Anonymous Bookshelf Reading

Reading – Robert Bringhurst & Jan Zwicky

It was a full house as Wendy Morton and her Planet Earth Poetry series presented Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky at the Black Stilt Cafe.


Listening as Jan Zwicky reads


The Open Mike that opens every reading allows newer poets, such as UVIC student Stephanie Warner, a chance to practice their craft.


Robert Bringhurst reads


Jan Zwicky reads


Robert Bringhurst, Carla Funk, and Wendy Morton (bottom to top, at right) listen to Jan Zwicky read.


Book Mystery – Robin Skelton – The Hold Of Our Hands

A few weeks ago I picked up this book in a used book sale. It was privately printed in 1968 by the late Victoria poet, UVUC prof and wiccan priest (witch) Robin Skelton. It is titled The Hold of Our Hands and is subtitled Eight Letters To Sylvia. Sylvia was Skelton’s wife. One hundred copies of the book were printed. When I did an online search a number of copies of the book are available, all numbered and either signed by Robin or Sylvia Skelton or by both of them. This copy is neither signed nor numbered and I was just curious whi it wouldn’t be at least numbered?


Cover page


Book cover


First poem/letter




Number missing for book


Poetry Reading – Monty Reid & Dvora Levin

Host and poet Wendy Morton introduced poets Monty Reid from Ottawa and Dvora Levin at the weekly Planet Earth Poetry readings at the Black Stilt cafe in Victoria. An open mike reading preceded the two main readers.  A special guest who read during the open mike and then came back to read last was sidewalk artist and storyteller Ian Morris.


Host Wendy Morton


Ian Morris


Ian Morris


Ottawa poet Monty Reid


Monty Reid and audience at the Black Stilt Cafe


Dvora Levin reads with backing from duo Kouskous, Amber Woods and Gary Cohen


Dvora Levin


Books by Monty Reid and Dvora Levin


Poet Tree -Carla Funk & Glenn Closson


Sculptor Glenn Clossom created a sculpture to honour Carla Funk, Victoria’s first poet laureate, that was installed at the corner of Government and Broughton Streets in downtown Victoria February 2. The sculpture, a 4.5 metre metal tree, has Funk’s poem Hide and Seek displayed on metal ribbons woven in the tree branches.





In The Newspapers

From the Newspapers – A Roundup

In the New York Times, Paul Greenberg has a plan to bail out writers! The NYT also picks their top ten books for 2008.

From the Seattle Times, art critic Sheila Carr writes about writing on the arts.

From London:

In the Independent, a collection of letters and manuscripts from Oscar Wilde are resdiscovered and a nine-ear-old boy writes a pick-up guide ‘How To Talk To Girls’, now set to be a movie.

In the Times, an interview with Khaled Hosseini.

In the Guardian, five writers write about their fathers and long lost recordings of poet Philip Larkin reading are about to be released.

From Australia:

In the Sydney Morning Herald, news that writer and poet Dorothy Porter has died.

In the Age (Melbourne) , writers talk about favourite reads of the year.

From Canada:

An interview in the Globe ad Mail with 87-year-old Farley Mowat.

In the National Post, why writers need agents.


Theresa Kishkan – Red Laredo Boots and Phantom Limb – Interview

LP: You’ve had two books of essays published Red Laredo Boots ( New Star Books ) and Phantom Limb ( Thistledown Press ). What is it about the essay form that interests you as a writer?

tk: I have a curious and undisciplined mind. I’m interested in the details of a place, a time, the layers that make up a particular history – geological, regional, human, natural; and how they fit together. I’m interested in long meditative lines that I somehow couldn’t make work in poetry, lines that take their inspiration from roads, the shape of hills against a wide sky, how a formation of sandhill cranes scribbles its name over Nicola Lake on a late September day. And the essay form is generous and flexible, capacious enough to hold everything that comes to mind, to heart.

LP: How do you these pieces start, do you keep detailed journals/notes?

tk:  Something will agitate for my attention – a fragment of song, a building, a phrase, a moment in which I sense a particular potency.  And then I follow this to wherever it might lead. Often I’m not sure exactly what it is I’m looking for but I know when I’ve found it.  A name might speak from a page, a plant will appear with the most evocative family tree, or a photograph will show me a place, or a family, or a moment in history, and then I’ll get out my maps, my field-guides, and try to put something together to give a shape to what has until then been a series of notations, maybe, that I hope will accumulate until I have the critical mass that acts as a first draft. I used to keep journals but don’t any longer. I always have a notebook, though, and use it to make little cryptic notes that I have trouble deciphering afterwards.

