The Great Gatsby and an Audio Telling Not to be Forgotten

The epitome of an American classic, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, reigns supreme in all of our imaginations from the original masterwork all the through the several motion picture adaptations in the bygone years. This classic can now be enjoyed in the form of The Great Gatsby audio book and with a stellar narration by Jake Gyllenhaal, you get a sense that the story is sprouting to life.

Of course the backdrop of The Great Gatsby sets itself up perfectly in the roaring 1920’s, relatively soon after the first World War had come to an end. This legendary tale is the story of a reclusive, eccentric and extremely wealthy man who goes by the name of Jay Gatsby. The point of view of the story is told through the naive but subtly stern eyes of his neighbor and good pal, Nick Carraway.

Even though Gatsby hides away within his mega-mansion, he still remains the buzz of the town, due to his insanely extravagant and lavish parties, where the whiskey and champagne flows deeply like the rains of Spring. The quite peculiar thing about his parties is that he never participates in them, he simply stands and peers out the window at the great time that he is giving his countless guest.

This is a bittersweet and haunting tale, that even to this day, not only pulls at the heart strings but it also haunts your soul long after the story has been digested. It is a story of unrequited love, fledgling self-beliefs and a sign that even the most beautiful scenarios just may not find their happy conclusion.

Jake Gyllenhaal is the perfect choice for the narration, he lends a boyish voice enhanced with a wildly keen timing which fits the scene of the novel so incredibly well. He never comes off as being too stylish or flashy and when the moment calls for it, he keeps his composure at a solid balance. The understatement of the book is very well paced and it rest in between the too reserved and the loudly boisterous. It is the way that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have ultimately wanted it.

The characters are read by it’s fine actors so convincingly well that it really makes you think you are getting the audio feed from a high-caliber, star-filed Broadway show. The music, the sound effects and the heart of an American classic are expertly poured in and blended with just the right amount of atmosphere to beckon the word “perfection” to mind. The Great Gatsby audio may just become a classic like its forefather, you can believe that.

The Garrison Revisited

On Thursday March 31, 2005, the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Vancouver hosted a panel called After Survival: Where is Canadian Poetry? The five panelists — Barbara Nickel, Chris Patton, Ross Leckie, Stephanie Bolster, and Eric Miller — were asked whether Margaret Atwood’s seminal study, Survival, had enabled or constrained Canadian literature’s sense of itself. Each poet used Survival to consider recent developments in Canadian poetry in English. Is survival still our leitmotif? Is there a distinctly Canadian poetry? What does it mean that these questions still preoccupy us?

Starting in September, NPR will serialize their papers at a rate of one or two per month. Zach Wells has generously agreed to round out the feature with a trenchant response to the series.

I. Survival – Northrop Frye wrote of a “garrison mentality” in the Canadian psyche – a vestige of the early European presence here, when civilization consisted of isolated garrisons surrounded by a harsh and forbidding wilderness. “In the earliest maps of the country,” he writes, “the only inhabited centres are forts, and that remains true of the cultural maps for a much later time.” The “garrison mentality,” as we will see, is a moral code the artist internalizes and reveals as sensibility. In the book that has brought us here today, Margaret Atwood refigures the “garrison mentality” as “survival” – a narrowing of scope that shifts our concern from sensibility to theme, from ethos to trope, from form to content. Reading Canadian literature thus becomes a search for embattled settlers, explorers, families, artists, and ecosystems variously surviving, or not, brute indifferent nature, hostile Indians, repressive Presbyterianism, obscurity, anonymity, and brute indifferent modernity. In a word, “thematic criticism.”

Riding a wave of cultural nationalism in the early 1970s, Atwood and others scoured our fiction and poetry for themes and motifs that made it distinctive, valued our literature on what they took to be its own terms, and sidestepped, as best they could, questions of comparative merit. Not surprisingly, critics since then have found this approach reductive, critically na�ve, condescending, a risible “vision of malcontents huddled indoors” that reflects only a small fraction of our literature. Before long, “thematic criticism” had been consigned to the critical waste heap. It is now forgotten, but for the occasional perfunctory kick, and Frye’s notion of a “garrison mentality,” having been conflated with the uses to which it was put, lies there entangled in it, rusty with disuse.

II. Garrison – The garrisons of early Canada were “small and isolated communities,” writes Frye,

that provide[d] all that their members [had] in the way of distinctively human values, and that [were] compelled to feel a great respect for the law and order that [held] them together.

The social and moral values of the garrison are those of the group. As a result, one’s greatest fear is not the French, the English, the Iroquois, or the weather, but oneself:

The real terror comes when the individual feels himself becoming an individual, pulling away from the group, losing the sense of driving power that the group gives him, aware of a conflict within himself far subtler than the struggle of morality against evil.

That is the “garrison mentality.” It is a sensibility, by which I mean an understanding the mind forms of itself, its place in the world, its appropriate engagements, the uses to which it may, or must, or may not, or must not, be put. Our sensibility begins with a physical edifice, the garrison, but long after the landscape has ceased to be dotted by forts and palisades, except for the few that have been turned to national historic sites for the edification of domestic tourists, it persists as a refusal to admit the unknown or the unnamed. The culture and the individual are always on guard then against incursions. Some of these incursions are from within. When they arise within the culture as a rebellion or a heterodoxy they are quelled or ignored. When they arise within the individual they are summarily repressed. One distinguishing mark of the Canadian sensibility is that “must” and “must not” predominate over “may” and “may not.”

The “garrison mentality” is a reluctance to individuate, in Frye’s words, a “dominating herd-mind in which nothing original can grow,” a “frostbite at the roots of the Canadian imagination.” As the society grows and complicates, garrisons multiply, and the poet, making a home in one or another, and internalizing its defensive posture, declines the difficult, lonely work of self-study, his capacity for which gradually atrophies. He resorts instead to a lofty rhetoric — a debased poetry — whose purpose is to stake out an argument against a rival garrison. Canadian culture, fostering these choices, and impoverished by them, thus becomes, Frye says, “a milieu in which certain preconceived literary stereotypes are likely to interpose between the imagination and the expression it achieves.”

Unlike Atwood’s, this account does not shy from evaluative judgements: it is a kick in the seat rather than a pat on the head. It also offers a far richer critical resource than Atwood’s “survival,” which, to be useful, must be applied in a fairly literal way, through a search for themes, plots, images, and structures that somehow entail survival against overwhelming odds or forces. The more broadly we construe “survival” the less meaningful it becomes: all lyric poetry, for instance, is about the survival of speech after the act of speech has ended, and about a survival of subjectivity beyond the body that harbours it. In contrast, if we take the “garrison mentality” to refer not to a set of themes — rockslides, plane crashes, abusive families, marauding Indians and the like — but to something less tangible, a sensibility, a cast of mind, it maintains its precision no matter how much we enlarge it.

III. Hologram – Frye composed his account of the Canadian imagination between 1943 and 1965. We have mostly outgrown, I think, our conformism as a culture, in part, perhaps, because our infamous French-English split has ramified into a broader multiculturalism. Somehow, though, in our poetry, the garrison persists. An example. Eldon Grier’s “Mountain Town – Mexico,” written in 1971, does not depict survival or a garrison, but it is written from a garrison mentality. This is the second stanza:

I must impress myself with certain things;
the honesty of mountain people, the lightheartedness
of a people never conquered by arms — and yet
the monster of the mines lies dead beneath their homes,
its scattered mouths decaying in a final spittle of stones.

