Lunar Return

I learn about the importance of a person’s lunar return in trying to conceive a child. For all that millennials love to talk about astrology, we are not interested in babies. We assume we are the last generation; any new babies will soon be distributed by Amazon, and we are trying very hard not to engage in any form of corporatism. Better to opt out now.

I go around as lazy and apathetic as any of us, half the time, but I secretly want to believe we are part of history. I secretly want to believe in a life cycle, that scourge brought on by the Baby Boomers. 

The book about Wiccan sex that I find outside the organic grocery store cites a case study in which a young man named Dustin’s sperm count tripled during his lunar return. 

Over breakfast, I mention this to my husband. We are eating cruffins (if you didn’t know, they are a trendy cross between croissants and muffins) and listening to an article about Rachel Carson, read aloud by a voice actor so we don’t even have to read it. Rachel Carson is the marine biologist who wrote Silent Spring, and warned us all about DDT, back in the sixties. She believed we are all connected, and were before the internet. She introduced that chemical-crazy generation to the idea of ecosystems. 

At least they were concerned back then. They listened, for a while. Birdwatching housewives wrote to the newspapers. Our news sites report that in fifteen or twenty years, human pregnancy might be as rare as the pregnancies of right whales. Reporters muse about how already, it seems surprisingly difficult for those few young Luddite couples anachronistically trying to start a family. My peers scoff at their naiveté. Don’t they know the human race is doomed? 

We have been trying to get pregnant for approximately seven months and three-quarters. 

Engrossed in Witch in the Bedroom, I am sad to realize I do not know what phase the moon is in, much less the phase of my own lunar return. For all that I protect and revere the cycle that just so happens to match exactly the 29-day lunar cycle, for all that I get a thrill when I see the blood from my own body, for all that I dump my diva cup into my houseplants, for all that my friends might call me a good plant mom, I can’t remember the last time I looked at the moon. 

The witch author explains that having sex with a man during my lunar return will prompt spontaneous ovulation. My woman’s body, which is supposed to be a societal construct, will respond to the man’s body by laying an egg and the result will be the child I want, that my society refuses to construct. I am too politically incorrect to live.

At the organic grocery store I rush from the free-range eggs to the foil packages of three kale chips each, veering wildly across the aisle between joy and grief, laughing at the rich people and realizing I am one of them.

The chard at this grocery store comes hermetically sealed in plastic sturdy enough to transport water from a distant well. Perhaps we find it exciting to think we are coming to this. 


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"There is the fresh imagination and understanding. I may hit directly to the core of the intellectual intuitive: One almost has to forget that others have thought before one so that essentials may be alive and not inhibited by the second- or third-hand reaction generally exhaled.

The mind of an Unemployed or universal Architect epitomized in the desire to recreate what is desolated, to rebuild; the fact that the spirit exists beside every terrible destruction; that the sensitive but inarticulate line is being put upon innumerable plans while all is in shambles. The characters are of course symbolic. The jungle that the whole thing may or may not pull through is pretty nerve-wracking. But as I have mentioned, I ask myself the question and the rest is inordinate adventure."

- Joan Murray, from a letter to a friend, 1941


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"Though Murray was a self-professed perfectionist, she distinguishes between a pejorative 'neatness' and 'balance'. The latter signals an erotic feat--when divisions inherent in ones self intertwine. To be vulnerable to both continual destruction and creation and still participate in the work of the building spirit is Murray's invincible realization as a poet."

- Farnoosh Fathi, from her editor's introduction to Joan Murray: Drafts, Fragments, and Poems, xxxiii


Return to Whyte

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Already fighting nostalgia for this apartment. Only a year ago we were painting the livingroom walls green. We got engaged and married in almost the same spot in the diningroom. It is not the apartment, it is the historical fact that we lived in it, struggled against it trying to make it reflect us, and fit us. There were so many strangely difficult things. The futurism of having a dishwasher. The pasteboard and laminate. The weather-proofed windows. The north side that painfully twisted some internal compass needle, jerking me around to face a direction I preferred not to face. And now, of course, that we are leaving, I see exactly where we succeeded in making it ours, exactly where it failed our respective, manic desires to thrive.

I don't know how to acknowledge that something so precious as our marriage is alive, how to acknowledge that its value lies in something other than being mourned, that (as Ursula le Guin says) we make it every day like bread. Why is it that love is supposed to feel like grief? Dylan and I don't have time for that.

I try not to feel guilty for some vague failure, as if we would be better specimens if we loved spending all of our time deciding who will change the sheets and who will clean the bathroom.

I refuse to spend too much time looking backwards. Even as we move back within blocks of our old apartment on 99th St, I know that we would be mistaken to believe that we are trying to go back to the way things were. To put it bluntly, we are better people now. Living together has made us better. 

In my sadness at what we are leaving, Dylan reminds me that the whole apartment building is our house now, with two artists' studios connected by a carpeted stairway. He's christened this new building The Renaissance, for all that we will experience living there. Here. When we dropped off another load of books tonight, I noticed that I'll be able to see into Dylan's kitchen from the sidewalk that runs up to the back door, and this made me happy. And it looks as if my brother will be moving in to the same building.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

It must be nine years to the day that I moved myself, my loft bed, and my four Superstore plates and four Superstore bowls into the tiny suite on 86th Ave, across the street from Ashleigh's house, where later a Dylan I didn't know yet attended their Infinite Jest book club.

I just came from the walk-through of my new apartment. I arrived with all of our plants in the car. Our bumbling landlord and his wife (?) were 20 minutes late. She spent the whole inspection scurrying around wiping down baseboards and he spent it whining about how the pharmacy was going to close. His eyes and his belly roll in tandem; he has a wild, bleary, sweatpants look about him. If he is dealing prescription drugs I will only be surprised because he does not seem smart enough to avoid getting busted for it. Anyway, I was worried about the plants freezing.

