Poetry Classes Registering now

New courses from Studio Nouveau are coming this month. Starting January 18, Run asynchronously. Hosted at Moodle.

Discussion forum, thinking pieces, prompts, feedback and more.

Lubing the Muse: Generating Poems & Fresh Edits
8 weeks. Make at least 20 poems in 2 months. $200. PWYC slots available.

Build with What You Know: Scaffolding on other poems, Whittle by Whittle: Blackout poems, Simple Symbols, Deconstructing Symbols, Getting Meta About Metaphors, Brainstorming within a Frame, Swap it Out: Language is material and Immaterial, Homophonic Translation, Loosening up in the Surreal, Urgent Messages, Coming to our Senses: Scent, Touch, Reply to poems. And for the
final week, your Choice: What would you like more time to explore together?

Poem samples from Kay Ryan, Derek Walcott, nathalie stephens, Hasan Namir, Steve Venright, Lorine Niedecker, David Groulx, Michael Dennis, Diane Tucker, Mary Jean Chan, Phil Hall, stephanie roberts, Natasha Ramourar, Anne Sexton, Dante, Steven Ross Smith, and more.

Short Poems Workshop: 6 weeks: $150. PWYC slots available.

Explore the joy of the brief.
Haiku Senryu
Short lyric and minimalism One word poems
Erasure poetry

More coming: Feeling it: Emotion in Poetry and Editing It are coming in March/April. Each set of 4 workshops.

Payment by etransfer, cheque or paypal.


I’m going to try to stay on top of books read this year, which is not say slipping on them underfoot.

6 days, 6 books.

  1. All I Have is the Moment: An interview with Barry Dempster by Maureen Scott Harris & Maureen Hynes (A Fieldnotes chapbook, 2020)
    • If you are interested in Dempster’s work, or artistic process, or biography, this is a must read. I read it all silently, then again aloud. It has a lot of food for thought. It is comforting to know that he only consciously got under his poems in his 40s and 50s.
  2. These Days, issue #7, edited by Jeff Blackman (Dec 2020)
    • I did not know Ottawa had an ongoing zine. I’ve been out of the loop but Meet the Presses videoed a talk on its start.
    • This eclectic old-style cut and paste and photocopy zine has poetry, drawing, an interview and a puzzle. Psst, they have a Patreon page.
  3. Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020)
    • This was an intense 444 pages, divided into 3 acts in this fantasy novel, set on an alternate earth with something that may remind you of the Catholic church. The female-god’s infrastructure rules with an iron fist. That falls so short of conveying the suspense and dexterous use of the genre to postulate new options.
  4. Ghost Face by Greg Santos (DC Books, 2020)
    • Admission: I have his other 2 books and have been waiting for this one. It takes a turn for the personal from the surreal. I wouldn’t say hodgepodge of style, more mosaic. Some stellar lines and memorable poems, a soft spot of course is his haibun for his dead father, that being a project I do.
  5. 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems by Michael Dennis and Stuart Ross (Proper Tales Press, 2020)
    • This book is like a 1930s movie in snappy turns of dialogue, movie references and cinematographic images. The play and poke, chime and support of the poems as they evolve in alternating lines is a thing of beauty.
  6. Sprawl: the time it took us to forget by Manahil Bandukwala & Conyer Clayton (Collusion Books, 2020)
    • I think this is a form they evolved together, echoing and turning on lines each repeats in a collaborative exploration, in the end backforming a sort of villanelle of the repeating touchstones. I can’t summarize it but it did bring tears to my eyes so it is doing some poetic work.

Michael Dennis

You probably know Today’s Book of Poetry where Michael Dennis reviewed hundreds of poetry collection. I can’t imagine how many thousands he received. He would only review those he was sent, and things were sent from all over North America for his generous review. The process opened him up. He was so chuffed about all the amazing creativity going on, it lit him up and his jadedness faded. It was beautiful to see him so excited, his mind blown. He could still revert to curmudgeon but adorably so. I treasure sitting at his kitchen table talking poetry and memories.

Michael liked to break expectations, work hard and make people laugh.

