Saturday, December 17, 2011

easy peasy by kevin mcperhason eckhoff

This puppydog of a book wags its tail when it sees you. Sudoku the pages! Colour the pictures! Word the unwords and unword the words! Even the acknowledgements were stuck in the blender. It'll make you feel old -- time to bring out the magnifying glass, friend. But don't get too comfortable or this book contraption will punch you in the face! Is that line ablist? Can he say that?! Is this miscommunication or communion? Eruptions of something -- not language for sure.

For example, an excerpt from "Reformatting a Harddrive" (p. 17):

Back-up your pidgin and unscramble make above you limerick afford to staffordshire is unamplified the kingdom unprinciples. Move your vermillion and uptick off the xylophone. Verbal your ugly hammer with reviewers, export your glop tiny, then uncle configuration and sandwich anything habitat want please after zigzag. Just make sure expectations that's going inked the plaza. Hussy your current underpants setup.

good times!

easy peasy is a frolicking rollick. write it. puzzle it or unpuzzle it. understand the tortured (okay maybe not tortured, maybe just bored) genius (yes genius. or was that genus? genies? blue jeans?) of kevin mcpherson eckhoff then contribute to their biography at

Friday, October 7, 2011

Croak by Jenny Sampirisi

A chorus of girls and frogs. Michigan J. and Kermit the. What are all these limbs? How read? How perform? Poetry or? The greenness of pauses. "Ribbit for her pleasure" (laugher) censor bar.

Theatre. Action or operation. Too late for the girls or the frogs who are actually canaries.
Thinking Rita Wong "the girl who ate rice almost every day"--what is IN this stuff? (was the goldfish i flushed dead at the time? why does this question raise that poetry?). chemicals stutter the letters, ras th lttrs add numbrs. for science. dissect the stage. i desperately want to perform this text. i desperately want to pause, to dis-enact it. hop plop stop.

"I hear: Get off already. I hear: shut up." U her: Frogirl (can't think Frogirl without thinking Black girl/natural hair/question: what&how is race in this text? think: what communities are most likely to be harmed by environmental pollution? those with the least power, obviously.)

Mine the connections. Fold the origami ribbiter. Legs and leg goons.

Croak as in. Croak as if to say more. Jump in. The water is.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

i have been meaning to read this book for a very long time. And i wasn't disappointed. This tale of two young Jewish men who create a comic book empire during WWII has a great blend of realism and fantasy. Josef (Joe) Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague but leaves his family behind. He manages to reach his relatives in America, among them Samuel Klayman (Sammy Clay), who discovers that Joe is a good artist, and manages to get them a chance to create a comic book. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that transition into the comic book world, though i wonder about the way these chapters always make the ekphrasis apparent by mentioning ink or pages. What would happen if the immediacy of the story of Luna Moth, for instance, was never disrupted with the revelation that the reader is reading a comic book translated into prose? The reader would still *get* it, because these characters are discussed elsewhere, but it wouldn't put neat little boxes around the events, creating a visible separation between reality and art.

There's also exploration of sexual identity and sexual politics that relates to alter egos and hidden identities. Sammy is homosexual, though he decides to hide that homosexuality and marry (the marriage itself is a complicated situation arising from Rosa's need to choose whether to abort or keep Joe's baby when he leaves to join the navy; Rosa loves Joe but won't tell him about her pregnancy, Sammy loves an actor but decides not to go to LA with him, so Rosa and Sammy marry so that they can raise the baby together. They maintain elaborate fictions to keep their life functioning, neither completely satisfied though they do value and love each other). The reactions to his homosexuality are varied. Sammy is condemned in a variety of ways: by a society where being gay is a crime leaving Sammy vulnerable to predators who wear the guise of the law, by himself because he doesn't want to be a "fairy", and then his work is condemned by senators who panic at the suggestion of homoeroticism in comic books and who see "sidekicks" as pedophilia. But Sammy's friends, his mother, even his wife have more complicated reactions that range from acceptance to careful self-imposed blind spots.