February 2018

I read and listen to all the Patti Smith I can get my hands on. I start having black coffee, brown bread, and olive oil for breakfast.

I put a deposit down on a new apartment on the south side of the river; I move in on March 1. We're going to go back to colonizing two whole apartments in the same building, like we did on 99th St; like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, like Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton.

I start a three-month contract as a copywriter for a bank. I've never gotten paid so much to do something I am so good at.

I return to the 90s Catholic music I grew up with. I need these ideas and these melodies; there is no escaping it.

Dylan and I go to France to attend the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, where Dylan's film PEAK OIL is premiering. We see Picassos and Van Goghs, and discover the Neo-Impressionists. Dylan convinces me to buy a long wool coat, one of those pieces of clothing that promises to transform you into the person you want to be. Surprisingly, I am very glad to return to Alberta.

I try to figure out what it means to be a wife while my husband is falling in love with someone else. She's incredible. I'm determined to pursue this less-taken path, convinced there is something magnificent waiting for all of us at the end.

I perform the long poems from Accomplice at a bar on Whyte called The Almanac. For the first time, my name is on a poster. For the first time, my words feel right in my mouth.

My current artistic heroes are all women, except for Van Gogh. Patti, Frida, Virginia, Sylvia (as always), Sally Mann, Andrea Arnold. It's taken me over 20 years to stop thinking of my gender as a liability.

I get an email saying CRICKET is going to screen at FAVA Fest in April. A sign of acceptance from the small-but-brilliant film community here. I am honoured and excited.

I stop using my smartphone. I delete most of my social media. The peace and focus I was hoping would return begins to return.

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1. The end never justifies the means; the means are the end. If the means are low, unethical, or unbearable, the means are one problem and the end you're inventing to justify them is another.

2. Your body will tell you when you are doing the wrong thing; in acute cases, it will break down and fall sick to prevent you from doing it.

3. Good work does not cause damage you will need to repair later; if it does, what is broken is more beautiful than it was before.

4. Distraction will be the end of you, if you aren't careful. Reject its sources and refuse to perform them.

5. Debt makes you a slave and takes away your ability to make decisions based on your own well-being. Avoid debt like the fucking plague.

6. Protect your arrogance and your compassionate urges equally; do not allow yourself to be convinced that anyone is so evil you should not be so arrogant as to feel pity for them. 

7. No one will ever value your time as highly as you do. Sell as little of your time as possible.

8. Love is a decision; love is paying attention; love is kindness; love is truthfulness; love is difficult; love is gratitude for what is there.

9. Love is the secret ingredient of sex. Love is the secret ingredient of good writing. 

10. Direct your work wholeheartedly towards an audience (at least one other person), but do not worry about the size of that audience.

The last day of the year

2017 was the year I got married for real. In Mario Martinez's book The Mind Body Code, I read, "For example, if you were wounded by shame as a child, as an adult today, it is very possible to consciously create for yourself living conditions that are based on honour."

In 2017 I learned to drive. What does it mean? It means that if last winter I hated this apartment on the wrong side of the river, if I insisted on renting an office for five hundred dollars a month just so I could be away from it, if Dylan and I fought because he was more free than I was, this winter I can drive away to buy donuts or go to a movie by myself any time I want. I can drive myself home from work at three-thirty on Saturday morning. I can drive to Three Hills in a blizzard. 

In 2017 I put up white curtains and dismantled the vinyl blinds. In February we painted our livingroom green and in July, while I was in Saskatchewan, Dylan painted the office crocus-purple. We had a Maxim calendar hanging in our front entrance. We bought two incredible photographs from our friend Jord Rule, who makes Alberta's perennial construction sites as grand as Greek ruins. 


I read these books: 

Just Kids (Patti Smith), The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), The Story of My Teeth (Valeria Luiselli), John Steinbeck, Writer (Jackson J. Benson), Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders), An Experiment in Love (Hilary Mantel), Universal Harvester (John Darnielle), A Breath of Life (Clarice Lispector), The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), Saved (Ben Hewitt), Debt: The First 5,000 Years (David Graeber), Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin), The Glass Castle (Jeanette Walls), The Winter of Our Discontent (John Steinbeck), A Defense of Ardor (Adam Zagajewski), Lullabies for Little Criminals (Heather O'Neill), The Mind Body Code (Mario Martinez), The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery), O Pioneers! (Willa Cather), My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante), Project Compass (Lizzie Derksen, Matthew Stepanic, Robert Strong, Kristina Vyskocil), The Stand (Stephen King), The Crossroads of Should and Must (Elle Luna), Under the Glacier (Halldor Laxness). 

13 books by women and 11 by men and 1 by two women and two men. 7 in translation. 8 non-fiction and 17 novels. 


2017: We adopted a puppy from the Yu-kan Rental yard outside of Dawson City. We walked more of the river valley than we ever walked when we lived six blocks away from it. I watched Dylan care for a small creature and my heart and my uterus swelled. We let Ranger sleep on our bed and colonize the Gurba couch. We taught him that "Slumber" means Lie down, and "Release the Kraken!" means Get out of the car.

I published two chapbooks and a novel. I finished a set of short stories about Caronport. I finished my first funded film and showed it to a roomful of 30 people who buzzed and rustled before the movie started and asked the right questions afterwards. For the first time, I felt that my work was beginning to come all the way across to my audience. 


