Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing #47 : Missy Marston

Children vs Writing : CAGE MATCH!
Missy Marston

In this corner: Children (Like a thundering giant in tiny spandex underpants and a cape.)

My kids were one-and-a-half and five when their father and I split up. I was a single parent for seven years. Some would protest. Some would say that I was a “co-parent”. And this is true to the degree that such a term could adequately describe my situation in those years. Which is not very adequately at all. My ex-husband and I shared custody which in practice meant that part of the time I was a scrambling single parent. The other part of the time I felt like my arms had been cut off.

Ah, co-parenting.

In the other corner: Writing (Pale, slim, trembling, sweating, hiking up her shorts with one hand, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose with the other.)

Yes, yes, I had always written poems and fancied myself a writer. Encouraged by teachers and typewriter-and-book-buying parents. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? The truth is that I stopped writing the day my first child was born and did not start again for eight years.

I will offer just one illustrative example of what my life was like in those “co-parenting” years. (Yes, for the record, there were a thousand sweet, cuddly, even life-changing moments for every moment like this, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

My kids were probably four and seven years old at this point. I was sitting on the toilet and yelling at them through the closed door to please, please stop fighting. And not for the first time, either. That day I calmly but tearfully explained to them that nothing made Mum feel worse than having to break up a fight while on the toilet. It was the very worst. They nodded gravely, gave me kisses and tiny pats on the back.

(I later discovered that following this chat they had started to fight via notes scrawled on a piece of paper and passed back and forth between them. Writers!)

We fumbled along together. My idea of myself as a writer faded into the distance. Having children taught me that writing (like romance, your “look”, a clean house) didn’t really matter. At least for a while. I told myself – and I believed it, still believe it – that if the only thing I ever succeeded at was raising these beautiful children, that was enough. An astonishing achievement.

Then one day, when the kids were a bit older, when they started getting up on their own, getting their own breakfast, turning on the TV, ideas started to come to me. Suddenly I had something to do when they were at their dad’s house. Something almost as difficult and worthwhile (not really, not even close): writing a book. It took bloody forever.

In 2012, my first novel, The Love Monster was published by VĂ©hicule Press. When it came out that spring, when it was actually in print, I have to admit I felt something. I felt like some wrinkly, dried-up, forgotten little thing inside me was slowly being reconstituted. Like a raisin soaked in rum. Delicious.

Missy Marston's novel, The Love Monster was the winner of the 2013 Ottawa Book Award for English Fiction, a finalist for the CBC 2013 Bookie Awards and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice. She blogs about her writing here: and can be found on twitter @MissyMarston.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A B Series Solstice Bash!

More info:
A B Series Solstice Bash

Performance poetry by bill bissett, Adeena Karasick & Gary Barwin!

Music by Erin Saoirse Adair, Michel Delage, Melody McKiver & Glenn Nuotio!

Door prizes!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
223 Armstrong Street
Ottawa, Ont.

More info

Friday, December 05, 2014

Calling all Ottawa writers! Ottawa Magazine launches short story contest‏

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.”
– Neil Gaiman

It might be snowy outside, but over at Ottawa Magazine we’re already gearing up for summer — our Summer issue, that is.

Every year in our Summer issue, Ottawa Magazine publishes short fiction by local authors. For our Summer 2015 issue, we’re switching things up a bit with the inaugural Ottawa Magazine Short Fiction Contest.

So hunker down and bring to life that great tale that has been simmering away in the back of your mind, or dust off the manuscript that is sitting on your desktop.

The winner will receive $700, the runner up $300, and both stories will be published in the Summer 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

NOTE: the contest is open to Ottawa residents only.

- Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges through a blind judging process.
- Entries must be no longer than 3,000 words. Entries can be short stories or excerpts but must not have been published elsewhere.
- Participants may enter as many times as they wish, but once submitted entries may not be submitted to other contests (or published elsewhere) until the winning entries have been announced in April 2015.
- Submission deadline is March 1, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.

Ottawa Magazine reserves the right to edit winning entries for style. Published stories will be accompanied by complementary art.

Submit entries in a Word document to Ottawa Magazine via Kelsey Kromodimoeljo:
Please include your name, email address, phone number, and address.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Writing #46 : Carla Barkman

Tastes Like Chicken
Carla Barkman
This is how being a doctor blocks me from writing: I cannot tell the absolute truth. I keep a list of names and diagnoses that I cannot share with anyone.

One day during my first year of medical school, I was summoned to the dean’s office to defend myself against a complaint that had been made by an elderly woman, a wealthy philanthropist, who had come across one of my poems in a magazine. Her husband had recently passed on and, according to his wishes, she’d donated his body to the university to aid in medical study. It turned out that my class was one of the last in Canada to dissect full cadavers during medical school; it was becoming a controversial practice, as new technologies like MRI and computer-generated imaging were making simulations more useful. It is possible that my poem had something to do with the demise of full body dissections as well.

