Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Cole Nowicki: From Live Events to Living in Print with fine. press



Not so long ago, when it was safe to do so, I used to produce and host a monthly interdisciplinary event called fine. On the last Monday of the month, we’d all cram into the cozy confines of The Lido in Vancouver, BC, and listen to a wide array of emerging and established writers, comedians, and musicians do their thing. It was a pretty fun time, but full disclosure: I’m biased.

fine. started in January 2017 and over our run of doing live shows (and a few online ones in early 2020) we were fortunate to feature hundreds of artists before going on our current pandemic hiatus. Before that, however, at some point in 2019, I started toying with the idea of pointing fine.’s energies into the print realm. Being stuck in my apartment for most of 2020 made getting serious and creating fine. press a natural transition. 

Admittedly, writing this piece for periodicities at this stage is a bit of a daunting task. Scrolling through this site you’ll find a treasure trove of wonderful posts from great, long-established small presses. fine. press has only put out one book so far, a fine. collection (an anthology featuring work from a selection of folks who’ve previously been on the show). So suffice to say, we’re still new to the game, and I feel a bit like a babbling baby here. But that’s okay. Gotta waddle on unsteady, doughy legs before you can run.  

Speaking of early days, that first book was a crash course in publishing. I had to get familiar quickly with everything from creating contracts, sourcing printers, to distribution, retail, setting up an online store, and more. It was challenging, at times exhausting, but ultimately a blast and an incredible learning experience. To have the opportunity to share other’s work with the world in book form, to introduce others to it, is a privilege. It reminds me of putting together the live show, except this, you know, fits in your hand.

Extreme saccharine asides aside, we’re now on our way. We’ve been lucky to assemble a stellar editorial board (including Dina Del Bucchia, Hiller Goodspeed, Ivanna Baranova, Leanne Dunic, and Shazia Hafiz Ramji) whose experience in the publishing world has been invaluable as we’ve game-planned our next moves. Which includes opening our inaugural submission period and eventually publishing our first full series of books in late 2022/early 2023. Another daunting task. One the team and I are looking forward to.

There’s still lots left to consider, though. Can we make fine. press a sustainable entity? Is it possible to keep this project going without the eventual help of a Canadian Arts Council grant system that can be fickle at the best of times? How can we carve out our own niche in the literary/arts landscape while doing best by the communities we’ll be serving? We can plan for some of that, much won’t be clear until much later, and parts of it likely learned on the fly. It’s all equally exciting and terrifying. 

But hell, what isn’t lately.




Cole Nowicki is a writer and generally well-mannered person based in Vancouver, BC. His work has appeared in The Walrus, Maisonneuve, McSweeney’s, Peach Mag, and more. He also produces the interdisciplinary event fine. and publishes its print extension fine. press.

Painting is by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber

Anna van Valkenburg : Capturing Joy Kogawa House : An interview with Jude Neale




Inside the Pearl is Jude Neale’s account of her stay at the Joy Kogawa House through haiku-inspired poems and accompanying photographs, taken by Paul Hooson. This unique and intimate collection gives us a glimpse into the childhood home of Canadian author Joy Kogawa, now a literary landmark and venue for the Writer-in-Residence program; and a sweeping portrait of the difficult Japanese Canadian history that still resonates today. In this interview, we discuss poetry’s role in shaping history, life at the Joy Kogawa House, a typical writing day, and new projects.

Anna van Valkenburg: Inside the Pearl is a beautiful tribute to the Joy Kogawa House, and to Canadian history. How did you get the idea for this project? 

Jude Neale: A good question. I had done a couple of launches there and loved the intimate atmosphere. It was a place where time had stopped. At my last reading there, Kevin Spenst was writer in residence and I got very curious about staying in this living, breathing house. During the Pandemic I too was given the chance to live there. Months before I went I knew what I wanted to do—document the house and its contents with poems and take pictures of everything. I had even named it Inside the Pearl. The house had a presence, a light I wanted to capture. And I so wanted to do it for Joy Kogawa.

AV: The poems in this book are of course descriptive, but theres much more there. Each poem has a deeper historical and/or emotional connection. Why did you choose a haiku-inspired form for this book?

JN: Looking back I know it was plain ignorance. I thought haiku was a Japanese form that would suit the project. I found out after my first draft that the nearly sixty poems were not haiku. 5/7/5 wasnt going to get me anywhere, so within six months of research nationally and internationally, I think I finally had an inkling about what a haiku might be. That is why I call them haiku inspired—a gesture, a glimpse.

AV: What is the role of poetry in shaping history (does it have one)?

Poetry has shaped history from Homer to Ferlinghetti. I believe as poets, history makes up our poems both quiet and loud. In my book, the Canadian Japanese internment during and after the Second World War is subtly woven throughout. 