LP: Many of the essays have history and historical events woven into them. Do you have to do much research for those pieces or that information?

tk: I am devoted to research, though as I confessed in my answer to your first question, I am not very disciplined. I think I begin with the best of intentions and am sidetracked by interesting details, like a magpie taking bright objects back to its nest. I do build my work from an accurate or actual ground, though, and think of this as a kind of anchor, or ballast. And we find ourselves in history, don’t we? We see aspects of ourselves as the past shifts slightly to accommodate our presence there. Reading letters in an archival collection, we suddenly hear our story. Or looking intently at old photographs, we see a familiar cheekbone, the ghost of a smile.

LP: While the writing in both books covers everything from travel to personal reflection ultimately they form a personal history of your family. We see your children grow etc.  Any thoughts on that?

tk:  Years ago I read something by Annie Dillard that has served almost as a raison d’être for me.  Writing about her journals and notebooks, she said that when looking at them, she has the sense that time has not simply passed but rather it has accumulated. I think of my essays in the same way. Although they can’t be read exactly as a precise record of our lives here on the Sechelt Peninsula, they contain much of what has been significant – the shifting seasons, the passages, our pleasures, and some of the sorrows too. The other day John and I were walking over by Ruby Creek and we saw the dark forms of fish in the water. These are one of only two known fall-spawning populations of cutthroat trout on the Coast. One year our older son conducted a census of the spawning trout as a science fair project – he was 12 that year – and every day for about a month we’d go over to the creek after school and count fish. So of course the shadow of that boy was present at the creek the other day, the shadows of those earlier days, when we were accompanied by a dog now long dead. And that boy is now about to defend his PhD dissertation in Canadian History so how time does accumulate!

LP: The details of the natural world really jump out in the work. Do you feel particularly close to the environment/landscape?

tk: I’m enraptured by the natural world, constantly in thrall to what I find there. It’s important to me to be able to “read” the landscape, its intricate narratives. And those change, as anything changes; new versions or idioms emerge just as older ones surface too. I’ve become fascinated by the fossils of the Tranquille Shale, between Kamloops and Cache Creek, and the amazing stories that are told in those layers. Tiny pre-salmon, sequoias, maple samara: the quotidian details of a lake bed 51 million years old!

LP: A few of the essays, especially those dealing with death, The Road to Bella Coola and Phantom Limb, are intensely personal. They must have been difficult to write and possibly even more difficult for you to re-read.

tk: Language and form allow us to shape our grief and lend a formality to what might otherwise be wild and chaotic. “The Road To Bella Coola” has as its epigraph a line from a poem by Stanley Kunitz: “How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?” That’s the central paradox, isn’t it? That we are nourished in some deep way by the rituals and ceremonies associated with death. It’s the way human beings can attend their dead with respect and dignity.

LP: You also write about the loss of things, Erasing The Maps (places) and Autumn Coho In Haskins Creek (salmon) are two that come to mind. Do you think writing is a way to make sure those things don’t disappear completely?

tk:  Writing is an act of commemoration. Think of what we know because someone has written it down! So I try to pay an attention to what matters to me and to explore it, adore it, praise it. And sometimes that attention takes the form of elegy, I suppose, or threnody. It conspires to remember. Memory itself is such a complicated entity. I’ve been reading Cicero with reference to his Method of Loci and am intrigued by his system for the ordering of memory. In some ways I think of my work in this way — the attachment of a particular body of imagery to a specific locus as a way of remembering.

