Monday, August 31, 2009

False premise, true conclusion:

A is B
C is A
C is B

According to Oscar Wilde: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

Fifty years later, Thomas Watson, then president of IBM, said: "The way to succeed is to double your failure rate."

-1 x -1 = +1

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I was reading in the Saturday Globe how Alice Munro has asked that her new story collection be withdrawn from Giller Prize contention. According to her publisher, Munro would like to "leave the field to younger writers."

Was this something that just occurred to her? If not, why did she allow her book to be submitted in the first place? Didn't a "younger writer" win the prize last year?

Who wants to win a prize that doesn't have Alice Munro as an also-ran? Then again, who wants to be considered for a competition where the award's administrator has, like Munro herself, assumed the author's nomination? Indeed, not only Munro's nomination, but Margaret Atwood's as well. That's 40% of the field -- and the jury hasn't even met yet! Or maybe they have. Maybe Munro's book was chosen and she said no. But that's not likely. Too embarrassing to the Giller organization. A more likely scenario has it that Munro's book wasn't nominated and this is her publisher's way of caring about "younger writers."

My feeling on awards is that they're only as meaningful as the juries that vet them. And of those juries, only two of three jurors have to think your book is "best." On the other hand, I have been on juries where the book that came second on everyone's list won -- because everyone's first pick was different.

I would like to see this country's national literary awards place emphasis not on a single book but on an author's body of work. I would also like to withdraw my book from Giller Prize contention, but unfortunately I don't have that kind of clout.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Julie from BookRiff emailed to say that Doubleday sent the electronic files for 8x10, with each event its own PDF. Problem is, at least for Julie, the gridded boxes that introduce the events in the Doubleday version appear throughout the flow of the text, not at the top of the page, like they would in a story collection, which mine is not. The reassembly of 8x10 will require more design work than anticipated.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The robot I hired to randomly resequence the events in my book 8x10 proved smarter than I thought, contracting the job to artist Stan Douglas. Last night I received Stan's RANDomized resequence, which I handed over to BookRiff's Julie Morris, who is in charge of 8x10's reassembly.

To clarify a couple things, each event in 8x10 is set off by a gridded box broken up into eight little boxes on the vertical axis, ten little boxes on the horizontal axis. The first event in the Doubleday version of 8x10 has the box in the top left-hand corner blacked out. The second event has the box directly below it blacked out. The third event, the box below that. Once you get to the eighth box, you go to the top of the next row and work your way down, etc.

Rather than work with gridded boxes for the resequencing, I decided to assign them lettered numbers instead. Thus, the first event in the Doubleday version -- the blacked out box in the top left-hand corner -- is referred to as 1A. Followed by 2A, 3A...until the book concludes with 8J.

Below is Stan's report:

Hi Michael

Mathematicians always start with the integer zero so I've renumbered the rows in your grid accordingly:

0 1A(0) X(1)  1C(2)  1D(3) 1E(4) 1F(5) 1G(6) 1H(7) X(8) 1J(9)

1 2A(0) 2B(1)  X(2)  2D(3) 2E(4) 2F(5) 2G(6) X(7) 2I(8) 2J(9)

2 3A(0) 3B(1)  3C(2)  X(3) 3E(4) 3F(5) X(6) 3H(7) 3I(8) 3J(9)

3 4A(0) 4B(1)  4C(2)  4D(3) X(4) X(5) 4G(6) 4H(7) 4I(8) 4J(9)

4 5A(0) 5B(1)  5C(2)  5D(3) X(4) X(5) 5G(6) 5H(7) 5I(8) 5J(9)

5 6A(0) 6B(1)  6C(2)  X(3) 6E(4) 6F(5) X(6) 6H(7) 6I(8) 6J(9)

6 7A(0) 7B(1)  X(2)  7D(3) 7E(4) 7F(5) 7G(6) X(7) 7I(8) 7J(9)

7 8A(0) X(1)  8C(2)  8D(3) 8E(4) 8F(5) 8G(6) 8H(7) X(8) 8J(9)

I then took the first ten sets of random integer rows:

00000 10097 32533 76520 13586 34673 54876 80959 09117 39292 74945

00001 37542 04805 64894 74296 24805 24037 20636 10402 00822 91665

00002 08422 68953 19645 09303 23209 02560 15953 34764 35080 33606

00003 99019 02529 09376 70715 38311 31165 88676 74397 04436 27659

00004 12807 99970 80157 36147 64032 36653 98951 16877 12171 76833

00005 66065 74717 34072 76850 36697 36170 65813 39885 11199 29170

00006 31060 10805 45571 82406 35303 42614 86799 07439 23403 09732

00007 85269 77602 02051 65692 68665 74818 73053 85247 18623 88579

00008 63573 32135 05325 47048 90553 57548 28468 28709 83491 25624

00009 73796 45753 03529 64778 35808 34282 60935 20344 35273 88435

And made selections from your grid using pairs of numbers from adjacent rows -- even numbers select the Y axis (0-7) and odd numbers select from the X axis (0-9). If there is no corresponding "chapter" I invert the pair so even=X and odd=Y, and if there is still no match I go to the next number pair. Which resulted in this:

2A(0) 1H(7) 1F(5) 5J(9) 8C(2) 4A(0) 3E(4) 6I(8) 1D(3) X(5)

8G(6) 7E(4) ----- 3J(9) 1E(4) X(7) X(4) 6C(2) ----- 7G(6)

4C(2) X(4) ----- 8D(3) X(7) 3I(8) 1A(0) 7J(9) X(3) -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- X(1) 1J(9) 2E(4) ----- 3H(7)

----- ----- ----- ----- 3C(2) 8J(9) 5B(1) ----- 5G(6) 6F(5)

----- ----- 5A(0) 3B(1) ----- 7A(0) ----- 6J(9) ----- 4J(9)

----- ----- 7D(3) 5H(7) X(6) 8A(0) ----- 4H(7) ----- -----

X(3) ----- 4I(8) ----- ----- ----- X(2) 6B(1) ------ 6A(0)

2I(8) ----- ----- 6H(7) 4G(6) ----- ----- ----- ----- 8E(4)

----- 6E(4) ----- ----- 1G(6) ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- X(6) X(8) ----- 8F(5) ----- ----- ----- X(1) -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- X(5) ----- -----

----- ----- -----  ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

-----  ----- ----- 2F(5) 4B(1) ----- ----- X(8) ----- -----

2B(1) ----- -----  ----- 2J(9) ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- 1C(2) ----- ----- ----- ----- 7I(8) ----- 3F(5)

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- X(2)

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- 5C(2) ----- ----- 5I(8)

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- 4D(3) ----- ----- ----- 5D(3) ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

----- ----- ----- ----- 2D(3) ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

At this point there were 5 chapters left over: 

1 2G(6)

2 3A(0)

6 7B(1) 7F(5)

7 8H(7)

But this is taking a long time so I cheat by making a new rule to select from the rows according to the appearance of numbers in the first row of integers:

00000 10097 32533 76520 13586 34673 54876 80959 09117 39292 74945


2G(6) 3A(0) 8H(7) 7B(1) 7F(5)

And yielding this sequence:

2A 1H 1F 5J 8C 4A 3E 6I 1D 8G 7E 3J 1E 6C 7G 4C 8D 3I 1A 7J 1J 2E 3H 3C 8J 5B 5G 6F 5A 3B 7A 6J 4J 7D 5H 8A 4H 4I 6B 6A 2I 6H 4G 8E 6E 1G 8F 2F 4B 2B 2J 1C 7I 3F 5C 5I 4D 5D 2D 2G 3A 8H 7B 7F

Random enough for you?



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vancouver has a bedbug registry. I came upon the site last week, where I noticed an incident report filed by a customer trying on shirts at a Salvation Army thrift store. When the customer complained, they were told to phone the manager, who, in turn, told them the bedbug didn’t come from the store -- implication being that they brought the bedbug with them.

Yesterday, while on my way home from a meeting, I decided to visit the store. I have never seen a bedbug and was curious to know what one looked like. I was also curious to see what the store manager looked like, if indeed they resembled what I imagined someone who assumes the source of all complaints is the complainant looks like.

Once inside I became distracted by a larger-than-average number of first edition hardcover books. Because I know something of the first edition market, I scooped them up, figuring to make a couple hundred dollars on a ten-dollar investment.

As I made my way to the cashier's counter, I was approached by a Websit reader. She had read my Aug 18th post and related the story of how she too made catalogue collages as a kid, and have I seen this: What A Life! by E.V. Lucas and George Morrow? (This was the 1975 Dover Edition, with an “Introduction” by John Ashbery, not the 1911 original published by Methuen & Co.)

