Tonight On Our Stage | Reading in December

I will be reading a few poems as part of an exciting variety show in December–Tonight On Our Stage at the NAC Fourth Stage on December 16. Ticket information is available here, and some of the lineup details are below.

Thanks so much to the organizers for including a few poets on the bill! I’m excited to read with Justin Million, Spencer Gordon, and the rest of the lineup.



Recent [non-book] Acquisitions

Three recent non-book acquisitions (though certainly book-ish, and small-press-related).

Irving Layton at Le Hibou


Released by Posterity Records (PTR 13001). Illustrated and designed by Christopher Wells, Produced and edited by William Hawkins, with an essay by Roy MacSkimming. Recorded at Ottawa’s legendary Le Hibou coffee house in January 1962 (at least so far as I have been able to ascertain). According to MacSkimming in his liner notes/essay: “The January night Irving Layton arrived to make this recording at Le Hibou, a second-floor coffee house, he found a shivering crowd lined up for two blocks down the street. Inside Le Hibou were as many more sitting on chairs, tables, knees, jamming the aisle and overflowing into the tiny kitchen to hear the first Ottawa reading by Canada’s major poet. No one was disappointed. The mob outside was accommodated two hours later with a second reading.”






A broadside produced by Nicky Drumbolis on the occasion of the Contact Press retrospective at Habourfront in Toronto, 28 January 1986. According to Drumbolis, Betty Sutherland’s original linocut from Souster’s Contact magazine was used for the title. Serves as a good index of those published by the press (a few collaborators not accounted for [Colombo, O’Broin, Nasir] and authors of three Quebecois booklets done for the Contact Reading Series [Jacques Godbout, Yves Prefontaine, and Diane Spiecker]). An edition of 100 copies. All the above information direct from Drumbolis, with gratitude.

A Sensitive Man


A (consumed) bottle of A Sensitive Man, the Al Purdy beer, brewed by Barley Days Brewery. “Warning: Contains Farts & Horse Piss.” Picked up, and drank, at the A-Frame a few weeks ago thanks to the hospitality of Nick Thran and Sue Sinclair. Residing on the bookshelves, between Al and Sina Queyras.



Arnott, Yerxa, Fernandes | November 10

I am helping to set up this reading in the Department of English at UofO on November 10. It should be great!

Arnott Yerxa Fernandes - Final Poster

Please join The Department of English, The Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, and Kegedonce Press to celebrate the publication of Halfling Spring: an internet romance with readings by:

Joanne Arnott (Gerald Lampert Award Winner)

Leo Yerxa (Governor General’s Award Winner)

Rachael Fernandes (Undergraduate, University of Ottawa)

Monday November 10, 2014, 2:30-3:30pm

Café Nostalgica (601 Cumberland Street)

Joanne Arnott is a Métis/mixed-blood writer, born in Manitoba and based in Coast Salish territories on the west coast. A publishing and performing poet since the 80s, a blogger in more recent years, Joanne is mother to six young people, all born at home. Active participant in many online and inworld collaborating groups of writers, she is a mentor and piecework editor, an essayist, as well as a poet and activist. Halfling Spring: an internet romance is Joanne’s eighth book, and her sixth book of poetry.

Arnott’s works are intimate with an activist slant, exploring the issues faced by a mixed-race girl and woman in poverty, the family, danger, love and childbirth. She writes about these topics from personal experience, as a Métis and a mother of six. She has conducted workshops across much of Canada, and in Australia, including a series at the Carnegie Centre, sponsored by SFU.

She received the Gerald Lampert Award for her 1991 collection of poetry Wiles of Girlhood.

Leo Yerxa was born on the Little Eagle Reserve in northern Ontario. Yerxa is an award-winning writer, illustrator and artist. His first book, Last Leaf First Snowflake to Fall, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Illustration and his most recent book, Ancient Thunder, won the Governor General’s Award. Leo lives in Ottawa. He studied graphic arts at Algonquin College in Ottawa, fine arts at the University of Waterloo, and has worked with Tom Hill, a respected figure in aboriginal art in Canada. A set of his murals can be seen at the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre on the Rainy River First Nations National Historic Site in Ontario. He currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Rachel Fernandes is a fourth year student at the University of Ottawa, pursuing her undergraduate degree in English. She also serves on the Undergraduate English Student Association as the Vice President of Literary Affairs and Publications, overseeing the literary journal The Ottawa Arts Review. Her poetry has appeared in bywords, The Quilliad and Deep Water Literary Journal. A series of her poems will be published in Joypuke‘s second edition this November.

