Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Lorri Neilsen Glenn : Joe Blades




We milled about in the big room of the old Khyber Building—
friends, family, local poets and Joe, who made sure books were
stacked, drinks were set out, and a working mic was ready. Even

my physician had shown up. I was elated; I felt I’d finally landed
on the planet where I belonged.

Joe Blades came into my life at a critical point. I couldn’t bear
to write another academic article. After finishing a manuscript
of poems, I entered the Poets’ Corner Award offered by Broken

Jaw Press. I knew nothing of small presses or of contests, but
Joe’s press, one province over, seemed welcoming. To my

shock, I won, which meant the poems would be published as
a book. Joe was gracious and calm as we worked to prepare

the manuscript. Yes, I could use a striking photograph my
husband had taken for the cover. Of course, I could send the

work to an external editor before it went to press. It all happened
in about two months.

During that launch in Halifax, Joe threaded in and out of the
crowd, wearing his enigmatic smile and holding one of his
legendary commonplace books, a journal so stuffed with notes,

drawings, brochures and clippings, so full the leaves fanned
out wantonly as if the book was originally a circle, trying to

make itself whole again.

I think of Joe as a spine of one of those journals, gathering
in words, people and ideas--pages of ephemera and insights
that spark conversation and creative works, opening them all

to one another. I am forever grateful for his work in the literary
community and for publishing my first poetry collection.

Joe Blades was a contemporary rhapsode, traveling from one
town to the next, sewing together stories.


After years as a scholar, Lorri Neilsen Glenn published All the Perfect Disguises with Joe Blades’ Broken Jaw Press in 2003.





Lorri Neilsen Glenn is a mentor in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program and Professor Emerita at Mount Saint Vincent University. Halifax’s Poet Laureate from 2005-2009, Lorri is the author and contributing editor of fourteen collections of poetry, creative nonfiction and scholarly work, and has received awards for her innovative teaching, ethnographic research and her work in the arts. Following the River: Traces of Red River Women (Wolsak and Wynn, 2017) is her award-winning exploration in hybrid form of the lives of her Ininiwak and Métis grandmothers and their contemporaries. Lorri’s essays and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and her poetry has been adapted for libretti by composers Tawnie Olson and Kala Pierson. A Red River Métis, Lorri lived on the Prairies before moving to Nova Scotia in the 80s. She divides her time between Halifax and Rose Bay, NS. 

Wanda Praamsma : Propositions & Prayers, by Lise Downe

Propositions & Prayers, Lise Downe
Book*hug, 2020



Amidst the rational milieu of pandemic living – living by the facts, figures, rules – my mind at first resisted immersing itself in Lise Downe’s most recent book of poems, Propositions & Prayers. Perhaps this is the difficulty so many readers and literature-lovers have faced this past year: we are struggling so hard to keep rooted, to understand and to process what we are living through, it is almost impossible to let ourselves let go enough to revel in more expansive thinking, the obscure and the abstruse, and to dance amidst nonduality and not-knowing.

Almost is the key word, though. Because when you break down all the bracing, all the holding, there is entrance into what is beyond our day-to-day machinations, a movement toward an “essential quiet / ness or quiet / ude” (74), not unlike the settling of the mind during yoga and meditation, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff. This is also what happens when you allow yourself entry into Downe’s latest work.

I interspersed my reading of Propositions & Prayers with books on Zen Buddhism and koans, those little stories that tweak your thinking and nudge you to approach a problem, or life in general, with a more open-minded, open-ended perspective. The little healing stories keep you on your toes, urging you not to become too attached; they offer choices, no set answers. It’s up to you.

The same applies to Downe’s work. In brief snippets, her propositions, which make up most of the book, exude this willingness to explore and to question what we know, what can we know, is there a point to knowing? Or can we simply wander, observe, wander, observe.

what of charms and rattles, absorbing facts
pooled together, I mean
I’m not trying to indict anyone

but what do we know
other than quotes skirting

every margin of truth 

And then later in the same proposition, this assurance of change:

any thorny patch or song, and the rest
shadowing all we saw anyway
the way the light switches


Like a koan, each little poem is a portal into understanding through misunderstanding. Quirky daily observations mix with higher-plane philosophical and metaphysical statements that lure me into big mind, the mind that is everything, according to Zen. Downe sends me this message: we are not constant, our knowledge is not constant, we are ever-shifting. Through these propositions and longer prayers, and with a rhythm that clips and hops with alliteration and inquisitive enjambment, Downe is a gracious and curious leader, guiding us as we guide ourselves.