What a beautiful book! A life told in pictures cut from a Whiteley’s catalogue (the UK’s oldest department store, and across from where I once lived, in London’s Bayswater district). Here is an excerpt from Lucas and Morrow’s “Preface”:

“One man searching the pages of Whiteley General Catalogue will find only facts and prices; another will find what we think we have found – a deeply-moving human drama.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Further to my Sunday August 23 post, a note in my in-box yesterday from The Globe saying that the names that should have appeared in their "PICTURE PERFECT >> ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF THE WEEK" box were "inadvertently" left out by the page editor.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Below is a description of the RAND Corporation's book A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates, the heart and soul of 8x10's BookRiff composer robot.

"Not long after research began at RAND in 1946, the need arose for random numbers that could be used to solve problems of various kinds of experimental probability procedures. These applications, called Monte Carlo methods, required a large supply of random digits and normal deviates of high quality, and the tables presented here were produced to meet those requirements. This book was a product of RAND's pioneering work in computing, as well a testament to the patience and persistence of researchers in the early days of RAND. The tables of random numbers in this book have become a standard reference in engineering and econometrics textbooks and have been widely used in gaming and simulations that employ Monte Carlo trials. Still the largest published source of random digits and normal deviates, the work is routinely used by statisticians, physicists, polltakers, market analysts, lottery administrators, and quality control engineers. A 2001 article in the New York Times on the value of randomness featured the original edition of the book, published in 1955 by the Free Press. The rights have since reverted to RAND, and in this digital age, we thought it appropriate to reissue a new edition of the book in its original format, with a new foreword by Michael D. Rich, RAND's Executive Vice President."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

While reading Saturday’s Globe & Mail newspaper I noticed something missing on Page F12 of their “Books” section. In the "PICTURE PERFECT >> ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF THE WEEK" box were four reproductions of art works by Northwest Coast artists and some text on the book from which they came – yet no mention of the artists who made the work. The book is Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast (Douglas & McIntyre/McMichael Canadian Art Collection), and the author is Vancouver Art Gallery senior curator Ian M. Thom.

In reviewing the item a second time I did, however, notice this below the column title: "CHALLENGING TRADITION >> More images and text at," which led me to the site, where a further five images were supplied (in addition to the four in their print version), each with proper attribution.

But the shock of my first reading remained, a reminder of how, until recently, contemporary art by Aboriginal artists was considered artifact, belonging not to the art of today but to time immemorial (the denial of one's history, not to mention their name, being the temporal equivalent of land expropriation). What’s more, I would have thought that The Globe would not have left out the names of the artists whose work they were showing in their print version in order to get me online.

I think a line needs to be drawn when it comes to showing an artist’s work in a newspaper and making sure the name of that artist appears beside it. I’m sure The Globe would never do this to a news photographer or agency whose work was on their print version’s front page (just as they wouldn't publish such an image without a description of its content). So why the double standard?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Friday, August 21, 2009

Once or twice a week I take my morning coffee at gene. The staff at gene are serious about coffee, and as a result the lines are long. During my last visit I found myself next to artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, who, after a bit of chitchat, asked if I might be interested in writing for an upcoming publication on his work.

Yuxweluptun was born in Kamloops, B.C., the son of a Cowichan Salish father and an Okanagan mom, though he spent much of his adolescence in Vancouver (his First Nations affiliation is Coast Salish). Although known primarily for his large figurative and abstract canvases, he has done the odd performance, most notably at an English gun club, where, in 1997, he shot the Indian Act, a vile bit of paternalism authored by the Government of Canada some hundred and thirty-three years ago.

While cycling home I thought about what I might write for Yuxweluptun’s book, recalling a talk I gave at the Western Front last April, where the curators exhibited a single Yuxweluptun painting, entitled Guardian Spirits on the Land: Ceremony of Sovereignty (2000), alongside a selection of science fiction paperbacks. The painting, rendered in vivid acrylics, features a group of spirits moving over a surrealist landscape. These figures, comprised of ovoid forms in various states of articulation, are not unlike the androids depicted on the paperbacks. For the curators and myself, the juxtaposition of Yuxweluptun’s painting with these futuristic covers seemed a good way to talk about the artist’s canvases not as landscapes but as history paintings -- history, for Yuxweluptun, being as much about the future as the present and the past.