Writing Process Blog Tour

This writing process blog tour went around a few months ago. Most of the writers in my immediate peer group took part at the time, but I resisted because I felt that I wasn’t working on anything worthwhile at that moment. It reappeared again, and rob mclennan asked me if I was interested in responding this time. So, here it is. Thanks, rob!

What are you working on?

I am trying to write my dissertation on the history of book selling and the small press in Canada after the Second World War. I am building a new title from my little chapbook outfit, Apt. 9 Press (Bird Facts by Dave Currie), and slowly making plans for 2015.

I’m also trying to write poems.

I recently completed a reading tour with some of my best friends, which helped me to put some more recent (and some less recent) work to rest. We published a book, Five, that went a ways towards cleaning out my current working files. I also have a chapbook forthcoming from Baseline Press next year. The combination of the two has left me more or less free of old work that I haven’t been able to let go of.

So, it is off to a new page in the notebook, and a new Word file, free from old lines I can’t let go of and old poems I’m still tinkering with. I’ve got an eye on trying to put together a proper trade manuscript inside the next two or three years, but am trying to keep that in my peripheral vision at the moment.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Not a question that I can answer. I am trying to write poems that are interesting to me, and that will hopefully be interesting to at least one or two other readers beyond the scope of my immediate writing community. I think my work reflects my particular reading and research interests, but surely that is true of all writers.

Why do I write what I do? How does my writing process work?

I’ve combined these two questions because there would have been too much overlap in the answers.

My poems over the last few years have tended increasingly to the small end of the spectrum. I am more and more interested in what can be accomplished with as few words as possible. In part, this comes from a specific thread in my reading interests: Nelson Ball, Phyllis Webb, Mark Truscott, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Michael e. Casteels (and the work coming from his Puddles of Sky Press), those with minimalist bents. The culmination for me so far has been a six-word, two-line poem, but I think I’m working my way down to a single line poem in the distance.

I think these poems also reflect my writing conditions. Academic research, writing, teaching, and other responsibilities dominate my schedule. Apt. 9 gets more of my creative hours than my own writing. When I sit down to write, it is rarely for several uninterrupted hours. It is in fits and starts, between other projects, a line while walking or sitting in a conference or reading. I accumulate fragments that I return to weeks or months later and see where the pieces might fit together in interesting, harmonious, or discontinuous ways. These poems feel in step with my writing life, and I enjoy the process of trying to say something in as small a space as possible.

I think it is starting to veer towards minor experiments with more concrete elements, though not in any proper way that would identify my work as concrete in a theoretically rigorous way. I’m drawn to work that breaks down the component parts of a poem further and further. I’m trying to get away from my nineteen-year-old-self’s desire for epiphanic lines, moving toward something a bit more modest, a bit more open and less assertive.

The flip side of this tendency is that I’m also drawn to serial poems and list poems. I like works that build larger wholes out of individual smaller parts. Lists satisfy my seemingly conflicting desires for concision and expansiveness, with individual lines and parts that could stand alone but that build up momentum as larger pieces. Jim Smith turned my work in this direction. Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems pushes me here, and Monty Reid’s experiments in lyric and sequence. A poem of mine from Five, “The House,” was built from individual lines that were written over months, maybe more than a year, as I was attempting to write a single short poem that eventually became a three-page list built from some thirty of these.

I tag Jennifer Baker, Peter Gibbon, Dave Currie, K.I. Press. Get to it!

CKCU Funding Drive

CKCU at Carleton University is holding their annual funding drive for the next two weeks.

The station is a great supporter of the arts in Ottawa, and has a number of shows that have been especially strong supporters of Ottawa’s literary community (and of some of my projects personally). The collaboratively hosted Literary Landscape and Friday Morning Special Blend are important outlets for discussion of poetry in Ottawa, and Apt. 9 has been graciously hosted and discussed on many occasions.

Pearl Pirie has a great write up of Literary Landscape at her Pesbo blog, and it shows you just how many writers benefit from these shows being on her. So please donate if you’re able, and mark one or both of these shows down on your pledge. They deserve it!


