Les Semaines


what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout


EctoFest West

Sorry this is so late. I had a really busy week, went to San Francisco then Santa Cruz for EctoFest West, then came back to many many things to do before the Clarion West workshop started.

The week began with a poetry workshop (and me frantically finishing the draft of a poem in time for it), continued heading toward the deadline for the fiction workshop, (imagine me frantically doing things for Clarion West in all the in-between moments and going to work, of course) then on Friday Jim, Tamar, and I took a plane to the San Jose airport. There we picked up our rental car, a new Civic (nice) and drove up to Tamar's parents' place outside San Francisco.

After a nice, leisurely breakfast (I had two mochas), we drove down to Santa Cruz. Had no trouble finding the Kumbwaa Jazz Center, the venue for EctoFest West. EctoFest is a mini music festival organized by people from the ecto mailing list, Meredith Tarr and Chuck whose last name I don't remember. It has taken place for two years running in Danbury, CT (and will happen again the weekend before Labour Day--for info see www.ectofest.org), and several people talked about organizing one on the West Coast. Well, Shelly DeForte and Bill Mazur took up the challenge. (And all the attendees are grateful--they did a wonderful job!)

We arrived at the venue, I checked in with Shelly, and handed my books over to the merchandise table (you see, they had asked me to read between a couple of the sets). We found out that one of the bands hadn't been able to get out of Houston because of the floods there (no Two Loons for Tea, alas!) We gave Veda a hug and greeting, and saw Happy Rhodes setting up for a sound check, and noticed right away that she had a large bandage on her hand--apparently she had cut a tendon on that finger just that morning. Ack! But there she was setting up.

We decided it wasn't necessary for us to hang around any longer, so we wandered off, met up with Meredith and woj from the ecto list (who used to be Tamar's roommates) and went for cold drinks, talk, and general silliness. Returning to the venue, a crowd has started to collect, so we joined them, met up with several people we'd only known online for many years, met up with other friends we'd met before, and there was plenty of talk and fun.

Invocation Of course the doors opened late, the show got started late, but with a bang: Wendy Rule, visiting/touring from Australia, opened the show with a powerful invocation (with Krystov on didgeridoo).

Cyoakha Cyoakha (from Land of the Blind) followed as a good segue from that, doing her tribal/ethereal/chant.

Neile reading As they were tearing down her set up and getting ready for the next artist, I read a smattering of poems from all over my oeuvre, including the one I'd finished for Monday's workshop. It was really fun reading to the appreciative but distracted ecto crowd. I gather from all reports it was quite amusing to see me reading away with all that chaos going on behind me.

Jill Tracy Then Jill Tracy came onstage singing her cabaret-style songs, wearing a red boa that in the heat stained her skin. (I confess I had a little trouble concentrating, winding down after my set.)

Veda HilleAfter a break, Veda Hille came out and gave one of the best sets I've ever heard her do, mixture of songs from all of her albums (except the first). It was of course way too brief, but was no less powerful for all that. Veda's music always catches my attention fully--her lyrics and tunes are a mixture of both unexpected and expected/melodious sounds--and so I was utterly caught up in the music she was making. One thing that was especially wonderful was how clearly she was enjoying the grand piano that was onstage, even if it meant she had to have her back to part of the audience when she was over there. She has such a warm presence on stage and that really shone throughout the set. At the end of it I ran backstage, because I was supposed to read again between sets, and so missed seeing her onstage to do her encore, but I never did do the second set, as time was crunching, (that was fine with me, as following Veda wouldn't be easy).

Happy RhodesAfter the intermission, Happy Rhodes came out with a drummer, guitar-player, and bassist. Because of her finger, she only played keyboard and her guitar-player had to pick up all her guitar pieces. She also did a range of songs from her career. It took me a few songs to adjust my head from the Veda state, and appreciate that I really was hearing that voice in person, in real life space, and not just on disc as I've been hearing it for over nine years. Happy has the most stunning range, singing deep and high both, apparently effortlessly (even when in extreme pain from her hand injury). It was amazing to watch her. She is also wickedly, sarcastically funny. The versions of the songs with this particular group of musicians was interesting. But it was the sound of her voice that really hooked into my head--it's really amazing.

Quite the evening. I think I'd like to leave you there, even though it only takes me to Sunday night. Veda and Happy (and me) on the same stage. Whoo!!

Many thanks to Meredith Tarr for allowing me to use her photographs.

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See above.

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I didn't finish reading anything this week. Amazing, eh?

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Well, I've been busy this week. A new poem about the islands of Skye and Eigg (and about the murderous Macleod clans as reported by Samuel Johnson) and I've been working on that damn poem about the Auchindrain village again that I started back in August (August!). The new Skye/Eigg poem had a draft completed just in time for our Monday evening workshop, where it received some fine suggestions for getting me through the next draft.

And I brushed up and polished chapter 3 of Bryony's Needle, sending it only 24 hours late for the deadline to submit stories for the fiction group.

