Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Still a Vowellable Form

Constraint-based literature is often discussed in terms of exemplars. After a form has been elegantly and expertly executed, it is often set aside and treated as though it has been completely exhausted. While Oulipian Georges Perec’s La disparition takes the lipogrammatic cake in French, in English it is Christian Bök’s Eunoia that owns the form. It’s almost impossible to imagine a more complete univocal lipogram than Eunoia, to the point that the text constitutes a kind of encyclopaedia or dictionary of lipogramatic words and phrasal tricks for any future writers of lipograms. In this way, Eunoia impresses itself upon all later lipograms, making it impossible to read such poems without recalling this exemplary text. However, JonArno Lawson’s A Voweller’s Bestiary from aardvark to guineafowl (and H) suggests that in constraint-based writing an exemplar, no matter how complete, can still be expanded and enhanced.

Sold as a book for children of all ages, A Voweller’s Bestiary is a collection of entertaining poems about animals, each with a different rule taming the poem’s vowels. The book begins with univocal lipograms, such as “Ants and Aardvarks,” where we read how, “An ant’s bad karma/ has blatant drawbacks:/ An ant’s bad karma/ attracts aardvarks” (8). The book then moves on to a variety of other lipogrammatic forms, where the vowels in the title are reproduced in the same order in the text of the poem, for example, in “Opossum,” where, “Opossum’s monotonous stupor/ clouds opossum’s thoughts (36). While the univocal lipograms take on a kind of eunoian tone, especially the U poem, “Stuck-up Gulls Must Trust Dumb Ducks,” A Voweller’s Bestiary still manages to infuse the lipogram with a unique sense of play. The book is full of personalities, events, and adventures that never appear in Eunoia, allowing us to explore another very different world that the lipogram can create.

A Voweller’s Bestiary demonstrates that even if a form seems to have been thoroughly explored, employing it can still lead to new discoveries, and in this case, new lipogrammatic species never before documented. Eunoia shows us how language, no matter how abused and constrained, still strives to communicate, while A Voweller’s Bestiary shows us that language can achieve this in a number of ways. Lipograms that lean too heavily on Eunoia risk being repetitive and redundant, but A Voweller’s Bestiary builds on the exemplary text, constructing a new and engaging world on the foundation Eunoia has laid. This fun book not only introduces us to a menagerie of lipogrammatic creatures, but it also encourages us to release forms back into the wild. Even if a form has been carefully observed and studied in one setting, it could behave entirely differently in a new habitat.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Processed Exhaustion

I’ve mentioned this before, but the whole NaNoWriMo thing really intrigues me. I just can’t believe that 30,000 people each managed to write a 50,000 page novel in a month. I am typing this after writing just a 5,200 word essay in 24h, and the thought of continuing to type coherent and persuasive academic prose may be enough to make my eyes bleed. So, I’m curious about the idea just for the sake of the experiment—I want to know how literally tens of thousands of people could manage this.

Contemplating NaNoWriMo has brought me to a question, however. It’s sort of an unproductive question, since the answer is yes, no, or maybe. My question is: Does NaNoWriMo pose a serious problem for any writing that emphasizes the process rather than the product? I’m thinking Allen Ginsberg… I’m thinking Jack Kerouac. Does the whole “first thought best thought” theory hold when it comes up against an army of 30,000 one month novelists? Is sitting down at your typewriter and pounding out a novel in a few days enough to make something like On the Road?

I have a suspicion that the answer is no—the process isn’t enough to make the work a work of genius. If the answer was yes, after all, the NaNoWriMo competition last year would have produced 30,000 works of new, completely important, utterly literary material that we would all be scampering to read and study and dissect and analyse and understand. But that hasn’t happened. Of course, I have had my head stuck in the medieval sand for the last few months studying for my MA, but to the best of my knowledge, the NaNoWriMo-ers have not overrun the literary landscape of English speaking North America yet.

