Category Archives: Toronto

the ratio of an earthworm

Hi all,

I hope everyone’s coming to terms with our descent into fall. I’m sill on a bit of a high after my reading at Shab-e She’r last week, and I wanted to take the chance to celebrate another event from last month.

Back at the beginning of September, artists/curators/friends Larissa Tiggelers and Patrick Cruz were generous enough to include some of my verse and visual poetry in their outdoor art exhibition and gathering, the ratio of an earthworm. The poems include “Exit,” one of the many I’ve written for my houseplants, and some visual pieces depicting my houseplants from above. It’s difficult to tell in the photographs, but these really look fantastic, especially insofar as they’ve been incorporated into the physical environment of the backyard. Being someone whose work is normally only reproduced on paper and computer screens, it blew me away to see my text integrated with the dimensions of concrete space and light.

Many thanks to Larissa for these photographs, and to Hiba Abdallah (another fabulous artist/friend) for helping with the installation!

 

 

 

Although I won’t post any more pictures here, I think it’s also worth highlighting how much I enjoyed the exhibition/gathering itself. To my understanding, Larissa and Patrick imagined the ratio of an earthworm as a chance for artists to show their work in a one-day, no-strings-attached celebration of creativity and community, without the hassle of dealing with the fine art institution. In this pursuit, they absolutely succeeded. Perhaps more importantly, though, I was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing everyone’s art (and there was a lot of it) in a garden setting that integrated each piece with the earth and plant life in its environs. Having that kind of aesthetic experience in a setting that differed intensely from the conventional white cube opened my eyes to the truly innumerable ways art can impact the mind and soul.

If any of this interests you, Larissa also produced an excellent exhibition text for the event that you should check out; you can find it on her website here. Hopefully, there will be more events like this in the months and years to come!

 

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Feature reading at Shab-e She’r on September 25th

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ve been having a great summer! Not too long ago, Bänoo Zan (incomparable poet, superstar organizer, and…well, if you’ve spent any time in the Toronto poetry scene, you know her already!) asked me if I’d like to feature at her monthly poetry night, Shab-e She’r, which happens to be one of my favourite open mics in the city. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the announcements have been made, the tweets have been retweeted, and the facebook event is live–in other words, it’s happening! I couldn’t be more delighted to be featuring alongside Jennifer Alicia at the event, and I really hope you’ll join me there.

Aside from the general quality of the work that graces Shab-e She’r’s stage, I find that the event’s diversity of styles and voices makes it an excellent window into the landscape of contemporary poetry. If you’d like to come listen (or even read a piece on the open mic!), you can catch it on Tuesday, September 25th–6:30pm for open mic sign-up, and 7:00pm for the show. The event costs $5, and you can check out the facebook event for more details. Also, note that the September reading will be held at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave.), not the Church of St. Stephen in the Fields (which is a bit of a shame, since I love the church’s architecture and acoustics, but ultimately I think both are great venues).

Shab-e She’r prides itself on being “the most diverse poetry and open mic series in Toronto,” and while I suspect that folks like me don’t contribute very much to that boast, I’m hoping to reflect on the theme by sharing some work that tries to situate my ethnic and cultural identity. It’s tricky business, of course, so I’ll probably let the poems do most of the talking. But I have received some really encouraging feedback on recent work I’ve embarked on in this vein, so I couldn’t be more excited for the chance to present it to Shab-e She’r’s audience.

In any case, I’ll see you next month!

 

 

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The fourth J: reading at knife | fork | book this Friday

Hi all,

Although there’s been quite a bit going on over at my Instagram, it’s been a while since my last blog post. Nonetheless, I wanted to take a second to say how excited I am to be reading for a second time at knife | fork | book, which has pretty quickly become my favourite poetry venue in Toronto. While my last reading there coincided with the launch of my Anstruther Press Manifesto Series chapbook, this one is owed mostly to an accident of birth: Kirby (k | f | b’s lovely proprietor) had the wonderfully weird idea of booking a sausage party (his words) with four J-named individuals, and I happened to fit the bill. (Although, as James Lindsay pointed out on Twitter, the quartet of himself, Jimmy McInnes, Jim Johnstone, and me is more precisely three Jameses and a John, so perhaps my being there wasn’t predestined after all?)

In any case, I have a great deal of respect for each of my co-readers and the various dimensions of their poetic work, and I’d highly recommend coming out to see them. For my part, I’ll be seizing the opportunity to present a mix of old favourites and new, unpublished poems that I hope will make for a good show overall. And besides all that, knife | fork | book is just about the coziest place you could find yourself in the early hours of a summer Friday night; just remember you’ll be asked to take off your shoes!

