Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don McKay Reading from Camber: Selected Poems

Audio and video of Don McKay reading from Camber: Selected Poems, 1983-2000

Follow the above link to hear three-time Griffin Poetry Prize nominee and 2007 winner Don McKay read from his selected poems at the 2005 Griffin award ceremony.

Camber was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2004. Strike/Slip, Canadian winner of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize, was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2006.

Coming soon from Rattling Books:

Songs for the Songs of Birds, Don McKay's selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight. Narrated by Don McKay, the soundtrack features bird song recordings identified to species.

Friday, June 29, 2007

John Steffler's Poem of the Week, June 25-July 1

Follow this link to Parliamentary Poet Laureate John Steffler's Poem of the Week website. This week's poem, The Gaze, is by Stan Dragland.

from John Steffler's word of introduction:

"The Poem of the Week website features a new poem by a Canadian poet each week. The initiative, which was started in 2003 by Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Bowering, and continued by his successor, Pauline Michel, has proven very popular as a way of showing readers everywhere a sample of the work of Canada’s contemporary poets. The support of the Library of Parliament makes it possible for me to keep the project alive.
There are many fine poets writing in Canada today. My aims are the same as those of George Bowering and Pauline Michel: to try to offer an inclusive representation of contemporary Canadian poetry in both English and French from all the country’s regions.
Here you will encounter the skill, imagination, and wide variety in Canadian poetry and gain a special insight into life in this country..."


The unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands by John Steffler, narrated by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Diedre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins, is available from

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Excerpt: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, installment #10

The following excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company. The unabridged audio edition narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence is available from


My occupation till what seemed like midnight was unravelling rope, and with this I padded out my knickers inside, and my shirt as well, though it was a clumsy job, for I could not see what I was doing. Now, getting my largest dog, Doc, as big as a wolf and weighing ninety-two pounds, I made him lie down, so that I could cuddle round him. I then wrapped the three skins around me, arranging them so that I could lie on one edge, while the other came just over my shoulders and head.

My own breath collecting inside the newly flayed skin must have had a soporific effect, for I was soon fast asleep. One hand I had kept warm against the curled up dog, but the other, being gloveless, had frozen, and I suddenly awoke, shivering enough, I thought, to break my fragile pan. What I took at first to be the sun was just rising, but I soon found it was the moon, and then I knew it was about half-past twelve. The dog was having an excellent time. He hadn't been cuddled so warm all winter, and he resented my moving with low growls till he found it wasn't another dog.

The wind was steadily driving me now toward the open sea, and I could expect, short of a miracle, nothing but death out there. Somehow, one scarcely felt justified in praying for a miracle. But we have learned down here to pray for things we want, and, anyhow, just at that moment the miracle occurred. The wind fell off suddenly, and came with a light air from the southward, and then dropped stark calm. The ice was now "all abroad," which I was sorry for, for there was a big safe pan not twenty yards away from me. If I could have got on that, I might have killed my other dogs when the time came, and with their coats I could hope to hold out for two or three days more, and with the food and drink their bodies would offer me need not at least die of hunger or thirst. To tell the truth, they were so big and strong I was half afraid to tackle them with only a sheath-knife on my small and unstable raft.

To be continued.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Western Star Review of the March Hare Anthology and CD

from a Western Star article on the March Hare Anthology and CD

New book and CD give highlights of March Hare
by: Darrell Squires

The March Hare marked its twentieth anniversary this past winter, and there's a new book, as well as a CD, to mark the occasion.

Appropriately, The March Hare Anthology was released this past March and it's a great collection of works by writers who have participated in this event over the span of its twenty years so far.

"The Hare," which the event has come to be commonly and fondly known, has featured the writing talents of not just local writers, but many writers from around Canada, Ireland and the world.

In short, the March Hare is an extended annual soiréé of music (many of the best of Newfoundland and Labrador's professional musicians take part in it also), poetry and prose, and storytelling.

