Unfit Criticism 1: Retractable Devil Horns

The first in a unique series of critical texts by Shane Neilson, Retractable Devil Horns is an irreverently passionate account of Canadian poetry over the past twenty years. Following Judith Butler’s advice to “cherish the longer forms,” Neilson collects his more substantial ‘difficult’ pieces, many of which he deliberately suppressed for book publication due to the prevailing ideological climate in the humanities. In the first half of this text, Neilson reaches out to screaming Canadian poetry personalities, down-dresses many of the country’s big names, and attacks performativity; in the second, he thinks through books by talents like Carmine Starnino, Phil Hall, and Sharon McCartney in a more reflective (but no less engaged) manner. 

Poets reviewed and mentioned in the series:

Jacob! McArthur! MOOOOONEY! Rafi Aaron. R.M. Vaughan. Lynn Crosbie. Paul Vermeersch. George Murray. Al Purdy. David Solway. Carmine Starnino. Peter Sanger. Phil Hall. Esta Spalding. Sharon McCartney. Marc di Saverio. George Walker. Luke Hathaway. Jim Johnstone.

Table of Contents 

  1. Poisonous Frame: A Review of Laura Ward’s Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! (B.E.S. Publishing, 2002)
  2. Public Hanging: the Death of the Book Review
  3. Harbourfront Pigs and Lipstick
  4. Rules of Thumb for An Aspiring Critic
  5. Pretending to be Great: Review of Rafi Aaron’s Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam (Niagara Falls: Seraphim Editions, 2006)
  6. High School Confessional
  7. Lyric, get thee to a nursing home, they’re showing cartoons in the dining room
  8. Measured Advice from a Shrieking Personality
  9. Reaching for Al Purdy: A Review of Beyond Remembering (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2000) and Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2004)
  10. Solway the Sad Balladeer: an Open Letter to the (Unofficial) Laureate of ‘This Sucks’
  11. Critics at Large: A Review of Carmine Starnino’s A Lover’s Quarrel: Essays and Reviews (Erin: PQL, 2004) and Peter Sanger’s White Salt Mountain (Kentville: Gaspereau, 2005)
  12. The Invisible Man Is In Your Caesura: Phil Hall Collaborative Collage w/ John Nyman
  13. Introduction to The Pre-Poem Moment
  14. My First Review: Esta Spalding’s Lost August: Poems (House of Anansi Press, 1999)
  15. Eventual Development: The Poetry of Carmine Starnino
  16. McCartney Sings the Blues
  17. Recovering the Stars: A Review of Marc di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs (Toronto: Cactus Press, 2010)
  18. Beauty and Representing Mental Illness: A Review of Blackhood #1 (Comics are the Enemy Publications, 2017)
  19. Interpreting the Interpreter of Dreams and Culture: Introduction to Sing to Me in the Cut (Victoria: Frog Hollow Press, 2015)
  20. True Words in the Word Cloud: An Experiment in Collaborative Criticism
  21. Idiosyncratic Notes on the Essays
  22. Acknowledgements
  23. Endnotes

The ethos behind the series is a tale told in the introduction. I won’t tell the tale out of school.

If you’re interested in purchasing copies (only serious queries), then use the message function on this site. $500 per book, $1250 for all 4 in the series. If you are a Canadian university library, I’m afraid only one university per province will be allocated a copy (with one exception). I hope it was you!

The Unfit Criticism Series is Ready for Order!

Unfit 1: Retractable Devil Horns, top Left; Unfit 2, Personal Investments, top Right; Marginal, bottom left; The Negative Review, bottom right.

In the next four days, I will describe each book starting in sequence, focusing on a book a day. First up is Retractable Devil Horns. Tomorrow! But for those who can’t wait, the pricing is: $500 per individual title (S&H included), $1250 for the set (S&H included).

The Negative Review

I’ve created The Negative Review, a new Canadian poetry reviews website that is subscription-only. The bare minimum service committment is one long essay or review per month, though I’m wildly exceeding those requirements at the time of writing. The books and topics I’m considering are part of a programme I’ve drafted to occupy the entirety of the next year, from Sept. 2019 – Sept. 2020, and I will unveil the title of each piece as it is published, although paying subscribers will get a title-reveal a month early. The site has a couple of dozen free subscribers at present (who get nothing except an encouragement to subscribe upon the publication of each new piece) and just over ten paying ones, but this will build over time, I hope, as I’m taking on some big new releases. I do not present this site as anything other than my own personal opinions that each have taken dozens of hours to produce. For a special subsection of reader, this sentence is for you: the hate reading fee is the same as curious/general reading fee, $10/month or $100/year. Do sign up!

Reviews and Commentary of/on New Brunswick (Biblioasis, 2019)

M. Travis Lane in Canadian Notes & Queries 110: “New Brunswick is a love poem; it is a major work of art by a major artist, beautiful, moving, and ‘true to things’ in their complexities and griefs . . .I can only urge my fellow lovers of serious literature to treasure it.”

