Poetry

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Constructive Negativity

Constructive Negativity

Prize Culture, Evaluations, and Disability in Canadian Poetry
edition:Paperback
tagged : poetry, canadian
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Canon Confessions"Canon," as a concept, gets a bad rap in CanLit these days. The reasons for this are many, though the fallout from literary nationalism and a backlash against attempts at promoting diversity are chief amongst them. And yet the supposedly irrelevant canon is being systematically (and enthusiastically) replaced by something worse: the devil known as Prize Culture (PC). This phenomena obscures its vile power by inveigling smart young minds to discount the concept of canon whilst simultaneously doing everything they can to become a part of it. But before I unpack this idea and trace its history, I have a confession to make: I believe in the canon. Shall I make of this a Nicene Creed? Between the sheets, let me say my prayers: I believe in the one canon, the Canon Almighty, Maker of minor and major, and of all writers resentful and ungrateful . . .I'm exaggerating: I don't believe in "one" canon. I believe, rather, in canons, or what have been termed "countercanons" - niche canons based on geography, ethnicity, genre, and subject. As well as my favourite, the "personal canon" (aka a list of my favourite books). Until recently, I thought everyone professed the Nicene Creed. And why not profess? Those of us who are descendants of the British Mother Culture, that dictator of what constitutes "minor" and "major" in colonial Canada, have been conditioned to believe. For a very long time, the nation tasked our institutions with the business of canon-making. Much of this was done by the publishing industry through the production of anthologies to be taught in universities. The controversy around who's in and who's out is the cannon-fodder of the canon wars, and it happens with every anthology. It was partly the lack of a national literature, and thus of a canon, that spurred the Massey Report . The problem is we may have overcompensated. The twentieth century produced an impressive number of Canadian literary anthologies (at least two hundred). This is a vast output, especially given that we didn't seriously fire up our engines until the 1960s. Today, the English Academy even has a minor field called "canon studies." Its dean is Robert Lecker, who has published a couple of fantastic scholarly books documenting the development of Canada's English-language canon.To push back against the Big Ugly Static Canon (a white, Western heteronormative canon that, in the case of poetry, includes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, etc.) the debate shifted, beginning in the eighties, from one around establishing a single, definitive canon to canons, plural. It's now commonplace, in literary circles, to talk about the "Alberta canon" or the "Asian-Canadian canon." This expansion of the canon concept to include not just marginalized writers but also genres and subjects once considered "ungentlemanly" was both necessary and welcome. I don't want to read any more Hugh Garner. EVER. Not when I've got Madeleine Thien. I routinely participate in the business of poetry canonization by focusing my critical practice on writers I believe are neglected by the culture. You could call this practice counter-canonical: when I see what PC valorizes, I also see what it doesn't, so I often sift through the latter to find work that seems unappreciated. I push against the canon and nominate members for entry by leveraging my personal taste as a critic. It rarely accomplishes much, but it's something. In the midst of one of these quixotic quests I learned, however, that the young refuse to acknowledge the value of canon because of its exclusionary history. The baby, in other words, is being thrown out with the bathwater. In the vacuum created by the loss of "great old" books, PC builds a disposable canon while everyone looks the other way. My analysis here is restricted to my area of expertise - Canadian poetry - although I think the deformations extend to fiction and beyond.

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Post-glacial

Post-glacial

The Poetry of Robert Kroetsch
by Robert Kroetsch
afterword by Aritha van Herk
edited by David Eso
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian, poetry
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Nothing that Is, The

Nothing that Is, The

Essays on Art, Literature and Being
edition:Paperback
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Margin of Interest

Margin of Interest

Essays on English Language Poetry of the Maritimes
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian, poetry
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From "Maritime Poetry: A Unifying Field Theory"

One of the great temptations of any book of criticism is to generate a thesis which can be tested throughout its length. The point of publication, for some, is to devise a new idea which adds to the body of knowledge about a person, place, or thing. It's tempting to try to fashion descriptive and analytic tools. Since this book is about my people (Maritimers), my place (the Maritimes), and the most valued thing outside of my family (poetry), I was sorely tempted to reinvent the wheel.

I've rejected developing a novel thesis about Maritime poetry. I don't believe the idea of a single theoretical model which can incorporate the region's writers and writings. In 2006, Marta Dvorak and Coral Ann Howells wrote in their introduction to the special issue of Canadian Literature devoted to east coast writing that there is a 'richness of social and cultural histories, such a multiplicity of voices speaking from so many different angles and in such a variety of literary modes that what is produced amounts to far more than a mapping of region.' Instead, 'any definition of regional specificity' is both comprehended but also exceeded.'

