Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's been a while

since i plugged the 95 books blog. i'm beginning to fall behind in the race to read 95 books this year. okay, it's not a race. But i'm going to win (not really)!

Poking around, i found the Writers in Electronic Residence (WIER) podcast. Here's a cool reading by Margaret Christakos. WIER connects students in elementary and high schools with writers, fostering connections between Canadian writers and young people. This gives a face to literature, an immediacy, that encourages students to participate in both reading and writing cultures. i think it's a great idea, de-mystifying the author and building entryways. It can be hard for youth to enjoy literature if they have teachers who aren't particularly interested in English (since teachers often have to teach an array of subjects, not everyone is lucky enough to have enthusiastic lit teachers). It also moves outside the canon, which can intimidate both potential readers and potential writers--it seems distant and unachievable. Poetry in particular gets a reputation as boring or outdated. What better way to combat that reputation than to get the living, breathing poets of today into classrooms? WIER can be found at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

checking in

Sorry the posting's slowed down since In(ter)ventions. Catching up on work left undone during the conference.

Some great commenting going on in the post on the second night's performances, including a response from writer Lance Olsen. i'd like to encourage everyone to take a look at what's being said, and i would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful, respectful comments thus far.

Will sit down and write out a proper post, and a response to everyone who's commented over the past few days, tomorrow.

In the meantime, i was linked to Tan Lin's Health (Plagarism/Outsource), which is available for download here. Haven't looked at it too closely yet, but it seems like a neat project.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In(ter)ventions - the finale

The last day began with a series of manifestos. Al Filreis, Christian Bök, Kate Pullinger, and Lance Olsen each presented their manifesto for the future of writing. i was very happy that Kate brought up issues of money and power. Both she and Al commented on the insider/outsider dichotomy of writing: the established writers, the writers supported by institutions / the writers outside the institutions, the writers who don't get grants or teaching positions, the writers at the beginning of their careers. Christian Bök did his usual pot-stirring, saying that the avant-garde presumes its own failure. Everyone was invited to write a manifesto and hand it in (maybe some of those will appear online), but there was some resistance. The audience wanted conversation.

i didn't write a manifesto; i think they are counterproductive. Writers need to be flexible and dynamic, not committed to a statement of intent. Manifestos, i think, are militant and dogmatic, argumentative rather than conversational.

Then D Kimm performed. She has great stage presence, and i liked her use of electronic sound. The sentiment of "take me how I am" was cool, though not so much the idea of a lover being "possessed."

The Closing Remarks

Erin Mouré graciously allowed me to speak instead of her. i was torn: i've been saying a lot on this blog, and i don't want to be afraid to say the same things in person. But it was also the end of the conference, and it was very hard to be critical of Steven Ross Smith and the other organizers. i do think they did a good job of running the conference, even if i didn't agree with everything that happened. i did know that others had spoken to me about my blogging, and i wanted to give a brief voice to them. A conference like this has a lot of speaking at, and very little ongoing dialogue, i feel. Twitter alleviated that a little bit, but with so many panels packed in, many important discussions were lost. i brought up class, race, and gender representation. i asked if anyone else had any words, because really, there were other audience members who i know had as much to say as i did. It was a bit unsettling to get up and speak to writers older, more experienced, and many of them smarter than i am. i don't particularly enjoy the role of agitator, but someone has to do it. And really, just as well the conference ends on an unsettling note: isn't that the purpose of innovation? To unsettle and dislodge us? i hope an ongoing conversation emerges, and i invite everyone to comment on my blog, on twitter, and maybe eventually on a forum. There were some great connections made at In(ter)ventions, and i don't want those to be lost.

Fred Wah spoke after me. He said "Why bother?"

Why bother indeed.

In(ter)ventions Showtime Performance The Third

i'd never seen Fred Wah or Charles Bernstein read before tonight. Well, i've seen videos of Charles on youtube, but that's hardly the same.

Fred Wah performed a long poem, "Pop Goes the Hood," while video of urban streets and scenery played beside him. i really could have listened to Fred all night. Eventually, i hope, footage of this poem will emerge on the developing website Fred Wah Digital Archive.

