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GEC’s Review of Len Gasparini’s Collected Poems in The Chronicle Herald: “Gasparini is Rock n’ Roll’s Offspring”

collected poemsIn a recent issue of the Chronicle Herald, George Elliott Clarke reviews Len Gasparini’s Collected Poems (Guernica Editions, Fall 2015).

Clarke begins by addressing the daunting process of compiling a Collected.

“A Collected Poems is a daunting work, for it is the poet taking a long view of his work and trying to position its best showing in the even longer view of posterity.”

He explains that Gasparini’s collection is a “striking read in this regard” as he manages to stray away from the pretentiousness that can arise with the format.

“His work studiously avoids any pretentiousness or ivory tower (poison) ivy. If these verses are his bones — entombed metaphorically here — they are dancing”

Furthermore, Clarke points to Gasparini’s writing influences: the rock n’ roll figures of the 50s and 60s.

“Indeed, Gasparini is rock ’n’ roll’s offspring: “I had … an exciting adolescence. My teachers were Elvis Presley, James Dean, and Jack Kerouac.” It’s easy to read these epigrams (generally short poems treating poignantly or wittily a theme) as lost liner notes to a classic Dylan album or as spontaneous footnotes to Kerouac’s On the Road.”

Clarke also comments on Gasparini’s “superb poem-studies (akin to a fine cartoonist suddenly offering a capacious, breathtaking, landscape painting),” such as Elegy, After the Divorce, and Knisteresque.

He stresses the overall quality of the collection — “an excellent read, and convicted in its themes — sex, cities, song, plus liquor, ’ligion and livin’, ” and expresses his thoughts on which poems from the collection are the strongest:

“The poems that are consistently strongest are, arguably — mysteriously — those that brood on Nature. Gasparini is the hipster as naturalist.”

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A Review of Edward Nixon’s The Fissures of Our Throats in The Town Crier

fissures of our throatsJohn Nyman’s review of Edward Nixon’s The Fissures of Our Throats was recently published in The Town Crier. Here, Nyman discusses the relationship between Nixon’s subject matter and style, and elaborates on what makes his poetic blossom on the Canadian literary scene.

The Fissures of Our Throats was published by Guernica Editions in Fall 2014.

As explained by Nyman, Nixon’s work predominantly “reflect[s] on personal experience with the music, culture, and philosophy of the 1970s and ’80s youth scenes in Toronto and Vancouver.”

Nyman begins by addressing the anxieties which he first had about the collection:

“I feared the book would bury itself taking a too-familiar stance in the all-but-exhausted debate around lyric identity, its denouncement by certain postmodern avant-gardes, and the ever-contentious role of “theory.”

He explains how Nixon’s work transcends these anxieties and showcases something that is much more fluid and refreshing.

“Luckily, The Fissures of Our Throats manages something that seems increasingly rare for a book with quotations by Camus, Lacan, and Wittgenstein: it fails—decisively and quite refreshingly—to be reduced to an argument…Nixon takes the wind out of postmodernity’s hard lines, but in such a way that the resulting hollows are filled by a rush of things actually (even if not extraordinarily) lived.”

He stresses the movement in many of Nixon’s poems, as they actively work to figure things out.

“It’s a poetry that’s trying to figure things out, oscillating between conceptual essay and the mystery of material things without succumbing either to an empty acceptance of chaos or to a pat solution.”

Furthermore, Nyman comments on the influence that film has on many of Nixon’s poems.

“Nixon’s poetics is heavily influenced by film… I want most of all to call The Fissures of Our Throats a delicate exposition of mise en scène, a mutual contextualization of diverse elements through which the collection gives place to a surprising variety of experiences and ideas.”

Nevertheless, he explains that The Fissures of Our Throats “outshines its more imagistic cousins (both in cinema and in poetry) in its extension of these techniques to the interspace between the things we experience and the ways we think about those things.”