2017 was the year I grew my hair out for the third time. It was the year I started life modelling. The year I started reading my writing out loud. The year I wrote two rejected grant applications. The year my best friend of 13 years and I tattooed the woodcuts from Dutch Blitz on our right arms, above the elbows. The year I finally put together a decent CV. The year we drove up north and lived in a van for a month and I finished a lace sweater. The year I worked in a calzone restaurant for three months because not only were my accounts depleted, my credit card was maxed out. The year I did things for money that will show up in a fictional story one day. It was the year I realized I only ever want to work for myself. 

It was the year that my brother and sister and I were all writing novels at the same time. 

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In 2017 I forgot what it felt like to experience a sense of absolute loneliness and despair in my body. I stopped living as if I had been thrown out on the inhospitable crust of the world to scavenge by myself. I recognized a family who asks me to marry them in spite of my views on Beyonce, who hangs a gold sequinned stocking for me, who slums it on the north side, who makes smoothies in the morning, who sends me their stories and music, who reads my difficult words, who lets me be good. 

May we all be so lucky. 


"Today is the day of nothing. Today is down to the wire. Could there be a number that is nothing? that is less than zero? that begins where there is no beginning because it always was? I tap into this vital absence and I'm a young man again, both contained and complete." 

- Clarice Lispector, from A Breath of Life (translated by Johnny Lorenz), 3




The first two years that Dylan and I spent together, first in our opposite apartments on 99th Street, then in this subsidized, south-facing idyll of a co-op, we often got into serious arguments about poetry. I would write a new poem and after about 30 seconds' hesitation, email it to Dylan, then scuttle over to his desk to stand over his shoulder while he read it. He would tell me he was sure it was very good, but he didn't know anything about poetry. I would get angry and insist that understanding poetry was not an intellectual or esoteric skill, it was something any feeling, curious person could apply themselves to. I would point out that Dylan wrote beautiful songs with subtle, well-developed metaphors, complex structures, and lyrical turns of phrase. He would shrug. Later that night, or the next week, we would inevitably find ourselves sitting at the table with a bottle of whiskey between us, hashing out the painful truths of our divergent artistic sensibilities. 

Then, last October, Dylan emailed me a poem. It was called "yesterday," and it was about the painful truth of possessing a divergent artistic sensibility--namely, mine. I yelled a little when I read it. I replied: I KNEW IT! Holy fuck. We have been emailing poems to each other since, sometimes composing poems in direct response to something the other has written.

As a Yuletide present, for our families but also for you, we've collected our email poems to-date in a chapbook (hopefully the first volume of many, which we plan to bind in different colours, like Ted Hughes's original conception of The Rainbow Press.) We've printed 29 of them. You can order one here.

CRICKET screening

8:00 pm 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Exhibition Suite (upstairs)

Ortona Armoury - 9722 102 St. Edmonton, Alberta

Thanks to friends and colleagues and adopted family, thanks to all my GoFundMe backers, thanks to Aerlan Barrett and Johnny Blerot, this movie is done. 

Accomplice reviewed by Matthew Cormier


Unseen, yet Heard: A Review of Lizzie Derksen’s Accomplice (2017)



“Accomplice” is a powerful word, mostly because of its potential: it insinuates, involves, complicates, and befriends—choose a verb. Accomplice (2017), Lizzie Derksen’s most recent chapbook, forces readers to interrogate the accomplice and to revise their own role in the relationships they hold. The accomplice, like the cricket on the collection’s cover, is often unseen, but heard resonating throughout the collection.

I struggle to understand certain parts of Derksen’s poetry because, as I see them, I am not able to, or (more importantly, perhaps) even supposed to, empathize completely with them—what is my role, other than to bear witness? A forced complicity, in my role as accomplice, if you will. This statement is not a negative criticism, but rather an inquisitive observation. Many of the poems are distinctly personal: as a reader, I am clearly the outsider to a joke—and maybe I should be so. I am the unseen cricket all over again, voicing ignored frustrations. The experiential and private nature of these poems offers refreshing, yet ambiguous insights: “Am I confusing?” (1), the speaker poses at a certain point, to an unnamed “you,” present throughout the collection, to be sure, but also to the reader. As a reader, personally, I do not belong entirely to this space created: I read this collection in the position of a clueless accomplice, and not that of a negotiator—always reaching, trying to locate the cricket by the sound of its chirps.

Before delving deeper into the chapbook’s content, however, its peculiar form deserves mention. Readers, in thinking of form, need to first acknowledge that this collection is self-published, and self-publication is highly compelling because of its lack of screening: while Derksen may have sought help in putting together her chapbook, no editors belonging to publishing organizations were present to open and/or close certain formal doors. Visually, one could divide the work into three distinguishable parts. From “accomplice” (1) to “Sask” (9), the form could be called “familiar,” if not traditional, since the poems are read vertically, though the style vacillates between minimalism and prose poetry, and minor details, such as capitalization and punctuation, are inconsistent. The second part (11-16), however, forces an horizontal reading of the poetry, as the writing is rotated 270 degrees; moreover, the cricket encapsulates this section, with an image of its upper half opening this central segment, and an image of its lower half closing it. Again, this section varies in style, yet these poems—and perhaps not surprisingly so because of the cricket’s explicit presence—are the most relatable and powerful to the outside accomplice: it incites an empathetic response, of course, but also orders a physical complicity in that the reader must manually rotate the chapbook to read its contents. Finally, form-wise, the last section reverts to a model similar to the first. Otherwise, as rare as using literally and seriously the phrase “without rhyme or reason” may be in critical discourse, readers must consider the saying with respect to Derksen’s poetry, as it seems to follow no set structures or rules, but instead relies chiefly on bursts of emotion and flares of potent imagery—à-la-Emily Dickinson, one could say. 

