Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

an old poem embedded in thoughts on the manx pub

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By rob mclennan

There was a lovely small ghazal I read by Matthew Holmes when he still lived in Ottawa and hadn?t yet left for Sackville, New Brunswick, via Toronto. His ?Ghazal of July Storm,? from the first issue of echolocation (2003), later reprinted in his first trade collection, Hitch (Gibson's Landing BC: Nightwood / blewointment press, 2006), is an example of the strength of his shorter poems and is one of those enviable poems that can immediately trigger any reader to want to attempt something as well. The poem is evocative of place, without being of that place. Placed within its own placelessness. Triggered by his, my subsequent ghazal was a quick poem written at the Manx Pub on Elgin Street, where alt-country performer Kathleen Edwards used as a regular hangout when she still lived just up the street, working out of the Starbucks a block or so north; where poet David O?Meara still works and has for quite some time, now more than a decade, hosting a reading series there. The Manx Pub has been a hangout for Ottawa artistic folk for years, from poets Rob Manery and Louis Cabri running the N400 reading series in the early 1990s, the John Newlove Memorial Reading held there by Randall Ware and John Metcalf, who lives but a few blocks away, and various musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and others coming through the establishment as regulars or irregulars.

quick ghazal on the manx pub

she steps a pint across
unbroken line.

the hockey game again,
game six.

named for the island, cat
a clipped tail.

david in his blue blue shirt
becomes the sky.

her kathleen edwards t-shirt
is nearly new.

This is an example of the Canadian ghazal, as worked in CanLit so often since American-born New Brunswick poet John Thompson?s Stilt Jack appeared posthumously in 1976 through House of Anansi Press, influencing a whole range of other poets then and since, including collections by Patrick Lane, Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour and D.G. Jones. More recently, it seems, the ghazal has become one of those forms, like the sonnet, that everyone and their dog is working on, with varying degrees of success. I?m not a big fan of the collection Bones In Their Wings, ghazals (Hagios Press, 2003) by Lorna Crozier, for example, picking up the collection simply for her postscript essay, ?Dreaming the Ghazal into Being,? intrigued by the insights she might have had. Vancouver poet Catherine Owen did some interesting things with the ghazal, beginning with her second collection, The Wrecks of Eden (Wolsak & Wynn, 2001), and so has Toronto poet Andy Weaver, floating in and out of the form now in two poetry collections. There have been some Ottawa poets experimenting with the ghazal form, most notably Sandra Ridley, in her first collection, Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2010), and Rob Winger, finally releasing his full collection of ghazals, The Chimney Stone (Nightwood Editions, 2010). Subsequent to this small poem, I even composed a collection of ghazals, my own a compact of words (Salmon Publishing, 2009).

How did the form become so damned popular?

Originally aware of the ghazal through conversations with Andy Weaver, I think I came to the form through the back door, already working years of poems with disparate leaps, disconnecting breaks, and the poem that exists as a whole through the tenuous grip of a sequence of fragments. What is it the (Canadian) ghazal holds? I have always found it, personally, far more interesting than works done through the sonnet. If the ghazal is considered the ?anti-sonnet,? through its favouring disconnect over a more obvious narrative thread, then what, as Douglas Barbour (borrowed from Webb) writes, is the ?anti-ghazal?? Is it simply favouring further disconnect?

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011), kate street (Moira, 2011) and 52 flowers (or, a perth edge) (Obvious Epiphanies, 2010), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( . He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

Photo of rob mclennan by Jenn Farr

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