He concludes by stating:

“In Nixon’s hands, none of postmodernity’s flowers blossom without the filth of the Earth clinging to them. What finally strikes me is how much Nixon’s counterculture mirrors the after-class philosophizing and barroom poetry of my own Toronto. In spite of anyone’s ideals, both scenes have the same cloying stagnancy, the feeling that there’s something we’re not getting. Reading that absence in Nixon’s narratives of my intellectual heroes, I start to think that, finally, it’s only that misunderstanding that keeps us going.”

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An Interview with Irene Marques: “Writing for me is something fundamental. I cannot live without it.”

Irene MarquesIn a recent interview with Creative Lifestyle Blog, Irene Marques, discusses the writing process, the definition of great art, and the fundamental role that writing plays in her life.

Irene Marques’ The Circular Incantation was published by Guernica Editions in Fall 2013.

Marques explains that writing is a force that drives her forward.

“Writing for me is something fundamental. I cannot live without it. As soon as I learned how to read and write – when I was seven in grade one in the small village I was born in in Portugal – I knew that writing was my call. It was that “thing” that gave me the most pleasure.”

She explains that, since a young age, writing gave her a sense of being able to “create and see and feel things way beyond [her] immediate milieu.”

“Given that I grew up pretty much without toys, I think I might have taken writing even with more vigour, assertiveness and desire. It is as if writing replaced the toys that I had not had: with words I could now build and imagine things ad infinitum, be forever playful…”

Furthermore, Marques defines the meaning of the Portuguese term ‘saduade’, and elaborates on its relevance to her writing.

“In Portuguese we have this word saudade, a word that basically means a yearning, a melancholia, a sadness even, but a sadness that also brings you happiness… You can enter this state through memory recollection or memory selection, through fado music and even through crying, convulsive crying, because crying, is much more than deep sadness, it allows a resolution, a confrontation, a joining of timeframes, a holistic dwelling of sorts, a cleansing of the soul that is quite healthy.”

She explains that writing, likewise, allows her to enter this state:

“Writing for me also allows all this: it joins the dissected, it beautifies life, it changes memory, it creates beauty, it allows entrance into the sublime, it renews the world and reality, making me feel like a little girl in awe with life again: excited at the novelty of the world before me, a world that I can make much better than it is.”

Marques goes on to describe “the zone” that a writer enters as he writes. She explains what being in the zone feels like for her:

“I experienced “this zone” quite intensely and steadily when I wrote my last novel…I wrote the novel in about six months. At the time I was not working on anything else and so I was able to enter the process of writing very deeply – without being interrupted – and that felt amazing, complete, intense… I remember I would write for about 2 to 4 hours a day and then I would feel ecstatic for the rest of the day as if nothing else mattered―as if I had the absolute certainty that writing was my only real call and that my life was perfectly fulfilling by doing just that.”

When asked about how she would define ‘great art’, Marques replies:

“I think an artist must stay true to his/her artistic call and not allow the commercial world to dictate his/her aesthetic. I think this is more and more difficult nowadays and artists of all kinds feel pressured to produce works that sell – leading to artistic poverty and monoculture.”

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David Joiner Speaks about Lotusland on Sharing Vietnam

lotuslandIn a recent interview on “Sharing Vietnam” David Joiner speaks about his novel, Lotusland. He discusses his life in Vietnam, his fascination with the country, and his intention of bringing a new vision of Vietnam to western readers through Lotusland.

Lotusland was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.

David Joiner, an American who moved to Vietnam in 1994, explains what impresses him about the country and its culture.

“I think first of all what fascinates me so much about Vietnam are the differences between where I’m from, the midwest in the United States, and Vietnam and with that fascination comes a level of respect and admiration”

He stresses his admiration of the “openness of the [Vietnamese] society” and explains how this helped him adapt to life in Vietnam.

“ That has not changed for 21 years… People here are very curious, they’re very outgoing and that makes it really easy to talk to people and to learn about their lives and about their culture. And it makes it easy to make friends as well…it gave me a way into the culture.”

Furthermore, he explains the significance of lacquer painting in his novel– an element through which he attempts to display Vietnamese culture.