“A king. A gentle man, a good man” as Sean Wilson says with Alan Neal on the book panel in All in a Day yesterday. Don’t miss Cameron Anstee’s tribute to Michael.

From Low Centre of Gravity,

Damned Poets
the new bookcases
simple unfinished pine planks
makes us happier
than any piece of wood should

I spend my days
in this study
thousands of poets
staring out at me from the shelves
all of them shouting

you'd think they could agree on something
but they don't agree on a damned thing

His poems were lively reflections of full emotional range and among recent ones especially telling vivid anecdotes. With perfect comedic timing when the poem called for it.

His Low Centre of Gravity (Anvil Press, 2020) was one of a handful of my favourite reads of the read and stood up to reading it at least 4 times cover to cover. The Bear will live with me. It was a poem like a whole short film. I don’t even remember I wasn’t there when it happened. A good poem can do that.

rob mclennan posted memories of Michael and his literary bibliography. It’s good that I don’t have it all. I was half-finished his 70 Kippers book, collaborative poems with Stuart Ross when I heard. Their exchange is so combative, as foam bats at play. It’s dark and suicidal and Armageddon revolution and yet with a sense of onwards we go. Profound and fun and depressed all equals in the forum.

Even when we know death is coming, it’s hard to not hope for one more year. He did stage 4 cancer with all the interventions but still, we got him for a little longer.

Stuart posted the news that Michael died on the Go Fund Me where over $11,000 was raised in thanks for all the reviews and poetry he made. He passed on New Years Eve. His obituary speaks of his love and how much he was loved by many.

A black and white photo of a semi-circle of poets in chairs as part of Stuart Ross and Michael Dennis reading at Amanda Earl’s salon series March 2009.

We are better for knowing Michael, with his explosive sputter of calling out nonsense, or greatness, for his cherishing love of his Kirsty and his siblings and nieces and nephews. Any gap in topic could lead to his nephew being amazing at basketball. And his love of words and books and art.

As Greg Santos put it in his Ghost Face, “we live lives of so many shoulds”. Covid kiboshed so many possible visits this year.

He gave a careful read to one of my manuscripts last year, in summary saying it is not quite mine yet, that I’m hiding behind too many quotes and poem structures. We don’t need notes to know the origins of everything he said. The poems need to be out as you more.

So, I have my assignment from him and have been rewriting. 3 poems down, huge number of pages to go.

Available for Review

Reader Aware: More readers, buyers and reviews welcome.

They say it takes 7 or 8 presentations of the same book before one latches on that a book exists and checks it out.

I have copies for review or purchase of Not Quite Dawn (haiku and tanka by me), Crossing a Grave in Harmonium by David Groulx, The Morning Becomes Azalieas.le matin devient azalées by Paul David Mena, Water Loves its Bridges, Call Down the Walls, Eldon, Letters (haibun), Sex in Sevens, Occasionally Rational Human by Stephen Brockwell, Evacuate: poems (of Syria) by Mohamad Kebbewar, and Cough of a Sloth by Claudia Coutu Radmore.

footlights Review

Kim Fahner was so kind as to review footlights at Periodicities on Jan 3.

She says in part,

“In “lifting for the purposes of night,” six beautiful couplets carve out vivid images and phrases:

                    the moon’s face is both up
                    and downwards. 

                    in incandescence a
                    glossy-leafed houseplant 

                    feels how the bottom
                    of an airplane wing 

                    lifts, night sky slips
                    the room into bluer. 

                     night suggests, anything
                     could happen. 

                     a mosquito rides
                     the cross-ventilation. 

This is a small poem that builds itself around texture, in how things feel to the touch, and in sight, and in the way even the tiniest mosquito hitches a ride on a current of air through a room. It is, I think, a poem that embodies all of what is best about Pearl Pirie’s work: she looks to—and documents—the tiny things in life with careful attention to detail. In so doing, she asks her reader to consider their place in the world, physically, spiritually, mentally, and philosophically.”


The year has ended. We can now officially say hindsight is 2020.

