Article in Ploughshares: Literary Boroughs #52: Toronto

Although Toronto’s unofficial slogan is “Toronto the Good,” this city often catches flak from the rest of the country for considering itself the centre of the (Canadian) world. That tension is especially true when it comes to writers and book publishing, as Toronto happens to be home to the bulk of awards and is host of literary lions.

Resident Writers:

World heavyweight authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje have long made Toronto home, as does the US ex-pat bestselling author John Irving. Younger breakout writers include Sheila Heti and Alix Ohlin. Plenty of poets make Toronto home, too, including Ken Babstock, Matthew Tierney, and Michael Lista. Toronto features prominently as a character in books by many of these writers. But let’s be honest—Toronto really makes its living as an extra in American feature films.

Where to Learn:

The question, really, is where not to learn? In one of the most diverse cities in the world, there is a workshop or class for every writing flavor and ambition. The Humber School for Writers offers a summer intensive as well as a year-round distance education one-on-one program. University of Toronto runs an ever-changing selection of continuing education courses led by prominent writers. For youngish (16-29 year old) aspiring writers, there’s the Toronto Street Writers; and for the experimental set, there’s the Toronto New School of Writing.

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No Good

There’s only one thing you can do
With a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity
about human biology.
You awake at sunset, yourself still,
a storm-eye of boredom, drink, and LSD.
that’s the only thing that
ever made sense, was tidy or clean:
how convenient and pre-emptive excuses are,
arising out of capitulated-to
desires, imbibing, cussing, so many
‘good times.’

You were estranged from yourself,
not yourself, that night. But this is even truer
sober. We can guess your past
is a neighbour’s unfinished basement,
and that when you recline, you feel his breath
on your freckles again.
You are a victim, too, and the violence
of your life is all you’ve ever known. It gulps to unwind
its weaving, unknot, and breathe,
but undone can’t be done by doing.

Rabbit-trapped, quickening
you march a man through a thicket, where
no one can hear him plead.
Your steps mulch recently fallen
autumn leaves, snap branches, snag
wider the tear in your jeans.

Your panting.
His panting.
It’s a kind of transfusion.




Article in Ploughshares: Literary Boroughs #41: Dublin, Ireland

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the forty-first post on Dublin, Ireland, by Stevie Howell. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

James Joyce once wrote that the challenge in Dublin is to get where you’re going without passing a pub. Dublin is a walkable city, and a sociable city: a writer might be torn between sitting alone at the River Liffey and conjuring the muse, or hanging out on a pub stoop shooting the craic with a few of Ireland’s legendary, salt-of-the-earth storytellers. Dublin is proud of its rich literary history and values its living writers. The weather here features four seasons every hour—and the conviviality of the people combined with the moodiness of the land seems to produce great writers.

Resident Writers:

Where to begin! Dublin produced some of the greatest literary names in the world: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett. You can learn about these and others at the Dublin Writers Museum. Visit these days and you could bump into world-class heavyweight writers Seamus Heaney (Nobel Prize winner for poetry) and John Banville (Booker Prize winner for literature).

Where to Learn: 

The Irish Writers’ Centre, in the heart of Dublin, offers an array of tailored courses for writers. Prestigious Trinity College with one of the UK’s oldest English schools, is an obvious choice, and offers undergraduate and graduate studies. They also have a selection of evening classes in everything from literary forms to the importance of literary friendships (aww…). Make sure to check out the awe-inspiringLong Room of antiquarian books and the ancient Book of Kells.

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“We’re johnny-come-latelys. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes and muck. Apes are our cousins.”

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Review of “Poet to Poet: Poems Written to Poets and the Stories that Inspired Them”

book-cover-design-poet-to-poet-3dPoet to Poet is a sangria pitcher of ars poetica. Each of the 74 contributors has written a poem inspired by, and dedicated to, another poet. One of the collection’s strengths is the sheer boundlessness of its variety: the sources of inspiration – Sappho, Rilke, Auden, Ashbery – spring from different time periods and geographical locales, and the contributors, who stretch from coast to coast, are as stylistically diverse as their mentors/muses.

To varying degrees, these poems are written in the style of the person to whom they’re addressed. The poems that work best are the ones that do not try to emulate the voice of the inspirational poet too closely. For example, John Donlan’s “Wire,” for Roo Borson, is unmistakably his own: “After the show, let’s have / a drink: let’s have whatever the spruces are having / if it’ll make us as wild as them.”

Depending on the reader’s background knowledge, it may be possible to refrain from such comparisons. For instance, in the case of Jim Christy’s poem for Charlie Leeds, I don’t know which poet is ultimately responsible for the wonderfully surreal, carnivalesque feel: “It was in the day of the tap dancing / cuckold and the blasé rabbit, Why / The diving horse was still a yearling / That kept missing the ocean and Bill / Fields wiped suds from his lips / With the back of a chorus girl.”

Least effective are the “Back Stories” describing how the poems occurred to each contributor. For one thing, many (but not all) of these blurbs are written in an unimaginative plainspeak. More important, such expository information is unnecessary. In the enduring words of Archibald MacLeish, “A poem should not mean / But be.” I never need to know the “how” of creative writing. If the drink is cool and sweet, what matters least is its vintage.

Reviewed by Stevie Howell (from the December 2012 issue) 

Review of Poet to Poet: Poems Written to Poets and the Stories that Inspired Them by Julie Roorda and Elana Wolff, eds. | Quill & Quire