On the topic of imagery, and returning to content, Derksen’s Accomplice, while at times challenging for the outsider, features some evocative and provocative images that reel in even the most distant of (ignorantly, maybe) complicit readers. In the collection’s titular poem, “accomplice” the speaker claims that they are “not jealous but… do not want to be / an accomplice” (2), surmising the dilemma: in opening the chapbook, readers become accomplices, whether or not they wish to be, and, in writing, so has the author. A sense of lifestyle, of lived experience permeates the poems: readers share in the problematic reality that “all winter we had not been young” (8), that of being “cricket-gut green, / [with] the flood of grief welling up over the brim” (9), and of finding “something inside [them] that will shrink and harden” (14). The unknown pain, like the cricket’s seemingly innocent chirping, resounds relentlessly, chipping away at an idealized sanity. For some, this chapbook will forcefully surface overfamiliar emotions: “You look up and the sentence in the book / you are reading appears on the wall” (24); for others, conflicting sentiments will dawn: “just my delicate treatment / just their mounting conviction” (25). In either case, readers may choose to embrace the empowerment offered by the role of accomplice, or refute it and enact their own agency.

An especially powerful piece, in my opinion, is “in a restaurant” (13), in which the collection opens up to include the outsider/viewer—the voyeur—and establishes a more relatable narrative to the accomplice. The details of this captured moment are particularly striking: “a Dutch woman in her forties” (13) sits across a man “whose work boots are visible beneath the tablecloth” (13). The situation is of a silent conflict, of a repressed dynamic, of helplessness—it is an active story of stasis, reflecting the contentious ambiguity of the chapbook as a whole. Most readers have been at this restaurant, on one side of the table or the other.

Lizzie Derksen, with this latest chapbook, adds to her clandestine, yet invigorating productions: she has been part of the poetry, fiction, and film scenes in Edmonton for some years now, and these works are all interrelated. Her short film, Cricket (2017), and the presence of the cricket in this chapbook, speak to that fact, assumedly. While I would caution Derksen to add some sort of preface in her collection to prepare readers for what lies in wait with respect to their immediate reading, I certainly applaud the originality and character behind these few pages; poetry, speaking generally, has recently become such a form of polemical grandeur that readers lose their personal connection to its personality—and on that note, chirp, chirp.


"Matthew Cormier is a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholar and PhD candidate in the English and Film Studies Department at the University of Alberta. He completed is MA in Canadian Comparative Literature and his BA in French Studies at the Université de Moncton. His research interests and publications chiefly concern postmodern, Acadian and English-Canadian fiction and poetry—particularly in relation to the digital humanities and affect theory—as well as current apocalyptic writing in Canada."

Accomplice is available for purchase here.

The Jackson Pollock


Getting a cup of coffee is not the honest ritual it used to be, sacred as a clean bra, or saying grace before a meal, or reading a magazine cover to cover. Such activities ground a person, more effectively even than religion. These days, coffee is decorated. It is too distracting to fulfil a person’s real need for a hot bitter sip, the caffeine shiver, the get up and mojo required to face every goddamn new day. Now getting a cup of coffee is an event, demanding the creation of a mood, demanding several decisions, demanding appreciation of the fern leaves and hearts, swans and dragons, snails and apples that unnecessarily appear in coffee cups, which themselves are much smaller than they used to be. 

It makes me tired. And what is wrong with the world in which my son, graduated with a Master’s degree, can only find work making coffee? Not even making sandwiches and coffee. He stands in one place all day every day, behind a coffee machine that looks like a Camaro, and pours pictures in people’s lattes, which those people then cover with landfilling plastic lids and slurp while texting and driving. 

And what is wrong with the world in which my son is dead? The unbelievable shit frequency with which I forget. Yesterday I walked into the fancy cafe where he used to work. I say ‘fancy’ with a box of iodized salt; I wouldn’t blame anyone for mistaking it for an industrial design studio with chandeliers in bad imitation of the decor at Versailles. I walked in for the first time since it happened, likely sporting a sour look on my face. I never have been able to pretend to like a stupid person or a stupid thing. What could be more idiotic than the establishment in which my son earned minimum wage for the last two years of his life? He always reminded me that it was minimum wage plus tips. Oh honey, hold the door. The place still made me sick. But he did all he could to calm me down about it, try to make me enjoy myself when I came to visit.

He invented a coffee design for me called the Jackson Pollock. Maybe I’m a hypocrite, but I got a kick out of it. I mean, the fact is that Blake could make one of those fern leaves in three seconds, and he made a point of taking about two minutes on my latte, allowing the brown foam to set a bit, then laboriously drizzling trails of white foam across the surface. Usually he ended with a big blob, slightly off-centre, whatever was left in the pitcher. Once he almost got fired for the appearance of my coffee, until I told the manager to calm his soul, I had studied art history in college, I was just fine with an abstract design. I’ll never forget the look on Blake’s face. His scalp pulled back so his shaggy bangs rose above his eyebrows, his wide were wide. He was mortified. I was damn proud of him. That was less than a year ago. 

The worst part of Blake’s accident has been feeling that I have lost my partner in crime, my son, for whom I wanted the world and who apparently cannot even experience my indignation any more. The impact of the other car broke his collarbone, and they put a foam brace on him, even though he was probably already gone when the bones shattered, so that his corpse wouldn’t be deformed. Not that they told me any of this beforehand. I went in to see him and thought they must have made a mistake; he was just injured. In fact, he’d broken his collarbone in fifth grade; it was probably the same place. I was so relieved. I thought, Why in hell would they bother with a brace, if he was dead? He looked just like he had the first time around. The funny solemn way he would sleep with a little smile on his face and his hands folded over his stomach like an old man. The attendant at the morgue got flustered, and even as I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, I was embarrassed. Christ. Blake, not my husband Bill, was the one who, I always comforted myself, would understand what I meant.