So, why not? If process is everything, this is a pretty extreme process. Like I said, my hunch is that process isn’t enough… that everyone’s first thought is not a literary best thought. I don’t mean to suggest that successful free-writing experiments are only possible through some innate genius. In fact, I’m not really suggesting anything. It really is a question… how important is process, and if process is important, why aren’t NaNoWriMo novels, produced under extreme conditions similar to those of other literary novels, a wild and valid literary success phenomenon? Is it a lack of training? Foresight? Does this writing rely on personal genius for its quality? I don’t know. But it’s weird.

Seriously. 30,000 50,000 word novels in a month. That’s bananas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo Caveat

A few weeks ago I proclaimed December would be NaNoWriMo month for me... but with about 45 more pages of essay to write by the 10th, I won't be starting my novel until the 11th or 12th... from my parents couch, while eating christmas cookies.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Calgary Launch!

I'm super excited to be launching my book at Pages Books in Calgary on December 10th... which accounts for why I'm putting this up three weeks before the event. Yay Calgary! and Pages!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Short Haul: NaNoWriMo

Two weeks ago I wrote about my problems tying up my manuscript in a timely fashion. While I’ve been pushing my poetry around with my fork, however, thousands upon thousands of people are participating in NaNoWriMo—or National Novel Writing Month—where participants have to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I heard about NaNoWriMo too late to consider participating, and besides, as a grad student I am now lacking time to do basic things like laundry and sleeping, so cramming novel writing into my schedule is simply not possible. However, I did have time to pick up Chris Baty’s NaNoWriMo instructional book No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, and even read about half of it.

Though I haven’t written fiction since my first year of university, NaNoWriMo intrigues me. Focusing on poetry has paralyzed me when it comes to other genres—I assume I can’t write anything but poetry, and feel almost arrogant delving into fiction without making a serious effort to learn about writing techniques first. I’m also just afraid I can’t do it. I have a hard time dreaming up plots, and I can’t write dialogue to save my life. However, I have two ideas for short fiction projects that I would really like to work on that I have shamefully shelved in some back corner of my brain. Well, no more. In December, I am going to attempt this NaNoWriMo thing.

While I can imagine a number of literary objections to NaNoWriMo, there are a lot of things about the idea that I find exciting, if not genuinely helpful. No Plot emphasizes that the book you will write in a month will probably be doomed to mediocrity, but that it will provide you with a complete first draft you can work on afterwards. A fellow writer who has participated in speed novel writing contests suggested to me that this may be less straight forward than it seems, since once written, changing the direction of the book can prove difficult. Because my project idea is a series of interconnected short stories, however, I’m hoping that I may be able to avoid this pitfall and have an easier time making changes to sections without having to rip up the whole book. Even so, I have accepted that my book will not be great… but I do think working on it will make me a better writer.

Since I heard about the contest and resolved to attempt it, I’ve been excited to work on the stories, and have started to sketch out some details about characters and events I’d like to write about. I feel enthusiastic about the prospect of working on the book. As No Plot suggests, casting off expectations of competence and literary merit have allowed me to stop feeling afraid of fiction, and to approach actually writing it. Overcoming this inhibition is the first step for me to actually learning how to write fiction, and even though this first effort may not turn out well, at least I will have tried. Most importantly, however, I am convinced that writing 1,667 words a day every day in December will improve my writing skills. If practice makes perfect, then NaNoWriMo seems like a valid strategy for a beginning fiction writer.

Finally, No Plot emphasizes that NaNoWriMo will help you finish your book by sending legions of guilt monkeys to harass you should you falter or try to give up after committing to the plan. The book also encourages you to brag widely about your novel writing plans so that shame will force you to write, and that’s why I have written this post. Whether I will produce anything of merit is uncertain, but if nothing else, I hope to join the 30,000 people last year who succeeded in their NaNoWriMo efforts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


can you make it through your abcs? :P sorry the pen leaked a bit so... if it looks like it's probably not a solid wall, it probably isn't.
happy mazing!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Long Haul

When you first start out, it’s all you think about. It’s so exciting, and you spend every waking moment you can doing it. After a little while, things are still going great. You’ve become more familiar, so it’s not quite exciting as it once was, but it’s nice… comfortable. Everything just clicks naturally. A little more time passes and though you still see why you fell in love, you’re getting a bit tired of the same old problems, the same chores. Even the good times are getting a little predictable. You’re not planning on ending it—you have far too much invested, and after all, you still love it deep down. But you have to find something to get you through the grind. You’re in a long-term relationship… with your poetry manuscript.