The verse feels compelled to follow the thought through to its unsurprising and yet overwrought conclusion. Interestingly, when the poem breaks out of its imaginative enclosure, as it does in the next stanza, it falls quickly into disarray. As the world outside the physical garrison was a wilderness without, to the European mind, order, centre, or purpose, so here the imaginative world outside the poetic garrison is without design or proportion, prone to grotesque overstatement and obscurity, its tropes and devices overlapping artlessly.

Had I more time, I might now pluck a dozen or a gross of poems at random from last year’s literary magazines, and find the same constraint in them, either the orthodoxy of the rhetorical, autobiographical poem that thinks what it should think, and feels what it should feel, or the orthodoxy of the anti-rhetorical, anti-biographical poem, which, being post-modern, thinks how it shouldn’t think, and feels how it shouldn’t feel, that garrison. When the self is a protective enclosure, an array of barricades, the self-forgetting at the heart of artistic creation — the imaginative merging that allows Keats to become autumn, Whitman to become America, Sappho to become love — is unattainable. I am talking of course about negative capability. The garrison, ultimately, is a craving to be something rather than nothing, or one thing rather than everything, and it is ineluctably hostile to the creative act.

And yet. The shackles that hobble a sensibility may, as Keats discovered, dissolve under a certain kind of attention. This is from the last stanza of P.K. Page’s “Hologram”:

…after the fugal greys
and the near-invisible shafts of no-colour that had stained us,
how could our eyes adjust to so full a spectrum?
And yet in a flash, from infra-red to ultra-violet,
we saw the hologram glittering above us
glistening in air we could suddenly enter like swallows
as the whole citadel, rainbowed, immediate,
received us like time that has no break in it.

The citadel, examined from every angle, is found to be a hologram. And the garrison, for which we may take the citadel to stand, is insubstantial, nothing more than a mental construct, an edifice whose walls have either turned to, or turned out to be, smoke. “Hologram” is not an unqualified triumph. But its marriage of imaginative freedom, formal intelligence, and mystical apprehension suggests it has worked free of the garrison it takes as its subject. As Canadian poets we could do worse than follow its example. To do so, however, we will need to dismiss the old, outworn conventions of CanLit — the confessional prose lyric that gazes out the window at some weather while someone washes the dishes, the indulgent wanderings across a disordered open field – and undertake with renewed effort what Frye called “the steep and lonely climb into the imaginative world.”

Christopher Patton’s first book of poems, Ox, will be published next spring by Signal Editions. A winner of The Paris Review’s long poem prize, he is presently a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Utah.

Audio-Book Sensations with the Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey has been a worldwide phenomenon since it was released in 2011, selling over 100 million copies. The movie adaptation has also been a huge success, and it has made over $400 million at the box office. The book is a story about Anastasia Steele, a 21 year old college senior, who is asked to fill in for a friend, to conduct an interview with a young billionaire, Christian Grey. At the meeting, she realizes that she finds him attractive and intimidating, and after a while, the two of them begin a relationship that would change both of their lives.

The audiobook of Fifty Shades has also been very popular, it is narrated by Becca Battoe, which was a little surprising, because I was expecting two narrators, one male and one female. Battoe was up to the task of handling both voices in the audiobook, as Anastasia Steele, and other female characters, it was easy for her to change her voice, and as Christian Grey, and the male characters, she did a pretty good job sounding like a man, but at times you could tell it was a woman trying to sound like a man.

Some people might have a problem with the voices that Battoe used, because they had imagined something different when they read the book, but I think she did a very solid job for the most part. The one problem that I had with Battoe’s work in the audiobook, is the fact that the book was read without a lot of emotion. I didn’t feel the emotions that you expect from the characters, especially in certain situations where they are supposed to be excited. That lack of emotion makes you feel like the reader is just going through the motions. I understand that an audiobook is not a big production, but I feel it would have been better if the excitement of the characters were better expressed when she read the book.

All in all, you should listen to 50 shades of grey audiobook free, especially if you don’t have the time to sit down and read the book. It is 20 hours long, so you will want to take a few breaks in between, and it is still very enjoyable, despite the fact that the narrator wasn’t very expressive while reading the book. If you already read the book, you might be a little disappointed, but if you haven’t, you will enjoy the 50 shades of grey audio experience.

Out of the Garrison and Into the Garret

On Thursday March 31, 2005, the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Vancouver hosted a panel called After Survival: Where is Canadian Poetry? The five panelists — Barbara Nickel, Chris Patton, Ross Leckie, Stephanie Bolster, and Eric Miller — were asked whether Margaret Atwood’s seminal study, Survival, had enabled or constrained Canadian literature’s sense of itself. Each poet used Survival to consider recent developments in Canadian poetry in English. Is survival still our leitmotif? Is there a distinctly Canadian poetry? What does it mean that these questions still preoccupy us?

Starting in September, NPR will serialize their papers at a rate of one or two per month. Zach Wells has generously agreed to round out the feature with a trenchant response to the series.

My own education as a reader and writer of Canadian poetry — whatever we take that term to mean — has been haphazard, to say the least. I’ve only ever taken one course in Canadian Literature, an honours seminar in my third year at Dalhousie University, one term of which was dedicated to novels, the other to poems. Like Stephanie Bolster, I don’t recall Survival being an explicit part of the course. This is probably because my professor was more obsessed with C.G. Jung and intelligent extra-terrestrial life (her other area of expertise was speculative fiction and she wore every day a large yellow button on her denim vest proclaiming that she was “Just Visiting This Planet”) than with themes of survival. But it is also perhaps due to the fact that Atwood’s thematic approach had been so thoroughly internalized by 1998 that Survival no longer needed to be taught. At any rate, it was perfectly “natural” for a twenty-one-year-old me to write an essay for that course on the theme of marginality (a kissing cousin to survival) in the poetry of Alden Nowlan, without paying much attention to Nowlan’s poetic technique per se.

Hermeneutic (as opposed to evaluative or aesthetic) criticism has certainly long been a stock-in-trade of the academic study of literature. It is not in and of itself a wrongheaded way to plumb a poem — unless we make the mistake of placing it ahead of artistic merit as grounds for close reading. In order for a book’s themes to gain a purchase on our imaginations — without benefit of scholarly intervention — it must first give us a thrill of emotional and aesthetic pain or pleasure. The true depth of a poem, to borrow from Ashbery, is not to be found in its subject, but in the exposed core of its surface. And this is where, as most members of this panel seem to concur, Atwood steers us into an increasingly narrow blind alley where she bludgeons us with bad books, “the really positive virtue” of which is their prosaic and protestant “insistence … on facing the facts, grim though they may be.” It seems to me now, however, that the factual is in poetry, as David Solway has written, “merely factitious.”