I walked in to the cafe, the only woman in the place not wearing ankle boots (more like sprained ankle boots, I always say to Bill), and ordered a regular latte from the girl at the till. She was new and I had to make a point of refusing to even consider any modifications, or a five-dollar scone with jam for another dollar. She was very kind to me anyway and had that sexy young girl’s bedhead; Blake would have liked her. I waited even longer than usual for my cup of coffee; I was grim but cheerful about it for twenty minutes, then I started to look for any sign of a legitimate problem. Nothing. The girl at the till was still happily taking orders. Men in dress pants and expensive sneakers were walking out as if they needed to take a pee, trying to balance recycled cardboard trays in one hand, reefing on their electronic car keys in the other, shouldering open the double doors. Blake’s cafe used to be the main branch of a bank, for crying out loud. 

I peered around the topknot of the woman in front of me, probably a philosophy professor. The young man standing at the espresso machine was, in fact, moving very slowly because of his collarbone brace, which held his neck stiffly straight, like those snakey woollen scarves Blake and all of his friends were always winding around their necks starting the first of September. He couldn’t look down to see what he was doing, which was why he was taking so long to make every drink. Furthermore, he was sticking his ass out in order to put his eyes at the right level, which was causing a traffic disaster behind the bar. His hair was falling over his face, not improving the situation. I tried to see what he was doing, but the woman with the topknot stood firm. 

The next minute, she swooped in to take a compostable cup from the counter, turned around, and almost crashed into me, spilling her coffee. She looked down at her duffel coat and back up at me. What did she expect? I stood in the same place the whole blooming time. Not my fault if she didn’t consider the fact that there was a line of people behind her. I stepped out of the coffee that was spreading all over the floor and looked over to check on the handicapped barista’s progress.

He was standing up straight, half turned towards me and the redhaired woman like he wanted to know what the problem was. He looked about the same height as Blake and he had the same bony wrists and faded ballpoint pen reminders Blake always had scribbled on his hand. I could only read one, something about picking Mom up at four o’clock. He was wearing one of Blake’s t-shirts, the green one I kept throwing out because it had bleach stains. It was in even worse shape than I thought, a big rip, one of the sleeves hanging off. At the back of his neck, his hair puffed over the top of the foam collar, as if it had been growing over it. 

I stepped back and bumped into the person standing behind me. The barista reached for the velcro that fastened his brace and turned around. 

Above the stray chest hairs poking through above the ratty neckline of the green t-shirt, Blake’s collarbone looked like a shiny red goose egg. A sharp white piece of bone was sticking through the skin and blood was trickling down into the fabric. It was already crusted with blood, the red stains were turning brown. He was trying to stand up straight, but he looked like a marionette doll someone had jerked around too roughly; his chest seemed to be caving in while his shoulder was dropped and thrown back. 

He was looking somewhere past me. There were beads of glass stuck in his stubble, in the oval shapes that only surprise a person who’s never seen a shattered windshield, and his face was evenly covered in blood, like someone had painted it, except where it had been washed away by the tears trickling out of his eyes, which they never blinked at all, and snot coming out of his nose. There was glass in his eyelashes that I always teased him should have featured in a mascara ad.

He was looking for someone. I tried to think of something to say that wasn’t stupid, but before I could speak up he made a funny little nod and the shard of bone in the goose egg poked out farther. From somewhere on my left, the philosophy professor reappeared. 

Blake pushed a compostable cup toward her and opened his mouth. Pieces of his teeth sprayed out and bounced off the counter. It was like some clumsy person spilled a cupful of dry rice. The redhead professor leaned in toward him, smiling, elbowing me. I just stood there. He didn’t look at his mother once. He gestured, modestly, at the coffee he had made to replace the one she’d spilled and oh god he told her it was an abstract design.

Project Compass cover + launch

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Yesterday, while I was wiping tables in the calzone place where I've been picking up mid-day shifts, I opened a copy of Avenue magazine that someone had left lying there and saw a review for our book. So that is official. 

Above, you can see the cover image. To be entirely honest, I don't like it; on the other hand, when did you last hear an author raving about the perfect symbiosis between book cover and book? The point is that, in this day and age, it will be printed on real paper.

Now. The book launch for Project Compass will be held on October 30, 2017 at Riverdale House in Edmonton from 7-9 pm. I would love to see you there, participate in a giddy hug, and scrawl my name in your copy. 

Project Compass

Perhaps you remember the hints I dropped (back in March) about a secret project I was working on. Well, things have come together very quickly, and I am proud to tell you that Project Compass, a collaborative novel I wrote in company with fellow Edmonton writers Matthew Stepanic, Kristina Vyskocil, and Bob Strong, is going to be released next month. October. 

What is a collaborative novel, you ask? Think of the film Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch, or any day-in-the-life of x-locale story. It's like that. Much like a movie director, Jason Lee Norman, editor at Monto Books, dreamed up the idea for this four-strand rope, convinced us that it was a good idea, and then wove our stories together. All four of us authors wrote a novella-length story set on a particular day (summer solstice, 2016) and in a particular place (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). Each one of our four protagonists focuses their narrative and physical journey on one compass point of the city (North side represent!) and as the longest day of the year progresses, they begin to converge in the North Saskatchewan river valley that runs through the middle of Edmonton. 

I wrote my portion of this novel over this past spring and summer. I rented an office and wrote the first draft by hand, in pencil on lined loose leaf. It was the most difficult writing experience I've undertaken, but I know the story is the best I've written. There's an excerpt below, which I hope will intrigue you. 

Pre-orders for the book are open here and now:


It is three o’clock in the morning on the longest day of the year.

In your dream, you are singing Schubert and you and I are still the same person, elastic, joyful, and promising. It is your graduation recital from the Victoria Conservatory. You are twenty-three.

