Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Every time i move a McNally closes.

Two McNally Robinsons are closing. The Canadian bookseller only has two locations left--one in Winnipeg, one is Saskatoon, and its website will continue to operate. The McNally closing in Don Mills, Toronto, was around the corner from my old place; it opened right after I left. That means it's been open less than a year. The first time I visited Calgary was when I heard about McNally; the Calgary location had just closed. I actually visited a McNally when I was in Winnipeg, and I was impressed by the selection of Canadian writers--they had a Canadian section, and then a more specific Prairie writers section. It was wonderful--the Chapters/Indigo conglomerate doesn't always bother to mark Canadian authors, and often doesn't contain local writers in their selection (in Coles, particularly, I've noticed this problem). Maybe it's time to browse their website, and see if I can support the remaining pieces of the closest thing to competition Chapters has got in Canada.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

i hope the drinks are flowing, the food is piled high, and everyone is cozy and warm.

My partner was kind enough to get me presents from Anansi Press (they came wrapped! i wasn't expecting to get to unwrap anything this year! Anansi has won my heart forever).

The loot:

Pasha Malla's The Withdrawal Method
Daphne Marlatt's Taken
Gil Adamson's Help Me, Jacques Cousteau

I also got a big package from Amazon yesterday with a bunch of school books. While I'd rather support local booksellers, as a poor student I can't help but go with amazon's prices for big purchases like this. i'm excited about one anthology in particular: Prismatic Publics. It's an anthology of experimental Canadian women writers. i might review it, once i've had a chance to peruse a bit further. The exclusion i am most surprised at is Dionne Brand, perhaps because I had No Language is Neutral next to me while checking out Prismatic Publics. But it is great to see two of my favourite poets--Margaret Christakos and M. NourbeSe Philip--included in the collection.

Happy Holidays, everyone. i hope your bookshelf grew three sizes this year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New sidebar link

i added the link for the Online bpNichol Archive. i can't believe i didn't have it on here before. bpNichol was one of the most influential experimental Canadian poets, and if you haven't heard of him, this website is a great place to start.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

online lectures on practically everything

i recently stumbled onto academicearth.org, an online collection of university lectures & courses. A cursory glance makes it look like they are primarily from Harvard and Yale, so an American-centric site, perhaps, but there is a lot of potential here.

i begun watching Professor Paul Fry's Introduction to Literary Theory because i never managed to take a theory class during my undergraduate career. Some theory came up in various courses, sure, but i would like to expand my knowledge, and this seems like a good starting point. If the site contained a reading list to go along with the course, that would be even better.

After i finish these videos, i'm going to watch a set that have nothing to do with literature. Maybe something to do with biology, or physics. i think i'm definitely going to enjoy using this resource.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

women using male pen names

it's not new. but few people think about why it continues to be necessary or attractive for women to use male (or gender ambiguous) authorial pseudonyms.  A female blogger who writes under the name James Chartrand has just explained her case here.  She has earned more money and respect writing under a pseudonym than she ever did writing under her own name.  Once she adopted the pen name, she says

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.


Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Salon.com writer Kate Harding has written a good analysis of why we might find the use of a male pseudonym surprising, and why we really shouldn't, saying

The most embarrassing thing about my initial surprise is that I know it's all of a piece -- that the constant threats and insults directed at female writers are meant to silence us and reinforce our inferiority when employment discrimination and crap pay aren't doing that fast enough. I get furious when people insist that western women have achieved full equality, feminism is no longer necessary, the wage gap is imaginary or the lack of women in positions of power is unrelated to sexism. But even I've bought into the myth of meritocracy enough that my first thought upon learning a female writer massively increased her success by adopting a male pseudonym was, "Wow, how retro! How Brontë, how Eliot, how Sand." Certainly not "how Rowling." [emphasis added]

How do we break the glass ceiling? By acknowledging there still is one. By getting young women active in feminist politics, and continuing to insist that feminism is necessary--not only for women, but for men as well (i read an article some time ago by a male author with a gender ambiguous first name, who was told his male character was too "feminine" and that women shouldn't try to write male characters . . . i can't find it now, unfortunately. but sexism hurts everyone by creating false binaries and ridiculous expectations of what a person should or should not be, say, write, and do based on gender and/or sexual preference).

Now i imagine that people are shouting "what about Atwood? what about Munro?" and it's true, that there are many amazingly successful female writers. Perhaps it depends what genre you write, perhaps it depends on where you publish, i don't know. But the fact remains that inequalities exist in terms of opportunities, pay scale, and marketing.  This needs to be addressed by publishers, by readers, by critics, and by writers.  We must insist that gender plays no role in ability. 