When I made my first ardent, halting, awful efforts in the composition of poems — right around the same time I was taking that honours seminar — I was, as Stephanie seems to have been, very heavily under the influence of years of misguided teaching of poetry and the plain prose technique (even twenty years ago, M. Travis Lane was complaining about the “impoverished” style adopted by the majority of Canadian poets to convey “what they perceive as the linguistic and cultural barrenness of the Canadian “landscape,” the Canadian experience”) such pedagogy did nothing to discourage. I was perhaps fortunate to have stumbled into this odd realm of endeavour alone, a wanderer in the wilderness, if you will. None of my friends was writing poems, and I had no live mentors guiding my hand. Rather, I embarked on a course of random self-study (the dearth of which Christopher Patton is dead right to identify as a common problem, if not the greatest communicable illness, in today’s overcrowded garrisons) that began in short order to have a detoxifying effect on my system. I grew increasingly dissatisfied with the standard modes of academic analysis — although I must say that the Dalhousie English department was mercifully untainted by the faddish trends of so-called Literary Theory — and increasingly aware of an enormous gulf in quality between the really exciting work I was reading (including Hopkins, Hardy and Thomas to name a few) and the mostly dull stuff that was published, lauded and taught as exemplary Canuck product — or, as Barbara Nickel argues, the dull way in which exciting verse is often rendered easily comestible.

I don’t know whether Survival is to blame for this or if it is merely a major symptom of an illness already extant, if not well-advanced, in 1972. Whatever the case, we cannot let Atwood off the hook for her role in disseminating and legitimizing the study of a nation’s literature through the lens of a single overarching theme, particularly now that her dated piece of nationalist propaganda, at best a historical curiosity, has been re-issued. It’s heartening to read these panel contributions and realize that poets with such different backgrounds and sensibilities can more or less agree that the victim morality of Survival has done more harm than good to the cause of Canadian poetry, both at home and abroad.

But Stephanie’s conclusion that we’ve come a long way since 1972 and that we will continue to progress, “creative non-victims all,” seems a pretty facile bit of optimism to me. I’m more inclined to agree with Patton when he says that “the garrison persists.” For whatever cluster of sociological and ideological reasons, a great deal of mediocre non-verse continues to be written, fostered, published and awarded, while a body of work that is smaller in quantity but far more significant in quality is consistently overlooked. (Here I must confess that I only got around to reading Survival a few months ago, as a means to help me understand why a poet as singularly brilliant as Peter Van Toorn could be so grossly ignored.) Our terms of reference are still the “literary community” and “generations” of writers; our methods of instruction are increasingly institutional; our anthologizing continues to be more normative (as Barbara Nickel illustrates with the example of Breathing Fire) than reflective of eccentric development; our journals advise us to consult back issues to see what sort of poem they will publish; our publishers look for credits in those journals; our award juries more often reach their decisions through conciliation and compromise (if not through blatant nepotism) than because anyone is really excited about the winner. With or without Survival, there is a great deal of pressure on today’s talented ephebes to conform to a set of values, however amorphous and ill-defined they might be. Stephanie betrays this fact when she says that “thanks to the recent international success of such poet-novelists as Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, [students] aren’t interested in fitting in to a national tradition, but in winning prizes on the world stage.” In other words, in being fashionable. I fail to see what’s better about one set of confining mores than another, unless it’s the commercial potential for greater distribution and sales.

That said, I agree with Stephanie that we must be wary, as writers and readers, of avoiding topics simply because they seem to mesh with approved thematics. As Patton suggests, it is no less constraining to define one’s poetics in opposition to a dominant orthodoxy than in conformity to it; a brief glance at the history of revolution should be enough to confirm the truth of this observation. My own first book could hardly be more “Canadian” in its Arctic subject matter. My publisher was quick to capitalize on this angle in his promotional material, obliquely comparing Unsettled with Purdy’s North of Summer, evoking our “fear” of “the idea of North” (Glenn Gould’s phrase) in my “modern tales of courage and survival” (emphasis added). Quite a crafty bit of salesmanship, but it’s my hope that readers of my poems judge their success or failure not in terms of how Canadian they are, but of how well or poorly they are put together. At any rate, the poems are the product of someone emotionally and intellectually engaged with the place in which he lives, as well as with the craft he practices, and my model was more the regionalist Hardy than the tourist Purdy. I don’t wish to tell the reader how to interpret my work, but I see my book’s final lines (“And never more can I know/What it is I was born to”) in part as a statement of liberation from handmedown ideas of national heredity, with all the ambivalence and anxiety that attends such a separation.

The most comforting — and consequently most harmful — idea in Survival is that literature can be the product of a nation, when in fact a country’s poetry should be one of the things that shapes it. America did not produce Whitman as much as Whitman has created America — as, for that matter, has Emily Dickinson in a completely different way. Poetry is not produced by public funding or the proliferation of special interest magazines. Poetry is not produced by the focus-group sandpapering of workshops. And poetry is certainly not produced by a codified and contagious neurosis. Poetry — real poetry and not the ersatz stuff peddled on every streetcorner and campus quad — is the product of an individual genius in deep dialogue with the individual geniuses of the past and with her present environment (as Nickel correctly points out is the case with David O’Meara’s “Letter to Auden”). There has been some really fine work produced in this country and there seems, improbably, to be more exciting new writing now than ever. If this excellent art survives, it will be in spite of — not because of and not even in protest of — harebrained theses like Survival.

Zachariah Wells is the author of the poetry collection Unsettled, a prolific critic and essayist, a translator and an editor. In previous lives, he has been an ice cream slinger, cargo handler, security guard and bartender. Originally from Prince Edward Island, he has since lived in Ottawa, Montreal, Nunavut and Halifax.

PDF and EPUB format of Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is a popular erotic novel by celebrated British author E.L. James published in 2011. It was originally self-published as an E-book, but in March of 2012, Vintage Books acquired publishing rights. The book continues to enjoy popularity in digital formats especially PDF. It is the first part in the Fifty Shades of Grey read online trilogy, which traces the intensifying relationship between Anastasia Steele – a college graduate, and Christian Grey – a business magnet.

The book has gained massive popularity and attracted loads of mixed reviews from book critics and relationship experts due to its elaborate use of explicit erotic scenes with elements of practices involving dominance/submission, sadism/masochism and bondage/discipline. A film adaptation of the book has since been produced, with the expectation of two more films in the near future to complete the trilogy.

Short book summary

When 21-year old literature student from Washington State University, Anastasia Steele goes to interview youthful entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a person who is stunning, smart and intimidating. Ana – as she is casually referred to in the book – is innocent and unsophisticated. She is shocked to realize she wants this man badly, and in spite of his mysterious reserve, discovers she is anxious to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s independent spirit, quiet beauty and humor, 27-year old Grey acknowledges he desires her too, but wants her on his own terms.

Stunned yet thrilled by Grey’s extraordinary erotic tastes, Ana falters to make any commitment. For all the paraphernalia of success – his immense wealth, his global businesses, and his affectionate family – Christian grey is a person beleaguered by demons and obsessed by the need to control. When the two lovers finally decide to get together, they embark on a daring, physical affair, which leads to Ana discovering Grey’s deep secrets as well as her own dark desires.

Getting the Game of Thrones Audiobook Torrent

George R.R Martin’s unfinished novel collection, “A Song Of Ice And Fire”, has become a favorite for fantasy readers worldwide. And when HBO introduced the television series “Game Of Thrones”, based on Martin’s books, the series exploded with popularity. Between the written works and the television show, it has become one of the highest acclaimed stories in history!

So Martin and HBO have once again joined forces to create the game of thrones audiobook torrent collection. The goal is to sort of mash up the books and the show, but it is focusing more towards the written works of Martin.