The show takes place this Friday, June 15th, with doors opening at 6:30 and poetry beginning at 7:00 (sharp!). Knife | fork | book is located at 244 Augusta Ave. (second floor) in Kensington Market. See you there!

 

 

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Slogan, Substance, Dream: keywords for a responsible poetry at the Anstruther Press Spring Launch

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long winter. I don’t think I’m quite ready to pull myself out of hibernation on my own, but it looks like the forces of the spring launch season are beckoning me into the limelight: this Friday, I’ll be reading from my new manifesto chapbook, Slogan, Substance, Dream: keywords for a responsible poetry, at the Anstruther Press Spring Launch at Jeff Kirby’s much-beloved Kensington Market bookstore, knife fork book. I’ll be launching alongside the venerable authors listed on the poster below, and though I only have a few minutes, I’m looking forward to offering some of my thoughts on the new chapbook and reading from a section or two. Doors open at 6:30pm this Friday, March 9th at knife fork book at Kensington’s Dark Side Studio (244 Augusta Avenue), and the poetry begins at 7:00; check it out on knife fork book’s blog or facebook.

If you’re planning to come, it’s best to keep two things in mind: (1) bring cozy socks, since the shop/studio is a shoeless space; (2) kfb events, at least as far as I understand, start ON TIME!

 

 

Slogan, Substance, Dream is something a little special; rather than a book of poetry or creative fiction, it’s a concise prose manifesto written for Anstruther’s Manifesto Series. The series is edited by Shane Neilson, and Jim Johnstone and Erica Smith also contributed immensely to the chapbook’s execution; I owe them all great thanks for helping me get it out into the world.

Shane first asked me if I’d be interested in writing a manifesto at least two years ago (perhaps even longer), and although I’ve been committed to the project since then, my thoughts and beliefs about poetry and my role in it have transformed many times since I began writing. Several people who have read the final version of Slogan, Substance, Dream have told me that it is very much a poetic text–full-blown poetry, even!–but even as I take their evaluation seriously, I can’t stress enough that it isn’t the case for me. Even at its most abstract and imagistic, the manifesto is my best attempt at honestly expressing what I believe my and others’ poetry should strive for.

The manifesto (like much of my PhD research, which, though distinct, has greatly inspired it) is about responsibility, and part of the process of writing it has involved grappling with the question of whether expressing my “should” (or, indeed, writing anything called a “manifesto”) could ever be a responsible act. In truth, I’m still not sure it is. However, my work on the project has led me to the conclusion that, in order to present myself as a writer at all, I can’t help but strike a balance between acceptance and assessment, absorption and imposition, listening and speaking out. In other words, to respond ethically to the world in an act of creative expression, I also have to be confident enough to expose the person I really am and the thoughts I really think. And if this means that, ostensibly, I sometimes pursue the fantasy of imposing my beliefs on others, I only hope they realize that I’m just one person, that the power I have over them is only that of one person in a world of very many, and that I have no interest in presenting myself as anything else.

One of the ways of summarizing the argument of Slogan, Substance, Dream would be to say that this is all a manifesto–or perhaps any piece of writing–can or should do. With that in mind, there’s nothing left for me but to leave it to its work.

 

 

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The Toronto Zine Off and Epistolary Shapes

Hey all,

I had to post a little bit about the fabulous first (with hopefully more to come) Toronto Zine Off, which I attended last night at The Steady (a well loved venue that will unfortunately be closing at the end of the month–it will be missed!). Organized, in part, by friend and fellow poet JM Francheteau on the model of his Ottawa zine offs, the event was intended as a deadline to create a new zine to trade with fellow zine makers. In short, I took up the challenge, had a blast, and came home with a bunch of zines to thumb through! I’d say the night was quite a success, and I’m looking forward to follow-ups being announced on the new Toronto Zine Off facebook group.

 

Here’s my and Miles Forrester’s zine, Epistolary Shapes, next to some promo copies of Carousel generously provided by Mark Laliberte:

 

And here’s JM’s photo of all the zines he collected last night (my haul was pretty much the same):

 

Epistolary Shapes came out of a collaborative project Miles and I started this past summer, before he moved out to Montreal to study at Concordia. The two of us wrote short poems by responding to each other line by line, ensuring each line fit a pre-established length constraint. Although we had always had the intention of transforming the resulting source texts into visual pieces, it took the zine off to finally push us into realizing our vision: after a marathon bout of editing and visualization (all of the final products were put together over about 24 hours), we came up with eight visual poems for the zine. Here are two:

 

Overall, the past few days have been a pretty exciting way to jump back into zine culture. It’s been a while since I did anything more than gawk at all the tables at Canzine (which I’m not even sure I’ll get to do this year, with IFOA events looming large on my schedule), but last night really reminded me that it’s zine people who make zines such a valuable part of culture. I met and chatted with a lot of fine folks last night, from old friends to new, and I hope to see more of them soon!

