The four are beginning a tour of Southern Ontario. Davey will read from Poems Suitable for Current Material Conditions, Laura Farina from Some Talk of Being Human and Christine Miscione from her novel Carafola. (Nelson Ball won't be at this event. Someone else will present his poetry collection, Some Mornings.)
Mansfield Press publisher/editor Denis De Klerck and editor Stuart Ross will host the event, which begins at 7:00 pm.
FRANK DAVEY: Current resident of Strathroy, Ont., poet, former Coach House Press editor, co-founder of TISH newsletter in 1961, co-founder of e-mag Swift Current in 1984, editor of poetics journal Open Letter, 'author' of Bardy Google in 2010, author of the tell-much biography of bpNichol, aka bpNichol 2012. Davey, in Sept. 2014, was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, "the highest honour a scholar can achieve in the arts, humanities and sciences." The Royal Society said Davey is "an internationally recognized scholar and a leading figure in exploring alternative and experimental theories of Canadian literature. His critical studies have transformed our understanding of language and discourse in the study of Canadian texts. Professor Davey’s sustained efforts – as critic, theorist, editor and poet – to enlarge and redirect Canadian literature studies have been essential contributions to its contemporary diversity and self awareness."
London Open Mic Poetry Night's new interview with Frank Davey follows the poems below.
Five New Poems by Frank Davey
This is going to be a real game changer.
If you’re tired of the game you’ve been playing
or hunting or following
then this is the one for you. A ree-al
game changer. It will change
any game you want, baseball into crokinole
antelope into muskoxen
politics into table tennis—you remember that one
right? Even if you play the poetry game
with this game changer you can convert
villanelles to limericks, free verse
to conceptual verse, Galway Kinnell
to Ron Silliman. This is the one you need
a game changer to change all game changers
don’t get stuck in the same old game
this will change the game of bonds to the game
of derivatives, a bear market to a bull
equities into sparkling futures
parlour games into war games
sex games into video games
rupees into bitcoins
pyjama games into arcade games
X-Box into MP3
chess into Red Dead Revolver
it will change the game of thrones
to the game of deck chairs, the game of life
to the game of death, the game of love
to whatever you want, what could be better?—but wait
if you buy our guaranteed game changer in the next five minutes
we will send you our new life changer absolutely free
so don’t wait, change everything today
get a leg up on the future, be game not gamey, be protean, mercurial
be way far out ahead of the changing game
Calls for Progress
Substitutes recommended for religion.
New treatments tested for sex offenders.
Alternatives sought to racism.
New approaches considered for child molesters.
Answers suggested to suicide bombers.
New procedures mooted for terrorism.
Mother hits out against family violence.
New methods investigated for executions.
Solutions required for acid attacks.
New thinking needed for gang rape.
Other means considered for war.
In the Moment
This poem is being written in the moment.
I have tried writing poems outside the moment
but that doesn’t seem to work, so this one
is being written in the moment, or maybe inside
a series of moments
because now, not just momentarily,
I can hardly remember
that first-line moment from just
Really mindful of that I am working hard
at staying in the moment while writing this poem
& having tons of mindfulness of it. This poem,
its sounds—poem, moment, mindful moment…
It used to be that you could be caught up
in the moment, as if the moment were a hawk
or maybe a vulture, but you don’t hear
much about that anymore, just like you don’t hear much
about nests of singing birds, so poets have to work now
at being in the moment. There are some people
knocking on my front door, but I think
they are in a different moment so I am trying
to ignore them & their moment
& be really mindful of this poem
& its own moment or moments. This is not the moment
for a sweet hello, this is the moment
for a poem with close attention to syllables, junctures,
punctuation, pitch & phonemes & momentary rimes
if no one minds.
Like most things today
poems need values. Not
just values added
but intrinsic values
like the air we breathe, like
temperature values, humidex values
wind chill values.
Values are now a big deal for poems.
It’s not that poems didn’t have values before
but they were subtle, hidden--
no values but in things I believe
one poet said. There’s lots of those--
property values, Blue Book values
core sample values, nutrient
reference values, blood sugar values
body mass values—long poems sure have them.