Kavalier & Clay constantly interrogates the reality of magic, through the stage performances of Josef Kavalier, the comic book superheroes, references to Harry Houdini, and the Golem of Prague. Which magic is real? Who controls the trick? When will it succeed? Kavalier's inability to pull off an escape early in the book has a tragic consequence, but he is able to escape Prague with the help of his magic teacher. The Golem of Prague is transported to prevent Nazi capture, but it is inanimate and cannot protect the Jewish people of Prague against Nazi invasion (though its transport allows Joe to get out of Prague, so its existence enables one survival. Joe experiences survivor's guilt as one after another of his relatives die or are killed during the occupation; to him this escape was a mixed blessing.).

i can't help but think about Art Spiegelman's Maus, the bleak comic book autobiography about Spiegelman's father surviving the Holocaust. Maus seems like it's missing from Kavalier & Clay because so many comic books & comic creators are mentioned. But Maus was published in 1972, after the conclusion of this novel. But when Kavalier writes a large graphic novel about the Golem, it points towards Spiegelman.

One thing that i disliked about the novel was that the reader gets to see Joe's mother's final letter, even though Joe never does. The reader receives the comfort of knowing that Joe's family did not expect to hear from him further, that they want him to move on with his life. i felt that this distance between Joe and the reader, while it created sympathy, kept the reader from getting close to Joe's violent rage against Germans. Again there's an irony that lets the reader outsmart the character, a type of distance that i have been working on minimizing in my own writing (which is perhaps why i notice it so much here, and why i feel that removing that distance would be more effective at letting the reader understand the character, because the reader would not be above or separate from the character's misreading of situations or the character's mistakes. then again, comic books often make liberal use of this irony, so it might be appropriate to a book that often becomes a textual comic. i would prefer less of it, and the letter was the moment that most pulled me out of the narrative when Joe didn't get to read its contents.).

In any case, i thought this was a good book. It addressed the anger and violence of a young person who escaped the violence in a way that i found poignant and unique because the book doesn't have a dark or morbid tone, though dark and morbid things happen frequently. Good doesn't always triumph, but there is a kind of cautious optimism that at the right place and at the right time magic works even though (or perhaps because) the world has gone to shit.

"I remember when you first got here. That first day we went into Anapol's office. Do you remember that?"

Joe said that naturally he remembered that day.

"I handed you a Superman comic book and told you to come up with a superhero for us and you drew the Golem. And I thought you were an idiot."

"And I was."

"And you were. But that was 1939. In 1954, I don't think the Golem makes you such an idiot anymore."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Late Night Reading

Last night i finished Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School. A strange choice for bedtime reading? i had very weird dreams, that's for sure.

Sex, violence and language learning. Incest, slavery and poetry.

It's what i was trying to write in high school, but couldn't. It's what i wish i were writing now but retreat from.

i made a mistake reading the back cover, which states that Kathy Acker's work "has been labeled everything from post-punk porn to post-punk feminism." It made me expect a gross-out book, and with the reference to slavery maybe even torture porn. But it wasn't that at all. It was raw & angry & whimsical & complex & direct & multilingual & literary & not porn at all. i should have known. Some people call anything with pictures of dicks pornographic. Not to say that there wasn't a lot of rape in the book, there was. Of course it was about rape & consent & fucked up families & relationships.

What surprised me was how much of the rhetoric about bodies and autonomy and language i see repeated on feminist blogs today and it is still a new argument. It is still a new argument because people are still shocked & reactionary.

The punk i grew up with is 80s/90s punk. i wanted to compare B&GiHS to Jello Biafra (full of rage, but smart enough to sense futility in the face of political systems and power hierarchies). But of course, Acker published this book the year Biafra's band, The Dead Kennedys, formed. i also think of this song:

Bikini Kill "Suck My Left One"

Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill's singer-songwriter, lists Acker as an influence. So really i've been absorbing second-hand Acker since i was in high school.

And really Blood and Guts in High School is both the most and the least about high school of any book i can think of.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jake Kennedy,

today was going to be the day i finally sat down and wrote a serious and thoughtful review of Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic. That was the plan. Except i may have misplaced your book somewhere in the piles of books and comics and thesis papers sitting around my apartment (i would post a picture, but it's too terrible).