 

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Reading at the International Festival of Authors October 21

Hi all,

I’m still pretty hyped from my reading at The Sophisticated Boom Boom last week, but it’s about time now to push forward and look ahead to my next performance, which will in fact be quite different. As a very welcome follow-up to my reading at the International Festival of Authors Poetry NOW competition earlier this year, I’ve been invited to participate in the festival’s main programming next month! I’ll be featured as part of the “Poetic New Worlds” event on Saturday, October 21st alongside an all-star cast of poets, including fellow Poetry NOW performers Dane Swan, Amanda Earl, and David Goldstein, as well as the contest’s winner, Stuart Ross. Honestly, though, there are just too many amazing and deeply respected poets on the program to list…you’ll just have to come out and see them! The event takes place at 4pm on Saturday, October 21st, in Harbourfront Centre’s Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Tickets are $18 or $15 for IFOA sponsors, and can be purchased here, but admission is free for students and youth! This year’s entire IFOA festival takes place between October 19 and October 29.

I’ve said this before, but being invited to perform on the IFOA stage is a huge honour. It should be obvious that this is a BIG festival with BIG names, and among other things it’ll probably have the biggest audience I’ve ever performed for. In addition, I’ll easily be the least experienced poet on stage at “Poetic New Worlds.” Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to helping put on a great show, and to getting a chance to share my approach to poetry with a new set of engaged listeners and readers.

 

 

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Reading at the Sophisticated Boom Boom Wednesday night

Howdy all,

I’ve been bustling around these past few weeks preparing for another school year of full-time dissertating and part-time pseudo-academic labour, but luckily I’m not too busy to read at The Sophisticated Boom Boom‘s 43rd edition this coming Wednesday! By my reckoning, the Boom Boom is a pretty much irreplaceable part of Toronto’s literary scene: a little off the beaten trail of mainstream series, Nick McKinlay and EA Douglas have managed to attract a community of dedicated, envelope-pushing, and mostly emerging poets and weirdos to populate one of the city’s more vibrant open mics. And on top of all that, it’s a late (like, late late) show at the dank back room of The Ossington in the heart of one of the city’s artsiest districts. What’s not to love? Although the series has been on hiatus for the summer months, I’m looking forward to a great crowd for their return show. If you’re thinking of swinging by, it’s 9pm this Wednesday, September 13 at The Ossington (61 Ossington Ave.), and you can check out the facebook event page here.

Along with the aforementioned open mic, I’ll be featuring alongside Inez Genereux. If Inez’s bio on the event’s facebook page is any indication (although there are also other indications), our performances and personas may end up gravitating towards opposite poles of what you might expect from poetry at the Boom Boom. But as far as I’m concerned, that’ll only make the evening more delicious. And besides, since I’ve been psyching myself up to read some very new work this Wednesday (I didn’t think another set from Players would be up to snuff for the Boom Boom audience), who knows what kind of vibe we’ll end up with? The point, of course, is to come find out.

 

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Reading at The Art Bar on August 1

Hi all!

Things have been pretty quiet this month since the amazing time I had doing my Peripheral Review Instagram Residency. (And by quiet, I mean I’ve been writing lots and trying not to talk so much.) I do have one announcement: On Tuesday, August 1, I’ll be reading at the recent reboot of Toronto’s much beloved, longest running weekly poetry reading series, The Art Bar!

I’ve spoken about The Art Bar a few times before…I’ve attended the series for many years and through various venues, and I pretty much cut my teeth on their open mic. I’ve also been featured at the series a few times already (maybe three, by now?) and always had a blast; I find the series tends to attract a mix of die-hard regulars, well established members of Canada’s poetry community (two of which, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco and Mike Burrs, I’ll be reading with two Tuesdays from now), and curious newbies. This time around, I owe some heartfelt thanks to friend, mentor, and dedicated literary organizer Rob Welch for setting everything up.