Barbara Colebrook Peace in The Malahat Review 209: “In his beautiful and haunting new collection of poems, New Brunswick, Shane Neilson explores the nature of his home province with the same deeply searching spirit he has hitherto brought to the subjects of pain and identity. He has made the book so personally moving and engaging that he draws the reader into this exploration with him.”

Micheline Maylor in Quill and Quire July/August 2019: “Neilson’s sharp observations entice. New Brunswick rings in tone and tribute as a moody historic elegy.”

Aaron Schneider in The Temz Review 8: “New Brunswick leaves you with the impression that there are more poems to be written, and they are poems that, like the ones in the book itself, you would very much like to read.” 

R.M. Vaughan in NBMediaCo-op June 12, 2019: “Oromocto-born writer Shane Neilson’s latest book of poems, plainly and aptly titled New Brunswick, is a major new work in the provincial, and way beyond, canon. Centering New Brunswick within larger national dialogues, New Brunswick (Biblioasis, 2019) takes a hard and moving look at how the province (indeed, all of Canada) can and must reconcile its past with its present, begin to heal its deeply wounded environment, and turn “regionalism”, formerly a dirty word in poetics, into something urgent and far more resonant.

James Fisher in The Miramichi Reader, Sept. 14 2019: “First impressions upon reading New Brunswick: (1) I felt like I went a few rounds with Yvon Durelle, the Fighting Fisherman, so hard-hitting is the emotional impact of this collection. (2) I was amazed at how much of New Brunswick’s history, current affairs and sense of place Mr. Neilson incorporates into his poems.”

Al Moritz in The Fiddlehead 283: “Shane Neilson’s poetry in New Brunswick so often expresses itself completely in a single beautiful poem, passage, or aphoristic-symbolic phrase—a world in a grain of sand—that one can put aside at first (and some readers, I suppose, could do without forever) its exploratory and marvellously expressive use of the serial, or sequential form. I’m so taken by the power of the local in this book that I’m virtually content to access solely through its mediation the universal that is equally a direct element of the poetry, and that ought to be engaged directly to get a full view of the book’s project and accomplishment.”

Neil Surkan in Canadian Literature: “n his latest excellent collection, New Brunswick, Shane Neilson also focuses on the particulars of place. His poems, however, expand and contract to take in political, economic, and cultural concerns while somehow doubling as moving, intimate elegies and meditations on family. Somehow comes to mind repeatedly when reading this collection: the book’s six sections are as ambitious as they are impressive in the ways they renovate and reimagine the long poem form. From its opening timeline-poem, to sequenced stand-alone lyrics, to hybridized crowns of sonnets, New Brunswick consistently surprises. Philip Larkin, Patrick Lane, Robert Lowell, and Alden Nowlan lurk in Neilson’s melodic rhymes and persistent rhythms, but his courageously genuine intimations make his voice unmistakable . . . Subtle and multifaceted, these are poems that juggle more feelings and more forms than most—and more life.

East Coast Tour – Oct 3-7, 2019

Hi Everyone! I will be travelling to do a series of readings in New Brunswick from Oct 3-7, 2019. Travelling with me in the car and joining me on many of the dates are Jim Johnstone, Jeff Kirby, John Nyman and Kevin Heslop. I will be touring my 2019 trio: New Brunswick (Biblioasis), Constructive Negativity, (Palimpsest) and Margin of Interest (PQL).

  • Thurs, Oct 3, 2019
  • 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Attic Owl Reading Series
  • Cafe C’est la Vie
  • 785 Main St, Moncton, NB
  • For more information, check out the facebook page
  • Fri, Oct 4, 2019
  • T’was the night before Poetry Weekend (House Party)
  • 7 pm – 10 pm
  • 76 Waterloo Rd, Fredericton, NB
  • Sat-Sun, Oct 5-6, 2019
  • Poetry Weekend
  • Memorial Hall, UNB, Fredericton
  • Don’t come just to see me, see everyone!
  • 3 sets per day, at 11 am, 2 pm, and 8 pm. 
  • Sat, Oct 5, 2019
  • 2:30 pm
  • Petitcodiac Public Library
  • 6 Kay St, Petitcodiac, NB
  • with Danny Jacobs, Kevin Heslop and John Nyman
  • Missing the Sat afternoon session of PW
  • Oct 7, 2019 – 10:30 am
  • Special topics in creative writing class w/ Dr. Robert Moore
  • UNB, Saint John Campus
  • Hazen Hall, Room 127
  • Not open to public.
  • Oct 7, 2019 – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop with Kirby of Knife:Fork:Book and This Is Where I Get Off fame
  • Saint John Free Public Library (Uptown Saint John)
  • come catch Kirby be electrifying and help you with your work!