pesbo since 2005.

Pearl Pirie’s book lists, interviews, event write-ups, poems and more.

Readings Tonight

Factory Reading Series: Covid-era poet memorial.

233 Armstrong Avenue (at Parkdale Market, Ottawa)
Friday, January 13, 2023
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan,

Also, The Peter F Yacht Club #31; “The Factory Reading Series 30th anniversary” issue launch.

Readings and recollections by Cameron Anstee, Rhonda Douglas, James Moran, natalie hanna, rob mclennan, AJ Dolman, Chris Johnson, Chris Turnbull, Stephen Brockwell, Bardia Sinaee, Anita Lahey, Monty Reid and others on numerous poets we’ve been unable to properly memorialize over this period of pandemic isolation, including: Robert HoggPhyllis WebbDouglas BarbourMichael DennisSteven HeightonClare LatremouilleJoe BladesRichard SangerPeter Van ToornDavid DonnellRM (Richard) VaughanBrian Fawcett, etc.

Two I would read if there were not a snow storm, by Michael Dennis

turning right
I was driving in rural Quebec
and looking for an old farmhouse
how many of them could there be

I had a house number
but no street or road name
I turned around a few times
and eventually
turned right into the laneway

imagine that

talking giraffe
the best jokes, the ones
that make the biggest
impression
always start with
an animal
you didn’t know
could speak

in Talking Giraffes (phafours, 2015)

Year in Review

In 2022 I did 11 book reviews, interviewed 63 poets, read 266 titles and finished writing one book 3x so far. I have done 12 “loved then, loved now” poems on this pesbo blog and #TodaysPoem on Instagram 72 times.

Of books read, there’s what I thought was amazing, and then there’s what I found dull in bits but key and useful in other. That doesn’t get reflected in ratings. It’s what makes desire hard to drop into a pie chart. Or even a Venn diagram.

This year I started to mark books read as memorable. Some books I’d previously given 5 stars to in the rush of being in the book, then I walk away and 6 months later, remember nothing. But perhaps it tectonically shifted my unconscious. It’s all a bit of a moving target to say what’s worthwhile. What you need to take in, vs. what takes you in, what deflects where you’re going and what you sink into. It’s pretty philosphical.

Jacob Collier in conversation with Eric Whitacre, VC6 Live, 2020, 05-11 gets into some discussion of finding what matters, what resonates, what is necessary and Collier says at one point,

If you believe something. If you think this is right, 
it makes you smaller until you learn to read 
the resistance and travel with the friction
that is created when you put a straight line in your life 
or a process. It [a straight line] changes you.  
If you go this way, the way is blocked.

Jacob Collier

What is true or honest is dynamic. The process of creation for him is considering what would be characteristic of what I would automatically do and then, do the other thing. “How can I outgrow this choice?” is a guiding idea to see what more is possible.

Interesting ideas. (I suppose I should put this on SubStack but maybe I’ll point instead. )

So far as keeping records of what I read and the process of reading, I am getting more comfortable with dropping a book and not dragging my eyes across what I don’t understand or don’t “get”. I want to stretch-reading but not read and report reading that I didn’t actually get. Sometimes the timing is wrong and I return in 2 years, or 5 or, 12, and I’m exactly in the position to receive and readyl

My bell curve is all crunched. I love a lot of my read books proportionally.

The books I thought were outstanding this year is a lot. You know the expression you may not remember the words used but you know how they made you feel.

New poetry books of 2021-2022:

  • Ghost Ships by Marilyn Irwin (Apt 9 Press, 2022). So glad to see more clear-eyed observations from her. Happily reread.
  • Barcode Poetry by Kyle Flemmer (Blasted Tree, 2022). This was an utter delight.
  • Blood by Tyler Pennock (Brick Books, 2022) I found totally immersive. I want to wrap my head around it enough to review.
  • Sheets: Typewriter Works by Cameron Anstee (Invisible, 2022) collected up poems from chapbooks and put them in this new context. If you haven’t had the lucky of reading him before, start here.
  • I Haven’t Written a Poem in a Long time but I I had It might’ve looked something like this by Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff (Broke Press, 2022) is a energetic delight. The palpable sense of play and aliveness is sweet.
  • Stump Nib by Phil Hall (Lake’s End Press, 2022) was a wonderful suite of poems for Stan Dragland.
  • Visitors by Jun-long Lee (Model Press, 2022) are poems that cohere and compel.
  • The Lake by James Lindsay (KFB, 2022). A chapbook that I got as a bonus inclusion from what I actually ordered but liked better than what I intended to enjoy. It is quietly contemplative and inside grief.
  • Asking for Trouble: Tanka by Czandra (Yarrow, 2022) struck me as vulnerably honest and uncommonly articulate. These are not tanka that are wibbly-wobbly or koanic.
  • Still: new, selected & collaborative haiku by Philomene Kocher (Ekstasis Editions, 2022) was a hygge read of a mind that perceives with compassion.
  • Perpetual Ideal: poems by Mike Caesar (Anstruther, 2022) has the sure selection hand of Anstruther with poems I’ve been waiting a long time to see on the page.
  • A Season in Lowertown by David Blaikie (Wet Ink Books, 2022) delivers the reader to right there in the shabby streets, 24 hour diners and flophouses of back in the day
  • Transcribing Moonlight by Skylar Kay (Frontenac House Poetry, 2022) was a wonderfully accomplished read. Looking forward to what she writes next.
  • The Streets, Like Flowers, Come Alive in the Rain by Steve Deneham (Potter’s Grove Press, 2021) blew me away with powerful poetic moment lived but his book before that was meh.
  • Zom-Fam by Kamala La Mackerel (Metonymy Press, 2021) was transporting, vivid as a movie as they describe life in birth country and how big of deal it is to be a first in your family to go to university. I get it better now.
  • Boat by Lisa Robertson (Coach House, 2022) is extremely exciting as a book. It lit me up for weeks, months.
  • Oems by Matthew Tomkinson (Guernica, 2022) uses one tool, slection of word that have no ascender nor descender letters.
  • You Might be Sorry You Read This by Michelle Poirer-Brown (University of Alberta, 2022) was compelling. Most memorable moment: when she with wonder tells her partner she has indigenous blood and he’s like, yeah, and…? And her mind is blown. She thought she passed and no one knew. She asked around and everyone (pro)filed her as indigenous. Her journey overall is worth a read.
  • The Wild Fox by R. Kolewe (KFB, 2021) is compelling in no way I can explain.
  • Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen (BOA, American Poets Continuum Series Book 194, 2022) is a joyfest. It is orderly and iconoclast, honest and loving and amazing for all the subjects and styles, cohering and building on itself. I don’t know how he did it.

New fiction and non-fiction books of 2021-2022

  • A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido, 2021). I adored this book told partly from the perspective of a snake and partly from a teenage girl. The two timelines merging and emerging was super interesting.
  • Small Things like These by Claire Keegan (Grove Press, 2021) was my introduction to Keegan. What a fantastically masterful storyteller.
  • Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (Tor, 2021) is offbeat and kinda joyful. Cooking show meet extraterrestrials.
  • A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers (Tom Doherty, 2022) and A Psalm for the Wild-Built: A monk and robot book by Becky Chambers (Tor, Tom Doherty & Associates/Macmillan, 2021) are more like one book inside two novella covers. It is extremely gentle and curious in premise and implementation.
  • Boldly Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder by William Shatner with Joshua Brandon (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2022) has a deep appreciation for the rare privilege it is to breathe

Backlist:

  • Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty by Bahar Orang (Book*hug, 2020) I heard a lot of good things but reading it was transporting. Halfway between essays and poetry, meditation is a good word for it.
  • How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2013), A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (Sphere, 2006) and All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny (Minotaur, 2020) I read 15 of her books this year and these were my fav 3 but I haven’t read her most recent 2. It would make more sense and give more impact to read in order since context builds for who people are.
  • Book of Annotations by Cameron Anstee (Invisible Publishing, 2018). This was a re-read. I enjoy his plain considered word. I plan to collect everything he publishes.
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, 2000) was my introduction to her, directly after seeing her books sought on shelves and grabbed up at book sales. Complex and beautiful writing.
  • What it’s like to be a bird by David Allen Sibley (Knoff, 2020) was wonderfully detailed. I’d like to read a book that goes further.
  • The Peculiar Life of A Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault, trans by Liedewy Hawke (One World, 2017) was trippy. It was about a man who makes a series of decisions, to win the woman by impersonating someone else.
  • Up from Slavery: An autobiography by Booker T. Washington (Modern Library/Random house, 1901, 1999). I had little familiarity with his path and his story is quite wonderfully told.
  • Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak (Thames & Hudson, 2007). This was incredibly fun and gets inside the common person’s experience, not just talking about what the rich recorded.
  • White by W.J. Van der Molen trans by Max Verhart and Klaus-Dieter Wirth (Red Moon Press, 2008). Less, is in this case, more.
  • Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Liu (Jackie Liu, 2018). Her books are quite a fun romp of romance.
  • The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 by Adrienne Rich (Norton, 1978). This was a real treat. Her poems are tight and punchy.
  • A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems 1978-1981 by Adrienne Rich (Norton, 1981)
  • Wabi Sabi by Mark Beibstein and Ed Young (Little Brown, 2008). This is a kid’s book with sumptuous illustrations about a kid’s journey to understand Wabi Sabi.
  • Erratic by Donna Kane (Hagios, 2007). An enjoyable reread.
  • Wilderness on the Page by John Steffler (A Fieldnotes Chapbook, 2017) is a recorded essay/lecture on ecology that is interesting.
  • To be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton, 2019). I will follow Becky Chambers to anything she writes, draws, sings, however, whereever.
  • What’s Left Unsaid: 125 Haiku by Maxianne Berger (2017). This inspired a whole chapbook response.
  • Disappointment Island by Monty Reid (Chaudiere Books, 2006). I am missing only a few chapbooks of his. It is very hard to decide which book is my fav but it might be this.
  • A Tiny Piece of Something Greater by Jude Sierra (Interlude, 2018). This blew my mind with the fresh vividness of characters and how decent, communicative and kind people were to one another.
  • The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: the hidden world of a Paris atelier by Thaddeus E Carhart introduced me to pianos, a crash course to them and music. (McArthur & Company, 2000)
  • This Day Full of Promise: Poems selected and new by Michael Dennis (Broken Jaw, 2001) is wonderful to reread. I shall reread all of his books.
  • Rose by Li-Young Lee (BOA, 1986) I haven’t visited in a while and it really stood the test of time.