Universalizing ideas only cause trouble, anyway. I'm not able to offer a unifying theory because I lack the intrinsic understanding of French-Canadian/Acadian and Indigenous identities and histories, and these literatures are far older than relatively recent English ones. Moreover, one could argue that other identity shards should be added to my (ironically) centrist history-the history of women writers in the Maritimes, the history of LGTBQ2S+ writers in the Maritimes, the history of Africadian writers in the Maritimes. By now you must realize that any theory I might offer an audience is already suspiciously narrow, but if it did include all the aforementioned categories, it would be uselessly broad. Besides, any claim for the primacy of a single idea is inherently suspicious. Such an idea would suspiciously become 'the centre'-a centre ridden with exceptions, as is the rule in any critical framework with specificity. I would soon want to write a book about the exceptions that disproved my idea, trying to make my own idea marginal. As Wolfgang Hochbruck writes in his introduction to Down East: Critical Essays on Contemporary Maritime Canadian Literature, '[N]o one perspective will ever suffice to explain everything' and 'summarizing and centreing statements will always be made at the expense of margins, fringes, and diversity.' I might even get bored with the Unifying Theory since it seemed so Unifying. Finally, we're talking about a region that has been told to Unify For The Sake of Survival for several decades now, and take it from me, contemporary Maritimers don't like that kind of talk. If you're disappointed, though, reassure yourself that the centrist homogenizing edicts are reflected in your disappointment. This place is too various and diverse to conform to your expectation.

[Continued in Margin of Interest...]

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How a Poem Moves

How a Poem Moves

A Field Guide for Readers of Poetry
edition:Audiobook
also available: Paperback eBook
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We Are Not Avatars

We Are Not Avatars

Essays, Memoirs, Manifestos
edition:Paperback
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from "Queer Rose Country"For queer people who were raised in or find themselves in places like the Alberta ofmy youth, the known environment is overshadowed by straight, mainstreamhegemony whose answer to the question "who am I?" is, by design, quite limited. Formany gay men and lesbians, whether they are writers or pipefitters or vodkadrinkers, "Where is here?" must be restated as "Where is queer?" or at least as itsderivative: "Where is straight-acting?"And we go looking for it.Eventually.Here or elsewhere.Elsewhere and here.I grew up in Charleswood, near the university in Calgary's northwest. TheRockies formed an early western limit to my thoughts, and Highway 1A remains myfavourite approach. It veers downhill past Cochrane toward Ghost Lake and JumpingPound, then swerves archetypically into my flesh. Even as a child I would believe Icould stand on my bed, gaze out the window--and there they'd be, waiting.Mountains: distant and sentinel, but patient and reassuring. Each spring their dustyindigo insouciance was echoed by the windblown slopes of prairie crocus in thefoothills. The mauve chrysalides would poke through slowly browning grasses, shyheads bowing as they opened.I believe our first landscape imprints the porous and visceral inside us,shapes the nervous system's involuntary responses. Words rise through the body,which is geologic, stratified--layers of place, of family, silted over by subsequentfutures. The oldest words, as they well up, conjoin with others more recent.Meanings blur. After I grew up and moved beyond the provincial borders of myimagination, Alberta--or rather my Alberta and everything that occurredthere--continued to assert itself, imposed its template on all later geographies. Myanswer is always physical. I am comfortable in cities like Calgary where the landoverwhelmingly intrudes. In Ottawa, the Gatineau Hills across the Ottawa River,which in itself was exotic, for it has breadth no river should have, reassured me,though in late September the feverish maroon haze incandescing over their flanks,as the maples turned, both disoriented and delighted me. Something inside linkedthis purpled fluorescence with spring.From "We Are Not Avatars: How the Universal Disembodies Us"Imagine of how differently we would read "First Year" if Eavan Boland were a man,the love's queerness signaled to us as readers the moment we encountered "yourboyhood," our experience of this poem taking us in an entirely different direction.The present debate about gay marriage could not fail to impinge upon the line,"Where is the soul of a marriage?," which would elicit an interpretation that noheterosexual reading of it need contemplate, especially in California, where Bolandteaches at Stanford. Because "First Year" is the eighth poem in an eleven-partsequence of love poems in her ironically titled collection, Against Love Poetry, itsplacement in relation to what precedes and follows it further determines howreaders will understand what's meant. Once they learn that this marriage was"solemnized" over thirty years ago, they would immediately know that no churchwould have agreed to host, let alone sanction a marriage between two men in the1970s; nor would it have been legal. The couple would have instead appropriatedthe idea of "marriage" for their own purposes, the poem reading as a testament ofthe forbearance of "forbidden love" to rise above societal prohibition, its resilienceequal to heterosexual love's putative stability. The celebrants attending thisunrecognized marriage of alike bodies and two minds might even tender itscandidacy to be declared universal--but only in a subcultural way, to echo Collins'definition--and, depending on each reader's capacity for tolerance, privately viewedwrong or right. The poem's decorous tone might nonetheless let it fly under theradar, much like the love poems in [my book] Great Men did, for not once are theshibboleths against sexual explicitness violated. There's nothing juicy in Boland'spoem no matter how you choose to read or misread it.

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