Thursday, December 19, 2013

Happy Holidays!

The Fiddlehead office is now closed until the new year. 

On behalf of everyone who works on The Fiddlehead, we wish you a happy holiday season and a prosperous 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Breakwater Newfoundland Poetry Series: Shoshanna Wingate responds to Carmelita McGrath

Photo by Kerri Cull
Carmelita McGrath holds a singular place in the heart of Newfoundland poetry. For an island that loves its poets, this is not a consolation prize for the weird auntie who likes her hats big and bright, but a heartfelt space created for a poet who inspired so many in their development. Michael Crummey has said many times that Carmelita McGrath was a force when he was dabbling in verse, falling under its spell and unsure of what kind of life it would provide him.  She was instrumental in gathering writers in St. John’s, in nurturing their aspirations, and she emboldened both her peers and those who would come up behind them. And when she did not publish a collection of poetry for some twelve years, she was missed. Her peers lamented her lack of a new book publicly, they prodded her and cajoled her to finish it up, they pestered her when she balked.

As for her own writing, she found a vernacular at ease in a poetic form. Every traditional culture is a man’s culture first. Hard scrabbled. Weather worn. Pitched against elements both natural and economic.  The woman relegated to waiting and fretting. Recycled images of romantic rural life. Old world charms. Carmelita burnished the tools and picked away. She’s a writer with no patience for sentimental stories. The delight in reading her is to watch her upend our familiar myths, her craftsmanship deftly chipping off the rough edges until we see what was always there underneath it all.

As many writers know, it’s not often readers come beating on your door demanding your next work, that you hurry it up already and stop making us wait so friggin' long. Imagine. And yet, when Carmelita took the stage for the book launch of the Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Poetry, the room fidgeted and settled, even a perceptible collective breath could be felt. St. John’s is the only city I know where poets fill the room at The Ship until they're spilling out into the alleyways. We missed your voice, Agnes Walsh said.

Shoshanna Wingate lives in St. John's, Newfoundland. Her poetry book, A Crooked Mirror, will come out in Fall 2014 with Véhicule Press. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Breakwater Newfoundland Poetry Series: Jeffery Donaldson responds to Richard Greene

The lived life is dead. Long live the lived life.

Richard Greene begins: “I am at home in a high-rise.” You want to catch the nuance there:  the descent motif, finding one’s ground among the contemporary urban domiciles; but also the ascent, the daily routine struggling to rise above itself. Greene’s poems are high-risers that seek a lifting leverage in high-rises. We’ve been arguing with the ordinary for decades now.  It has given little ground, if any, but we go back to it for answers, offer our part in the antiphony, the plaintive call and response. These poems are grounded in the “lesser miracles” of domestic existence, conversations in water-drops, fishings after the moment’s stingy yield. Their wry ironies are a means of accommodation, a feeling of generosity among scant offerings. We are those customers in “Beside the Funeral Home” who wouldn’t be “caught dead in the ordinary,” for it is in the ordinary that something is always coming to an end. And yet we try to pass through it, like new coffins arriving for the departed in the “funeral home that calls itself ‘Wing On.’” The Portuguese fishermen playing football in close quarters among the ship’s rigging: I thought of Baudelaire’s albatross. Greene picks up the French poet’s lament and exhortation: to find what flight we can amid our modern, homely entanglements: “A boy / who watched old leather fly to makeshift / goals among the nets and ropes and barrows.”

“My feast is elsewhere.” A castaway from the Newfoundland, Greene offers a world whose immediate weights and concerns are always traversed by presences, energies or sources of empowerment, from away: a traveller on the Newfoundland ferry finding his legs at sea, “between homes”; immigrants in Toronto’s St James town, working to send money home to loved ones in native lands; a Nantucket whaler come home to find his own property cut off from him; people variously withdrawn from an original identity.

Greene is very particular, so to speak, about his subject matter. There has to be nothing there, or seem to be. The poem must appear like one of the three or four last fishing boats at anchor in St. John’s, “roped to the wharf waiting for a good year.” We arrive in aftermath, like poems coming belatedly to the vast antecedent modernisms, long-since plundered. Displacement in space. Belatedness in time. To work with leavings.

The poem in Greene is like a kind of sketchy neighbourhood. The place ain’t what it used to be. But Greene’s is not a nostalgia for imagined Arcadian antecedents. We don’t find ourselves longing here for what is past, but rather for what is missed, in both senses, here and now. There is plenty in the ordinary, so to speak, but we miss it, as though it were past. “There is some tear in memory between / the longed for and the given.” The two are one, and have been for a long time. We need to find new kinds of attention, an alternative approach to our sense of displacement and belatedness:

Yet they live by their hope, curiously pledged
To some afterness that will reward and bless . . .

To find one’s calling in a place and time apparently evacuated: Greene’s style grapples with the ensuing imperatives. To embody. To work through. In a Greene poem, traditional cadences are pressed home, as it were. I think of the civic poems of an Auden: poems of lyric commentary, poems in every sense responsible, both to a tradition and to its present application in the social scrimmage. You take the traditions at hand, the world at hand, and you “get something across” through them. You can hear it in every poem:  not a throwing away of the level line, the sound construction, for easier escape clauses. Instead, a prosody that wrestles with its inheritance. Listen here:

They paid out trawls, hooks baited with caplin
Or squid, and hauled in the twisting cod
Until their boats brimmed with silver thrashing.

