Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Robert Hogg & Ken Norris : Dear Ken, Dear Bob: Bohemianism, North American Poetics, and the Canadian Long Poem

conversations on the long poem


This “dialogue” began with the publication of Ken Norris’ essay “Louis Dudek & The Five Missions” in the February issue of Periodicities. Robert Hogg responded to the essay with a Facebook post, and the two poets were off to the races.





Robert Hogg: It's always interesting to hear a poet tell how he or she became part of the fabric of contemporary poetry in their country--or in this case, accepted country. As Norris points out, he was expected to complete his grad studies in the US where he was a citizen, but chose instead to move to Canada, and in particular, to Montreal. As fate wd have it, he stayed in Montreal for his doctoral work under Louis Dudek, wch in all likelihood was the best avenue to shape his writing and his intellect. Then he spent a great deal of his life teaching Cdn literature to American students in Orono ME. How strangely life unfolds. Now he's back, mostly, in Canada where for decades he's participated in our English language project. He quickly discerned 5 missions, wch coincided with Dudek's as well, and set about to fulfill them. This utterly unassuming short essay lays out the project, simply and coherently. No high falutin theories that must be followed. Just dedication, commitment, good sense--and to others, as a teacher, good will. Despite this seemingly tight circle of endeavor, Norris has become fully at home in the wider world which he visits frequently, and so brings home to his fellow North Americans a broad and encompassing vision. Last time I cdn't find him he was swimming the South China Sea!

RH: Posted a response on FB, and then shared with my addition. Hope it suits you. I really like your piece. So damned unassuming. Much more so than Dudek wd have been able to be, I aver! So you not only learned FROM him, but DESPITE him. Nonetheless, yr piece is very respectful of the mentor he was and remained for you. In current times, that is really nice to see and hear. A lot of my own gang have somewhat renounced their 'allegiance' to our BM mentors. I've refused to do this, despite the political backbiting that many of us have experienced about colonization and so forth. The strongest of us were never to be engulfed. I saw weaker American poets, like David Franks, become unduly influenced by in his case Creeley's writing style. The issue is always to be oneself, and yet be open to influence, and let it seep in, but not overshadow. One can be unduly overcome by a love of Hopkins! I've seen that in several poets' work, and had to watch out for it in my own! Maybe I shd have taken time to say so, but the space is limited. But you've come a long way from any direct formal influence from Louis. 

Off and on I've waffled around with the notion that there was something akin to a belated Beat movement in Canada, and have wanted to sketch it out, query fellow poets about this, and see whether there was indeed a kind of unrecognized Bohemian Gang in the Sixties and possibly the Seventies. A bit has been written about the Downtown Poets who harbored around the Arts School, and were separate from TISH. This never has been fully fleshed out I don't think. While I was at UBC, and a close friend from Abbotsford of Frank Davey, I had a very hard time getting any of my poems into TISH (I did manage a few). But historically, I guess, I'm viewed as a minor TISH poet. That's fine. But I was actually quite disaffected with the standoffish nature of some of the poets, and lived a kind of lifestyle atypical of a good clean student. Unlike my university cohorts I was experimenting with drugs, and felt a strong affinity to several of the other down and out poets like Bill Bissett, Freddy Douglas, Curt Lang, Red Lane and Roy Kiyooka, as well as Judith Copithorne and Maxine Gadd. I published in Blew Ointment, and in the US with Wild Dog. I was keenly interested in prose, and fiction, and with Dave Cull started up the little magazine exclusively for prose, called MOTION wch ran for six issues before it died. TISH wd not accept any fiction, and so there too I felt locked out. 

When I look back now over those and subsequent years I realize I managed to straddle that border between bohemian and sophisticate rather well, and ended up a well healed and sober academic. But that down and out bohemian druggy remains an undercurrent of my sensibility still, I suspect. And for about a decade, determined who and what I thought I was, or might be. I had been a hoodlum type in high school, and still sported a duck tail when I arrived in first year. I drove a '48 Ford hot rod until I cdn't afford it any longer, and thought I was pretty tough! Good thing too, since I wasn't really, and needed a cover! I quickly transmogrified into a disaffected Beat and began experimenting with drugs, writing angry poems, and living a dissolute life. I wasn't alone, and have long wondered why we did not form a more cohesive group either in Vanc, or later in TO and/or Montreal. Curious if you and or some of your cohort felt the same. 

Age comes into this of course. I was born in 1942, and you some years later. bill bissett was born before me, and Roy quite a few years before--1926. There were so called Beats in Europe, and the 'Angry Young Men' in Britain. Were we afraid to call ourselves something? Why did we not cohere? 


Ken Norris: Hi Bob,

and thanks so much for the Facebook note and the long, thoughtful email.

The Vehicule Poets gravitated towards the Beats. Endre Farkas loved Ginsberg's poetry, and I loved Corso's. And Artie Gold was the druggy of druggies!! But speed was his game. Like Neal Cassady.

We were the Montreal disaffected, and that, somehow, made us a group. Most of the other poets in Montreal hated us. Which brought us closer together. Endre and Artie and I edited the Vehicule Press books for six years. And then Endre started The Muses' Company, and I "helped" for fifteen years.

I think you know that I fell in with Creeley in later life. My English department made a deal with him that brought him to teach in Maine in the Fall semester for three years. He built a course which wound up being team taught. He would teach for a week, go back to Buffalo, and then come back at the end of the semester and teach two weeks. Ben Friedlander would usually teach the middle of the course.

What Bob wanted me to explain to him was "why Irving's poetry got so lousy." I tried to explain it to him two or three different ways, but he was never really totally accepting of any of my theories. He just knew that Irving's poetry had been great in the early fifties, and then something happened. He really LOVED Irving's poetry from the early fifties, and he really couldn't stand what became of it in the sixties onward. 

Louis was a huge influence. As was Artie Gold. And the funny thing is, they couldn't stand one another, and thought of the other as being a bad influence upon me. They were wrong, but they were both so protective of me. Artie worried that Louis would turn me into a bloodless academic, and Louis worried that Artie would turn me into a drug addict. They really couldn't see what was beautiful about the other. 

I have a new book coming out in the Spring. I think you are going to find it interesting. It is called Vishyun, and it is dedicated to bill bissett. 

I tended to pick and choose my American influences from the Allen anthology. And I sort of picked one from every column. From the Black Mountain poets, Creeley. From the New York School, O'Hara. From the Berkeley Renaissance, Spicer. From the Beats, Corso. From the non-aligned West Coast, Kyger. Being younger, I think that was easier to do.

And Artie made it easy, being a HUGE fan of O'Hara and Spicer. He served them up to me on a silver tray. Creeley was the first poet I had ever heard give a poetry reading. The book he was reading from was Pieces, and the year was 1968.

I cobbled together the Dudek essay from extracts in my literary memoir. I've completed a first draft. It is about Montreal, 1975-85. 