In keeping with the musical aspect of this annual event, it is wonderful to see joint release of a music CD, simply titled "The Hare," which conveys much of the musical tone, atmosphere, and mood that has imbued the event by turns over the years.

Music selections on the CD share the common thread of being in the traditional vein. But they comprise a varied collection that includes instrumental pieces such as "Dancing" by Lloyd Bartlett, and "Pamela's Lonely Nights" in a medley with "Jim Hodder's Tune", two Emile Benoit compositions performed by the Cow Head Cowboys.

Lovely a cappella pieces include "Lonely Waterloo", performed by Stephanie and Daniel Payne; "Bathing in Winter", performed by Shirley Montague; and "Old Smythe", performed by Linda Slade, Anita Best, and Wilfred Wareham [...]


The March Hare Anthology includes work by Rattling Books authors Michael Crummey, Mary Dalton, Joel Thomas Hynes, Lisa Moore, John Steffler, Agnes Walsh, and Michael Winter; The Hare CD includes a performance by Rattling Books narrator Anita Best.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Frank Holden Performs Judge Prowse Presiding in Trinity

Judge Prowse Presiding
at Seasons in the Bight

Frank Holden will perform his one-man play, Judge Prowse Presiding, at the Seasons in the Bight theatre festival in Trinity, Newfoundland on the following dates:

Tuesday, June 26, 8pm
Wednesday, June 27, 8pm
Thursday, June 28, 8pm
Friday, June 29, 8pm

All performances are at the Parish Hall in Trinity, Newfoundland. Tickets are $20. For further information, please contact the box office at
1-888-464-3377 or consult Rising Tide Theatre's website.

Set somewhere in outport Newfoundland in the 1890's, written and first performed in the mid 1980's by Frank Holden, Judge Prowse Presiding brings a vital character and a near-forgotten frontier world back to life.

“A transfixing performance – simply enthralling.”
Edmonton Journal


The audio adaptation of Judge Prowse Presiding, written and narrated by Frank Holden, is available from Rattling Books.

Ballad Session: June 26, Crow's Nest, St. John's, Newfoundland

Join host Linda Byrne for the monthly Song Circle
today, TUESDAY, JUNE 26 at 8 p.m.

Come along and sing a song or just sit with your pint and listen. If you don’t want to sing, you can recite. Anything goes!

A small donation is requested to cover the costs of renting the space.

To get in the mood, listen here to Simone Savard-Walsh singing the ballad ( Fair Fannie Moore). This recording of Simone comes from the Rattling Books poetry CD by Agnes Walsh In the Old Country of My Heart.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Michael Winter's Facebook Odyssey

Michael Winter plans novel teaser on Facebook
CBC Arts
June 22, 2007

Canadian author Michael Winter, who wrote The Big Why, will release excerpts of his next novel through a series of posts on the Internet site Facebook.

Beginning next Tuesday, he plans to offer 300-word distillations of each chapter of the novel The Architects are Here.

Publisher Penguin Canada announced the plan as the world's first Facebook novel serialization.

Winter plans 47 posts over the next 10 weeks, including commentary, notes, and visuals to accompany the novel.

The novel features the character Gabriel English, who figures in Winter's earlier novels This All Happened and One Last Good Look.

In The Architects Are Here, English takes a road trip from Toronto to Corner Brook, NL.

The book is to be released in September. Winter, who was born in Britain but grew up in Newfoundland, now divides his time between Toronto and St. John's.

