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Two poets tie for the 2013 bpNichol Chapbook Award

Meet the Presses collective’s Indie Literary Market at Toronto’s Tranzac Club

Two winners tied for the 2013 bpNichol Chapbook Award, announced at Meet the Presses collective’s Indie Literary Market in Toronto this weekend. The winners are: Sandra Allard for Naturally Speaking, published by Toronto’s espresso/paperplates press; and Gil McElroy for Ordinary Time: The Merton Lake Propers, published by baseline press of London, Ontario.

Alland is an interdisciplinary artist and writer who has published five works of poetry. Her performance art and videos have been exhibited internationally, including at London’s Tate Modern.

McElroy’s poems have been published in numerous periodicals, self-published chapbooks, and anthologies. He is also a curator and art critic whose writing has been published in three anthologies.

The winners will receive $1,000 each, donated anonymously, and the publishers will receive $250 each through donations from writers Jim Smith and Brian Dedora.

The other finalists for the prize are:

  • thirteen poems for releasing love by joanne thorwaldson (leaf press)
  • An OK Organ Man by Fenn Stewart (above/ground)
  • fruit machine by Shannon Maguire (Ferno House)
  • 21st century monsters by ryan fitzpatrick (Red Nettle Press)

The prize is administered by Meet the Presses, a volunteer literary collective devoted to organizing public events showcasing works produced by independent publishers of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. The collective consists of Gary Barwin, Paul Dutton, Ally Fleming, Beth Follett, Hazel Millar, Leigh Nash, Nicholas Power, and Stuart Ross.

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bpNichol Chapbook Award shortlist announced

Six titles have been shortlisted for this year’s bpNichol Chapbook Award, which recognizes excellence in Canadian poetry published in chapbook form.

Selected by jurors Sandra Ridley and kevin mcpherson eckhoff, the finalists are:

  • thirteen poems for releasing love by Joanne Thorwaldson (Leaf Press)
  • An OK Organ Man by Fenn Stewart (above/ground press)
  • Ordinary Time: The Merton Lake Propers by Gil McElroy (Baseline Press)
  • Fruit Machine by Shannon Maguire (Ferno House)
  • 21st century monsters by ryan fitzpatrick (Red Nettle Press)
  • Naturally Speaking by Sandra Alland (espresso/paperplates press)

The winner, who will be announced November 16 at Toronto’s Indie Literary Market, receives $2,000. The winning publisher receives $500.



Liz Worth rewrites Warhol

When Andy Warhol published a: A Novel in 1968, critics conversely called the 451-page tome “a work of genius” (Newsweek) and “pornography” (The New York Times Book Review). The so-called novel is an unedited, word-for-word transcript of several conversations recorded between the author and his friend Odine (whom he met at an orgy) that were transcribed, in typical Warholian fashion, by a team of four typists and two high school summer students.

Several decades later, Toronto poet Liz Worth is using the novel to build, page by page, a collection of poetry on her blog. “I trooped through it when I was going through a major Warhol phase but found it jagged, as transcriptions tend to be. But between all the amphetamine-fuelled conversation and incoherent, disrupted dialogue, there are some strikingly beautiful lines and haunting statements,” she writes on her blog.

From page one, for instance, Worth extracted this poem:

I didn’t do a thing last night
felt like a ghost
just staying up and all that, just talking
car noises in the background.
Some of my throat is gone.
Need some Obertrols – blue ones, blasting
oh, the orange ones are divine.

Is there ANY place we can keep calling
voice on the other end
know where we can get some.
This number in front of us – sister would know us.

We should start for the park. Takes forever.
Asleep on the bus, too gorgeous.
It’s all right – fantastic, baby,
you definitely are here.

Worth plans to construct one poem from each page every day, which she estimates will take at least a year and a half.

“[I]f I take a few days off here and there, that’s okay. It is important to me to stick to a single page at a time, though, because I want to only use words and phrases from a specified page,” she tells Q&Q. “I like the challenge of being limited to working with a set vocabulary. It means I have to get creative and work with what’s available, not with what I think would be ideal.”

The project will be housed on Worth’s blog, Rewriting Warhol. For now, the author has no immediate plans to turn the poems into a book. Worth says she’ll be busy for the forseeable future with her forthcoming novel, PostApoc, due out in October from Now Or Never Publishing, and another poetry collection she’ll be shopping around soon.

While publishing the collection in the future isn’t out of the question, for now, she likes the habitual nature of daily blogging. “That immediacy on its own seems very Warhol,” she says.

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McFadden wins Griffin Poetry Prize

Canadian poet David McFadden briefly took to the stage at last night’s Griffin Poetry Prize gala to accept the $65,000 award – the richest in the world for a single book of poetry – for his latest collection, What’s the Score?, published by Toronto’s Mansfield Press.