“Vietnamese lacquer painting is something I’ve always admired. The history and the techniques are very unique to Vietnam also… I had access to some scholars and some painters at the Fine Arts University in Hanoi and also some friends of mine who were lacquer painters, and so I had the opportunity to interview them… It’s something I wanted to share with the readers. I wanted to bring culture into the book, which wasn’t a very easy thing to do.”

Joiner elaborates on the significance of Lotusland as it relates to the complicated relationship between the United States and Vietnam.

“One of my intentions was to present Vietnam today to an American readership… Too many Americans especially associate Vietnam with the war… They associate it with very popular movies about the war or other books… But there’s a huge gap in American literature about Vietnam, there are very few novels set in today’s Vietnam. So one of my intentions was to give American readers access to what Vietnam is like today.”

The significance of this relationship as portrayed in the novel extends to the release date of the book, which “coincided with the 40th anniversary of the end of the war.”

David Joiner is currently working on a second novel, set in 1990’s Vietnam and Cambodia.

To watch the whole interview on Sharing Vietnam, visit YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMdsLkas-u4

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The Absolute is a Round Die and Elsewhere on Earth: Longlisted for ALTA National Translation Award in Poetry

elsewhere on earththe absolute is a round die

We are pleased to announce that Jose Acquelin’s The Absolute is a Round Die trans. Hugh Hazelton and Emmanuel Merle’s Elsewhere on Earth trans. Peter Brown have been longlisted for this year’s ALTA National Translation Award in Poetry!

The National Translation Award awards $5,000 annually to a literary translator who has made an outstanding contribution to literature in English by masterfully recreating the artistic force of a book of consummate quality. The NTA is the longest-standing prize for a work of literary translation, and the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of the source text and its relation to the finished English work. 

The 5-title shortlists will be announced in September. The award will be announced at ALTA’s annual conference held in Tucson, AZ from October 28-31.

About the collections:

The Absolute Is a Round Die is a work of metaphysical meditation, a verbal mural painting, a restless search for a way to speak the unspeakable, know the unknowable, attain the unattainable. It travels through Middle Eastern sensuality and mysticism, seeking the transcendence within what is at hand, discovering the invisible.

The collection Elsewhere on Earth chronicles French poet Emmanuel Merle’s three-week road trip through the American West in a rented blue Chevy. What he finds is the wilderness at the heart of his own broken traditions, his “congealed” humanity, his failed love. It is a frenetic, musical poetry made of desire, fear, and speed.

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Writing, History and Family Secrets: Montreal Gazette Interviews Caroline Vu about forthcoming novel, That Summer in Provincetown

that summer in provincetownIn a recent interview with Montreal Gazette’s Ian McGillis, Caroline Vu speaks about her forthcoming novel, That Summer in Provincetown. She elaborates on the novel’s plot related details, on her life in both Vietnam and Canada, and on the impetus for her writing.

That Summer in Provincetown is forthcoming with Guernica Editions (Fall 2015).

Vu describes the significance of the novel’s setting— her native country, Vietnam.

“Most of this densely peopled, event-filled novel takes place in Vietnam, over a period encompassing the French colonial era, the civil war — called the Vietnam War by the world, it was the American War to the Vietnamese — and its aftermath.”

She explains the novel’s title, and her reason for choosing a title that didn’t sound ‘typically Vietnamese’.

“I didn’t want to choose a typically Vietnamese title. There are so many of those already. And there have been many books and movies about the war, but most of them have been by Western people, very few from a Vietnamese point of view.”

McGillis comments on the density of the characters which appear in That Summer in Provincetown, a “tangled extended family tree”— all the more thicket-like for the fact that at any given moment somebody seems to be sleeping somewhere, and with someone, that they shouldn’t.”

Furthermore, he discusses two characters in particular —Daniel, “a half-French, half-Vietnamese man dying in a Montreal hospital of AIDS”, and the grandmother— and explains their key roles in the novel.

