November/December Reading Miscellany (Part Three)

Marilyn Irwin. little nothings. Ottawa ON: Self Published [“lovingly made for the Hallowe’en edition of Carleton University’s In/Words reading series], 2012.

Marilyn Irwin has a minimalist bent that I admire. She seems to draw her poetic from visual, sound, and lyric traditions. Attentive to the materiality of the letter on the page, her work has consistently made the most sense to me when I hear her read and can trace the emphases of her speaking voice. While these poems refuse to offer immediate coherence (and why should they), there is a lyric poet underneath her experiments. This is a beautifully produced chapbook, modest and clean in its production, full of joyful and sad poems. I’m thrilled to have number 17 of 18 copies.

full ink forward

the slowing of

the spinning of

a delicate word

full ink forward

singing fingertips

what heart can’t say




Phafours Press.

Pearl Pirie’s Phafours began producing tiny chapbooks, almost micro-chapbooks, for the summer installment of the Ottawa small press book fair in 2012 (as far I can tell). These playful little books consist of a single sheet, ingeniously folded to provide eight pages. Pearl’s writing is so consistently varied that it is wonderful to see her tastes and gleeful experimentation extend to her publishing projects (both in material form and in the work she is publishing). At the November book fair I picked up new tiny chapbooks in this series from Pearl, Gary Barwin, and Amanda Earl (to go with titles from Pearl and Gwendolyn Guth acquired in the summer).


Gary Barwin’s continues his investigations of the letter H, bpNichol’s favourite letter and a regular figure in Barwin’s visual and lyric work. My favourite poem of Gary’s from his 2010 Coach House title, The Porcupinity of the Stars, “Inside H,” ends with these perfect lines:


I say


because it is a pleasure and a surprise to breathe

The centre poem in his phafours title is my favourite of the bunch here:


Amanda Earl’s cluster of as continues the experimentation of her own visual leanings, overlaying patterns of the letter ‘a’ into a rich and beautiful abstraction:


I so often feel I lack the vocabulary to discuss visual poetry with any ability or understanding. These are beautiful poems and beautiful books. They remove these most basic units of compositions, letters, from familiar environments and force them into the rest of our mundane, lived experiences in startling and surprising ways.


Amanda Earl. Of The Body. Kingston ON: Puddles of Sky Press, 2012.

—. Sex First & Then A Sandwich. Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2012.

More of Amanda’s visual work found publication with Michael e. Casteels Kingston-based Puddles of Sky recently. Of The Body is a suite of elegant visual constructions forging connections between the curves of cursive script and the natural shapes of the human body. Amanda’s visual work has found a fair bit of success recently, also appearing in The Last Vispo Anthology, and appearing on the Paris Review Blog.


Sex First & Then A Sandwich (a great title!) was launched in August 2012 by above/ground press (Marilyn Irwin, Stephen Brockwell, and I also launched chapbooks in that round). It is an extended excerpt from Amanda’s ghazal manuscript, ghazals against the gradual demise, which is apparently finished. The ghazal is a good form for Amanda, “drunken and amatory” to quote Canada’s greatest ghazal practitioner John Thompson. Amanda’s humour shines through in these poems:

please no more poems of birds. no. more.

or tender flowers tossed about by rain


a friend has bedbugs again for the third time

picked up from a public library. the danger of reading


soon the Easter eggs will spoil in this heat

all the sweet green icing flowing down


on the Waltons yesterday, Elizabeth couldn’t walk

except by the end of the episode she did


you can learn a lot from Christian television

how to build, a crucifix, two towers


Puddles of Sky Press.

More on Puddles of Sky. Michael e. Casteels is doing alot of things right with Puddles of Sky. He is producing a ton of stuff, obviously full of the energy and belief that keeps the small press going in Canada. He is experimenting with book forms, stitching and stapling and sizes, fold out pages. He is publishing a range of people, mags and chapbooks, as well as producing a surprisingly large volume of his own work, visual and otherwise. We swapped some chapbooks through the mail recently, and I was overwhelmed by how much he sent me. I feel a bit bad, actually, I should really send him some more once I’ve got more.


Cave Paintings of the 21st Century includes an afterword in which Casteels discusses hearing sound poetry for the first time at a Paul Dutton performance. He writes, “I was pretty blown away, though not entirely sure what it meant, if it was meant to mean anything . . . [Dutton] said that in what he performs you could find parts of everyday conversation, simply magnified and brought out of context. This description really stuck with me. It made me understand, not only sound poetry, but all poetry (including my own) in a different way.” Casteels’ excitement about finding a new expanded framework within which to understand (and produce) poetry is an experience, I hope, familiar to all writers, but one that all too often seems to be confined to student days, or at least vaguely defined “earlier” days as writers and readers. I’m excited by the work I’ve talked about here because each writer, editor, and publisher seems to still be inhabiting that space of discovery and exploration, of active engagement with the mundane and the familiar in such a way that it continues to provoke and excite.



It’s been a good year for chapbook and small presses in Canada. Can’t wait to see 2013.

Published by Cameron Anstee

Cameron Anstee lives and writes in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press and is pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Ottawa.

2 thoughts on “November/December Reading Miscellany (Part Three)

  1. I am living vicariously through your posts for now. I have yet to commit myself to the poets so close to us, though your blog is gradually encouraging my that I ought to do so. Keep posting. I’ll keep reading. And eventually, eventually, I won’t just read the excerpts you provide.

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