RH: Let me pick up on a few points in your last email. You mention that a reading by Creeley made a large impression on you, and that he was the first professional poet you heard read. In my case the first poet was Robert Duncan whom Warren and Ellen Tallman brought up from SF to Vancouver to read in the basement of their Kerrisdale home. That was just after Christmas 1959, though it may have been in early January 1960--that date gets confused by a lot of people writing about the event. I can fairly closely pinpoint it b/c I was still in my last year of high school in Langley BC where we'd moved the summer before from Abbotsford. As mentioned, Frank and I had become friends in Abbotsford, in some measure b/c he was keen to purchase the '48 Ford coupe I owned. It had blown a head gasket, and I was attempting to repair it myself, but ran into trouble getting some of the studs out wch had broken off. Weekends, Frank would visit me when home from UBC to see if I'd finished the repair. My Dad, in a moment of unusual generosity, meanwhile, bought me another '47 Ford sedan--mostly so I cd shepherd my mother around town to do her shopping and spare him the inconvenience. He never let either her or myself drive his cars! So I was less in need of completing the repairs for this reason, and eventually Frank gave up on me and got his dad to buy him another '47 Ford coupe, wch he had souped up with a Lincoln Zephyr floor transmission, a bull nose, a lowered rear end, twin carbs a fancy white paint job, and twin Hollywood mufflers--all extravagances I couldn't afford. It was a beaut, and he raced around in it with great pleasure. On those visits to my humble abode on Hillside Dr, and knowing my interest in poetry, Frank wd ply me with small books of poems from City Lights, specifically: Corso's Gasoline; Ginsberg's Howl; and Duncan's Selected Poems. I was enthralled by all three, and each in their turn had a deep influence on my writing. But the upshot of these visits where he'd hoped to buy my car was that a deeper friendship ensued. And by the time my family moved to a rural spot outside Langley, Frank kept in touch. So when Duncan was brought up to read in Vancouver, Frank contacted me and insisted that I come in to hear him read. I suspect I demurred, but Frank would not take no as an answer. So on the day of the reading he swooped by on his way back to Vancouver from Abbotsford and either picked me up, or cajoled me into driving along with him in my own car, and we attended the reading together. There were several people present for this informal reading, certainly Gladys (Maria) Hindmarch, and likely some of the people who became TISH poets thereafter. Duncan was irrepressibly on show, and gave a stunning reading from his forthcoming volume, The Opening of the Field. I've remarked on this a few times elsewhere, but it bears saying again that I was quite blown away. I had no idea free verse could sound like this, could be so melodious, rhythmical, and engaging to hear. Of course he read his now famous "Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow," conducting it as he went along, and I felt like I was hearing my own permission to enter the field of poetry, to find my own "place of first permission." It was an exhilarating evening, and I went home a changed person, utterly determined to become a poet.

That fall I went off to UBC and had some contact with Frank and his fellow poets, but I don't recall any formal poetry readings taking place. I believe in the winter of 1961, possibly 1962, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was brought up to read, and he filled the university auditorium. He gave a great reading, and we were all impressed. But it was not one of those eureka moments for me. I detected an ease, a facility, in his poetry that cautioned me against adopting a too easy, popular style that seemed designed to elicit a known response from his listeners. In February 1963 Warren brought Ed Dorn up to read from Pocatello ID where he was then living and teaching. He read from The Newly Fallen and from Hands Up, but also from the poems he was soon to publish as Idaho Out and From Gloucester Out. Something in Dorn's Western habit, I might almost say, opened avenues in me back to my own childhood experiences on a ranch we'd owned briefly in the Cariboo of BC from 1951-1953.

I went home after hearing him read to my small basement apartment on Balaclava, ground up some little Heath & Heather insomnia pills which included valerian, lupulin and lactuca virosa pulvis, smoked the mixture in a small pipe I'd made, then wrote a first draft of what for me was a long poem. I called it Ranch Days. And while it was youthful and romantic, it had great meaning for me. I'm not sure if I tried to publish it in TISH, but in any case I ended up submitting it to Wild Dog Magazine which was being edited by Drew Wagnon in Pocatello somewhat under Dorn's aegis. It was accepted and published in Feb 1964 when I was in my fourth year at UBC. That was a liberating moment for me when I realized that I could publish my poetry in a variety of venues. About the same time I published a couple of poems in bill bissett's Blew OIntment poetry magazine.

Dorn's lyrical poems from his first two volumes also influenced my writing. And by this time of course like my colleagues at UBC I was devouring the poetry and poetics of Don Allen's The New American Poetry. For most of us, myself included, the poetry of Creeley, Duncan and Olson were paramount for a time. Olson's "Essay on Projective Verse," which had been around since 1950, was nonetheless completely new to all of us in 1960, and we mined it for what it offered. Needless to say, it baffled us; but we found the prose so exhilarating that we had to parse it through, and this we did in countless sessions outside of classes. What spoke to us most was the physicality of the prose itself; and after that, the insistence on the physicality of language on the one hand and geography, place, or 'locus' as we were wont to call it--so incessantly, in fact, that one faculty member, Jake Zilber, referred to our preoccupation as 'locus-pocus'! Fair enough! We were more full of our newly acquired ideas than we really knew how to properly express. By the same token, Jake, an immigrant from NYC, failed to recognize our need to find a way to come to terms with our sense of place with its overwhelming natural landscape of mountains, sea, an emerging harbor city, and all that went with the general ecology of place. Those of us who had grown up in the interior and/or the Fraser Valley had that geography to make sense of, to incorporate into our poems, to register as part of our life-experience. And of course it took us a while to get past the rhetoric of invention, and state the increasingly obvious in our poetry. 

Bob Creeley was hired to teach for a year in the fall of 1962 during which time, I believe, he replaced Earle Birney and taught the 300 level Poetry course in the Creative Writing Department. I was not eligible as yet to take the course, and was enrolled in the opening 2nd year class which was offered by Zilber and introduced students to a variety of genres. Bob had just published his novel, The Island, with Scribner's, and I recall attending a reading he gave from this book. His prose rhythms I recognized were almost identical to those of his poetry, and while it was engaging rhythmically, it also seemed forced and problematic to sustain. His prose style had a huge effect on my colleague David Cull, and most of the stories he wrote for MOTION which we put out shortly thereafter, were unquestionably Creeleyesque. DH Lawrence was big in our minds at the time, and his insistence on the rhythms of nature and sexuality permeated much of our work. We heard Creeley read his poetry during this year as well, but I don't recall a specific instance before the summer of '63, although I'm sure there were one or more informal occasions. Over the years I heard him read many times. But I think I learned more from reading his work on the page, how he broke lines, worked in particular with the unrhymed quatrain, than by his actual articulation of the poems. 

Next episode: The Vancouver Poetry Conference of Summer,1963. 

KN: In 1969, at SUNY Stony Brook, I walked into Rose Zimbardo’s class and Rose Zimbardo was not there. In her place was Robert Duncan. He taught the class and I didn’t understand a thing he said. Later in life I related to O’Hara responding to a letter he received from Duncan by saying, “Who does this guy think he is, the Pope of Poetry?” Always been much more of a Spicer fan, and had a couple of nice conversations with Robin Blaser when he came down to U. Maine to read with Creeley.

I am reading Stephen Morrissey’s new book about poetry and poetics, and in it Stephen says that the most important poet for him as a young poet was Allen Ginsberg. This surprised me, but that makes three Vehicule poets for whom Ginsberg was a big deal: Stephen, Endre, and Tom. Artie never stated a favorite Beat poet that I can remember. He was a big Spicer fan, and loved O’Hara and Schuyler from the New York School.

Reading Jack Kerouac taught me how to hitchhike, and I hitched across the USA a couple of times in the summers of 1969 and 1970. Also hopped freight trains. Wouldn’t have done any of that if I hadn’t read On The Road.

I liked Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay, but never took to the poetry. Creeley and Levertov were more interesting to me.

Heard Ferlinghetti read once at Concordia. Was not impressed.

At a Creeley reading at U. Maine, after the reading was over, there was a Q & A. One student asked Bob if he had one poem of his own that he particularly loved and he said, “I love every poem I’ve ever written.” That made an impression upon me.

I went through a ten year period when I was writing Creeley poems. No one else would probably recognize them as Creeley poems. It was just a way to proceed. The two biggest influences on my poetry are probably Creeley and Neruda. Now that I’m old my influences are probably undiscernible. I just sound like me now. But I’ve been referring to Yeats a lot lately.