AV: In the preface you mention that Joy Kogawa creates a bridge to truth for all peoplesthrough her writing. Can you elaborate? How does this connect to your mission for writing this book? 

JN: Joy Kogawa took on the establishment and quietly determined to seek justice for all Japanese Canadians interned in the Second World War. In her 1981 book, Obasan, she writes of her experience of being in the Slocan, through a childs eyes. This single book was a revelation to many like myself. It was so lovingly written, it impacted me greatly. Gentleness, love and light shone in that book. Joy  was not embittered but empowered to demand justice despite the huge Canadian complacency. This is what I hope to bring to the world too. Light and beauty and truth.

AV: Since this is truly a book about the Joy Kogawa House: 1) what was your favourite part about (or of) the house? 2) Which poem from the book is your favourite? 3) Which photograph?

JN: I slept in little Joys bedroom on a small bed just so I could see the sun move across the room like when she was little. To look up at the ceiling and realize she had gazed there too or listen to the even breathing of my husband in the other room just as she had listened to her parents. It was magical!

My favourite poem is:

swoops of laughter

pour over quiet voices

bell song fills corners

And my favourite photograph is of a pitcher and a washbasin. Paul Hooson gave it an Old Masterlook, with the hue of wood and the white gleam of the pitcher.

AV: What did a typical writing day at Joy Kogawa House look like?

JN: Thats funny to think of now. It was the week after the first pandemic lock down was over. We were jubilant! So I got out of bed and drank four cups of tea before I started to scrutinize a room for objects to write about. Every two hours Id have another pot of tea. Then write, look at photos until about 8 pm. Then we would go to all the empty restaurants for dinner. A very fine life indeed!

AV: What are you currently working on?

JN: I completed my eleventh book, The Flaw, this spring and am almost finished my twelfth, an art and poetry collaboration as yet untitled.





Jude Neale is a Canadian poet of national and international acclaim. She has penned ten books, and several libretti that have also been published and performed. One of her poems was chosen to ride the Channel Island buses by the Poet Laureate of Britain. Jude has extensive expertise in multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Anna van Valkenburg is the author of Queen and Carcass (Anvil Press, A Feed Dog Book... 2020) and the associate publisher at Guernica Editions. Her poetry and reviews have been featured in The Puritan, Prism International, december magazine, The Rusty Toque, and elsewhere. She was born in Konin, Poland, and currently lives in Mississauga.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Ethan Vilu : Poisonous If Eaten Raw, by Alyda Faber

Poisonous If Eaten Raw, Alyda Faber
Goose Lane Editions, 2021




Alyda Faber’s second full-length collection is a series of experimental portrait poems, dedicated to and ultimately concerned with the poet’s late mother. Through the use of a wide variety of imaginatively developed analogies, Faber meditates upon generational trauma, the profound difficulties of her mother’s life and the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. As a thematically unified book, Poisonous If Eaten Raw is distinguished from many similarly conceived projects by its unflinching focus and inexhaustible commitment to its subject matter.  Though some of the included pieces deal explicitly with reflections on works of visual art (one stand-out poem situates the mother within Vincent van Gogh’s The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital), the entire text can in a larger sense be seen as a work of continuous ekphrasis – an explication of a subject, vivid and yet radically ineffable, from which the poet cannot turn away.

The gravity of Poisonous If Eaten Raw’s task is immediately conveyed in the book’s opening pages, and from there the work does not let up at any point. “Portrait of My Mother as a Funnel Spider,” the first poem in the text, introduces the book’s central concerns with a masterfully sustained sense of pacing: “Abandoned to cluster flies and spiders / since mother died, flaps of floral wallpaper sag / in my old bedroom; the mattress, still the same / after forty years, swallows me into a trench.”. Thematic layers are gradually introduced as the book progresses: the mother’s history as an immigrant, her decades spent in an abusive, terrorizing marriage; her often adversarial relationship with the external world and her profound interior life as made legible through prayer and religiosity. The overall portrait which Faber creates is both unadorned and yet firmly grounded in an ardent, admirable empathy.

At a poetic level, Faber’s work is exquisite. The pieces in Poisonous If Eaten Raw are crafted with extraordinary ability. One of the book’s most remarkable elements is a profusion of succinct and yet fully realized images – “Her eyes / mortgaged to a love that drives / the rain through open windows.” (from “Portrait of My Mother as the Duke of Kent”) is a potent example. One of my favorite parts of the book (indeed, one of the best things I’ve read in some time) is this section from “Camperdown Elm”:

Contorted branches sport
casual spring jewellery,
clusters of pale green oval coins.
No glitter, they shrivel or fall
without much fuss. Summer
leaves, dishpan hands. Late autumn
foliage: muted lamps in grey rain.

