Canadian poetry

Fighting back

Lillian Allen's poetry of speech, song, and social justice

In 1984, following a tremendously successful year of touring and performing for large audiences across Canada in support of an album entitled De Dub Poets (1983), Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph, and Devin Haughton sought membership with The League of Canadian Poets. The League is a Canadian literary organization whose mission it is “to nurture the advancement of poetry in Canada” and to promote “the interests of poets.”[1] As Allen recounts in Toronto-based This magazine, their membership applications were denied at a meeting in Regina, Saskatchewan that same year because the League did not recognize them as poets. Instead, they were distinguished as performers. “Are we all supposed to get up and do that?” one League member reportedly quipped.[2] In her poem on the Regina Affair, Allen refers to the League’s decision as an effort to maintain the Board’s firm grasp on literary power and what it meant to be a poet in Canada at that time.[3]

Wonky structures

On Alice Burdick's 'Book of Short Sentences'

Photo by Zane Murdoch.

Maybe Alice Burdick was beginning to get very tired. I don’t know. But the next to last poem in Book of Short Sentences is unlike anything else she’s ever published. The poem, “Don’t Forget,” is direct, uninhibited, and visceral. Burdick’s voice is emboldened by a sense of emergency (social, political, and ecological) that she feels in her body’s hotheaded cells.

There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life. — George Eliot[1]

CTRL + F

Jordan Abel's 'Injun'

Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s 2016 book of poetry, Injun, is a rhetorical analysis of “pulp propaganda” and a decolonizing application of the Tzara-Gysin “cut up.”[1] Put another way, the book ostensibly asks: what if we sent Bernays rafting on the Nass River of Northern British Columbia to toss his Freudian guts out? “It will come to him as his own idea” — as in a dream.[2] 

A fool for a lawyer or a client

On Christian Bök

Something like that. The point is that one should never defend oneself against one’s critics. One’s critics are always right. They may be knee-deep in it, but they are always right.

Monster on the 'L'oose

On Ron Silliman's monsters

I’ve been asked to comment on Ron Silliman’s excellent talk “Your Monsters Are Our Monsters: The Problem of Borders and the Nearness of the American Avant-Garde.” In Silliman’s “L-shaped talk,” the shape itself merits consideration.

Polyvocal affects

Rachel Zolf's 'Janey’s Arcadia' in Winnipeg

Rachel Zolf’s poetry jolts readers from their comfort zone and into a contact zone where they encounter a poetics that is semantically “readable enough” but that conveys its urgency primarily on an affective level through shock, defamiliarization, and a poetics of glitchy error. What Zolf has called “mad affects” are experienced in readerly, textual encounters with her work. They also happen when the text moves off the page and into the realms of the aural, the visual, and the performative.

Spectral rescue

On Jeff Derkson and Louis Cabri

In “Immanence and Affect in Post-Avantgardism: Imagining the Social Subject,” Jeff Derksen and Louis Cabri argue that the contemporary social forms through which “the revolutionary imperative” (Neil Smith) expresses itself compel avant-garde poetry to rethink its historically inherited modes of address, formal organization, and function.

mantra of no return

a dialogue with Lee Maracle's keynote address

people arrived from portugal. people arrived from africa. people arrived from india. people arrived from england. people arrived from china. people predated arrival. people arrived from predation. people were arrayed. people populated. whips patterned rays into people. people arose. people rayed outward to toronto, montréal. people raided people. people penned the past.

Angel's Basic School

d'bi.young anitafrika and black queer divinity

In the beginning there was the word. And the word was “she,” born from her mother like so many other public prayers. d’bi.young anitafrika, daughter of foundational dub poet and scholar Anita Stewart, stands at a lectern that transforms into a pulpit by the first move of her hands (Mac laptop not nearly withstanding). At the same time that anitafrika offers a critique of the repressed lust in the life of the common homosexually active and actively homophobic preacher, she creates a new congregation. 

Social media, for social justice

On Erin Wunker's 'Technological Subjects'

The moment I sat down to write this response to Erin Wunker’s talk “Technological Subjects: Framing McLuhan in the Twenty-First Century” delivered at the November 2014 Avant Canada conference, I caught myself beginning by half-consciously composing tweets instead of carefully crafted, scholarly sentences: “wishes she could time travel back to nov. ’14 as she reads @erinwunker’s provocative piece on McLuhan & social media.” 

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