I’m holding an open-house, drop-in, come-and-go, celebration of my new chapbook, Ordinary Eternal Machinery, published by 845 Press, on Sunday October 24.

Everyone is welcome to drop by the house at 130 Dublin Street North any time between noon and 5:00 PM for some hot apple cider and some snacks, hopefully not all at once so that we can follow covid guidelines for numbers and social distancing.Please do bring a mask. I’ll have hand sanitizer available at the door.

The book is a comprised of poems written from the text of Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers accompanied by short non-fiction responses to that problems that I felt in rereading that novel.

I won’t be reading from the book (it’s not really the sort of thing best suited to public reading anyway). But 845 Press will be there to sell copies, and I’ll be there to sign them and chat with visitors, so drop by whenever is convenient for you. I’d love to see you all there.

You can find more information on the event page here – https://www.facebook.com/events/872613963632833.

Just reading James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time” (a beautiful letter to his nephew that everyone should read, but particularly poignant to a parent with Black teens about the same age as the young man whom Baldwin is addressing).

Anyway, near the end of the letter he includes a line that is the anti-MAGA. He writes, “This is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can MAKE AMERICA WHAT AMERICA MUST BECOME” (emphasis obviously mine).

To be fair, MAWAMB doesn’t work quite as well as an acronym, but I might still get it printed on a t-shirt.

Michael Cisco’s Animal Money – I read a lot of structurally and stylistically strange books. I strongly prefer them to more standard narratives, to the point where I can barely make my way through a linear, realist novel anymore, not unless the writing is really exceptional. So, with all that in mind, you’ll know that when I call Animal Money one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, that’s saying something. And at 780 pages, it’s a commitment. That’s not to scare people off, because I think it’s worth the read. I’m just giving you fair warning about what you’re getting into. Now I can tell you to go get a copy in good conscience.

Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark – I’m not trying to open up a whole appropriation can of worms here, but it was interesting to see Morrison write this – “The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” I affirm this, strongly, even as I affirm, just as strongly, that some imaginings of “what is not the self” can’t help but fall into misrepresentation and appropriation. Morrison doesn’t address this problem directly in this book, but she does model an approach to criticism that goes beyond just calling out places where the power of the writer has failed and became misrepresentative (in fact, she barely bothers to do this at all). Instead, she patiently explores those moments of failed representation of “what is not the self” as a means of examining the kind of selves that fall into this misrepresentation, asking how and why and to what end these misrepresentations are made. If you write criticism, this is a book that will profit you.

David Waltner-Toews’ The Fat Lady Struck Dumb – I can’t remember where I picked this book up. I read it at random out of my pile of unread Canadian poetry. I don’t like to dwell on books that I don’t enjoy, so I’ll just say that it didn’t do much for me, and I couldn’t finish it.

Soren Kierkegaard’s Repetition – I was very influenced by Kierkegaard’s work when I was in my first few years of university, and I decided to pick something up of his again, but I couldn’t get passed lines like, “When a girl’s love is not self-sacrificing, then she is not a woman but a man.” Yep. Didn’t finish it.

Soren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs – I thought I’d give poor Kierkegaard a second chance, but he begins the book with the question of learning as read through Socrates, and it seemed like ground better approached in other ways by other thinkers since. I didn’t make it far. I may be done with Kierkegaard.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Tell-All – I figured out fairly early how the end would twist in this funky little book (and you probably will too), but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t call this a great novel, but I have this to say about Palahniuk – he never remotely writes the same book twice, and every book he writes is surprising in its form and style. There aren’t many other authors who can say the same.

Anais Nin’s Incest – The fabulous thing about this book is that Nin conveys the most subtle insights about her friends and lovers in truly lovely prose. The terrible thing about this book is that Nin writes about little else than lovers’ quarrels and relational drama. It’s like reading a teenager’s diary, if the teenager in question was deeply aware of human psychology and wrote in impeccable style. And the fabulous thing could only drag me through the terrible thing so long. I didn’t even get to the part about the titular incest with her father. Maybe you’ll do better.

(Imagined Image #1 – A katydid, pale green and translucent, cupped in a human palm.)

I haven’t written about gardening in some time, not because I’ve been in the garden any less, but because I’ve been writing about everything less, and also because I feel like my approach to writing doesn’t lend itself to gardening. Writing on gardening needs pictures. It’s best in glossy magazines on coffee tables and endlessly scrollable posts of images on social media. I don’t generally photograph the garden at all, and I never include pictures in posts, so I’m poorly suited to garden writing.

