Don McKay’s “Fridge Nocturne”

In “Fridge Noc­turne”, a short poem near the begin­ning of Don McKay’s selected poems, the sleep­less poet lies lis­ten­ing to the sound of his fridge, ‘the old/armless weep­ing wil­low of the kitchen’. The fridge’s “Hum­ble mur­mur” brings to his mind sev­eral dis­tant rivers–“the Saugeen, the Goulais/the Raisin”. The per­me­abil­ity of the bor­der between the domes­tic world and the wilder­ness which lies beyond it marks a land­scape whose vast­ness teaches early that, “Lonely is a knife whose han­dle fits the mind/too well, its old­est and most hos­pitable friend” (“Noc­tur­nal Ani­mals”). How­ever, “There is a loneliness/ which must be entered rather than resolved” (“On Leav­ing”) and to enter the wilder­ness with Don McKay is to have the sharpest, most informed and respon­sive guide. Here are his thoughts on the White-throated Spar­row:

I was think­ing of the mus­cles in that grey-white breast,
pec­toralis major pow­er­ing each down­stroke,
pec­toralis minor with its rope-and-pul­ley ten­don
reach­ing through the shoul­der to the
top­side of the humerus to haul it up again;
of the ster­num with the extra keel it has evolved to
anchor all that effort, of the dark wind
and the white curl on the waves below, the slow dawn
and the thick­en­ing shore­line. (“Load”)

Read the rest of “Introducing Don McKay” at Arc

(Photo Credit: National Post)


Don McKay & Jeramy Dodds, Friday October 7, 2pm, MB 2.130, 1450 Rue Guy

McKay’s collected poems, Angular Unconformity was published in 2014 and he has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry twice, for Night Field (1991) and Another Gravity(2000). Dodds’ most recent publication is a translation of the Poetic Edda (Coach House Books, 2014) from Old Icelandic into English. He is a poetry editor at Coach House Books.

Curating & Archiving the Literary Event

L-R: Casey Plett, Sadie Laett-Babcock, Tanis Franco, Zoe Whittal, Kai Cheng Thom. A Queer is a Queer is a Queer: Breaking Standard Narratives in Queer Poetics and Prose, a panel moderated by Eli Lynch on March 19, 2016.
(Photo: Surah Field-Green)

In March 2016, students at Concordia with Writers Read put on Off The Page and hosted writers and artists like Jordan Abel, Sonnet L’Abbé, Aisha Sasha John, Casey Plett, Anne Boyer, Ben Lerner, and more. If you are a student at Concordia University (or another Quebec University) and interested in participating in the making of this festival for course credit you can write a short letter of interest to Sina Queyras to apply to enrol. Full details are on the English Department website. We are looking for students from all disciplines to work on various aspects of each event from poster design and social media & promotion, to curation.

Jordan Abel, Sonnet L’Abbé (Iconocide Panel moderated by Colin Fulton), March 18, 2016

Course Description

This course will introduce modes of literary production including curating a reading series, introducing readers, archiving literary recordings & ephemera, writing critically, designing and maintaining a literary blog, design proof & publication. If you enjoy Writers Read, Off The Page, and Synapse, you might enjoy taking this course on Literary Production Curating & Archiving. We’ll be designing a new reading series from the ground up as well as working on planned Writers Read events. We’ll also be developing our online presence, so you’ll have an opportunity to develop web-content, learn to use social networking, literary promotion etc. It will be a lot of hand-on work, both behind the scenes and at events. Students will learn to vet material, choose readers, write introductions, and deal directly with writers. It will also be a lot of fun. If you are interested in literary promotion, curation, editing, and developing a literarily community, this course is for you.



Off The Page 2016 Update Reminder

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OFF THE PAGE March 17-20, 2016
Confirmed Readers & Call for Participants

In March 2016, Writers Read & Concordia University are hosting the Off The Page literary festival. In cooperation with the Université de Montreal and Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, we are hosting Ben Lerner, Anne Boyer, Jordan Abel, Sonnet L’Abbé, and more. We are also organizing several panels and we need participants. There are details on the panels and how to submit work. The confirmed events are listed below and the rest of the schedule will be confirmed in early March.


MARCH 17, 2016: Jordan Abel, Anne Boyer, Sonnet L’Abbé
Venue: Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard Ouest, 8pm

JORDAN ABEL’s conceptual writing engages with the representation of Indigenous peoples in Anthropology and popular culture. Abel is the author of The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks 2013), which was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award and the winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, Un/inhabited (Project Space Press and  Talonbooks 2015), and Injun (Talonbooks 2016).

SONNET L’ABBÉ is the author of two collections of poetry, A Strange Relief and Killarnoe. She was the most recent Edna Staebler Writer In Residence at Wilfrid Laurier University. L’Abbé was the guest editor of the Best Canadian Poetry 2014 anthology.

ANNE BOYER is the author of Garments Against Women, was educated in the public libraries and universities of Kansas. Boyer works as an Assistant Professor of the Liberal Arts at the Kansas City Art Institute, a four year college of art and design, where she teaches with the poets Cyrus Console and Jordan Stempleman. In 2014, she was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple negative breast cancer which has been the source of her current project, a work about the politics of care in the age of precarity.

MARCH 18, 2016: An Evening with BEN LERNER
7pm, EV 1.605, York Amphitheatre, 1515 Rue St. Catherine.

Ben Lerner is the author of Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) and 10:04 (2014) as well as several full-length poetry collections, including Mean Free Path (2010) and Angle of Yaw (2006), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Northern California Book Award. His sonnet sequence, The Lichtenberg Figures (2004), won the Hayden Carruth Award.

