I know. It’s been months since I posted a reading list. I’ve been busy. Her you be –

The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby – This is one of those books where the guts are good, but it’s pitched for a different audience than me. It’s meant for someone who might still be questioning whether the North American church really contributed (and still contributes) to racism (and, um, I’m already deeply convinced), so it never goes deep enough or sustains its investigation long enough for my liking. I wanted something a little more academic and rigorous.

What the Living Won’t Let Go by Lorna Crozier – I’ve had a soft spot for Lorna ever since university, back when I was made to read her The Garden Going on Without Us, which had what I still consider to be the funniest opening line of a poem I’ve ever read – “Carrots are fucking the earth.” Unfortunately, What the Living Won’t Let Go doesn’t provide any comparable moments. It holds it’s own in many ways, but I wanted it to hurt me more.

The Literature Machine by Italo Calvino – I love Calvino. Love, love, love. Even in this collection of essays, which often takes on authors and books that don’t really interest me, there are so many moments where the sharpness of his mind stops me dead. I’ll leave you with this admonishment from near the end of the book: “Everything that is useful to the whole business of living together in a civilized way is energy well spent.”

Pronounced / Workable by Candace de Taeye – I had the privilege of publishing Candace’s first full-length collection, Small Planes and the Dead Fathers of Lovers, through Vocamus Press a few years ago, so you might guess that I like her stuff. I have a full review of this new book coming out I don’t know when, so I won’t say more here except that it’s definitely worth grabbing a copy.

Stand Out of Our Light by James Williams – This book has some interesting things to say about technology and the attention economy, but it felt both plodding and repetitive, not to mention a curious unwillingness to engage with the capitalist and corporate structures that drive the kinds of attention economy he describes. So, I mean, read it, I guess? Just don’t go into it expecting too much.

On February 25, as part of the Coldest Night of the year campaign, I’ll be running 5K to support people and families experiencing homelessness, hurt, and hunger in Guelph.

All donations will go to support the work of Hope House in alleviating poverty. Please, give generously by clicking the link below.



Frei Betto’s Fidel and Religion – Originally published in 1985, this is an extended interview by Frei Betto, a radical Catholic Priest and proponent of Liberation Theology, of Fidel Castro, you know, the guy who ran Communist Cuba for a few decades. It covers a broader rage of subjects than just religion, but religion is where it’s most interesting, since Castro rarely discussed the topic elsewhere. Most interesting to me was the suggestion, made in various ways, that the Cuban Revolution was in some degree an attempt to fulfill certain ideals that Castro hadl earned from his Catholic upbringing but had found unfulfilled in the church.

Zoe Landale’s Einstein’s Cat – These poems are often dial-voiced, split into columns, arguing with themselves, talking over themselves, and this formal intervention is the most noteworthy aspect of the collection. It’s an intriguing idea to me, one that I think has promise, but this collection doesn’t really deliver on that promise, at least not to my taste.

John Fuller’s Flying to Nowhere – What a strange, amazing, surreal, thought-provoking little novel! Why did nobody make me read this earlier? You should go get a copy right now. Like, now.

Patrick Suskind’s Perfume – This is an expertly crafted novel. I read it in translation of course, because my German is, how you say, scheisse. Even so, in any language, it’s uncannily sensory, like being hooked up to some kind of literary VR device. It’s this sense that makes the distressing bits that much more distressing, I think, so be warned.

Klara du Plessis’ Hell Light Flesh – This poetry collection explores the experience of childhood abuse and corporal punishment in a way that is simultaneously deeply visceral and deeply cerebral. It’s formally innovative, stylistically tight, and conceptually provocative. A really good book.

Alexei Perry Cox’s Place – I love the layout of this book. I could wish it was on better paper instead of what feels like heavy newsprint, but the layout is great. It does a lot of fun things with multiple languages and translation too. It’s a really cool book if you can find yourself a copy.

Eric McKeen’s Tear – A novel that manages to be really creepy, not just by being grotesque or ominous or gory, but by fundamentally linking the dark and broken places of our humanity with the monstrous, exploring the way that we make manifest the monstrosities that we hold with us. I like it.

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead – Sometimes Sullivan’s informality seems affected to me, and some of his subjects seem self-indulgent (the personal drama that ensues from renting his house to a film company, for example), but there are some really good essays in this book – thoughtful, subtle, and revealing of the American animal in its natural habit.