(Imagined Image #2 – Screenshot of my defunct gardening blog.)

I did try once. I started a second blog, now long defunct (I won’t bother providing a link), where I tried to write in this way. For a brief time a took pictures in the garden, or linked to suitable pictures from the web, and I made an attempt at a pretty gardening blog. But it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t long before I let it die.

The thing is, there are times when I’d like a space to write like that, on a site where the posts have a space in the header for a screen-wide image, and where the post templates are actually centred around images, because I do love the garden, and there are parts of it I’d like to share.

(Imagined Image #3 – My front and sideyard from the street, angled to follow the path that curves up from the sidewalk to the flagstone patio, flanked by various trees and shrubs and flowers.)

For example, as the years have passed here on Dublin Street (almost fifteen years now), and as I’ve added ever more plants (mostly native, mostly edible, and entirely perennial), we’ve discovered an ever great variety of animals in the garden.

(Imagined Image #4 – Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, close-up, sitting on a plant leaf.)

This year we’ve seen Meadow Fritillary, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, and Mourning Cloak butterflies, along with the usual Monarchs and Coppers. We’ve seen Katydids and Spur-throated Grasshoppers. We’ve seen fireflies and any number of other unidentified beetles and bugs. We’ve seen Finches and Flickers and Flycatchers, along with our regular Cardinals and Robins and Chickadees.

(Imagined Image #5 – Woodpile with Ironweed growing behind and Pink Lady Slippers (now withered) in front.)

And I really would like to share them with you, rather than forcing you to imagine them. I guess, you’ll just need to drop by and see them for yourself.

Jack Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard
Karen Houle’s Ballast
Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs’ And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks
Lynn Crosbie’s Queen Rat
Alessandro Barricco’s Ocean Sea
Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband
Felipe Alfau’s Locos
Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband
Paul Tyler’s A Short History of Forgetting
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis
Jay Ruzesky’s Painting the Yellow House Blue

So, I did a funny thing. Or funny to me anyway. I made a critical edition of Jim Theis’s The Eye of Argon.

The Eye of Argon (for those of you unfortunate enough never to have encountered it) is a story written by Jim Theis at the age of sixteen and first published in the fanzine, Osfan #10, in 1970. It became infamous as an example of sublimely awful writing, and it was widely read at science fiction conventions.

It’s a sword and sorcery tale of the Conan the Barbarian variety. It’s hero has rippling muscles and flowing hair. He rescues a maiden in fantastically impractical clothing. He fights nasty monsters and evil priests and tyrannical rulers. And he claims the mystical gem, the Eye of Argon. All good stuff.

And it seemed to me like the hilariously perfect subject for an experiment where I would take a piece of overwritten fiction and pretend that it was a historical text, a long lost document of an ancient civilization, several times translated. So I developed a whole critical conversation around it, complete with fictitious books, journals, universities, and even professors bickering over the petty details’ of Theis’s manuscript. I wrote an introduction, copious footnotes, frequent marginal corrections, and an annotated bibliography, all of it entirely imaginary.

If you also think that’s a funny thing, you can get your copy here – https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/jim-theis-and-j-l-hill/the-eye-of-argon/paperback/product-qq8ye8.html.

Okay, at the risk of offending a certain demographic, I need to admit that I don’t love Jack Kerouac.

Maybe it’s that I came to his work too late in life (not until my mid-thirties). Maybe it’s that I haven’t lived a life much related to the one that Kerouac describes in his loosely fictionalized memoir. I don’t know. But I find his characters shallow and his narrators detached in a way that disengages me, and his prose is so pared that it lacks all musicality to my ear, except sometimes when he speaks of jazz music.

But… I just read Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard, and I love it.

The book is typical Kerouac autofiction in its structure, but it’s unique in that it returns to his childhood to explore memories of his brother who died of an unnamed illness at just nine years old. Here, the characters – sickly Gerard, Ma, and Poppa – are anything but flat and shallow, depicted with a sensitivity and depth that is often heartbreaking. Here, the narrator is anything but detached, revealing himself and his emotions with affective intimacy. Here, the prose is anything but spare, allowing itself flights of mystical language that at times approaches the sensibility of prose poetry.

What a book! How wonderfully contrary to my expectations! Go read it!

B. Catling’s The Vorrh
B. Catling’s The Erstwhile
B. Catling’s The Cloven
Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone
Robyn Sarah’s Wherever We Were Meant to Be
Matthew Walsh’s These are not the potatoes of my youth
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Warrior Woman
Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life
Joan Didion’s Savador
Dominique Janicaud’s On the Human Condition