I am about two years and six months into a book-length project that is nowhere near finished. I love the project, though, and have every intention of completing it. I’ve invested one and a bit years of school-driven hard-work on the book, and one and a bit years of full-time working and slacking off on the project (though in my defense, I did get other poetry things accomplished over the year). Though I am dedicated to the project, it’s slowly becoming a burden. I feel like I can’t in good conscience start another big, research-based project until I finish this one, but I have a long list of new ideas that I want to dive into. If I start something else, I’m afraid I’ll never return to the book. And like I said, I do love the project, and I really, really want to finish it. Breaking up is not an option.

So how do I make it through? First, a little perspective is helpful. Compared to other authors, 2 ½ years is nothing. Many of my favourite writers have spent 10 or more years on their books. If I want to finish the project and do it well, it may take several more years, a fact I will just have to accept. It’s difficult not to feel slightly discouraged, though, if not impatient, which brings me to my second strategy… time management. I’m beginning to think that setting aside 30 minutes every single day, sick or well, rain or shine, busy or bored to work on my book will mean that in another year when I look back on the project, I’ll be able to see the progress I’ve made. Furthermore, I’ve discovered that working on other little side projects reinvigorates me. Instead of sitting down to work on my book and thinking, “oh, this again,” working on other mini-projects gets me excited about writing, and excited about my book.

The one problem I haven’t entirely overcome yet, however, is the loneliness of working on long project outside of school. Finishing the book means many, many more hours of sitting alone in my office, carving and whittling, sanding and polishing, forming and reforming bits over and over again. Having gotten used to a creative writing program where I spent hours every week discussing my work with my classmates or professors, adjusting to the isolation of writing outside of school has been difficult. Of course I still have writer friends to discuss poetry with, but my lifestyle as a writer has changed forever. I’m not quite sure what to do about this problem. If I’m working on a visual piece I listed to CBC podcasts or put on familiar movies to fill the air, but the written components of my work require less background chatter. I think, ultimately, this is one part of being a post-university writer that I will just have to get used to. Though I love giving readings and chatting up friends about what they’re working on and sharing what I’m writing, and though I love writing itself, I will have to get used to spending more time alone with the book. In most relationships, if your partner required that you abandon your social life in order to stay home alone with them all the time, you would probably consider them controlling and obsessive. If it’s your book that requires this, however, I guess you just have to accept it.

So—how do you keep motivated after years of working on a project? What snags have you hit, and how did you overcome them?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Medieval Woman: The 80s Margenalia

My mum picked up a used day book at the thrift store for me because it was full of medieval images of women, which I'm studying in school. It also has writing in it from the original owner up until February of that year. Here's what she left behind.

To Cathy
—I hope 1986 is
your best year yet

101 Dalmations
School Started. Art with Mart.
Laurie left
Grandma Velestuk died. *this entry is crossed out
Staff XmasParty moved to 17th.
Jim left
Grandma died
Xmas Party
left with Mart
Lunch with Dave & Linda
Dinner at the A&W with DRW
Lunch with L&D
Elbow Room with Carole & Dan
to observe drinking behavior.
Scott moved in.
Hockey Game with Mart
Went to the Holy Cross to
visit Vicky Graham. Had Lunch & went
shopping with Dave. Saw Sexual
Perversity in Chicago with Mart.
Little Place for Lunch with
D & L
Ash Wednesday
Visited Vicky
Pancake Thursday
Genie Nominations—no luck.
Laurie came home.
Went out for drinks with
Mart & Carol Hawkwood.
Flowers from Dave.
Vicky at the Sound of Music.
Went to Mart’s. —Carol M,
Simon, John, Nob & Me. 5:30 a.m.
Dave’s interview.
Lunch with Dave, Linda, &
Simon. Shopping with Dave at
Deerfoot Mall.
Lunch with Dave. Shopping at
Chinook. Coldest day on record
for this date. -40ish. Brrr.
Lors I went to Chinook.
Earl’s after work with
Coffee with Dave, everything is
off until April. hmmm…. we’ll
see what happens here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wrist Splints

