Monthly Archives: December 2012

Al Purdy’s Poems for All the Annettes is a collection that resists being defined by any particular stylistic element, because Purdy’s style varies so considerably between its poems.  He is at times lyrical and reflective, like in “Whoever You Are”, where he writes,

Clouds must be clouds always, even if
they’ve not decided what to be at all,
and trees trees, stones stones, unnoticed,
the magic power of anything is gone.
But sometimes when the moonlight disappears,
with you in bed and nodding half awake,
I have not known exactly who you were,
and choked and could not speak your name…

In other poems, like “Archaeology of Snow” or “Love Poem”, he employs a more visual style, making use of the space on the page to convey to the sense of the poem, and the collection also contains examples of his conversational poems, like “At the Quinte Hotel” and “The Listeners”, which begins with the memorable lines, spoken in a bar by a man who looks like a truck driver,

“I might have married her once but
being an overnight guest of hers changed my mind–“

What unifies these various styles, and what makes Poems for All the Annettes a coherent whole despite them, is the quiet but irresistible sense that every poem is part of Purdy’s own life, that they are not artistic exercises or aesthetic experiments, but an integral part of his living, inseparable from it.  This is where their unity lies, so that the style of each poem seems merely to be the form closest to hand, the one best able to say what Purdy needs to be said, less significant as a stylistic statement than as a poetic vehicle for a unique moment that he has lived.

It is in this sense of interconnection with the poet’s life that I think Purdy’s value as a poet primarily lies for us today, in his ability to write poetry that speaks to a lived life rather than to some stylistic fad, because while there are certainly those who are writing poetry in Canada, and while there are even those who read it, there is very little sense that poetry in Canada is relevant to what is often but wrongly called the commonplace events of our lives.  There is instead the overwhelming impression that poetry is the domain of academics and artists, at home only in classrooms and in reading groups.  Purdy’s poetry opposes this entirely, not by speaking overtly against it, but be being entirely different from it.  His poems are poems of the pub and the bedroom and the grocery store and the dock and the home.  They were written there, and they are best read there.  It is a poetry that refuses to be separate from the life it describes, a poetry that has made itself at home wherever life is lived, and this is how poetry needs to be understood once again.

This is why I welcome House of Anansi’s reprint of Poems for All the Annettes in The A List series, because Purdy’s poetry should be a model for us, not in its style necessarily, even if it could be described by a single style, but in its willingness to inhabit the life it describes, to be neither obscure nor faddish, but to reveal how uncommon the apparently common things of our lives really are.

* This review has also been posted by Bookshelf Reviews.

I know this poem sounds like a bad Al Purdy rip-off, but I have actually been reading Al Purdy lately, so tough.

I Know

There was an old man at the bar the other night,
And, to be fair, he might have been there a while already.
It took him a few minutes to interrupt me, but then he said,
”That waitress is a fine piece of ass,
And you might be young enough to get some.”
”Married,” I said, and meant it.
”Never stopped me.”
”Well, does me.”
”One set of tits and ass forever, eh?”
”No,” I told him, because he needed to know,

”A woman’s body is never the same twice.
It’s an infinity, never to be compassed,
An endless, boundless pleasure,
And the true lover’s terror is not that he will be sated,
But that each moment he is apart from her is a moment,
Unique and irreplaceable, that will never be again.”

”Whoah! That’s some deep shit,” he said. ”I just fuck em.”
”Yeah,” I said, ”I know.”

I am proud to announce that Vocamus Press has published the first of its Vocamus Editions, G. K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill, an edition that I have been editing for something like seven years.  I love this book, and I hope that this new edition will give others the chance to love it as well.

Vocamus Editions are high quality editions of public domain books that are edited by members of the Vocamus Press community, and we are pleased to have Napoleon of Notting Hill as the first title in the series.  The edition is an excellent introduction to Chesterton’s earliest and most imaginative novel.  It offers an introduction to the text, a chronology of Chesterton’s life, and informative notes designed to help readers fully enjoy Chesterton’s classic story.  Both those who are reading the novel for the first time and those who are returning to it as an old favourite will appreciate this edition of the book that has influenced more than a hundred years of writers and revolutionaries.

