Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The Dirty Dozen: 12 Things You Don't Know About Phil Hall

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Phil Hall (by Phil Hall)

Phil Hall's latest book, Killdeer (BookThug), is a collection of essay-poems crafted from memories of building a creative life. Already the winner of the Governor General's Award for Poetry, Killdeer is in the running for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Trillium Book Award. The Griffin Poetry Prize winners will be announced June 7th and the Trillium Award winners will be announced on June 20th, both in Toronto. Find out how to receive an invitation to the Trillium Award Readings on June 19th here.

Phil Hall reveals the mind behind the poems with the most candid and lyrical contribution to our Open Book Dirty Dozen yet. Read on to find out about a seahorse tattoo from dreamland, a gunrack beside the photo of the Queen and a fortress built of orphaned books. The drawings below — poems in themselves — are also by Phil Hall.

You can catch Phil reading this Saturday, June 2nd at the Ridgeway Reads Festival in Niagara. Visit our Events page for details.

Personal Matters: A Self-Portrait


From three marriages, I have a son, a daughter & a step-son.

I've always wanted to be a man who does what his dreams tell him to do, like Joseph: the dream says, Get your family out of here right now; he wakes up, loads the donkey, & they are off to Egypt...

To trust the unfathomable wake up call; to follow the are-you-kidding-me; to not know but go anyway.

I had a dream that someone kissed me on my hip, at my pelvic bone, & that that kiss left a small blue sea horse tattoo there!

When I was in Bali a few years ago, the dream haunting me, I got a small blue sea horse tattooed right where the dream said it should go.

My children call me up. They say, What am I going to do, Dad? I say, I don't know.

I am practicing to say that: I don't know.

Me & Joseph are like this!


I was sexually abused as a kid. I am also bookish, I guess.

Do you know that fantastic story by Sherwood Anderson called ?The Boy Who Became A Woman??

I can't stand it when a sentence ends with one word & then the next sentence begins with the same word! Can't stand that.

I have come to see this as the thinnest wedge of my homophobia: the same words back-to-back. Why else would that bug me?

Abuse works its way so deeply into everything, even for a well-read, so-called ?new? man like me.

Almost amusing. If it weren't so pathetic & insidious.

Harm's tip, like a dog-eared page.


Pen & ink, chalk, White-Out, pencil...

Increasingly, I find myself thinking not about how to describe what I'm seeing, but about how to draw what I'm seeing: contrast, shape, juxtaposition, colour.

I make many small constructs, collages, montages. I make sculptures using protractor sets, pill-sorting boxes, cards & dice.

For years I have been drawing self-portraits, in an Expressionist way. As if, with each self-portrait, I were taking my temperature. How am I today? As if I were trying to find myself, or prove that I existed, that I was real; that I was, for this moment, & then this next moment, OK.

The artist & writer Tim Robinson says that when he walks the Aran Islands, his body is the pen; & that when he draws maps, the pen is his foot moving along the rocky shores.

When I write, now, to describe is almost never what I'm attempting. To draw thought that has no subject, is akin to fiddle tunes, the way they move in circles with variations; or like the intricacies of Celtic designs...

A word is a shape-sound, a sound-shape. I am a sound shaper, a shape-sounder...

The better part of draw is raw. (And of course for cowboys draw means something else.)


The gun-rack in the kitchen was beside the taped-up magazine photos of the Queen holding her babies.

The first time I shot the shotgun I was eight years old. The 16 gauge. It knocked me on my arse.

At university, I used that gun in a play once. It breaks apart into three pieces, & the killer in the play was able to hide it in special pockets inside his long coat. The Killers.

Taken out & assembled, then back-lit, it made a stark shadow tableau.

But I hadn't fired it for many many years until a little rabbit was bothering my garden last summer.

What used to sound like the apocalypse landing on me, now sounds like those tubes you pull either end of at birthday parties.

The Queen's babies are balding. I wanted to be Hemingway. I'm Elmer Fudd.


Stopping drinking changes everything. I was puking my name onto granite. I'm 18 years sober. A pen makes a great cork.