LP:  Are the essays something you work on all the time or do you write a series all at once?

tk: I’ve always written essays along with other things. While working on a novel, I might find myself wanting to explore something that I’ve come across in research or on a trip or as a result of reading or some unresolved personal issue. It’s a wonderful luxury to break away from an extended work, a novel, to write an essay.  (I’m reminded of the pleasure of taking an unexpected side-road while travelling!) I usually have several in various stages of completion and some of them never really find their true shape, remaining as drafts for years. Working with an editor tends to help me identify particular thematic connections and so I’ll shape a manuscript by concentrating on a specific group of pieces, leaving others out. I’m currently at work on a book-length series of connected essays. Right now each one is discrete, devoted to a particular set of materials. When I’ve finished the whole series, I may in fact decide to create a kind of connective tissue to draw them together into a single body. I’m not sure yet and don’t want to second guess not only myself but the material I’m immersed in by predicting the final form this work will take.

LP: You’ve had several books of poetry (six) and two novels published. Can we look forward to a new book in either of those genres soon?

tk: I’ve recently completed a novel, The Age of Water Lilies, which I hope will be published next year. It’s set partly in the community of Walhachin on the Thompson River just before the Great War and partly in Victoria in the years just after. And I’m at work on a memoir called Mnemonic: A Book of Trees. I’d love to write poetry again but haven’t been able to find that voice, that concentrated sense of language, for some years.

LP: You operate High Ground Press with your husband, the poet John Pass. Can you tell us about that endeavor?

tk: John and I bought a late 19th c. Chandler and Price platen press in 1980 and we use it to print mostly poetry broadsides. This is letterpress printing in which we hand-set the work and then print in very limited editions. We’re presently working our third series of broadsheets; this one we call the Companions Series. We’ve asked a number of Canadian poets to respond to another poem – preferably one for which we don’t need to get permission to reprint – and we print the two poems on a single sheet. So far we’ve printed work by Bill New (responding to John Clare), Maleea Acker and Wallace Stevens, Sue Wheeler and Don McKay, Joe Denham and John Thompson, a version I did of a recently discovered poem by Sappho,  George McWhirter and John Donne, Russell Thornton’s bow to Juan Ramon Jimenez, and John is just setting Chris Patton’s response to a passage of Ezra Pound. Several more are planned for this series. We’ve also printed a couple of chapbooks over the years as well as ephemera – Christmas cards, keepsakes for the Alcuin Society Wayzgoose, etc. To be honest, John does most of the work because when we began to learn to print, we had a baby, quickly followed by two more, so he was able to go out to the print shop – it’s a building of its own, away from the house – more than I could. But we plan the projects together and design them together and I think we both see the work as a congenial adjunct to our writing lives.

LP:  Did you ever buy yourself a pair of red Laredo boots?

tk: I did. A few months after I’d written the title essay for Red Laredo Boots, I sold a different essay to the Vancouver Sun. The payment was exactly the price of those boots. So the next time I was in the Nicola Valley, I went to the Quilchena Store and bought them. I still love them. There was never any discussion of an author shot for that book. The boots went to Vancouver for their own photo shoot, packed in their box with a coyote yipping at the moon,  and came home with soft blue flannel from someone’s old  shirt (maybe even Gary Fiegehen’s as he was their photographer) tucked into them to give them the demure shape they have on the back cover of the book.

Book Launch Reading

Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary B.C. Poetry – Reading/Launch

Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary B.C. Poets published by Mother Tongue Publishing had a launch and reading at Victoria’s Bolen Books. The anthology edited by Mona Fertig and Harold Rhenisch contains poems from 108 contributors from British Columbia.

Posters, books and postcards for the launch.

Publisher and editor Mona Fertig performed MC duties

Kyeren Regehr reads.

Donna Kane reads

Derk Wynand reads

Peter Morin reads

Crowd listens to Maleea Acker

Marilyn Bowering reads

Patricia Young reads

Carla Funk stands, waiting for her turn, she was the final reader of the evening

Audience members follow along in their copies of Rocksalt

Book Launch Reading

Jailbreaks 99 Canadian Sonnets – Zachariah Wells, Steven Price, Lyle Neff, Alan Wilson – Reading

Jailbreaks 99 Canadian Sonnets (published by Biblioasis) had it’s Victoria launch as part of the weekly Friday night reading series Planet Earth Poetry at the Black Stilt Cafe. Regular host Wendy Morton was out of town so MC duties were handled by Yvonne Blomer. Jailbreaks editor Zach Wells was joined by contributors Lyle Neff, Steven Price and Alan Wilson. All four read their own poem in the book as well as a selection of other sonnets in the book.

Poet Yvonne Blomer handled the MC duties.