“The aforementioned Daniel, while not the main player in the book’s large cast, is a fulcrum, occupying a key place in a family whose chaos and dysfunction reflect the chaos and dysfunction of its country of origin. For him, Provincetown was the site of a window of freedom from the constraints of tradition. That it was also the place where he contracted the disease that killed him is an apt symbol for the novel as a whole, where an unsparing ground-level view of the traumatic disruption of war is leavened by a deftly deployed acidic humour, and where the historical and the personal are virtually one and the same.”

The “formidable grandmother,” he explains, “infus[es] the book’s every page even when she’s out of the frame… [she is] an endlessly complex figure who does her level best to inculcate her children and grandchildren with superstition and racism, yet in her way provides the family with whatever unity it has.”

Vu comments on the significance of the grandmother figure in her own life:

“My mother was a doctor, so it was my grandmother who raised us…Even for those years when we were apart, she was very important in all of our lives. Her stories had become like myths to us.”

Moreover, she comments on her life after coming to North America, which was comprised of both difficulty and opportunity.

McGillis writes:

“The Vu family’s life outside Vietnam began in 1970 in small-town Connecticut, where ill-informed locals viewed these new arrivals as enemies. “There was a lot of ‘What are these Viet Cong doing here?’ ” Vu recalled. “I was bullied in school… things improved considerably when they relocated to cosmopolitan, French-speaking Montreal — although, ironically, their port of call was Westmount.”

Nevertheless, a new life in North America provided Vu with many opportunities which were not available to her in Vietnam:

“I was very lucky — I had a chance at a North American education, which opened my mind and gave me a chance to get over a lot of that backward thinking.”

Regarding her main reason for writing That Summer in Provincetown, Vu explains:

“I wanted to write something for my two daughters…Most of the time, the only thing that interests them about Vietnam is the food. I wanted them to know some of their history — not just of the country I’m from, but of their family and its secrets. I learned those secrets when I was 26, told to me by a cousin, who was told by her mother. My daughters are 16 and 21, and I didn’t want them to find out that way.”

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An Interview with CKUT: Feminism, Freedom and Humanity in Naim Kattan’s Farida

faridaIn a recent interview interview with Rana Alrabi from CKUT, Naim Kattan and Norman Cornett speak about Farida, Naim Kattan’s fifth novel to be translated into English. They discuss the life of Naim Kattan, the main themes of the novel, and the commentary which these themes provide on universal topics and issues.

The English translation of Farida by Naim Kattan trans. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.

Naim Kattan speaks about his experiences in the three cities where he’s lived throughout his life: Baghdad, Paris and Montreal. He begins by describing his early life in Baghdad— a city which, before the Second World War, was largely multicultural and multiethnic.

“My mother tongue was Arabic and everybody spoke with a dialect… the Christians, the Jews, the Kurds, the Muslims…we spoke all together and we could understand each other.”

Prof. Norman Cornett explains that this multicultural and multiethnic reality of Baghdad is portrayed in Farida:

“You see [the different dialects] throughout the book..people are shifting dialects depending on the different religious, ethnic or cultural communities they are dealing with.”

Furthermore, Naim Kattan and Prof. Cornett point to the ways in which Farida explores feminism.

Prof. Cornett explains:

“What makes the English translation of Farida so timely?…the book explores different models of feminism. And it’s quite prescient in that respect. [Naim Kattan is] dealing with archetypes. In fact, the beginning of the book really addresses the conception of the prostitute…Then the book deals with the mother figure…the sister…and there is the woman, Farida, of unattainable beauty. [It addresses] the questions of how to negotiate those relationships, [and] how to deal with those different feminine archetypes.”

Kattan points to the relationship between feminism and freedom, and shows how he sets out to portray this connection in his novel:

“One of the things that maybe I unconsciously tried to express in Farida is that if there is [to be] any liberation of the societies of the Middle East it has to [be started] by women and [be] done by women. Women are going to liberate these lands. It can take a lot of time but I think there is so much courage now expressed by Middle Eastern women. They don’t take arms, they don’t kill…but they speak and they act. I hope they will be successful in bringing a new society.”

He explains that this concern is central to the Middle East, but not only— the importance of promoting Feminism is universal, and crucial in countries across the world. He elaborates on the role which Farida plays in bringing these issues to light.

