There is an article (PDF) on my creative endeavours in this month’s issue of The Westside’s Story, a monthly online newsletter serving West Toronto neighbourhoods. I was interviewed by Jodi Crawford, the publisher and editor of the newsletter, at Pascal’s café last month, and Jessica Kosmack dropped by my place to take a photograph. It turned out to be a really nice experience for me, and I hope you will check out the article and subscribe to The Westside’s Story.
Well, 2012 was a good year despite the fact that I did not complete writing any poems. I spent most of the year reading books and doing research for writing projects that I will shortly begin to work on. I have several smaller poetry sequences I want to tackle, as well as the next full-length book of poetry, which I have been planning in my mind for several years, but could not work on until I finished writing my first book. So, I am excited to begin work on this new book, as well as the smaller sequences, but still have some further research to do before I can truly start writing. The next full collection will be a book of sonnets and I hope to begin working on poems for it in late spring or summer.
This fall though I started working on a few new poems that are not related to any specific project. It is always a good feeling to be writing poetry, especially after such a long break. I suspect I will be working on singular poems, such as these, while also working on the poetry sequences that I previously mentioned. I find it helpful to be able to jump back and forth from a sequence of poems to a singular poem in order to keep up the energy in each piece of writing. I find the same thing is necessary when working in poetic forms. If I am exclusively working in stricter forms, as I will be with the book of sonnets, I find it necessary to write alternately in less strict forms, such as free verse, so that the lines in the stricter forms do not become stilted. This also helps to tighten the technique of the free verse poems that one is working on. It is mutually beneficial to both forms of poetry.
I had a great time reading at the St. Thomas Poetry Series in November, and enjoyed sharing the stage with John Reibetanz and Don Martin. As always, David Kent was a wonderful host, and Richard Greene gave me a very kind introduction. This reading was one of the highlights of the year for me and my sincere hope is to read at the series again once my next book is published.
On a personal note, my health has improved in 2012, after a very difficult 2010 and 2011. I was able to begin practicing T’ai Chi again in the spring and that has helped me immensely. I hope my health will continue to improve throughout 2013 as I have several exciting projects and plans that I want to be able to pursue, including restarting Junction Books, my independent chapbook press. And speaking of exciting projects, I almost forgot to mention that my poem sequence, “Junction Elegies,” which is the final section of my book, will be used for the libretto of an intermedia chamber opera by contemporary composer Emilie Cecilia Lebel. I am very honoured that Emilie wanted to use my poems in her work, and I am very excited to hear the opera once she has completed it.
Well, I guess that is all I have to say for the moment. I hope to write a little more frequently in this blog, but as I have stated before, my ambivalence toward it is an obstacle. But I will try. I wish you all the best for the coming year. Cheers!
This past Friday, Raymond Souster passed away. I became friends with Ray over the last dozen years of his life. I used to visit him at his home in Baby Point and we would discuss poetry or jazz or baseball, the things he loved. We’d also discuss the West Toronto neighbourhoods we called home. He appreciated that I wrote about the Junction in my poems, just as he wrote about Toronto in his many books. By the time I got to know Ray, his eye-sight was going, but that didn’t stop him from writing. He wrote every day in workbooks and for a while I would type up his manuscripts in my computer so he had a good copy to send to his publishers. He also encouraged me to keep working on my own poetry, and was always very supportive of me as a poet. I was very pleased that Ray was able to see my first book published. When I visited him on his birthday this past January, he bought several copies of my book to give out to his friends. I will always remember Raymond Souster as a kind and benevolent person, a true gentleman. Rest in peace, Ray, and thanks for the long chats and the cups of tea and coffee at your kitchen table.
Unlimited Variations on the Avro Lancaster
for Raymond Souster
That evening in your kitchen you talked of the Hogtown
jazz joints you’d once frequented. The portable radio
propped in the counter’s corner sputtered out all the old
war standards, and now and then you’d pipe up about
this certain piece being performed, the instrument
featured and the player for whom you held such
admiration. For my part, I couldn’t add much, just
ask questions and note down the names of musicians
I should listen to, their Vanguard Records I might
find now on CD. This is how I recall that spring night,
with Duke Ellington crowding the elbow room of your
kitchen table all the way back from the 1960s
stage at Massey Hall, and Bobby Hackett hunched over
in the doorway blowing his horn – a song you’d requested
he play once long ago in the Town Tavern at Queen
and Yonge. Earlier, as I read through your Selected Poems,
I’d glimpsed that past world, caught hold of
Old Toronto between the lines, as it had been
back when streetcars seemed red rockets hurtling across
a gridded universe. And there in the radio’s tinny wake,
the electric kettle counterpoint, a low timpani murmur
in the background, I watched as you picked up a postcard
of a Lancaster bomber from amongst your papers,
a picture that reminded you of an American poet,
a bombardier during the war, who’d returned to the village
in Italy where he’d flown, wept on a stranger’s steps
with his wife, as you did then while telling his account.
The water’s boil soon added its breathy, high-pitched
whistle to the evening’s arrangements and you went
to tend to the tea, while I was left steeped in thoughts
of my best friend’s grandfather who flew in the war –
a tail-gunner in a Lanc who’d kicked out the scratched
Perspex panels of his turret just to see the Messerschmitts
better; and my own grandfather who’d commanded a tank
from Normandy to Apeldoorn, and survived the ordeal,
though he left his final battle wounded, a time bomb inside
him that went off seventeen years later. These things seeped
into the mind as you placed teapot and cups on the table,
sat again with me in the kitchen’s warmth, your bungalow
grown quiet, the radio off and the earth waking up around us.
A confession. I am slightly odd about websites. I start one, then delete it several months later after only several posts. I start a new site and decide to include in it all the design, writing, and publishing activities that I do. I manage to get that together, but then a year or two goes by and I’m bored with that site and decide that it’d be better to separate all my activities and to set up a web site for each of them. But a few years go by before anything happens because I’m too busy to get three sites off the ground, and when I finally do, I immediately begin to wonder whether I can do the work needed to maintain three sites, when I couldn’t manage dealing with just one before. And the cycle continues. Perhaps not quite viciously, but numbingly.
Well, I’m trying to break that cycle now. I’ve got an established portfolio site for my design work that I’ve been pleased with for a year and a half. I’m happy that I finally feel settled with that site. My portfolio site is here if you want to peruse it. And I have also set up a new website for Junction Books, the micro press I started in 1999. Although the activities of the press have been dormant for a while, apart from the Junction Books imprint I publish with Nightwood Editions, plans are in the works to start new projects over the next year, which is exciting. But as for the website, I am not happy with it at the moment, even though it’s only partially up and running. Changes will be made to it shortly so there’s no sense in going out of the way to link to it.
And regarding the site which you are presently visiting? Well, this is yet another attempt at establishing a site devoted to my own writing and the work and activities which surround my writing. My goal is to try to be as forthright as I can with sharing information about my writing. I am a naturally introverted person, so this is not an easy thing for me to do. I hope you will visit me here when you have the odd moment to spare me, and that you will find something worth returning for.