Yates, J(oel) Michael

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YATES, J(oel) Michael

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Fulton, Missouri, United States, 10 April 1938. Education: Westminster College, Fulton; University of Kansas City, Missouri (Poetry prize, 1960), B.A. 1960, M.A. 1961; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Hopwood award, for poetry, 1964, for drama, 1964), 1962–64. Family: Married Ann West in 1970 (divorced); three daughters. Career: Promotional director, Public Radio Corporation, Houston, 1961–62; teaching fellow, University of Michigan, 1962–63; taught at Ohio University, Athens, 1964–65, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 1965–66; assistant professor, 1966–69, and associate professor of English, 1969–71, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; taught at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, fall 1972, and University of Texas, Dallas, 1976–77. Editor-in-chief, 1966–67, and poetry editor, 1966–71, Prism International, and member of the editorial board, Prism International Press, Mission, British Columbia, 1966–71; founding editor, with Andreas Schroeder, Contemporary Literature in Translation, Vancouver, 1968–81; member of the editorial board, Mundus Artium, Athens, Ohio; general editor, Campus Canada; president, Sono Nis Press, Vancouver, later Victoria, British Columbia, 1968–76; Head of Special Projects Division, University of British Columbia Press, 1977–78; sales representative, Mitchell Press, from 1978; public relations consultant, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Vancouver, 1980. Works for Department of the Attorney General, British Columbia Provincial Government. Member of the editorial board, Canadian Fiction Magazine.Awards: International Broadcasting award, 1961, 1962; Canada Council grant, 1968, 1969, 1971, and Senior Arts award, 1972, 1974. Address: c/o Sono Nis Press, 1745 Blanchard Street, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2J8. Canada.



Spiral of Mirrors. Francestown, New Hampshire, Golden Quill Press, 1967.

Hunt in an Unmapped Interior and Other Poems. Francestown, New Hampshire, Golden Quill Press, 1967.

Canticle for Electronic Music. Victoria, British Columbia, Charles Morriss, 1967.

Parallax, with Bob Flick. Victoria, British Columbia, Charles Morriss, 1968.

The Great Bear Lake Meditations. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1970.

Nothing Speaks for the Blue Moraines: New and Selected Poems. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1973.

Breath of the Snow Leopard. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1974.

The Qualicum Physics. San Francisco, Kanchenjunga Press, 1975.

Esox Nobilior non Esox Lucius. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1978.

Fugue Brancusi. Victoria, British Columbia, Sono Nis Press, 1983.

The Queen Charlotte Islands Meditations. Moonbeam, Ontario, Penumbra Press, 1983.

The Completely Collapsible Portable Man: Selected Shorter Lyrics. Oakville, Ontario, Mosaic Press, 1984.

Schedules of Silence: The Collected Longer Poems. Vancouver, Pulp Press, 1986.


Subjunction (produced Fairbanks, Alaska, 1965).

Night Freight (broadcast, 1968; produced Toronto, 1972). Toronto, Playwrights, 1972.

Theatre of War (produced Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1970).

The Calling (produced Minneapolis, 1973). Toronto, Playwrights, 1971.

The Abstract Beast: New Fiction and Drama (includes the plays The Abstract Beast, The Border, The Broadcaster, The Calling, The Panel, Smokestack in the Desert, Theatre of War). Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1971.

Search for the Tse-Tse Fly (produced Montreal, 1974). In Quarks, 1975.

Quarks (includes The Net, Search for the Tse-Tse Fly, The Calling). Toronto, Playwrights, 1975.

Screenplay: The Grand Edit, 1966.

Radio Plays: The Broadcaster, 1968; Theatre of War, 1968; The Calling, 1968; Night Freight, 1968; The Panel, 1969; The Abstract Beast, 1969; Smokestack in the Desert, 1970; Poet in an Arctic Landscape, 1970; The Border, 1971; Realia, 1975; The Net, 1975; Search for the Tse-Tse Fly, 1975; Sinking of the North West Passage, 1975; The Secret of State, 1976; Pluto's Republic, 1977.

Television Plays: Smokestack in the Desert, 1975; Search for the Tse-Tse Fly, 1975.

Short Stories

Man in the Glass Octopus. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1968.

Fazes in Elsewhen: New and Selected Fiction. Vancouver, Intermedia Press, 1977.

Torque [Torpor]: Collected Fiction 1960–1987. Vancouver, Aresenal Pulp Press, vol. 1, 1987; Vancouver, Cacanadadada Press, vol. 2, 1988.


Line Screw: My Twelve Riotous Years Working behind Bars in Some of Canada's Toughest Jails, An Unrepentant Memoir. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1993.

Editor, with Andreas Schroeder, Contemporary Poetry of British Columbia. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 2 vols., 1970–72.

Editor, with Charles Lillard, Volvox: Poetry from the Unofficial Languages of Canada in English Translation. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1971.

Editor, Contemporary Fiction of British Columbia. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1971.

Editor, Light Like a Summons: Five Poets. Vancouver, Cacanadadada, 1989.