The collection currently consists of 5 separate audio books, the first being “A Game Of Thrones”, which acts almost like a predecessor to the very first season of the television series. The titles that follow are: “A Clash Of Kings”, “A Storm Of Swords”, “A Feast For Crows”, and “A Dance With Dragons”. Although, this series focuses mainly on the books, the idea was to give the fans the best of both worlds, as there is always debates between the fans of both the books and the show. And this collection is already gaining the popularity that you would expect from George R.R Martin’s powerhouse of a franchise. Because of the narration, a book reader can easily put a voice to the text, and fans all around the world are praising this series as one of the best fantasy series of all time! Many people say that even if you are not a fan of the fantasy genre, these audio books, the original books, and the TV show, will all get you hooked! The audio book series is, just like the books and show, not complete yet. But with each installment, we can be sure to be treated to interesting characters, and plot twists that are out of this world. This series is virtually guaranteed to be ever growing, and continue to live on as a must have for any Game Of Thrones fan!

The Dérive of Derivativeness

Ron Burgundy: Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of
course in German means “a whale’s vagina.”
Veronica Corningstone: No, there’s no way that’s correct.
RB: I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t
think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost
hundreds of years ago.
VC: Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?
RB: No. No.
VC: No, that’s — that’s what it means. Really.
RB: Agree to disagree.

Over the last few years, Toronto’s BookThug has published a series of poetry books best described as deviant (or ludic) translations. Deviant translations are unshackled from the strictures of literalism. The poet-translators do not wish to demonstrate mastery of the original author or work. In fact, they are suspicious of mastery as an aesthetic, moral, or linguistic stance. Instead, by adopting a series of formal and conceptual strategies, including reflexive meditations on the process of translation (as recommended by Benjamin), the authors purposely celebrate and exacerbate semantic infidelity, so that — to borrow from Ron Burgundy — San Diego may, in fact, felicitously mean “a whale’s vagina.”

Books composed in this mode include, for example, Erin Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei’s Expeditions of a Chimaera, Clint Burnham’s The Benjamin Sonnets, Steve McCaffery’s The Basho Variations and Every Way Oakly (reissued; originally published in 1976), as well as Stephen Cain’s Stanzas (2010) and Mark Goldstein’s After Rilke: To Forget You Sang (2008). Cain and Goldstein are the focus of my discussion, their books examples of a snowy Canadian “afterlife” afforded texts by way of translation.

Stephen Cain’s Stanzas is a fourteen-page “allusive referential” reduction of Gertrude Stein’s “Rooms” (from Tender Buttons). “Allusive referential” refers to a homolinguistic translation technique developed in the late 70s by Dick Higgins and Steve McCaffery. (See McCaffery’s Every Way Oakly and Intimate Distortions for excellent examples.) In his essay “Towards an Allusive Referential,” Higgins proposes that the poet should treat words as “radicals with great polyvalence, capable of entering into a vast variety of identities”:

1) I think a. Let us call a my “object.” 2) As an artist, I observe that though I try to think a simply, I find that my mind moves on to b. I could fight this and insist upon mentioning a only…. However, instead I accept the displacement. B now becomes the new object, which I will call the “referential.” 3) But when I find that I refer to b in my original context, that the sense of a, if the intuition has been a close one, remains. B is justified by its heightening of the experience of a– though a displacement, the allusion (or movement from a to b) has created a vivid effect in my mind.

The poet subjects words or phrases to a series of paradigmatic substitutions (Higgins’s displacements) based on “word association, resonance, and subjective interpretation.” “Intuitive leaps” adduce, from the original source, “some additional and relevant element which might otherwise be unevocable.” Thus, “allusive referential” translation is part language-game, part heuristic counter-method of translation, and part parody of Romantic definitions of metaphor.

The best way to appreciate all this is to see the technique in action. Below, I have provided three excerpts from Cain’s Stanzas; in italics, beneath each excerpt, is the corresponding passage from Stein’s “Rooms”:


Perform without a spotlight.
A mix for the masters.
Starve the saccharine smiths.
Apparent apartheid.

Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to
the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.


Burnt and behind and lifting a temporary stone and lifting more than a drawer.

Cigarettes arise from rocks and sail above sketches.


Building boners entropic engorgement.
Distracted dogma, dinner.

Something that is an erection is that which stands and feeds and silences a tin which is
swelling. This makes no diversion that is to say what can please exaltation, that which is

Cain’s displacements display varying degrees of invention, as when he extracts the verb to draw from “drawer” (furniture), thus producing “sketches” or when substituting the boyish slang of “boners” for the more abstract “that which stands”— not “erection,” which is, instead, for Cain, a “building.” To Stein’s aphoristic “act so that there is no use in a centre,” Cain responds by advising poets to “perform without a spotlight.” Other correspondences are less “vivid” (especially when compared to McCaffery’s allusive referential work) and even downright superficial: for example, “that which is cooking” is “dinner” and “burnt” is “cigarettes”).

Cain adds other features to his translative process. First, his poems are “reductions.” Thus, they have semantic as well as temporal ramifications: specifically, the duration or measure of Stein’s prose is significantly clipped. Second, in Italian, stanza means “room,” and a stanza is also a lineated unit: Cain visually reorients Stein’s prose work by way of irregular stanzas. Each stanza corresponds with a single paragraph from Stein’s “Rooms”; and each line corresponds with a single sentence from Stein’s “Rooms.” Cain maintains Stein’s punctuation marks: for example, her “A little lingering lion and a Chinese chair, all the handsome cheese which is stone, all of it and a choice, a choice of a blotter” becomes “Loitering leonine, Asian armoires, lovely lapidary lactose, complete questionnaire, infinite ink.” Third, Cain’s translation involves alliterative sound-patterning, thus delimiting the repository of potential word substitutions, associations, resonances, and interpretations. The results are wonderfully absurd (“Martini stability”) and sometimes even wise (“Eventually an anniversary”).

By contrast, Mark Goldstein’s After Rilke: To Forget You Sang presents homophonic translations of Rilke’s nine-poem sequence The Voices. In homophonic translation, the sound-structure and sound-sense of a foreign language, but not necessarily the meaning, is translated into the English language. The most stunning example of this technique is Celia and Louis Zukofsky’s groundbreaking Catullus. Their translation “follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of his Latin.” Homophonic translation “permits anybody… to listen and get something out of the poetry… to ‘tune in’ to the human tradition, to its voice which has developed among the sounds of natural things, thus escape the confines of time and space….” My mentioning of Zukofsky is not accidental. He serves as one of Goldstein’s central Muses. In “A Note on the Text,” Goldstein writes, “It was Louis Zukofsky’s Catullus that asked me to put pen to paper.” Notice the agency: Zukofsky calls; Goldstein listens (“tune in”) and responds. Such is the collaborative, ontological spirit of translation — not fidelity to intention.

Let me offer an example from After Rilke. Goldstein’s “Title That” is a translation of Rilke’s “Titelblatt,” with a fantastically roughnecked first line:

The rotten and fuck-liking gotta have violence —
demand will widen among these sins.
Paper the dirt, again — I mustn’t be silenced
mustn’t be saged. I’ve been blind.
Order: it embarrasses the wording.
Order: it nightmares in the gut.
Order: it happens in one’s mind…
Order: where we’ve each been deemed to be tough.

And violate this, this is garnished enough.

And wield all sons with a heart-on.
And in him forbidden, mustn’t she sing it.

And the horde may not gut the song.

Forget the men sing salt songs; she whores
her castration in knowing chores

after that silver comes, and leaves long
when in these bedridden end-stories.

