Nov 112011

The author skating two miles from the Lake Ontario shore.

This is a chapter from Steven Heighton‘s Workbook: memos & dispatches on writing (just published by ECW Press)—amazingly enough, a book of aphorisms (epigrams, whatever–short, pungent thingies). Many of you will recall that ages ago, when dg had the energy for such, NC used to have aphorism contests. It was mentioned then that, in fact, people, real writers, often wrote aphorisms and published them in books. It is an astonishing form, little taught in the creative writing schools, and here is living proof of its exuberant viability.

DG had the devil (yes) of a time picking from the book. Every section is deft, dry and delightful. There is a section in which Steven writes to himself as a younger writer.

Let failure be your workshop.  See it for what it is: the world walking you through a tough but necessary semester, free of tuition.

There is a gorgeous section on inspiration (& boredom).

(It’s the Buddhist teacher and writer Thich Naht Hahn who says instead, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” A small act of subversion in a society that has no use for stillness, silence, inward vision—that extols speed, productivity, the manic pursuit of things that by their nature can never be caught and retained.)

This book is an embarrassment of riches. In the end, dg chose the chapter of definitions (the definition is one of the ancient forms of the aphorism).

Steven Heighton’s most recent books are Workbook: memos & dispatches on writing and the novel Every Lost Country.  His 2005 novel, Afterlands, appeared in six countries; was a New York Times Book Review editors’ choice; was a best of year choice in ten publications in Canada, the USA, and the UK; and has been optioned for film.  His poems and stories have appeared in many publications—including London Review of Books, Poetry, Tin House, The Walrus, and Best English Stories—and have received four gold National Magazine Awards.  He has also been nominated for the Governor General’s Award and Britain’s W.H. Smith Award.  In 2012 Knopf Canada will publish The Dead Are More Visible, a collection of short stories including “A Right Like Yours,” which appeared in Numéro Cinq.

See also this little interview with the author. And Steven’s earlier appearances on these pages: A Right Like Yours, Four Approximations of Horace, from Every Lost Country, and Herself, Revised.


The Devil’s Dictionary for Writers

By Steven Heighton


If God is in the details, the Devil is in the definitions


AMBITIOUS: writer more successful than oneself


BUZZ: ignorant consensus of readers who have not yet read the book in question and for the most part never will


COMPLAINT: not actually a form of criticism, though often mistaken as such by reviewers


DEADLINE: date by which writer must perfect excuses for not delivering in time

  Continue reading »

Nov 102011


Julie Trimingham’s film triptych “beauty crowds me”

Introduced by R. W. Gray


In Julie Trimingham‘s triptych of poetic short films, words become breath and thought, visuals flare into being, fall away, then return and hang and haunt. The films take Emily Dickinson’s poems as their source for inspiration, but the words are given to us as an intimate voice over, repetitively and meditatively delivered.

I have to confess a sort of skepticism about the clash / collaboration between art forms; such collisions seem to colossally fail more than find beauty. In particular, the danger of bringing film to poetry is that the moving image can easily literalize the words, or, conversely, the words can dominate the visual medium. Trimingham’s collisions work for me because they aren’t too grounded in one form or another.

The action is poetic, and by that I mean improbable, unrealistic, yet familiar. In “I heard a fly buzz,” the second film, the claustrophobic dance of the couple who can never leave their apartment, their bed, the tub, and their movements choreographed, both uncanny (in moments he seems like a fly on the window sill or on the tub) and sublime.

Continue reading »

Nov 082011

Marilyn McCabe is a singer/poet/essayist/friend. She has already appeared on NC with her own poetry, translations, and in song–which makes her a kind of regular, an old  favourite, at least an old favourite of mine. Herewith we offer a poem by the 19th century French poet Paul-Armand Silvestre with a Marilyn McCabe translation and Marilyn McCabe singing the French version put to music by Gabriel Fauré. This is gorgeous to hear, especially to listen to while you gaze at the screen reading the poem (or maybe you’ll just shut your eyes and listen). Marilyn’s poetry manuscript Perpetual Motion was chosen by judge Gray Jacobik for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection by The Word Works, and will be released in January 2012. Her chapbook Rugged Means of Grace was published by Finishing Line Press, 2011.  She earned an MFA in poetry at New England College.