Jeramy Dodds’ Drakkar Noir – This was my first time reading Jeramy Dodds’s poetry. It’s witty and playful, which is good, except that it feels like it’s trying so hard to be witty and playful, which gets tedious. I liked these lines though, neither witty nor playful, just poetic – “If we are mostly water / then why all this thirst? / Plummeting through months, / I’m calling falling home.”

Sarah Tolmie’s The Art of Dying – This collection of poetry has some solid formal chops, and the voice is curious, a glib, subversive surface that sometimes makes way for more personal and reflective notes. It’s not always effective, but when it is, it very much is. It’s worth the read.

Adam Sol’s Crowd of Sounds – This is good stuff. I sometimes want it to pack more of a gut punch. I sometimes feel like it falls into prettiness. But then again, sometimes the prettiness has its own appeal, as in this humdinger of a pick up line – “It isn’t what your words mean that I love / it’s what you say so slow it takes all night.”

Thomas King’s 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin – Let’s be honest. Thomas King isn’t at his best as a poet. His real strengths are found in more novelistic writing. But this book has the same wild storytelling, subversive humour, and unexpected gravitas that mark his novels, so I don’t think you’ll be much disappointed in it either.

Sacha Archer’s Hydes – This is a chapbook-length essay on (reductively) the nature of being human / animal / monstrous. I picked it up at the Gap Riot Small Press Fair at TIFA a week or so ago. I discovered that it’s a good length of read and weight of thought to accompany a double IPA and the first pipe of tobacco on the porch that I’ve had since covid. So, make of that what you will.

A very short poem of mine was chosen to be set to music for the Reshaping Ruins project, which you can learn more about here – https://www.reshapingruins.com/.

If you’d like to participate in the community choir that will be singing the piece, they’ll be workshopping it in Market Square (1 Carden Street, Guelph) on August 13 at 11:00 AM. All are welcome to join.

The final audio-visual exhibition (where I’ll get to read the poem) will be at Goldie Mill (75 Cardigan St, Guelph) on September 24th at 7:30 PM.

I’ll be moderating a Writers’ Panel on the Role of the Local Bookshop this Saturday August 6, at 1:00 PM at the Elora Public Library (144 Geddes Street) – https://www.facebook.com/events/1241991673228722

The panel of Gordon Hill Press authors, Kevin Heslop, Khashayar Mohammadi, and Rhonda Waterfall, will share their insights on the role of the local bookshop.

Attendees can also join the authors for a drink at the Elora Brewing Company (www.elorabrewingcompany.ca) after the panel.

The event is hosted by Elora bookstore, Magic Pebble Books (www.magicpebble.ca), which will be featuring Gordon Hill Press books over the next few months.

I’d love to see you there.

I started this in June. Then I got busy. I made it a little longer to make up for the delay.

Sue Goyette’s Penelope – I really like this book. I have lots of thoughts about how Goyette runs verbal structures throughout the poem sequence, too many thoughts for this forum. Ask me the next time I see you.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me – There are some books that are notable for their content, and some that are notable for their writing. This one is notable for both. It is a remarkable book, and as a father of bi-racial children, it was also tremendously meaningful to me.

G. B. Edwards’ The Book of Ebeneezer Page – Gosh, I tried to like this. Granted, the narrative voice holds its own. Granted also, the details of historical Guernsey Island are sometimes fun. But it reads too much like an old man rambling about back in his day. For 400 pages. 400!

Frantz Fanon’s Black Faces, White Masks – I don’t really have the background in psychology to get the most out of these essays (I could never get into Freud and Jung and their adherents), but Fanon’s exploration into the psychology of race, particularly as it plays out between the colonized space of Martinique and the colonizer space of France, is fascinating.

Liz Howard’s Letters in a Bruised Cosmos – I read this (out of order from the fifty Canadian poetry volumes piled on top of it) because I was supposed to be on a Word on the Street panel with Liz (though she couldn’t make it in the end). I like it where she writes in more standard modes and lets her poetry do its thing. I didn’t like it where she tries on more experimental forms. They feel forced and jarring to me. I would have cut them.

Bardia Sinaee’s Intruder – This was the other book I read for that panel. Bardia did make it, and it was fun to chat with him, even under the constrictions of the panel format. I quite like this book, especially the second section, where he leans into a four quatrain form that seems to work well for him. It was a deserving Trillium winner.

Kirby’s Poetry Is Queer – I’d recommend this hybrid of memoir / essay / poetry / criticism to anyone who finds the combination of those words interesting. I’d especially recommend it if you’re in the Toronto area and have had any occasion to interact with Kirby and the work they do for poetry in the area. It’s a very intimate and expressive book.