RH: The Vancouver Poetry Conference is famous because for the first time in Canadian or American history a number of senior American poets were invited to a university campus to discuss the poetry and poetics they were practicing. The poets were chosen by Warren Tallman and Robert Creeley with some input from the Creative Writing Department, which had hired Creeley for the 1962-1963 year to teach the Poetry Course usually taught by Earle Birney who was on Sabbatical. There was some jockeying about whom to bring. Irving Layton was considered, but for some reason he either refused or was not invited. Instead, Margaret Avison, who’d been featured in Cid Corman’s Origin magazine, was brought in from Toronto. Was she the ‘token Canadian’? I don’t know, but she stood her ground with a bunch of raucous American male poets, and left a positive impression on myself. When I headed east a year later and stayed with Victor Coleman briefly, I visited Margaret, as well as Raymond Souster, who also might have made a fine colleague at the event.

But clearly, the impetus for the Conference was to have several poets whose work had appeared three years before in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry which included several essays on poetics by the poets. The seminal essay for most of us young poets at UBC at the time was Olson’s “Essay on Projective Verse.” By 1963, myself, and most of my colleagues, had read and reread the essay. We talked about Olson’s ideas among ourselves, with some of our profs, and with Warren and Ellen Tallman. When Tallman recommended that Creeley fill Birney’s one year vacancy, dozens of us already knew his work and his place in the Black Mountain tradition of poetry. I may be wrong, but I think Creeley felt we were more knowledgeable about his work than most American students had been up to that time. And when the Conference convened, Olson and others were equally surprised to see how thoughtfully we’d read their work before they arrived in town.

We’d been prepared a few years earlier in January of 1960 when the Tallmans brought Robert Duncan, by then the best known poet from the San Francisco Renaissance, up to Vancouver to read at their home. From that point, a momentum was set, and those of us who coalesced around the Tallmans soon became intent on learning what it was that made Duncan, Creeley and Olson so interesting. I’ve mentioned some of that before. But it was the idea that they knew what they were doing with language, with sound, with rhythm, and with what could be called a free verse metric. None of  these three poets wrote alike, and yet they adhered to some interesting ideas on composition by field. We were keen to write, of course, but we wanted to study “method” not just ways to achieve effect.

I suppose if Avison was the token Canadian from the east, Ginsberg was there to represent the Beats according to Don Allen’s structured anthology. But what proved interesting to all of us who attended, was the homogeneity of approach by each of these writers. Ginsberg proved lively, engaged, intellectually astute, and of course gave a great reading to an enthusiastic audience. Those of us taking the program for credit were assigned individual teachers. Ginsberg was stuck with me. I don’t recall being able to produce much in those three weeks—most others likely didn’t either. He was sympathetic to my need to work days, and after my bust on the last day of classes, he signed my copy of his Kaddish “Protect yourself ! Allen Ginsberg Vancouver ’63.” On the final day, or just thereafter, we all submitted a notebook we’d kept to our individual instructor. I’m sure I got mine back, and I’ve looked for that journal, hoping to find relevant notes for this discussion, but in vain.

Long before his arrival, Charles Olson’s unusually large and imposing stature had been well known to us all. When he did arrive on campus, I was there too, probably registering for the program. In any case I was walking over to the Buchanan Building where the English Department was housed, and this tall, rather scruffy giant asked me if I knew where it was. It didn’t take me long to realize who he must be, and so I introduced myself as one of those who’d be taking the program, and showed him the way to the departmental office which I think was on the third floor. Olson was 6 foot seven; I was all of five foot six with shoes on, and weighed about 120 lbs. We must have looked like an act from the circus. We became instant friends despite a huge difference in age and abilities. Three weeks later he’d give the first of two great readings from his yet to be published later Maximus Poems which would be called for a time, Maximus IV, V, VI, and then simply Maximus II when a third sequence appeared. On the Wed night reading of Aug 14th Olson read from ms, among other poems, “Maximus, from Dogtown – One,” and “Maximus at the Harbor,” two poems which would completely change my idea of his poetry and poetics.

To this point, we all thought Olson a poet of  history and geography, deeply rooted in the literal landscape of Gloucester and New England. Suddenly he was a poet of Cosmos, of Mythography, and of some deeply personal but strangely universal notions of Psyche, of the Self. For me, and I’m sure for most of my fellow poets listening, this was a new prospect entirely from what we’d discovered in his former Maximus poems, from what Dorn for example had discerned in his early Migrant booklet, What I See in the Maximus Poems. As I came to realize when I wrote my dissertation on this new sequence, Olson had superimposed on the field map of Gloucester and Cape Ann a completely new mapping of the soul, not just the body. Dogtown was the mythical ‘other’ that Gloucester also stood for, a cosmos only definable by looking inward as intently as he’d looked out. It was a masterful reading, possibly the best Olson ever gave.

I looked forward intently to the fulfillment of the event to come on the Friday evening two days hence. Alas, that was the Friday I was arrested at noon lunching at the poets table in the commons cafeteria, on spec as it turns out, for sitting across from the fellow the RCMP had come to arrest, and whose apartment they’d already raided, Neri Gadd. I was ‘clean’ but none of my colleagues imagined I would be, I guess, and the two of us were taken to the campus police station and questioned separately. Neri later told me that, under questioning, he’d admitted that he may have given me a little pot at some time. He told me he thought that would make them go easy on me. Conversely, the police now had reason to suspect I too might be harboring drugs where I lived. And despite my protestations of innocence, they took me to my apartment where we found my then partner, Carol, sound asleep with her baby beside her. I had convinced myself that one of my pals would have called and told her to clean up, but the thought did not occur to anyone. I quietly handed them my small stash of pot and a plant growing on the table. I insisted that Carol had nothing to do with drug taking and that she should be left alone. Admirably, they agreed, and I was then whisked off to the lockup on Main and Hastings, charged with possession of narcotics, a criminal offence.

That evening while I languished in jail, Olson’s reading took place to a rather nervous audience, but was again a success. What deliberations were made, and who suggested the idea I don’t know. But at around 11:00 PM Warren Tallman arrived at the jail and put up bail for my release, using the Tallman house as collateral. I hadn’t informed my parents out in rural Langley, knowing they would not take it well. So this was completely unexpected. Warren drove me to my apartment where I rejoined a very frightened partner and began making plans to move. We were in a pretty tony neighbourhood on Point Grey Rd, and I did not imagine being welcome once the news was known. With Neri and my busts, those who’d come from elsewhere and had any drug involvement present or past fled the city as quickly as possible. Everyone expected the police to be follow up with more arrests. In fact, the cops were very happy with their successful raid. In short order the officer in charge received a promotion and soon gained a reputation for being the chief narc of Vancouver.

I came to the Vancouver Poetry Conference because I was already there. In other words, I fell into it with genuine ease and no effort on my part. I mention this because many others who came to learn, and those who came to teach, had to make a major decision to travel to Vancouver and invest time and money to attend. Precious few came from across Canada: Victor Coleman wanted to come, but could not afford to. Bill Hawkins and Roy MacSkimming drove out together from Ottawa in Roy’s highly unreliable Morris Minor, which in fact did break down on their way back through Idaho, and as grace would have it, they ran into Creeley who, perhaps, was en route to Pocatello to visit Dorn, and generously paid for their car repairs. He wasn’t wealthy, but he had some money; they didn’t; such were the times. So I met Bill Hawkins that summer because he came out west, and we became life-long, though not close, friends. When I came up to Ottawa in ’68 for my job interview at Carleton, Bill and Sheila Hawkins put me up, and Bill took me along to Le Hibou where Joni Mitchel was singing. Later she joined us at Bill’s party, and because I had a car, I drove her to the Chateau Laurier where she was staying.