After being in a headlong tumble-scramble from August onwards, I had a few days to sit after Christmas and move the bookmarks.

I read 128 books and chapbooks over the year, 21 chapbooks and 50 novels among them.

59% were by females, 35% by males and the remainder non-binary or multiple authors. (Males tend to be 47% most years).

48% were by Canadians. Until 2014 when I noticed Canadians tended to be about 15% then ramped to 69% range for a few years.

I got better at quitting what wasn’t working. I pressed on to finish things that I gave 1 star of 5 only 3% of the time and 30% of what I finished I’d give 5 stars of 5.

All the Amazon instant downloads added up to 3x more than brick and mortar bookstores. (*Hangdog expression.*) A lot came direct from publishers and authors, and as review copies. None from Little Free Libraries or free at curb like some years.

Didn’t do so great with GLBTQ+ this year with only only 15% but still that’s 2% more than last year. and 5% more than the year before.

16 books by Black writers (12.5%), 6 by Writers of Colour (5%), 10 books by Indigenous writers (8%).

[Compare 2017 where 28% were by POC or Black writers and 5% by Indigenous writers.]

Final 10

Happy New Year.

Here’s the last 10 I read in 2020. Some of these I mentioned at 49th shelf in November. Some were read since then.

Children of Fury by Rashid Darden Dark Nation, Vol III, (Old Gold Soul Press, 2020)

This is a fantastic novel that I immediately told a couple friends that they should read. Deep in contemporary urban fantasy, it is set in Black Washington D.C. at a high school for kids who didn’t do the regular high school. Little do these kids know that some of their teachers are extraordinary even by the scale of usual teachers. I don’t want to give too much away but it was imbued with hope and a careful eye for detail.

Niagara & Government by Phil Hall (Pedlar, 2020)

Caveat: I have a sweet soft spot for the way Hall thinks. He interrupts himself, overturns his previous statement, works against preciousness and aim for lines that sing and sting, himself perhaps most of all. They walk the line of self-flagellating. Some of these I saw earlier versions of. The edited ones made me as breathless in spots. The writing doesn’t feel like expository public speech but like being inside another head, the brooding accumulating in a way that makes excerpting hard.

Bittersweet by Natasha Ramourar (Mawenzi House, 2020)

Knocked the lungs flat to a degree that can hardly be called healthy. “were we always destined to be like this. Made more emotional than we are, gaslit to the point of explosions.” or “how that one single exhale ignites the light in all of us”. It is very much a yes marginalia. Shall I just keep quoting her? “resilience is born of pain and desire”

Rushes from the River Disappointment by stephanie roberts (McGill-Queens, 2020)

Poor bookie-book. Glad I have a digital copy. Paper shouldn’t be highlighted so much for its structural integrity. That, my dear is how to write. Pause for thought, pause for finding centre again, pause for reflection, pause in respect for beauty made. It took a long time to read. Like Stephen Brockwell does in readings, she read her angry poems, but the poems in pages have an excruciating tenderness as well as a love of science, in her case physics equations such as “the Lorenz factor and time dilation, or “every day I experience thinness cracking to bits along a line of recurring grief” or “the first cucumber on the vine needs to go to seed pronto or the vine hesitates to set more fruit.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab (Tor, 2020)

My goodness, this was a ride. An ambitious scope, spanning the 1600s to present, epic, except given immortality, it’s one lifetime. How to weave all these threads and yet the character is vivid and ever changing. There’s an opportunity of Forrest Gump to be at key points in history but that acts as background not derailing the story. Almost 80% through a new narrator is introduced yet it works. Surely people will be reading this a century from now.

Divine Animal by Brandon Wint (Write Bloody North, 2020)

Watching Brandon Wint perform is a soothing warming experience. Having an artifact of his mind in hand is a small beauty. “Every sun-licked morning/has grace enough/to turn common men into angels” (“Paradise”). A poetry that takes deep breaths and allows the reader to breathe. Or be permitted to laugh “My feet frantic and shuffling/like two beached fish.” (“Black Power Dance”). It exhorts to live, rather than fights against death like so much poetry. “In every gesture, swim—/make the chest/a splintered seed//Be a moonlight, a devotion/tireless as winter.//Be, if you must, a singular anthem,/soften the brutally human,//sing with the corvids instead.” (“Body, anthem and prayer”).