It’s an unexpected honour, and I’m thrilled to the bone,” he told a crowd gathered in the atrium of the Corus Entertainment building on Toronto’s waterfront.

In the international category, the Griffin was awarded to Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan for Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems (Yale University Press), translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah. Both were in attendance, despite the fact that Zaqtan had difficulty entering the country.

In a short, emotional acceptance speech, McFadden thanked his “wonderful and beloved” editor at Mansfield, Stuart Ross.

Ross, a poet in his own right, first came across McFadden’s work as a teenager. “I feel humbled that pretty much my all-time poetry hero is a guy that I now can work with and help get those books out,” he told Q&Q.

Ross was tapped to edit McFadden’s collection of selected poems, Why Are You So Sad? (Insomniac Press), which received a Griffin nomination in 2008. 

“He’s not an academic, he’s not a wildly experimental poet, he’s not a classical poet. He’s a really plainspoken but profound poet,” said Ross. “It’s exciting that poetry like that can be recognized. As an editor, it’s absolutely amazing.” 

Ross added that the Griffin win is “really important” for Mansfield. As he told Q&Q in April, “Although there are some ‘big’ small presses that everyone always dreams of being published by, there are small presses who are publishing work that is as worthy as anything else out there.”

A jury consisting of U.S. poet Mark Doty, Chinese-American poet and author Wang Ping, and 2011 Griffin nominee Suzanne Buffam selected the two winners from 509 books of poetry submitted from 40 countries around the globe, including 15 translations.

 – With files from Stuart Woods

Correction June 17: A previous version of this article included incorrect juror names and number of submissions received in 2013.

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Q&A: Poet Ann Shin on her new collection (and smashing china)

(photo: Sandy Nicholson)

It’s been a busy month for Toronto poet and filmmaker Ann Shin. In early May she premiered her latest documentary, The Defector: Escape from North Korea, at the Hot Docs film festival. On Wednesday night at Toronto’s Soho House, where she will launch her second book of poetry, The Family China (Brick Books), Shin will debut a short film and is planning some unusual audience participation: attendees will be invited on stage to break pieces of family china.

Q&Q spoke to Shin about her new collection and the cathartic act of destroying personal objects.

How would you describe your relationship to household objects like china? Sometimes you just have to do spring cleaning – they clutter our environment and become reminders of things we don’t necessarily want to be reminded of. But there’s a lot more to the book. It’s not just about pots and plates and dishes, it’s about death and loss and migration. The through-lines are these domestic objects, which appear again and again in the poems.

Why did you make a film to accompany the collection? A lot of our domestic items – china, pottery, or whatever – tend to accrue meaning over time. I started talking to people about that and they had a lot interesting things to say, so I started filming them. But I really wanted to get people on film smashing stuff who suddenly have licence to do something you rarely get to do.

Who appears in the film? I did a call-out among friends and acquaintances. Going forward, I hope to film my reading events, and expand the library of people talking about their experiences. It will be like a travelling show.

If a reader wants to smash an object at your launch, what should they do? People should bring something that’s near and dear to them – or something they hate – and talk about it, or they can just smash it. I will also have a selection of Goodwill donations for people to smash. (RSVP to Shin’s launch at

This interview has been edited and condensed.  


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Q&A with Toronto poet laureate George Elliott Clarke

Any introduction to George Elliott Clarke, Toronto’s fourth poet laureate, comes with a long list of achievements, including the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Achievement Award, a Governor General’s Literary Award, and his appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.

Born in 1960 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Clarke dubs himself an “Africadian,” drawn from his African-American and Mi’qmak heritage. Currently the inaugural E.J. Pratt professor of Canadian literature at the University of Toronto, the poet, playwright, and literary critic is known for his erudite poems laden with musicality.

Q&Q spoke with Clarke, who will serve as poet laureate through 2015, before he left for the Edmonton Poetry Festival, which this week is hosting poet laureates from across Canada.

Have you decided on your poet laureate legacy project? I’ve known what it was since the first weekend after my appointment. I’m not going to describe it in detail, because I need folks at City Hall to be very happy with me. I know they would like to have a chance to think about it first. But it involves urban infrastructure, and I have my heart set on a project that would bring poetry into the streets.

Do you have any backup ideas? If city council says no, I want to move on to my secondary projects. I would follow the example of Dennis Lee [Toronto's inaugural poet laureate] in having a statue erected of Nathaniel Dett, the first black Canadian poet to publish a book. He was a fountainhead, whether he knew it or not, for all the African-Canadian poets that have come since. Or I would dust off [former poet laureate] Dionne Brand’s great idea, which was to have a line of poetry inscribed in any part of a library being renovated.

