Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

adickinson's blog


Now that The Polymers has been published and launched, I am currently working on a new and related poetry project, one that also explores the intersection between poetry and chemistry. I thought I would spend my final Open Book blog post telling you a little about this new work. Its current title is Anatomic; it will be a book of poems that explores the ways in which the outside writes the inside of the body – both negatively in terms of pollution and positively in terms of the various microbes we depend on for our health.


I write each poem out loud. The act of writing for me always involves recitation (and sometimes even digital recording) as I listen for ways to adjust the rhythms, the shifts in register, or the leaps between disparate language games. The Polymers is a new reading experience for me because of its relatively elaborate conceptual framework and also because of the important presence visual elements have in the book. Large images of molecules and visual poems have become fundamental components of my reading style as I evoke the manners and measures of the scientist presenting his unconventional research for audience scrutiny. I think of my readings as performances, as outlandish lectures by the preternatural Pataphysician bearing diagrams and charts.


Sara Peters, Michael Crummey, and I have been on a brief reading tour over the past few days. It was great fun reading with the two of them and hearing their marvellous new work. We started in Montreal at an event hosted last Wednesday by the fine people at Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore and then moved on the next day to Toronto for the Anansi Poetry Bash. The Bash was a real blast. It was a treat for me to get the chance to show a few molecules, talk with friends, sign some books, and generally toast the arrival of this project I have spent so much time working on.


An important new arts organization was started last year by Vancouver writer Gillian Jerome in response to conversations on gender and representation initiated by Sina Queryas and Natalie Zina Walschots (a.k.a. Natalie Zed). The Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) is a non-profit group of about 350 writers, artists, critics, and academics. The organization has three main goals: 1) to track statistics on gender representation in reviewing; 2) to bring relevant issues of gender, race, and sexuality into the national literary conversation; and 3) to create a network supportive of the active careers of female writers, critics, and their literary communities.

Codex Seraphinianus

This has to be one of the most fascinating, mysterious, and beautiful books of all time. It’s an imaginary encyclopedia of an imaginary world, one not that far removed from our own, but just enough so that its alien images provoke reflective consideration about the nature of our own categories, classes, and distinctions between nature and culture. Luigi Serafini wrote the Codex Seraphinianus in the 1970s; it has appeared in several reprinted edition since then. It is still a relatively rare book; however, thanks to ubuweb, you can peruse the Codex from the comfort of your laptop.


Poetry is often most interesting when it shifts the frames with which we approach contemporary situations, materials, or ideas. There is William Carlos William’s red wheelbarrow hanging up there on the poetry wall like Duchamp’s urinal. There is Frank O’Hara’s breathless elegy on its way to the suburbs for a dinner party. There are Kenneth Goldsmith’s traffic reports typed out on the ones. Changing the frame can provoke us to look at the commonplace in less common ways. Changing speeds, changing orders, changing mediums, changing other variables of apprehension can make visible certain patterns or anomalies that might not otherwise be apparent. Here is an example of what we might call a visual poem involving earth’s temperature reframed at breakneck speed.


One of the things I look forward to most when giving a reading in another city is the chance to have a post-reading drink and chat with the other readers and poets who live in the area. I had an opportunity to do this in Cobourg this past weekend when Stuart Ross joined us for a couple of pints and some poetry-talk. As the evening wore on, several of us drifted off to our various lodgings, including my wife, Erin, who was staying with me at a Bed and Breakfast just outside of Cobourg. I had a crudely drawn map to the B&B and a vague sense of where to tell the cabby to take me; however, I also wanted to explore Cobourg a bit, so I told Erin I would meet up with her later.


I had the honour of reading at the Cobourg Festival of Poetry this past weekend. It was an absolute blast! The reading took place in the Art Gallery of Northumberland in beautiful downtown Cobourg. Part of the pleasure for me was getting to do a literary event with my wife, the amazing poet Erin Knight. The two of us don’t get the chance to read together that often, so this was a special treat. The fun started as soon as we entered the gallery building where we were confronted with enormous piles of Spam. The canned meat product was part of promotional material for “Spamalot,” which was showing at the theatre also located in the building.


I was listening to bpNichol read from The Martyrology the other day by way of recently posted recordings from readings he did at Simon Fraser University in July of 1983. Just before breaking for lunch, Nichol pauses from his reading and mentions how he lost the manuscript of the long poem three different times. It was missing for six months at one point, he said, only to be eventually discovered at the back of a closet. It got me thinking about what it must have been like to write in a pre-digital age when manuscripts existed in precious individual hard copies. We never lose our writing anymore.


In light of my last post on bioart, I want to share with you an intriguing experiment proposed by a 24-year-old software engineer from Atlanta by the name of Rob Rhinehart. What happens if we were to reduce food to its basic raw materials of vitamins and minerals? What if we were to replace conventional food and conventional eating with the consumption of those chemical raw materials in their recommended ratios? Rhinehart has done just this, replacing all of this food with a chemical cocktail he whips up in his chemistry lab/kitchen every morning. “Soylent,” as he calls it, contains all of the necessary nutrients of a well-balanced diet in their essential chemical form. He only eats solid food now a few times a week (usually when dining with friends).

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