You are wearing a blue dress you sewed yourself out of satin; it has the puffy sleeves and unflattering waist of women’s formal wear in the eighties; still, you are radiant. This is one of the happiest days of your life. Graduation recitals are long solos for each Vic Con student. You are the only one singing this afternoon and you picked the repertoire, the kinds of squares that will be served at the reception, and the venue. Most of your classmates used the Anglican church or the conservatory’s concert theatre but you asked that art gallery downtown if you could sing in one of their big, skylit rooms. They wheeled in a baby grand for your accompanist, and when you toured the room yesterday, it was perfect. But overnight they hung a new show so now you are singing against a backdrop of large-scale nudes. Your parents, flown in from Edmonton, are sitting in the audience. A paper cone full of flowers lies on the folding chair beside your mother, ready for your father to give it to you as soon as the recital is over. You sing the last bars, with the big interval you have been practicing for seven months, and then—you are still counting—there is a single beat of silence in that airy room. For the first time, the applause can only be for you. You wonder if it’s possible that you will actually become an opera singer. That and having children are the only things you want to do.

A month before you finished your diploma in voice performance, one of your instructors told you to think about videotaping your recital. Therefore your father borrowed a camcorder from your mother’s sister’s husband. It is set up on a music stand in the aisle beside your father’s seat, recording your beatitude as the applause renews itself and your instructor comes up to present you with a bouquet of carnations, beating your parents to the punch. They don’t mind. Your father is a teacher and he respects this teacher’s privilege over his own as a mere and sometimes dubious parent. But he is not dubious now. He is having the same revelation as you. He is ready to concede that the family history he plans to write might begin with the birth of his own mother in a hamlet in German Poland, go on to describe her youth and courtship with his father in the Lutheran choir, her escape with five small children from Russian soldiers, her loss of her son, the author, age two, when the pillow he was swaddled in was thrown into a baggage car, the family’s voyage to Canada, their settlement in Yorkton, the potatoes she peeled to feed a family of twelve, the stroke his brother had at fifteen, his own graduation from teacher’s college, your birth—and end with a modest account of his daughter the German-Canadian alto’s promising career. Your mother is in awe of you, and when she congratulates you she giggles nervously, making you believe your recital is a mystifying joke to her. No, the mystifying joke is your mother, the little girl who lived to play football, feeling a silly laugh bubble in her throat when she tries to say she is proud of you. You start to turn away from her, abruptly incensed by how awkward it is to juggle two bouquets, and feel yourself falling through the floor.

You are sitting bolt upright in bed, awake. This is your old bedroom. It looks as it did before you left for Victoria, the gold-coloured shag carpet, the ivy plant you pinned to the walls, the record player in the corner, the polyester bedspread, though the room is still dark. You are fifty years old. You are sweating.

from "A Defense of Ardor," by Adam Zagajewski

"On the other hand, it's easy to "freeze" into irony and into a daily existence lived reflexively. This, I think, is the real danger of our historical moment, and not priestly pride (though we shouldn't overlook the dangers of religious fundamentalism). Moreover--though I may not be a neutral bystander here--ardor and irony are not symmetrically comparable. Only ardor is a primary building block in our literary constructions. Irony is, of course, indispensable, but it comes later, it is the "eternal finetuner," as Norwid called it; it is more like the windows and doors without which our buildings would be solid monuments, not habitable spaces. Irony knocks very useful holes into our walls, but without walls, it could perforate only nothingness."

You're invited

to the first Open Apartment of the year (because I think we all feel that the year really begins in September). Bring yourself and whatever you've been reading or writing, if you'd like to read aloud. I will make tea, coffee, and possibly cake. Also, you can meet our puppy, and I'll read some poems from the new chapbook.