Paul-Armand Silvestre’s “Le Secret”

Translated & Performed

By Marilyn McCabe



Click the button to hear Marilyn McCabe singing “Le Secret.”

Le Secret

Je veux que le matin l’ignore
Le nom que j’ai dit à la nuit,
Et qu’au vent de l’aube, sans bruit,
Comme une larme il s’évapore.

Je veux que le jour le proclame
L’amour qu’au matin j’ai caché
Et sur mon coeur ouvert penché
Comme un grain d’encens, il l’enflamme.

 Je veux que le couchant l’oublie
Le secret que j’ai dit au jour,
Et l’emporte avec mon amour
Aux plis de sa robe pâlie.

—Paul-Armand Silvestre


The Secret

I want the morning to ignore
the name I spoke to the night,
and let it, with the dawn’s breeze,
silently, as a tear, evaporate.

I want the day to proclaim
the love I asked morning to hide
and make it in my open heart,
like a grain of incense, ignite.

I want the sunset to forget
the secret I told the day,
and sweep it, with my love,
in the folds of its pale robes.

—Translated by Marilyn McCabe

Nov 072011

Danila Botha is a South African-born short story writer who lives in Toronto. She’s the author of Got No Secrets, a collection of stories in the Bukowski-Burroughs-Easton-Ellis tradition of black romanticism/alienation but with young, feisty female protagonists. “Jesus Was a Punk Rocker” was part of that collection and earlier appeared on these pages, as did two new stories “The Other Other” and “Valentine’s Day.”


What It’s Like Living Here

From Danila Botha in Toronto


Forest Hill

I am back in Toronto, back at my parent’s house (at 28, after moving out at 18, it feels surreal, to put it mildly). My parents live on a beautiful, tree-lined street in Forest Hill surrounded by large, striking houses: cold, cube-shaped modern structures or light and dark brown brick homes with cottage-style thatched roofs and salt water swimming pools. Their palatial home is full of silk curtains, French antiques, grey and white swirling marble floors, expensive fabrics in shades of cream and gold and dusty pinks. My bedroom has needle point carpets adorned with roses. I stare down at my chipping nails, my wrinkled Black Flag tank top, the new tattoo on my arm. I twirl a strand of greasy hair around my index finger. I am reminded of a Chantal Kreviazuk lyric: “…it’s crowded and I feel lost in here, I’m trying to find a familiar fear/I look everywhere but I just can’t see/there’s not anything that reminds me of me.”

My favourite piece is my bookshelf. It’s beige wood, with light green leaves painted on it, an antique I’ve had since I was five, stuffed with my favourite books: Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies For Little Criminals, Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God, the Zoe Whittall edited collection of stories called Geeks, Misfits and Other Outlaws, Lynn Crosbie’s Liar, Aryn Kyle’s Boys and Girl’s Like You and Me, and Jami Attenberg’s Instant Love. My collection of first editions is on the top shelf—Catcher in the Rye, Frankenstein, and Naked Lunch. I think they’re the first things I’d save in a house fire. On my mint green and silver leaf antique chair, there’s a pile of my old stuffed animals, including a white owl, a lime green Care Bear, and a two-dollar toy machine creature that resembles a cucumber with eyes.

I go for a walk with my little brother to the plaza near the house. The air is heavy and humid. The plaza feels both comfortably familiar—it has a Second Cup, a Winners and a Shoppers Drug Mart—and horrifyingly foreign, like the nightmares I have when I’m jet lagged. My brother points out the sunset. I know the violets, periwinkles and magentas are the result of pollution, but still–


Continue reading »