Monthly Archives: August 2014

Please Register for the Fall 2014 Sessions

reminderPoetry lovers, it’s time to register for our fall 2014 sessions (September 25, October 23 and November 27). Apologies for appearing bureaucratic, but it’s vital we all do this. The Roundhouse Community Centre is kind enough to provide us with a free venue and their rules (not ours) demand that all participants register for all “courses.” We do not want to convey the impression to the folks at the Roundhouse Community Centre that our sessions are not supported or attended. Registration is free, of course. You may register in person (e.g. before or after our meeting on September 25), via telephone (604-713-1800) or online at:

Thank you all for your prompt attention to this.


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The bitter fool

Bitter_Foolby David Yezzi

Poetry has become sterile, but we can still find realism, humor, and intensity in the satiric impulse.
Robert Armin on the cover of The History of the Two Maids of More-Clacke:

Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?
—Fool, King Lear

It takes all sorts of in- and outdoor schooling
To get adapted to my kind of fooling.
—Robert Frost

Poetry has become so docile, so domesticated, it’s like a spayed housecat lolling in a warm patch of sun. Most poets choose to play it safe, combining a few approved modes in a variety of unexceptional ways: lyrical, pastoral, whimsical, surrealist, lyrical-pastoral, pastoral-surrealist, interior-lyrical, whimsical-lyrical-interior-surrealist, and so on. These poems feel at home in coffee shops and on college campuses; they circulate breezily among crowds of like-minded poems and all of them work hard to be liked. (They are also beloved of prize committees and radio hosts.) Not since the Edwardians has a period style felt so pinched, though, ironically, today’s poetry is offered as “new”—either ground-breakingly populist or transgressively avant-garde. As Joshua Mehigan puts it in a recent issue of Poetry:

Download the complete article (PDF): The_Bitter_Fool

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Whitman Illuminated: “Song of Myself,” in Breathtaking Illustrations by Artist Allen Crawford

Song-of-MyselfHe exalted the nature around and within us. His work is an expression of primal joy: He celebrated our animal senses, and the pleasures of being alive.”

Visual artists have long been drawn to the literary classics, producing such masterful homages as William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost and for Dante’s Divine Comedy, Picasso’s drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy, Matisse’s etchings for Ulysses, John Vernon Lord’s illustrations for Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Salvador Dalí’s prolific illustrations for Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, The Divine Comedy in 1957, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo and Juliet in 1975.

In Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself (public library), artist Allen Crawford brings Whitman’s undying text to new life in gorgeous hand-lettering and illustrations, transforming the 60-page poem originally published in 1855 as the centerpiece of Leaves of Grass into a breathtaking 256-page piece of art. His elegant, lyrical play of text size and orientation layers over Whitman’s poem a kind of visual rhythm that not only harmonizes with the original verses but enriches them and gives them uncommon dimension.

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Praise for Nila’s just published, second book of poetry, “Between Lives.”

Between_Lives“The voice of Nilofar Shidmehr’s poetry moves restlessly between two imagined lives: one, a life rooted in the past and in Iran, a life of strict gendered expectations but also of continuity and familiarity; the other, a life in Canada, relatively uncompromised by gender segregation, but yet still troubled by the pain of exile and others’ prejudice. These poems speak plainly of mothers, of daughters, of lovers, but always beneath each simple story is the pulse of an intelligent, sensuous desire. These poems are feminist, moist, fragrant! Each word bursts, ripe in the mouth, like pomegranate.”

~Sonnet Sonnet L’Abbé (Canadian Poet and Critic, Winner of Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award, 2000)

“In this stirring collection 
Between Lives, Shidmehr’s direct voice and unflinching gaze put her among such great activist poets as Martin Espada, Dionne Brand, and Pablo Neruda. With a clear gaze and arresting imagery. Shidmeher brings to light the violence and injustice of women’s lives in Iran and in the diaspora. Fully wrought and deeply personal, this is a necessary book by an accomplished writer.