Click here to read another article on Michael Winter's Facebook odyssey


Coming soon from Rattling Books: an unabridged audio edition of The Big Why, Michael Winter's dazzling reinvention of the historical novela passionate and witty faux memoir of Rockwell Kent, the famous illustrator of Moby Dick.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dictionary of Newfoundland English: Gommil

The following entry is from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English :

gommel n also gommil JOYCE 264 gommul 'simple-minded fellow'; DINNEEN gamal 'stupid looking fellow.' Epithet for a stupid person; freq with foolish, etc; GOM.
1924 ENGLAND 221 'He must of went off his 'eed. to curse on de lightnin',' put in Arthur Roberts. 'Ondly a gommel [fool] 'd take a chance like dat.' 1937 DEVINE 25 ~ A stupid or foolish person. 1968 DILLON 143 That poor gommil, sure he don't know what you're talkin' about. C 70-11 When slightly irritated with him she calls him a foolish gommil. 1975 RUSSELL 51 'Come here,' said she, 'you foolish gommil, and help me.'

Gommil appears in "The Tangler" in Merrybegot, a collection of poems by Mary Dalton, the audio edition of which was narrated by Anita Best with Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn; published by Rattling Books in 2005.

The Tangler

From the word go it was a thankee job

We all knew
But that tangler came pretty near to
Fooling up the whole works,
Blathering to this one and that one

The foreman had like to
Flatten him

A fierce little red-headed bantam,
Rearing out the big ones,
Ready to board
That tongue-flapping long-shanks,
That rawny ghost of a gommil

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Review in the Ottawa Citizen of John Steffler's The Grey Islands

from The Ottawa CitizenJanice Kennedy, Senior Writer

"...And those imaginative folks at Newfoundland’s Rattling Books have released another gem, perfect if you can’t get to the Rock this summer but still need to smell the ocean, feel the fog and hear the startling cries of the gulls. John Steffler’s The Grey Islands (2 CDs unabridged/2.5 hours, $24.95) is Steffler’s account of the time he spent two decades ago on a deserted island off Newfoundland’s wild northern coast. A newcomer from away, alone in a place no longer inhabited, he explores the island’s ghosts, its unforgiving landscape and the unknown regions of his own soul — and he does it in poetry. Steffler is Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate. But if poetry is not usually your thing, don’t let that put you off. The book is a long poem the way Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces is a novel — rich in narrative, stunningly beautiful and still accessible. Steffler does his own reading, his voice curiously detached but effective, and the whole is enhanced by a haunting coastal soundscape, along with native Newfoundland voices in character roles. The audiobook can be ordered through, which also makes available a digital download version for $14.95."


The unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands by John Steffler narrated by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Diedre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins is available from

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quill & Quire Review of Right Away Monday

Right Away Monday
Reviewed by Steven W. Beattie
Quill & Quire
, July 2007

Clayton Reid, the booze-besotted, drug-addicted ne’er-do-well at the centre of Joel Thomas Hynes’s second novel, bears a striking resemblance to Keith Kavanagh, the shiftless antihero of Down to the Dirt, Hynes’s 2004 debut. Both are selfish, self-destructive young men who use alcohol, drugs, and casual sex as a means of keeping the harshness of the world at bay, and both find their lives of reckless excess called into question by the appearance of a strong woman.

For Clayton, that woman is Isadora, a would-be actress who he feels could be “that someone who’s out there somewhere who’s gonna make it through with me and point me heart in the right direction, rid me of this coldbloodedness I cant seem to shake no more.” But like Keith, who makes a cameo appearance in the new novel, Clayton is unable to face up to his responsibilities, preferring instead the oblivion found at the bottom of a bottle [...]

Click here to read the whole review


The unabridged audio edition of Down to the Dirt by Joel Hynes, narrated by Joel Thomas Hynes, Sherry White and Jonny Harris is available here from

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anita Best at Festival 500

Traditional singer Anita Best will be a guest of this year's Festival 500. Read her complete biographical note on the official website:

"Anita Best has spent a lifetime exploring and celebrating the outport Newfoundland lifestyle and culture. In the process she has become one of the province's most prominent traditional singers. Born on Merasheen Island in Placentia Bay (since abandoned under the 1960s government resettlement program), Anita comes from a family of traditional singers.