I was in my early twenties, and was disturbed to be faced with a preserved corpse, and as I disassembled the intrinsic muscles of its hand I was reminded of dissecting frogs in high school, joking about eating frogs; some of us had; and how they taste a bit like chicken, like all small creatures, rodents, rabbits, supposedly do. Pulling apart my cadaver’s hand and tasting like chicken therefore became linked in my poem. I understood it to point to the strangeness of our situation, and how for me, being required to move so quickly from the innocence of high school, dissecting frogs, to a medical school anatomy lab, confronted by a dead human being, was jarring; I could not process it with maturity. Unfortunately the woman who read the poem, who’d just entrusted her deceased husband’s body to me, to us, for the good of science, envisioned us punk kids gleefully gnawing the meat from his human fingers, and called for an end to the program.

I composed a complicated letter of apology, and luckily was allowed to continue on as a medical student. I also continued to write, but with some reserve. Part of me is proud to belong to a profession with such privileged access to human beings’ secrets, and this part of me is content to comply with its rules, to work hard to be sensitive, careful, deliberate, balanced and mature in all areas of my public life, including my writing. Another part of me, though, aches to say what occurs to me without reservations, and hope that anyone who reads it can understand that I do not claim to present the balanced view, always, but only my truth from where I stand, as a doctor and as a person, the two things no longer separable.

I am working, currently, in the north, and I would love to tell you about the patients that I see: Dene people, mostly, who roll their ATV’s, chop wood, hunt caribou, consume cups of vodka, clear like water, dislocate each others’ shoulders. There is the general impression, but then there are the individuals: Myrtle Fern, with hemichorea, whose left arm flails about like a tree branch in a storm; John A. MacDonald, who believes that he has worms; Dora Disain, every one of her fingers broken over the years, now her middle phalynx volarly displaced and I can’t quite put it back where it belongs. These peoples’ stories are important but so are their names, their names linked to their stories, but because I am their doctor I can’t share them with you. I am privilege to the information only because I have promised to keep it to myself.

In the anatomy lab, we gagged at the bubbles of chemical-soaked fat that we suctioned from our obese body’s abdominal cavity, were heartsick from the stench of burning bone as we sawed through skulls, reminded, though I don’t know exactly how, of Auschwitz. And when I arrived home after dissecting my cadaver’s ribs, identifying the costal artery, vein, and nerve as I cleared away the overlapping intercostal muscles, to find that my husband had boiled ribs for dinner, and underneath the sauce there they were, clearly identifiable artery, vein, and nerve - I pictured my cadaver as I chewed.

Bio: I am a physician who’s worked in northern Ontario and Saskatchewan. I’ve published poetry in Grain, ditch, NeWest Review, Contemporary Verse 2, prairie fire, STANZAS and other literary journals, as well as the anthology Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press, 2003). Lately I’ve been struggling to write non-fiction in a meaningful and responsible way.

Friday, November 21, 2014

On Writing #45 : Asher Ghaffar

The Pen:
Asher Ghaffar

I am not myself yet. This is the first phrase and last phrase of the autobiography that proceeds negatively by subtracting subjective attributes, roles and functions of the individual in order to be left with subjectivity’s afterglow. What I am trying to write is always what just escapes me. The page is a tunneling and what seems to be is not. To seek the name is to unname. The tablet speaks before my intentions and I am in search for its nebulous roots. The concepts emerge out of the material and the relation between the concepts is beyond me in the future.  The only phrase worth examining is the one that lies beyond me. Circumambulating the stray phrase that escapes me, I write to capture a voice that is not my own. The movement through the darkness doesn't lead to light but to darkness without shadow. I await the clock to strike its clarifying din. For the pen to trace its own corpse.

Asher Ghaffar is a writer living in Ajax, Ontario. His first collection of poetry, Wasps in a Golden Dream Hums a Strange Music, was published with ECW Press in 2008. His next collection, "Homegrown" is forthcoming. Ghaffar is also working on a collection of critical essays on writers such as Zulfikar Ghose and Hanif Kureishi.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recent Reads: Touch the Donkey (Issues 3, 2 & 1)

(Also available with an above/ground press subscription)

For years I’d been planning to “get into” experimental poetry. Perhaps this sounds familiar. I had not circled a date on the calendar, nor browsed excerpts from celebrated masters of the avant-garde. Truth be told, I hadn’t moved an inch on the subject until Touch the Donkey’s third issue appeared, as plainly and mysteriously as the previous two. (For 90s inclined music fans, we can just as well refer to these as we do Weezer albums; the "blue issue", the "green", etc.) I recall feeling deflated in April when flipping through the debut, quietly bemoaning my indifference. But with July’s follow-up I found some energetic pockets, and then October’s release clicked more often than not. Let's rewind, re-assess.