Sydney Warner Brooman’s The Pump – This is a fun book. Well, fun and disturbing. Maybe more disturbing than fun, actually. But still a little fun. I’ll just say that it’s set in a town built on a toxic swamp, with killer beavers, and storks that take babies rather than bring them. You should read it.

Johanna Skibsrud’s The Nothing That Is: Essays on Art, Literature, and Being – Be warned that some of these essays are quite academic and that they reference a whole slew of other philosophers and theorists. If that was never your jam (wise life choice), or you gave that stuff up the moment you graduated (glad to see that you can learn from your mistakes), it might not be for you. It does have some really interesting ideas about poetry though, particularly that poetic language is not defined either by what it is or isn’t, but by the limits that it marks between what is and isn’t. Right?

Get cozy. I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about the pleasure of finding things in books – physical things that trigger not so physical things. And it may take me a hot minute.

Okay, so, I took my eldest son to Toronto for his birthday. We made a list of all the manga and anime stores in the downtown area, mapped a route, and spent most of the day wandering from one to the other. He bought the entirety of Deathnote in a single volume (almost as wide as it is tall). I bought a two-volume, hardcover boxed set of the complete Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (oh, the nostalgia). We even found a couple of funky little places to eat.

We also (because I can’t help myself) stopped at a used bookstore, which wasn’t technically (or at all) on our itinerary. It was the kind of bookstore I like best, where books have been piled so high on the sales counter that the bookseller is clearly using them as a bulwark against the unwanted intrusion of actual customers. I found a copy of Raymond Souster’s Ten Elephants on Yonge Street (1968), a second printing but still hardcover. The bookseller was convinced to take my money through a crack in his tottering fortress. I put the book in my bag, and I pretty well forgot about it for a few days.

When I got around to opening it, I discovered inside the front cover a clipping of an article from the Weekend Magazine (April 15, 1972), four years after the second printing of Souster’s book and seven years after the original publication in 1965. The article was written by Don Bell (journalist, author, winner of the Stephen Leacock Award, and fierce advocate for the Montreal bagel). It was titled “Canada’s Poet In A Cage”.

Now, I love these little surprises in books, even (maybe especially) when they involve just a napkin with an address on it, or a picture with a date on the back, or a business card from a vacuum cleaner salesman based in Winnipeg (all actual finds, incidentally). I once found a mini review taped into the front of one book (not favourable, in case you were wondering). I even tracked one book from the Guelph bookstore where I found it, through the Montreal bookstore where it was purchased, to Iran where the original owner was, back to Guelph where the owner’s ex-partner still lives. I kid you not.

So, finding this article in Souster’s book is the sort of thing I find interesting anyway, but in this case it also struck me as a curious reminder of how different poetry culture (and our culture generally, for that matter) is today. Here was an article, about a poet, a full page and more, 48 column inches, with a colour photo, consisting of a reasonably in depth discussion of his work, including several sustained quotations, in a weekend magazine that arrived with the weekend paper.

Let’s be clear – Souster wasn’t being featured because he’d done something outrageous, because he was involved in some social or political activity, or because he’d just released a particularly well received book. The man was a banker. He wrote solid, accessible poetry that achieved decent critical success and won him some awards, but nothing that would remotely have earned him 48 column inches in the world today. In fact, I can barely imagine what a poet would need to do these days to get that kind of poetry-focussed coverage in a newspaper.

There are reasons for that, of course (not all of them bad), and I am always hesitant to critique the present in favour of the past (because there are certainly elements of the past that should remain there), but as I read Bell’s article, fifty years after it was published, I couldn’t help a degree of nostalgia for a time when a regular Canadian poet’s work was able to find that kind of popular attention.

I’ve since taped the article to my office wall with all the other printed detritus that washes up on my desk, as a reminder of something that I can’t quite name.

And that’s my story. Feel free to go about your business.

Come meet me at two events this weekend.

On Saturday June 25, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Hillsburgh Branch of the Wellington County Library, I’ll be running a workshop on chapbook making as well as selling books for Gordon Hill press and Vocamus Writers Community at the Wellington County Writers Festival closing day festivities.

On Sunday June 26, 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM at Harcourt United Church, I’ll be selling books for Gordon Hill Press and Vocamus Writers Community at the One Thousand Trees book sale.

Come on out to one or both.