“What I expect now is that the English speaking people would find in that book some of the notions of what is happening in the Middle East and what are the possible issues. I don’t say that they are ones to be solved— I don’t have a program to solve these problems. But at least [I want] people [to] know that when women are not free there is no hope for a country to be free. It’s a way of dealing with what’s happening in the world and especially in the Middle East…but also wherever I went in the world, I found out that the relationship between men and women are essential to the freedom in society— to the future of humanity [and] the future of society.”

Moreover, Kattan and Cornett stress the crucial role of the English translation of Farida in opening up dialogue about feminism, multiculturalism and multilingualism to a wider audience.

Prof. Cornett elaborates:

“The western world is moving towards interculturalism, multiculturalism…this book has to appear in English. How do we deal with the other, with different religions?…Right here in Quebec, we remember very well the kind of debate, the public discourse that was taking place here in Montreal in the wake of the Taylor Bouchard commission, in the wake of the Charter of Values…Farida constitutes a template, it becomes a text on ‘how do we live together when our neighbours are from different religions, different cultures, different ethnicities?’ ”

In the end, the novel voices the importance of humanity, and of the ability to coexist with others.

“The focal point of Farida is human relationships, personal relationships– it comes down to the relationships between individuals.”

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Norman Cornett’s Interview on The Zelda Young Show: on Naim Kattan’s Farida

faridaIn a recent radio interview on The Zelda Young Show, Professor Norman Cornett speaks about Naim Kattan’s Farida. He elaborates on the life and writing of Naim Kattan, on the thematic concerns of the novel, and on literature’s ability to makes readers aware of issues and realities which pertain to culture and identity.

The English translation of Farida by Naim Kattan trans. Prof. Norman Cornett and Antonio D’Alfonso was published by Guernica Editions in 2015.

Cornett explains that he met Naim Kattan in his dialogic sessions, and that he was pulled to translate Farida into English in order to bring a vision of a different reality of Iraqi history to an English readership.

“The best way to meet Naim Kattan is through his writing… [in class] we would go through his writings and at the end of a novel he would walk in.. we could have a collective conversation about his experience [both] as a writer and as an Iraqi Jew.”

He elaborates on why he chose to translate Kattan’s Farida into English: “I watch the news every night and as I saw Iraq from Desert Storm until now…keeping in mind Isis, keeping in mind the Americans in Iraq, keeping in mind Saddam Hussain, I said, ‘look…Iraq is daily news… could we get another vision of Iraq that would help us understand a country that goes back millennia and one of the key populations in that civilization– the Jewish-Iraqi community?”

Furthermore, Cornett speaks about Farida’s central figure, a Jewish songstress who is significant in setting up this alternate vision of Iraq in the novel.

“[Farida] is a singer. In some respects, she’s modelled on Arabic singer Umm Kulthum… she is also modelled on Ester from the bible. [Farida] is a stunning beauty and the man that means the most to her in life has been falsely accused… she must use all of her artistry to save not only the man she loves but the family and the community that mean the most to her.”

Cornett points out that the vision of Iraq portrayed in Farida relates to Kattan’s own experience as an Iraqi-Jew.

“Through the vehicle of creative writing, [Naim Kattan] is bringing front and centre the issues [in Iraq], and for me as a historian by training what struck me is that he’s giving us a mirror of his world as he knew it… he realizes that the handwriting is on the wall for Iraq… this is his way of coming to terms with his heritage as an Iraqi-Jew… he’s writing Farida as the First Gulf War takes place.”

He goes on to stress the significance of Naim Kattan’s novel in education, and its ability to bring awareness to students.

“The way to make them aware is to make Naim Kattan’s books available in English. The whole point of education is to give students peripheral vision so that they can see the big picture. That means they have to have engaging text, narratives that strike their passions. [Naim Kattan] does it…he doesn’t hold back .”

Cornett stresses that, despite the fact that Kattan’s book is a work of fiction, it is capable of making readers aware of historical reality. He further explains how this relates to the reality of creative writing, which is a task that takes much productivity, much more discipline, than pure inspiration.