Once home, I decided to reread the Indian Act. Although the intent of the Act remains the same as it did when I was at university (in effect making all Aboriginals wards of the state), the internet version appears to have been line-edited, looking more like a work of technical writing than the cavalcade of sentence fragments and semi-colons I remember from my youth. The design was different too. Instead of thick black blocks of endless text, today’s Act looks more like a how-to manual, with lots of space between each section. But as I said, the intent remains the same -- only this time I noticed a number of instances where the Act applies to Non-Indians.

That night, while lying in bed, I devised a trauma fantasy, one that had me going to the Capilano 5 Reserve and, beside the paintball park, digging a small hole and planting something indigenous, like a bleeding heart. After watering the plant, I would take the displaced earth and put it in my watering can, thereby ensuring that once I left the reserve I would have broken two laws: the first being trespassing (a fifty dollar fine), the second, the removal of soil. My point? The Indian Act is not an enemy of the Aboriginal but an enemy of everyone – past, present and future. And that is what I might write about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In 1978 the British Broadcasting Corporation introduced an archival policy. Prior to that, they practiced “wiping” -- where recordings were either erased for re-use or destroyed.

Nineteen-seventy-eight was the same year in which the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher, told Gordon Burns on Granada TV that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people with a different culture.”

The following year, upon taking possession of 10 Downing Street, Thatcher paraphrased St. Francis of Assisi: Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

I only found out about the BBC’s wiping policy while looking for episodes of The Bed-Sit Girl (1965), whose template appears to have been glamorized by the American Broadcasting Corporation’s That Girl (1966-1971). Apparently all twelve episodes of The Bed-Sit Girl had been wiped.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Chance operations forever altered Cage's aesthetic of silence. Where before he had seen silence as impassiveness, flatness or aimlessness, he now saw it as a complete negation of the composer's will, tastes and desires. Silence had nothing to do with the acoustic surface of events, but instead was a function of the inner forces that prompted the sounds. Acoustic silence changed from being an absence of sound to being an absence of intended sound. Cage turned deliberately towards the world of unintended sound, announcing that his goal was to be 'free of individual taste and memory'. But such sweeping statements were somewhat misleading. Cage employed chance operations only in the ordering and coordination of musical events. The selection of materials, the planning of structure and the overall musical stance were still shaped by his stylistic predilections. What he had learned by using chance operations in a work like the Concerto was that, given a set of sounds and a structure built on lengths of time, any arrangement of the sounds and silences would be valid and interesting. Chance, by helping to avoid habitual modes of thinking, could in fact produce something fresher and more vital than that which the composer might have invented alone."

ANDREW STILLER, Cage, John, Chance, The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online ed. L. Macy, Accessed [Feb. 3, 2003],

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A couple weeks ago I contacted Mark Scott, founder and CEO of BookRiff, and asked for a meeting. Scott, who is also the principal shareholder and President of Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc., agreed to my request, suggesting that we meet at D&M over lunch and a presentation.

In advance of our meeting I had compiled a list of questions based on my interaction with the BookRiff website, but also from chats I’d had with industry professionals, some of whom had seen BookRiff at Book Expo, and were impressed. Indeed, of those I spoke to, nobody was skeptical of a company that paid licensing fees to authors and publishers, and all were curious about the kinds of books a service like this might generate.

But the question I kept returning to concerned the data. If a million people used BookRiff to compose their books, what might the distribution and arrangement of their content look like, and how might that information influence the traditional publisher’s publishing program? BookRiff would own that information.

Present at the meeting, in addition to Scott, were Julie Morris, BookRiff’s Communications Co-ordinator, and Emiko Morita, D&M’s Marketing Manager. Scott began by taking me through the website (which had been improved since my last visit). Throughout the presentation he spoke of how the book format (one size at the moment) would broaden once the service was up and running. With these format changes would come changes in paper choice, as well as the introduction of colour – making BookRiff as much an evolutionary service as a revolutionary one.

The presentation over, we talked about who might use BookRiff, a topic that had us speculating on what kinds of hard copy books would endure, and why. The example Scott kept using was the travel guide; the one that came to my mind was a book a child might make for a parent, like the one I made for my mother on Mother’s Day, 1972, using images from a just-delivered Sears catalogue (useless after I was through with it).