On these winding paths or portals she creates, we are led to some absurd ends and also to blissful ends, where we can clearly linger in the perfection of the view right in front of our eyes:

if one needs cheering up
take a detour round the back
and see what’s surfacing

grassland, drumlins, ocean

Downe reminds us that we need not be so bound – to anything. And I love how in one of her final propositions of the book, she urges – proposes – the need to release the questions, and like an artist inspired and fearless (Downe is also a visual artist), just keep going:

don’t even ask who is driving
Why am I doing this?
both hands on the wheel

and so it goes, like so
on and on and soon

it is

We can release the clinging, the desire to know everything and all possible outcomes. We can go exploring and linger in unknowing.

Sure, this is harder to do in a pandemic, but we can try. And reading Downe’s work helps.




Wanda Praamsma is a poet and writer based in Kingston, Ontario. Her first book of poetry, a thin line between, was published by Book*hug in 2014, and poems have appeared in periodicities, ottawater, eleven eleven, Lemon Hound, and The Feathertale Review.

Stan Rogal : David Donnell : A Tribute




How did I first come to meet David Donnell? I don’t remember. In all likelihood, it was at the Idler Pub, in Toronto. He was a semi-regular and I had recently begun hosting a reading series on Sunday nights. I imagine him approaching me, crossing his arms across his ample belly, cigarette in one hand (this was 1990, remember, when times were less restrictive), a pint of bitter in the other, flashing that terrific wide grin, rocking on his heels (as was his habit), and in that mellifluously smooth, smoke-and-whiskey-soaked voice, saying: hello, I’m David Donnell. I’m a writer and I’m wondering how one goes about getting a spot on your program? That was it, I’m a writer. Not, I’m a Governor General’s Award-winning poet and wrote reviews for Canadian Art magazine and wrote a history of Hemingway in Toronto and was a former host at the Old Bohemian Embassy and am a good pal of Margaret Atwood… No, nothing like that. I don’t know if it was modesty or if he felt further explanation was unnecessary and a total loss of good drinking time or what. Either I’d heard of him or I hadn’t, case closed. That was David, a writer who didn’t waste words. As it turns out, I hadn’t heard of him. Had no idea.     

We probably talked a bit further, I gave him the scoop on process, discovered he was a published poet, told him no problem, I’d book him, and that was that. As it happened, David began to attend the readings fairly regularly. You could always tell when he was in the crowd, he had a big HAHAHA type of laugh and a slow, loud, handclap. He enjoyed the vibe and he enjoyed hanging out with younger, beginning writers. He was very supportive that way, and always took the time to introduce himself to readers who appealed to him. He was soon buddies with a group of regulars who were very active in the local literary scene, not just writing and reading, but publishing broadsides and magazines and starting up their own reading series’ in bars and coffee houses across the city. It was almost like stepping back in time to the vibrant sixties, a time David could well relate to. Who were these wild folks? I can only offer a short list and I apologize to the many people I miss: Jill Battson, Michael Holmes, Peter McPhee, Natalee Caple, Christian Bök, Bill Kennedy, Stuart Ross, John Barlow, Darren Werschler-Henry, Steven Cain, Nancy Dembowski, Nancy Bullis, Allan Briesmaster, Steve Venright… 

Of course, the biggest treat was to hear David read in that mellifluously smooth, smoke-and-whisky-soaked voice. Famous for his poems about food — a simple bowl of peaches and fresh cream sounded like a bacchanalian feast from his lips — he was equally adept at discussing politics, music, art, pop culture, sex and so on, often moving from subject to subject in a manner that was sometimes decidedly abrupt, though appearing seamless. He had an active mind and a curious intelligence that showed up in his poetry in a way that resembled scanning various articles in a newspaper, or wandering aimlessly through a neighbourhood supermarket, say, Kensington: “I buy oranges & purple plums / & bright green avocado pears. / I was very moved by those / lines about the perfume maker you murdered.” No explanation. Simply a brain firing on all cylinders as it roams the ever-shifting terrain.

Times changed, and so did the scene. People grew older, either moved on or didn’t, the Idler Pub shut its doors, new faces appeared with renewed energy and bringing their own particular interests and aesthetics. David and I lost touch for the most part. The last time I saw him was in the Annex, several years past the heyday. We met in the middle of a crosswalk. He was dressed casually, even sloppily, and looked tired and worn. Still, he stopped me with that same big grin of his. I said hi, and told him his knapsack was unzipped and that things were hanging out the back ready to fall. He said he knew, he liked the careless, slovenly look. Not sure what he meant by that, but, okay. We talked as the traffic lights changed colour. Didn’t matter to him, but I said we better move on. He laughed, and asked me (out of the blue) what pub I was frequenting these days. Well, I’ve never been one who goes to a certain pub and gets to know the staff and regulars, so it was a moot point to me, but seemed important to him, so I said, Paupers. He laughed again. Yes, terrific pub. Serves a nice bitter and makes a great burger. He slapped me on the shoulder and we parted company. It was the last time I saw him. It was the last time I heard that smooth voice and big, life-affirming laugh. Which is maybe what I miss most about him. That laugh.