An Accord of Poets #itallhappened

So we did it. It happened. #it. An Accord of Poets. Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Peterborough—four cities in five days, five poets in a Honda Accord (and a sixth meeting us in Peterborough). I don’t know how to wrap up what we did together. More than a year of planning went into it, and now its over. jesslyn has put some thoughts down already. Justin too.

Are you sick of hearing about it yet? This is a bit long. I’m sorry. And it still feels so preliminary.

b2[Photo credits are long since muddled and lost. These were all taken by one in us, I believe. Let me know if I’ve stolen your photo!]

We started in Ottawa at the Carleton Tavern, reading in the Factory Reading Series generously hosted by rob mclennan, reading to an overwhelming hometown crowd. The support Ottawa gave us (and has given us for years) makes me feel so grateful to be writing and publishing here. We’ve got a great community and I would put it up beside any in the country. My parents were there. jesslyn’s nephew helped her out on stage with some timely cries. Justin had the audience chant under one of his poems. We all ate dinner together beforehand with our partners, with surprise guests Ben Ladouceur and Scott Lemoine (marking the first time in years that Justin and Ben had been in the same room). It was a beautiful send off.


10696461_10154663204895104_1413722688773452656_nMontreal was our first day on the road. It was odd to get in the car for the first time all together, leaving Ottawa in the early afternoon and finally seeing the highway that we’d been working towards. Justin kept things moving with one ‘big track’ after another, getting us underway with some of ABBA’s “big” hits (“they didn’t really have any small hits” –Jeff). The reading went well, hosted by Bukem Reitmayer at Bar Blizzarts. We saw old friends again, met some new people, enjoyed the city. Rachael gave what would turn out to be her final reading of the tour, and killed it. She was the best on the night.

10678746_10154672295420104_7051756903811699071_nI woke up early in Montreal the next day and took a walk on my own with a coffee through the mostly-deserted streets of Thanksgiving Monday. I needed the time to myself, only a couple hours, to take stock at the midway point of proceedings. It all seemed to be ending so quickly. The others woke up, we ate a greasy breakfast at Place Milton, and headed back to Ottawa where we split up for the night.



The drive to Toronto was our longest day in the car. We left Ottawa around 9am, but broke up the drive with a stop at the Al Purdy A-Frame. Nick Thran and Sue Sinclair welcomed us for an hour, showed us around, gave us Al Purdy beer. What an amazing space. I am jealous beyond words of those who win the residencies. Sitting in Al’s chairs by the water (or at least, the kind of dirty old plastic chairs you find at cottages that you assume have been there for decades), peering into the outhouse, standing in the grass, before heading down the road to spend a few minutes at his grave. Others have mentioned it in their roundups, but there was a different quality to the quiet moments in the car after the grave. There is a lot I haven’t processed from the tour, but this will take longer than most of it I think. I’ll need to revisit his work with a bit of the A-Frame in my mind now. Our great thanks to Nick, Sue, and Jean Baird for allowing us to drop by.



10704108_10154731713585475_6724225352919563933_nWe made it to Toronto with one further detour to Jeff’s childhood home in Thornhill where his delightful and generous parents, Lawrence and Gail, were hosting us for the night. The EW Reading Series was something else. Great room, great crowd, we were treated excellently by host and series-runner Jess Taylor. I don’t have enough good things to say about how well run it is.  So many old friends together in one place again, and an amazing cross-section of my life: friends I met in grade five, friends from university, friends from the small press scene. It felt really good that night. Jeff and Justin performed some of their collaborations, reading different versions of the same poem simultaneously. jesslyn gave a remarkably vulnerable reading that silenced the room and spoke to the mixture of feelings that came up out of all the reunions in the room. We each read one of Rachael’s poems, driving home how great her poems are and also how nice it can feel to inhabit someone else’s words on stage, however briefly (we should do an additional bizarro reading in Ottawa after the tour where we each read someone else’s poems). The highlight for me was Jeff closing out the night by singing his Cape-Breton Ghazal, “You Are Not A Winner.” I didn’t expect it. It was so beautiful. Jeff is fearless on the mic in ways I wish I could be.

the big smoke

We rode the subway back to Thornhill together, had a terrifying cab ride to Jeff’s house, and stayed up until 3am talking and playing with Jeff’s childhood toys. We were given a perfect breakfast of fresh bagels and lox by Jeff’s parents in the morning before hitting the road for Peterborough. It was bittersweet at this point. Rachael was no longer in the Accord, and we knew that the final reading lay ahead. We went to some bookstores (and did alright: a first of the British edition of Margaret Avison’s Winter Sun, as well as a McFadden and a Brossard), spent an hour at the free Peterborough zoo, had a great final meal of the tour together, hung out at a café that Justin used to go to in high school, signed books for each other, felt sad, talked about what had happened over the last few days, what would happen that night. David Emery joined us, which was fitting. I’ve missed hearing his poems, and he was the first of our group to be involved with In/Words. It was only right that he was there on the final night. Thanks so much for reading with us! And thanks also for these amazing photos of us you took before the tour.