~Elizabeth Bachinsky, nominee for Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry

“These poems are the untold stories of contemporary Persian women’s lives, lives portrayed with intimacy and lyricism, despite their subjugation. These are poetics meditations that only a poet simultaneously intimate with a place, and exiled from it, can offer. In this book, men and women are like ‘fire and cotton,’ and must be kept apart; they are ‘flammable with the slightest spark.’ Nilofer Shidmehr’s poems burn with a fierce, haunting fire.
Rachel Rose, winner Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry


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Larkin Redux


Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love by James Booth (Bloomsbury): While Larkin enjoyed great renown during his life—at least by poets’ standards—his reputation was tarnished following the 1992 publication of his letters, which revealed a spiteful man with unsavory opinions on race and sex. Booth’s new biography looks to mend Larkin’s reputation by examining his personal relationships. Booth argues that the poet was far from boorish, but rather better understood through the beauty of his art and the people he held most dear.

Read also the review in The Sunday Times.

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Tennyson in The Quickening Maze

Quickening_MazeAdam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, as well as a science fiction novelist. He is the editor of Tennyson: the Major Works, which was recently published in the Oxford World’s Classics series. In the original post below, he reviews the Booker shortlisted novel The Quickening Maze, by Adam Foulds, which features Tennyson as a main character.

If you’d like to read more by Adam Roberts, he also writes for literary blog, The Valve.

I picked up Adam Foulds’ excellent new novel The Quickening Maze (it has, as I’m sure you know, been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize) with more than an ordinary reader’s interest. You see, this scrupulously researched historical novel takes Alfred Tennyson as one of the main characters; and I, as the editor of Tennyson: the Major Works, was curious as to how Foulds treats him.

I was not disappointed. The Quickening Maze is, throughout, a beautifully written fiction: set in 1840 and centred on the lunatic asylum run by Dr Matthew Allen on the outskirts of Epping Forest, the novel evokes its world with a poet’s eye and skill at phrasing—indeed the book is as much about poetry, or poetic perception, as it is about a series of events. The point-of-view shifts deftly between all the main characters, including a number of the inmates at the asylum; although the peasant poet, John Clare, is the main focus. A patient in Allen’s asylum, his sanity is precarious at the beginning of the tale and becomes less stable as it goes on. Fould’s vivid, precise way with poetic image, and his exquisite control of language, brilliantly evoke the world through Clare’s hyper-sensitive eyes.

Read the complete review

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Changes Ahead!

ChangePlease note a major change in our upcoming program. See the SCHEDULE PAGE details. Of immediate interest is that on September 25 we will feature the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in translation. Please bring your favourite Neruda poem to read and discuss. It is recommended that you post your selection in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” box below, or on the CONTACT US page, or email it (them) to me directly. Geoff will guide the session.

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T.S. Eliot: giant of poetry or literary obsessive?

TSE_ProseJohn Crace boils down the fourth volume of TS Eliot’s Letters into just 600 words, while Nicholas Wroe (The Guardian‘s poetry editor) examines their importance for understanding a great poet.

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Poetry and Action: Octavio Paz at 100

Octavio_PazWhen protest movements spread through cities around the world in 1968, Octavio Paz looked upon the “great youth rebellions . . . from afar,” he wrote, “with astonishment and with hope.” The poet was then Mexico’s ambassador to India. He escaped the summer heat of New Delhi into the foothills of the Himalayas, following developments on the radio. Soon, he learned that Mexico had joined the rebellions. Mexico would host the Olympics in October. As protests grew entrenched, and students threatened to disrupt the games, government repression intensified. On October 2, hundreds of student protesters were killed at Mexico’s City’s Tlatelolco Plaza. Hearing the grim news, Ambassador Paz’s response was a swift vote of no confidence, a letter of unambiguous dissent. It was, as he described the rebellions themselves, the merging of poetry and action, a merger he constantly craved.

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The Poetry of Sex

Poetry-of-sexThe Poetry of Sex – a raucous, highly enjoyable anthology by acclaimed poet Sophie Hannah. We’ve been at it all summer, from the Canadian border to the edge of Mexico…Romance and poetry seem to go hand in hand but – implicit, explicit, nuanced or starkly frank – sex itself has long been a staple subject for poets. In fact a great deal of erotic poetry rejects the distinction. It’s hard to imagine a more fruitful subject for poets than sex, in all its glorious manifestations: from desire and hope, through disappointment and confusion, to conclusion and consequence. And little has changed over the centuries, as Sophie Hannah’s anthology vividly demonstrates, from Catullus pleading with Lesbos to Walt Whitman singing the body electric. Moods and attitudes may vary but the drive persists as does the desire to write about it.

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