[Die Reichen und Glücklichen haben gut schweigen,
niemand will wissen, was sie sind.
Aber die Dürftigen müßen sich zeigen,
müßen sagen: ich bin blind,
oder: ich bin im Begriff es zu werden
oder: es geht mir nicht gut auf Erden,
oder: ich habe ein krankes Kind,
oder: da bin ich zusammengefügt…

Und vielleicht, daß das gar nicht genügt.

Und weil alle sonst, wie an Dingen,
an ihen vorbeigehen, müßen sie singen.

Und da hört man noch guten Gesang.

Freilich die Menchen sind seltsam; sie hören
lieber Kastraten in Knabenchören.

Aber Gott selber kommt und bleibt lang,
wenn ihn diese Beschnittenen stören.]

But homophonic translation is one part of Goldstein’s book. Interspersed among the translations are five personal letters from Goldstein to his other guiding Muse: Jack Spicer. After Rilke‘s mix of poetry and epistles riffs on Spicer’s After Lorca, in which the American poet produced deviant translations of, and letters to, the dead Spanish poet. (Lorca even writes the faux-introduction to Spicer’s book — from his grave!) Goldstein uses the epistolary structure to informally discuss his translation poetics. But as Spicer recognized, the epistle also provides an apt metaphor for translation: it is an exchange between the dead and the living, and as words travel from the other- world across to this world, truth, intention, and reliability are confused and rendered immaterial.

After Rilke‘s “Introduction” is penned by the long-dead Spicer. He offers some pithy meta- commentary: “Mr. Goldstein seems to get off on substituting most, if not all, of the words in any given poem… But the poems come from a kind of dictation that seems to say just the opposite of what Rilke wanted them to say.” He refers to the poems as acts of “disordered devotion,” which elide the difference between “what is meant and what is accident.” (Goldstein, in a later letter, refers to this as the “hell of possible meanings.”) Goldstein does well to approximate Spicer’s (in)famously disgruntled tone (e.g. “Honestly, I couldn’t care less that Mr. Goldstein asked me to write an introduction to this book”). But his letters to Spicer are the real prize: they capture the force that propels translation. There is homosocial struggle and pleasure derived from Goldstein’s imagined colloquy with Spicer; and it appears repeatedly, sometimes slipping into desire, too: “the hunt, we men prefer it.”

Ultimately, Cain and Goldstein both perform a dérive of derivativeness. Cain uses Higgins / McCaffery in order to translate Stein; Goldstein uses Zukofsky / Spicer in order to translate Rilke. Each collection is an event that documents how Cain and Goldstein listen and respond to voices from the past. Furthermore, Cain’s and Goldstein’s translations are not mimetic; they are methexic. Methexis is an Aristotelian term that refers to an experiential mode of art based on “participation, contagion (contact), contamination, metonymic contiguity” (Nancy, Listening). It requires “the totality of perceptible registers” working together. That “totality” informs and compels the intuitive leaps upon which Cain’s and Goldstein’s particular linguistic displacements depend. Finally, as noted earlier, these deviant translators are not interested in mastery. The poets want to remove the question of power from the translative / interpretive process: as Goldstein writes, “So forget those who want to crack the poem, they can rest in groundlessness with the rest of us where the unknown may come to inhabit their lives.” Thus, the strategies discussed are means of accessing the unknown and moving beyond a conception of the poem as a “safe” that opens up to stacks of cold hard authority and semantic certainty.

Alessandro Porco is the author of two books of poetry, Augustine in Carthage (ECW, 2008)and The Jill Kelly Poems (ECW, 2005). He is also the editor of Population Me: Essays on David McGimpsey (Palimpsest, 2010). His latest publication is a chapbook from BookThug titled The Minutes: I-X (2011), the first installment of an on-going serial poem.

Jail-Breaks and Re-Creations

On Thursday March 31, 2005, the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Vancouver hosted a panel called After Survival: Where is Canadian Poetry? The five panelists — Barbara Nickel, Chris Patton, Ross Leckie, Stephanie Bolster, and Eric Miller — were asked whether Margaret Atwood’s seminal study, Survival, had enabled or constrained Canadian literature’s sense of itself. Each poet used Survival to consider recent developments in Canadian poetry in English. Is survival still our leitmotif? Is there a distinctly Canadian poetry? What does it mean that these questions still preoccupy us?

Starting in September, NPR will serialize their papers at a rate of one or two per month. Zach Wells has generously agreed to round out the feature with a trenchant response to the series.

Poet and critic Carmine Starnino, in his 2004 essay “A Lover’s Quarrel,” points to Canada’s lack of a serious presence on the international scene by noting the absence of a single Canadian poem in the 1998 anthology World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time. Starnino spends the rest of the essay in a very thorough and successful investigation of the crisis. I’d like here to locate it in the last chapter of Atwood’s Survival, as well as to offer a few case studies of poets whose work breaks with the constraints that hold us in this crisis.

I’ve stolen the title of Survival’s last chapter – “Jail-breaks and Re-creations.” The words come from “Snow,” a poem by Margaret Avison that first appeared in her 1960 book Winter Sun. Atwood, in the non-evaluative and reductive manner typical of thematic criticism, uses the poem briefly to support her suggestion that the “national tradition” can be used “as material for new departures.”

She devotes a much more significant space to Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies, not of course to the title poem’s formal concerns, asking, for instance, what could possibly be the point of a wildly uneven and inconsistent line through 25 pages of rambling free verse, but to its cultural and national concerns:

Lee does not make explicit which comes first, rebellion against the dominating Empire or the individual and group self-confidence (call it faith) required to sustain such a rebellion. But both, it appears, are necessary if we are not to live forever on “occupied soil.”

Both “dominating Empire” and “occupied soil” reveal Lee’s belief in Canada’s victim position, rooted both in its colonial past and the influence of a powerful neighbour. This lies at the heart of Atwood’s survival thesis. But in “A Lover’s Quarrel,” Starnino reveals this position as a fabrication, one used to keep CanLit from drawing on the “dangerous” influence of the English language tradition. He writes, “The belief that we’ve been force-fed such a tradition by a colonial ideology, and that even the English we speak is an alien agency tyrannizing whole registers of Canadian experience, pushes the Canadian poet away from his only expressive resource…”

Starnino argues that Lee’s version of colonialism is false in that it likens Canada’s colonial experience to oppressions of a much greater magnitude elsewhere, that Lee “refers to a grievance that we simply have no franchise or privilege to feel” and that “It’s not that far a leap from…this group fabrication of colonialism as a force oppressing Canadians…to the idea that Canadian poetry will be happiest if encouraged to live as an amnesiac…a body of work that willfully ‘forgets’ its memories of a shared language, tradition and literature” concluding that “such nationalism has been, at least for the cause of Canadian poetry, deeply damaging.”

One aspect of this dismissal of tradition can be seen in the view of meter, rhyme, and traditional forms as somehow alien to the “Canadian voice.” In their introduction to the anthology Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets, released with the claim that its poets were “the best of the new and the best of the young…the voices of the nineties…” editors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane state, “The free-verse lyric poem with an underlying narrative continues to be the most popular form with this generation as with the last” and at the end of that paragraph, “We saw…almost nothing of the new formalism beyond a single sestina and ghazal, and a few sonnet variations.”

My own sonnets in the anthology were those “variations,” only they weren’t variations but genuine Shakespearean sonnets, inspired not by Canadians but by the British poet Selima Hill and the American Melissa Green. Here they seemed diminished, an aberration, not quite to be trusted, something that was “almost nothing” when placed alongside the dominant narrative free-verse lyric, which also happened to be the prevalent form in the editors’ own work at the time.