Others who came from afar included the poets John Keyes and Carol Bergé from NYC who made their way separately to Vancouver. Carol later offered me a place to stay briefly when I visited NYC a year later. In the interim she wrote an account of the event which included her notes on seminars attended, The Vancouver Report, published by Ed Sanders’ Fuck You/ Press February 1964 in New York. A good part of it was reprinted some time later in C.H. Gervais’ The Writing Life, 1976, which includes a number of essays by the TISH poets and others. Bergé was fond of personalism in her writing, and openly showed distaste for Duncan’s authoritarianism, and for some of his acolytes. She was annoyed that members of the audience, herself in particular, were not given equal status to those directing the seminars. She felt slighted, perhaps overly, and this colors her report.

Other poets and interested people also came up from the U.S. to attend. Karen Johnson flew in from Goddard College where she was studying, and Rosemary Christoph came up from San Francisco; the two met in Vancouver, and became life-long friends. Later, Karen and I would meet up in the graduate program at the University of  Buffalo, and together we’d travel to NYC to visit Rosemary where she lived on the Lower East Side. Clark Coolidge came west from Providence RI, and Michael Palmer came I believe from California, as did Joanne Kyger. Denise Levertov attended in an unofficial capacity and brought important insights to the discussions. There is a list of attendees somewhere, and I’m sure I have it, but I cannot lay my hands on it just now.

The majority of attendees were students and interested writers from Vancouver, most of whom were studying at UBC. Some of us enrolled in the three week program for credit in the Creative Writing Program there; it was offered as the senior level Poetry Course toward a major which included four courses, and could be combined with, typically, an English degree. David Cull, Daphne Marlatt (then Buckle) Jamie Reid, Peter Auxier and I took that double major, and enrolled for the summer course. Most of the other poets associated with TISH took Honours English degrees, and chose Creative Writing classes only as electives. Some had taken Earle Birney’s year long seminar in writing poetry. Bob Creeley, who’d been hired to teach at UBC for the year leading up to the Summer Conference, also offered a full year poetry course. I was not eligible to take it until  I’d completed my second year. As a result, I didn’t study under either Birney or Creeley—either of which may have been a useful experience. Years later Bob would supervise my doctoral thesis on Olson, but by that time I was working remotely and teaching at Carleton U. When I later enrolled in the graduate programme at UB, I studied with Olson for his last semester there.

Now, while I had the good fortune of more or less falling into the program, I had the misfortune of being in need of working every summer to pay next year’s tuition. When classes ended in May of ’63 I landed a job selling shoes at a somewhat seedy store on Granville north of the Granville Bridge; it was called Agnew-Surpass, and the proprietor was anything but sympathetic to my needing to attend as many daytime classes as possible. If I remember, I worked for a dollar an hour, and made 10% commission on the sale of any ‘spiffs’ as we called soiled or out of fashion women’s shoes. He made it clear that if I missed more than a day here and there I’d be fired, and I could not afford that. As a result, I would rush over to the University after work and attend the evening readings as faithfully as possible. At the time I was living with a previous girlfriend, Carol Case and her baby daughter, who’d married a fellow who wound up in prison for robbery. We were both at loose ends, and I asked her to move in with me that spring when I rented a comfortable small flat on west Point Grey Road in Kitsilano.

So, my domestic life was complicated as well, and I was somewhat torn in three directions. The three weeks were a frantic time and went by in a blur of evening readings and parties at various peoples homes, most memorably those at the flat belonging to Jamie and Carol Reid on West Pender St—a pad frequented by many of the poets, and as we later learned, also narcs from the RCMP who were taking note of our illicit activities. I’ve commemorated that apartment in a poem called “Summer of Sixty-three – for Jamie & Carol Reid,” wch appeared in from LAMENTATIONS,  and the fateful summer overall in my long poem, A Quiet Affair – Vancouver ’63 which, to my knowledge, is the only piece of writing to chronicle that summer. Quite strangely, despite the many events and characters that abounded, no fictional account has yet been written. Two of our crowd, Maxine Gadd’s brother Neri, who was busted for pot along with myself, and the interesting film maker and writer, Sam Perry, would commit suicide in part due to drug taking and persecution by the police. Myself and two friends would come down with hepatitis a year and a few months hence, and one of us, a registered nurse and friend to a number of poets, Jeanne Choquette, would die from that particular infection. My elegy for Jeanne, composed in Buffalo in January 1965, was only published in The Café Review about a year ago. I’ll include it here since it somewhat typifies the bohemian life many of us lived then.

Ode to Jeanne Choquette

O Jeanne
how perfectly we lay
naked       not

together you
with Mike McLean

me with Sharon it was
quite a honeymoon night

on Vine in Kits
as I remember

all high on pot you
me and Mike also

high on meth you
stole from St Paul’s

we shot up

an amp apiece
and danced all night

as they say two and
two but never crossed

thighs never flowed
directly except the blood

we shared

fell quietly
in love but never said

what was really on
our minds and you

now suddenly dead
from hepatitis

silent forever
in sad Vancouver

a terrible coast
away me out of

hospital but still
in the throes of recovery

here in Buffalo
campus infirmary

and  bound to live                                                    
when all I want                                                 

is to lie down                                                                       
gently in

the garden of
your mind my sweet

whose petals are the sign I pick

at the edge of the pathway

and scatter now

in memory of
your bright and shining

life more love than
any of us in

your flashing

and smile

Rob McTavish has done a fine job of presenting some of the quality of life that transpired during the Conference with his film, The Line Has Shattered –Vancouver’s Landmark 1963 Poetry Conference (2013), available on DVD. Much of the original footage was taken by Allen Ginsberg, and it includes shots of various teachers and students entering or leaving class, and some in-class shots as well. At least one gala party held at Dollarton Beach is captured where Carol and I have cameos. After the film’s release McTavish arranged a reunion of poets in Vancouver where a number of us convened to read and discuss our work of the early Sixties and since. Many of us had not met up again in the decades between, and it was fine to visit and also to address audiences and answer questions about our venture together and since. Panels were organized, and our conversations taped. Since then, much of this has been transcribed, but to my knowledge, it has not seen print—a pity, since there is still a paucity of information about the conference itself. This needs to be redressed, and soon.

KN: The Vancouver Poetry Conference has always been quite legendary to me. Thanks, Bob, for this detailed account. When it happened, in 1963, I was a child growing up in New York City.

Years later, when I had moved to Canada, and was a young poet I started to hear about the Conference. Of the main presenters, the only one I ever got to know personally was Robert Creeley. Duncan taught a class I was attending, but I never interacted with him. Allen Ginsberg contributed a poem to my magazine CrossCountry, but I never had a conversation with him. I never met Margaret Avison. And Olson was before my time.

In much later life I became friends with Creeley, and with his literary executor, Ben Friedlander. Ben was a colleague at U. Maine and Bob was too, in a way. He cut a deal with my department where he came to teach classes for us in the Falls of, I believe, 2001, 2002, and 2003. I actually wrote a letter of recommendation for him when he applied for the job at Brown. Many of our conversations were about Irving Layton and Irving’s poetry.

I am a big fan of Margaret Avison’s poetry. I taught her quite often at U. Maine.

When I was writing my book, The Little Magazine In Canada 1925-80, “Projective Verse” was a big deal for the TISH chapter. There wasn’t any way of explaining TISH poetry without thoroughly investigating that essay.

I’ve mentioned Duncan teaching my drama class, and Frank O’Hara’s response to that letter he received from Duncan. I have never clicked with Duncan’s poetry. It just doesn’t speak to me.

I would say that that is pretty much true of Olson’s poetry as well. There are things you are interested in, and then there are things that just don’t interest you. Olson doesn’t much interest me.