The amount of terrain covered in this brief set of lines, and the utter vividness of the images, strikes me as being exceptional. Throughout the book, one finds natural beauty, domestic moments (sometimes peaceful, often harrowing), fantastic scenes from the works of Joseph Beuys and Salvador Dali, and all manner of other phenomena, poetically rendered with palpable attention and rigour.

Beyond this level of construction, Faber also displays expertise in terms of her poems’ sonic qualities. Understated and yet affecting use of alliteration, assonance, and deftly placed rhymes infuse Poisonous If Eaten Raw with a sense of wholehearted care, and reflect the poet’s commitment to the book’s conceptual premise. Lines like “Garden an aquarium in dull rain, / hydrangea heads bow, bee balm / and pink phlox sink towards the lawn.” (from “Portrait of My Mother on the Kitchen Window”) make the difficult look easy, linking lush, compelling sounds over the course of each poem in the text. That Faber is able to sustain this quality through the variety of emotional resonances which make up the collection is impressive.

As a book which is wholly concerned with some of the most central, vulnerable elements of the human experience – the life and death of a loved one, and the drive to truly understand another human being – Poisonous If Eaten Raw is a product of real courage, and an unequivocal success. Faber’s formal brilliance, clarity, and compassion have resulted in a text which has the potential to provide solace and insight to anyone who reads it. It is a formidable achievement, and a book to which I will definitely return. 




Ethan Vilu is a poet and editor from Calgary, Alberta. Their longsheet A Decision Re: Zurich was published by The Blasted Tree in 2020. Ethan currently serves as both poetry editor and circulation manager for filling Station. Beyond writing and editing, they have recently been learning how to control distance with a pitching wedge.

Kim Fahner : Disassembling A Dancer, by Kyeren Regehr

Disassembling A Dancer, Kyeren Regehr
Raven Chapbooks, 2021




The first thing you’ll notice about Kyeren Regehr’s chapbook, Disassembling A Dancer, is how aesthetically stunning the book is in its design. The image of a disassembled female dancer—toe shoes splayed out at impossible angles, and head so far away from graceful arms and hands—is unsettling. Pair that with the pale pink ribbon that laces itself down the spine of the book, reminiscent of the ribbons that lace up a dancer’s shoe, and there is a bit of beauty to the side of that main cover image. The effect, the juxtaposition, really does reflect the content of the collection. The poems ask the reader to imagine how a ballet dancer’s world would shatter if they were injured, given how the art of dance is so dependent upon the health of the dancer’s physical body. Questions of identity, too, are at the core of the work here, in that the ballet dancer must redefine herself in her own life after being injured. How do we separate our art from our bodies—from our beings—when we are creatives in a world that doesn’t always value the arts? 

Here is a grouping of poems that speaks to the physicality of ballet, and of how it affects young girls as they develop and grow up. In the first poem, “Inventory After Showering,” Regehr writes of “blisters blooming like bubbled seaweed burst,” and of how “ballet wants/Clara, Juliet, Giselle, cowry/tush, and a hollowed middle.” She writes of the disassociation that occurs within the ballet world. Here is a sort of sub-culture that those of us who don’t dance professionally couldn’t fathom as being even close to realistic. In “Disassembled Ballerina,” the young woman who dances in the ballet is reduced to “a bone-sacked marionette.” Still, that dancer knows she must “Zip it tight, latch/the hooks, fasten the strings.” She must be ready to dance at a moment’s notice, and the music heralds the switch that must flip—between broken and supposedly whole, and between backstage reality and on-stage illusion.

So much of what happens on a stage, in theatre or dance, is about creating an illusion for the audience. Writers speak of being able to create work that “suspends disbelief” in the mind of a reader, but dancers and actors must also be doing this when they are on stage. Off stage, they are themselves, but still not. In public, performers walk the red carpet “ready for consumption” and “faked and photographed.” In the public consumption of the illusion—of the Instagram-ed, social media façade—there is a disconnect, a sort of schizophrenia. What version of self is real, is true, and which is meant to impress others, “craving acceptance”? Funny, how the dance world so vividly and disturbingly described in the poems, is just a mirror of how our society is torn between its longing for “likes” and “follows” in an online cult of popularity.

