“Artists are Lepers”: Another Review of Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren

The Winnipeg Review Misses Wren’s Uncanny Cultural Realism // Domenica Martinello

Jacob Wren
Jacob Wren has his own shelf at Montréal’s Drawn & Quarterly

On Monday, André Forget dissected Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren. Today on The Town Crier, Domenica Martinello adds her opinion in our first ever double feature review.

The characters in Jacob Wren’s meta mash-up, Polyamorous Love Song don’t mince words when it comes to art and artists. The novel continually contrasts an inflated sense of self-importance with the presence of actual creative merit: “All you want is people to look at you and look at what you do and think you’re special and talented.” It is Paul, a character questioning the validity of repackaging life as art, who delivers this criticism to one of the novel’s numerous narrators—significantly, “a mildly successful mid-career artist” most resembling Jacob Wren himself. This narrator tends to agree; he admits that artists are “not necessarily the most creative or inspired individuals in any given community,” but are “those individuals … most willing to gain personal profit from their unconscious and its emanations, those with the most missionary zeal for the dissemination of their own idiosyncratic perspectives.” For a novel described as “experimental,” “‘avant-garde,” and “confusing,” Wren is pretty clear about what he is doing without the need for self-aggrandizement. It would be impossible or at least dishonest to attempt the illusion of neutrality when trying to deconstruct the sort of ideas the novel puts forth. Instead of trying to create a distance between producer and product, the author implicates himself directly. He is the product. In a work that challenges the legitimacy of exploiting ideas—whether mundane, compelling, or radical—for artistic gain, Wren does not hold himself above the scrutiny of his novel’s probing question: Is art valuable? Continue reading

When Filmmakers Don’t Make Movies: A Review of Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song

Sex, Guns, Revolutionary Orgies, and the Problem With Forgetting About Propaganda // André Forget

Polyamorous Love Song
Polyamorous Love Song by Jacob Wren

The credits have rolled, the lights have come on, the janitor is vacuuming the popcorn, but it’s slushy outside, and you might have stepped in chewing gum. Don’t worry. The Town Crier is proud to present its first double feature review! This week, we’ll be posting two reviews of Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song (BookThug). In today’s review, André Forget tackles Wren’s avant-garde vision and the problem of propaganda. Please remain seated. Domenica Martinello adds her take on Thursday.

Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song, published earlier this year by BookThug, is a truly exciting novel. This is partially because its 185 pages are chock full of sex, guns, revolutionary orgies, secret societies, and terrorist cell groups dressed in mascot costumes, but it is also because it is a boldly experimental novel that does not sacrifice clarity in its pursuit of intelligence or earnestness, despite its irony. And yet, it is also a novel that does not follow through on some of its own best insights, which is especially disappointing given how penetrating those insights can be. The novel is propelled by the heady conviction that art can shape and condition our experience of the world, and that by grabbing hold of this power the artist can open up new horizons of possibility that allow us to move past the static categories we have inherited; unfortunately, it fails to adequately grapple with the shadow side of this capability, and so compromises its utopian impulse.

The novel’s central preoccupation is a familiar one: the relationship between art and life. It is a testament to Wren’s skill as a writer that his exploration of this theme rarely feels hackneyed or derivative even as he covers territory that is, by now, well-trod. This is in part because he confronts the philosophical problems with which he is dealing head-on and lets the narrative spin out from there, rather than embedding them in a traditional realist narrative. At the very beginning of the novel, before we see any action, we are confronted with a problem: “And my theory about professional artists was as follows: Artists are not necessarily the most creative or inspired individuals in any community. Instead they are those individuals most willing to exploit their own creativity and inspiration.” Continue reading

Two Questions for Puritan Contributor Stevie Howell

“Every Poem Can’t Be a Chamber Piece” // E Martin Nolan

Stevie Howell
Stevie Howell is the author of “^^^^^^”

Stevie Howell published three poems in Issue 25, Spring 2014, and read at The Puritan’s Black Friday this year.

E. Martin Nolan: Your book contains an impressive poetic range. Formally, there are free verse poems spread across the page (or two pages in the case of “Avenue Road”); there are sequences; there are choruses; and there’s even a terzanelle. It is common for first books to express a certain wandering quality while the poet explores the early stages of her practice. Was that the case here, and if so, is there any particular direction you want to explore now that you’ve covered so much ground in [Sharps]?

Stevie Howell: I have a habit of thinking as much about the visual effect of the poem on the page as I do about the sonic qualities. Sort of a form follows function thing. Depending on what the poem is dealing with, there’s a shape I’m trying to use that suits it.