Will you be making any changes to the position of poet laureate? I feel the position needs to be institutionalized. That’s a terribly bureaucratic term but would help lend even more legitimacy to the office. I’ve set up a poet’s corner at City Hall, which was inaugurated April 3. It’s a simple concept of a portrait and poem of each of the poets laureate to date. They’re there to remind people that the position exists, and it’s a reminder to city hall, so the next time there’s a round of draconian budget cuts, the honorarium the poet laureate receives doesn’t get set to zero. I’m also trying to arrange for the poet laureate to address city council each April for five minutes for National Poetry Month.

What first drew you to poetry? I wanted to be a songwriter at 15. My parents sent me to join the local African Baptist Church choir in Halifax, but the choir director sent me back home the same night, and said, “We’ve got no use for you, you can’t sing!” My parents still wanted me to develop a talent, so they enrolled me in a city music program where I played the trombone. But I didn’t love the instrument, so I stopped. I couldn’t read music anymore, I couldn’t sing, so what was I going to do if I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star? Write songs. I wrote four every day and read about how to be a songwriter, and what kept coming up was that, to be good, you had to be a poet. So I started reading lyrics. I went to school on Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin. By 17, I started writing free-verse poetry and went to university to be a better poet.

How did that morph into a passion for black poetry? Because of Bob Dylan, I started reading African-American blues lyrics. Once I started to read poetry a lot, I gravitated towards African-American poets. The only poetry in English that I could read that spoke to my reality as a racialized minority was African-American, because they talked about police brutality, slavery, segregation, black radicalism, and black arts. It talked about my social realities, and Canadian poetry wasn’t about that.

As a Canadian, how do you incorporate these American traits into your work? Generically, what makes English-Canadian poetry some of the most intellectually challenging poetry in the world is that the first English-language poets in Canada felt they had to compete with the British canonical greats. The American tradition is much more populist, with room for slang and music. I’ve carried both ideals into my poetry as much as I can. I like being difficult, ornate, and elaborate in my language use, and asking people to look things up. On the other hand, I also delight in the ability to write a poem that everybody can understand, one that goes against the tradition of difficulty. I like to think that I can contribute to the possibility of there being an English-Canadian poetry that is not only intelligentsia-oriented, but also oriented toward the everyday person.

You often talk about a gap between print and performance poetry. Why do you think that exists? Canada in general is structured as an elitist society with a hierarchy down from the Queen. Success as a poet in Canada means being read quietly in a university. The performance poets challenge that, and rightly so. Success for them is 300 people paying $15 to see you. I’m not trying to commercialize things, but I do think when you have people willing to pay to hear poets recite poetry that will get them thinking differently, that is a success that print poets, if they don’t want to emulate it, have at least got to be envious of. A smart print poet is going to want to have one foot on the stage and one hand in the page if you want a diverse audience.

This interview has been edited and condensed.  

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Griffin shortlist features newcomers Pollock, Williams

In a year that boasted collections from A.F. Moritz, Don McKay, and Roo Borson, the jury for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize (which covers books published in 2012) has opted to put the spotlight on several lesser-known poets.

The most renowned poet among the Canadian nominees is David W. McFadden, the veteran author of 35 books, who received the nod for What’s the Score? (published by Mansfield Press imprint Stuart Ross Books). McFadden was previously nominated for the prize in 2008 for his selected poems, Why Are You So Sad?

The other Canadian nominees are newcomers James Pollock and Ian Williams. Pollock, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, was nominated for his first full-length collection, Sailing to Babylon (Able Muse Press), which riffs on historical figures such as Henry Hudson, David Thompson, Glenn Gould, and Northrop Frye. (Pollock is also the author of a volume of criticism, You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, from The Porcupine’s Quill.)

Toronto-based Williams was shortlisted for Personals (Freehand Books), a follow-up to his debut collection You Know Who You Are (Wolsak and Wynn) and the short-story collection Not Anyone’s Anything (Freehand). According to the press material, the collection is a series of “almost-love poems” written in a variety of traditional poetic forms as well as forms of the poet’s own invention.

The jury, composed of poets Suzanne Buffam, Mark Doty, and Wang Ping, also selected four international nominees:

  • Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems by Ghassan Zaqtan, translated from the Arabic by Fady Joudah (Yale University Press)
  • Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press)

A Canadian and international winner, each receiving $65,000, will be announced June 13. The seven finalists will read from their works at Toronto’s Koerner Hall on June 12.

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Poetry reviews: Michael Crummey, Lorna Goodison, Anne Carson, and more

The April issue of Q&Q celebrates Poetry Month with reviews of 10 new collections.