Today’s poem, especially today’s ‘avant’ poem
must declare its values
they must be upfront values
community values, data values, home values
blended values, Quebec values
seasonal values, constant field values
exposure limit values, must openly
oppose racist values, heteronormal values
traditional operating values
stock values, dollar values
colour hex values and
what’s a poem without obvious values
when there’s so many around.
Values, that is.
What would be the value in that.
The bottom line is not the one to begin with.
The bottom line is the one you hope you will know.
It’s the one you hope will be sufficient
so you don’t have to re-read the other lines.
Sometimes the bottom line is only
a faded bikini line, and sometimes it’s the punchline
and you’re the one that’s punched,
when you get your eyes too close
to the bottom line.
The bottom line
can be the end of the line.
The right-hand end of the line.
If you spend all your time
thinking about the bottom line
you might be writing a lyric poem,
or imagining your life as a lyric poem
and the bottom line is the one
that will make all the other lines about stuff
you were seeing or doing back then add up
give them new value, make them all
shore up your so-called ruins, and say
in some spectacular way
bottomed out, everyone.
Interview with Frank Davey
This new interview is by London Open Mic Poetry Night's Kevin Heslop.
KH: It seems to me that you have been integral in both weaving and criticizing the Canadian cultural tapestry of letters from the late 1950’s and early 60’s at UBC onward. If you’ll indulge the metaphor for a moment, are there any particular differences between the way you engage the tapestry, both creatively and critically, today, and the way you have engaged it in the past?
FD: I wouldn’t think of it as a tapestry – a tapestry isn’t continually in motion. I started writing at UBC in a small community of young writers who exchanged new poems among themselves, read them to each other, arranged their own literary discussion meetings, were extremely aware of British Columbia’s isolation from much of Canada’s political and literary events, and who soon became editors and publishers as well as poets and sent their publications out to participate in and influence such events – you’ve probably heard of Tish, Blew Ointment, The Georgia Straight, Very Stone House, Talonbooks, Pulp Press, New Star Books, NMFG, Island, West Coast Line, Capilano Review – some of which are still very much active. I still think of writing – whether it’s a poem, review, academic book or cultural criticism – as a social intervention – as at least the offering of further alternatives for language, literary form, personal relations, social actions and other cultural practices.
But I also follow that “further alternative” aim in my own writing. I try not to write books or poems that closely resemble my earlier ones. I look to push my writing some place further – further concerns and means, further provocations – each time out. Robert Duncan used to say “My revisions are my new work.” I wouldn’t want my life’s work to be a tapestry – I’d rather it be an evolving participatory project.
KH: What can a creative writing class do for a young writer that a six-pack, a notebook and a pencil can’t?
FD: Well, that six-pack, notebook and pencil can’t read your poem, can’t discuss it among themselves, can’t tell you what they think of, can’t show their jealousy, if any, of how good it is, or their pleasure that someone their age is writing so well. One of the best things of being a college student is the community of bright curious people it puts you among. In a writing class the other students are at least as important as the instructor, often – perhaps usually – more so. Most of those students are plugged into a culture similar to the one you are, and are discovering, like you, surprising things elsewhere in their studies. Some of them may be your writing companions for the rest of your life. Many of their discoveries and reading interests may be more important for you to follow than those on curricula.
Unless you’re sharing that six-pack with other writers, it and the notebook and pencil suggest rather solitary and individualistic writing habits. That’s not the way writing works. It’s a social activity – you write to and for and with others, not just to and for and with yourself. When you publish – i.e. make public – your writing has to find a way through current writing practices, linking with some, building on some, refusing some, and implicitly offering others. You’d better know what those practices are, and that six-pack ain’t going to tell you by itself.
KH: Having witnessed and written from and reflected upon the avant-garde of Canadian literary culture for nearly half a century, where and with whom in your opinion lies the razor edge, the disreputable frontier, the experimental playground of Canadian letters today?