The Peterborough crowd was great. There were Millions and Maxfields in the room. Jeff read an amazing new google-erasure-list poem that I won’t spoil, but man oh man it’s great. jesslyn read from her handwritten notebook after we managed to leave the last of her chapbooks at the venue in Toronto, and even that seemed right. Justin was wonderful and nervous and excited. He set up the Peterborough venue, St. Veronus, which was beautiful, and was reading in front of his parents for the first time I believe. I read that poem I wrote with Stuart Ross because I was feeling nostalgic and it has those associations for me.


The show ended. We sold and signed books. And then began the sad process of saying our goodbyes. We were leaving Justin and David in Peterborough. Rachael was already gone. Only Jeff, jesslyn, and I got back in the Accord for the final trek to Ottawa. There was lots of hugging.

Highway 7 was great on the drive. Unsurprisingly, very little traffic between 11:00pm and 2:30am. We saw a wolf, maybe two. There were a surprising number of frogs crossing the road. The music was turned down to the lowest volume it had been at all tour (though turned up for the big tracks of course, don’t worry Justin). We talked a bit more about what had happened, but also about a hundred other things. It was wonderful. We dropped jesslyn first. I got out second. Jeff had to drive the final few kilometres of the tour himself.

There are a lot of thank you’s we need to make. Our hosts and venues (rob and the Factory Series, Bukem, Jess and the EW Series, Nick and Sue at the A-Frame, the fine people at St. Veronus), the crowds that came to listen, old friends that made the effort and new friends that did so even though they didn’t know us yet, our families (over the tour I met Jeff’s parents, Justin’s parents and sister, jesslyn’s dad and other family members, and we saw new parts of everyone’s childhood), the Blackman’s for welcoming us into their home, all the people that kindly promoted the tour and interviewed us in the build up, the relatively event-free highway driving, the service stations, the weather.

Most importantly, our partners need more thanks than this meagre blog post can offer. Jenn, Kate, Jamie, Jon—thank you! This was an insane thing to do over Thanksgiving, and you put up with an awful lot of tour meetings and discussions for more than a year just to have us disappear for five days. Lots of poems were read in your honour, and you were there in the Accord the same as any of us (well, not in the bodily sense…). The tour doesn’t happen without your support, and neither do the poems. We love you and need you and thank you.

I don’t know how to thank jesslyn, Justin, Rachael, and Jeff. I felt so close to you already, but it is definitely different now. I’m so grateful that I got to do this with you all. I was the negative voice throughout the planning, saying no when everyone else was saying yes, but you all generously kept me around. I know more about you all than I did before, and you know more about me. Publishing chapbooks by each of you over the last five years through Apt. 9 is something I am unbelievably proud of, and now to be next to you all in Five (and to have been on stage with you) fills be with so much gratitude and pride. The best part of it all was getting to listen to you night after night. I love your poems. I love you.

I haven’t been able to speak, quite literally, since getting home. I did my voice in (#tourplague Jenn says; most of us came home sick one way or another). That seems appropriate since I don’t know how to sum any of it up. Love and gratitude. That’s all.



[Five is for sale online now]

CWILA Membership Drive

CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts) is holding a membership drive right now.

“CWILA is a non-profit organization which advocates for gender equity in Canadian literary culture. We currently have over 400 members consisting of some of Canada’s most prominent writers and academics. As a feminist collective, we depend on our membership to stay responsive and attentive to issues of gender discrimination in Canadian literary communities. Care about social justice and equity in Canadian arts & letters? Join CWILA.”

CWILA does a great deal of good in the Canadian literary community, including publishing fantastic interviews and essays, as well as their invaluable annual CWILA count. Read through the website, and if it resonates, please consider joining.