Zach Wells reads

The audience at the Black Stilt cafe listens to Zach Wells.

Lyle Neff reads.

Steven Price reads

Alan Wilson reads

Kaleb , being held by mom Rachel Lebowitz, keeps an eye on dad Zach Wells (foreground) and Steven Price

Zach Wells signs a book for writer Harold Hoefle. Hoefle is just back from launching his new novel The Mountain Clinic in Montreal

Book Launch Photography Reading

Jim Christy – Nine O’Clock Gun – Reading

Jim Christy launched his new novel Nine O’Clock Gun, published by Ekstasis Editions as part of their Ekstasis Noir lineup, at Victoria’s James Joyce Bistro. The book is the fourth and final novel to feature private eye Gene Castle. Christy, a poet, novelist and essayist, is also a musician and is off to Australia for a month long tour to promote his new CD down under.

Publisher Richard Olafson and Jim Christy

A selection of Christy’s books including the newest Nine O’Clock Gun

The Trio Espresso warmed up the crowd and backed up Christy during his reading.

Jim Christy marks the passages he’ll read.

Jim Christy talking to the crowd.

Jim Christy Reads from Nine O’Clock Gun


John Barton – Interview

LP: You’ve just started a Writer in Residence gig at the Saskatoon Public Library. How long will you be there?

JOB: The position last nine months from the beginning of September 2008 to the end of May 2009.

LP: Why did you decide to go to Saskatoon?

JOB: I grew up on the prairies, in Calgary, but except for short visits to see members of my family, I have not spent any substantial time here since 1978. I saw coming to Saskatoon as an opportunity to reacquaint myself with prairie life—and, yes, prairie winters—and to live somewhere new. Though I have visited the city several times, I have not been in it since 1990. Also, there is a small ancestral connection, in that my maternal great-grandfather was part of the Northwest Field Force that came west from Ontario to suppress 1885 Rebellion—what they call the “resistance” here—at Batoche, an hour north. I did not realize it at the time I applied, but I think, subconsciously, I wanted to steep myself in my plains origins.

LP: How much time will be devoted to working with local writers?

JOB: Forty percent of my time—or two days per week—will be given to office hours at the library and the rest is for my own writing projects.

LP: As a student you studied with poets Garry Geddes, Robin Skeleton, and others. Is there anything you learned about working or teaching from your teachers that you’ll try to pass along?

JOB: One of the most important lessons any writer learn is how to write for the reader rather than for one’s self. Realizing how someone else reads and comprehends your work enables you to write in anticipation in order to have them more perfectly grasp your intentions. I learned this most fully in Robin Skelton’s classes and especially from my fellow students. Also, too many writers begin by believing that they have messages to impart. I feel that we are engaged in creating aesthetic experiences, where what is conveyed is visceral as well as cognitive, as sensory, emotive, and pleasurable.

LP: What will you be working on personally?

JOB: I have three major projects preoccupying me at present. The first is a book of poems constructed using traditional verse forms. In the same way that poets embraced vers libre a century ago, I want to see how set forms can open up and transform my voice. The second is a complex book-length project about three figures of the New York art world of the mid-twentieth century: Paul Cadmus (a painter), George Platt Lynes (a photographer), and Lincoln Kirstein (impresario and cofounder of the New York City Ballet). All three men were gay and knew each other as part of a loosely knit, emergent “queer” community; my interest is in how their different aesthetic concerns came to conceive of the (male) body. Third, I am also at a watershed moment as a poet in that the copyright of most of my earlier books has been returned to me. I can now more actively pursue putting together a new and selected poems as a retrospective glance back at nearly thirty years of work.

LP: Are there particular writers in Saskatoon that you’re looking forward to meeting or hanging out with?

JOB: The community is very large and I am looking forward to meeting many of the poets there, including Elizabeth Philips, whom I know slightly, and Sylvia LeGris, the new editor of Grain, Saskatchewan’s answer to The Malahat Review.

LP: You’ve been the editor of The Malahat Review now for almost five years. Will you be editing the magazine from Saskatoon or have you given up those duties?