Ginsberg’s poetry interests me far more. Howl is a masterpiece, probably the most consequential poem of the second half of the twentieth century. It speaks to/with  “The Waste Land” in a really interesting dialogue. I saw Ginsberg read but once—at Columbia University in 1975. It was a 20th anniversary reading, and he read with Burroughs, Corso and Orlovsky.

I recently told someone that Louis Dudek was my dad and Robert Creeley was my hero. And they really didn’t like one another. Interestingly, at least to me, is that I became friends with Creeley after Louis had passed. And what Bob and I were talking about the most was Irving. Bob really LOVED Irving’s poetry from the early fifties, and he was really mystified about why, in his opinion, Irving’s poetry had gotten so lousy, starting around in 1959. My own judgement wasn’t and isn’t quite as harsh. I still see merit in some of Irving’s later work. Bob thought that it had no merit, that Irving had completely shipwrecked as a poet. It was an interesting perspective, and an interesting conversation.

This all sets me to wondering if you were at the Long-Liners Conference at York in 1984? I wasn’t on a panel, but I was there in the audience.

RH: Hi Ken: Yes, but like you I was there as an audience member. I don't recall much about it. Pretty sure I met Kroetsch there for the first time, and that his daughter was up to TO for the occasion from the States. That was the only time he and I met or were together anywhere, and we got along fine. He had become the rage in the long poem industry by then. I've got a pic somewhere of Angela Bowering and myself together wch was taken there, likely by George. I don't think I kept any notes, and was not a player as I said above. No one in Canada ever thought that what I was doing in poetry coincided with 'the long poem' to my knowledge. This is a bit odd, because right after The Connexions came out in Berkeley in 1966 Ron Loewinsohn wrote a review of it for Poetry Chicago along with a couple other authors, including Frank Davey whom he gave rather a rough time for his D-Day and After. Here's what he had to say about my book; I've highlighted his ref to the 'long poem' (tho he does not refer to it as a genre): 

In an omnibus review in the Nov 1966 issue of Poetry Chicago, Ron Loewinsohn has this to say about Robert Hogg’s The Connexions, Berkeley: Oyez Press, 1966. 

The Connexions is a rite of passage—not the record of it, but the experience itself of Robert Hogg’s entering into The Way which is Poetry. This long poem demonstrates that there’s no question about Hogg’s having “promise”; at twenty-three he is a poet with all the necessary equipment.

He begins with a short statement:

                                                Opal is magic is



--which is actually at least two statements, one having “opal” as its subject, the other, “magic”. This is exactly what Pound was driving at with his “Dichten: Condensare”. And that’s just the beginning. On every page Hogg shows that same richness in economy, that same loving care of the language,  that same intense and straightforward confrontation with all the complexities of his vision:

                                                These are the elements: disease
                                                or the desert a man knows
                                                as winter, the white plague

                                                becomes us, undercover of
                                                the sun

                                                            that does not come
                                                but attends us

                                                                        It is our turn
                                                to discover
                                                what the sun has left us

                                                What the body holds:
                                                freshwater, salt, what is
                                                beneath ice . . . the land

                                                what is below land, where Earth
                                                harbours old connexions
                                                with the sun

The marvelous thing is that he’s heard such a complexity of voices, themes, visions, and has at all points apprehended “the connections” between them, so that the poem is so solidly structured. The rite of passage he willingly undertakes takes him down into the Duende Kingdom of magic / poetry / vision / history / memory / dream—and there he makes real for us his landscape (“It is told / there is a tide on the Great Lakes / The moon / heaves against ice, the sheets / buckle against it . . . a body of water / seethes for the sun.”) Everywhere he demonstrates a understanding of the immediate and the eternal aspects of that literal world that impinges on him. And through his ordeal he emerges into a possession of his vision, having merged with it, acknowledging those pervasive connexions. 

His only faults might be that he at times sounds like a conglomerate Olson-Kelly-Duncan, and at times his rhetoric seems to have at best a tenuous connection with the literal. But where these faults obtrude they appear as occasional lapses from such a general excellence.

And his ending, with those lovely repeated puns on “mine”, shows that he’s too intelligent to fall prey to the temptations of any “simple” resolution. His ending is such a beginning that the pleasure of this book doesn’t seem to end at all:

                                                The sun is mine
                                                And the trees are mine
                                                The light breeze is mine

                                                And the birds that inhabit the air
                                                are mine

                                                Their voices upon the wind
                                               are in my ear

. . . .

Ron Loewinsohn, from “Some Uses of Landscape.” An omnibus review of three poets in Poetry Chicago Vol 109, No. 2 Nov 1966, pp 124-126.  

The Connexions got overlooked by almost everyone in Canada, though I did get a few good comments from writers I knew well. Victor Coleman wrote a nice piece on it for the Canadian Forum, but I think that was the extent of any critical response. Had it been published by Souster's Contact Press, wch wd not have been unlikely, it may have fared better. The Connexions, as will be seen if my Postcards, from America comes out with CHAX Press this spring, where it will be reprinted along with many other poems of the period and since, was the essential matter of a longer series of poems written mostly in NYC and Buffalo, with a few exceptions. I very carefully chose, for my first book, what I felt were the strongest and most cohesive poems from that group. After the book came out, I felt little inclination to publish many of the others, and let them sit uncollected for many years. A lot of these were written for various women I'd had attachments to, and being newly married, I did not see including them in Standing Back when it came out in 1971. So, a quantity of these poems remained in various stages of completion, several not even typed up, and many others revised extensively. I came back to this hoard of material a couple of years ago, and began the long process or revision and resuscitation. I was surprised at how many were salvageable and would make good poems. Others, published in periodicals and Souster's New Wave Canada, did not get collected for the same reasons—too personal, too revealing.

Many poems which were written in Vancouver during my four years there from the fall of 1960 to October 1964 saw only periodical publication, or were also left unpublished. Over the past few years, I worked my way through these drafts also, and they are now collected in a ms called Not to Call it Chaos - the Vancouver Poems. A central poem in this sequence is the recently written A Quiet Affair -  Vancouver '63 which came out as a chapbook this spring from Trainwreck Press. It recapitulates my experiences during the summer of '63 and presents the conditions as I experienced them around the Vancouver Poetry Conference. But it ties in with a number of other poems, most of which were written during that early period. The poems are predominantly lyrical in structure, but again, taken as a whole, they represent a kind of bildungsroman in a sequence of poems.

Themes that will recur throughout my opus took root here: the attachment to place and landscape; the ear for jazz rhythms and music generally, heard both in bistros and on records; attention to love and the acts of love, some of which are the most explicit in my overall work; and a surprisingly revealing experience with drugs which would lead inevitably to The Connexions which was occasioned by my coming down with hepatitis in NYC, but which I'd contracted among needle-using friends in my last two years in Vancouver. There was good reason to suppress these poems, since in short order I was seeking to go to graduate school in the US, and not long after, having completed my groundwork for the PhD in Buffalo, would be in search of a professorship. When I landed the job at Carleton in Ottawa in the spring of 1968, my first book of poems was a major feather in my cap when I came up for interviews. Had that book been explicit about the conditions which occasioned it, I'd never have been hired! 

Over a lifetime, I've also been composing a sequence called The Cariboo Poems, the first two of which were written in Vancouver in 1962 and 1963, 'Ashes from Two Fires,' and a poem then simply called, 'Ranch Days' subsequently published in Wild Dog Magazine in 1964. Today I have an entire book of Cariboo poems, the most recent of wch will appear in Centipede Cha Cha Cha this month or next. It actually records my earliest experience of visiting The Flying U in the Cariboo in 1948 with my father and older brother. It was written last April. So I never know, and never have known, when that sequence would come to an end, or what part of it, historically, I'd be writing next. For the most part, these poems have still not been collected, and so only someone with an acute interest in what I was writing and publishing sporadically would understand what is going on with them as a sequence. Two of these poems were recently published as chapbooks: Ranch Days – for Ed Dorn (as it is now called) with an foreword by Lionel Kearns; and Ranch Days – the McIntosh, with a foreword by Bruce Whiteman. The latter was written about two years ago. 'Ashes from Two Fires,' never published in a periodical, appeared in a chapbook this year from above/ground press called From Each Forthcoming, a title which references the hopeful publication of several books of poems now in circulation. 