My maxims: rhythm is knowledge, family is over-rated, error is character, distance is health, the words are interchangeable, blood means nothing...


I'm allergic to horses. Don't like dogs. Or cats, but a little less so. Love zoos.

Used to pick worms. Dim Sum, no way. Worked for a summer in a butcher shop once. Don't fish. Have never eaten a wing.

I've pretty well always been a vegetarian. Early memory of chewing & chewing moose & nowhere to spit it out without getting slapped. So, a food life of peanut butter & potatoes.

I never used to have any convictions about it at all, just an aversion. But I read The Lives of Animals by J M Coetzee recently, & that made a big impression on me.

Plus, living in the bush on this lake now, I feel more like a creature among creatures.

I do eat my words.


My daughter once, when little, was looking at a book I had just found at Goodwill, a first edition of The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test.

She must have been able to read by then. I guess she thought the title was way out there. She said, ?Daddy, you'd buy any book, wouldn't you!?

I would. I love books. I build my forts with them. But I prefer to find them in the wild, in junk shops, yard sales, rummage sales, left on picnic tables, etc.

It is the random encounter, how a book & I cross paths & when; that's what intrigues me.

Brette & I are both fans of the Frank & Ernest books: the bear & the elephant who have a big library & study up on all the jargon needed to run a roadside diner: Adam & Eve on a raft & pin a rose on it!

I couldn't get her to trust Freddy the Pig. But we both love Dexter & Anna Karenina these days.


It is always tick season.

On my study door I have the word ?The? cut as a stencil through white tin.

And in my study window I have another stencil hanging so that the light shines through it: ?seconds?.

The. Seconds.


I have a shelf where my favourite books in any category are kept together. May I remind the reader of a few of these, & perhaps say something about myself in passing:

Platero Y Yo / Platero & I. Juan Ramon Jimenez.

Refuse Global / Total Refusal. The Complete 1948 Manifesto of the Montreal Automatists. Translated by Ray Ellenwood.

Death on the Ice. The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914. Cassie Brown (with Harold Harwood).

Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom. Sung Po-Jen. Translated by Red Pine.

Torching the Fink Books & Other Essays on Vernacular Culture. Archie Green.

Old Woman At Play. Adele Wiseman.


The day I knew I needed glasses, grade 5. Watching TV, I said, ?Barney's fuzzy.?

Worn them ever since. Plus these two small silver hoops in my left ear: Cretan silver bought in Sitia in 1989.

Both easy to draw. But how to get past the cartoon?


An old poem of mine:

I am roaming the streets / in search of words / to be read at my funeral

I could write them / but what would that prove

If I can find them / out here among panicking strangers / I will have proven / what I set out to prove

I can stop speaking / & go right on speaking

Ph. Otty Lake. May. 2012.

Phil Hall?s first small book, Eighteen Poems, was published by Cyanamid, the Canadian mining company, in Mexico City, in 1973. Among his many titles are: Old Enemy Juice (1988), The Unsaid (1992), and Hearthedral — A Folk-Hermetic (1996). In the early 1980s, Phil was a member of the Vancouver Industrial Writers? Union and also a member of the Vancouver Men Against Rape Collective. He has taught writing at York University, Ryerson University, Seneca College, George Brown College and elsewhere. He has been poet-in-residence at Sage Hill Writing Experience (Sask.), The Pierre Berton House (Dawson City, Yukon) and elsewhere. In 2007, BookThug published Phil?s long poem, White Porcupine. Also in 2007 he and his wife, Ann, walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He is a member of the Writers? Union of Canada, and lives near Perth, Ontario. Recent books include An Oak Hunch (Brick Books, 2005) and The Little Seamstress (Pedlar Press, 2010). In 2011, he won Canada?s Governor General?s Award for Poetry for his most recent collection, Killdeer, a work the jury called ?a masterly modulation of the elegiac through poetic time.? Killdeer is nominated for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize.

For more information about Killdeer please visit the BookThug website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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