Monday, December 17, 2012

Canadian micro-press study approved for takeoff!

Micro-press Survey Recruitment Statement

As some may know, I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, at the University of Calgary. My doctoral research focuses on the impact had in Canadian poetry by chapbook and micro-presses and, in pursuit of measurable data regarding the publication of ephemeral poetic works, I am currently seeking the publishers of such works to take some time to fill out a survey on their publications.

In the project, I define micro-press as any press that typically prints runs of 100 copies of a work or fewer, that uses human, rather than predominantly automated or digital labour in production and printing of works (thus, not digital presses and so forth), and that does not assign ISBN numbers to publications. While there is no direct compensation for filling out the survey, this research may go a long way towards furthering awareness of the publications involved, while also contributing to a deeper body of knowledge regarding ephemeral publishing in Canada.

Participation in the research is voluntary and, if desired, can be kept anonymous. If you would like to know more about the research or would like to receive a copy of the survey to complete, please contact me at If you are not involved in such a press but know someone who is, please circulate this call for responders to that person (or those persons, if that be the case) and invite them to contact me regarding the survey.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

10 Things You (Actually) Need to Know Today

Leafing through my various news sources this morning, I keep seeing the standard story title "10 Things You Need to Know Today". The stories are full of such trite events and pseudo-news as Mitt Romney's spending a crucial second day campaigning in Florida, Obama is out-fundraising him, Truthers doubt the (independently verified) positive job numbers, there was a blown call in a baseball game.

Really? We need to know this stuff? What a load. It's thanksgiving this weekend and that seems to me like a reason to take a pause and consider what we actually need to know - some of it nice and some not so nice.

1) Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. It's a historical one, wherein millions of people celebrate the moment colonial expansion hit the shores of North America. The fact that Canada doesn't even celebrate it on the same day as the USA should, of itself, be ample proof that this holiday isn't about the one great god but, rather, that it's politically motivated and expedient. Millions of Natives have good reason not to celebrate.

2) The people who really need a paid day off this Thanksgiving aren't getting one. They work at the grocery stores, the breakfast restaurants, the hotels, the janitorial services...they work harder, for less, than most of the people who're chewing on those dead turkeys this afternoon. What does that mean? It's not much of a holiday for many (perhaps most) of the people working and those of us being thankful for a day off should know this and, if we go to those restaurants etc. and make more work for people, we should thus tip accordingly.

3) Living in Canada is not necessarily a reason to be thankful - unless you're one of the people for whom the system works, who form the segment of society that can follow Stephen Harper's advice to invest when the economy tanks and hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs and can't replace them, unless you're not one of the victims of Canada's (still enduring though, thankfully, less so) colonization and abuse of subaltern populations, unless you're one of the few women in Canada who earns above the mean for your industry...thankfulness is a kind of indolence. For too many, it's a self-satisfied solipsism that disregards what it means to pay homage to a debt owed. We need to know that, and examine ourselves accordingly to ask if there's more we should be doing to help people become truly thankful.

4) We should be thankful. Thankful to our parents, our families, our friends; to all the people who have made an effort at some time in our lives to make those lives better. We should be thankful, who can wake up in the morning, knowing that there are folks out there who love us unequivocally - not despite our flaws, but because of them; because of the things that make us the unique, whole people that we are. Being thankful means giving thanks: call your loved ones or visit them and let them know how thankful you are that they shape your lives.

5) We all see dead people. We can't, actually, give thanks to those who've died, no matter how we miss them and still feel that they somehow remain as part of our lives. Guess what? they do. We can't thank them in person, those parents and grandparents and mentors who've passed, but we sure can share them with the people we love; we can haul out those photo albums and stories of holidays past, and we can re-iterate the love they felt for us and, by so doing, share that love with the people we have chose as our own loves and lovers.

6) Wherever we are is just one small corner in a very big world. How do we contribute to that corner? For most of us, effecting real change on a global scale is unlikely and that's fine. Even the people who effect such change (and let us not forget how frequently it's for the worse) start in their small corner. How do we define our corners and our communities? How do we contribute to them? What are the things we do that might, whether credited or not, cause people touched by us to give some kind of thanks? We need to contemplate these things and learn to know them - only then, can we appraise their worth and continue to work upon them.