On the maternal side, the Reids of Tack's Beach had fine women singers, including her mother Elsie, who brought many songs with her when she moved to Merasheen Island in the 1940s. Her father Fred Best, and his seven brothers were well known throughout Placentia Bay for their forthright singing style and their extensive repertoire of songs, tunes and ditties. Anita remembers her father and uncles singing tunes for winter evening kitchen dances when she was a child. She remembers also the wonderful stories of Bride Fulford and Kate Wilson, two of the island's most extraordinary women.

When her father passed away, Anita started to feel that there was something 'missing' from her life. Her interest in traditional singing blossomed anew. She worked with Noel Dinn and Neil Murray to build a repertoire for the band that eventually became Figgy Duff. For one season, she took on the role of lead singer in the band, and for years after she was no longer a performing member she continued to bring traditional songs and tunes to the group. But she wanted to return to Placentia Bay, so in 1977 she settled in the community of Southeast Bight with Pius Power Jr., a fisherman who also happened to be a traditional singer [...]"

Anita Best is a narrator for Rattling Books. She features on Mary Dalton's Merrybegot, Susan Rendell's In the Chambers of the Sea and Robin McGrath's Coasting Trade.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'Here's Your Eighteen Months': Anansi Wins Publisher of the Year at Libris Awards

from's Story on the Libris Awards

[...] Another big winner of the evening was House of Anansi Press, which won not only publisher of the year, but also editor of the year, for Lynn Henry. When president Sarah MacLachlan stepped up to accept publisher of the year, she revealed the answer to a trivia question she had posed in June’s Q&Q, in a House of Anansi 40th anniversary ad: “Which famous Canadian publisher predicted in 1967 that Anansi would last only 18 months?” The answer, MacLachlan revealed, was Jack McClelland. Holding aloft the award, she beamed and said, “Well, here’s your 18 months!”

Rattling Books would like to congratulate House of Anansi Press and editor Lynn Henry on their well-deserved awards. Rattling Books are graciously distributed in Canada by House of Anansi through HarperCollins Canada. We are grateful to everyone at Anansi for placing their faith in a small audio publisher and thank them for their ongoing commitment to the cause of audio literature. Kudos!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Last Tango in Toronto: More about McKay

from's Account of the Griffin Prize Ceremony, June 8, 2007

Dancing in the Distillery: the 2007 Griffin Gala

Sharon Harris

Buzz about the Seventh Annual Griffin Poetry Prize began when its 2007 judges were announced last November. Anticipation grew when the shortlist was unveiled two months ago, and on June 5th, the nominated poets performed for an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at The Macmillan Theatre.
And finally! The winners were presented during a vibrant awards gala last Wednesday evening at the Stone Distillery. As you’ve probably heard by now, Charles Wright's Scar Tissue and Don McKay's Strike/Slip won the International and Canadian Awards. The C$100,000 purse is shared between the two winners, and is the most generous poetry prize in the world.
At the ceremony, the word, “generous” was often heard. Throughout the evening, Prize Founder Scott Griffin, and his wife, Krystyne, were also described as altruistic, hospitable, greathearted, kindhearted, philanthropic, and thoughtful. In his acceptance speech, Charles Wright (pictured left) lauded the couple’s “generosity of spirit” and “just plain niceness.”
Host Scott Griffin began the proceedings with a speech about the importance of poetry, and presented The Lifetime Recognition Award to legendary poet Tomas Tranströmer. The Swedish poet, who was in attendance with his wife, Monica, has been translated into English more than any poet in the world, and is often called one of our greatest living poets. Tranströmer’s work was read in Swedish by Monica Tranströmer, and in translation by Griffin Trustee Robin Robertson. Trustee Robert Hass paid tribute with a moving speech about the poet’s career; glasses were raised. Later in the evening, Canadian winner Don McKay cited Tomas as “the most important poet” in his life[...]


Strike/Slip by Don McKay
was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2007.