FD: Let me restrict my reply here to poetry – I don’t believe there is any “disreputable frontier” today in Canadian fiction, and I haven’t been following drama. So much of current fiction writing is predominantly commercial or cultural in its ambition, and forgetful that it could also aim to change the history of fiction writing. Playwrights do much better, probably because the theatre is so obviously social and because – much like for poets – there is little possibility of becoming wealthy. So now I’ve made your question easy to answer – the disreputable frontier currently in Canadian poetry is with Christian Bok, Lisa Robertson, Derek Beaulieu, Peter Jaeger, Erin Moure, Gary Barwin, Sina Queyras, Stephen Cain, and various younger conceptual writers you likely wouldn’t have heard of, such as Jonathan Ball, and to some extent still with Steve McCaffery, who has now been disreputable in Canada for four decades, although almost an established poet in the US. It’s notable that many of these are their 40s – it’s a sign of how conservative official Canadian 'poetry' culture has been – and that they all probably have more readers internationally than they do in Canada. The internet has opened the globe to Canadian poets – they can sidestep the slower-moving Canadian poetry scene and find audiences and risk-taking collaborators elsewhere.
KH: How did your poetic style evolve, who or what influenced you the most?
FD: I was first influenced simultaneously by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, his relaxed yet precise conversational poetic, and by the pretentious Yeats-imitations of one Desmond Fitzgerald, 28th Knight of Glin, who was the acknowledged hero-poet on the UBC campus in the late 1950s, and whose poems embodied everything I didn’t want in my own. I realized that I wanted the sound of my poems to be North American, and perceived also that effectively-communicating poems, such as those of Ferlinghetti, risked being perceived by some audiences as anti-poetry. It was a risk I’ve always been eager to take. My strongest influence in early 1960s was Charles Olson, in the later 1960s it was Robert Duncan and Daphne Marlatt, in the early 1970s Jack Spicer and George Bowering, in the later 1970s and early 80s it was bpNichol and Jackson Mac Low. All of those have stayed with me, with the addition of Charles Bernstein and the painter Greg Curnoe in the 1990s. You’ll notice here the names of contemporaries and colleagues, such as Marlatt, Bowering and Nichol – here’s that social aspect of writing again, that you learn and grow by communicating and interacting.
KH: What, in your opinion, can a poem not do without?
FD: Language – the communally made medium that we all work with and contribute to.
KH: You mentioned Ferlinghetti's ostensibly anti-poetry style. What does the term anti-poetry mean to you and how has it evolved? Is there a tacit danger regarding modern, colloquial poetry that 'the Tweet shall inherit the Verse'?
FD: I don’t see how these two questions are connected. Perhaps I should have capitalized “Poetry” earlier to distinguish it from “poetry.” There’s been a persistent tendency in English-language poetry to fossilize the understanding of what poetry is – to understand it as whatever the last large new accomplishment has brought. After Milton poetry was understood to sound Miltonic. After Dryden and Pope poetry was understood to be written in heroic couplets and to exclude “enthusiasm.” After the Romantics it was understood to be written in blank verse, odes, sonnets and ballads, and to express “feelings.” After Eliot and the New Critics it was understood to be “impersonal” and sculptural. What is perceived to be unpoetic in any period is relative to the dominant or ‘official’ understanding of poetry – i.e. Poetry. The poetries of Ferlinghetti, Corso and Ginsberg appeared in the 1950s when the understanding of Poetry was that of the New Criticism. At UBC some English faculty suggested that it was material more appropriate to the Sociology department than to English. To them it definitely wasn’t “Poetry” – although later to many of the Language Poets it came to be. As for the “colloquial,” most of the major canonical poets have written in the colloquial language of their periods – Shakespeare, Donne, Pope, Keats, Whitman, Pound. I can imagine all of them tweeting, each quite differently.
KH: Otsuji [Seki Osuga] once stated : "If 90% of a haiku can be understood it is a good haiku. If 50-60% can be understood it is wonderful. This kind of haiku we never tire of. " In the vein of the advocatus diaboli, can Osuga's line apply to modern traditional, rather than ostensibly anti-, poetry? Is there implicit value in ambiguity?