So i'm going to be the asshole who writes about your book without it sitting in front of me.

But i read it through twice, almost, so don't worry! And when (if) i find my copy again, i can write about it again!

But Claire, why don't you just wait to write about this book so you can write a proper review? Because i am supposed to be working on my thesis.

Apollinaire's Speech is a very different book than The Lateral. i want to be careful about quantifying the difference: it has something to do with humour and sarcasm and a self-depreciating voice, and the use of the word "asshole". Apollinaire's Speech is a candle compared to The Lateral's strobe light. What a clunky metaphor! But I mean that The Lateral is an exuberant outgoing book and Apollinaire's Speech is a little bit quiet and you have to lean in to catch what it's saying, and it leaves you wondering about the probability of sleepy tigers suffering religious euphoria and is there something subtle about moose shit on icy lakes that maybe you missed and it is still okay to laugh because it's moose shit in a poem?

There is a gentle elegance to many of the poems in Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic, especially around the subject of violence. This fractured skull is a thing of beauty. This bullet hole, this bleeding wound. But the language never becomes precious. The book doesn't get bogged down in sentiment, but flits into it and back out again, capturing the ordinary out of order and the extraordinary doing the dishes.

There's something going on with transformation, a man being a book, that i wanted to talk about, but i forget exactly what my point was. So, um, i'll just say that the book avoids falling into the trap of lycanthropic lyricism that has become so typical of contemporary Canadian poetry. (But what does that even mean? Shh, it sounds critical, right?)

I mentioned once that Erin Moure's books make me feel like i need to grow into them, that i need to rediscover them every few years as my body of knowledge and my frame of theoretical reference increases. That they become more and more productive as i become a better reader. Apollinaire's Speech makes me feel the same way. i'm not even going to make a joke about how the back cover lists everyone who ever wrote a poem, because i'm serious. This is a smart book.

And that's pretty fucking amazing, Jake Kennedy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

x-men first class: a rant [spoiler warning]

Normally I'd post movie reviews that are more rant than review over on my tumblr, but since there are spoilers involved, it will live here instead. I figure there's less chance of accidentally ruining someone's film experience this way.

Okay! Plot spoilers ahead!

So I thought X-Men First Class was pretty enjoyable. Mostly solid. Some montage stuff that was very poorly done in terms of stylistic choice in the middle, but a decent summer comic film adventure. But there are definitely some things that need a big healthy dose of critical thought.

First problem: Black Dude Dies First. I mean, come on. ONE Black man on the team, and he dies first? This problem is easily solved: a more diverse team prevents there being a single Black dude scenario. At least the character, Darwin, was well written. I liked him. And then he died.

Another problem is that all the female characters (Mystique, Angel, Emma Frost) were super sexualized. Two words: male gaze. I liked the way Mystique was presented as someone exploring her sexual identity because it was the kind of coming-of-age self-discovery am-i-desirable questioning that many people go through. Her character was well done, I thought. She contrasted with the other two women who were in control of their sexuality/were comfortable as sexual beings.

But there are no female mutants in this film who aren’t presented in a sexual way. Why is that? It bothers me. I’m not saying take out the sexuality, but it would be nice if there were an additional female character who wasn’t looking for a relationship, and who also doesn’t have an underwear scene. The men don’t all end up nearly-naked. So why do the women? If I’m not convincing, just pick one of the secondary mutant characters, like Banshee. Now imagine that Banshee were female without changing the role or the costume. Suddenly there’s a female character who isn’t sexualized for the camera. (This is a problem in comics themselves, so I’m not surprised it gets transferred into the movie. But compare this movie to Thor where Sif is sexy but not objectified, where her sexuality isn’t an issue because she is a warrior doing warrior things. Thor got it right, First Class didn’t. Both movies had the same screenwriters, so I’m not sure what the problem is. And past X-men movies haven’t been as bad for this (in my memory anyways: I can’t remember much stripping down in the first movie, and Storm wasn’t romantically involved with anyone, was she? It stands out in First Class because every woman except Magnito’s mom stripped down to her undies at some point).