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers; when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist's armchair and confuse his ‘rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity, stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us—when we think of this as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza, epic poems to typhoid: odes to pneumonia; lyrics to toothache.

-Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill

Wrist Splints

ink sting, I flick my pen
nib singed strokes
that flare in icy glyphs
wake frozen phrases
tingling paragraphs
that burn the frigid page
and consume
my frost-bitten wrist

stiff brittle pen
a crumble of words
collapsed nerves
a bundle of ash
I plunge my hand
wrist deep in the wreckage
the eroded sand
that blasts against my skin

broken reservoir
a wash of black silt
bashes letters against
the ragged bed
of ravaged nerves
outcroppings of words
scrape the pen’s flood
of broiling ink

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last Letter, Last Word

On October 11th the New Statesman printed a previously unpublished poem by Ted Hughes which discusses the last time he saw his then estranged wife Sylvia Plath alive. While poking around on the internet trying to track down the full text of the poem, I read the comments following a news article which discussed the discovery. The angry author of the post snidely commented that the publication of this new poem should prove once and for all that Hughes was a good guy and vindicate him from the soap-box feminists who condemn Hughes for driving Plath to her suicide.

The Hughes poem, entitled “Last Letter,” describes Hughes running to save Plath after receiving a letter from her implying that she might kill herself. On that day she is still alive, and he leaves relieved. The poem then goes on to describe how Hughes feels torn between Plath and his mistress, then explores what Plath’s last hours might have been like. The poem concludes with a description of Ted Hughes sitting down to work before receiving a call that Plath has died.

Though the poem is heartfelt and mournful, it doesn’t excuses Hughes from whatever role he played in Plath’s death. While Plath suffered from depression before meeting Hughes, I don’t think most people would be cheered if their philandering husbands left them to live with their mistress. However, that’s not really the point. What bothers me more about Hughes and the publication of this poem is the degree to which Plath’s life and work are mediated to us through Hughes and his work.

Though it is not chic to say so, I am a fan of Plath’s poetry. As a confessional poet, it makes sense that Plath’s work often gets conflated with her biography. However, I think her work has a lot more to offer than just a morbid, voyeuristic look into her life with Hughes and her suicide. This new Hughes poem again frames Plath as Hughes’ troubled wife, from Hughes’ point of view. Whatever harm Hughes may have done Plath in life, her oeuvre is done a disservice when she is repeatedly cast not as a dedicated writer, but as someone’s suicidal wife. That is not to say that “Last Letter” is not an interesting discovery for Hughes fans and scholars, but once again, it seems like he gets the last word.

by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rewriting History: Radical Medievalism

