95 books for 2014: list 12: from biography to bp

  1. Complete Sonnets of Archibald Lampman, edited by Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Borealis, 1976)
    1892 was exceptionally productive with Lampman writing 17 sonnets. From 1883-1899 he wrote over 450 poems; about a quarter of them were published. He received $25 per sonnet published in the dollars of that day while his full time government job paid $1000 per year. (Proportional to income that would be a $500 haul for a poem assuming only a $20,000 income.) He also wrote essays, reviews, a newspaper column, part of a novel and lectures. He has few sonnet in French in there. (The son of Anglican clergy he had studied English, French, German, Latin and Hebrew.) The introduction is quite interesting. I’d never thought of Poe and him in the same breath but they wrote analogous styles and subjects The City at the Edge of Things to Poe’s “The City in the Sea”. 177 sonnets are included in this selection from his notebook manuscripts in chronological order of first drafts. It is a book that I couldn’t dip in and out of since the old language impedes until the ear is accustomed to hearing it again.

    She laughs with all, but none hath seen her weep,
    A tender stoic, beautiful and wise.
    What sorrow or what passion she may keep
    Behind that full pale brow, those veiled grey eyes
    I know not, none shall know; but the tide
    Of all her being is softly set to truth.
    In brown and breast and dainty foot abide
    The strength of a woman’s years, the grace of youth.
    What gentle power, I wonder, in her moods
    Sustains her, what unvexed philosophy;
    For when I think of her, I seem to see
    April herself among the sunny woods
    With laughing brooks and little clouds that pass;
    I dream of bluebirds and hepaticas

    They are generally gentle poems, easier to read in the countryside than amid internet-haste. Mostly he was tramping about in forest in the late 1800s, yet he was happiest when out in the woods. Back then there were far more birds to note. Clouds of them. The actual birds that is. He was no biologist and using them as devices for projecting human emotions. Nature was there to project from. Town he reports as dirty and full of crones nattering.
    Yet his truths bridge over to now such as “beauty, the lost goal, the unsought cure.”
    The introduction quotes a letter from 1897 to Edward Thomson

    You must not be dissatisfied with me because I am not always up to my high water mark. A man does a good deal of secondary work, which is certainly useful to himself and I believe may be useful to others although not prompted by the full stream of inspiration. […]We shall all get the same amplefold of oblivion one day.

  2. A Clearing by Louise Carson (forthcoming, Signature Editions, 2015)
    The poignant series of the old man, his solitude and wood chopping, the hard decisions of whether to garden again or not are tend portraits in one section.
    The hand is sure and acknowledges that rough edges and the necessity for beauty. There’s more completeness of vision and variance of tone than most. There’s a sharp awareness of human nature and outdoors nature, and the transience of life in lines like “smelling lilacs in the rain we can’t believe in winter.”

    Planting spring in autumn
    as cool wet chlorophyl recedes,
    as day length crisps each minute and hour,
    and living things darken and thin.
    Waiting for green to poke up
    through rough earth, dead leaves;
    hopeful seven months are enough
    to pay for one month’s beauty.
    Trying to believe a spring follows this winter.
    Struggling with the images
    of what it might look like.
    Imagining the flower.

  3. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s tribute to His White Mother by James McBride (1996)
    I intended to read this long ago, and started a couple times but this time, got thru. It’s funny how it says it’s about the strength of family when it’s account of a lot of distance. I should have kept track of the number of times it related the mom beat the kids bruised.
    One whole side of the family disowned when the woman who called herself “light skinned” married a black man. They said kaddish and she was done. It is mostly the story of the mother of her parents and the son towards his mom. Everyone else is kind of fuzzy.
    The parallel structure of alternating chapters where mom tells from her first memories and son from his until their histories cross again is interesting. It means a lot of reading of italics but it does help keep the narrator clear.
    Crazy times existed with a street riot happening last century for the mixed race couple to walk down the street. Yet it is living memory. She ate with the woman who remembered her family member as a slave. And who invited her into her home as a fellow Christian anyway despite in the race-divided times never having been so close to a white woman before. The cover talks about her starting a church but the church only get a few pages afternote at the end of the book.
  4. Very Special People by Frederick Drimmer (Citadel, 1971)
    The capacity of people, and wage earning of people who ran with or from PT Barnum was surprising. All the ways that a foetus can bind with another foetus in conjoining. The variety of lives and reactions by “normal” from saying everyone’s different and getting on with life to crossing themselves and crossing the street, or in the case of one woman, selling her child to the circus while the doting dad was out of town on business. The father tracked down his kid and got her back and sent her to his mom where she’d be away from his wife. As it turned out the farmer kid next door was a circus strongman and she still ended up in the travelling life.
    Imagine to be cooped indoors and never know a forest.
  5. Singular Plurals by Roland Prevost (Chaudiere, 2014)
    There’s a bias at work here since we workshopped together and I blurbed his book. It launches Oct 27th at the Writers Festival and he’s one of my guests today on CKCU Literary Landscape at 6:30pm. The book covers the best of his chapbooks and in 6 sections ranges from purer language to (I won’t say easily but differently) accessible anecdotes like p. 49

    Red Anchors
    Your operation’s later today.
    A white lab coat
    plays doctor well, soon
    to sew you up.
    Ragdoll you. Patch you up.
    We’re all under the coin,
    tossed, flipped, now or later.
    Everything hums in my room whispers
    hums unknown hymns.

