Singing Backup

One of my favourites, Sommer Browning, has a great idea to get people to film themselves reading poems from her lovely new collection, “Backup Singers”. Here’s my contribution which I filmed in three different locations, in our yard, in the skytrain station, and um, in my bathroom. The piece I read is from a section called “Multifarious Array”.

Thanks to my wife Megan for helping me with it! And thanks Sommer for being kind enough to mail me a copy.

Spring Cheer

Lately been feeling a lot of excitement and pride in some of my friends and acquaintances who are making some waves in the poetry world here in Canada. Garth Martens and Anne-Marie Turza, my co-finalists at the Bronwen Wallace Awards in 2010, both have books out Prologue for the Age of Consequence And The Quiet respectively. Looking pretty good, you guys. My mentor and good friend Jen Currin has got a book out called School. Jen’s been such a great help with my own manuscript and giving me advice about publishers and etc. usually over tasty Mexican brunches. Kayla Czaga (read two of her poems in the latest Maynard issue) has been on fire lately, with a haunting poem in the Walrus and winning the Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem (links to interview). Kayla will have a book out in the fall through Nightwood called For Your Safety Please Hold On. She has been a delightful friend and fellow poet and I’m really looking forward to her collection. The unstoppable Kevin Spenst is touring his chapbook across Canada. I think there’s a plan for me to read with him outside some taco place?

In the world of poets-that-I’ve-only-met-once-or-twice-but-feel-like-I-know-them-closely-because-of-the-generous-nature-of-their writing, I’m really excited about reading Sommer Browning’s new collection Backup Singers, Matthew Zapruder’s Sun Bear, Adam Sol‘s Complicity (Thanks Adam for making the time to have coffee with me when you were in town!) and Bob Hicok‘s Elegy Owed that I just found out about today.

Phew. There’s more that I want to cheer, but that’s a lot for now. I’m just really honored  to know these terrific poets who also happen to be lovely, genuine individuals. I’m now gonna put a bunch of book covers below here to remind myself (and suggest to you) to get these books over time.

Garth Martens | Prologue for the Age of Consequence
Anne-Marie Turza | The Quiet






Jen Currin | School
Sommer Browning | Backup Singers
Matthew Zapruder | Sun Bear
Adam Sol | Complicity
Bob Hicok | Elegy Owed



Sommer Browning @ the Denver/Vancouver Reading

Recently attended the Denver/Vancouver reading in which a few poets from Denver, CO were paired up with a few of Vancouver’s poets (why not, right? Our cities already half-rhyme!) It was a lovely and weird reading; Ray Hsu half-drunkenly left a poem in Stephen Harper’s voicemailbox, Noah Eli Gordon used audience members as readers with on/off switches to create cacophony of voices.

The standout for me was a reading by Sommer Browning, whose first book, “Either Way I’m Celebrating” I consumed in a whirry coffee-buzz the following day.

Browning writes poems and draws little comics and seems to appreciate the relationship that jokes have with poems, how they both tilt and reinvent the world.

Her opening poem at the reading, An Officer And A Gentleman, took the voice of someone guessing in a game of Charades:

Movie. Four Words. First word. Sounds like….making a box with your hands….sculpting, shaping, sounds like shaping, caping, maping, paping, paping? That’s not a word, is it? Paping? Nevermind, go to the second word. Second word. Fingers close together. Inch worm! No. Bit, tiny , little….2001: A Space Odyssey! I don’t know why I said that…

it carries on that way, read at an appropriately frantic and choppy pace by Browning, getting more and more frustrating and absurd, until the arrival at the answer is both a surprise and somehow profound. The poem might be taken as just a clever form, but it illustrates very succinctly the difficulties of communication.

[Browning  performing the poem at a different reading (around the 4:52 mark)]

I don’t always totally follow where Browning is going in her poems, but there is something so natural about the voice, one is drawn there anyway. And though often funny, its not the only note played: snappy one-liners are offset by surreal images, and darker contemplations. Sommer can go from talking about watching adult movies as a kid, to sea monkeys, to this ‘we knew our parents didn’t love each other.‘ Her ability to make this work shows a wide range and confidence of voice.

The comics in her book are simple crude illustration that are sometimes surreal, sometimes charmingly wtf, yet always feel at home amongst the poems. Here’s one:

It seems that Browning has put out a number of chapbooks, but this is her first ‘real’ book and one I was grateful to read. With the daunting prospect of putting together my own first book on the horizon, its refreshing to see one that includes a drawing of a dildo riding a bicycle – and yet still holds up as a strong collection. Check out here website and the neat things she does here.