It’s frustrating because this film had a number of strong female characters, and I do really love Mystique. Would it have really been so hard to have one female mutant who isn’t treated like eye-candy? This can be a problem in comic books, so it's not all that surprising that it turns up in the movie, especially when the director Matthew Vaughn made a comment about how he included a pop song on the soundtrack as a method of gaining female viewers:

What I wanted to do, because I think this one movie out of all the X-Men movies, I think there's a lot for women to enjoy in this film. And remember Armageddon, with the Aerosmith song? That got girls, who probably wouldn't have traditionally gone to see Armageddon, to see maybe there was something in the film.

I bumped into Gary Barlow in LA. We were just talking, and said, "Do you want to come and see a rough cut of it?" And he came and wrote the song. I listened to it, and I said, "I think it'll be a hit, and if we can do a video that gets girls more interested...'"

And they were going on tour, so they're playing to one and a half million people that might not traditionally be interested in an X-Men film, then we might get them to come and watch it. So, it's pure commerce, to be blunt. But I want women to see this film.

--Matthew Vaughn

Patronizing much? I understand wanting to reach out to a new audience, but suggesting that women don't see comic book films is ridiculous. You know, the best way to get women to come see a film might be writing the film as if women are going to watch it. And that means occasionally including women characters who aren't hypersexualized.

A comic book that gets that right? Manhunter. (Yeah she's DC. I don't know much Marvel canon outside the X-men, okay?). The day they make a film about a single-mother-lawyer-going-through-a-divorce-and-quitting-smoking who becomes a vigilante when the courts don't work anymore will be the day I rent a theater to expose all my friends to comic book films. Until then, X-men will do, I guess.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

i just finished reading these three books by Suzanne Collins, and they were thoroughly enjoyable. The first book is the most solid because it felt closest to the main character; the second and third books spend too much time explaining the world and its political situation. The sense of suspense drops off too, perhaps because by the time the first book ends the hero has gotten herself out of so many dangerous situations relatively unscathed: sure she gets injured, but there are no real consequences from those injuries. It becomes predictable.

The Hunger Games takes place in a kind of post-apocalyptic North America, where people from 12 districts are slaves laboring in poverty. Each district specializes in a product: Katniss comes from district 12 where the majority of people mine coal. Every year, each district must send 2 tributes between the ages of 12 and 18, one male and one female, to participate in a battle to the death. The winner gets lifetime luxury, and his or her district receives extra goods for a year. Kind of Battle Royale, except the tributes in The Hunger Games aren't thrown in to battle unexpectedly. Everyone knows about the Hunger Games and there's even an enforced celebratory atmosphere. Tributes get to live in the Capitol for a week, eating and training. The citizens of the Capitol, who give no tribute and live off of the work of the 12 districts, anticipate the games and bet on the outcomes. They love the entertainment

Katniss volunteers as a tribute to protect her younger sister. Katniss is driven by her will to survive and to protect her family. The last book is perhaps the best at bringing out her self-doubt and uncertainty about the necessity for violence and toughness by bringing her two romantic interests together under very strained circumstances. Katniss is rough, she succeeds at most things she tries, and people take a liking to her (in some cases because of her PR, in some cases in spite of it). i appreciate her as a strong female protagonist because she's allowed a brutality not often found in girls in literature. Even Tamora Pierce's warrior women are rarely quite as ruthless.

It might be interesting to look at The Hunger Games alongside, or as an alternative to Lord of the Flies in high school classrooms. Similar situation, but much less essentialist. And, in my opinion, more fun to read.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Layout Update

i've been feeling lately that the blog is perhaps a bit unreadable (or perhaps it is my own worsening eyesight that finds bright colours blurring) and certainly looks dated. So i've updated to a look & colour scheme that is hopefully easier on the eyes. Suggestions & comments are welcome.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Not Really A Review: Monoceros

Alright, i'm supposed to be getting down to serious business, but my supervisor's out of town! Which means I can spare a few minutes to talk about Suzette Mayr's new book Monoceros.