If, as was suggested, a garrison still survives in our poetry, and a garrison can be a jail, and one aspect of that jail is a resistance to our English tradition because it might victimize our distinct national voice, then Avison was breaking that jail just as Atwood was constructing it. In the Foreword to Volume One of Always Now, her recently released collected, Avison lists as “potent influences” D.H. Lawrence, Eliot, Pound, Williams, Bishop, and Langland. And she departs from many of her contemporaries of the sixties, including Atwood and Lee, in her extensive use of regular metered/stanza forms and sonnets. Here is her sonnet “Snow” in its entirety:

Nobody stuffs the world in at your eyes.
The optic heart must venture: a jail-break
And re-creation. Sedges and wild rice
Chase rivery pewter. The astonished cinders quake
With rhizomes. All ways through the electric air
Trundle candy-bright discs; they are desolate
Toys if the soul’s gates seal, and cannot bear,
Must shudder under, creation’s unseen freight.
But soft, there is snow’s legend: colour of mourning
Along the yellow Yangtze where the wheel
Spins an indifferent stasis that’s death’s warning.
Asters of tumbled quietness reveal
Their petals. Suffering this starry blur
The rest may ring your change, sad listener.

Note Avison’s extraordinary play with rhyme, i.e. the significant pairing of “eyes” with “rice” in the first quatrain, which leads the eye and ear to the odd and dense music of “Sedges and wild rice/Chase rivery pewter.” The voice gains a distinct edge when nouns are turned into adjectives; in this case “rivery” also sets up the later leap from snow to the Yangtze.

The poem spins around a phrase placed almost exactly at mid-point — “Creation’s unseen freight” — another plane of existence. Every word in the poem does the work of turning the wheel of this other plane so that the venturing soul, the optic heart might glimpse it. Strong verbs like “trundle,” defined as “to move or roll on a wheel, esp. heavily” not only describe — economically, originally, accurately — the movement of those “candy-bright discs,” but set up the “u” and “d” sounds of “shudder under” to evoke the enormity of this other world.

The allusion to death in mention of the Yangtze, with its ancient coffins suspended in the cliffs above it, the paradoxical “tumbled quietness” of the asters, which also resemble wheels and come from the Greek root meaning “star,” bring us back to the paradox of life in death found in rhizomes, those stems creeping just below the soil’s surface. On and on this sonnet spins its metaphysical course, far from Atwood’s Canadian wilderness and basic victim positions. Yet in service to this national thematic project, the poem itself became a victim, peeled away from the very musculature that gives it life.

To read Avison is to jailbreak; each reading reveals the possibility of a new angle, an allusion not thought of before, a syntactical puzzle solved that might just allow a miraculous passage through. Reading Avison is like reading no other; her music is as distinctive as Heaney’s or Bishop’s.

If Canada is to export a distinctive poetry, it must be made up of voices with this kind of individual distinction, of poets drawing on all the linguistic and imaginative resources necessary to reach the height of their powers. There are many such poets writing in Canada today; I’ll close with the work of one. Here is a line and the twenty-second stanza of David O’Meara’s “Letter to Auden”:

Then happiness might mean
Attending, at last, to what is most commonplace:
Unbounced cheques, our neighbours’
Warm affection, the friendship of rooms
With sun and hardwood floors,
(If only life could arrange itself neatly as a rhyme,
Or the balanced way we climb
And relax inside a hammock)
But nothing we’ll ever know is that
Patly epigrammatic-

The poem – all twenty-six stanzas of it – acknowledges the legacy of the English language tradition not only by addressing Auden, but by following in the tradition of his lengthy addresses to other poets, most notably his “Letter to Lord Byron.” A lesser poet, working within such a tradition, might have come off sounding derivative, intimidated, or high flown. This voice remains consistently original; the poem sustains for its entire length, within its innovative structure of meter and rhyme, a conversational tone of its own, never stiff or too-compressed, but crammed with small tensions and releases that give it flow. For instance, the word “climb” tenses with enjambment, then relaxes into the word “relax” on the next line. And the unpredictable rhyme pair of “hammock” and “epigrammatic” creates an echo and sense of closure, but also a kind of friction that opens into the next stanza.

Here, then, is a Canadian jailbreak; poetry that is both in and out of the tradition, in debt to Auden but wholly O’Meara’s own.

Barbara Nickel’s new book of poetry, Domain, will be released in April 2007 by House of Anansi. Her previous book, The Gladys Elegies, won the 1998 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Poems from that collection won The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize and Honourable Mention in the National Magazine Awards. Widely published in magazines and anthologies, including Poetry Ireland Review and Notre Dame Review, her work was featured in The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2004 CBC Radio Literary Awards. She lives and writes in B.C., and has taught creative writing at The University of British Columbia.

History and Survival

On Thursday March 31, 2005, the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Vancouver hosted a panel called After Survival: Where is Canadian Poetry? The five panelists — Barbara Nickel, Chris Patton, Ross Leckie, Stephanie Bolster, and Eric Miller — were asked whether Margaret Atwood’s seminal study, Survival, had enabled or constrained Canadian literature’s sense of itself. Each poet used Survival to consider recent developments in Canadian poetry in English. Is survival still our leitmotif? Is there a distinctly Canadian poetry? What does it mean that these questions still preoccupy us?

Starting in September, NPR will serialize their papers at a rate of one or two per month. Zach Wells has generously agreed to round out the feature with a trenchant response to the series.

The novelist Douglas Glover, an expatriate Canadian living in Upstate New York, once remarked that history is something that began in the eighteenth century and ended a few weeks ago. When he writes fiction, Glover is interested in historicizing history itself. A retrospective glance at Margaret Atwood’s Survival involves the same sort of procedure. As I stand here, I perceive two options before me. Either I should focus on one poet, or I ought to adopt a more comprehensive view. I have decided to follow the latter path, not merely entertaining but welcoming the superficiality implied. I’ll look with necessary brevity at several poets whom I admire, in light of their dealings with history and survival. These themes converge in the relationship of history to natural history.

The first writer who engages my attention is Robert Bringhurst. This polymath wrote a poem entitled “For the bones of Joseph Mengele, disinterred June 1985″.

Master of Auschwitz, angel of death,
murderer, deep in Brazil they are breaking
your bones – or somebody’s bones…

Speak! They are saying. Speak! Speak!
If you don’t speak we will open and read you!
Something you too might have said in your time.
Are these bones guilty? They say. And the bones
are already talking. The bones, with guns
to their heads, are already saying, Yes!
Yes! It is true, we are guilty!

Butcher, baker, lampshade and candlestick
maker: yes, it is true. But the bones? The bones,
earth, metal, teeth, the body?
These are not guilty. The minds of the dead
are not to be found in the bones of the dead.
The minds of the dead are not anywhere to be found,
outside the minds of the living.

This poem both conforms to and refutes the general tendency of Atwood’s book. The assumption governing the poem is that each successive human generation on earth is, to the extent that fate permits it to be, the judge of what survives. This is the human, not the Canadian, condition. Such continuity as exists is predicated on a choice to perpetuate the past. The incorporation of nursery rhyme echoes – butcher, baker, candlestick maker – may emphasize the mnemonic frailty of culture, as it is passed on from parent to child. Bringhurst questions the literalism of some judges. They seize on husks and relics with vindictive and scientifically accurate zeal. But the atrocious events of which a human skeleton is the usual remainder are elusive. What strikes me as Canadian about Bringhurst’s poem – although he was born in California – is its willingness to give history its due, yet to acknowledge how much of what we consider “human” lies forever outside history, in the realm of nature. In Bringhurst, a Lucretian nature will survive. Each of our bodies belongs to nature. Human history is real, but its survival is moot, patchy, a matter of making it generation from generation, a process always tenuous and vulnerable to the phantasm of ethical and technological superiority.