Kate Pullinger (who has also been tweeting the conference) read from her book The Mistress of Nothing. i have not read the book, but as a colleague of mine noted, the romance seems somewhat predictable. An Englishwoman must go to Egypt because of tuberculosis, so she and her maid set out. The minute Kate mentioned an Egyptian manservant, i knew someone was going to sleep with him. Sure enough, Kate read the scene where the maid sleeps with the manservant. From the excerpts read, the novel has a problematic connection with race, exoticizing and othering the Muslim man. Kate also read from a digital work, Flight Paths, which is interesting from the open-source collaboration perspective, but again has the same white woman/Muslim man dynamic (it is about a man who stows away in the landing gear of an airplane, then falls onto a car parked in England as the plane extends the gear, and about the woman who finds him). The characters seem stereotypical--the bored housewife shaken out of complacency by a mysterious foreigner who falls from the sky. i don't think Kate's intentions are bad, but perhaps a deeper questioning about the ethics of race and representation in her work would be worthwhile.

How can i write about Charles Bernstein? His humour is legendary. And i did laugh so hard that i doubled over. And he was the only poet all week whose reading made me cry. Charles read poems he wrote for and about his daughter Emma Bee Bernstein. The poems alternated between tenderness, sorrow, anger, and even humour. Charles looked so strong reading, so dignified, and i was moved. Really moved. When he was done reading, i stood and clapped. Others did as well, until everyone was on their feet. It was the only way to express the appreciation and support i was feeling: appreciation for his poetry, for his wit, his innovation, his practice, for his courage; and support for tragedy, loss and mourning, for coming through mourning and continuing. Charles Bernstein. It was a real privilege to witness this reading.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In(ter)ventions Day 3 Part 3

Panel 3 - Where goes the sentence? Language in a material world
-Moderator: Stephanie Strickland; Panelists: Craig Dworkin, Maria Damon, Adeena Karasick, and Stephen Osborne
--Craig Dworkin gave a great paper about the sentence and cultural grammar. i hope the paper is published; it was dense and i need to hear or see it again before i dare write on it.
--Maria and Adeena gave a joint poetic performance on the words Shmata & Shma'ata. There was a sense of play, but also urgency, Adeena's delivery was quick, occasionally hard to follow. There was a study of etymology and of tradition. Ragman was invoked.
--Stephen Osborne claimed that Canada has no urban narrative, that writers aren't using verbs in the way he would like them to, and that narrative is dead. He launched his blog and a discussion of new media followed. The audience was invited to comment on how twitter uses the sentence. A few people made points about cell phone stories, but it seemed like a somewhat odd discussion to me. Then again, i grew up in a fairly wired environment.
--Kenny Goldsmith won the panel (from the audience) when he said that he teaches his students to do overtly what they'd otherwise do covertly: steal. He said "forget verbs, language is active today."
--J.R. Carpenter noted that in Hebrew, the word for "word" is the same as the word for "event."
--i wanted to ask the panelists to give their definition of a verb, since everyone seemed to be picking up on Osborne's verbal criticism. i was taught that a verb is a word that can be/is conjugated. Any word could be a verb if positioned as a verb in a sentence, because parts of speech are relative. Osborne seems to have a formula for how many verbs should be in a sentence, and which types of verbs count as verbs (he doesn't like "watch" "stand" or "sit" apparently), though i didn't follow him closely enough to figure out what that formula was. He was too old-school for my tastes.

In(ter)ventions Day 3 part 2

i should probably mention i'm also tweeting bits and pieces -- search for #interventions on twitter

Panel 2 - New Form(alities)
-Moderator Lance Olsen, panelists Steve Tomasula, Charles Bernstein, and Erin Mouré
--Olsen opened asking everyone to think about 1. narrative and 2. the politics of structure
--Erin Mouré changed the panel title to "Huh? Modalities," saying that forms imply an end rather than a production. She discussed collaboration, appropriation (involuntary collaboration), and translation, noting that her practices of translation cannot be categorized into "professional" "hobby" "trans(e)lation," because they are all the same practice.
--Steve Tomasula appeared to have a picture of Nausicaa as his desktop background. He discussed his project TOC which is described as "an evocative fairy tale with a steampunk heart" on the cover. i was impressed at the slick aesthetic of the novel, and by his discussion of the collaboration process.
--Charles Bernstein, who sat near the back of the audience and presented from there, discussed his collaborations with Susan Bee and Richard Tuttle. My favourite lines "battle of the dinosaur technologies--painting & poetry" "think digitally, act analogically" and "BE QUIET DUMMYHEAD."
--The Q & A session was great. Erin Mouré said "Once I knew my work was difficult, I could write in other languages." And both Erin and Steve responded to a question i asked about how technology impacts collaboration by giving examples of how tech enables cross-generational and cross-cultural communication, meaning writers have more access to other writers and artists they might not otherwise get to connect with.

