In defence of poesy 2011: Sina Queyras

April 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Sina Queyras is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Expressway. A longtime friend of TSR, she is the founder and editor-in-chief of the poetry website Lemon Hound.

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Why should people read poetry?

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

– Stevie Smith, “Not Waving but Drowning”

I have a weakness for Stevie Smith. She and Kenneth Patchen were early influences. Pleasurable. Very much alive and astute in their observations about the world and human interactions with it. “You know I don’t like those people / Who act as if a cherry / Was something they’d personally thought up” Patchen dryly concludes. The snap of thought, the Chagall-like images, the playful turns. These are poems that get inside you and never leave. Punchy and always at the ready, as Smith appears in “A Good Time Was Had By All”: “The English woman is so refined / she has no bosom and no behind.”

Smith and Patchen make up part of my poetry core. They are simple, though not simplistic touchstones. They reached off the page to a young me and said, this is possible – what you think, how you think, is possible. Even if there is nowhere in this classroom, or in this town, or in your life, where your thinking is reflected back to you in a way that you can at all recognize, these lines, this formation of thought, reflects you so beautifully that you can see a future where moments earlier there was stagnation and despair. Poetry is an escape hatch.

My father went to bed every night with a volume of French poetry by his bed. I have it now, tattered and torn, this volume that was for my father very much a door to his past, to his former tongue and land, to peace, and to sleep. I have carried Lisa Robertson around for years, and that was an education, a stimulator, a way to make myself move forward vigilantly toward a kind of thinking that shimmered before me, always out of reach. Before that it was Erin Mouré, Tim Lilburn, Dionne Brand, Christian Bök, Gertrude Stein, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, Michael Ondaatje, Mary Oliver, Rumi … and so on. When I read Dennis Lee’s Un, I cry. I can’t help it. My niece loves Robert Service. It gives her a way to march across her landscape, ballad style.

Whatever you want of poetry, it will offer you – soothing, escape hatch, appliance, machine. It is not about the poet: as Stevie Smith said, there is always another poet. It’s poetry that arrives, making its “strong communication” known, or pulling back the skin and letting a person feel the world, or arranging objects in such a way that thought, speech, images illuminate something profound or beautiful. A smart poet bears witness, lets the thunder move through her veins, notes the shade, the tenor, the time of departure, describes in detail the interior life of the bolt, its composition, trajectory, effect on her skin, where her mind went, and how, and with whom, writes this down, and passes this on.

If all is well in the world, poetry is another kind of thunderbolt.

Lemon Hound surveys the critical landscape

January 27, 2010 by · 5 Comments 

The poet Sina Queyras is conducting an ongoing series of interviews about the practice of reviewing and criticism for her website, Lemon Hound. The people she’s interviewed so far – including Michael Turner, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Christian Bök, Michael Bryson, and Marjorie Perloff – come from a variety of backgrounds and approaches, and the diverse opinions about critical practices that they espouse make for fascinating reading.

Yr. humble correspondent is currently featured on the site. The process of answering Queyras’s questions has provided an opportunity for me to clarify certain ideas and theories of criticism in my own mind, and to actively engage with aspects of the current reviewing climate.

From the interview:

LH: Critical work is increasingly unpaid work; will you continue to do this work despite the trend? Do you see this trend reversing, or changing course?

SB: The very fact that I blog about books – without remuneration and on my own time – should answer this question. Having said that, the fact that professional reviewers are not paid even close to what they are worth is a situation that needs to be redressed. It’s all well and good for enthusiasts who want to share their love of a particular book to fire up the Internet and bang out fifty words, but this is not remotely connected to the practice of criticism. Much of the discourse around books that we see online is the digital equivalent of a coffee klatch; it has as much to do with professional criticism as a game of pick-up basketball has to do with the NBA. There is some very good, thoughtful, careful writing to be found online. There is also a glut of careless, ill-considered, illogical, and badly written book chat that passes itself off as legitimate criticism. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that experienced critics – those connoisseurs who have devoted a lifetime to the reading and study of literature – are not able to make a living wage off of their writing. This simultaneously devalues their output and injures the literary culture at large, since a vibrant literary culture requires a vibrant critical culture in order to thrive. In the absence of incisive criticism – criticism, not cheerleading – a culture will become complacent, will stagnate, and eventually shrivel.

Help spread some joy

July 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

shirt_book_correctJoyland: A Hub for Short Fiction is the brainchild of the estimable Emily Schultz and her husband, literary bad-boy Brian Joseph Davis. It’s an online repository of short fiction by writers such as Sean Dixon, Eva Moran, Lydia Millet, Stacey May Fowles, Nathan Sellyn, Jonathan Lethem, Lynn Coady, Rebecca Rosenblum and Sina Queyras. Last year, the CBC called Joyland “the go-to spot for readers seeking the best voices in short fiction” (which should be self-evident simply by the list of names preceding).

But this is Canada, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a Canadian short-story endeavour must be in want of funding. Therefore, as part of the Scream Literary Festival, Schultz and Davis, “the world’s most incompetent capitalists” (their description, not mine), have organized a fundraiser that goes Wednesday evening at The Stealth Lounge here in Toronto. The Joyland Joy-a-thon offers a roster of high-calibre talent, prizes, and Joyland T-shirts (see left).

From the Scream site:

Break your mourning and throw off the black clothes for one evening as Joyland.ca and the Scream Literary Festival peddle eleven readers, raffle prizes, and, yes, T-shirts! Claudia Dey, Rebecca Rosenblum, and Stacey May Fowles read their own work from Joyland and Maggie MacDonald will perform a dramatic reading of a script by Bruce LaBruce. Helping out with cover readings are: Zoe Whittall, Kevin Connolly, Carl Wilson, Emily Holton, and Faye Guenther. And in a very special set, editors Lynn Henry and Michael Holmes read their own writers!

The event begins at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 8 at The Stealth Lounge (above the Pilot), 22 Cumberland Avenue. It’s PWYC, but there’s a $5 suggested cover. Yr. humble correspondent hopes to see you there.

It takes guts

June 24, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Yeah, what she said:

Thanks to Bookninja for pointing out This plea for more book reviewing in Canada, and in particular at the CBC. And I agree, Canada Reads is not enough. In my humble opinion the problem has to do with a lack of guts. Yes, guts. It takes guts to be a good reviewer, a good publisher, a good producer and/or editor. One can’t wait for someone else to say what’s worth reading, one needs to go out on a limb and make more daring choices. And then open up those choices to the common reader.