“Naim Kattan is weaving a beautiful story that integrates as much facts as it does fiction to come out in a new synthesis that engages the reader… we often think of creative writing as.. [stemming] from some divine intervention. Creativity goes hand in hand with discipline. There are few writers more disciplined than Naim Kattan. Creativity and discipline—now that’s a lesson for my students.”

***
Listen to the full interview here:


Naim Kattan’s Farida is available for purchase on the Guernica Editions website: http://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771830386

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Thor Polson and Elana & Menachem Wolff Presenting at The Bathurst Clark Research Library

Polson Wolff eventOn Sunday, July 12th, 2015, Thor Polson and Elana & Menachem Wolff will be presenting their two-in-one flipside book Poems and Songs of Love by Georg Mordechai Langer; A Hunger Artist and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. The presentation will take place at The Bathurst Clark Research Library (900 Clark Avenue West, Vaughan) at 11 AM.

Franz Kafka’s writings are characterized by an extreme sensitivity manifested in absurdity and gallows humour. The two collections of short pieces, A Country Doctor (1919) and A Hunger Artist (1924), newly translated by Thor Polson, represent later works in the corpus. Poems and Songs of Love is a translation of the collection Piyyutim ve-Shirei Yedidot by Hebrew poet, Georg Mordechai Langer. Originally published in Prague in 1929, it contains an elegy to Langer’s friend Franz Kafka, and other openly homo- romantic poems. This collaborative translation by Elana and Menachem Wolff brings the fascinating work of Langer—poems as well as an essay on Kafka—to the English-reading public for the first time, and sheds light on a hitherto unexamined relationship.

There will be a talkback session. Refreshments included.

 

bathurst clark resource library

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Panoram Italia features article on Mary Melfi: “In comedy, as in life, you cannot take yourself too seriously”

mary melfiPanoram Italia recently featured a piece about prolific writer and playwright Mary Melfi, whose newest novel, Via Roma, will be published this fall by Guernica Editions.

The piece comments on Melfi’s writing: the subjects she frequently employs in her work, the characters she creates, and her genre of choice – comedy—and its numerous intriguing complexities.

Liz Allemang stresses that, while Melfi often returns to particular themes and characters, she “has a broad range” as a writer.

“Throughout her decades as a writer, she has explored issues of identity, relationships and “internalized psychological conflicts” in her works of prose, theatre and fiction.”

When it comes to characters in particular, Allemang explains that “there’s a particular type” which Melfi often explores in her work.

“I enjoy focusing on characters who haven’t figured out what life is all about, but they’re quite OK with it. They accept the fact that life can be ugly and beautiful at one and the same time,” says Melfi. “This generates a bittersweet quality to their view of life.” One that Melfi believes she shares.”

Similarly, Melfi returns to specific subjects in her work. One in particular: marriage.

“Melfi has dedicated many of her literary explorations to the subjects of marriage and, more broadly, relationships…. ‘Writing about marriage is fun,’ she says, because ‘you get to play all the parts, and decide on the outcome. In a comedy no one gets hurt. Not all that much anyway. Everyone wins. That’s what’s so nice about the form. Even grownups, on occasion, need to hear the words, ‘and they lived happily ever after’.”

However, Melfi’s work is far from light, simple and straightforward.

“Melfi’s work delves into juicy complication, self-reflection and situations in which readers can, she hopes, see themselves in the characters, make comparisons with them or, perhaps, forget themselves amid the voyeurism of the moment.”

Allemang, likewise, stresses the complexity of Melfi as author, who, in her work, sets up a strong dichotomy between humour and depth:

“While Melfi’s writing exhibits a mastery of understanding, sympathizing with and challenging her characters, her proclivity for exploring subjects that are close to home has also allowed her to develop an ability to speak to complex, human subjects and relationships. Her writing is humourous and truthful.”

***

Melfi’s play, My Italian Wife, will be staged in a production by The Sons of Italy, which will be running from November 26-29, 2015 at the Casa D’Italia in Montreal.

 

 

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