This hunger, this desire for acceptance and praise to prove self-worth, is also tied to eating disorders in the ballet world. In “dedication to hunger,” Regehr creates a food journal that lists what the ballet dancer eats in a day. Here, the reader learns of how intently this particular dancer documents caloric intake, to remain a necessary and desired part of her dance company: “coin-sized pretzel popped/flirtatiously on the tongue/4 peanuts shelled/(for protein).” To gain a bit of weight would be detrimental to the dancer’s success, would ruin the illusion of physical perfection, and of beauty in the way that the dance world perceives it to be. Regehr critiques this illusory world in her poems by building layers of stunningly detailed imagery that is both visceral and unsettling in its honest depiction of what it’s like to be a ballerina. It’s not—the reader knows after having finished reading the poems—as pretty as the world created in the  Ballet Shoes series that some of us may remember from the late 1970s.

Disassembling A Dancer will make you think about how you are in your own body, but will also open your eyes to the complexly shadowed and illusory world of ballet. Too, it will make you think of how women view their bodies from the time they are girls, and how they are influenced by society’s expectations of what they ought to look like—especially within the world of ballet, but also beyond that sphere. What is beauty, and how is it defined, and—perhaps even more importantly—who defines it? Kyeren Regehr’s award-winning chapbook is unique in its poetic focus, and her poems are vivid and alive. Here is a collection that pulls back the curtain that might normally hide the truth about the ballet world, and that revelation is both intriguing and sobering at the same time.  





Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. She was poet laureate in Sudbury from 2016-18, and was the first woman appointed to the role. Kim's latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She's a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Ontario representative of The Writers' Union of Canada (2020-22), and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim can be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com


melanie brannagan frederiksen : Notes from the Field: Away




While i usually live and work on Treaty 1 Territory, in Winnipeg, MB, my husband took his research leave in BC, and i drove out with him. As a consequence, i've been taking a slightly unmoored look back at the prairies.

I frequently think of Joanne Epp and Angeline Schellenberg in the same thought, and both had books out during the pandemic. Joanne's second collection, Cattail Skyline (Turnstone Press, 2021), deeply considers place, both what we know and see and what we can't. In "What we don't know about winter," she asks, "If we stood on the shoreline now,/ what shapes would pass overhead" (99). Angeline's collection Fields of Light and Stone (University of Alberta Press, 2020) dives into the prairies and her family's history. Anchored by her grandparents' immigration story and poems based in their love letters to one another, Schellenberg precisely charts one iteration of what it means to make a place home.

Prairie Fire's Fall 2020 issue is anchored by Living in a House on Fire, edited by Sheri Benning. In her poem "Forest Fringe," Winnipeg writer Jess Woolford lovingly visits "all that remains/ since brush cutters/ cut through countryside." Her elegiac commemoration of the Parker Wetlands, the"life -                              way[s] lost" to is interrupted sharply by the "patter practised/ pitched progress!" It's a sharp cut, mimicking the brush cutters, and ending so abruptly that the progress side of the equation can never balance what it consumes.

The first two titles in Model Press's current series are Nathan Dueck's Brecht/Cage, a mesostic that essays to work out the aesthetic connections between Bertolt Brecht and John Cage, and ryan fitzpatrick's Local Pleasures, a collection that wrestles with various disconnections in a way that seems uniquely apt in this now. The next chapbook, out the first week in October, is my long poem, poseidon's cove/ athena's cave. It charts a family rupture and sets out the stakes and motifs of an in-progress lyric fugue that centres on two sisters and their decades-long estrangement.

September's Tree Reading Series (Artistic Director Brandon Wint) featured Winnipeg poet and lawyer Chimwemwe Undi and Toronto poet, Natalie Wee. Both writers' poems celebrated the relational in all its complexities. Undi's epithalamia and Wee's last two pandemic poems were stand outs in extraordinary readings. The open mike was dynamic, featuring Jane Shi, Natasha Ramoutar, and Jessica Robinson, among other poets, who each read one poem. The next Tree Reading will be held online the third Tuesday in October.

The Winnipeg International Writers Festival is running a hybrid program this year. In-person events will be held at McNally Robinson and video will be archived at thinairfestival.ca until October 18th. On their website, pre-recorded readings by the festival authors are also available. Notably, on September 30th, Louise Bernice Halfe - Skydancer and Dallas Hunt will be performing.

I can't keep up with all i'd like to read, but books and journals that are recently out or forthcoming that i'm looking forward to are Kristian Enright's second collection Postmodern Weather Report (Turnstone Press, 2021), Begin by Telling by Meg Remy (Book*Hug, 2021), Issue 2 of +doc: a journal of longer poems (null pointer press), and with/ holding by Chantal Gibson (Caitlin Press, 2021).





melanie brannagan frederiksen [photo credit: Andrew Frederiksen] lives and writes in Winnipeg, on Treaty One territory. Her chapbook, poseidon's cove/ athena's cave is forthcoming from Model Press. Her poems have most recently been published in +doc: a journal of longer poemsThe Winnipeg Free Press, and Contemporary Verse 2.


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