Demographics and Stats of Books Read

As I mentioned in a previous post, I do an analysis of what I consume each year to be accountable to myself and see patterns I want to change. (Be the change.) This tracking allows me to identify trends and gaps. From this I can direct my reading and intentions for the future.

First nations, Metis and Inuit writers comprised 7% of books read, People of Colour authors comprised 9%, Black authors were 4%, and the rest were White.
10% of books I read this year were by queer authors.

By default the easiest books to find are by white, abled, straight, middle class, English people. You have to make an effort to read anything else. I was pushing myself to read more indigenous voices but I fell down in reading Black voices.

Traditionally I read more male than female. I was on the lookout for trans and non-binary writers.

Pretty evenly split for male and female at 40% and 41%. Non-binary were only 4% and multiple authors were common at 15% since I read a bunch of translations, anthologies and collections.

Overall, this year I read more titles than any year on record, certainly since my concussion. In 2015 I came close with 216 books read but this year at 266 was a lot even for me. They were not all book-books. I didn’t count the children’s books I read but I did count chapbooks.

Of poetry read, about a quarter was in chapbook form.

Half of what I read was poetry and of that, a quarter were chapbooks. Poetry tends to be physically slim but can be conceptually and emotionally weightier.

On average, it worked out to a 138 page length per book, but novels averaged 300 pages and memoirs averaged 224 pages. Poetry averaged 86 pages with a minimum of 8 pages and maximum of 480 pages.

Poetry, Novels and Memoir comprised nearly 80% of all the reads finished. (I have 2 dozen partly read titles spilling over into the next year.)

Half the time I was reading newly published things, the vow to read classics having slipped off somewhere. In my defence there is so much excellent writing being done and poetry of our own zeitgeist is more interesting than something in a context before my birth, which is also more likely to be formal, racist and sexist.

2021-2022 titles are 46% and 2010-2020 a further 34% of the titles. Only one title from pre-1800s.

Where do all these books come from? (A phrase often heard about the house.)

The biggest source is the library but of those that stay, direct from the publisher. Or from a used book store. Or a review copy. These four sources accounts for half of them. My Amazon buys are down. Free downloads, such as from the Haiku Foundations, are up.

I got 16 from an indie bookstore. It was more bought, but I have a box and a few stacks in my To Be Read piles. I have 12 books that I got direct from the author, my fav place, to put cash directly into a writer’s hands.

Something else new in trends is reading aloud to each other more than any other year. My partner and I read almost a book a week aloud to each other. 45 books, mostly memoirs or sci-fi.

This is the first year I’ve tracked rereads so I don’t have comparative data but I can say I re-read 24 titles this year, so close to 10%.

Reading in French is slow for me and it fell off over the year. I only read 6 books in French in 2022, but a good one. “La route des oiseaux de mer” of Hélène Leclerc won Honourable Mention in the Prix André-Duhaime pour les livres et plaquettes (chapbooks) du haïku francophone. 

I’d like to read more science. I read articles but not books. From looking at this year, I decide that for 2023 I want to set the goals of more science, more stretch of reading in French, more BIPOC writers, more queer writers, more books in translation, more stories by disabled writers, and more re-reading to dive deeper.

Coming up: my fav reads!