Touched on, but not addressed directly, in the above discussion is my preoccupation over many decades with ecology, and with my practice as an organic farmer, on the land where I settled in 1973, five years after returning to Canada. While living on a rented farm belonging to the NCC at the east end of Ottawa for two years, my wife and I had begun serious gardening, and raising animals--goats and chickens. We were desirous of having a farm of our own, and in the summer of '73 discovered a property we quite fell in love with 35 miles south of Ottawa. It was a long commute to Carleton, but there was little traffic on this route south, and we were able to make a down payment, and move to this 150 acre property where we've lived ever since. The farm had been in dairy and the farmer had sprayed Atrazine on the field nearest the house for 10 years straight. We were appalled and determined to go organic immediately, which we did. For a few years we sold mostly hay, after which I turned to tilling the fields and growing grain crops for resale. By the Eighties I'd realized you need to have a value added product to survive in a niche market, and purchased and installed a stone flour mill where I ground wheat, rye and buckwheat over the next three decades and sold these into the organic market. To facilitate sales of flour, I developed a full scale natural food distribution company called Mountain Path, and ran this alongside the farming and milling enterprise until 2013 when we faced financial difficulty and had to sell the business. Happily, we'd incorporated and were able to keep the farm. In the years since I’ve rented out the farm to locals willing to maintain its organic status. Now, in full retirement, I oversee the farm operation, but focus entirely on my writing and publishing career. 

Needless to say, while I seldom proselytize, my organic and ecological concerns permeate much of my writing. This can be seen overtly in poems as far back as the Ranch poems, and in aspects of The Connexions where I refer to the relationship of the human body--my body--to the large bodies of earth, sea, and sun. The following poem echoes my relationship to the natural landscape of BC even though I was then living in Buffalo NY. 

                                    This Much 

            is remembered
how the sea
                                    or from this place

the bay
                        opened westward

stretched out to the sun

                                    Or from the south
from this perspective
                                                            a man

            the black ridge of the Coast Range
at his back

                                    as his face is
toward the sun

                                                and one with it
            goes down

                                                his spine
                        bent slightly westward

as the sea
                        bends out from land's edge

as the man
                        stands bent upon it

            to receive

What that "man" receives is both physical and spiritual, but the focus is upon the symbiosis of a man to his ecological place. He is "one with it" and "bent upon it / to receive." A similar attachment to place and what it can provide in return for a kind of devotional stance can be heard in the earlier "Ranch Days" where after a short Preface, section one of the poem begins: 

To begin with the Douglas fir
then holy in their grand height
whereunder I hardly pressed

the needles
red to green

beneath my shadow

There I smoked the goat’s beard
stringing in long black
shocks of unknown fungus

from the limbs above

made with my brother’s help
a clay bowl pipe from the alkali
flats rounding Soda Lake

would coil the hair
round my left hand’s
forefinger tamp

it into the bowl place
the cock sorrel stem

between my teeth strike
with my right hand

one of the large stove matches
kept open in their Eddy blue box

on the woodstove
warming oven light

the dread black hair
tasting paraffin

and the sickness of great trees
too often sawed and dragged

gutting the forest
by the loggers of Tin Cup Mill

To my knowledge, not a single critic has discerned the combination that I discovered in 1963 of a deep ecological attachment to the land, a keen, even avid insight into what it might offer as spiritual transformation, the danger involved in so intimate a relationship with nature's offerings in order to create a mystical bond, and a sharp distaste for the loggers "gutting the forest" in 1952 or so which is the time of the poem. The fascination with "the sickness of great trees" references the fact of the fungi, goat's beard, growing naturally in them; the ill effects of logging on the timberland overall; and the sickness I felt in ritually rolling up and smoking this fungus in order to gain some deeper insight at age 10 or 11 with no cultural mentors to make sense of the journey. Buried in this experience is the sickness I'd more deeply experience after years of shooting drugs again, in order to accomplish some transformation I did not fully understand. Little wonder that, when I came to my senses years later on my own farm, I'd have a changed perspective on how one hopes to relate to nature.  

In quoting from the above poem we can see again how elements of a long poem have been at work in my overall opus. Little did I suspect when I wrote the above that nearly sixty years later I'd express my love of, and responsibility for, my surroundings, my attentiveness to landscape, in words such as the following in 2016:

Spring 2016 – The Chestnut Forests of North America

Now that earth
has about
dried up

dust blown
quite away what

to do with
two imaginary

chestnuts held
in hand in

an arid

landscape is
there a possible

crevice along
my fence lines

I could
plant them

they grow
tall and


in wind as
once they

over all this

land before
a foreign

virus 1900
wiped out


and if they do
how long
last how

            the fencerows

I've maintained
against ‘progress’

hold against


still in place

forty odd
years on . . . .

This poem shows the author, who has now spent a lifetime tending the actual fencerows of his farm, fantasizing about reintroducing Chestnut trees long extinct in his area and most of north eastern US and Canada. He imagines that what he can "hold" in mind he can hold "in hand" (echoes of Creeley) and that the margins of his property echo the margins of his thought and creativity, while these again reference the ever expanding margins of his other preoccupation, the poem on the page. Margins acquired, dreams realized, are so easily wiped out, and the objective the poet and farmer are faced with is to hold out against destruction and decay as long as possible, knowing that in the end, everything will eventually fail. It's a far different perspective than the one held by a child of 10 or 11 years, but the seeds of that thought--the imagination--were alive decades before.    


KN: My big contribution to the long poem is, of course Report On The Second Half Of The Twentieth Century, which is a long poem in 22 books. There is also the book-length serial poem, One Night. Outside of Report, I probably work more in sequences than in serial poems.

When Long-Liners was held I was 33 years old, and I had probably written the first four books of Report. I can’t remember if I was working with bpNichol on The Better Part of Heaven—that was printed at the end of 1983, so that book was probably already out when the conference was held.

I think I was still Writer-In-Residence at McGill when Long-liners was happening. Anyway, I went down on my own dime, wasn’t a presenter, was just an audience member. But it seemed important to be there. In a certain way, as Eli Mandel asserted, the whole goal of the conference was to get the long poem on the curriculum. But it was also a real opportunity to hear what the practitioners of the long poem had to say, because they all were there. Livesay and Dudek were there. Kroetsch and Nichol and Bowering were there. It was at York, so Eli and Frank Davey were there. It seemed like a big deal at the time. For my generation, it was maybe the equivalent of the Vancouver Poetry Conference, with a couple of substantial differences. First of all, It was entirely Canadian. And it was the movement past Projective Verse, into the poetics of the long poem.

RH: Well, being as you musta been a child prodigy, I don't get how you didn't make it from NYC to the Vancouver Conf. You cdda rid on the coat tails of John Keyes or Carol Berge. AG was there of course, but he'd come in from India and Japan. Any other NYers? Karen Johnson who grew up in NY State near Buffalo came up from VT where she had been in school at Goddard in Bennington. Two young poets fr Ottawa drove across country to be there: Roy Macskimming and his pal Bill Hawkins—where we first met. 

KN: Bob, I was twelve years old in 1963. I was a kid living in New York City and watching President Kennedy get shot. My idea of poetry at that point in time was the tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. I thought Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry was really cool.