The two panels this morning were definitely the best so far. They begin to explore issues of race, class, gender, language, community, and interaction that panels on previous days tended to avoid.

Interventions Day 3 part 1

There's been a lot going on; i'll divide the day so far into 2 or 3 posts. i'm skipping the afternoon sessions because i've got a lot to chew on, so i apologize to those not in attendance who are intervening vicariously through me.

Panel 1 - Betwixt & Between--collaboration & cross-disciplinary literary creation

-Jen Bervin, Fred Wah and D Kimm, moderated by Larissa Lai; Daphne Marlatt was supposed to participate, but couldn't make the conference. Larissa delivered Marlatt's paper instead.
--Jen Bervin (whose website is REALLY COOL) talked about her tactile/textile art projects. She makes beautiful things, and is currently working on a scale model of the Mississippi 250ft long, made from sequins hand sewn together. She was, i believe, the third poet to talk about Emily Dickinson; interesting that Dickinson's influence is moving deeply through the conference, while the people i expect to hear about (Black Mountain poets, for example) have largely been unmentioned.
--D Kimm rocked the conference. She says "I am the French at this conference" and proceeded to talk about her participation in the Montreal artists community as a bridge builder between French & English artists. "Being edgy is taking risks" and the "process is more interesting than the result" were two of her comments on the conference thus far, and i think she raised great points. Artist involvement in community, in performance is clearly very important to Kimm, and although i'd never heard of her before, she got me REALLY EXCITED about the possibilities of intersections between performance & text.
--Larissa Lai read Daphne Marlatt's paper; i think it was the first time i heard Charles Olson mentioned. What struck me most was Larissa reading a paper Daphne Marlatt wrote in the first person, especially since Larissa's been talking so much about the subjective "I" emerging and disappearing in her own writing. Neat to hear about the writing of Steveston and it's long influence on Marlatt's career.
--Fred Wah focused on hybridity and betweenness, talking about his collaboration with Haruko Okano, who was interested in Pidgin Japanese spoken in internment camps during WWII. Fred drew attention to ideas of mixed, of colours, of race, and of contamination.
--An audience member asked "How does the avant-garde know that it is avant-garde?" to which Jen responded "I prefer the term that came up yesterday, the 'rear guard.'"

Friday, February 19, 2010

In(ter)ventions Showtime Performance The Second

The readers were J.R. Carpenter, Erin Mouré, and Lance Olsen.

J.R. Carpenter
began with a great feminist essay about women and technology from xxxboîte. She then presented a new multimedia work that incorporated google maps and videos (that she filmed & edited) with the text. It was a great reading.

Erin Mouré always gives a fabulous performance. There was a bit of a technical snag; Mouré's earing was jangling against her mic, and a tech guy disrupted the performance to fix it. But she handled the situation with good humour, and gave an animated reading from her new book O Resplandor. i really wish her reading was longer.

The order was unfortunate. The last presentation wiped the previous ones very much from my mind, because it was so upsetting. i apologize for talking so briefly about two amazing poets, and dedicating so much space to the third.


Lance Olsen's presentation was a video collaboration based on his novel Head in Flames about the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. i won't link to Olsen's site, because he is an artist who seems to consider being offensive the same as being "cutting edge," a reactionary posture against progressive movements. The video was scenes from van Gogh's film Submission which is a fictional account of abused Muslim women. The film is graphic, sexualized, and exoticized: the woman (one actress plays all the characters) are wearing a see-through chador, except when she is writhing on the ground covered in open whip wounds. It looks like porn, with lots of intense shots focusing on the curve of the stomach and the space between the breasts. What i found most disturbing was that Olsen and his collaborator chose to erase the woman's voice, inserting Olsen reading his novel as the soundtrack. If the point of the film was originally to give voice to abused women in Islam, that point was entirely lost. Olsen's voice itself was hard to follow, becoming mostly background noise. The only line i heard clearly was something along the lines of "stop whining like a woman." Interesting choice of words, considering that women are often silenced, and that a woman telling a story of physical abuse is not whining at all. Sure, the novel was not written specifically to be juxtaposed with the film (as far as i know), but a little bit of consideration is in order here. Women are often silenced; abused women and minority women even more so (these groups are not meant to be mutually inclusive or exclusive; they overlap, but not always).

i don't know if Olsen's novel is any different, but the presentation was misogynistic and racist. It plays directly into western fantasies of what a Muslim woman is or should be. It offers womens' bodies as objects to be gazed upon, their suffering as titillation for the viewer.