“Avenue Road,” is about being a most-definite outsider while working in one of Canada’s most affluent areas. I think the name of the street is funny—the redundancy. On the page, the poem is meant to resemble a Rorschach blot—an image made by pressing ink between folded pages, making a mirrored form. A Rorschach is what is called in psychology a “projective” test, in that the interpretation of the image reveals a great deal about the viewer. Continue reading

Author Notes: Paul Carlucci Talks Insiders and Outsiders

On the Making of “Even Still” // Paul Carlucci

Paul Carlucci
Paul Carlucci is the author of The Secret Life of Fission

Puritan contributor Paul Carlucci published his story, “Even Still,” in Issue 27, Fall 2014. He discusses cultural difference and the tensions that arise out of shifting privileges.

Blame and regionalism. First, they make pride, and not long after that, they make intolerance.

Canada’s a good example of that phenomenon, much as we like to conceal it beneath nationalist throw rugs, all thin with the threads of niceness, fairness, and welcome. But the West resents the centre. So does the East. Anglophones and francophones still manage, after all this time, to resent one another.  Meanwhile, the north scorns the south—and that tricky little border travels upward with you, so that north becomes south becomes south becomes south, like a geographic pissing contest evermore in the middle of some thawing nowhere.

Then, within those regions, there are further schisms. Between islanders and mainlanders. Farmers and city-slickers. There are county rivalries. Duelling cities. There’s the ever-building pressure systems between natives, settlers, and immigrants. Between immigrants and immigrants.

Then you wander around the world a little, and you notice this dynamic at play everywhere, especially in countries more homogeneous than Canada. Really, most countries are. If you happen to be a visible minority, you’ll rub up against stark racial differences, often uncomfortably, as minorities tend to back home. And then there are the subtler ones based on language and tradition, harder to perceive if you’re a foreigner.

Continue reading

Author Notes: Snow Queens, Pizzlies, and the Canadian Arctic

Puritan Authors Discuss Their Craft // gillian harding-russell

Arctic climate change has spawned a hybrid species

Puritan contributor gillian harding-russel published “Missions: then and now” in Issue 27, Fall 2014. Her poem is about winter, the quest for the Northwest Passage, and the melting of the Canadian Arctic.

Winter has intrigued me since I was a child. A fresh snowfall, with its shimmering lights, is so entrancing, and snow is quite wonderful when it can be shaped into castles, but I was once trapped in my brother’s snow fort and had to be rescued from my ivory bubble of air by a hard shovel. As a child, I hated bundling up for winter—snow pants and boots and gloves and scarves—but soon realized their importance when the temperature dropped below zero (in Québec, where I grew up, even zero Fahrenheit, with the humidity, was something to be reckoned with). I remember walking home from school in an icy wind so that I arrived at the door crying, and on another occasion when I was 12, getting caught in a blizzard while cross-country skiing with a group of friends along a very long trail in the Laurentians. With the white-out, we lost our way, and like Franklin’s men, seemed to be walking in circles around a lake. Disoriented and hypothermic, I just wanted to lie down in the snow to fall asleep (I was so tired), and had to be carried the rest of the way by my older brother, who finally made it back to the chalet at the centre of the ski club. Now that I am older, a part of me still enjoys the challenge of facing the elements. Here in Saskatchewan, we have impressively low temperatures, but, luckily, it is a dry cold. Continue reading

The Island That Lost The Peace: A Review of Michael Winter’s Into the Blizzard

Winning Britain’s War Cost Newfoundland Its Independence // Dave Hurlow

Into the Blizzard
Into the Blizzard follows the Blue Puttees over the top

On October 4th, 1918, a seventeen-year-old boy named Tommy Ricketts ran across a field in Belgium under an immense amount of fire from German forces. He managed to retrieve ammunition for a Lewis gun that was engaged in an outflanking maneuver, turning the tide of the battle and saving many Allied lives. For his bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He met the King of England and returned home a hero.

For Ricketts, Seal Cove, Newfoundland was home: a small community where he might have lived out his remaining years as a fisherman who could not read. Instead, his nation paid for his education and he set up a pharmacy in Saint John’s. Things were expected of him. Ricketts’ son said that although Tommy returned from the war, “He was captured by the people of Saint John’s … Tommy Ricketts couldn’t return to his life.”

Ricketts’s tale, which is recounted in Michael Winter’s new book, Into The Blizzard: Walking The Fields Of The Newfoundland Dead, reminds me of the famous Canadian war correspondent, Matthew Halton. Halton spent the end of World War Two in Paris, drinking champagne, having an affair with a beautiful, machine gun wielding Frenchwoman named Christiane de Sandfort and making eloquent political speeches. Halton himself recognized the over-the-top, Hollywood-style nature of his experience, but that didn’t make it any easier to come down from the high. It was said of Halton that he “won the war, but lost the peace.” Continue reading

BLACK FRIDAY: A Year in Review on Nov. 28

The Puritan Launches Issue 27 and Mayhem at Loft404 // The Puritan

Black FridayLadies and gentlemen of Toronto, Ontario and Beyond,

You are cordially invited to The Puritan’s third-annual year-in-review celebration, an evening of literary libation that promises to close out the Fall Season with pageantry, gallantry, and revelry!