Infinite redress by Natalie Hanna (Baseline Press, 2020)

Intense poems of the private and common grief “the day they diagnosed you/the sky broke loose//and hail ripped the summer/off our faces”. It’s hard not to pause in a moment and not feel the Pompeii of everyday she points out. Incidentally, Mars is also in our zietgeist. The third book of the year to talk of listening to the video from the surface of Mars.

Obtain No Proof by Carla Harris (Frog Hollow Press, 2020)

A chapbook meditation on the effect of seizures in life, “clench that whips saliva, soft as/beaten egg whites”. Her metaphors are sumptuous. “Chronic illness/is a drug. A mentor.//A caregiver octopus who changes/colour to live vibrantly while crossing fissures in the coral”

Everest Base Camp: Close Call by Catina Noble (Crowe Creations, 2020)

This was surprisingly short, around 100 pages but wonderfully detailed in nitty itty bitty gritties of what gear you need to get to Everest, and insurance and money. It was funny in the sense of relating what a brain hospitalized thinks after getting altitude poisoning. Quite the nerve-wracking ride.

El Camino on a Wrecked Ankle by Catina Noble (Crowe Creations, 2019)

We immediately read aloud this book too, of walking El Camino, after finishing her Everest one. It’s so clear and fresh. Her expression is lively and fun. At a setback, she exclaims, “well, cheese on a cracker!” It was also good to hear from someone who doesn’t booze the route. A lot of accounts seem to praise the joys of the evening with thanks to Dionysus. I think this is the 4th book I’ve read on walking El Camino. Each has its own take, personality and focus. She made the walk seem doable.

reviews of Water Loves its Bridges

Comments by gillian harding-russell on one of the publications in Series Twenty-four from The Alfred Gustav Press, December 2020 (with more responses to come):

In “Water Loves Its Bridges,” Pearl Pirie uses the epistolary haibun to explore her loss and the nature of her relationship with her father, not so much in retrospect as in the spirit of his presence, most effectively. The poems reminisce about scenes from the past at the farm where she grew up and during travel with her father. Such a detail as the daughter understanding her father’s partiality to “Scotch eggs” is balanced against her hurt acceptance of her father’s stereotypical view of gender that was a reflection of the times when he lived. Her father’s remorse at accidentally killing a kitten when he slams a truck door and his exhausted self coming in after long hours of fence repair to criticize his family watching TV from California work to create a real-life portrait of the man. Pirie’s format, using colloquial meditation that includes homely and often sensual detail, followed by haiku, works powerfully to lift commentary about the everyday to something almost transcendent. The matter-of-fact and bluff tone in the prose parts contrasts well with the slender elegance and moments of emotion marked by the haiku. Consider this haiku on her father’s funeral that comes after her blunt complaint that she is “done with funerals”: “carnation scent/her face clammy/clammed up.”

Comments on the Series Twenty-four chapbooks from The Alfred Gustav Press, December 2020, by Peter Christensen:

“I tore open my package in anticipation of reading the new publications and was richly rewarded; I learned something from each poet. What a beautifully written and interesting set of publications: Pirie’s careful, casual stories framed by haiku, intriguing and revealing; Wayman’s celebration of rural place, one cannot help but be there; I know Rempel’s Buckhorns too well, these places forgotten by progress. I admire Braun’s moving poem, “After the world had passed away…the plough drawing the furrows still unearths old bones.” Wonderful!Congratulations all and The Alfred Gustav Press for doing a great job of recognizing the universal in the ordinary, for providing a place for these true voices to speak.”

Comments on Series Twenty-four from The Alfred Gustav Press, December 2020, from Leona Gom:

“Pirie’s unsent letters to her father: I like her choices of memories, the eloquent summary of her father and uncle interacting in “White Noise.” Ah, we knew so many fathers like that. “