7) Raised in a Mennonite community, I've had humility hammered into me since birth. Well, I'm not really a Mennonite and I'm not really a humble person. I need to know this because knowing it means that I can learn what my true gifts are and make the best use of them possible. Today, we need to know who we are - not in relation to George Clooney or to any other celebrity whose omnipresence in our faces has more to do with contractual obligations to multinational "content" providers than to any actual personhood - but in relation to ourselves and those we hold dear, whoever they are. Understanding comes from solitude and contemplation and the increasingly rare ability to put our fucking phones away and turn off the ringers. We need to know silence, to know who we are.

8) Knowing this, we need to know that we don't need to know "why". Why? is both the most and least important question in our lives. Answering it often and of habit creates the critical minds needed to resist external programming, (assuming we answer it with honest intention), it helps us actually ratify our passions, our beliefs, and our actions with vision and with clarity. However, we don't need to know why. Knowing ourselves IS knowing why - and, with that in mind, we can plan our actions, we can sing our songs, and we can love our loves without a shred of doubt and with all of the selves that we have to muster. That's why.

9) We need to know fiction. Too many people today confuse it with fact and vice versa. With Point 1 still in mind, I cannot help but remember that Saint Augustine, the founder of biblical exegesis, frankly stated that Christ spoke in parables and that the bible was analogic. That means, it stated greater truths about the being of mankind by not stating literal truths - in much the same way that poets do. For every single man and woman on earth who thinks that they need to read religious text literally I can only say this: stop it. Read those beautiful poems for what they are and understand that our language always and must be metaphoric. We all need to know a good story and to understand that it's just a story.

10) We need to know each other. We won't have much to be thankful otherwise. So, stop reading and jump on your bicycles or pick up your phones or say hello to the neighbor in your condo building or do whatever you need to do to create the outreach that is this lived experience. Happy Thanksgiving, people.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Buggered Seasons

Fall's an interesting time when yer working in academia. It brings new students, new committees, new perspectives on old work - even new peers and office mates and, of course, a huge pile of new work. In Calgary, the weather is typically lovely in the fall; with hot sunny days and crisp nights that beg for bike rides and glasses of wine with friends.

Fall, in other words, is my spring. It's a time of rebirth and a renewed focus on my work. Typically, I suffer in the spring months. My allergies flare up, my deadlines loom, the schizophrenic weather patterns wreak havoc on my commute (typically by bike) with alternating rain and freeze patterns that turn the roads into shuffleboards of death. Melting snow reveals gravel and garbage, I suddenly realize that I packed on 20 lbs over the winter, and I freak out about whether or not I'll have work and income over the summer.

Spring usually feels like the grim knell of death, accompanied by relentless prairie wind and ominous skies.

So far this fall, I've attended five readings of one kind or another (participated in one as a performer), have completed new poetry for the first time this year, actually started work on the significant components of my dissertation that should have been well under way in the spring, and have begun to consider some dim glimmerings of hope for a future that extends past my PhD studies.

What, then, is the deal with literary spring? While I understand that it's not actually predicated upon my own experience, the chorus of evocations towards spring that echoes through the millennia overwhelmingly drowns those few (I'm thinking of Thomas King's marvellous treatment of spring as an ominous harbinger of wind-born depression in Medicine River) voices that seem in accord. Perhaps, my feeling is just that - mine. Perhaps it's an Alberta thing, borne by the beautiful and sunny Indian Summers we experience here. Perhaps it's even a Canadian thing - many of our cities are toilets in the spring (I'm looking at you, Montreal) and downright magical in the fall (I'm looking at you, Montreal).

At any rate, I think it's high time to recognize that, north of the 49 anyway, we've been getting our seasons wrong. It's time to stop thinking like American farmers and imagine rebirth in new ways, that don't have to do with raising high-fructose corn syrup and potato chips. We can see rebirth as a human, a social thing that need not be disassociated from the environment but may also have inspiration there.
Bugger spring, it's fall - a friend is singing tonight at Cafe Koi, it's Nuit Blanche tonight across the country, and I think it's time to celebrate some new beginnings.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day and the Alberta Death Sentence

It's Mother's Day and for me, living in Alberta, that's a reminder of the way that my 44 year old mom died here during the Klein Revolution of the 90s. As the provincial government slashed healthcare expenses in order to remain, as they called it, fiscally responsible, people suffered and died. While under care and direct supervision in hospital for Aplastic Anemia, my mom suffered not one but two strokes as side effects of her treatment. The strokes went un-diagnosed and it wasn't until 8 months later that she got an MRI which showed the brain damage. It was, of course, months too late for any treatment or rehabilitation of the damage.