The Event:

Join the editors, staff, and readers of The Puritan for our annual BLACK FRIDAY to-do, taking place on the 28th of November each year.

BLACK FRIDAY 2014 is a night of celebrations to honour the winners of our Third Annual Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence, judged by Margaret Atwood and Zsuzsi Gartner, for both fiction and poetry. Our 2014 winners are Daniel Scott Tysdal for fiction, and Laurie D Graham for poetry. Help us congratulate our winners and runners-up in grand style.

Secondly, BLACK FRIDAY 2014 sees the electronic launch of Issue 27: Fall 2014, which hit the digital shelves yesterday—a wicked collection of fiction, poetry, and journalism to end a great calendar year.

Thirdly, and to usher in the glad tidings and the bountiful work published since January, certain authors whose work and opinions were published in 2014 will be providing short (short) live readings. These writers include: Continue reading

Debunkering the Fortress of Solitude: Against Writing Alone

In Praise of Creative Community // Julienne Isaacs

Fortress of Solitude
Julienne Isaacs’s own Fortress of Solitude

Maybe every writer occasionally romanticizes isolation as a catchall remedy for clogged creativity valves.

This summer, bogged down with writer’s block, I removed myself from the city and escaped into the wilderness. Or, more correctly, into a cabin in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park, situated by a stark, lonely lake large enough to swallow a hundred Walden Ponds.

Two weeks alone in the middle of the woods; I fantasized about it ad nauseum. How I’d finally work through all those neglected drafts, hone them into their final forms. How I’d be able to sharpen my writing voice, surrounded by nothing but fresh air and silence. Continue reading

Indie Literary Market: The Best in Small Press

Come Out to Meet the Micro-, Small-, and Indie Presses // Jess Taylor for The Meet the Presses Collective

The Indie Literary Market

This Saturday marks the 2014 Indie Literary Market, put together by the Meet the Presses collective. The weekend after INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair–where local indie publishers competed with more big budget publishers while sequestered in pavilion corners only to spend the day Tweeting about it–indie and micropress publishers have a day for themselves! On November 22, 2014, members of the public are invited to the Tranzac to interact with micro and small press publishers carefully selected by the collective to participate. The event is free and will run all day from 11:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The event also celebrates achievements by writers who publish using micropress platforms; the winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award will be announced at 2 p.m. during the fair and awarded with a commemorative plaque and $4000, twice the amount of last year’s prize. The publisher of the winning chapbook also receives $500. Judges Kevin McPherson Eckhoff and Sandra Ridley selected this year’s shortlist, which included one of The Puritan’s past associate poetry editors, Mat Laporte, who was nominated for his Odourless Press chapbook, Life Savings. Other finalists included Jason Christie for Government (above/ground), Christine McNair for pleasantries and other misdemeanours (Apt 9.), matt robinson for a fist made and then un-made (Gaspereau Press), Christine Leclerc for Oilywood (Nomados), and Phil Hall for X  (Thee Hellbox). Continue reading

Play Chess, Write a Poem: Introducing the ChessBard

New Digital Poetry Project by Aaron Tucker and Jody Miller // E Martin Nolan

The famous game that inspired ChessBard

In 1968, John Cage and Marcel Duchamp played a chess match. Duchamp, by that time, was considered a chess master, and Cage was his student. Duchamp won handily—but that wasn’t the point. The match took place in front of a live audience at Ryerson University, and they played on a board designed by Lowell Cross to transform the moves of the match into a musical performance. The event was titled Reunion.

According to Chris Jefferson and Ian Miguel, “the squares of the chessboard acted as switches” that controlled the way in which the musical inputs would be output through speakers to the audience. Jefferson and Miguel describe this control mechanism as “fixed but random.” Cross himself described the connection between the board and the musical outputs it controlled as “arbitrary, unplanned, and quasi-random.”

Cross reports that “the Toronto Newspaper critics were unanimous in their indignation about Reunion.” That’s not surprising, given that the musical result of the experiment mirrored the indirect process of composition. Cage and Duchamp were controlling one thing—the chess match—through which they indirectly controlled another—the sounds. This is not a formula aimed to impress music critics, but in Cross’s words it agreed with Cage’s “aesthetics of indeterminacy” and his “wish to remove his personality from his art.” Cross, who sympathized with Cage’s aesthetic, nevertheless concluded that “the ultimate realization of the work was inconclusive.” But he finds value in how “elegantly” the project realized Cage’s quest for “purposeful purposelessness or a purposeless play.” Continue reading