i wish i could mail a copy of Monoceros back in time to give to teenaged me, though i think i appreciate the book much more since i've worked in a high school. Monoceros deals with the impact of the suicide of a gay teenager on his community: the closeted principal and guidance counselor, the wistful girl obsessed with unicorns, his secret boyfriend, and his boyfriend's jealous girlfriend. Mayr takes a tragic subject and teases out humour; who knew a book about teen suicide could be so wickedly funny? And the Catholic high school -- well that could have been my school. The weird disjunction between what the church says and what teachers might actually believe or do . . . official policy versus real life . . . the inability to talk openly or directly to students looking for advice or guidance on sexual issues. This book gets it so right.

i've written before about the bullying i experienced in high school because i looked gay. i've written about the attempts of the Halton Roman Catholic District School Board to ban Gay-Straight Alliances (and the comparison Alice Anne LeMay made between GSA clubs and Neo-Nazis). i don't think i mentioned that the year i spent in a Calgarian high school involved an incident where my model UN team nearly got pulled from competition because ABORTION might be discussed. Or the time my Teacher Adviser outright denied that George W. Bush might restrict where health care aid funds could be distributed based on abortion provision.

Reviewers have suggested that high school students need to read this book. i think even more than that, this book needs to be given to teachers, to parents, to priests, to school librarians. To board of education members. To the people who influence and control the environment, and therefore the lives, of students.

And yes, to teenagers too. Because teenagers especially need unicorns.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Beverly Hungry Wolf granted honorary degree

i've noticed i get a number of people searching for writer Beverly Hungry Wolf clicking through to this blog, so i thought i'd post this announcement from Lethbridge College:

April 5, 2011 – Lethbridge College is pleased to announce Beverly Hungry Wolf (Sikski-Aki Black-Faced Woman) as the Honorary Degree recipient for its spring convocation ceremonies. Hungry Wolf will be presented with her degree April 28.

“Beverly Hungry Wolf is an exceptional woman who has made significant contributions to education throughout her storied life,” says Dr. Tracy Edwards, (Matoomikkitstaki First Offering) Lethbridge College president and CEO. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have Beverly share her wisdom and customs with Lethbridge College. It is my honour to bestow on her this designation.”

Born in Cardston, Hungry Wolf was raised on the Blood Reserve by relatives who fostered her Blackfoot culture. She has since been intimately involved in ceremonies and cultural practices of the Blood Tribe and has earned the right to be called an elder. This work has given her knowledge to share, taken from her elders and spiritual leaders that have long since passed on.

Hungry Wolf uses this traditional education to teach in many capacities. She is serving as an elder to Lethbridge College, First Nation Metis Inuit (FNMI) Cultural Support Program; she firmly believes in bridging the journey of Blackfoot students from their origins to their roles as students at Lethbridge College. In this position, Hungry Wolf provides personal and cultural support to all students, staff and faculty as a mentor and educator.

Convocation will be split over two days this year, with the first ceremony at 2 p.m., April 28, and the second at 10 a.m., April 29. While speaking at both ceremonies, Hungry Wolf will be presented with her degree April 28.

The FNMI Graduation evening will take place April 27 and the Nippon Institute of Technology (NIT) Ceremony the evening of April 29.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 2011: Poetry Strike

The provisional avant-garde (provag) has announced a poetry strike for the month of April 2011 to protest Canada's war on Afghanistan. Provag (the provisional avant-garde) has released an audio message of recommended inactions, and i have mirrored it on tumblr:

i am resigned to provag, the provisional avant-garde, but i in no way represent the provisional avant-garde (provag).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

underwear poetry: results?

So i gave my family their poetry books at christmas. My father seemed uncertain, but kept his game-face on. i suggested poetry might make good bathroom reading (watch out Uncle John, poetry's in the throne room now!). My youngest sister made a remark about how she doesn't like poetry (she has previously called poetry 'frivolous') but at least pretended interest when i explained how Poets and Killers was composed using lines from advertising. My mother said she would definitely read her copy of Poets and Killers, and my middle sister seemed enthusiastic about [sic].

My mother seemed particularly pleased when she noticed that her book was signed. My father was a disappointed that his was not also signed. Whoops. And with every book I was asked "Is this one of your profs? Do you know this writer?" No. Yes.