Coming soon from Rattling Books:

Songs for the Songs of Birds, Don McKay's selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight. Narrated by the author, the soundtrack features bird song recordings identified to species.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Independent Review of Agnes Walsh's New Poetry Collection

Excerpted from a Review of Going Around with Bachelors, the Newfoundland & Labrador Independent, Friday, May 25, 2007, by Mark Callanan

...Walsh’s poetry is simultaneously an act of recollection and an elegy; it is often funereal in tone. Throughout her poems, an older Newfoundland—one of old country mores bound to lives lived off the ocean—is in the process of disappearing. In Homecoming to the End, a father’s passing takes away “a world” of “words and stories, ships hove into rocks, / St. Pierre wine in wooden casks, the whaling factory in Rose au Rue”; an old bachelor in Love is symbolically stripped of his smell, “the wood-smoke, the oil, the musk, / the years, the years and years.”

Going Around with Bachelors
further emphasizes the connection between the written and the spoken word by its inclusion of an audio CD of Walsh reading selections from the book. The poems (as in Rattling Books’ audio production of Walsh’s first collection, In the Old Country of My Heart) are interspersed with old-world ballads sung by the poet’s daughter, Simone Savard-Walsh. It makes for a beautiful marriage of words and music.

"I see a definite connection between…the old world ballads and the way that I write,” Walsh says in a commentary track on the enclosed CD. “I’ve spent so much time researching and looking into the oral history of Placentia Bay that I guess the ballad style has crept into my poetry.” And it has. Hearing Walsh’s work performed is a mesmerizing experience, for the rhythms of the poems themselves, the power of their narratives, and for the experience of listening to Walsh’s rich reading voice. There is a definite musicality to her performance.

Walsh’s poetry is not one of profound metaphorical leaps or pyrotechnic explosion of language; you won’t find many lines here that emblazon themselves on your memory. What you will find is a reverence for the tradition from which these poems have sprung and a mournful magic that conjures a world long gone. The value of this new collection lies in its ability to channel the voices of the dead, and to connect them to the living, breathing present.

Going Around with Bachelors was published by Brick Books in 2007.

The unabridged audio edition of Agnes Walsh's first poetry collection, In the Old Country of My Heart, narrated by Agnes Walsh with unaccompanied ballads by Simone Savard-Walsh and pump organ interludes by George Morgan, is available here from

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dictionary of Newfoundland English: devil-ma-click in a poem by Mary Dalton

The following entry is from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English :
devil n EDD ~ sb 3 (10) Ir for sense 1; for combs. in sense 3: NID devil's claw 2, cp EDD 1 (32) devil's racket 'noise or commotion,' EDD devilskin '[from] devil's kin.'
1 Phr the devil's cure to you: mild imprecation, expression of ill will or lack of sympathy[...]
2 Comb devil-ma-click: adroit, versatile worker; jack of all trades.
C 71-115 Any person who could turn his hand to a number of tasks with more or less equal success was referred to as a devil-ma-click.
Devil-ma-click appears in "First Boat" in Merrybegot, a collection of poems by Mary Dalton, the audio edition of which was narrated by Anita Best with Patrick Boyle on trumpet and flugelhorn; published by Rattling Books in 2005.

First Boat

Eyes like the cornflower. And a
Real devil-ma-click
I knew when I married him.
First boat on the water
"Where's that sun to,
Lollygagging about?" he'd grin
On his way out the door.
Ours the highest woodstack.
Ours the stable stuffed with hay.
Our goats the fattest.
Our quilts the most rumpled.
He'd ruffle my hair,
Grin, "Where's that sun to,
Lollygagging about?"
Our sweat on his shoulders.
His blue eyes blazing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Babstock on Poetry, Popularity and Purses

Globe & Mail Interview with Ken Babstock
June 6, 2007
James Adams

What's popularity any way?.... A newspaper can feature an article about a handbag every single Saturday. But does poetry want that?... People in the culture are reading poetry, always have and always will. I just don't know if it has to have the same face as Paris Hilton.
– Ken Babstock

