Open Text: Canadian Poetry and Poetics in the 21st Century (Vol.2).
edited by Roger Farr
6 x 8, 124pp
Poems by Shirley Bear, Ken Belford, Clint Burnham, Ted Byrne, Angela Carr, Steve Collis, Wayde Compton, Kim Duff, Phinder Dulai, Emily Fedoruk, Reg Johanson, Christine Leclerc, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Miki, Jordan Scott, and Fred Wah.
The most interesting poetry being written today makes no secret of its desire to recalibrate the spatial and temporal instruments we use to navigate the world – this is the “opening” promised by the open text. In the cramped discursive space of twentieth century poetics, the poem has been productively imagined as a “place” (Olson), a “field” (Duncan), a “room” (Webb), a “baseball diamond” (Spicer), a “zone” (Watten), a “body” (Brossard), a “scale” (Derksen), and a “border” (Toscano), to name just a few of the more compelling formulations.
And such a truncated list, with its narrative illusion, by no means exhausts what are better understood as the coterminous spatial and temporal categories of contemporary poetry and poetics; indeed, as this second volume of Open Text shows, poetic space is also being understood as “land” (Belford), as “square footage” (Duff), or, as Wayde Compton puts it, with impressive historical and social precision, “Clichy-sous-Bois.” At the same time, on the temporal axis, the poem is “the math of multiple history”(Wah), calculated without “calendrical retrievals” (Miki), into a “weekly / daily / feudal / moment” (Dulai). In this line of poetic thinking, the text “begins and ends arbitrarily…not because there is a necessary point of origin or terminus, a first or last moment…[O]ne has simply stopped because one has run out of units or minutes, and not because a conclusion has been reached nor ‘everything’ said” (Hejinian).
Not surprisingly, many of the writers here work in extended, book-length and serial forms that provide the optimal formal conditions in which to pursue “multiple histories” synchronically, and in so doing they avoid that literary trap in which the poet starts and stops the historical clock, an authoritarian and colonizing gesture to be avoided at all costs. Similarly, the intent with this collection is not to announce that something has arrived or that something has passed, or worse, to put on display a number of “finely wrought” or “best of” curiosities; rather the aim is only to pause the hyper-accelerated production of Canadian literary culture just for a second, so we might get a better look at it, and then to move on. Like the serial poem, then, the Open Text anthology, in the words of Jack Spicer, is a “book, which is a unit like a poem.” It is “an ongoing process of accumulation” (Conte), a “narrative which refuses to adopt an imposed story line, and completes itself only in the sequence of poems, if, in fact, a reader insists upon a definition of completion which is separate from the activity of the poems themselves” (Blaser).
Between September 2008 and October 2009, the time measured by this volume of the Open Text series, the 15 writers assembled here read from their work at Capilano University as part of our ongoing reading series, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Creative Writing program at Capilano, and the Writer’s Union of Canada. This is a record of what transpired.
– Roger Farr, October 2009