Thanks, James Chartrand, for being courageous enough to open up a public discourse on this issue.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

thoughts on A Walk Through the Memory Palace

Pamela Johnson Parker's A Walk Through the Memory Palace is a somewhat disappointing collection of poetry from qarrtsiluni press. The language is often bland and cliché, such as in "Tattoos": "I want you / so much it hurts to / breathe" (5) or "Talking a Walk With You": "Now as we thread / our way through cattails / in gauzy light" (15). The poems also suffer from a lack of form matching content; while the three-line wave form works in "Engendering: For Two Voices," as it matches the movement of water, and the patterns of the fish swimming through the water, elsewhere the same form is used to little effect. Also, some poems capitalize the first words of every line, which certainly is traditional, but seems unnecessary here. There is excessive use of italics throughout the book; a disrupting stylistic choice particularly when used as explanation--it gives the impression that readers are not trusted to make the connection between "the willow's dreadlocks" and "some girl / hiding her face beneath / her heavy hair" (this inevitably brought to mind the willow tree from Disney's film Pocahontas - not a particularly new or effectively used image of a tree/woman).

The most problematic poem in the text is "Some Yellow Tulips" which deals with the theme of Holocaust survivor's guilt. The use of end-rhyme is particularly disruptive; it distracts the reader from the subject. Ken Babstock (link goes to a video of Babstock reading) uses rhyme in powerfully emotive ways; this poem did bring his work to mind ("Steady brown hand on a Stanley Knife She cut me--expertly--out of her life" is a line that sticks with me). But rhyme still has a tendency to associate itself with trite content in English poetry, or feel like an affectation. Here, it reduces the impact of the poem's content, about a Holocaust survivor labouring in her garden being reminded of her past, and finally crying over it.

The most interesting fragment in A Walk Through the Memory Palace is "Narcissus: Narke" from a longer piece called "Archaic Fragments." It is crisp, short, and has a delightful twist of language ("how fish / school into your dead / calm") that manipulates the cliche of underwater skeletons in a clever way. Parker is clearly capable of very good writing; unfortunately most of the chapbook is too vague to have meaningful impact on the reader. Even when dealing with subjects that are by nature emotional (the Holocaust and breast cancer), the poems tend to fall flat because of a lack of specificity and a plethora of overused idioms and images.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

what google wave could mean for writers

Ok, i'm excited about wave. i'll admit that right up front. It contains a possibility for collaboration between writers that just wasn't quite there before. Google docs can't track changes, or differentiate between different user's input. Word can track changes, but you can't work with it online -- everything needs to be sent and downloaded. But wave allows you to work in real time, to see what the other person/people are typing as they type it. Plus the capabilities to delete and edit are great for people composing a joint document through wave.

The playback function means that even if you delete something, it's not completely lost. Users can see what changes were made at what point in the construction of a document. The ability to send content like images and videos means that collaborations have the potential to work in multiple mediums.

The ability to see data as it is typed excites the linguist in me. i wrote a paper about language online; previous chat interfaces have not allowed the same type of real-time communication that wave allows--it was turn-taking conversation rather than the fluid type of conversation we use orally. Wave comes closer to this because it allows simultaneous output, which means you don't disrupt the stream of the conversation if you make a point relating to something said a few text-boxes ago. It may require some development of new manners -- what constitutes interrupting, for instance.

i'm really excited for the joint-writing possibilities. i want to try writing a group poem, a group novel, a new online multimedia text through wave. i want to experiment with the possibilities of using the playback function AS art. Wave is a tool that could be a real boon. Right now the biggest problem is the limited usership. i don't know anyone currently on there who would be interested in working on a project with me.

Who else is on wave? Anyone see potential downfalls? Bugs? Problems?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

teaching/learning the dramatic

i know very little about canadian drama. actually, i know very little about contemporary drama at all. the theatre of the absurd is where my knowledge seems to drop off the map. i read Ionesco's Rhinocéros in a french course, and thoroughly enjoyed his humour. So where do you start when trying to familiarize yourself with such a huge genre as theatre?  Especially when you are being asked to compose a curriculum to introduce first-year undergraduates to playwriting? i tend not to start with the "canon" but that means i might miss references to popular, current work. And i wonder, do new readers want to learn the canon? Do they expect it? Would they be disappointed if i began with outsider theatre? avant-garde theatre? unknown theatre?  What is the canon anyway, and where do i find out who belongs and who doesn't?

the problems of the canon extend beyond drama, to any literary genre. i distrust it, even as i study the writers considered great. Many of them are great. But why do some writers enter this mainstream discourse and others fade away?  Lack of time and resources?  The need for a similar foundation of material across academia? Some of each of these, probably, not to mention the politics of the time determining why some writing is relevant and other writing not.

What if i taught drama using a combination of film, stage, video game, and graphic novel?  All these combine the visual & the word.  They are narratives most students may be familiar with.  But it becomes a scriptwriting course, rather than a playwriting course.  This is all theoretical right now, i'm not actually teaching drama to anybody. But when I do?

More questions than answers. Suggestions welcome.