Saturday, October 27, 2012

Event: Black Thursday: Anthology, Contest, and Issue Launch

Okay, so the details for The Puritan's big bash to launch its new issue and best-of anthology, which will include my winning poem for the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, have been announced. They are as follows:

When: Thursday, November 22, at 7:30 pm.
Where: The Supermarket, 268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto.
Who: Readers will include:

Gary Barwin
Nancy Jo Cullen
Jenny Sampirisi
Mark Sampson (me!)
Suzannah Showler
Matthew Tierney
Daniel Scott Tysdal

So if you're in Toronto and free that night, please come out and help us celebrate. It would be really great to see you.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Acceptance: PRISM International

I'm very happy to report that PRISM International has accepted my short story "Going Soft through Luxury" for publication in its next issue, number 51.2. Needless to say, I'm really stoked about this news, as I've been submitting regularly to PRISM for at least 10 years now and I'm so pleased that I'll have something included in its pages. I'm also excited because this is the first of the new batch of short stories I've been working on over the last 13 months to be accepted for publication, so it's a nice little piece of validation that I'm on the right track.

I'll send out more details when they become available.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Winner: Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for Literary Excellence (The Puritan)

So I'm very excited to announce that I have been named winner of the inaugural Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for Literary Excellence in the poetry category, put on by The Puritan literary magazine for my piece "Seasonal Sonnets." I got the news late last week and it was announced publicly this evening. I'm very excited that my poem will be appearing in the pages of The Puritan, a journal I have submitted to a number of times before and which has, over the years, published several writers I greatly admire, including J.J. Steinfeld, Catherine Graham, Daniel Scott Tysdal and my lovely wife Rebecca.

The issue will be online and in print next month, and word is there will be a launch on November 22 here in Toronto (details coming soon). If you're in the city and can make it out, I'd love to see you. I'm also looking forward to reading the works of the other writers who placed in the contest.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: In This Thin Rain, by Nelson Ball

Writing good minimalist poetry is hard to do, so when you find poets who can do it you just want to savour their work as much as possible. This was certainly the case when I read Nelson Ball’s new collection In This Thin Rain, a book that contains the kind of brief, meditative observations that deserve a slow and—in my case, at least—out-loud reading. Ball has honed his talent for minimalist verse across more than two dozen poetry books since the 1960s, and his latest shows his abilities at their full strength.

A lot of the power and momentum behind these pieces arise from Ball’s uncanny skill with line breaks. He understands not only how to leave space for poems to breathe but also how to leave space for our brains to breathe. The rhythm of these poems are tailored to the way the contemplative mind works, how it mulls over notions or images in a microsecond before moving on, craving reinforcement or paradox. Take for example the deceptively simple poem “Obituaries”:

I’ve been reading obituaries

don’t quite
know why

lives are
always ending


The genius is in that incredible “don’t quite/know why” enjambment. A lesser poet might have written the simpler “don’t know why” and done it as one line, but here Ball is wise enough to understand the staccato nature of human rumination. The repeated “always” is just the right amount of closing emphasis on an idea about bleakness and inevitability. It’s amazing how much verve Ball can squeeze into just 14 words.

Or take the piece “Walking”, where the line breaks and careful word choices create a wonderful verisimilitude of ambulation:

October, mild

at The Ponds

no clouds

enough to make


I am



Again, line breaks add momentum and punch, and here they work in congress with a carefully chosen simile (trees as restless as the poet). And do I need to I need to point out the quiet genius of those one-word lines that end the poem?

Another strength of In This Thin Rain is the way that Ball is able to work in reoccurring tropes and images without making them feel heavy handed. The collection is full of windmills, of houseflies in their death throes, of rain and pine needles floating on water. In true minimalist fashion, the poems don’t force us to make connections between these repetitions or see some greater significance in their use. Rather, Ball presents these as what they are—quotidian observations that do what true observations do: crop up again and again.

The book’s acknowledgements page points out that Ball lost both his wife and his mother inside of 18 months during the writing of this collection. This fact lends an unmistakable (and unsettling) tension to the book upon rereading. The passage of time and the slow accumulation of images build not so much to a climax as to a searing realization: that grief can come fast and hard, and cannot be skirted. But also this: that grief is, in the end, just another part of the natural experience of living and can, if you are wise and attuned to the heart's honest voice, be expressed briefly through a poem. Briefly, and with truth.