Cheers, David  




Stan Rogal is currently hunkered down in the pandemic-ravaged city of Toronto where he continues to follow Sam Beckett's edict: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” He has published widely and is the author of 26 books: 7 novels, 7 story, 12 poetry and several chapbooks. He is an amateur sleuth and thespian, as well as a master in hand-to-hand combat. He also makes a mean martini.

rob mclennan: A History of the Theories of Rain, by Stephen Collis

A History of the Theories of Rain, Stephen Collis
Talonbooks, 2021




Vancouver poet, writer, critic, literary activist and 2019 Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize winner Stephen Collis’ latest is the poetry title A History of the Theories of Rain (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2021), a lyric quartet that writes specifically on and around the implications and ideas of the ongoing and increasing global climate crisis. “Give me music because // I never could understand its // direct connection to // that feeling stream,” he writes, as part of the untitled opening lyric. Collis’ work has long explored the possibilities of what poetry might accomplish, responding to ongoing social concerns through poetry titles such as Anarchive (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2005), The Commons (Talonbooks, 2008/2014), To the Barricades (Talonbooks, 2013) and Once in Blockadia (Talonbooks, 2016). Over the years, his poetry has explored social concerns and engagements, writing and living his politics around decolonization, authority, land rights, the oppositions to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the ongoing ecological crisis. His work is immediate, timely and timeless, providing amplification to what the lyric has long held as a quiet, underlying thread; by Collis, this eco-poetic is not mere flowering, but magnified. It is through such work, and the ways in which he has crafted his complex lyric of attending the unfolding these crises that Collis has become one of our most essentially-engaged contemporary poets. His, alongside the work of contemporaries such as Rita Wong and Christine Leclerc, is a rare lyric that includes actual action, as, during his participations in the protests against the Trans Mountain pipeline, he was sued by Kinder Morgan for five-point-six million dollars. “and we were not afraid,” he writes, as part of the second section, “and held each other / with our very voices // molten / in the ubiquitous dark / not brittle really / not beaten back / but material still / and here to bend the light [.]” Collis argues for acknowledgment, as well as the required response, which at the very minimum, requires the notion of resistance. In a review of David Herd’s Through (Carcanet, 2016) over at Jacket2, posted July 18, 2017, Collis writes of what he terms the “Biotariat,” as he writes:

As Susan Howe writes, “Connections between unconnected things are the unreal reality of Poetry.” This is what makes poetry such fertile ground for the thought of the Biotariat, where we must trace the links between, say, the systemic dehumanization of (certain) human beings, and the too-often denied sentience and agency of the nonhuman.

In four sections—“Future Imperfect,” “Sketch of a Poem I Will Not Have Written,” “Notes on the Derangement of Time” and “A History of the Theories of Rain”—Collis lays out and examines the facts of crisis, of crises, writing on capitalism, social implication and danger, and the ways in which we seem intent on self-destruction. “Take apart all ideas plans projects and structures,” he writes, as part of the second section, “until there is a book comprised of all the takings apart [.]” Collis writes the slow processions and the sudden turns; the long line and lines of history, working up, around and through the present moment—“I feel the depth / in the names of things / what has changed / the same nothing”—and further, into the possible future, if we are to have one. “This if written / would be pure mutuality / except nothing is pure // I don’t know nightingales / just the spotted towhee / trying its lesser song [.]”

Mostly I look quickly at the latest reports / through the cracks
between my fingers / out the corner of my eye / look away quickly /
calculate years to collapse.

A – grass dies / B – human beings die / C – human beings are grass.

It’s years right? Rolling fields of us all relative / the wind bending the
blades back before the dawn / all in the same direction / rippling /
wave and particle / dying in drought coming back green in spring rain

the colours / we forget / the colours of the grasses / their flowers led
purple pewter scarlet / like a fever / so small yet so very many / the

detail is lost in the collective sheen. Intercalary meristem. Spiralate
movement. We’re all relative. Relatives. That was then. This is now. The

plough is in the sky. The earth is tilled by no one.

A – all civilizations collapse / B – you call this a civilization? (“Future Imperfect”)





Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent poetry titles include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), with a further poetry title, the book of smaller, forthcoming from University of Calgary Press. In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

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