In my opinion, Anne Carson is more of a lyric prose writer than a poet, an heir to the Romantic essayists. Whether what she composes is prose or poetry, Carson reads history as a woman – the way Harold Bloom describes Virginia Woolf making the act of reading itself a form of feminism. Carson vivifies numerous characters of history, male and female, inhuman and human, bringing them into the present moment, often assimilating them to an idealized version of the writer’s self, who is female. Perhaps Carson’s marginality is Canadian – she identifies with Emily Bronte, for example, whose status geographically and sexually, relative to orthodox nineteenth-century English literature, is Canadian by proxy, snow-beset and liminal and offering more room for imagination than for society. Denis Donoghue calls Wuthering Heights a collision of the Gothic with the domestic mode. A collision of this kind features in many of Carson’s poems. Of Canadians, Carson symptomatically chooses as comrade the remote yet intimately demanding Glenn Gould. Carson’s sheer ambitiousness, sometimes effective, sometimes less so, betokens more than survival – it is omnivorous, a will to assimilate world literature to the experiences of one woman. Yet the unease that arises in Carson’s writing when she espouses, under the guidance of Marion Woodman’s Jungian self-help books, a variant of Goethe’s adjuration to Stirb und werde, “Die and become,” has a Canadian intonation. As Atwood insists, Canadian writers are convinced of death, but less persuaded of redemptive metamorphosis. Nevertheless, Carson confidently appoints herself judge of what survives in her own love: she celebrates Homer or Beckett as she pleases, as those writers happen to please her.

Carson’s poem about the origins of justice strikes me as a symptomatically Canadian companion to Bringhurst’s piece about Joseph Mengele’s remains:

God’s Justice

In the beginning there were days set aside for various tasks.
On the day He was to create justice
God got involved in making a dragonfly

and lost track of time.
It was about two inches long
with turquoise dots down its back like Lauren Bacall.

God watched it bend its tiny wire elbows
as it set about cleaning the transparent case of its head …

Inside the case

which was glassy black like the windows of a downtown bank
God could see the machinery humming
and He watched the hum

travel all the way down turquoise dots to the end of the tail
and breathe off as light.

Here at first God seems incapable of justice, a prime requisite for history-making. He gets distracted. Yet the Latin for “dragonfly” helps to resolve certain obscurities of the poem. A dragonfly is libella, “little weigh scales.” So there is justice of a sort – the dragonfly moves with fine equilibrium through the air. Something unsettling occurs in this poem, however. The image of the bank brings in associations of debits and credits, of life as a bank balance, of nature as a kind of gorgeous capitalism. The idiom of this poem by Carson may owe something to Ted Hughes, especially his book Crow and his interesting essay, in Winter Pollen, about the development of Leonard Baskin’s graphic art. Hughes emphasizes the importance, for Baskin, of the dragonfly image, as a hieroglyph of how to live sanely in a world that has witnessed such events as the Holocaust. It is arguable that Carson has been engaged in a protracted agon with Ted Hughes. But Carson’s vision of nature here may unconsciously confirm Robertson Davies’s judgement: “I see Canada as a country torn between a very northern, rather extraordinary, mystical spirit which it fears and its desire to present itself to the world as a Scotch banker.” Carson’s dragonfly, glamorous though it may be, reconciles the mystic and the banker in a way that disturbs me somewhat in its endorsement of a naturalized capitalist model: the dragonfly hums, just like a busy financial institution with opaque windows. But there’s no doubt that Carson’s lovely and solvent creature will survive. It is no victim, even though its predatory instinct is quite occluded, in contradistinction to the animal and human instances that Atwood assembled in Survival.

Eric Ormsby is an Islamist at McGill University. Some of his verse rediscovers and animates Arabic poets of the past, such as Mutanabbi. Elsewhere he limns rich pictures of his family’s Floridian past. Whatever his topic, he is disposed to subside consciously, if the oxymoron is permitted, into the significations of etymology. Etymology is a model of history in itself. Yet his choice in the poem “Origins” is to render etymology organic:

I wanted to go down to where the roots begin,
to find words nested in their almond skin,
the seed-curls of their birth, their sprigs of origin.

At night the dead set words upon my tongue,
drew back their coverings, laid bare the long
sheaths of their roots where the earth still clung.

I wanted to draw their words from the mouths of the dead,
I wanted to strip the coins from their heavy eyes,
I wanted the rosy breath to gladden their skins.

Plant imagery – seed-curls, sprigs, root-sheaths – combines with a sense of the dead as traditionally imagined, with coins on their eyes. As in Bringhurst’s case, the history of words becomes a natural history. For good reason, death is called our debt to nature. Here words, like plants, take up and metabolize the dead, forgiving the debt so to speak. Word origins offer one model of history. How a word’s significations will alter over time is unpredictable. This descent with modification through time pleasingly combines arbitrariness with order, an order only retrospectively apparent. For Ormsby, the history of words is a difficult study, vegetative and necromantic. Human culture exists in a matrix close to the natural. Words never achieve abstraction. Ormsby’s world is one in which, for all the richness of diction, the corporeal is never remote. This bodiliness isn’t dissipated by adherence to form-pentameter here-but enriched by it. Plants have form, and are natural.

In Carson, the personal and historical hunger for justice, though never fully satisfied, is compensated in part by aesthetic rewards, a remainder or super-plus specially celebrated by human beings. For Bringhurst, the longing to redress historical crimes is honourable, but it should not overlook how much of the human always belongs to a realm outside of historical verdicts, or forget the enormities of the present in the labour of documenting past horrors. What have these poets, these poems to do with Atwood’s understanding of history? They confirm a Canadian bias toward nature, even when history is the nominal subject. Bringhurst and Ormsby differently emphasize the frailty of culture, its material evanescence. Is this the garrison mentality? Perhaps it is the proposal that there is no garrison, no safety, for anyone. Contrastingly, Anne Carson discovers culture in nature – evading, as an aesthete well may, the predatory attributes of the dragonfly and the economic implications of her imagery. Yet this evasion is not a survivor’s ploy. On the contrary, it bespeaks one kind of confidence, the confidence that a wealthy society such as Canada’s can sometimes, by sheer historical good luck, bestow on some of its citizens.

Eric Miller’s book of lyrical essays The Reservoir has just been published by Ekstasis Editions. His second book of poetry In the Scaffolding was shortlisted for the 2006 ReLit Award. He teaches at the University of Victoria.

Nature Poetry in Canada Since Survival

On Thursday March 31, 2005, the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Vancouver hosted a panel called After Survival: Where is Canadian Poetry? The five panelists — Barbara Nickel, Chris Patton, Ross Leckie, Stephanie Bolster, and Eric Miller — were asked whether Margaret Atwood’s seminal study, Survival, had enabled or constrained Canadian literature’s sense of itself. Each poet used Survival to consider recent developments in Canadian poetry in English. Is survival still our leitmotif? Is there a distinctly Canadian poetry? What does it mean that these questions still preoccupy us?