Ken Babstock admits he has done his "fair share of griping about awards' short lists," especially when his name hasn't appeared on one honour roll or another.
"Mostly, it's a way of talking yourself down from the bad trip of disappointment, that edge of crazy bitterness," the 37-year-old Toronto poet acknowledged with a laugh the other day. "You put a lot of work into your writing, and everyone wants a little validation, a little recognition just like in any other performer's life, any other pursuit."
In the past few months, however, Babstock has had little cause for caterwauling. On Monday, his third book, Airstream Land Yacht, was named the English-language winner of the $10,000 Trillium Book Award for Poetry...
Airstream Land Yacht was published by House of Anansi in 2006.

Don McKay was the winner of this year's Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip,
McClelland & Stewart, 2007.

Coming soon from Rattling Books: Songs for the Songs of Birds, Don McKay's selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight. Narrated by the author, the soundtrack features bird song recordings identified to species.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Launch of Agnes Walsh's New Poetry Collection

Review of Going Around with Bachelors from the StarPhoenix, Saturday, June 02, 2007

Going Around with Bachelors Poetry Launch

Brick Books invites you to the launch of Going Around with Bachelors, Agnes Walsh's second poetry collection. The launch will take place at the Emma Butler Gallery, 111 George Street West, on Thursday, June 7 from 5:00-7:00 pm. Refreshments will be served.
Going Around with Bachelors was published by Brick Books in 2007.

The unabridged audio edition of Agnes Walsh's first poetry collection, In the Old Country of My Heart, narrated by Agnes Walsh with unaccompanied ballads by Simone Savard-Walsh and pump organ interludes by George Morgan, is available here from

Don McKay Wins Griffin Poetry Prize

Griffin Prize Press Release

June 6, 2007
Charles Wright’s Scar Tissue and Don McKay’s Strike/Slip are the International and Canadian winners of the seventh annual Griffin Poetry Prize. The C$100,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, the richest poetry prize in the world for a single volume of poetry, is divided between the two winners. The prize is for first edition books of poetry published in 2006, and submitted from anywhere in the world.
The awards event was hosted by Scott Griffin, founder of the prize. Renowned poet Matthew Rohrer was the featured speaker. Judge Karen Solie announced the International winner and John Burnside announced the Canadian winner of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Hundreds of guests celebrated the awards, including Canada’s former Governor General, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson; The Honourable Caroline di Cocco, Minister of Culture; renowned Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje; and internationally acclaimed British poet Robin Robertson, author of Swithering, winner of the 2006 Forward Poetry Prize for Best Poetry Collection of the Year; and poets Carolyn Forché and Robert Hass, former US Poet Laureate...

Strike/Slip was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2007.

Coming soon from Rattling Books:

Songs for the Songs of Birds, Don McKay's selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight. Narrated by the author, the soundtrack features bird song recordings identified to species.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Toronto Star Article on Poet Don McKay

Interview with poet Don McKay from the Toronto Star, June 4, 2007

McKay Hopes Award Boosts Poetry's Rep

Poet, nominated for $50,000 Griffin Prize, says it isn't the money that matters to him
Vit Wagner, Publishing Reporter

If poet Don McKay is thinking about what it would be like to cash the $50,000 cheque that comes with winning the Griffin Poetry Prize, the two-time runner-up isn't letting on.

"I try not to focus on that aspect of it too much because the money is not the heart of it," he says on the line from Banff Centre, where he has spent the spring coaching young writers.

"It's nice for the poet who wins, but if the prize is going to work it has to work in other ways as well. It has to work as a way of making the public aware of poetry's importance and presence in the society."

That said, McKay understands the prospect of a $50,000 payout to a Canadian poet – coupled with an additional $50,000 award to an international writer – can't help but generate attention for an increasingly marginal literary form.

Strike/Slip, published last year by McClelland & Stewart, earned McKay a third nomination in the seven-year history of the Griffin Prize, launched by philanthropist and poetry lover Scott Griffin.