And another review of Blood Memory! This in Canadian Bookseller, a magazine for the book and library trade. It's just a brief one but says some wonderful things, like "Imagine compressing the history of woman into poetry. Well, in her third collection of poems, Blood Memory, Neile Graham has done just that." and Blood Memory is a true tour de force." and "Using every poetic 'colour' imaginable, Blood Memory paints vivid pictures of generations of women, past and present. Pictures that will remain in a reader's mind, long after the books covers are closed. I've updated my comments page.


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Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

January 1980

1086. Hark says
January 13th 1980

I have no sense of continuity. Everywhere I am I have been there forever, it is all too familiar to me. It has been January 13th 1980 at 7:40 in the evening with me sitting here at Gillain waiting for the noise the switchboard makes while writing in this book for so long now that no other reality seems immediate, even in memory. I have never written a poem.
     Harold says that writing a poem, a good one, is learning to write a poem. As you are writing you are learning. Presuming the movement from then on--once you know how to write that poem you no longer have to, and you need to find something else. I am at that in-between stage. I have learned to write a poem, the Lear poem that wasn't supposed to be a Lear poem, and now I must learn to write a poem about seven robins, but I don't know how to begin. The problem being that either those seven robins mean nothing, or they mean something I have not yet discovered that I need to learn while writing the poem and yet have to know before I begin. What do those seven robins mean? Why five, then nine, but after the bustle seven again? Why are they gone now? The restless moving birds always becoming seven again though things are changed, removed and added there were still seven robins. Maybe the point is that there are two sides to it--the first that the seven-ness of them, the sameness, the identity is what matters; the second is that the change is what matters, the movement and flurry of wings. This is like a person in their life.

1087. Rejection Slip
January 14th 1980

Yes, my first arrived today. Failure at the outset. O me, O my. Robert Gibbs says "These are appealing--unforced--with moments of real excitement. None quite holds us altogether in thrall." Ah, the damn truth damns me again. My assignment is now ever so obviously to write poetry that does enthrall, O bitter and slimy hell, belching cat curling up at my feet. My great-aunt in Scotland writes today that she, too, got her rejection slip at work; her job is now "redundant." Not so easy a thing to take at 60 as it is at 21. The problem being of course that the British pensions are not enough to live on.
     One delightful note today--I received my first red rose from a charming gentleman, a former client at Gillain. He said he would bring me one, and I thought that meant one from a garden, someday. But it meant one bought, with maidenhair fern, brought today. Most delightful, and just what I needed.
     A day of firsts--a rather expected first rejection and a first acceptance. Marvellous contrast that leaves me feeling well and growing somehow. I look at recent poems and find they are beginning to hold the reader more, are slightly less facile. I wish I knew how "Seven Robins" will turn out. It means more than I think to my work, but less than it should. I want it to be my first long poem that didn't shrink, but I fear it's shorter than I want. [1]

1088. So I sit here
January 15, 1980

and wait for a poem to arrived for tomorrow morning. It isn't. And "Seven Robins" isn't. Nothing is. You must be slowly and sadly getting yourself ready to leave the East. Tell me, does it feel very east? Do the cities breathe differently? I certain that Montréal does. Victoria breathes slowly and irregularly. Vancouver breathes fairly quickly and almost regularly. I breathe regularly and carefully, trying to produce a poem. The night breathes the way I do, or I breathe the way the night does. W.S. Graham [2] can write "Today, Tuesday, I decided to move on / Although the wind was veering. Better to move / Than have them at my heels, poor friends / Buried earlier under the printed snow." He understands rejection slips, and what comes afterwards.
     I talk on the phone--but where is my poem? Nancy's usual Tuesday night panic. I will enclose for you a copy of my workshop self-analysis--it may explain some things, but you must remember it's mainly "bunk and shows my lack of self knowledge." And it rains. Mike Yates [3]: "It is / The wind that does not blow, I'm waiting for." I write of myth which he calls "the sleepy wetness between buried leaves."
     Yates says "Silence speaks silence to silences / Words have always only been words."

1089. Some work (7 red-breasts)
date the same

     It's the weather
     they try to rest from.
     (this poem is eating me, Christina)
     It's as much January they
     stiffen their wings against
     as the wind.

     These birds don't fly
     in this weather, rather
     they throw themselves
     at a distant point
     and rest in the trees

     (Last night I thought with a shock how
     some time ago a friend told me he father
     was dying. Today Mother phones me to tell
     me the funeral is tomorrow.)

     The dogwood, its prematured
     buds choked in snow,
     presses these seven robins
     against blowing sky;
     it offers only a cold perch
     and an iron rim of snow.

     It's the weather I try
     to rest from while I count
     the birds on the tree,

     and the number they are
     holds them there.
     In a flash and tangle of wings
     two dart way,
     but two burst in from the south
     and they are complete again.

     The snow has left its mark
     on every tree.
     Rattling down from the upper
     branches it frightens
     three more birds
     toward the dogwood
     and three fly away.

     The number they are
     holds them there.

     It is only an hour later
     I remember to look again:
     And of course they have all left
     in the winds that have brought on
     the snow again. [4]


1. Funnily enough, Robert Gibbs later published "Seven Robins". You can find the finished poem here.

2. Still one of my favourite poets and no relation, sadly.

3. The poet J. Michael Yates.

4. Once again, you can find the finished poem here.

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