Has each Touch the Donkey issue improved by leaps and bounds? Possibly, although it’s just as reasonable to suggest that I’m now jumping with the text, instead of panting against each abstract hurdle. If we opt to credit any learning curve, we’re obliged to discuss above/ground press’ subscription service, the caravan by which many a Touch the Donkey issues have found readers. Inserted with bundles of chapbooks, the literary magazine’s kinship goes beyond the aesthetic, featuring many familiar above/ground alumni. But its platform for experimental poetics, which also includes writers brand new to me, is paving a left-field expanse for publisher rob mclennan and company to explore unfettered.

third issue,
Since the issues haven’t relied on theme or more than eight contributors a piece, it’s no surprise that much of the reader’s enjoyment will rest on each writer’s style and subject matter. The third issue has so much going for it precisely because the roster feels stacked and in a generous mood. derek beaulieu's conceptual piece “one week”, which collates violence in the middle east, unfurls with the grace of a pillow-case full of hammers descending the stairs. Emily Ursuliak’s “Tourists”, presumably taken from the same project as Braking and Blather, finesses themes of otherness and sexism into the minutia of a roadside stop. But the real surprises come from authors I haven't read before. The lack of punctuation and twitchy enjambments in Susan Briante’s “THE PHYSICISTS SAY CONSCIOUSNESS” make for a deep reflection that halts as much as it flows. Two poems by D.G. Jones are also powerful, in particular the way “goldfinchen” feeds us tightly wound tangibles that piece together a small moment.


greedy guts, again and again, stack
the feeder
the snow-rain-snow end
of May with
                       their flashy

some of it
mint fresh

                   silly coin – the cardinal
interrupts them like
  a sin

second issue,
If some hidden comprehension key helped me enjoy Issue Three so, it must’ve started turning in Issue Two. Susanne Dyckman’s “Across the Street” and David Peter Clark’s “On the Way to the Tranzac on March 7, 2013” peer out from under streetlights with different surrealist takes; Dyckman reconstructs the spatial relationship of architecture and the moods that weather it, while Clark trips over an intentional blurring of memes, alley cats and distractions as digressions. Both held my imagination, though as Dyckman brought me closer via her whimsical logic, Clark’s self-satisfied cleverness kept me at a distance. His scattered line-breaks and narrative inconsistencies fashion a convincing stumble but Clark’s checking-in on the reader – whether we’re following along, whether we looked up how to pronounce a particular word – reaches into the obnoxious side of inebriation, making me sort of wish he’d stayed at home.

In acknowledging a distaste for this tongue-in-cheek breakdown of the fourth wall, I’ve likely tapped a vein in my own subconscious bias against the focus of some experimental writing. I sense a similar disconnect with Catherine Wagner’s “Notice”, which in a dry third person tone, reads like a pamphlet on who does and doesn’t pay for her poetry. Still I cannot criticize “Notice” for the specialized audience it seeks (namely, other writers), nor pinpoint weak spots in clarity or form (it’s quite readable). The versatility of voices arguably works more to Touch the Donkey's advantage than its audience's, aiming at a brave readership while exposing the casually curious to new forms. In other words, it comes with the territory that less adventurous readers should expect peaks and valleys, throughways and dead-ends.

first issue,
Does my learning curve in reverse cast a more generous light on Issue One (the “beige issue”…)? Actually, yeah: Pattie McCarthy’s “from wifthing” (which some totally academic, online research defines as “an affair connected with a woman or wife”) gets by on envious layers of mystique that wrestle new love, post-family. Alternately I’m reminded that the first batch of Gil McElroy’s project Some Doxologies, which gains new traction after enjoying Issue Three’s helping, and rob mclennan’s “Acceptance Speech” were noteworthy the first time around. An excerpt from “wifthing”:

keep the wolf from
the door her lips
numb   bored like
every drag of a cigarette
after the headrush
practically deranged with need
congratulates herself for not
devouring you in front of all
assembled       patience
figure in a taxicab crossing
& now I’m lying in it

As someone who enjoys going into a text blind, I've delayed mentioning Touch the Donkey's digital side, which compared to the sleek, minimal design of the card-stock journal, is crammed with supplemental interviews. Despite the technological divide, the process is fluid: each poem acts as the foundation for an interview discussing the poet's approach while also linking to other recent work. It's like speed-dating for new titles and authors.

In stripping back my expectations of what Touch the Donkey should be, I’ve uncovered a better idea of what it is: a margin, fortified and flipped horizontally, gloaming the trespasses of expression I was too intimidated to venture into alone. Three books in, Touch the Donkey has graduated from perk-status to a mercurial entity all its own.