McKay's Another Gravity was among the nominees for the inaugural award in 2001, losing to Anne Carson's Men in the Off Hours. He was also shortlisted in 2005, the year Roo Borson's Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida was the Canadian winner. This year, the Canadian field includes Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht and Priscila Uppal's Ontological Necessities.

The four-member international short list comprises Paul Farley's Tramp in Flames, Rodney James's Salvation Blues, Frederick Seidel's Ooga-Booga and Charles Wright's Scar Tissue.

The two winners will be announced Wednesday.

All seven shortlisted poets will offer recitations from the nominated works during a public reading tomorrow at the UofT's MacMillan Theatre.

Strike/Slip is the 11th collection for the 65-year-old McKay, who made his debut in 1973 with Air Occupies Space and who has twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. An avid birder, McKay is regarded as Canada's foremost nature poet.

His poems, containing elements of botany, geology and other natural sciences, were praised by this year's jurists for exploring the "uncertain ground between the known and unknown, between the names we have given things and things as they are." Since retiring in 1996 from teaching creative writing to university students, McKay has been at even greater leisure to conduct "field work" that can range from walking through a field to hunkering down in the library with an ornithology encyclopedia.

"My view is that poetry is the point where language is humbled by the sense that it realizes that it isn't able to adequately describe the world," he says. "There's something that eludes it. And so it's language pointing beyond its own capacities."

Writing poetry, he also understands, is not a pursuit for anyone who craves the kind of celebrity and riches that go with reaching a mass audience. "There's a power that goes with not being mainstream," he says. "Poetry is the oldest linguistic art. We have cultures that have poetry that don't even have a written language. I wouldn't be writing it off. I wouldn't even be worrying about it."


Strike/Slip was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2007.

Coming soon from Rattling Books:

Songs for the Songs of Birds, Don McKay's selection of poems on the theme of birds, birding and flight. Narrated by the author, the soundtrack features bird song recordings identified to species.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

StarPhoenix Review of Going Around with Bachelors by Agnes Walsh

Review of Going Around with Bachelors from the StarPhoenix, Saturday, June 02, 2007

Love Poems for the Land and Its People
Bill Robertson, special to The StarPhoenix

Going Around with Bachelors, from actor, playwright, storyteller, and
poet Agnes Walsh, is also a book of love poems -- or love stories, love monologues -- for her home province of Newfoundland, and more particularly Placentia Bay.

Walsh, with her ear for speech and her obvious respect for the oral history and culture of her home, lays out her words and lines in such a way that her characters speak for themselves. Here's the opening stanza of Love: "You might wonder why the place/ has so many bachelors,/ but the thing is he wasn't allowed out after/ ten o'clock until he was forty-seven years old,/ and only then because his mother had passed away." In Longevity and Guts each part of the family gets its piece in the history, beginning with the grandparents, and on through those who "wanted to get away," while in the marvelous Dad and the Fridge Box a man who "never wanted anything" watches a new fridge come into his home but is only interested in the box it came in. He carts it into the living room and puts his chair in it, to keep the drafts off. "No one thought it was odd. Because, you see, that was a time when the old people used everything." While Walsh's poems seem to get by just fine without obvious recourse to grand metaphor, she still slides in the perfect turn of phrase amidst the plainspokenness. In Fireweed she says they "stand tall in fields and proclaim themselves wild./ Of savage origin. Beauty's breathless rampage," while in Patrick's Cove we hear that "[t]his is the September light that falls/ piercing with its cooler edge, falls/ through the loose clapboard of root cellars." As Walsh explores her home and its past, or travels to Ireland or Portugal, she adheres to a phrase from Mary Oliver that she quotes at the beginning of one poem: "the usual is news enough." In these poems Walsh's usual becomes a thing of great and enduring beauty.

Included with this book is a CD recording of Walsh reading many of these poems, as well as bits of conversation and ballads sung by Simone Savard-Walsh. This could be the wave of the future.