The audience was given no time to respond to the video. No Q & A was scheduled for this reading. i wish one had been; i would have liked to question Olsen directly. i'm writing this in a state of tired rage. i get the impression that the video is provocative simply because it can be.

To counter all this regressive violence, i'm going to suggest heading over to Shakesville, which is progressive, feminist, and a safe space.

In(ter)ventions part III

Literary Film & Video

Presented by Ram Devineni, this presentation showcased collaborations of short film & poetry featured in the Rattapalax DVD magazine. i can't find my favourite video, 49?, which featured a Native American poet asking people on the streets of Seattle what an Indian 49 is. The video had a great streak of humour.

Also shown was a short based on Blake:

After that there were two simultaneous open paper sessions. The one I chose to sit in on began with Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts performing The Obvious Flap, a really cool sound poetry/electronic performance. It was playful, it had props, it had a great deal of punning, and it had semantic noise. What more could anyone ask for? At times, i was reminded of Ionesco's Rhinocéros (mostly because there was a dog).

Following that, Marie Smart presented a paper on cryptography and Duchamp. It was pretty neat, but i can't decipher my notes. Sorry.

Last was John Cayley and a paper called Writing Breaking Media. i think i missed what he was trying to say, perhaps because i grew up with the internet. He was "trying to demonstrate...the odd relationship between writing & its medium" by showing text rotating beneath a 3d pipe in a virtual space. The text disappears at 90 degrees, the pipe doesn't. After this revelation, there was a brief awkward Q & A, where nothing was really answered. So it goes.

In(ter)ventions part II

Taking the afternoon off to get caught up on werk. i enjoyed the panels this morning, though i do have some criticism (again) about the lack of female writers & writers of colour involved on the panels. Serious gaps in the program, wonder which of the panelists were invited, which sent proposals, and how the imbalance in representation can be addressed.

Notes from this morning (or, in which i end my literary career before it even begins):

Panel 1
-Christian Bök, Larissa Lai, and Nick Montfort on a panel moderated by Maria Damon discussed the questions "What is literature today" and "what is writing."
--i was very glad to have Larissa on the panel as a counterpoint to Nick and Christian. Nick Montfort was displaying his ppg256, an open source perl code that generates poetry. Christian was talking about his Xenotext Experiment, a poem encoded on the DNA of Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacterium that can survive the most extreme conditions imaginable. Larissa wrote a polyvocalic essay about writing, about the struggle to write from outsider and/or minority positions. The juxtaposition with the other work was fascinating, because she was the only one to address issues of class, race, and gender. Digital poetry, and genetic poetry are class issues: they require access to technology that not everyone shares. Larissa's work provided a subtext to the discussion, and I feel that the panel, while interested, avoided a discussion of ethics that would have been very beneficial.
--Not to say that i don't enjoy what Nick and Christian are doing. Nick's work in particular examines the interface between reader, writer, and computer, and i really dig the spirit of open-source creative projects. It just seemed to me that these two poets are working from a position of privilege that avoids addressing difference. The Xenotext Experiment, especially, fails to address the ideas that culture is not monolithic, that it perhaps cannot and should not be encapsulated for posterity, and makes assumptions about future & distant sentience (namely, that it will decode the poetry because it thinks in a way similar enough to current humanity to understand that what it sees is a cultural artifact, or that it will give a damn that there once was a culture that added poetry to the genetic structures of bacteria).

Panel 2
-Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Osborne, and Steve Tomasula, on a panel moderated by Al Filreis. Under discussion: what is reading today.
--Kenneth Goldsmith's reading was very cool. The radio/tv announcements from four American disasters: The assassination of JFK, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and the assassination of John Lennon. Historic events forever encoded in the reactions of the reporters who were on air at the time. All I could think of through the first two readings was Clone High (at the 1:00 minute mark of the video):

--Steve Tomasula made some really interesting remarks about the reading experience, and the gaze the reader brings to a work of literature. Had a picture of a contemporary artist who took the Emily Dickinson poem [I took my power in my hand] and imposed the text on blue on a woman of colour's body; wish I caught the name of the artist/piece. Notes every reading is a mis-reading.
--Stephen Osborne notes that creative writing students today are afraid of plagiarism, and so avoid imitation. Also points out the divide between reading & writing in most English departments.
--Great audience questions about power structures. Kenneth Goldsmith is trying to keep ubuweb underground and off google. i have obviously embraced the google beast, seeing as i'm on blogger and use a gmail account, and wave, and buzz, and reader, and oh god the overlords have found me i've said too much send help