J. Michael Yates comments:

1. For me an image is one of an infinite number of entrances into an arena where something ineffable is going on. If the thing I am after were statable, probably it would be better said in expository prose. The issues most often taken up by good poetry usually require use of the silences between and behind words. For this mode of communication metaphor, indirection are the best engines.

2. With each piece I attempt to cause a structure, a system, of images whose parts belong dissonantly to a whole whose meaning cannot be stated. I mean Stravinsky's dissonance. In Poetics of Music he suggests that dissonance is only a transitional element; consonance must be achieved one way or another, either in the instrumentation or in the ear of the listener. The latter is my way—to give the reader the "thing" I am talking about, frame by frame, and ask him to project it inside him in the manner that most entertains him. Different and isolate as each of us is, it seems the only honesty.

3. Ideally, fifteen readers will make fifteen very different (and fifteen equally justifiable) poems from a piece I have written. As I am different from you at any moment, I differ from myself through successive moments; even the most familiar things change with changes in the coordinates of consciousness and time. I could not possibly re-create the coordinates of consciousness that produced a given piece and thereby tell you what it means.

4. Ideally, a reader would come to a poem relaxed, with open consciousness, no preconceptions or suspicions that the poem is a locked door and someone somewhere—probably the treacherous bastard author-is hiding the key. The parts of a poem that persist inside a reader arrive there via personal correspondences. Exterior interpretations remain merely exterior. Belief in one's own associations is difficult, very difficult. But only those will translate the poem from "mine" to "yours."

5. Ideally, one would read a poem as if he were the first reader in history to read a poem—and as if no one on earth were reading a poem at that moment. Impossible. Necessary.

6. Ideally, I write as if no one has ever written a poem. As if no one is writing now. Ridiculous. Imperative.

7. Understanding is a sweet, vague Renaissance dream that never came true. According to me, poems are not to be understood but responded to. Understanding promises universal truth. Naive. I am a rare user and no pusher at all of either reality or its "ism." I do not assume a representative universe. As if one could come to an understanding about such things.

*  *  *

An overview of the work of J. Michael Yates is complicated by the diversity of forms in which he has written and by his marked experimentation. This said, there are themes and images common to all of Yates's output, from the early poems to the plays of The Abstract Beast and the late on-line poems. Also common to his work is a certain self-consciousness arising from his experimentation, from a sense of self-as-artist, and from an attitude to language simultaneously deconstructive and mythic.

Yates is preoccupied with the notion that the ideas of the writer are his whole world and reality. This fascination with a state of being in which the mind becomes a substitute for, or a performance of, the "real" is perhaps seen most clearly in Man in the Glass Octopus, but it is prefigured in the early poems of Hunt in an Unmapped Interior (whose title suggests it) and continues into the endless series of lenses viewing lenses of the Parallax poems. It also prompts the recurrent images of animals eating animals, cameras filming cameras, and mirrors mirroring mirrors, with which the poems are filled. It explains as well the persona of the author/narrator as Adam naming Creation, a trope in the early poems that flirted with a notion then popular in Canadian literary criticism and discussed, for example, by D.G. Jones. In Yates's poetry the idea is extended until the mind of Adam becomes the mind of God, itself an insubstantial mirror of Yates's own consciousness. Finally, it is embodied in the name of the press Yates founded: Sono Nis (the I is not). As his work has moved onto the Internet and into visual poetry involving color and font, even the printed page has become disembodied, the power of the word to capture the "I" ever more feeble and the process of writing/reading more necessary.

Each of these notions is introduced in Hunt in an Unmapped Interior, a collection of poems strongly reminiscent of Wallace Stevens, in which the short pieces are deft and incisive and the longer ones ruminative. Canticle for Electronic Music is disappointing after this auspicious beginning, for Yates has difficulty in sustaining the longer poems. The Great Bear Lake Meditations is a more mature work, in which the Adam persona is accepted and in which Yates's love of words becomes congruent with his deconstructive impulse; if the poet's only reality is the imagination, then words becomes signs of nothing other than aspects of his imagination. In Parallax Yates gropes toward but fails to quite reach a further refinement in which if "words are better than talk … [then] silence [is] better than words." Building upon camera imagery, the poems attempt the visual. But to create a "silent" poem is ultimately to produce a blank page, and these poems, however compelling, are "at the verge of total desire that ends in the half-act." Yates has somehow moved closer to this early objective in his later writings that move between genres and also move into Web-based calligraphies that represent "speaking" words, "speaking images," and silent connections. Lists of words "sound themselves," but the act of conjuring meaning is a personal act on the part of the reader; the writer no longer seems to direct it.

In The Abstract Beast Yates began to look toward these new forms, modifying his poems into the prose they always approached and into highly successful short radio plays (which would be less successful in production on the stage). In Man in the Glass Octopus Yates became less obsessive about myth, the result being a collection that, with the exception of some unfortunately reprinted early pieces, is as inventive as it is exciting. Some thinness does arise in the stories, and the plays are sometimes inconclusive, but the collection signals an important shift.

Yates's new work, however, has returned in many ways to self-consciousness, perhaps again in response to experimentation, this time in a new medium. That Yates has moved to publishing on the Internet is a signal of his continuing interest in style, innovation, and the interface between imagination and its physical expression.

—Reid Gilbert