FD: I think you have it backward. Your “modern traditional” is usually 90% or more understandable because its poetics have been around for so long and become so familiar. Non-normative poetry is often only 50% or less understandable – sometimes much less – because we haven’t yet learned to read it. In 1959 readers – me included – struggled to understand 20% of Olson and Creeley. Unfortunately, classroom instructors often prefer the familiar and easily teachable Poem. As for the “ambiguity” that you mention, it isn’t usually a property of what Bernstein jokingly calls the “Difficult Poem.” It’s produced by the reader who is unfamiliar with its poetics. Moreover all good poems contain difficult-to-perceive meanings, and reward repeated readings as the reader becomes more familiar with the poem’s means. If a poem doesn’t reward repeated readings with new understanding, it may not have been worth reading in the first place.
KH: Billy Collins has been known to distinguish the prose writer as looking into peoples' homes from the poet whom looks out his or her own window. As a writer of both prose and poetry, does this distinction resonate with you?
FD: No. It would limit what prose can do to realism and what poetry can do to anecdote.
KH: Are there any particular poetic mechanisms which you employ on a consistent basis to pique a reader's interest, spur narrative movement or conclude a poem?
FD: Possibly unconsciously, although as I indicated earlier I do try to avoid consistency – I’m not interested in having an identifiable life-long “style” or “voice” – to me having those is a sure way of having your poems become Poetry. So if I find myself using any “particular poetic mechanisms” in an habitual way, I try to stop.
KH: "Calls for Progress" seems to redress, with a tongue-in-cheek tone, vain attempts to address systemic issues by way of an endless parade of novel, symptomatic interventions - "Alternatives sought to racism", "New treatments tested for sex offenders". Do you see any specific methods of dealing with these systemic issues directly (apart from writing a poem to identify the flaws of such forms of address)?
W.H. Auden notably wrote that "In our age, the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act. So long as artists exist, making what they please and think they ought to make, even if it is not terribly good, even if it appeals only to a handful of people, they remind the Management of something managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous members, that Homo Laborans is also Homo Ludens."
Do you agree with Auden's assessment?
FD: I'm sure you've noticed the resistance of Harper -- and of other politicos and "managers" -- to the concept of the systemic, most recently as it should apply to murdered and disappeared Indigenous women. It's a fundamental political act to insist on it.
And the remedies are collective, not individual. Even Naomi Klein's books are more about mobilizing social action than offering "specific methods" for reforming or ending capitalism.
So yes, Auden here makes a lot of sense to me. Art should make many people uncomfortable. It should make them more aware of the fissures in their beliefs, the contradictions in their culture's practices, and the often deliberate imprecisions of its language habits.
- Poems Suitable for Current Material Conditions, poetry by Frank Davey (See bio above).
- -Some Mornings, poetry by Nelson Ball: Ball is a poet, former publisher (Weed Flower Press) and bookseller at Nelson Ball, Bookseller in Paris, Ontario. Nelson is the author of over 20 poetry books and chapbooks, his latest collection of poems is titled In This Thin Rain (Mansfield Press). In the fall of 2014 Mansfield Press will publish Ball’s new book of poetry Some Mornings. Nelson's latest chapbook, A Rattle of Spring Frogs (Hamilton Arts & Letters/samzidat press) can be read in full here. (Nelson Ball won't be at this event. Someone else will present his poetry collection, Some Mornings.)
- Some Talk of Being Human, poetry by Laura Farina: Farina's first book of poetry, This Woman Alphabetical, won the 2006 Archibald Lampman Award. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of Arc: Canada's National Poetry Magazine and taught Creative Writing to young people in Ontario and Chicago.
- Carafola, a novel by Christine Miscione: Miscione is a Canadian fiction writer. Her work has appeared in various Canadian publications, such as Exile: The Literary Quarterly, This Magazine, and The Puritan. In 2011, she was the recipient of the Hamilton Arts Award for Best Emerging Writer. In 2012, Miscione’s story, Skin Just, won first place in the Gloria Vanderbilt/Exile Editions CVC Short Fiction Contest (emerging writer category). Her debut short story collection,Auxiliary Skins, was released in 2013. Carafola is her first novel.
HOSTS: Mansfield Press publisher/editor Denis De Klerck and editor Stuart Ross.
WHERE: Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, in the large, covered terrace in the back. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. Parking behind, with overflow parking available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 30th. Starting at 7:00 pm.