Friday, January 11, 2019

John Barton named Victoria BC's new Poet Laureate

Poet, editor and above/ground press author John Barton has been named the latest Poet Laureate for the City of Victoria, British Columbia, alongside also-announced Youth Poet Laureate Aziza Moqia Sealey-Qaylow. Congratulations to you both!

Barton is the author of three above/ground press chapbooks, including DESTINATIONS, LEAVING THE MAP (1995), Oxygen (1999) and REFRAMING PAUL CADMUS (2016). See his recent above/ground press 25th anniversary essay here.

See the official press release below:


Meet Victoria’s New Poet Laureate John Barton and Youth Poet Laureate Aziza Moqia Sealey-Qaylow

For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC – The City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Public Library are pleased to announce John Barton as Victoria’s new Poet Laureate and Aziza Moqia Sealey-Qaylow (pronounced Ah-zee-zah Moe-kia See-lee Kay-low) as Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate.

Selected by nomination, the Poet Laureate serves as Victoria’s literary and cultural ambassador for a four-year term. The Youth Poet Laureate seeks to inspire and engage local youth to share their stories through both the written and spoken word, and serves a one-year term. Both are honorary positions that celebrate the contribution of literature and poetry in the capital city.

“We’re thrilled to welcome John and Aziza to their literary roles at the City of Victoria,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “Our Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate programs support and inspire the literary arts, enriching our lives and the community. We look forward to all that these two talented poets have to share.”

John Barton is an established poet and editor. Some of his 26 books, chapbooks, and anthologies include The Malahat at Fifty: Canada's Iconic Literary Journal (2017), Polari (2014), For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems (2012), and Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay-Male Poets (2007).  A three-time recipient of the Archibald Lampman Award, Barton has also won an Ottawa Book Award, a CBC Literary Award, and a National Magazine Award. He will publish We Are Not Avatars: Essays, Memoirs, Manifestos, his first book of prose, with Palimpsest Press and The Essential Douglas LePan with Porcupine's Quill in the spring of 2019. Signal Editions will publish his 12th collection of poems, Lost Family, a book of sonnets, in 2020. Since stepping down as the editor of The Malahat Review in January 2018, a position he held for 14 years, Barton now works as a freelance editor, writer, and mentor. 

“As the City of Victoria Poet Laureate, I aim to broaden the local audience for poetry, to make readers more aware of the diverse community of poets in the greater Victoria region, and to provide support to LGBTQ2S poets working among us,” said John Barton. “Together, my fellow local poets and I shall hold up a mirror to the city where we live and invite the people who live here to see themselves anew.”

Aziza Moqia Sealey-Qaylow is a slam and spoken-word poet, as well as an honours graduate from Reynolds Secondary School. As the daughter of a Somali refugee and a seventh-generation Canadian, Aziza is a deeply connected to her culture and writes about the adventures of being in a mixed family. She’s an active volunteer within various parts of the community, has traveled to many European and African countries, and likes to view the world with an open mind.

"I'm really happy to have this opportunity,” said Aziza Moqia Sealey-Qaylow. “I love to learn from everyone I meet, and collaborate with open-minds."

A Call for Nominations for poets in the Capital Region was held in the fall. Applicants were required to have an established body of work (written or spoken word) and to have been recognized for notable contributions in their career. Submissions were evaluated by two peer committees comprised of representatives of the literary and poetry community. The Greater Victoria Public Library coordinated the selection process for the Poet Laureate, and the City coordinated the selection of the Youth Poet Laureate.

“John and Aziza will inspire people in our community to tell their stories through poetry,” said Maureen Sawa, CEO of the Greater Victoria Public Library. “We look forward to partnering with them to offer learning opportunities that showcase the power of words and self-expression.”

During the four-year term, the Poet Laureate is required to produce three new original works each year that reflect or represent ideas and issues of importance to the people of Victoria, and present, in-person, at significant City events, bi-monthly City Council meetings, the annual Victoria Book Prize Awards Gala, and other official functions upon request. In addition, the Poet Laureate hosts one project or activity per year to engage the community during Poetry Month in April, collaborates with the Greater Victoria Public Library on programs and workshops, and provides a year-long mentorship to the Youth Poet Laureate.

Over the one-year term, the Youth Poet Laureate will create three new works of poetry, present at bi-monthly City Council meetings, serve as a judge on the panel for the Greater Victoria Public Library Teen Writing Contest, host an event or project that will engage youth, and collaborate with the Greater Victoria Public Library on a poetry workshop for teens.

The Poet Laureate is an honorary four-year term position from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2022. The position receives a $4,500 honorarium and $1,000 of project funding per year, in addition to administrative support from the City of Victoria.

The Youth Poet Laureate is an honorary one-year term position from January 1 to December 31, 2019. The position receives a $1,750 honorarium and $1,000 of project funding in addition to the one-year mentorship with the Poet Laureate and administrative support from the City of Victoria.

Both the Poet Laureate and the Youth Poet Laureate positions are funded by the City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Public Library.

Victoria was the first municipality in Canada to have a Youth Poet Laureate. For more information, visit: www.victoria.ca/poetlaureate.

For More Information:

Andrea Walker CollinsArts, Culture and Events Liaison
Arts, Culture and Events Office
250.361.0308

Jessica Woollard
Communications Officer
Greater Victoria Public Library
250.940.4875 ext. 346

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Khashayar Mohammadi reviews Travis Sharp's Sinister Queer Agenda (2018) online at knife | fork | book

Khashayar Mohammadi was good enough to provide a first review of Travis Sharp's Sinister Queer Agenda (2018) over at the knife | fork | book site. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here. And of course, copies of Travis' chapbook are still very much available.
“The curve of the sentence.”
SINISTER QUEER AGENDA TRAVIS SHARP
ABOVE/GROUND, 2018.


I dream so much f body
I run out of small strips of paper


In a way I feel like I’ve known Travis Sharp for years. I ingest his new chapbook Sinister Queer Agenda and I sense a deep connection to his words, the same way I feel when I read Rimbaud or Mahmoud Darwish: a cycle of self-alienation, self-discovery and self-actualization rotating in an existential yin-yang. Delving deep into his consciousness, Sharp destabilizes the ego and offers me the fragments to digest. With each passing page he offers more and more of himself.

I poke the body to feel
Body feels


Sharp’s “I” is an experiment in consciousness, a continuous redefinition of the ego; a question about the very nature of “selfness” like Rimbaud’s “’je’ est un autre”. Sharp wallows in the mind-body divide, delves deep into the futility of restrictions imposed on the body and situates this unstable “Self” within the confines of sexual politics, begging the question: Is self created ex-nihilo? Or is its creation contingent on the body?

The ambivalence I feel is a body feeling
I is a body feeling itself
I is aroused
I touches itself
I is always fucking itself into existence


The elusive nature of Sharp’s “I” is confounded on the dilemma that psycho-social politics impose on the body.

I is a sexed interior decorator queering organs
Body refuses to move on
I ask politely repeatedly but receive no answer


That’s where the chapbook begins its brilliant second half, a playful musical written to be performed as uncomfortably close to the audience as possible.

That’s where Sharp’s initial Introspection ends. Sharp stands “Uncomfortably close” to the reader and begins his extrospection:

And the road is connected to tax dollars that I don’t have to pay because I’m poor
And my poor is connected to my parents’ poor
And my parents’ poor is connected to the trailer park
And the trailer park is connected to a memory of when I was a child watching TV


Situating the self within Capitalism neatly ties the chapbook together: being queer in a heteronormative capitalist environment is guaranteed to alienate the queer from their body. Being born into a world driven by profit, their bodies have become unresponsive vessels to the drive to produce and reproduce for the sake of capital. In a way queerness in itself is the biggest rebellion towards capitalism and its ironically sinister agenda that’ll oppose queerness at any cost.

I mean capitalism is a daddy pissing contest amirite
So says the twink tank newsletter:
You can’t take the femboi out of capitalism,
But you can take capitalism’s white cock out of the femboi


From Alienation, to discovery, to actualization and manifestation, Travis Sharp’s Sinister Queer Agenda is a truly masterful work of poetry and philosophy that should not be overlooked. Lines from this book shall echo in my mind for years to come.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Julia Polyck-O’Neill


This is the thirty-eighth in a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the 2018 quarter century mark of above/ground. See links to the whole series here.

Reflecting on the significance of above/ground press on the occasion of its 25th anniversary brings me to a good number of places.

I’m fortunate to count myself among the hundreds of above/ground authors editor/publisher rob mclennan nurtures. Like a patient gardener, rob applauds progress at the moments when we’ve learned to anticipate indifference, finding greatness in the quietest parts of quiet artists (and also, I add, in the loudest parts of loud artists). Anyone who writes knows that to write means to reach out to an imagined audience, and rob has often been the first to read my work, and certainly was the first to publish a small collection of my shy poems.

But my personal relationship with above/ground extends beyond publishing my first two texts, the chapbooks Everything will be taken away (2018) and femme (2016). It extends beyond my first ‘biggish’ public reading in Ottawa as part the Factory Reading Series, an unofficial parallel event held in conjunction with the Congress of Social Sciences and Humanities in 2015. There is a reason that I was nervous to first meet rob, and that was because above/ground published works by many of the poets I love and has come to represent one of the most important nodes in the network of experimental poetry and small or micro-press publishing in Canada and beyond. I cited interviews on his blog in my essays and collected the small, innocuous-looking booklets of exquisite poetry he made in at his desk long before I knew I’d have a chance of interacting with him personally, and certainly well before I would have considered sending or showing him my work. Writing this particular piece is making me emotional; the fact of being invited to share my thoughts on the occasion of above/ground’s twenty-fifth anniversary makes me emotional (which explains, at least in part, why my reflections are late).

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I grew up on the periphery of Canadian cultural happenings, in Whitehorse, Yukon, where visits from prominent authors were regular but rare, and always sponsored by government grants and cultural initiatives. Acquiring small press work (and thus accessing the kinds of voices small presses publish) happened when I’d travel out of the territory, which I was lucky (privileged) enough to do regularly, but this travel also gave me a sense of the distance between my own creative community and those that ‘mattered’ – a cultural read I’d later come to critically question. These (much) later realizations aside, I came into my own with a reflexive consciousness that I would always be an observer and not a participant, and this sense of backgroundness, of peripheral identity, remains distilled in my self-imaginary. I remember reading poems in Ottawa, amongst my peers, and having rob share some generous praise for my writing and performance, then, quite by surprise, inviting me to submit work for an Ottawa project he was editing. Later, an invitation to submit a chapbook (which would be followed by a number of other exciting invitations, including the heartening invitation to read alongside poetry heroes at the anniversary event this past August). I recall the sensation of holding a box of my chapbooks and feeling overwhelmed. I was part of the network I’d studied. It was surreal.

above/ground press chapbooks represent a shared understanding that writing inhabits a variety of scales, and that many of them are small, intimate, and that these small intimacies are the building blocks for the larger worlds of poetry’s possible futures, its potentialities. Poetry really does come down to words on a page, but also, words that make their way to readers, and this is no small feat. above/ground is a press, but it’s also a network. above/ground is also rob mclennan, the patient gardener of poetry’s intimacies.



Julia Polyck-O’Neill is an artist, curator, critic, and writer. Her writing has been published in B.C. Studies, Feminist Spaces, Tripwire, Train, Touch the Donkey, Fermenting Feminisms (a project of the Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology, curated by Lauren Fournier), Avant Canada (WLU Press, 2018), and other places. She has published two chapbooks, Everything will be taken away (2018) and femme (2016), both with above/ground press. She currently lives in Toronto, where she is completing her  SSHRC-funded PhD in Interdisciplinary Humanities.