Interested attendees can find more information, archival footage from previous readings, and updates on upcoming events at our website,, and follow Writers Read on Twitter (@CUWritersRead) and Facebook (writersreadconcordia).

Call for Participants

***Deadline extended to February 28***

Off The Page, a literary festival hosted by Concordia University, is looking for insightful and thought-provoking papers, poems and creative projects that explore varying topics, to be presented and discussed at this year’s three-day festival from March 17ththrough the 19th. Papers should be between 1,250 and 1,750 words (10-15 minutes). Creative projects should be 4-5 pages or 10-15 minutes. Selected papers & projects will be presented in a panel discussion.


For a full description of each panel go to:

Writing Iconocide
A Queer is a Queer is a Queer (Creative projects only)
Black Love (Creative projects only)
Blurred Boundaries: Between Fiction and ‘The Real’
Editors Talking Editing: The Other Side of Submittable
Behind the Screens
Cursing in Cursive

Where /  When / How to Submit

  1. Send your papers & creative projects to
  2. Include the relevant panel title in the subject line of your email.
  3. Include a cover sheet with your name, contact information, paper title and relevant panel title with your submission.
  4. Send by Sunday 28 February 2016, before midnight.


Writers Read is one of a long tradition of diverse literary reading series at Concordia University and has hosted authors including Roxane Gay, Mary Ruefle, Lydia Davis, Roddy Doyle, Mary Gaitskill, Tanya Tagaq, Christian Bok, Rae Armantrout, Emma Donoghue, Charles Bernstein, Lisa Robertson, Gail Scott, and George Elliott Clarke. 




Lisa Robertson on Dionne Brand (2001/2013/2016)


In another place, not here, a woman might touch
something between beauty and nowhere, back there
and here, might pass hand over hand her own
trembling life, but I have tried to imagine a sea not
bleeding, a girl’s glance full as a verse, a woman
growing old and never crying to a radio hissing of a
black boy’s murder. I have tried to keep my throat
gurgling like a bird’s. I have listened to the hard
gossip of race that inhabits this road. Even in this I
have tried to hum mud and feathers and sit peacefully
in this foliage of bones and rain. I have chewed a few
votive leaves here, their taste already disenchanting
my mothers. I have tried to write this thing calmly
even as its lines burn to a close. I have come to know
something simple. Each sentence realised or
dreamed jumps like a pulse with history and takes a
side. What I say in any language is told in faultless
knowledge of skin, in drunkenness and weeping,
told as a woman without matches and tinder, not in
words and in words and in words learned by heart,
told in secret and not in secret, and listen, does not
burn out or waste and is plenty and pitiless and loves.

from No Language is Neutral, Dionne Brand, (McClelland & Stewart)

How is it possible to inhabit a political environment that absolves itself of the responsibility to sustain life? For those constrained to the economic and racial margins, finding paths through a city or a language has always been a political act. This poem charts such fragile paths.

Here is language that honours the ethical impossibility of achieving a single position, and the necessarily vulnerable climate of that impossibility. In the face of irreparable injustice, the poem calls on the fragile dignity of the skin and the body, the fragility of the continuous present.

The title cites a line from Caribbean poet Derek Walcott’s Midsummer. Elsewhere, in his 1992 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Walcott reminded: “The history of the world, by which of course we mean Europe, is a record of intertribal lacerations, of ethnic cleansings.” In such a world, “spiritual stubbornness, a sublime stupidity, is what makes the occupation of poetry endure, when there are so many things that should make it futile.” Dionne Brand is blessed with such spiritual stubbornness. Against the reductive and decisive expletives of mass-media language, her lines are thick, layered, and multivocal. They act out the self-interrogating dialectic of the dramatic soliloquy, rather than the symbolic clarity of the visual image. Like a soliloquy, they demand that we slow and extend the rhythm of our listening. There is no aesthetic consolation, no softening of the “hard gossip.” These lines ask us to enter into irreducible complexity as a form of attention.

Formally, that complexity expresses itself by pushing grammar beyond simple closure. From the fundamentally unstable ground “between beauty and nowhere,” “back there and here,” Brand crafts a descriptive density. Ambivalence flickers through it like a pulse. It negates as it names: “not here,” “not bleeding,” “never crying,” “not in words.” Out of this staccato negation, it forges the burning rhythm of the will to continue. But for Brand the will is not an accretion of power focused and exercised upon the other. Rather it quickens the register and resolve of perception as a meditative engagement with the world. Like “a girl’s glance” it gives the world its serious gorgeousness. And it shows the world as an irrevocable braiding of the sensual and the historical, a braiding repeated in the poem’s own stuttering patterns – “not in words and in words and in words learned by heart.”

“Each sentence realised or / dreamed jumps like a pulse with history and takes a / side,” Brand writes. What side, then, do her sentences take? The side that, in order to live, must continuously reverse and thus witness itself, like a breath, or a spinning coin. That willful recognition of fragility is resistance.

Lisa Robertson

Originally published in the How Poems Work series in the Globe & Mail, September 22, 2001
poem from Brand, Dionne. No Language is Neutral, Coach House, 1990

The Body Always Gives a Shit & Other Distractions


Sonnet L’Abbé reads The Body Always Gives a Shit, a poem in three parts. She will be joining Writers Read in March 2016.

Some data points on the staff make-up of arts organizations in New York City.

Quill & Quire talks to Pedlar Press founder, Beth Follett.

And a song because why not. If you ever need music to play when you want to wake up on a bed of clouds, slowly drifting to land with the northern lights in your peripherals, the debut EP from Montreal’s She-Devils is surely the one.