Starting in September, NPR will serialize their papers at a rate of one or two per month. Zach Wells has generously agreed to round out the feature with a trenchant response to the series.

For a book advertised as a simple guide to Canadian literature for high school, community college and university teachers, Margaret Atwood’s Survival had an extraordinary impact, helping remake the institutions by which Canadian literature was received and studied. By the time it was published in 1972 I had not studied a Canadian book in high school or university. When presented by a friend with my first Canadian poetry books, by Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, I was aware that these two poets were from Montreal, but we didn’t think of them as Canadian poets.

Atwood did not invent Canadian literature, obviously, but she was a crucial part of the invention of the institution of Canadian literature. In this sense, Survival was not simply presenting itself as a thematic guide for school teachers, it was a political document, emerging from the context of the fervent Canadian nationalism of the late Sixties and early Seventies, that meant to place at the centre of the study of literature the question of Canadian identity. Atwood suggested that, as she famously put it, “The central symbol for Canada – and this is based on numerous instances of its occurrence in both English and French Canadian literature – is undoubtedly Survival, la Survivance.” This myth, she notes, is comparable to the American myth of The Frontier or the British myth of The Island. If the American myth is about “making it,” then the Canadian myth is about “making it back.”

Atwood’s argument slides easily from the idea of physical survival in the bush to cultural and political survival; in French Canada it is the “hanging on as a people” after “the English took it over” and in English Canada survival acquires a similar meaning “now while the Americans are taking over.” It is easy to forget that the book existed in a particular political context. Canadians were well aware that a myth of the bush was becoming just that, and uncertainties about what it meant for a culture that had recently moved from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban and suburban society fuelled anxieties about what was known as “the branch-plant economy.” English Canadians were genuinely concerned with the question as to whether we were different from Americans in any significant way and this was reflected in anxieties about the Americanization of popular culture. And if Atwood’s “La Survivance” seems a mere gesture toward French Canadian writing, it must be remembered that Survival was published less than two years after the FLQ kidnappings and the invocation of the War Measures Act, a form of Canadian martial law that saw the military deployed in the streets of Quebec.

So, what does all of this mean for nature poetry? Well, the mythology of survival is essentially a psychological theory of poetic interaction with nature. Atwood avows that “I’m talking about Canada as a state of mind” and again literature is “a geography of the mind.” The politics of this vision is one of victim positions, which involves levels of consciousness of the ways in which Canada is a victim of colonization. Some of the themes Atwood identifies include death by nature, nature as monster, the obsession with casual death and the futility of heroic death, the family as imprisonment, and nature as dangerous woman or ice goddess. In the Seventies and Eighties attempts to contextualize these themes appear frequently in such poets as Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Alden Nowlan and many others.

At the end of Survival Atwood considers briefly two poets, Dennis Lee and bill bissett, whom she sees as moving from ideas of nature as monster to nature as a potential home. This signaled the future of nature poetry. For one thing, if nature is monster, then the beast has been slain. The intervening years have seen clear-cuts visible from the moon, remote lakes and rivers poisoned with mercury, slag heaps, tailings, open pits, the logging of old growth forests, the extinction or near extinction of numerous species, particulate fallout in northern mill towns worse than the smog of North America’s largest cities, astonishing quantities of air pollution residue registered in mountain snow fields and the ice of the high arctic or at the bottom of lakes, the collapse of the cod fishery, an agribusiness that has produced monocultures saturated with chemical fertilizers, weed and insect killers, global warming, and a precarious commitment to the Kyoto Accord which scientists tell us is unlikely to be enough, etc. I wish to emphasize that Canada, frequently seen as a vast wilderness preserve, has no wilderness that has not been contaminated. Survival can no longer be seen as against nature, but only, as Atwood suggests, in abidance with nature’s survival.

As poets in Canada moved to articulate what living with nature as home might be like, a new conception of both nature and home arrived in Don McKay’s extraordinary essay, “Baler Twine: thoughts on ravens, home and nature poetry,” which first appeared in Studies in Canadian Literature in 1993, and was then reprinted together with further essays in the book Vis � Vis in 2001. McKay radically redefines wilderness as that in the world which resists human acquisition and it exists as much in familiar objects we use in daily life as it does in remote preserves. A tool retains a residual wilderness and eventually breaks down toward wilderness as it loses its tool use. “To what degree do we own our houses, hammers, dogs?” asks McKay. Employing the philosophy of Levinas, McKay views the notion of home as one in which the self makes the first appropriation, the primordial grasp towards wilderness, only to discover the self is made of the other, from wilderness, in a doubling process. As McKay notes, finding the place of home “turns wilderness into an interior and presents interiority to the wilderness.”

McKay makes a transition from Atwood’s psychological or thematic understanding of wilderness to one that is ontological. Wilderness is not a geographical location, it is being-in-and-of-itself as it slides past beyond the mind’s analytical categories. McKay quotes Levinas: “Culture can, first, be interpreted . . . as an intention to remove the otherness of Nature, which, alien and previous, surprises and strikes the immediate identity that is the Same of the human self.” If wilderness is ontological, however, the first principle of this philosophy is ethical. There is something in the ego of the human self that moves toward a second-order appropriation, beyond that of tool-making, to a representation or putting on display of a colonization or denial of death. “We inflict our rage for immortality on things,” says McKay. Following Levinas, McKay seeks a way of giving a face to the other. As with hammers and houses, language is a tool, but in poetry there is a use of metaphor that can surprise or disrupt our apprehension of the world in such a way as to give us a glimpse of wilderness.

In Lyric Philosophy the poet and philosopher Jan Zwicky was already suggesting that lyric thought provided a way of knowing that could not be reduced to analytical thought. “It is not an accident that nearly all Wittgenstein’s writings are composed of fragments,” she notes. Other Canadian poets and philosophers have been thinking through similar questions: Dennis Lee in his essays on “polyphony,” various poets in the book Poetry and Knowing edited by Tim Lilburn, and Lilburn’s own book Living in the World As If It Were Home provide a few examples. It is in Wisdom & Metaphor, however, that Zwicky identifies metaphorical thinking as an epistemology distinct from that of analytical cognition. It is metaphor’s ability to hold distinct entities in both sameness and difference, absence and presence, that allows it to shape the act of perception into a form of knowing. To explain Zwicky’s vast and remarkable book in this short essay is beyond me, other than to say that no discussion of metaphor is complete without it.

Nature poetry is thriving in Canada and I think all five of us you see here are writing nature poetry. It is crucial to understand that nature poetry is not nostalgic in an escapist sense; it risks nostalgia because emotions such as regret may be of more poetic and political use than ironic detachment. Nature poetry is political in the deepest sense of the word in that it explores the epistemological groundwork for a politics that is flexible enough to encompass the complexity of what it is to be human. It is not about the pretty; it is not about the romantic influx or inspiration or about the picture postcard. When I say things like this I’m reminded of Atwood’s characteristic sardonic wit and the moment in Survival when she remembers reading a mystery novel in which the victim is tied to a tree during black fly season. Nature poetry is about displaying the primacy or immediacy of perception as it is organized by metaphor. Nature poetry articulates what I like to think of as lyric subjectivity, that location we occupy in space/time and the awareness of it that grants us capability, that allows us agency.

Ross Leckie was born in Lachine, Quebec, and is currently Director of Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Leckie’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. He is the author of a number of collections of poetry, including Gravity’s Plumb Line, The Authority of Roses and A Slow Light.