Conceptual writers spend a lot of time defending writing that is done through a recontextualization or recombination of source texts. Lyric, neo-Romantic, free-verse poetry has become so prevalent that writers who look to other texts rather than their own internal emotional experiences for inspiration or subject matter often face a barrage of criticism as though they were ruining poetry or cheapening human expression. However, there is nothing certain about the way we write, nor is there any style that is more natural than any other. Contemporary lyric poetry is as constructed as any other form, and there is nothing innate about it. In fact, writing by recombining a series of external source texts is nothing new—it is actually a very, very old strategy of writing, though many readers have difficulty accepting this type of writing no matter when it was composed. Medieval writers such as Chaucer borrowed heavily from a variety of texts in order to complete their own works. John Mandeville probably didn’t even exist, and whoever did write The Book of John Mandeville probably didn’t venture much farther than a bookshelf to write this famous travel narrative. Were the authors of these texts cheating the reader and getting away with spectacular acts of plagiarism, or is there something more to this way of writing? When we read, what is it that we most want to get out of the experience? If the point of reading is to learn about individual emotional experience, than lyric, free-verse, neo-Romanticism might be the answer, but I think we can look for something different in other texts. By cutting, pasting, and recombining texts, writers have the opportunity to express something broader and more inclusive than their own personal perception. This type of writing gives us a different, more panoramic view of the world and of writing itself. By reading more, we can learn more…. so why not bring this process to the page and expand existing texts into new ones? If nothing else, the historical precedent is there. My favourite evidence of the intersection of contemporary experimental poetics and medieval writing is Caroline Bergvall’s Shorter Chaucer Tales, particularly Banned in Poland: ‘The Summer Tale.’ Bergvall also draws our attention to the variations between translations and copies of a text in her poem Via, where she lists the first line of various translations of Dante’s Inferno, followed by the names of the translators and year of publication of each of these texts. In Via we see the slippery nature of reading and translation, not dissimilar from the role medieval scribes played when they made minute or drastic changes to texts as they copied them out by hand. Bergvall’s pieces show, among other things, that a readership is always in the process of reinterpreting and reshaping texts, and that nothing about writing is solid… not even old books.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

derek beaulieu on How to Write

In my last post I shared a video of derek beaulieu reading from his book of conceptual fiction How to Write. Using the power of the interwebs, I was also able to ask beaulieu some questions about his new book...

Helen: You’ve called How to Write a work of conceptual fiction. Why do you think of this book as a book of fiction and not poetry? When it comes to conceptual writing, where do you think the line is between the two forms? Does the line even matter?

derek: I considered How to Write a collection of short fiction because—for the most part—the source texts were fiction. I wanted to know how much I could remove from a piece of “fiction” and have it remain “fiction.” I do try and categorize the book as a collection of prose pieces, suggesting that most of the hallmarks of “fiction” (traditionally) are absent from How to Write, and yet I don’t think its poetry.
I don’t know the blurring of the lines between poetry and prose is an issue unique to conceptual writing, I think its endemic to poetry as a whole. That said, Conceptual Writing as a genre I think is more concerned with issues around ‘writing’ than issues around ‘poetry’. Poetry has little to offer outside of poetry itself, writing—on the other hand—is a much more dynamic space. Poetry tends to know its poetry, while writing doesn’t always know its writing.

Helen: Your piece “I Can See the Whole Room… and There’s Nobody in It!” is a collection of all the text from Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book paintings. In your introduction to the piece here in Montreal, you discussed how the estate of Lichtenstein not only sues people who plunder Lichtenstein’s work, but also those who cite the work Lichtenstein cites, saying that no one would use this work had Lichtenstein not introduced them to it. Like many pieces of conceptual writing, your book subverts stringent copyright laws and intellectual property rights. Why do you think this is important? Should writers hoard their content and guard it jealously, or let others steal from their work? What’s at stake? How does this issue in writing comment on our everyday lived experiences in a culture governed by these laws?

derek: I think that in the age of the internet, copyright laws as they currently exist are becoming increasingly obsolete. In fact, as Kenneth Goldsmith argues, if a text does not exist online, it does not exist at all. Our culture is one of constant appropriation and recontextualization. Writers in ostrich-like ignorance of the potential of sharing—as opposed to hoarding—their texts, are ignoring potentially the most important artistic innovation of the 20th century: collage.
What’s at stake? Nothing but your own obsolescence. If you don’t share you don’t exist.