Copies are available through the Vocamus Press website.

Roberta Lowing’s debut novel, Notorious, tells the story of a diary that is said to be written by the poet Rimbaud and that obsesses generations of a family who use its maps of desert oases to smuggle goods and slaves. The narrative sprawls across centuries and continents, drifting between the perspectives of several characters, but it always returns to the diary, which takes on an almost mythical role in the history of the family.

The imagery of desert and oasis permeates the novel, even when the setting moves through Poland or Sicily or Borneo, and the quality of the writing, when at its best, could be described in the language of the desert also, as creating a sense of mirage, where things are probably not what they seem to be but nevertheless demand that we believe in them. The book’s strength comes through its capacity to place the reader in this sense of mirage, a unique effect that I think is a real literary accomplishment.

The narrative, however, is a straggling thing that drifts too far from its central themes and relies too much on coincidence to feel compelling. Though the various settings and characters are unified to a degree by the sense of mirage that runs through them all, the book seems untethered and unfocussed. There are are whole sections that I felt should be eliminated, and I found myself wishing that it had confined itself to the desert setting alone.

The novel is also overwritten at times, seeking for a poetic register that it misses as often as it finds, repeatedly breaking the book’s carefully constructed sense of mood. In some instances these passages fall into the ridiculous, like when a diseased squirrel foams at the mouth and the “yellow droplets” are described as eating “through the snow in steaming black holes,” a passage that is not only overwritten but also bizarre and patently impossible as well.

The sum of these successes and failures is a decidedly uneven novel, with much that is worth reading set beside much that makes reading a frustration and a chore. It is a book that might have been very good had Lowing edited it more sternly, but is instead only a mediocre book, even if it manages at times to touch on something greater.

We have finalized the details for the launch party. It will be held on January 26th (rather than January 19th as we had previously posted), from 7:00 to 10:00 at the eBar in downtown Guelph. There is no cost to attend, and all are welcome.

The evening will feature readings by writers from Guelph and surrounding area, interspersed with a healthy amount of mingling, chatting, and drinking.

If you are a Guelph-area writer and would like to do a reading, please let us know at We would love to have you join us for the evening.

I have had to read extensively through my notebooks as I work on my new novel, and I made searchable master list to assist me in finding things.  The result interested me so much that I decided to share it, though it will probably interest you much less.  The list is a chronological record, not of the books I have read in the ten or so years that I have been keeping these notebooks, but of the books that prompted me to make notes for some reason or another.  There are some books, particularly some novels, even ones that I very much enjoyed, that went without any sort of notes at all and are therefore not on the list.  There are others that did find their way into the notebooks and onto the list despite the fact that I genuinely disliked them.  Also, in a number of cases, the book ended up in my notes on the second or third reading, because I first read it before I became addicted to reading in the way I now read.  The rest of the list should be self-explanatory.  It is also very probably too long to read, and you need not feel obligated even to try, but here it is in any case.

