymbals, each knee

raised and tipped back, each knee
what’s pulled back for each archer’s arrow

to salute the night’s higher lights,
to aim a kick at tomorrow,

synchronized legs haloed by tilted
feathers, the swivel of lipstick, of hips,

of light on the rim of a glass of stale
Ginger ale while today’s ten o’clock sun

squints under clouds floating
low over a morning whose air,

bright with a chill in it,
carries the pert scent of snow.

From Elisabeth Harvor’s An Open Door in the Landscape
Palimpsest Press 2010
Trade paperback
ISBN 978-1-926794-01-3

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November Events

Suzanne Collins
Saturday Nov. 3rd at 4pm
Book launch of Skinny Dipping
Atrium of High Park Lofts
437 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto

Ariel Gordon
Thursday, November 1 at 7pm

McNally Robinson Grant Park
1120 Grant Avenue. Winnipeg

Darryl Whetter
November 15 at 8 pm
Reading from Origins
Hot Sauced Words Reading Series
154 Danforth Ave (2nd floor). Toronto

November 20 at 8pm
Reading from Origins
539 Bloor Street West.
Art Bar Poetry Series. Toronto

Gail Sidonie Sobat
November 18th
Pure Speculation Festival
Panelist: What Scares Us?
Grant MacEwan University. Edmonton