The line itself, like the scene evoked, twists inside its threaded nettings, every word — the diction, the positioning — a writhing from itself.

Newfoundlanders in the big smoke are ironically “from away,” away from where they continue to find their imaginative roots. This is a poetry seasoned by the Rock; like Michaelangelo’s unfinished Dying Slave, it gives the impression of wriggling in its stone footings.  It stays there and it leaves.

Jeffery Donaldson is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Guesswork (Goose Lane, 2011) and Slack Action (Porcupine's Quill, 2013). He teaches poetry and American literature at McMaster University.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Introducing the Judges for The Fiddlehead's 23rd Annual Literary Contest

The Fiddlehead's annual literary contest is now closed, and we're pleased to announce this year's fabulous judges.

Fiction Judge
Douglas Glover
Douglas Glovers newest book, a collection of short stories called Savage Love, appeared in the fall of 2013. He has won the Governor General’s Award for his novel Elle as well as the Rogers Writers’ Trust Timothy Findley Award for his body of work. He edited Best Canadian Stories from 1996 to 2006. He teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the current Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick. He edits the international online arts magazine Numéro Cinq.

Poetry Judges
James Arthur
James Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, Brick, and The American Poetry Review. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Stegner Fellowship, a Hodder Fellowship, a Discovery/The Nation Prize, The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Prize, and a residency at the Amy Clampitt House. His first book, Charms Against Lightning, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012 as a Lannan Literary Selection. James grew up in Toronto and now lives in Baltimore, where he teaches in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

Elizabeth Bachinsky
Elizabeth Bachinsky is the author of five collections of poetry: Curio (BookThug, 2005), Home of Sudden Service (Nightwood, 2006), God of Missed Connections (Nightwood, 2009), I Don't Feel So Good (BookThug, 2012) and The Hottest Summer in Recorded History (Nightwood, 2013). Her poetry has been nominated for awards including the Pat Lowther Award, The Kobzar Literary Award, The George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, the Governor General's Award for Poetry and the Bronwen Wallace Award, and has appeared in literary journals, anthologies and on film around the world. She lives in New Westminster BC where she teaches creative writing and is the Editor of EVENT magazine.

Tim Lilburn
Tim Lilburn was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. He has published nine books of poetry, including To the River (1999), Kill-site (2003), Orphic Politics (2008) and Assiniboia (2012). His work has received the Governor General’s Award (for Kill-site) and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award (for To the River), among other prizes. A selection of his poetry is collected in Desire Never Leaves: the Poetry of Tim Lilburn, edited by Alison Calder. His most recent book is the chapbook Newton, Force at a Distance, Imperialism from The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press (2013).  Lilburn teaches in the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria.

Here are the most recent books from our judges:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Breakwater Newfoundland Poetry Series: George Murray Responds to Patrick Warner

Patrick Warner

If you ever get the chance to meet Patrick-Warner-the-Person, you’ll find yourself reading him much like you’ll come to read Patrick-Warner-the-Poet in the Breakwater Anthology — as seemingly reserved, but with a sly core full of wit, emotional charge, and genuine grace. His outward appearance is one of dignity and formality (a polite Irish Canadian with wonderful manners), but inside resides a devilish appetite for both the profound and the absurd (he’ll zing you with the best of them and leave you laughing at yourself).

Pat is one of those guys who shows up at a party and surveys the scene quietly, not so much seeking an opportunity to join one chatting group or another so much as looking for a moment of genuine interest in which to participate. He’s a collector, of ideas, thoughts, moments, and people. Much like another poet, (and regular party attendee in Newfoundland) Stan Dragland, when Pat-the-Person says something, it’s funny or profound because it’s the right thing to say at the right time. There’s thought and patience behind it. Pat-the-Poet similarly picks perfect moments from the jumble of inputs we call life in order to move toward universal truths through his words. You get the feeling he’s in no rush for anything.

A transplanted Irishman, Warner fits into the Newfoundland anthology in two ways—first, as a poet who had a significant connection to the Rock before the publication of his first book (he’s been here for 33 years); and second, as a man of wit and stories from a culture of wit and stories. Warner’s poems range from the playfulness of poems like Mormon and Waxing, in which haut couture and Winston Churchill’s nipples appear, respectively, to the hard reality of Anorexia, in which we watch the poet-speaker deal with his own role in his daughter’s attempt to slowly starve herself.

If you never get the chance to meet Patrick-Warner-the-Person — especially, as I did, after having read his verse — no worries. You’ll get a good sense of him here in the Breakwater Anthology. I imagine it’ll be like finding him in a corner at a party—you feeling surprised not by how formal he seems at first, but by how shocking he can be when you least expect it.

George Murray is the author of five books of poems, most recently Whiteout (ECW 2012), nominated for the EJ Pratt Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize, one book of Aphorisms, Glimpse (ECW 2010), and an upcoming book for children, Wow Wow and Haw Haw (Breakwater, 2014), with painter Michael Pittman. He lives in St. John’s.