    There are little sonic beauties of sound and sense thru like “silk of raindrops/sound umbrellas” where the expected noun verbs and makes it remind how the echo bounces and tells us the shape of the whole environment in the rain. Language also takes time to play such as in one of my favourites “His Coloured Concrete Pieces” “Black&White tv comedies/demi-century artefacts/pretending to sleep. Possum ously.”
    A fun read even the third time thru in part because of the good-naturedness informing the poems. Not a bitter witty screed but looking to what is possible in world and people. Heartening.

  6. Sound Ideas: Hearing and Speaking Poetry by B Eugene McCarthy and Fran Quinn
    A textbook on poetry. Like most it relies on poetry by the dead which encourages the notion that it is a practice from decades or centuries ago. That said it is one of best texts I’ve seen. Poem examples introduced me to new writers. Readable, grounded. The ideas on rhythm vs meter finally let me click to understanding meter better. It adds a different scale from the scansion I’m liable to do on any poem. The mediation around different uses of the line were also valuable.
  7. Astrophel and Stella by Philip Sidney, a translation by A.S. Kline, (2003)
    I’m not sure how many re-reads I’m at. This time I read only the translations which largely keep the sonnet form. It doesn’t bring it ahead more than a couple centuries. For example, sonnet 99, with Sidney and Kline,

    When far-spent night persuades each mortal eye,
    To whom art nor nature granteth light,
    To lay his then mark-wanting shafts of sight,
    Clos’d with their quivers in sleep’s armoury;
    with windows op then mot my mind doth lie


    When the depths of night persuade each mortal eye,
    To which neither art or nature grants light,
    To lay down its arrows of sight that lack a target
    Shut with their quivers (eyeballs), in sleep’s armoury:
    My mind most often lies with windows (eyes) open,

    It brings it along somewhat. To culturally translate would need a change of metaphor base since archery isn’t a contemporary point of reference for the average reader. How much to translate without being too far non-literal. Even small things like “give” instead of “grant” wouldn’t change the soundscape that much.

  8. a thin line between by Wanda Praamsma (BookThug, 2014)
    For a sample of the long poem, I’ll refer you to audio at interview with her. The poems bridge internal monologues and external conversations transcribing the inflections and habits people have in the rush and tumble and gaps of conversation.
  9. The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli
  10. (Lars Muller, 2010) talks about the principles of design, broadly in typography. “White [space], in typography, is what space is in Architecture” and later adds “It is the white space that makes the layout sing. Bad layouts have no space left for breathing” He talks about using intention, grids, fonts, color and more. ” To master the notion of scale is a lifelong search that involves interpretation of functions, both tangible and intangible, physical, and psychological. Scale applies to everything.”
    It is strongly worded and with many examples.
    On desktop publishing:

    A cultural pollution of incomparable dimension. As I said, at the time, if all people doing desktop publishing were doctors we would all be dead!

    On page design:

    I strongly believe that design should never be boring, but I don’t think it should be a form
    of entertainment.
    Good design is never boring, only bad design is.

  11. Theseus: A Collaboration, bpNichol & Wayne Clifford (BookThug, 2014)
    An adrenaline pleasure read, linguistic, typograhical exhilarating fun. How to excerpt to give any sense? Part of it is the dexterity of headlong singzag. Tone isn’t kept poised as a mannequin.

    2. The last meaningful part    eff to ell    to fell fool
    amon stumps the season’ll
    root up, nose over into architecture.
    Cities between, yes, and
    between cities, rootless
    the fool falls one way, his shadow
    opposed across a line in the mantle’s local endeavour.
    Sagging bedrock, a rift in the strata, tripping him up.
    Adrift?    Hey ace, did you think this act was free?
    That because the fool sports a nose ring, he’s housebroken?
        In the unflowered mind the landscape
            Whaaho, posits idiot.
    To feel fool, fall
    back into the seat of the mind
    unmend ego, let it go.

  12. The Green Word Selected Poems, Erin Mouré (Oxford University Press, 1994)
    A lot of dead animals, hunted or accidentally dead, and lab animals and loss. Heavy book for its size. It shows how much changed in style Erin Mouré’s poetry is. There’s some fracturing and looping but it is more anecdote and narrative than now. p. 50

    Ocean Poem
    I am the one who lies, slowly, closer
    to your arm.
    I insinuate.
    The trip trip of the rain into wet earth &
    the traffic noise.
    This kind of hush1, she said.
    Lifting her arms over her head so gently
    in a gesture of, longing.
    We are all innocent beings with out bathtubs2 & literary
    pure enforcement.
    I don’t know if there’s any difference between men & women3
    is just a lie.4
    The word human being has stood for me
    until now.
    Until now.
    When she puts her arm down, in innocence, 5
    I’ll show her6.
    1 There’s a kind of hush, all over the world, tonight
    All over the world, you can hear the sound of lovers in love.

    Herman’s Hermits, 1966
    2Places to get clean. Large, enamel, clumsy. “Bathtub gin.”
    3The poets who sat this believe that the standard of poetic excellence is just excellent & not male.
    4This should not be done in any poem, accusing someone of lying.
    5In no sense.
    6Reading “shore”. This is an ocean poem.

    Love the broken box of the poem. It gives itself a going over. A few poems do. A literal anecdote story of remembering mom’s fur coat then flip the page and an alternate deep symbol reading.

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