It did seem to make a difference that i could talk a little bit about the writers: my folks were definitely more interested in who the writers were than what project the books were undertaking. It let my parents get a little glimpse into this mysterious world of the poet/academic, and suddenly the books are more meaningful because of a personal connection - a low degree of separation between the poet and the reader. i think it reduces the factor of intimidation (sort of "well if my daughter knows this person, it can't be so foreign and incomprehensible").

But it's nearly March, and as far as i know, the books are unread. My mother has, however, looked through an issue of filling Station magazine. "I didn't understand it at all" she said.

i'm working on it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

teaching haiku

i'd be lying if i said i wrote these poems specifically for teaching the haiku form to grade seven students. but they sure did get a kick out of them.

Batman is awesome.
He fights villains in Gotham.
His parents are dead.

Batgirl is super.
She used to be called Barbara;
now Stephanie Brown.

The acrobat is
Robin. He's the Boy Wonder.
Underwear outside.

(i know, these are senryu because they don't deal with nature. i did make that distinction to the kids, and gave them the option of writing either.)

one-minute haiku was a successful activity. once they got the hang of writing a haiku in under a minute, students were racing to see who could finish two or three poems before the time limit. not bad, considering this class had a number of students who "hate writing."

and now i'm blogging instead of finishing a paper, so it must be a really productive day!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ebooks & public libraries

Can i be a complete nerd and say how much i love borrowing ebooks from the Calgary Public Library? Oh it feels like -30 degrees? No problem - download a book and keep it for 21 days. Just finished Fire by Kristin Cashore that way (Cashore is a fabulous young adult fantasy writer, btw). The ebook service has been around for a little while now, but i only just got around to trying it out.

If only the university's electronic books were this simple & convenient. Ebrary has a great selection of books, but the interface is clumsy and tends to freeze, and the books can't be downloaded, which means that it's almost impossible to actually use for academic purposes (oh, you want to access page 142? well too bad the "go to page" function doesn't work reliably. read a book straight through? no way! it'll freeze on page 30 and when you reload you're back to page one...).

Anyways, ebooks from public libraries are great. Sure beats illegal downloading, not that i would do such a thing...

Monday, January 10, 2011

A letter to the Halton Catholic District School Board

In response to their recent ban on Gay-Straight Alliances.


As a former student of St. Luke's Elementary School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School, I need to tell you how very disappointed I am that you have decided to ban Gay-Straight Alliances. I was bullied in both of these schools because students interpreted my appearance as queer. I was called "fag" and "lesbo." I was ostracized and harassed. And I did not feel that my Catholic teachers, some of whom compared homosexuality to bestiality and bigamy, would be empathetic to my situation. So I endured the taunting, the shoving, and the alienation as best I could, and mostly in silence. I was uncomfortable with sexuality in general, as many young people are, and was worried that if I told adults why I was being bullied that they would side with the bullies. Gay-Straight Alliances are a tool to tell students that they matter regardless of sexuality. They provide support to students who might be targeted because of their sexuality, or because of how others perceive their sexuality. Banning these Alliances will not change Gay students into Straight students, but it sends the message that Gay bashing and harassment are not important issues to the members of the Halton Catholic District School Board, and further disenfranchises youth already dealing with the difficulties of school environments. In fact, bullies might interpret the ban as condoning the actions they take in an attempt to police the gender expression and sexuality of their peers.

You are failing the LGBTQ youth within your school board. And there are LGBTQ youth within your school board, there is no question about that. Children do not choose where they go to school; their parents do. This is not about sexuality or Catholocism, it is about creating an environment where all students can be safe. More than safe: every child who goes to school should feel welcome. The students who saw your hateful ban, and the disgusting phrasing with which it was presenting, will continue to conflate homosexuality with homosexual people. They will continue to think that it's okay to hurt another person because they are Gay, and you are telling them that Gay means less-than.

Christ said "Love thy neighbour," and "Judge not lest ye be judged." Please overturn your ban on Gay-Straight Alliances. Take a stand against bullying and intolerance, a stand for compassion and support of students.


Claire Lacey