Sunday, September 3

2:00 - 5:00 pm

the Arts Hub building on 118th




I mail off a stack of Accomplice copies, more than I expected to (thank you). I interview for a job I don't really want, and don't get. A friendship ends--and with the very woman who gushed over Cat's Eye with me. During daylight hours I am sad but soberly relieved; at night I have nightmares in which she lets me know I won't get away with this. Dylan's parents buy a 1980 Dodge camper van christened "Mr. Copperbottom" by the lovely man selling it. We pack it up with a box of books, two plates, two bowls, and the bag of cat food. Simpkin, Dylan, and I drive off, heading north. In Grande Prairie, Mr. CB's carburetor dies. We lurch into a liquor store parking lot and set up domestic bliss, the three of us for one last night. We draw the curtains, expecting to wake up to a cop knocking on the window. In the morning a young man with huge, meaty hands and blunt, dirty fingers tows us up to a mechanic's shop in Dawson Creek. It looks more like a truck graveyard than a place any vehicle might drive away from. Long grass smothers at least twenty chassis rusting behind a building so dilapidated the sign is no longer legible. The mechanic's name is Little John; when we meet he is wearing a t-shirt that says "I apologize in advance for my behaviour tonight." We want to run away, but when John starts working on the van, he wraps his arms around the engine, tugging on levers and letting the flaps on the carburetor flutter against his cheek while Dylan guns the engine. He is delighted with the carburetor, which, he announces, is royally fucked up. This will be interesting, he says, and rubs his hands together. Dodge parts are like gold in Dawson Creek, he says, but lucky for us he has a buddy who works in the scrap yard. Miracle of miracles, Buddy has a Dodge carburetor just sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, and he can bring it by in the morning. Meanwhile, Little John says, we're welcome to camp in the yard. Hell, he says, one guy was there for a month while John rebuilt his engine from scratch. Dylan makes pasta and tomato sauce on our two gas burners across from the bed. We draw our curtains and try to read, but around five o'clock, restless and irritable, we decide to walk downtown to find a cafe/bookstore called Faking Sanity. We drink coffee, eat carrot cake, eavesdrop on the knitting group, and leave with Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, a copy of Franny and Zooey to replace our tattered copy, and a collection of plays by Sam Shepherd, who has just died. The skies in Dawson Creek are magnificent. When we get back to the van, Simpkin is gone. For the first time, we notice a hole in the floor left when we uncovered the engine. We search the truck cemetery and call his name until it gets dark, then leave a bowl of food out and try to sleep. I am convinced he will come back during the night, and jump onto our bed as soon as we open the van doors. He does not come back; the rattling of the food dish that we hear all night is every neighbourhood cat except Simpkin feasting on the bait meant to coax him home. We cry all morning. The scrap carburetor works, though for the rest of the trip, Dylan has to be careful not to flood the engine, especially when backing up. On the day we leave Dawson Creek, Little John's shirt says "Dick's Taxidermy: Stuffing Beavers Since 1978." We spend the night at Liard, taking mushrooms and wrinkling in the hotsprings. Two days later we make it to Dawson City, where our friend Joanna has been working all summer. We park the van next to her trailer in the Bonanza Gold RV Park and for the next two weeks, make a vegetarian dinner together every night, go on long walks, and explore Dawson. Dylan introduces everyone to his wife, which makes me extremely happy. (Something has anchored, surely and safely, since we got married; or it is as if we were two rowboats lashed precariously together and now we have finally reached a proper ship. We board gratefully and attend to our new positions as crew.) We go to the free store, adjacent to the dump, and retrieve a small brown plate, three books, and a men's dress shirt. We go swimming in a dugout, take the ferry (free, 24-hour, provincially-funded) to West Dawson and walk down the beach to a wrecked riverboat while the Perseids flicker overhead. We admire Dawson's pickup trucks, modified in myriad ways and with unprecedented pioneer style. A week in, Joanna mentions that there are still two puppies left unclaimed from her new dog, Lupin's, litter. It is suppertime, and beginning to rain, but we all set off down the highway to the Yukan Rental yard when a charismatic young French-Canadian man emerges from the one-room shed where he lives to call a pack of Dawson mutts. Though I don't want to live in a shed, Dawson makes it painfully obvious that the civilized south draws arbitrary and bourgeoise lines around how people are allowed to live their lives. Lupin is soon embroiled in a familial dispute with his siblings and mother, who hadn't expected to see him again. One of the puppies jumps up and licks my face. He looks like a black lab. The French-Canadian insists that his grandmother was raped by a wolf. Like most dogs in Dawson, he's mostly bear dog. Dylan, who has been on a westerns kick, names the dog Ranger, and I tack on Charlie, for Steinbeck's dog, and Yvonne, because my sister Grace thinks Yvonne of the Yukon is as good a title as any. I get a three-day job washing dishes in the hippy cafe where Joanna works and feast on free kale bowls and miso soup on my lunch breaks. Dylan works on a new screen play, reads Annie Dillard, and takes the dogs on long walks. I finish War and Peace. Both of us start writing grants for a September 1 deadline. On our last night in Dawson, Joanna leads us and all three dogs up into the woods in West Dawson, to a cabin where a band called Power Duo from Prince George is playing a bonfire show to about 20 skids and 17 dogs. We stick out a little, too-recently showered, but everyone loves the puppies. No one looks at a cellphone. A beautiful girl with a round face like a renaissance painting debates the most desirable interval between showers with a man named Louisiana Josh. The girl across from us passes around a deconstructed caesar (a bottle of Clamato and a bottle of vodka, which she monitors to keep at roughly equal levels); but Dylan and I have decided to stop drinking for a while. I don't miss it much. We drive four days home, stopping in Dawson Creek to look for Simpkin one more time but no luck. Edmonton is frenetic, self-absorbed, and rich, and we are uncomfortable surrounded by new cars and new clothes. Our apartment feels huge and luxurious as a Japanese bathroom. I start going through closets and cupboards, trying to figure out exactly what we have and if we need it. We take Ranger to the FAVA summer barbeque, where Dylan wins 6 passes to the Metro Cinema, Laura shows a short film she made on one roll of Super8, and I show off the green lace sweater I finished knitting in the van. I plan the first Open Apartment of the year. Hannah comes upstairs for breakfast and we eat the jam I made from highbush cranberries in Dawson. We borrowed a sieve from the owner of the hippy cafe to strain out the seeds. 

blue flowers.jpg


My friends, the book is done. After innumerable setbacks, hiccups, frustrations, garden paths, consultations, and fuck-ups, there is a box of 100 nearly-perfect green poetry books sitting in my office and I would like to send you one. 

If you, dear soul, pre-ordered one of these books back in the winter and have long since given them up for dead, I am nevertheless putting your copy in the mail this week. 

If you'd like to order a book now, in full assurance of the physical existence of the item you are paying for, click on 'Shop', above, and you'll see a listing for this modest collection of poems. 

They're some of the best I've ever written. I'm so pleased I finally get to share them with you; it's been too long.



what I promised my husband

On Tuesday, June 13, at approximately 7:15 pm, Dylan and I got married in our livingroom. Nine people whom we care about very much and a lovely wedding commissioner named Jody gathered around us while we made our vows. I cried, and then had to go lie down with Simpkin for a minute in the other room. Anna and Eliot were our witnesses. Dylan made potroast and I made a rhubarb crisp. It was very warm in the apartment. Anna brought a tiny plant which I managed to repot before the ceremony started. Laura brought a bouquet of flowers as big as a child. Gwen and Trevor brought champagne. Lauretta brought some of the teacups she received as wedding shower gifts over 50 years ago, and she also brought the typed-up story of that wedding shower. Ashleigh ordered pizza for August and Al. There was a bottle of wine from 1988 (Dylan's parents bought it when he was born), which might have turned into vinegar at any point during the interim 28 years, but instead became a divine elixir. Laura read from 1st Corinthians. Anna read from bell hooks. Gwen pronounced a Celtic blessing. Trevor quoted Sonnet 116. Ashleigh read (on my request) two stanzas from "The Country of Marriage" by Wendell Berry. Alley-Oop got a little drunk. I wore my strappy blue shoes. Kaylin came after work and gave us stick and poke tattoos on our fingers. (We cannot stop looking at them.) Laura read from East of Eden. Dylan said these things. And I said this:


As everyone here already knows, I started to love you reading your reports from Missinippe. They were full of your courage and honesty, your understanding of other people, your romanticism, and beautiful sentences--and reading them, I was exhilarated. I found something so important in them I realized it would be be easy to drop everything else. My life had become disconnected from the world and I was lonely and I didn’t know how to be loved by anybody. I did drop everything, much to your confusion, and we have become something extraordinary and volatile and capable of much more good together. You are brave to marry me. 

I know that both of us take what we are doing seriously. We both know that loving another person is difficult and profound, and that building a life together is a kind of monumental work, so I have a few things I will promise you.

I promise to speak to you as truthfully as I know how.

I promise to assume the best of you, and to do whatever I can to enable you to be an artist and a good person.

I promise to work for the life that is honest and happy for both of us.

I promise to take care of you.

I promise to share everything I have with you.

I promise not to keep scores.

And I promise to give you the freedom to love and be loved by people who are not me, and to respect all of your relationships.

I love you on a literary, epic, primal, and cosmic scale, and I am so honoured and happy to become your wife.

heat during the day and storms at night

We go to California in April, but something feels off.

For one thing, we can't really afford to be there. Paradoxically, we spend way more money than usual. It's almost as if we're trying too hard to have a good time. We see Sigur Ros in concert. I eat grits for the first time, also biscuits and gravy. We go to a Warriors game in Oakland, where I see Steph Curry in the flesh, even if we're too far up in the stands to identify much more than his number, his floating three-point shot. We make an extensive tour of Motel 6 rooms. Laura and Tom are along with us, the four of us splitting two queen beds along gender lines. For five American dollars, I buy a large piece of upholstery from an art supply recycling store, planning to make a bed cover out of it. I take pictures of Laura. We drop off some more of Evan's IMAX film at Fotokem, and enjoy how glamorous it all is through Laura's eyes. We go to the beach. Driving through rural Oregon, we see a kind of poverty and despair I've never associated with "American life." On our way home, a blizzard traps us in the mountains for an extra night. It shouldn't be so stressful but it is. We're rushed and broke. The mountains loom black over us, the mountain town we stay in has a gothic, murderous energy. 

Back home, it's difficult to regather ourselves. Part of it is that the things I'm working on are all long-term projects in their final, grinding stages. Part of it is that we seem, vaguely, to have misplaced our priorities. I don't organize Open Apartment. I drink more than I need to. I avoid looking at my credit card statement. I dread writing, dread showing the day's progress to Dylan. I wonder why pursuing creative work full-time (with two nights a week pouring beer at the Empress) feels so hollow and abstract, so disconnected from our real needs. There's no question that my work has taken me away from most other aspects of living this winter. I've barely even been cooking. And I've struggled to maintain a belief in the worthwhile nature of what I am doing, even as I've immersed myself in a world of patterns on a screen and imaginary money. Our culture does not take very good care of freelancers.

It isn't that I've decided writing and film are not important, or that my work, my projects (many of which will finally be completed and fully realized this summer) are a misuse of my time. But I have been using my work as a way to excuse myself from the realities and concerns of my life, and no wonder the result has been lethargy, confusion, aimlessness, pleasure-free excess. 

Now the summer has broke on us, in all its heat during the day and storms in the evening. We have a new focus. I reread a book by Ben Hewitt that explores how misplaced the West's definition and pursuit of wealth has become. (I cannot recommend it highly enough.) We make a budget. Dylan cuts my hair, banishing the mullet once and for all. The society that I lease my office from announces that it has to give up its space at the end of June. Ashleigh asks me to play violin on some of her new songs. I remember that I'm good at making bread, that for all the money I've been spending, I've abandoned many of the pursuits that actually make me happy. I start planning a film about our summer. 

We go out to Laura's family's property for the first time in over a year. We make plans to leave Edmonton for a while, to do other work and try other ways of living.  Laura uses our apartment to shoot her first short film. One day we receive a box of fancy cheese from Canadian cheese makers, an obscurely-motivated but lucky-for-us Canada 150 promotion. Skye and Jenna are finally able to print Accomplice. We spend an evening working on a puzzle and watching I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the Wilco doc, at Jord's place. I take my road test and fail it twice, and finally master the hill park and book another test for tomorrow morning.

"It is a largely unacknowledged truth that the contemporary American life is lived under a guillotine of fear. We fear disease, poverty, terrorism, loneliness, and death. We spend a lifetime seeking security because we are told the world is an insecure and dangerous place; that peril lurks around each corner. We spend so much of our time believing those fears and trying to abate them that we don't even stop to consider whether our anxieties might be misplaced. We don't even wonder if perhaps the things we fear are, at least in part, the tragic outgrowth of our misguided attempts to create an artifice of security. We have disease because we have allowed our food to be commoditized and thus subject to the profit-borne whims of corporatism; we have poverty because we have believed the lie that money buys security and because we have created a system that unjustly allows money to beget money; we have terrorism largely because we have meddled and assumed the righteous stance of American exceptionalism; we have loneliness because we no longer need one another; we have death because it is inevitable and we know this, yet because we have come to see ourselves as separate from nature and its laws, we believe that death is something to be vanquished."

- Ben Hewitt