I’ve been reading some good books recently, too many to address individually, so I thought I’d do one of those quick surveys I used to do.

Gary Barwin’s No TV For Woodpeckers – Gary Barwin never writes the same book twice, not remotely, and yet all of his books are worth reading, which is one of the better compliments I can offer an author. I reviewed No TV For Woodpeckers for the Rusty Toque, so you can get a fuller idea of what I think of it there. I’ll just say here that barwin does some fascinating things with proper names in these poems, and that the collection as a whole creates a unique and poetic sense of place.

Shane Neilson’s Dysphoria – There is no poet in Canada who provokes my emotions so deeply as Shane Neilson, to say nothing of what he accomplishes technically and formally. This collection is no exception. It’s a remarkable volume. Again, I’ve reviewed it at length elsewhere, for Contemporary Verse 2 (though there’s no electronic version of it, so you’ll just have to go get the Summer issue for yourself). Whether you read the review or not, do read Dysphoria (in fact, just read all of Neilson’s books).

Paul Auster’s 4321 – This is a crazy, amazing book, but I can’t recommend it without proviso. It’s long. It’s structurally experimental. It’s written almost entirely without dialogue. In other words, it’s not an easy read. It’s not a page-turner. It won’t keep you up all night. You will absolutely be able (tempted?) to put it down. But it’s also very much worth reading. Book some time for it, but get it done.

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo – This book is a marvel –  historical scholarship mashed with historical fantasy in ways that you will never have seen before. The dialogue in some places is an absolute wonder, simultaneously farcical and moving. I read the whole book in one go at the bar one evening (a six pint book), then read it again more slowly over the next few days – loved it both times.

George Elliott Clarke’s Gold – Clarke was the first Canadian poet I ever read who I didn’t hate. I’d been fed a whole series of very “Canadian” poems by highschool teachers, all without any real context or biography or, well, anything. Then I picked up Clarke’s Whylah Falls and fell in love. Gold doesn’t strike me with the same power, but it has some great bits. The erotic sonnets in the middle are particularly wonderful.

James Lipton’s An Exultation of Larks – This is an older book (published in 1968), and it’s a book that will appeal most to word nerds. It explores the linguistic form of venery (a pride of lions, a flock of sheep, a gaggle of geese, and so forth). It’s a cute book, with lots of trips down etymology lane. It may not amuse you, but it amused me.

David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System – I have managed to avoid David Foster Wallace until now. I’m not entirely sure how. I made serious notes to myself several times over the years about intending to read him, but always seemed to get distracted by one thing or another. Learn from my error. Grab this book, especially if you’re a fan of the slightly surreal. Some of the scenes are masterfully absurd, but the larger story never falls incomprehensibility. I’m picking up Wallace’s Infinite Jest next.



She was wearing patent leather pants and a bronze metallic jacket beneath hair bleached to bone white. There was a boy trailing behind her into the bar, dressed in nondescript jeans and a plaid shirt. I caught his quizzical look when she ordered a Lemon Drop Martini, saw him hesitate before the row of craft beer taps and ask which of them was most like Coor’s Light.

She was shorter than him by three inches, but her heels made her taller. She tottered as she walked. Even so she whipped him in three straight games of pool, cocking her hips and leaning over every shot as if for the benefit of the bar’s collective gaze. He took his beating with the same befuddled look, more than once visibly disbelieving at her more difficult shots.

When she led him out, tottering no more and no less after three martinis, he followed with the gait of a man who knew his place.

The family who moved in next door has family connections to a native plant nursery – just the thing to feed my addiction.

I planted what he sourced for me today – Joe-Pye Weed, Slender Blazing Star, Soiky Blazing Star, Yellow Canada Lily, Starry False Solomon’s Seal, Butterfly Milkweed, Boneset, Mountain Mint, Pale Echinacea, and Nannyberry.

Just thought you might like to know.

I’m reading tonight at Elora WordFest, 7PM, the Elora Centre For The Arts (75 Melville St, Elora). $5.

I’ll probably read the poem that won the recent Grounded competition, and also some of the Trumped poems I’ve been working on (some serious amusement there, I guarantee).

Come and check it out.

I’ve always had more than one name. My parents made sure of that when they named my Jeremy Luke but always called me Luke. From the moment they made that choice I was always doomed to be Jeremy on first days of school and at border crossings and to telemarketers, while also being Luke to everyone who actually knew me.

As a child, I felt this situation as one of life’s minor but unavoidable annoyances, like too-bushy eyebrows or a bad sense of fashion, something that might cause some embarrassment with strangers but was easily forgiven among friends and family. As I grew older, however, I started to see some advantages in having two separate personas, where Jeremy was a kind of official persona who applied for jobs and registered for bank accounts and wrote poems, and Luke was a more relational persona who went to school and played rugby and spent summers on Manitoulin Island and attended youth group and asked girls on dates and all the other things that went with family, friendship, and community.

This distinction was never really very rigorous, of course, and couldn’t be. There was only ever one person behind the personae, and the things I did, the people I knew, the places I went couldn’t help but blend into each other. Even so, I began to find the two names and their implied roles more and more helpful. Even if Jeremy and Luke were never entirely distinct, they each named a different part of me in a way that helped me understand myself and relate to others better, particularly as my official persona became increasingly tied to academic and literary pursuits. The two names became roles I could take on in different situations: Jeremy, a mostly extroverted teacher and writer, at least partially distinct from Luke, a mostly introverted husband, father, and friend.