Erasmus Praise of Folly
Kierkegaard, Soren Fear and Trembling
Kierkegaard, Soren The Sickness Unto Death
Kierkegaard, Soren Concluding Unscientific Postscript
Rushdie, Salman Midnight’s Children
Smith, Anna Deavere Twilight: Los Angeles 1992
Zitkala-Sa American Indian Stories
Hodgins, Jack The Invention of the World
Ellison, Ralph Invisible Man
Plath, Sylvia The Bell Jar
Hulme, Keri The Bone People
Faulkner, William The Sound and the Fury
Stein, Gertrude Three Lives
Ondaatje, Michael Running in the Family
Mitscherling, Jeff Roman Ingarden’s Ontology and Aesthetics
Ingarden, Roman Selected Papers in Aesthetics
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Ethics
Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man
Ingarden, Roman The Literary Work of Art
Derrida, Jacques Writing and Difference
Derrida, Jacques A Derrida Reader
Derrida, Jacques Of Grammatology
Derrida, Jacques Difference
Husserl, Edmund Logical Investigations
De Saussure, Ferdinand Course in General Linguistics
Miller, J. Hillis Narrative
Radcliffe, Anne The Mysteries of Udalpho
Lewis, Matthew The Monk
Dickens, Charles Hard Times
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein
Woolf, Virginia Mrs. Dalloway
Lessing, Doris The Golden Notebook
Gosse, Edmund Father and Son
Augustine, Saint The Enchiridon
Norwich, Julian of Revelations of Divine Love
Doctorow, E. L. Ragtime
Barnes, Julian Flaubert’s Parrot
Winterson, Jeanette Sexing the Cherry
Benjamin, Walter These on the Philosophy of History
Stoker, Bram Dracula
Kant, Immanuel The Contest of Faculties
Kant, Immanuel An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment
Arnold, Matthew Culture and Anarchy
Readings, Bill The University in Ruins
Graff, Gerald Professing Literature
Appadurai, Arjun Patriotism and its Futures
Ahmad, Aijaz Culture, Nationalism, and the Intellectual
Murray, Heather Working in English
Grant, George Technology and Empire
Chesterton, G. K. The Napoleon of Notting Hill
Adorno, Theodor W. Subject and Object
Critchley, Simon Ethics, Politics, Subjectivity
Jasper, David Rhetoric, Power, and Community
Blodgett, E. D. Silence, the Word, and the Sacred
Caputo, John God, the Gift, and Postmodernism
Shakespeare, William King Lear
Derrida, Jacques Aporias
Hood, Hugh The Swing in the Garden
Marion, Jean-Luc God Without Being
Osborne, John Look Back in Anger
Kipling, Rudyard Kim
Anonymous The Cloud of Unknowing
Eliot, George Adam Bede
Parker, William Riley Milton: A Biography
Hooker, Richard Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
Nouwen, Henri The Return of the Prodigal Son
Kahn, Paul W. Law and Love: The Trials of King Lear
Booth, Stephen King Lear, MacBeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy
Danby, John Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature
Elton, William King Lear and the Gods
Kronenfeld, Judy King Lear and the Naked Truth
Cornell, Drucilla Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice
Sterne, Laurence Tristram Shandy
Booth, Mark What I Believe
Marlowe, Christopher Marlowe: The Plays
Sawday, Jonathan The Body Emblazoned
Swift, Jonathan The Complete Poems
Rushdie, Salman East, West
Drakakis, John Shakespearean Tragedy
Girard, Rene Violence and the Sacred
Wilde, Oscar Comedies
Turgenev, Ivan Fathers and Sons
MacDonald, George Lilith
Girard, Rene I See Satan Fall Like Lightning
Carlyle, Thomas Selections from Carlyle
Litz, A. Walton Major American Short Stories
de Beavoir, Simone The Blood of Others
Derrida, Jacques The Gift of Death
MacDonald, George At the Back of the North Wind
Derrida, Jacques Archive Fever
Tutu, Desmond No Future Without Forgiveness
Derrida, Jacques Acts of Literature
Dostoevsky, Fydor The Idiot