If you’re interested in checking out the scene and/or seeing me read, I’d love to see you at the show! Also, you can now (apparently) win $20 at the open mic, if you sign up a few days in advance and best the competition on some relatively unorthodox scoring metrics (which you can find more details about here)…so, I guess that’s cool? Anyway, the reading takes place Tuesday, August 1 at the Free Times Cafe (320 College Street), starting at 8pm, with a cover charge of $5. You can also take a look at the event’s facebook page for more info. Hope to see you there!

 

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“for my african violet” in Carousel 38 and “Conscientious Conceptualism” post at The Town Crier

Hi all,

With National Poetry Month (a.k.a. April) on its way out, I wanted to retroactively ‘announce’ two publications that haven’t yet made their way onto the blog.

First, another of my houseplants poems, “for my african violet,” was published in this month’s new issue of Carousel (which has been kicking around for a few weeks now). I’ve raved about Carousel and its publisher, Mark Laliberte, before, but I did want to add that both are also involved with the LitBang! Small Press Pop Up Store, which has been featuring a variety of magazines, books, and book-like ephemera all month long at Queen and Ossington in Toronto. If you haven’t made it over to the pop up yet, you’ve got one more weekend to check it out. (Do it now!)

Second, I’ve had the pleasure over the last month or so of writing a contribution to Andy Verboom’s guest editing stint at The Puritan‘s bloggy appendage, The Town Crier, which has taken the form of a series of posts on “Conscientious Conceptualism and Poetic Practice.” I knew as soon as I saw Andy’s call for submissions that the series would hit close to home, and that it was an opportunity for me to seriously think through (or, more accurately, begin to think through) some parts of my poetic practice and social presence in the literary scene that have troubled me for some time. What I didn’t know was that Andy would turn out to be an incredibly thoughtful, dedicated, and hard-working editor, and that his efforts with the series would give me no end of things to think about, both in print and in camera. Mostly, then, I wanted to thank him for his extraordinary attention and expertise. Otherwise, I’m still waiting to see what kinds of effects (if any) the post and the month of posts will have on my thinking and writing…. As with many projects of this kind, most of what I take away will likely be the lessons I’ve taught myself over the course of researching and articulating my ideas. Still, my ears remain open to any responses, positive or negative, public or private, that anyone might be interested in sharing with me. If you’d like, you can read what I’ve written on the topic of whiteness and conceptualism here.

That’s all for now, although I’m sure I’ll be back here before long with more news. Until then, happy reading!

 

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Gerald Lampert Award shortlist / IFOA Poetry NOW recap

Hi all,

Most of what I have to say has already made its social media rounds, but I think it’s important to step back and reflect on the last few weeks. They’ve been a little overwhelming–full of new connections as well as the re-emergence of unanswerable-as-ever questions.

First, I want to thank the League of Canadian Poets for continuing to sponsor and promote the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for a first book of poetry published by a Canadian, for which Players has been shortlisted this year. There’s probably little to say outside the many congratulations and thanks that have already been offered, although I do want to express my deep appreciation and respect for those who administer the LCP and its awards, those who have served as jurors (both this year and in past years), those who read and spread the news of this year’s shortlist, those who were shortlisted, and those who weren’t–basically, everyone whose contributions of attention, expression, and acknowledgement help support a community of which the 2017 LCP awards shortlists are only one of many centres. I’ve been telling friends outside the poetry community that awards like these are really about creating dialogue and (where necessary) solidarity in the artistic and literary landscape; I just hope I’m not alone in thinking that.

Second, I wanted to drive home what a great time I had at the International Festival of Authors‘ Poetry NOW reading at the end of last month. Aside from making new friends and acquaintances (and reconnecting with some old ones) among the poets and patrons I had the opportunity of spending time with at the event, I was also privileged enough to have a front row seat for some of the best readings/performances I’ve ever heard/seen. Pretty much everyone was good, even though the group represented a massive variety of styles that leaves me no less confused about the performance genre of ‘page poetry’ reading than I was a few weeks ago. Still, I came away with the feeling that I’d learned a lot. Stuart Ross’s victory was very well-earned–Ross has definitely perfected a unique style of performance well-suited to his writing, which may be just the thing that makes a reading memorable–although I was also delighted to see that the IFOA invited a generous helping of the evening’s performers back to give readings at this year’s festival in October. Of course, I’m also excited to say that I was one of the poets invited, which means, I guess, that we’ll be having this conversation all over again in the fall. See you then!

(Finally, I couldn’t help but finish this post off by poaching another of the IFOA’s super-sleek promo photos for Poetry NOW. Congratulations again to all the readers!)

 

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