As I said, those two names have been with me from birth, but what spurred me to think about them again recently is that I’ve acquired a third name. I’ve been working a couple days a week for a contractor friend over the past few months, and he calls me Lucas. I’m not sure why, but he does. This means that his new co-op student calls me Lucas, that the other contractors, clients, hardware store employees and everyone else I meet in that capacity, all call me Lucas also. Most interestingly, at least to me, Lucas is also starting to name a persona that serves me, much as Jeremy and Luke serve me, to identify a role that I play in the world.

Whereas Jeremy tends to be very independent, self-motivated, and even self-employed (if you can use that word for an enterprise that barely breaks even), Lucas is content just to swing a hammer and let someone else be the boss. Whereas Luke’s roles of husband and father and friend are mostly defined by nurturing and supporting others, Lucas’ roles of employee and co-worker are mostly defined by playfulness and humour and comradery. Whereas Jeremy’s work is primarily intellectual, Lucas’ work is primarily physical. While Luke’s labour is about building family and home and community, Lucas’ labour is purely transactional.

Now, let’s be clear. Lucas’ role has always been one I’ve played throughout my life, far before that name became attached to it. I was Lucas when I was drywalling in the Alberta oil patch for a summer, when I was playing highschool and university rugby, when I was making fiberglass at Owens-Corning, and when I was working occasionally for my brother. To be honest, there’s a part of Lucas who shows up every time I hang out with my brothers, every time I go to the movies with some guy friends, every Thursday night when a few of my friends meet for drinks and video games and other such unproductivity, every time I go play with my old man basketball team. That physical, brotherly, wise-ass part of me has always been there, if perhaps less developed than some of my other bits.

The difference is that now this part of me has a name, a persona, a distinct role. I didn’t ask for it, but it was given to me, and I’m starting to enjoy it. Just as with Jeremy and Luke, the role of Lucas isn’t entirely distinct, but it allows me to inhabit a part of me more fully, to take on that role of co-worker, teammate, and brother with greater intention. I’m curious to see who this Lucas will become.


My poem was a winner for Guelph Spoken Word’s Grounded: Relationships With Our Land competition. I’ll be reading it at the Grounded event on Saturday, April, 7:00 PM, at The Guelph Black Heritage Society.

The event is an evening of readings, performed works, and community spotlights focused on the many forms that a relationship with our land base – and the earth as a whole – can take. The cover is $10/PWYC.

Here’s a copy of the piece below.

Our culture has at least three very dissimilar ways of understanding the idea of hunger.

First, we think of hunger as a part of poverty or famine, usually in far off places like a foreign country or an inner city neighbourhood. In this sense, hunger is a social problem that needs to be eradicated, preferably without actually involving us very closely with the people who are actually hungry. We’d rather send some money or attend a rally or something and feel like we’ve done our part. Meeting any hungry people in person would just be uncomfortable.

Second, we think of hunger as our own physical need for food. Again, we want to be rid of hunger in this sense as quickly as possible. The moment we feel a hunger pang, we start rooting in the fridge for a snack, looking for a fast food joint along the edge of the highway, or heading for the vending machine in the staff lounge. We almost always look at this kind of hunger merely as a problem to be fixed, and expeditiously if possible.

Third, we think of hunger in a more metaphorical way, as a drive or a need for something that isn’t actually food. We talk about an athlete as being hungry for winning or about an executive as being hungry for success. In this sense, we use the term a little more positively, with the implication that it’s good to be hungry for these things. The idea is that staying hungry results in greater amounts of fulfillment. Even here, however, the assumption is that the ultimate goal is to satisfy the hunger. The hunger is only good to the degree that it results in greater satisfaction. It’s the food equivalent of not eating all day so that you can get your money’s worth at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Understanding hunger in these ways, our culture ends up having a strange relationship with the idea of fasting, something that my doctor is now having me do regularly as a way of regulating my blood sugars. Because we’ve trained ourselves to think of hunger as a sign of poverty and failure, or as problem to be swiftly eliminated, or as motivation used to achieve greater satisfaction, the idea of a hunger remaining deliberately unmet – not so that we can consume more later, but just to be endured – is difficult for us to understand.

And yet, there’s all sorts of evidence that our culture not only eats too much but also too often to be healthy, that it’s not good for our bodies never to be hungry. Quite apart from the emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefits that people have touted for fasting over the centuries, there are real physical benefits to allowing our bodies to be hungry on a regular basis. Among other things, it helps improve insulin sensitivity (which is why I’m required to do it), metabolism, brain function, and immune system.

I’ve only been eating in an eight hour window each day now for almost a year, fasting for the other sixteen. For the first three months (now only maybe once a month), I was also fasting one entire day a week. I’ve also cut out added sugars and big chunks of easy carbs. In just three months my bloodwork had improved dramatically. I also lost almost thirty pounds, stopped getting acid reflux at night, and am noticeably less tired and sluggish.

My point isn’t that you should take up this diet yourself. In fact, on principle I wouldn’t recommend that you take up any diet you found on some non-nutritionist’s blog, not without first chatting with your doctor about it.

My point is that in order to change the way I was eating, I first had to change my relationship to the idea of hunger. I had to stop looking at hunger solely as a problem to be eliminated. I had to begin welcoming it (in defined circumstances) as a sign of my body’s healthy functioning. Rather than looking always to fix my hunger, I had to begin embracing it. I had to start saying to myself, “This hunger is good.”

Just to be clear, not all hunger is good. Some hunger is starvation. Some hunger is lust for ever greater consumption. But neither is all hunger bad, and we need to be better at allowing ourselves to be hungry, not as punishment, not as incentive, but just because sometimes it’s good for us to be hungry.