But back to Long-Liners. I don’t remember if Kroetsch had completed his Field Notes by then. Maybe not. I was deep into my reading of The Martyrology. I think we were up to Book 6 by then. A lot of people think that, because I studied with Dudek, he was the big influence on my writing of the long poem. But the big influence really was bpNichol, and I followed him into writing a multi-book long poem. Dudek never did that. He wrote four really interesting long poems, but he didn’t try to yoke them together. They all stood on their own. They’re all interesting (Continuation) to magnificent (Atlantis), but he delivered them one by one by one by one. And he completed Continuation a year before he died. Not too many people know that.

I think Eli really had a point when he said that the primary motivation of that conference was to get the long poem on the curriculum. It was taking place at York, and the long poem needed the boost into the curriculum. 

I didn’t pay as much attention to Field Notes as I should have. It was the other multi-book long poem that was in circulation while I was writing Report.

RH: Hi Ken: Yeah, I've such a reluctant memory of the conference that I dug out the Open Letter issue, wch happily I have, and began reading some of the articles most of wch I'd listened to when we were all there. I wish I'd been more engaged, but I wasn't, and that's that. I think I appear in two casual photos of that Open Letter, rather accidently: one is on p 27 in the lecture hall where I appear to be on the far left of the 2nd row, chin in hand; and the other, an outdoor photo on p 31 where I’m wearing my tweed sports coat and carrying a tan rain jacket (wch can be seen in the photo I'll include below) with a couple of cars in the background. From left to right you can see Michael Ondaatje; myself; Angela Bowering (?) on her knees facing away; an unidentified male with long hair and beard facing her; bpNichol facing away; and Victor Coleman looking on from the right. It would have been a good idea to include captions in 1985 when this was printed! I cdn't prove in court that that is Angela or bp, but I'd almost swear to it. Angela and I hung out a fair bit during those few days, so it is almost certainly she and I in that group photo. Somewhere I have a photo of the two of us at the conference. I'll try to dig it out. Yup, found it. No doubt taken by George, b/c it's stamped on the back with Beaver Kosmos and their Kerrisdale address. Ange is wearing her attendee sticker. George must have mailed the photo to me after we all went home. 


What struck me as I was reading over the first several talks last night was just how astute most of the speakers were. Pretty well every one of them were poets as well as practicing academics. Mandel's opening talk is wide-sweeping enough to include a short history of English criticism, and focused enough to bring the topic of the long poem in Canadian writing to the fore. I remember it being masterful, but it really manages a great deal in a short amount of time. His essential thrust is to relocate the contemporary long poem within the scope of Modernism, rather than seeing it as a sudden product of the late Sixties, beginning with Webb and Ondaatje. He makes sure to include discussion of Europe and Atlantis and Dudek's critical approach to the failure of Modernism in America generally to put back together what had evidently come apart with the advent of The Wasteland and The Cantos. I'm sure many of us were very aware of how what we were writing, whether lyric or otherwise, was within this larger framework. But to Mandel, the current critical perspective of the Eighties was leaving that out, and especially, earlier developments in the long poem in Canada. 

In the course of the papers given, and the responses from those in the audience, much of this ground work, so to speak, gets filled in. Dorothy Livesay was there, and spoke saliently about the nature of doing research for the Documentary poem in the Thirties. There was discussion about how film, originally American, but soon Canadian also, had pioneered the process of documentary, and that poets had taken their clue from film, not from earlier long poem experiments. Magdalene Redekop gave a thoughtful paper on the complexities behind Pratt's attempt to retell the story of Brébeuf and His Brethren. She pointed out how Pratt strove for objectivity by relying on documented evidence from both the Jesuit Relations, and from Parkman's account of Brébeuf. But as she points out, he could not escape the bias of his own white, Christian upbringing, cd not become completely detached--tho that was the implication from the assiduousness of his method. So part of the conference was an attempt to show that the writer can never be free of his or her own subjectivity. It is a ruse to imagine otherwise.

Mandel concludes with the assertion that the project of writing per se had become the dominant interest in the contemporary practitioners of the Long Poem. And as we see or hear in subsequent papers, a concentration on writing, on language, on modalities of production, and on the precarious place of the author in relation to his/her environment make up much of the ensuing discussion. Miki points out in his talk how Daphne Marlatt, altho a long resident of Vancouver and the lower mainland, while attached to the landscape, nonetheless feels alien from the cultural roots of the Japanese inhabitants of Steveston about whom she strives to write an encompassing poem. Their history and predicament are not hers, but there are grounds, albeit tidally affected grounds, where they can meet. The Fraser, the fish which make up their livelihood, and the encroaching foreign investments into canneries, are all shared experiences. And so Marlatt, characteristically, picks her way very carefully into and through these interstices--more subject to subject, than objective overseer to a people on view. It is treacherous trespassing, so to speak, but it is done with love, consideration and care. And for Marlatt, as for the other poets with whom she shares a calling, recognition of one's limits, self awareness, and a reliance on language to lead one through become the modus operandi. Miki did not mention that the project of Marlatt's Steveston wd involve collaboration with a photographer who's approach to person and place wd also seek to render an accurate portrait of both, while admitting the intrusion of the camera. 

Much of the discussion also centered on the ongoing nature of the contemporary Long Poem--the idea that in some way, it is what Mandel calls elsewhere, a 'life sentence' with a nice pun intended. In other words, in the main, for bpNichol in particular, but also for others, the Long Poem had become a life project. As Mandel pointed out, humorously in question period, that is until the poet dies! This turned out to be very much the case for bpNichol who died, far too young, only too soon after the conference. But for others, it was less the case. Undeniably, one of the greatest Long Poems of the period was Ondaatje's Billy the Kid. And while the structure of this poem makes it historical and anti-historical at the same time, it definitely did not prove to be an ongoing poem. Likewise, Kroetsch, the master of delay and deferral, nonetheless wrote individual poems which came to an end and were not continued, though they wd later be collected in his Field  Notes wch has the aura of an ongoing sequence. Much more in keeping with the poem as a life sentence are in fact Dudek's above mentioned long poems, bounded more by travelling and returning home, than by anything like a conclusion. Circles don't lead anywhere, but they don't pretend to, either. And, of course, these were followed by his own attempt at a life-long composition, the appropriately titled Continuation I and II, though it does not feel like a poem that is forever opening up, but rather, closing down. Like the late Pound, Dudek turns increasingly to aphoristic statement, pronouncements on the state of civilization. Post-Modernists have become wary of such a tendency so sum up what we are and where we have been, and seek rather to explore the unknown territory wch in no small measure they find in the possibilities of language itself to lead somewhere new. Mandel quotes Terry Eagleton asserting, "'the advent of the concept of writing... is a challenge to the very idea of structure: for a structure always presumes a centre, a fixed principle, a hierarchy of meanings and a solid foundation, and it is just these notions which the endless differing and deferring of writing throws into question'" [Literary Theory, 1983, p 134]. Was Eagleton reading Kroetsch?

If there is a coherence in the talks given by the poets who attended this conference, it is summed up in the above quotation. The centrality of writing does not originate with Eagleton, of course, but long before in the explicit concentration on the practice by Gertrude Stein, most predominantly, but also on the many writers of her time and since who have shifted focus from idea to process. This has been the lifelong work of many of the Black Mountain and SF Renaissance poets, as we all know. And it is largely through them that the practice of writing per se, rather than composing a story, a poem, etc. has taken root.

I remember once when I was still fairly young wondering what the essential difference was between how Eliot wrote and how Williams broke free of a certain methodology. In one of his essays, and it may be the one on Hamlet where he speaks of the 'objective correlative,' Eliot talks about how a poet works an idea up into a poem. Those may not be the exact words, but the implication is accurate: to Eliot, a poem, however fragmented it many become in its process, is essentially an idea worked up into something better, more aesthetically adept, a finished work. Williams countered this notion, tho not Eliot's statement, with his famous "no ideas but in things," by wch we came to learn he meant, as Pound had earlier insisted, you can't express ideas in the abstract in poetry, especially free verse poetry, you need to find the concrete expression. How far this is, typically, from finding what Eliot called that objective correlative will I think bedevil the mind for generations.