Helen: When you read from your book you explain the strategy you used to write each piece, and in the last pages of How to Write we find a list briefly explaining how each piece was composed. Do you think the work is more meaningful if the audience is given this way in? Is there anything to gain from withholding your sources or compositional strategy in a text like this? Does letting your audience know where you stole your content contribute to the radical political message of the book? Is your artistic theft more meaningful if people know where you stole your lines? Why list the writing methods at the back of the book, and not at the beginning of each poem?

derek: I think that allowing the audience access to the texts through support material, notes and bibliographical references fosters what Goldsmith again refers to as a “thinkership” instead of a “readership.” Knowing that the entirety of the text in How to Write was stolen undermines the idea of artistic genius, and suggests what Perloff now refers to as “Unoriginal Genius.” I included my sources as a nod to my own bibliographical impulses and interest in literary archaeology. Including the citations allows the original texts to slide more readily into an uncanny space of familiar yet not. Craig Dworkin argues that “the test of poetry [is] no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.” Authors are now judged not by the quality of their writing but of the infallibility of their choices.

Helen: The title piece of your book is, to quote your summary of the piece, “an exhaustive record of every incidence of the words “write” or “writes” in 40 different English-language texts. These texts were picked aesthetically and to represent a disparate number of genres.” Do you see conceptual writing as an organic movement that has grown naturally out of the long and complicated history and interaction of English-language writers through the centuries, or is conceptual writing a sharp and conscious break from literary history? In compiling lines from disparate genres, are you demonstrating that all writers and writing are in it together, or are you subsuming other genres to fuel conceptualism?

derek: I think that Conceptual Writing is the application of theories from the visual arts which have been ignored (or at least under-represented) in the literary arts. Brion Gysin’s dictum that “writing is 50 years behind art” Is accurate in as much as it is sadly underestimating the length of time that writing has ignored the innovations occurring in other art forms. I think that collage and sampling texts is nothing new—even in writing—and I recommend Letham’s article “The Ecstacy of Influence” (here: ) for a discussion of the historical precedents for appropriation in writing (Davis Sheilds’ Reality Hunger: a manifesto is another strong argument).
The thing is, when I discuss these issues with my high school students they look at me like I’m a simpleton. For them this is reality; the internet is not something that challenges who we are or how we write it IS who we are and how write.
Writers—being writers—are simply the last to realize the fact.

Helen: Your piece “Cross It over It,” “is a series of pornographic instructions pertaining both to tying a tie and to composing poetry” and gets laughs every time I’ve seen you read it. Is getting dressed in the morning and putting on a tie a type of classist masturbation? Is writing poetry like jerking off? Is writing conceptual poetry a white collar activity? Why is tying a tie or writing a poem so absurdly funny? Is your book jerking off on the reader? Finally, almost no women wear ties, and as instructions for masturbation, this piece could only be useful for those with penises. What does this say about male authorship and the role of women in conceptual writing?

derek: Writing poetry is very much a classist activity, and has been so for a very long time. Poetry is a completely disposable form as it has not remained contemporary. It is the domain of academics and specialists. Is this a bad thing though? If we require nuclear physicists and oncologists and mechanical engineers to have specialized dictions and stay contemporary with the most cutting edge of research and practices, why would we not require that of poetry?
I don’t know that is my place to comment on the role of women in conceptual poetry, though I would point to the work of Sarah Cullen, Emma Kay, M. NourbeSe Philip, Rachel Zolf, Alison Turnbull, Elisabeth Tonnard, Marjorie Perloff, Kate Eichorn (and others) as potential places to begin that exploration.
And lastly: If writing a poem is inherently funny it is because its hard to believe that the author had nothing better to do. It is inherently funny because we still chose an outdated form as a medium for argumentation. If we had something to say would we chose the poem—with its sliver of audience and lack of cultural cache—as the arena to announce that opinion?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How to Write: Reading by derek beaulieu

On August 21st derek beaulieu gave a reading from his new work of conceptual fiction How to Write at Monastiraki in Montreal. I apologize in advance for the wobbly video... I have a lot of things going for me, but a steady hand is apparently not one of them. If you can get past the trembling screen, though, you'll get to enjoy beaulieu's reading of the first piece from How to Write entitled "Nothing Odd Can Last," a collection of plundered questions about the famous novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. I'll also be interviewing beaulieu about his book, so if you have any questions for beaulieu about this piece or about any other section of How to Write, let me know.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Librarian's Curse

