Tag Archives: poetry

Two Houseplants, from above nanopamphlet

Hi everyone,

They’re here! I’ve been waiting for my batch of nanopamphlets to arrive in the mail from Penteract Press over in the UK, and I was delighted to find this bundle waiting in my mailbox (along with a few samples of the press’s many other visual, formal, and constrained poetic projects). Two Houseplants, from above is what the press terms a “nanopamphlet” (which means it’s really tiny) containing two small pieces from a series of visual poems depicting my houseplants, from above. I’ve been working on the series for a long time, but it’s incredibly refreshing to see it materialize in such a beautiful and well-thought-out form. My sincere thanks go out to Penteract for accepting the piece–and doing wonders with it.

 

 

 

 

I only found out about Penteract rather recently, and I’m actually a little sad to hear that they’re transitioning into a small press from a micropress–mostly because it means they’ll no longer be publishing the leaflets and nanopamphlets that have been their hallmark for some time. Still, I wish them the best with their mission to continue raising the profile of experimental visual and formal poetry through book-length publications. In the meantime, I have a whole whack of nanopamphlets to give away, so make sure you ask for one if you run into me!

As always, happy reading. And happy seeing, too!

 

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Two poems in EVENT 47.3, and a note on writing “Non-binary”

Hi all,

Although I’m still waiting to receive my contributor copy of EVENT 47.3 in the mail, I’ve known it’s been out for about a week now, so I figured I’d post before the bulk of you had a chance to hold it in your hands. You’ve probably guessed the news already: two of my poems are featured in the issue, and I couldn’t be more excited! I’m in great company, too, especially with Annick MacAskill (who, apart from being a fabulous poet, reader, and workshopper, also shouted me out on Twitter earlier this week–thanks, Annick!). My sincere thanks go out to the EVENT editorial team for including my contributions (and for the photograph below).

 

 

While I’m excited to see the work in print, I’ve also wondered for some months whether I would, or should, write a note about writing “Non-binary” (which, along with “Object,” is one of the two poems published this month). There’s a lot to say–much more than I initially thought, actually–but I think it’s still worth keeping in mind that anything I have to say here should be purely subordinate to the poem and its effects on you and others.

It might make sense to begin by saying that, to me at least, “Non-binary” isn’t exclusively about non-binary gender identity. That the term has come to signify a way of identifying outside of a particular gender binary is noteworthy, I think, considering the many forms of non-binary thinking and acting highlighted by a variety of theoretical and practical outlooks, many of which are or have been important to me in my life. On this broad level, I trust that non-binary individuals and their allies also have some appreciation for the overlap in meanings. On the other hand, to the extent that the poem is about non-binary identity more narrowly defined, I don’t intend to implicate ‘non-binariness’ as a homogeneous category or even a single objective concept. I understand that, by its very nature, it means very different things to the many different individuals who live it or live alongside it.

In an important sense, “Non-binary” is very much about how I relate to non-binariness within a certain strain of my personal experience. Why did I write it? I think there are at least a few good reasons why I shouldn’t have; for example, it may be that my perspective simply isn’t relevant, or that by framing the topic according to my own experience as a cis-man I am contributing to the exclusion and marginalization of stakeholders whose voices need to be heard more urgently. I think I’m willing to take responsibility for either of those eventualities (or any others that may come up), and I hope my actions will make good on that promise if the situation demands it. I believe it is important for a writer to consider whether the publication of their work may cause harm, and to take responsibility when it does. However, I don’t think this should be the predominant consideration in the decision to write or publish–especially when the ostensibly safer option (i.e., to not publish at all, or to publish only within a conventionally acceptable range of themes and topics) could reflect and reinforce a complacency that is itself a form of harm.

Some of what I’ve written about non-binary identity may be a reactionary response to difference, and again, I think I can own that if it is the case. But I also think there are more nuanced and mixed-up emotions in the poem, including significant doses of envy and shame. I understand identity, at least as I experience it, as something both socially constructed and (to an extent) fluid. In saying that, I don’t mean to implicate an abstracted monolith of capital-S Society; rather, society for me is the particular matrix of people I find myself surrounded by–including individuals who are non-binary and those who truck with them. In this context, part of my response to seeing how other people represent themselves is to wonder how I might follow or might have followed their example more or less than I have. I have defined myself in relation to others, and by doing so differently, I might have opened different sets of doors to both my surroundings and my own wants and needs, in essence becoming a different person. This is of course a continuing process, but it is also one in which history (both personal and cultural) remains an enduring factor: I am whatever I become, but I am also my past. These (im)possibilities of perpetual (re)construction weigh on me when I reflect on the identities I’ve taken up and carried with me over time, as I have tried to do in “Non-binary.” Hopefully that reflection can help me change what needs to be changed, as well as inhabit more ethically what probably won’t change.

I’m not sure if EVENT‘s editors bargained for any of this when they decided to publish “Non-binary.” In fact, I don’t really know what they bargained for, considering how little the discourse around publishing addresses what our writing actually says about us (especially when that discourse is shared among folks with normative identities in relation to gender, sex, race, ability, etc.). Ultimately, I hope this note doesn’t seem like an attempt to cover my bases or preempt any criticisms that might be raised against “Non-binary” (honestly, I’m not entirely sure anyone even cares that much). What I really want is to talk about these topics more, because that discourse, I think, is valuable in itself.

 

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“The Leader’s Wrongness” in Juniper 2.2

Hi folks,

Some good news today: the newest issue of Juniper, which happens to contain my short poem “The Leader’s Wrongness,” has just been released online! Juniper is an online poetry journal that’s been going strong since its founding last year by Lisa Young, an old acquaintance of mine from my days at Existere, and I owe her considerable thanks for including my writing. I’m also excited to discover that issue 2.2 features work from some other great fellow poets, including Dane Swan and Sonia Di Placido. If you’d prefer to just skip forward to my contribution, though, you can read “The Leader’s Wrongness” here.

The first draft of this poem pretty much came out of nowhere, and it still throws me for a loop. Hopefully you enjoy the read. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to diving into the rest of this issue’s inclusions…

As always, happy reading!

 

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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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“Sunlight” in The Malahat Review 203 (summer 2018)

Hi all,

The new issue of The Malahat Review showed up in my mailbox just yesterday, and I’m excited to announce that one of my poems, “Sunlight,” is nestled within its pages! I’d like to extend my thanks to the journal’s editors for selecting my piece, and for the care they’ve taken in publishing it.

Although it’s not absolutely explicit in the journal (nor should it be, now that I see the poem in its published context), “Sunlight” is one of many poems that have emerged from my thinking about and caring for the houseplants that have accompanied me through the last several years. I do think, however, that there might be a fair bit more to take from the poem, so I hope that you find your own truth (or opinion) within it if you get the chance to pick up an issue.

In any case, and as always, happy reading!

 

 

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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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