But the corollary to Williams' notion, of course, is that one finds out what it is one wants to say by immersing oneself in the act of writing--precisely the reverse of what Eliot proposes. For a poet like Robert Duncan, this involves a mystical trust in the body of language to be there for the poet rather like body of water which will buoyantly keep him afloat--language is the medium in wch the poet lives, and corresponds—not only to others, but also through his own body to the world, phenomenologically, and proprioceptively. To write, then, is to interact, on several levels. It is this attention to the process that engages the poet in writing, the reader in reading. Reading and writing when one is attentive is much the same thing, or at least that is what the writer hopes for, that the reader will participate equally, not passively imbibe.

Charles Bernstein—the one American poet and presenter at the Long Liners Conf--and his fellow Language Poets, make much of this, but so did their precursors. For a poet like Robin Blaser, the function of writing is to enact a communion with the reader, but also to enter a new dimension wch the poem makes possible. In general discourse we often think of language as transparent, a mere medium for communication of ideas wch are uppermost in mind. But for poets, it is the opacity of language wch offers a new way to appreciate the act of communication. Just as abstract expressionist artists rely on the non-representational fact of paint on the surface of a canvas to convey a complex of meaning, so the contemporary poet depends on the facticity of language and its many components, such as sound, breath, silence, pacing, etc. to convey something more than a preconceived notion. Concrete poetry provides an even more exact parallel to non-representational art. But we are unlikely to find concrete poems or sound poems in the Long Poem category, not at least until they are computer generated, for the author would not last long in the process. But the Long Poem does partake of these materialities. In Wah’s Breathin’ My Name with a Sigh, the physicality of breath acquires a jazz-like place in the poem—breath is there to be heard, felt, experienced—less perhaps than in some experimental sound poems, but much more so than in most poems which are also influenced by or meant to accompany, jazz. Wah’s poems are not just hearing jazz music, they are creating a jazz poetry. Differently, but in a similar vein, his Pictograms from the Interior of BC utilize glyphs from the rock paintings to elicit a response from the poet with as little ‘introduction’ or ‘interpretation’ as possible. The process is not to describe what is perceived, but rather to look inward and allow what one recalls, or how one relates to the subject, do the speaking. At their best, one feels the poems are equivalents to the pictographs opposite them on the page. One poem in the sequence perhaps captures something of the jazz poems of Breathin’ and the im-magic response of the Pictograms. It is useful to know and to remember that music and jazz are integral to Wah’s life since he was playing an instrument in a band before he began writing poetry. Maybe this poem is a good place to leave our open ended discussion of the open ended Long Poem. To see the corresponding pictograph, turn to p 14 of his book of poems or see below the poem here.

How does the jazz go?
Autumn moon a bit drunk

in the tree-tops with Wind

(north) & Pacific cloud banks

about 1959 not quite

jamming it but from here

triple high C and wetter

than a duck’s ass just

a sliver of a harvest moon.

At the time of the conference, I was probably most struck by Dudek’s presentation, which in the Open Letter issue is called “Beyond Autobiography.” In 1984, I think I was maybe three or four books into my own long poem Report On The Second Half Of The Twentieth Century. Hmm—maybe Book 5, The Better Part Of Heaven, was already in print with Coach House Press. bpNichol was educating me in the Japanese poetic diary when we were editing that book.

Bringing the long poem into the academy (York University) was a way, as Eli Mandel suggested, of getting the long poem onto the curriculum. Back then Canadian long poems only had lives in being read by other poets and by being taught in university courses.

Dudek’s essay sought to emphasize the unprecedented freedom the long poem was granting to the poets of Canada. Atwood said somewhere that in Canada you can write anything that you want because no one is paying any attention to what you write.

By 1984, Bowering had written most of the long poems for which he is renowned. And I believe that bpNichol was six books deep into The Martyrology. I don’t think that Robert Kroetsch had as yet “completed” his Field Notes. Both of those multi-book long poems were still in play.

As a poet in a younger generation—I have always said that the poets of the sixties are my older brothers and sisters—I was interested in seeing what work had been done, and what kind of room had been left for me. I was always in the position of being a second generation Postmodernist, which has its perks and its demerits.

I think we all came away from that conference feeling like the reality of the Canadian long poem had been established. There were so many long poems by 1984, and so many long poem practitioners!

As for myself, I still had seventeen books of Report to write!





Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He came to Canada in the early 1970s, to escape Nixon-era America and to pursue his graduate education. He completed an M.A. at Concordia University and a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature at McGill University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1985. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Maine, where he taught Canadian Literature and Creative Writing for thirty-three years. He currently resides in Toronto.


Robert Hogg was born in Edmonton, Alberta, grew up in the Cariboo and Fraser Valley in British Columbia, and attended UBC during the early Sixties where he was associated with the Vancouver TISH poets, co-edited MOTION - a prose newsletter, and graduated with a BA in English and Creative Writing. In 1964 he hitchhiked east to Toronto, then visited Buffalo NY where Charles Olson was teaching. After spending a few months in NYC, Bob entered the graduate program at the State University of NY at Buffalo, completed a PhD on Olson under Robert Creeley, and took a job teaching American and Canadian Poetry at Carleton University in Ottawa for the next 38 years. His books include: The Connexions, Berkeley: Oyez, 1966; Standing Back, Toronto: Coach House, 1972; Of Light, Toronto: Coach House, 1978; Heat Lightning, Windsor: Black Moss, 1986; There Is No Falling, Toronto: ECW,1993; and as editor, An English Canadian Poetics, The Confederation Poets – Vol. 1, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2009. He recently published several chapbooks: from LAMENTATIONS, Ottawa: above/ground, 2016; two Cariboo poems, Ranch Days – The McIntosh from hawk/weed press in Kemptville, ON; Ranch Days—for Ed Dorn from battleaxe press (Ottawa 2019); A Quiet Affair – Vancouver ’63 (Trainwreck, May 2021); and in August 2021 a chapbook titled From Each Forthcoming (above/ground). In December 2021, a chapbook will be released from Hogwallow Press, called The Red Menace, and another from Apt 9 Press in Ottawa, called Apothegms. In April 2019 Hogg edited a Canadian Poetry issue of The Café Review in Portland, ME. His poems have appeared in over seventy periodicals, most recently: Pamenar Online; Empty Mirror; The Café Review; Dispatches; Arc; Some; BlazeVox Online Journal, The Typescript, Caesura, Ottawater 16, Sulfur Surrealist Jungle, Touch the Donkey and recent issues of Periodicities, Bandoneon, and Taint Taint Taint. In early July 2021 a Spoken Web podcast was presented by the UBC Kelowna Amp Lab featuring Robert Hogg’s life and career; it can be heard here:https://spokenweb.ca/podcast/episodes/robert-hogg-the-widening-circle-of-return/?fbclid=IwAR33NVedL97y38qeWXrdsfgudBITBoPghg. His ideas on writing have recently been collected as five responses to questions from Thomas Whyte found here: http://poetryminiinterviews.blogspot.com/search/label/Robert%20Hogg.

Books currently in the works for publication include: Lamentations; The Cariboo Poems; Postcards, from America; Amber Alert; Not to Call It Chaos – The Vancouver Poems; Oh Yeah—More Poems. In progress are The Offending Temple, and Ill Parodies – O, a selection of satires on various Shibboleths and current affairs. Now retired, Hogg continues to write at his organic farm in Mountain thirty-five miles south of Ottawa.


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