She changed hospitals once she had been bankrupted and the insurance company withdrew benefits and, under care in the new facility, contracted the flesh eating bacteria that actually killed her. The medical system in Alberta at that time was simply not staffed and equipped well enough to provide real care.

Looking at the landscape now, we see lots of writing on how the situation in Alberta has improved. That's a lie. Per capita healthcare spending has still not reached the levels of the 80s and a friend's recent trials highlight the lack of progress we see here. She's been ill all winter and finally, at the beginning of May, got to see a specialist who told here there's a good chance she has Multiple Sclerosis. He then scheduled a follow-up appointment for September, five months away.

My friend is lucky. She was born in Quebec. She went back three days after the specialist's appointment, had an MRI that exposed the brain lesions causing her suffering two days later and, less than a week after her diagnosis, is now under treatment. Less than a week. There are many people who say that Alberta's stance on healthcare, on the environment, on collecting taxes from corporations to pay for social programs, is an embarrassment.

It isn't. It's a threat. My friend said, when she left, that she cannot feel safe here. How could she? The administration in Alberta is a sociopathic enterprise that treats corporations better than it does citizens and people who aren't even citizens receive what might actually be called psychopathic treatment. A sovereign nation like, say, China can invest directly into our resource development and have the option of paying tax. How often do these sovereign entities actually pay? Never. Why would they? They don't live here and don't need the money to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Write your MLAs. Pressure them to start collecting taxes from corporations and sovereign entities at the same level they do citizens. Pressure them to put that money into healthcare, into education, into the arts and social programs that make life possible and desirable. The myth of conservative fiscal responsibility is a lie and a threat to their social responsibility. It must stop. Whose mom will die next?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review of Ash Rizin

So I went to see Ash Rizin on Saturday night, a Hip Hop Opera, or perhaps "hip hopera" put on by the ATP at the Martha Cohen Theatre. Frankly, the show was hit and miss. Some things were very good: the writing is strong, the use of technology to create graffiti onstage was clever and interesting, and the music mix was fantastic. The story's a hiphop tale from the generic Canadian suburbs and while the Eastside vs The Park gang thing gets a bit over the top, it never loses sight of its setting or audience. For that reason, the problems with authenticity and talent really stand out. The show's badass couple, Dosha and Gat (played by Allison Lynch and Kyle Jespersen) are great: over the top, talented - Lynch is a hell of a singer and Jespersen's rapping never takes him out of character - and entirely believable but the star characters Ash, Clean and Dee (played by Aaron Hursh, Ksenia Thurgood, and Luc Roderique) don't come off so well. Hursh and Roderique do a reasonable job of rapping and their acting...well, it's not great but not terrible. I never really felt these characters come to life but they weren't actively bad either. But, in a city like Calgary where there is so much good hip hop and rap talent, I cannot understand why ATP would use actors to rap and not the other way around. The music drives this show and the performers are clearly not musicians. Hip hop is decades old and most of the audience probably knows what the real thing looks like. The director and casting director really shouldn't have tried to fake it with actors and amateurs: the freestyle scene between Ash and Clean was so obviously not freestyle that I could only squirm and wish some of the people around town who can actually do that stuff were there doing it. To top it off, Thurgood's character Clean was an awful casting choice. Her singing was weak and was more jazz than hiphop, her rapping sucked more than the role allowed, she danced like a weird white girl who doesn't actually listen to this music, and she was so obviously too old to play a chickeh working at the mall while trying to make good that her character appeared ridiculous. By the end of the show, the only character who actually came off as authentic was Mike Wasko's evil aryan bastard Angel. Singing a metal song about how much he hates hip hop, he makes the clear statement to the audience that everyone's posing but him. Given that this is a hip hopera, the fact that only the hard rock character actually lives up to his place in life seems to undermine the whole point of the show. These problems with authenticity and performance also get troubled in spots by lazy stage management: the characters, in some of the most emotionally loaded scenes, have to wander on and off with no change in sound or lighting, thus losing any punch their performances might have given. The show has potential and I won't tell people not to go...but to ATP and friends all I can say is next time, use the real deal and quit acting so fucking much. Theatre only gets good when people forget that it's theatre.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

filling Station Subscription Sale

filling Station Magazine is having a subscription sale. Subscriptions for three issues runs $17 (you pretty much get a free issue at that price) and you can buy gift subscriptions for just ten bucks. Go to for more information and to order online through Paypal.