Going Around with Bachelors was published by Brick Books in 2007.

The unabridged audio edition of Agnes Walsh's first poetry collection, In the Old Country of My Heart, narrated by Agnes Walsh with unaccompanied ballads by Simone Savard-Walsh and pump organ interludes by George Morgan, is available here from

Friday, June 01, 2007

Review in the Scope of The Grey Islands by John Steffler

Review in the current edition of the Scope
The Brutal Mechanics of Having a Wish Come True
Jonathan Adams listens to John Steffler’s long poem The Grey Islands.

New this month from Rattling Books comes a lovingly produced, unabridged, two-disc recording of John Steffler’s long poem The Grey Islands.

First published in 1985, The Grey Islands has come to be regarded as a classic of both Newfoundland and Canadian literature. It has earned the praise of as finicky a critic as the late Al Purdy, who trashed the later work of his friends Charles Bukowski and Irving Layton but remarked of The Grey Islands:”This is a book of such excellence that someone in the future is liable to say … Steffler?–oh yes, he wrote The Grey Islands, didn’t he?” Portions of the poem were also set to music by the composer Michael Parker.

Steffler is in some ways the human bookend to E.J. Pratt, in the sense that Pratt was a Newfoundland-born poet who for familiar reasons moved to Ontario and there wrote something like the national epic in Towards the Last Spike—while Steffler was an Ontario-born poet who for perverse reasons moved to Newfoundland and wrote something like the quintessential CFA narrative in The Grey Islands. The book’s value lies in the truthfulness and lack of sentimentality with which that story is told.

Loosely based on Steffler’s own experience, the protagonist and principal narrator of The Grey Islands is a man from Ontario who leaves behind everything and everyone he knows, including a wife and two children, to spend a summer on the northern peninsula’s Grey Islands. He’s never entirely certain what has compelled him to do this beyond a vaguely expressed desire for “a way to corner myself … Some blunt place I can’t go beyond. Where excuses stop.”

Once he arrives and settles, the book becomes a record of the speaker’s encounters with both the geography and the people of Grey Islands. He quickly becomes obsessed with the image of a man named Carm Denny who lives completely alone out on one of the islands and is thought mad by everyone in town. For me, the most vivid and arresting sections of The Grey Islands are those in which Carm himself is the speaker.

Listening to Rattling Books’ edition of The Grey Islands may even be the ideal way to experience the poem. Steffler’s poetry usually takes the form of soliloquies or interior monologues and it is always rooted in the unadorned, everyday language of his individual speakers. Hearing Frank Holden and Darryl Hopkins read the parts of the townsfolk reveals just how well Steffler has managed to capture the natural cadence and poetry of ordinary Newfoundland speech.

There are still a few points, however, when you will want to have a copy of the book close at hand, since the absence of visual punctuation creates unforeseen ambiguities. At a crucial juncture in one poem Steffler intones, “I start to think it’s a person outside squatting to shit I’m nervous with all the leaping and battering going on” and it’s impossible for the listener to intuit exactly who is squatting to shit (turns out it’s actually the speaker).

Nevertheless, the sound design on the recording is quite superb. The noises of birdsong and waves that hum just beneath the actors’ voices were recorded especially for the album and while it would be very easy to overdo it with such things, the production is for the most part beautifully restrained. There is a magnificent point on the second disc, though, when a torrent of gull squawks reaches such a frenzied pitch I thought of one of my all-time favourite pieces of music—Cantus Articus, Einojuhani Rautavaara’s concerto for birds and orchestra, which itself has always reminded me of the ineluctable beauty of this province we belong to.

The central riddle that haunts The Grey Islands is why anyone would choose to live in this place at all. But taken as a whole and in several particular places the poem also supplies its own answer: “[T]hese people don’t measure by what you see. They carry the world around in their heads. All this rock and water is only a backdrop.”
The unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands by John Steffler narrated by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Diedre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins is available from