Click on the thumbnails to read the reviews.




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Susan Musgrave edits new anthology of B.C. women poets

In the introduction to Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia, Susan Musgrave, the anthology’s editor, shares a personal anecdote. Shortly before his death in 2000, Al Purdy presented Musgrave with a copy of A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now. She calls the gesture “an endearingly clumsy gift.”

“I knew when he gave me that book he wasn’t going to read it,” says Musgrave by phone from her home on Haida Gwaii, where she runs the Copper Beech Guest House. (She was in the midst of making sourdough bread for her guests when I spoke to her.)

Musgrave acknowledges that Purdy, who once edited an anthology of 51 poets that included only two women, was from another generation. “It was sweet, but it was his way of saying you can kind of join the club, but as a poetess,” she says.

If Force Field is any indication, the club has opened up since Purdy’s heyday. Published in April by Salt Spring Island’s Mother Tongue Press, the anthology is the first of its kind since 1979’s two-volume D’Sonoqua: An Anthology of Women Poets of British Columbia, edited by Ingrid Klassen.

Musgrave, who claims she doesn’t often think about gender, credits Mother Tongue publisher Mona Fertig with the concept. She says the idea orginated during a discussion about anthologies, while Fertig was visiting Musgrave at Copper Beech.

Fertig says, “After 34 years I felt it was high time for another anthology of women poets, for a bird’s eye view of the force field in this province.”

An invitational call went out in 2010, resulting in an overwhelming number of submissions. Roughly 150 B.C. poets expressed interest in participating. “On Salt Spring Island alone there’s probably 77 women poets,” says Musgrave, laughing.

As a reader, Musgrave appreciates the breadth and variety of larger anthologies. “I like to look through them, discover somebody, and move on,” she says.

Organized alphabetically, Force Field recognizes established talents (such as Lorna Crozier, Marilyn Bowering, and Anne Cameron), as well as recent award winners (Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Jan Zwicky and Pat Lowther Award recipient Evelyn Lau). During the editing process, a few poets, such as Vancouver’s Rhea Tregebov, volunteered to drop out to make space for younger voices, including Joelene Heathcote and Leah Horlick, students from the University of British Columbia’s MFA program, where Musgrave is an online instructor.

Narrowing down the number of mid-range poets was where the selection process got tricky. “I feel badly because the other 77 would make up a good anthology,” she says. “We should’ve done two parts.”

As editor, Musgrave was also careful to balance poetic schools and styles, ensuring Force Field represents a broad cross-section of contemporary B.C. poetry.     “If I just chose poems that were my taste, then it would be my playlist,” she says. “[The book’s] not called Musgrave’s Favourite Poems.”

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League of Canadian Poets announces 2013 shortlists

The League of Canadian Poets announced the shortlists for its three annual awards earlier this week.

In addition to the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award Shortlist for the best first book and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman, the league introduced a third award this year. The inaugural Raymond Souster Award, which recognizes the best book of poetry by a league member, was established to honour the eponymous poet, who died last October at the age of 91.

Each award carries a $1,000 prize.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award:

  • Charms Against Lightning, James Arthur (Copper Canyon Press)
  • I see my love more clearly from a distance, Nora Gould (Brick Books)
  • The Lease, Mathew Henderson (Coach House Books)
  • Sumptuary Laws, Nyla Matuk (Véhicule Press)
  • Repeater, Andrew McEwan (BookThug)
  • Notebook M, Gillian Savigny (Insomniac Press)

The jury for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is Kathy Mac, Marguerite Pigeon, and Heather Cadsby.

The Pat Lowther Memorial Award shortlisted books are:

  • Soul Mouth, Marilyn Bowering (Exile Editions)
  • Monkey Ranch, Julie Bruck (Brick Books)
  • The Book of Marvels, Lorna Crozier (Greystone Books)
  • Slow Curve Out, Maureen Scott Harris (Pedlar Press)
  • A Grain of Rice, Evelyn Lau (Oolichan Books)
  • Song and Spectacle, Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing)

The jury for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award is Kate Braid, Gay Allison, and Marsha Barber.

The Raymond Souster Award:

  • Hummingbird, John Wall Barger (Palimpsest Press)
  • the Flicker tree: Okanagan Poems, Nancy Holmes (Ronsdale Press)
  • Wayworn Wooden Floors, Mark Lavorato (The Porcupine’s Quill)
  • Between Dusk and Night, Emily McGiffin (Brick Books)
  • The New Measures, A.F. Moritz (House of Anansi Press)
  • no ordinary place, Pamela Porter (Ronsdale Press)

The jury for the Raymond Souster Award is David Day, Louise Bernice Halfe, and Barry Dempster.

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