Selected Poems of Nelson Ball — it's happening!
I'm working on an awful lot of wonderful projects.
Here, I'll tell you about one.
A couple of years ago, Paul Dutton invited me to lunch in the Annex. He actually had a written list of things he wanted to discuss with me. At the time, Gary Barwin was working on a Selected volume of Paul's work for Wilfred Laurier University Press's Laurier Poetry Series. (It — Sonosyntactics — was launched last week in Toronto — get yourself a copy!) Paul thought it might interest me to approach the press with a proposal: and then one of us — I think it was Paul, came up with the idea of a Selected Nelson Ball. In fact, Paul might have had that idea from the get-go.
Anyway, it was a very exciting idea. I would have to read everything Nelson had written since the 1960s. I couldn't think of a more pleasant reading adventure.
So I wrote the press, and they immediately said yes. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride, though, mostly because I take on far too much. The actual work hasn't been bumpy, but finding time to do it has been a challenge. I began reading through Nelson's books right away, back in 2014. I put a Post-it on every page I thought was worthy of inclusion in a Selected. Problem was, I was putting Post-its on almost every page. Maybe someday there will be a Complete Poems of Nelson Ball (and I sure hope there will be!), but WLU does slim volumes of Selecteds, usually (or maybe always) under 100 pages.
I got caught up in my own books, and in Mansfield Press books, and other editing and teaching projects. And then, a few months ago, Paul bumped into the editor from WLU. The editor mentioned that he had never received the Ball manuscript and assumed I had given up on the idea. Paul said he was pretty sure I wouldn't give up on that, so the editor wrote me a note and asked.
Excited by his enthusiasm, and the realization that I hadn't blown it, I got to work again. And I got more stingy with my Post-it notes.
And this past week, Nelson approved a final selection. And he came up with the perfect title.
Points of Attention.
It works so well in so many ways.
Nelson has already written his afterword, based on a letter about his poetry he'd written to a Japanese student many years ago. This, for me, is one of the most exciting things about the book: Nelson has never before written for publication about his own writing. And here he talks about his process, his aesthetics, his influences. It's an amazing document.
And I'm working away on the introduction. Last night I phoned my old friend Lance La Rocque, a poet and academic in Wolfville, N.S., who is at least as enthusiastic about Nelson's work as I am. He was a great sounding board for my ideas about the introduction, and made a lot of excellent suggestions that I'll explore and perhaps adapt.
This WLU book is slated for publication this fall. I've already worked with Nelson on three previous publications: two books through Mansfield Press, In This Thin Rain and Some Mornings, and a Proper Tales Press chapbook called The Continuous Present. And we're also doing another Mansfield Press collection this spring — Chewing Water. It's a deep pleasure to work with Nelson, and especially to watch the great attention he pays to the most minute details of each of his poems. Which isn't surprising, given the nature of so many of his poems — works that pay attention to / celebrate / document minute details.
I've described Nelson at times as Canada's secret poetry weapon. I shouldn't really call him a weapon, though. But almost inevitably, when I bring his poetry into a workshop, or suggest it to someone I'm coaching, he makes new fans. There is an immediacy, a directness, a purity to Nelson's poems that make them nearly universal.
Points of Attention will cover six decades of work by one of this country's indisputable greats. If you think you know Nelson's work, I think you'll still be surprised by this collection.
Over and out.