Hullo—I've just moved to Montreal and haven't had much time to think, much less write something coherent, but in an effort to stave off homesickness I did just watch a documentary about medieval thinking that contained this super-duper librarian curse quote:

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails [. . .] when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever." —Basbanes

I am so totally becoming a librarian after this degree.
Bye! Montreal updates to follow :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Proof is in the Proof

Ok, admit it. You feel a sense of smug self-satisfaction every time you find a spelling error in a published novel, you laugh until you cry mocking newspaper headlines that say things like, “Thai Ministers Flea in Wake of Violence,” and you question the intelligence of any poet whose book has a really ridiculous spelling error in it. Now, I like ridiculing the ‘fleaing’ ministers as much as the next snob, but I have a deep, dark, terrible secret that you may have already figured out if you’ve been reading my posts regularly… I can’t spell. After I publish a post, my sister will almost always email me to tell me she enjoyed my post, and with a list of the spelling errors I need to go back and fix. Now, not only can I not spell, I’m also in the process of proofing my first book. I cannot go back and hit edit on the book... cue cold sweat. Of course, other eyes have seen the proof and picked out mistakes too, so I’m not the only English major responsible for making sure there are no grievous errors within the pages of Poets and Killers, and I am eternally grateful to my editor and copyeditor for this (not to mention my sister). However, if a few really obvious errors slip through all the proofs and into the book, I’m pretty sure I’m the one everyone is going to think can’t spell—and they would be right. Not only will people think I can’t spell, though, but I’m pretty sure everyone will think this is evidence that I am really, really dumb. When a lot of people spot a spelling error in a classmate’s power point presentation, or in the seminar paper of a fellow student, they immediately assume the person has done a half-hearted job, or that the person is sufficiently mentally stunted that even if they did put a lot of effort in, the material isn’t going to be worth considering. I've hear employers simply toss out c.v.s that contain spelling mistakes. But honestly—some of us just can’t spell. I don’t know why I can’t spell. I was read to and read a lot as a child, and my mother is a primary school teacher. I’ve always been bookworm-ish, and I’ve been writing copiously and constantly since I learned how to write at all. Furthermore, I’m old enough that I didn’t learn how to write on a computer with spell-check, so don’t go blaming Microsoft Word and technology for my problem. It’s not as though I’m lacking experience in the reading and writing department… I just can’t remember what words are supposed to look like. Words I’ve read and written a thousand times I will often have to look up because I cannot visualize words. Despite this fact, and with a lot of careful proofing, I’ve managed to get an honours degree in the language I can’t spell in, and am beginning an English MA in the fall. So, I’m not dumb, and despite my questionable choice of letters when writing words like seperately and indipendance, I do invest both time and effort in thinking through my essays and poems. I’m not saying that correct spelling shouldn’t be expected, incorrect spelling is distracting and jarring to the reader, but I do wonder if correct spelling is a reliable litmus test for the intelligence of the writer, or the literary merit of a book. Does my questionable spelling undermine my credibility as a writer or a critic? How harshly will you judge me if I let a spelling mistake get printed in my book?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It Came from the Basement

Wordsworth said that poetry is, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Well, around here it’s mostly been the cascading overflow of random closets and not very much tranquility. As a result, much of my reading has been restricted to horrifying internet articles about terrible moving companies, and trolling kijiji for apartments. However, while cleaning up we have uncovered some odd and poetic things that were squirreled away in the basement. One of the things I’ll miss about no longer living in my childhood home are finds like these… no more poking through stacks of old postcards and photographs, no more typewriters and reel-to-reels, no more basement full of emotionally charged clutter. So before I enter the brave new world of apartment living, here are the books I found in my basement.

Oh, and if you can recommend a good, cheap moving company that won’t destroy these books when I move, please let me know.