Thursday, February 18, 2010


i'm at the In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge conference in Banff right now. The conference is a gathering of avant-garde writers, there will be discussion the state of contemporary literature supplemented by a number of readings. It's off to a fairly good start: an interesting introductory talk by Charles Bernstein, Erin Mouré, and Fred Wah, followed by a public reading with Nick Montfort, Larissa Lai, and Chris Funkhouser. Lai was not on the original schedule, but Daphne Marlatt couldn't make the conference at the last minute. It was nice to see Lai read, and I couldn't help but notice she was the only Person of Colour on the docket. Not a very diverse group of writers here, to my eye. Still, a lot of impressive names, and many greats who I have not had the privilege of seeing perform (Bernstein and Wah, for instance). Looks like it's going to be a good few days.

And the Banff Centre is GORGEOUS. Seriously. I feel pampered, and I'm just a guest.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Canadian Arts and the Olympic Games

Mark Leiren-Young wrote a great opinion column over at The Tyee about the 90% cuts to culture funding in BC, and how it doesn't mesh with the image of Canada the government hopes to project to the world through the Olympic games. He says:

The next time a Liberal MLA -- or anyone -- goes on a rant about the value of arts and culture, skip the stats about how the arts return $1.30 to the economy for every government dollar invested. Don't mention the fact that culture creation is genuinely green. Don't bother pointing out that pretty much every other industry in Canada has some sort or subsidy, incentive or tax break attached to it. And forget the reality that if our galleries, museums and theatres start to close, our tourism industry will be about as inviting as a Stephen Harper smile. Ask them what Canada decided to show off when millions of people tuned in from around the world to find out what our country was all about.

Unless I missed something, there were no spectacular shots of our highways, no visits to mills or mines -- and, with all due respect to our Greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas, there wasn't any footage of someone on the Olympic stage receiving affordable health care.

The Canadian heroes chosen to share the world stage with our Olympic athletes weren't our politicians, lawyers, or civil servants and our military presence consisted of General Romeo Dallaire, who was introduced as an author. Oh, right, they also threw in an astronaut to represent non-artsy Canadians.

For the next few weeks we're not showing the world our banks, our office towers, or our tar sands -- we're pointing at inukshuks.

Beverly Hungry Wolf

i'm currently watching videos from the 2009 I'POYI Aboriginal Writers' Gathering in Calgary. i've started with the series of 5 videos featuring Beverly Hungry Wolf. Her stories about her family and her upbringing are fascinating. Here's part 1. Check out the rest on rmajzels youtube channel.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Marlatt on Women Writers

"if we are women poets, writers, speakers, we also take issue with the given, hearing the
discrepancy between what our patriarchally-loaded language bears (can bear) of our
experience and the difference from it our experience bears out - how it misrepresents,
even miscarries, and so leaves unsaid what we actually experience. can a pregnant
woman be said to be "master" of the gestation process she finds herself within - is that
her relationship to it? (see Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language, p.238.) are women
included in the statement "God appearing as man" (has God ever appeared as a
woman?) can a woman ever say she is "lady of all she surveys" or could others ever
say of her she "ladies it over them"?"
--Daphne Marlatt, "musing with mothertongue"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Belladonna chaplets

Today, i got a package in the mail with five Belladonna chapbooks. Belladonna's mission is "to promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language." i took advantage of Belladonna's holiday sale to get something i've wanted for a long time: a hard copy of Margaret Christakos' My Girlish Feast (i already have a fantastic recording of the poem being read). The other titles are: Kalends by Mairéad Byrne, hyper glossia by Stacy Szymaszek, You But For The Body Fell Against by Nathalie Stephens and W I D E R by Angela Rawlings. The "buy four chaplets, get 1 free" sale is still on, so i strongly recommend going and taking a look at the selection. Support a press that encourages

i'm so excited that i would roll around in these chapbooks like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of money, except the chapbooks would get ruined. i will just bask in the awesome, and resist reading them until i get some work done (reward systems in place in my house: dog gets treat if well behaved, i get treat if i get a page of writing done. the dog gets his reward more regularly, which tells you everything you ever need to know about my willpower).