Derrida, Jacques Acts of Religion
Dumas, Alexandre The Count of Monte Cristo
Vanier, Jean Made for Happiness
James, Henry The Portrait of a Lady
Vanier, Jean Finding Peace
James, Henry The Ambassadors
Yancey, Phillip Soul Survivor
Ranciere, Jacques The Names of History
La Capra, Dominick History and Criticism
Le Goff, Jacques History and Memory
de Certeau, Michel The Writing of History
Buechner, Frederick The Storm
Defoe, Daniel Moll Flanders
Foucault, Michel The Foucault Reader
Barnes, Julian A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
Russell, Peter Constitutional Odyssey
Saul, John Ralston Voltaire’s Bastards
Haselkorn, Anne Prostitution in Elizabethan Drama
Mudge, Bradford The Whore’s Story
Zimmerman, Susan Desire on the Renaissance Stage
Kant, Immanuel Kant: On History
Hegel, G. W. F. Reason in History
Dollimore, Jonathan Sexual Dissidence
Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction
Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality, Volume II: The Use of Pleasure
Foucault, Michel The History of Sexuality, Volume III: The Care of the Self
Cary, Elizabeth The Tragedy of Miriam
Foucault, Michel Madness and Civilization
Stackhouse. John J. Humble Apologetics
Foucault, Michel Discipline and Punish
Coetzee, J. M. Foe
Barthes, Roland Mythologies
Barthes, Roland S/Z: An Essay
Heidegger, Martin On the way to Language
Baudrillard, Jean Simulacra and Simulation
Dillard, Annie Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Heidegger, Martin Poetry, Language, Thought
Barnes, Julian Something to Declare
Milbank, John Radical Orthodoxy
Raeper, William George MacDonald
Gonzalez, Margarita Behind the Veil of Familiarity: C. S. Lewis (1898-1998)
Schakel, Peter Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis
Tolkien, J. R. R Tree and Leaf
Lewis, C. S. Of This and Other Worlds
Wangerin Jr., Walter The Book of the Dun Cow
MacDonald, George The Light Princess
MacDonald, George Phantastes
MacDonald, George The Lost Princess
MacDonald, George The Gifts of the Child Christ
MacDonald, George A Dish of Orts
Peters, Thomas The Christian Imagination
Montgomery, John Myth, Allegory, Gospel
Conlon, D. J. G. K. Chesterton: A Half Century of Views
Anonymous The Song of Roland
Milbank, John Being Reconciled
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy
Barth, Karl Dogmatics in Outline
Dillard, Annie Living by Fiction
Algren, Nelson Nonconformity
Derrida, Jacques Positions
Amis, Kingsley The Biographer’s Moustache
Rajan, Tilottama Deconstruction and the Remainders of Phenomenology
Dillard, Annie For the Time Being
Cohen Leonard Beautiful Losers
de Chardin, Teilhard The Divine Milieu
Faulkner, William As I Lay Dying
Kesey, Ken One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Joyce, James Dubliners
Brown, Robert McAfee Saying Yes and Saying No
Brown, Robert McAfee Religion and Violence
Brown, Robert McAfee Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with the Third World
Longacre, Doris Living More with Less
Aichele, George Violence, Utopia, and the Kingdom of God
Barthes, Roland On Racine
Blanchot, Maurice The Step Not Beyond
Derrida, Jacques Religion and Violence
Foster, Hal The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture
Godwin, William Caleb Williams
Kavanagh, Thomas The Limits of Theory
Behn, Aphra The Rover
Kierkegaard, Soren The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, Soren Works of Love
Ibsen, Henrik Ghosts and Other Plays
Rushdie, Salman The Satanic Verses
Woolf, Virginia To The Lighthouse
Graves, Robert Poems Selected by Himself
Chesterton, G. K. Saint Francis of Assisi
More, Thomas Utopia
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich The Cost of Discipleship