JOB: I am taking a partial leave of absence, in that I will not be involved in the day-to-day editing and management of the magazine. When I left Victoria at the end of August, the fall and winter issues were almost fully in place. However, during the spring of 2009, I will be completing the annual funding applications of various provincial and national arts agencies—or, as Yann Martel said to me recently, the most unpleasant part of the job. I decided to complete them during my leave because I’m the one will have to live with the results of these applications upon my return to Victoria in June 2009. Also, I’m the one on staff most conversant with the application process, having completed such applications every year since 1989.

LP: What’s the best thing about being editor of the Review?

JOB: Before I became editor, I coedited Arc, a poetry journal in Ottawa. The Malahat allows me to work with fiction and creative nonfiction as well, which has expanded my scope. Also, because of the magazine’s reputation, the caliber of the writing I am able to publish is much finer. It’s long been Canada’s iconic literary magazine, and it shows in the writing we receive.

LP: What is coming up in future issues of the Review that we should be looking for?

JOB: In December, we are publishing a theme issue called The Green Imagination, which examines how writers engage aesthetically with environmental issues. It’s a longer issue than normal, 160 rather than 112 pages and shows Canadian writers to be very troubled about the long-term prognosis for the planet. It was originally conceived of as a sesquicentennial tribute to B.C., but is rather more cautionary than celebratory. Apart from this, there is no other theme issues planned. They are important to do on occasion, but I don’t believe that writers benefit from having too many of them on the horizon. General issues offer writers much more scope to publish a wider spectrum of work and are much more emphatically “participatory democracies.” There is nothing more alienating for writers than to be faced with endless back-to-back theme issues on topics that may not be relevant to them. The Malahat’s quartet of general issues in 2009 will nevertheless feature our usual annual contests: Long Poem, Far Horizons, and Creative Non-Fiction. Our preoccupation will remain one of excellence.

LP: You were Poetry Editor at Signature Editions until last spring. Are you continuing with any book editing duties on a freelance basis?

JOB: While I am in Saskatoon, I will not be taking on any freelance projects, but once I am back in Victoria, I will definitely accept any that might come my way. I enjoy this kind of work enormously and believe that I have a talent for it. It’s time-consuming work; on average it takes me about twelve to fifteen hours to work through a poetry manuscript. I charge $60 per hour, which might seem steep, but it is a competitive rate.

LP: As an editor you’re aware of what’s new on the publishing front. What books are you looking forward to seeing?

JOB: I see so much new writing that sometimes I get overwhelmed by it, but new books that I am looking forward to reading are by Ottawa poet, Craig Poile, one of Canada’s technically proficient writers. He’s got a new book coming out with Goose Lane next year. Also, Saskatoon’s Barbara Klar has a new book of poems with Brick called Cypress.

LP: You grew up in Alberta, lived and worked in Ottawa, have been in Victoria for several years and will be living in Saskatchewan for the next year. Any thoughts on how the cities are different for a writer?

JOB: What I liked most about Ottawa when I first moved there in 1986 is that its writing scene seemed entirely free of hierarchy. It was refreshing. Saskatoon reminds me of Ottawa in this regard; it’s the friendliest place that I have ever lived, and the writing community reflects this. Thistledown Press, which is located down the street from where I am living, recently launched four first books of poetry, with an audience of over 150. I cannot think of anywhere else where such a turn-out would occur, especially for first-time writers. A transplanted Vancouver poet whom I have just met told me that she’s had had a better chance to find an audience for her work in Saskatoon than she did in B.C., where she was one among so many writers and where the arts are too compromised by the politics of reputation-building. My experience of being in Victoria has been so coloured by my position as editor of The Malahat Review that I probably don’t have a terribly accurate view of what it is to be a writer there. Certainly, I felt welcomed when I arrived and realize I am in an enviable position—though I have lost count of how many writers across the country have introduced themselves by telling me that the magazine has rejected their work. Maybe a rejection by the Malahat is a mark of distinction or at least a rite of passage.

LP: Last question. That old standby. What are you reading now?

JOB: So much of what I read it is determined by the dictates of my Cadmus-Lynes-Kirstein project. Right now I am reading a short biography of George Balanchine, the founding artistic director of the New York City Ballet; a book of essays of Lincoln Kirstein; and George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940. I have just finished Lorna Crozier’s The Bones in Their Wings, her lovely book of ghazals, with an explication of the rules of this form, and the Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Yesterday, I just started Anne Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees.