Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Prairie Harbour, by Garry Thomas Morse

I first encountered Garry Thomas Morse’s poetry in one of the best ways that any small-press author can discover another small-press author: we both had work in the same literary journal. In this instance, it was in the September 2010 issue of The Quint, a small online periodical out of a university in The Pas, Manitoba. Upon reading the issue, I was immediately struck by the musicality of Morse’s verse, the way he manipulates line breaks and spacing to create a fiery momentum on the page, one that both subverts and satisfies the expectations of our readerly eye.

This prowess is very much animated in Morse’s latest collection, Prairie Harbour. The book could be read as either a singular long poem or a collage of shorter(ish) pieces that possess similar sequences of images, tropes or preoccupations. The defining feature of Prairie Harbour can be found in its title: this is a poetry collection about juxtaposition, about placing widely divergent concepts in close proximity to each other to cut new paths of understanding in our minds. Morse weaves a great tapestry of opposites as he explores his own First Nations identity and its relationship with other fraught aspects of Canadian, prairie, and, indeed, global existence.

These kinds of juxtapositions leap from nearly every page. Morse writes in the dense, trickster-like tradition of the so-called Prairie long poem (see Kroetsch, Cooley, Arnason, Dueck, Marvin Francis, etc.), and to recreate his line breaks on a blog platform would risk offending the sophisticated arrangements he has created. But here is a small taste, from early in Prairie Harbour, of what I’m talking about:

Speak to me then

of trees on your farm
of succulent saskatoons
of visions in perfect colour
of music in crystalline

speak through the flame
& I will forgo
plaguing Europe
& shadows cast
across “primitive” minds

You can see how Morse loads together a series of disparate images or tropes – Canada and Europe; rural reality and the liveliness of music; clear-headed (“crystalline”) perspectives versus “primitive” minds – and finds a way to make them sing together.

There may be a certain amount of futility to parsing exactly what this rich experimental text is “about” in the traditional sense, but the reader willing to pay close attention will spot a series of unifying ideas. Prairie Harbour is, at its core, about the long and continuous attempts at erasure of aboriginal identity, and how the First Nations voice literally needs to fight against the margins, against the very idea of margin, to make itself heard. Morse lays out many aspects of his own heritage in doing this, but what he creates never feels forced or didactic.

What’s more, there are great flurries of other tropes that readers can latch onto. Music plays a huge role in this book: I caught references to the great folk tune from my own neck of the woods, “Farewell to Nova Scotia”, as well as countless allusions to classical music and classical literature from Europe. In this sense, Morse is steeped in several artistic traditions and can write from multiple points of reference.

Still, there is a darkness that underlines this collection. It is a shadow embodied in “the Company”, a reoccurring motif in Prairie Harbour that may represent a specific corporate entity (perhaps the Hudson’s Bay Company), or, more likely, a generalized concept of the marauding, colonizing force that has threatened native identity and existence for centuries. Yet, through the sheer musicality of his verse, Morse forces us to welcome this bleak underscore to our minds. His poetry energizes us to the threat of colonial erasure, hinting at the great spectrums of light that await us if we can move beyond the harm it brings.

In the end, this is a book committed to the reformative power of art, to the ability of poetry to slip gleefully out from between the fingers of “the Company” even as it tightens its grip. This is a book that does not hold back its sense of hope.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Announcement: My next novel, The Slip, forthcoming from Dundurn

A not-atypical page from The Slip's
first draft. (My markups, natch.)
Well, this news found its way into Quill and Quire recently so I thought I should also announce it here on the blog. Yes, I will have a new novel out next year. The lovely people at Dundurn Press, who published my last novel, Sad Peninsula, will release The Slip in the spring of 2017. This will mark – good gravy – four books in four years for me, which is a fact I still haven’t wrapped my mind around yet.

Anyway, here is the back-cover copy for The Slip to give you a sense of what the new book is about:

Philip Sharpe is one bad morning and two regrettable comments away from going viral for all the worst reasons. 
In his wickedly funny new novel, Mark Sampson introduces us to the ultimate absent-minded professor, Dr. Philip Sharpe, who teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her — some heinous and wildly inappropriate things — that he really shouldn’t have. 
As a clip of Philip’s “slip” goes viral, it soon reveals all the cracks and fissures in his marriage with his young, stay-at-home wife, Grace. While the two of them try to get on the same side of the situation, things quickly spiral out of control. 
Can Philip make amends and save his marriage? To do so, he’ll need to realize the true nature of his on-air comments, and to conscript a band of misfits in a scheme to set things right.

Me, signing the contract for The Slip last July.
Like most of the literary news I announce here, I’ve known about this forthcoming publication for a while. I signed the contract for The Slip last July after Dundurn accepted the book on the strength of a proposal and three chapters. While I’ve had the idea of this novel and its characters since at least 2007 or 2008, I began working on manuscript in earnest in the fall of 2013, and submitted the full manuscript last February. I’ve been telling people who’ve asked that this book is in many ways the polar opposite of Sad Peninsula. That last novel was a deeply dramatic narrative about an uncomfortable part of twentieth century history, set over decades and told from two alternating perspectives. This new book is, by contrast, a wildly comic novel told from just one point of view and – with the exception of flashback chapters – set over just nine days in November of 2015.

The announcement in Quill and Quire.
The Slip is already available for pre-order (and has been since before I submitted the full ms, which was weird!) from the usual suspects, including Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, McNally Robinson and, of course, Dundurn’s own website. Naturally, I will keep you all posted on other developments – including cover design, launch dates and such – as they arise over the coming months.

Finally, a big thanks to Dundurn, and especially editor Shannon Whibbs, for taking another chance on me. I’m very excited that this book is coming out and can’t wait until you all get to meet Philip Sharpe for yourselves.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Another upcoming Toronto event

June is shaping up to be a busy month. On top of the reading I'm doing on June 10 with Kyp Harness and Matt Cahill, I'm happy to announce I'll be taking part in another book launch one week later, on June 17. My friend Mike Knox is releasing his new novel, Harshly Purring, with Now or Never Publishing in Vancouver, and he has asked me and Aaron Tucker to take part in the celebration. It's going to be a night of excellent readings and celebratory pints. Here are the details for those of you in Toronto who can make it out:

Where: The Burdock - 1184 Bloor Street West, Toronto.
When: Friday, June 17.
What time: 9 pm.
Who: Mike Knox, Aaron Tucker and me.
The Facebook event.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Another upcoming event: June 10 in Toronto

Well Toronto folks, if you couldn't make it out to the Black Swan on Tuesday night to see me read from my debut poetry collection, Weathervane, at the Art Bar reading series, you have another chance. I'm happy to announce I'll be part of an event on June 10 with two other authors: Matt Cahill (The Society of Experience) and Kyp Harness, who is launching his debut novel, Wigford Rememberies.

This event is a joint production between our respective presses: Nightwood Editions, Wolsak & Wynn, and Palimpsest Press. The venue, the Belljar Cafe, will be contributing some delicious vegetarian food to go along with the evening of literary frivolity.

Anyway, here are the particulars:

Where: The Belljar Cafe, 2072 Dundas St. West, Toronto.
When: Friday, June 10th.
What time: 7 pm.
Who: Kyp Harness, Matt Cahill, and Mark Sampson
The Facebook invitation.

Some come out if you can!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Upcoming event: Art Bar Poetry Series

Hey Toronto: Just a quick note to say I'll be reading from my poetry collection, Weathervane, at the Art Bar Poetry Series next week. Here are the details if you're looking to come out.

Where: The Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Avenue
When: Tuesday, May 10
What time: 8 pm
Reading with: Liz Worth and Sneha Madhavan-Reese