Kierkegaard, Soren Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing
Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Was Thursday
Webb, William Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals
Fokkelman, J. P. Reading Biblical Narrative
Lukacs, Georg Realism in Our Time
Huxley, Aldous The Doors of Perception
Bronte, Anne Agnes Grey
Levi-Strauss, Claude Totemism
Nietzsche, Friedrich Thus Spake Zarathustra
Thomas, Edward The Works of Edward Thomas
Forster, E. M. A Passage to India
Chekhov, Anton Ivanov and Other Plays
cummings, e. e. 100 Selected Poems
Becket, Samuel Endgame
Ward, Graham Barth, Derrida, and the Language of Theology
Smith, James K. A. Speech and Theology
Oliver, Mary Why I Wake Early
Rooke, Leon The Happiness of Others
Rushdie, Salman Shame
Steiner, George Real Presences
Camus, Albert The Plague
Kafka, Franz The Trial
Drefus, Hubert L. Being in the World
Rich, Adrienne Adrienne Rich’s Poetry
Illich, Ivan Energy and Equity
Illich, Ivan Tools for Conviviality
Nin, Anais A Spy in the House of Love
Adams, Richard Shardik
Gorky, Maxim Fragments from My Diary
Zola, Emile Germinal
Barnes, Julian Love, Etc.
Grant, George Philosophy in the Mass Age
Barthes, Roland Empire of Signs
Newman, Jay Religion and Technology
Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy
Tilloch, Paul A History of Christian Thought
Hesse, Herman Steppenwolf
Derrida, Jacques Of Spirit
Hesse, Herman Magister Ludi
Derrida, Jacques Rogues
Camus, Albert The Fall
Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass
Illich, Ivan Rivers North of the Future
Brueggemann, Walter Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Life Together
McLaren, Brian D. A New Kind of Christian
Wangerin Jr., Walter The Book of Sorrows
Derrida, Jacques Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas
Huxley, Aldous Collected Short Stories
Illich, Ivan Deschooling Society
Cixous, Helen Coming to Writing
Eco, Unberto Foucault’s Pendulum
Levinas, Emmanuel God, Death, and Time
Honore, Carl In Praise of Slow
Borges, Jorge Luis Selected Poems
Abelard, Peter Ethical Writings
Borges, Jorge Luis Other Inquisitions
Norris, Kathleen The Cloister Walk
Woolf, Virginia The Common Reader
Levinas, Emmanuel Ethics and Infinity
Levinas, Emmanuel Outside the Subject
Rushdie, Salman Grimus
Dillard, Annie Holy the Firm
Levinas, Emmanuel Proper Names
Golding, William The Pyramid
Levinas, Emmanuel Of God Who Comes to MInd
Naipaul, V. S. The Enigma of Arrival
Shields, Carol The Box Garden
Wiesel, Elie The Night Trilogy
Golding, William Rites of Passage
Buechner, Frederick The Son of Laughter
Marion, Jean-Luc The Crossing of the Visible
Williams, Charles Many Dimensions
Williams, Charles All Hallows’ Eve
Barnes, Julian Metroland
Marion, Jean-Luc Being Given
Ackroyd, Peter The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde
Derrida, Jacques Learning to Live Finally
Mossman, Dow The Stones of Summer
Styron, William Sophie’s Choice
Koestler, Arthur Darkness at Noon
Lowry, Malcolm Under the Volcano
Wright, Richard Native Son
Saramago, Jose Seeing
Heller, Joseph Catch-22
Pynchon, Thomas The Crying of Lot 49
Fowles, John The Magus
Lessing, Doris Briefing for a Descent into Hell
Blanchot, Maurice The Instant of My Death
Lewis, C. S. The Pilgrim’s Regress
Blanchot, Maurice A Voice from Elsewhere
Nabokov, Vladimir Pnin
Illich, Ivan Ivan Illich in Conversation
Maugham, Somerset Of Human Bondage
Barthes, Roland A Lover’s Discourse
Friere, Paulo Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Nabokov, Vladimir Lolita
Barzun, Jacques The House of Intellect
Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Knew Too Much
Rushdie, Salman The Moor’s Last Sigh
Vanier, Jean Be Not Afraid
Dillard, Annie The Writing Life
Moorhouse, Geoffrey The Fearful Void
Genet, Jean Funeral Rites
Melville, Herman Moby Dick
Mailer, Norman An American Dream
Marion, Jean-Luc Prolegomena to Charity
Orwell, George Homage to Catalonia
Golding, William Pincher Martin
Graves, Robert Watch the North Wind Rise
Lyotard, Jean-Francois Postmodern Fables
Derrida, Jacques Echographies of Television
Ford, Ford Madox The Good Soldier
Cohen Leonard The Favourite Game
Chomsky, Noam Miseducation
Butler, Samuel Erewhon
Williams, Charles In the Place of the Lion
Chesterton, G. K. The Flying Inn
Wiesel, Elie The Forgotten
Debord, Guy The Society of the Spectacle
Mann, Thomas Doctor Faustus
Orwell, George Down and Out in Paris and London
Huxley, Aldous Island
de Certeau, Michel The Practise of Everyday Life
Winterson, Jeanette The Passion
Lilburn, Tim Going Home
Buber, Martin I and Thou
Kenner, Hugh The Elsewhere Community
Winterson, Jeanette Tanglewreck
Perec, Georges Species of Spaces
Orwell, George Books v. Cigarettes
Proust, Marcel Days of Reading
de Montaigne, Michel On Friendship
Bachelard, Gaston The Poetics of Space
Calvino, Italo Invisible Cities
Golding, William The Scorpion God
Kearney, Richard The God Who May Be
Gibson, William Pattern Recognition
Bolano, Roberto The Savage Detectives
Bolano, Roberto 2666
Bourdieu, Pierre On Television
Illich, Ivan In the Vineyard of the Text
Buechner, Frederick The Sacred Journey
Gibson, William All Tomorrow’s Parties
Dick, Philip K. A Scanner Darkly
Winterson, Jeanette The Battle of the Sun
Williams, Charles Descent into Hell
Ward, Graham The Politics of Discipleship
Williams, Charles The Shadows of Ecstasy
Calvino, Italo If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Maugham, Somerset The Razor’s Edge
Layton, Irving A Red Carpet for the Sun
Gardner, John On Moral Fiction
Canetti, Elias Auto-da-Fe
Hoban, Russell The Lion of Boaz-Jachin
Ellison, Ralph Juneteenth
Bellow, Saul Herzog
Calvino, Italo The Road to San Giovanni
Davies, Robertson The Debtford Trilogy
Perez-Reverte, Arturo The Club Dumas
Hemingway, Ernest True at First Light
Heidegger, Martin What is Called Thinking?
Derrida, Jacques Of Hospitality
Saramago, Jose All the Names
Green, Graham The Power and the Glory
Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner
Dick, Philip K. Flow My Tears the Policeman Said
Miller, Henry Tropic of Cancer
Roth, Phillip The Human Stain
Ricoeur, Paul Living Up to Death
Gardner, John October Light
Saramago, Jose Small Memories
Saramago, Jose Blindness
Postman, Neil Amusing Ourselves to Death
Golding, William The Paper Men
Illich, Ivan Toward a History of Needs
Weil, Simone Waiting for God
Haggard, H. Rider She
Perez-Reverte, Arturo The Fencing Master
Nancy, Jean-Luc The Muses
Eco, Unberto Baudolino
Bolano, Roberto Antwerp
Bolano, Roberto Monsieur Pain
Kundera, Milan The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Bolano, Roberto By Night in Chile
Llosa, Mario Vargas The Storyteller
Postman, Neil The End of Education
Baudrillard, Jean The Transparency of Evil
Rilke, Rainer Maria Letters to a Young Poet
Lowry, Malcolm Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place
Weil, Simone Waiting for God
Postman, Neil Teaching as a Subversive Activity
O’Brien, Geoffrey The Browser’s Ecstasy
Borges, Jorge Luis Collected Fictions
Agamben, Giorgio Potentialities
Baricco, Alessandro Emmaus
Rulfo, Juan Pedro Paramo
Chesterton, G. K. Autobiography
Grass, Gunter The Tin Drum
Salinger, J. D. Franny and Zooey
Illich, Ivan Gender
Malabou, Catherine What Should We Do with Our Brain
Winterson, Jeanette The Stone Gods
Fuentes, Carlos The Years with Laura Diaz