I should note that my motivation for meeting with BookRiff, apart from curiosity, was to propose a project involving my new book, to be published this September by Doubleday Canada. The book, entitled 8x10, is a work of fiction comprised of a series of events, with each event potentially related to others in the book. I say potentially because the events are vague, none of which contain the (proper) names of people, places or things; nor is there a specific sense of time. There is a logic to my arrangement, and perhaps a hidden linear logic as well, but there is also what the reader will bring to it, as readers invariably bring with them their own associative/narrative tendencies.

What I am interested in doing is entering my book, as a totality, into the BookRiff machine and making it available not only as piecemeal content but as a work open to interpretation through recomposition. But instead of having a human being recompose the book, I thought I would leave it to chance and have a robot do it, with the robotic version providing me a sequence that I would read from on my tour. BookRiff seems open to this. Once my robot has completed its task, the data will be theirs.
Apropos of the Francis Ford Coppola quote in my August 15th post, Newfoundland author Michael Crummey says of his new novel, Galore: "The question of truth doesn't interest me...but the question of what's real does."

Here's another quote, this one from U.S. sociologist W.I. Thomas in 1928: "If men define their situations a real, they are real in their consequences."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Recently I became aware of a company that specializes in custom print-on-demand books. The company is called BookRiff, and the service they provide allows you to compose a book using online-available content -- be it free, licensed, your own, or any combination of the three.

In considering the possibilities, I am reminded yet again of the huge changes in book publishing – and why publishers always seem to be lagging.

For example, where were the big house publishers back in the 1970s, when the first home computers came on the market? Did they not have the foresight to see that computers would one day replace much of what we read in book form, eventually giving birth to a book of its own (Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s PRS-500), one that contains enough memory to turn my library into a yoga studio? Why was the home computer coming to us from an electronics retailer (Radio Shack) and not a publishing house, or at least one of its parent or subsidiary companies?

The first computer I ever saw was an 8x10-foot room in my high school, behind the principal’s office. (I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was always getting caught, so I saw a lot of it.) Outside the door hung a shelf, on top of which was a box of rectangular-shaped manila-coloured cards. The cards, once marked, were fed into a slot and the sound of the room went from a purr to what happens when a fork gets caught in a garburator. “The computer is a tool,” my principal told me, “designed to make our life easier.”

Then, sometime in the 1990s, the computer became a medium. Shortly after that, my phone became a camera. Now it’s my other computer, a compact to the mid-size model that is driving this entry.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Friday I attended the first act of The Line Has Shattered, a remembrance of the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference (aka English 410, a summer credit course offered through the University of British Columbia). The '63 conference featured Margaret Avison, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, amongst others, and was organized by UBC Professor Warren Tallman and poet Robert Creeley. The Line Has Shattered was organized by Simon Fraser University Assistant Professor Steven Collis and featured a number of poets, scholars and poet/scholars who had either attended the '63 conference or, as local practitioners, were influenced by it. The event (a panel discussion, a lunch, then a reading) was held at SFU's Harbour Centre campus.

I went to the panel with an awareness of the '63 conference, having recently completed an essay ("Expanded Literary Practices") for the Ruins In Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties website. While researching my text, it seemed there were at least two Modern literary tendencies in Vancouver: a "straight" Modern literature influenced by Donald Allen's New American Poetry (1960) (TISH newsletter, The Georgia Straight Writing Supplement) and an interdisciplinary project that owed something to a collagist form of composition, one that began with then-resident Malcolm Lowry's "Through the Panama" (1954) and continued on with Al Neil (a musician who wrote, collaged and made assemblages), Roy Kiyooka (a painter who wrote poems), bill bisset (a poet who painted and published blewointment magazine), Judith Copithorne (a concrete poet who performed with a dance company), Maxine Gadd (a poet and extended-vocalist who engaged in what we would now call performance art), Gerry Gilbert (a potter who wrote poems and took photos) and Michael Morris (a visual artist and participant in that epistolary form of collage known as "mail art").

Collis began the panel with a question, one that came out in fragments, with numerous asides, but one that ultimately bore fruit, concerned as it was with the difference between "presence" and, for want of a better word, product; whether the conference had a greater impact on its participants, in the moment, or on what they made of it, as art.

Moving south to north...

Judith Copithorne did not attend the '63 conference, though she spoke of her familiarity with Ginsberg and Duncan, and of Stein's Camden recordings, and what those recordings meant to her. Clark Coolidge remarked on how insecure Duncan and Ginsberg were about their writing, how they spoke of it as "bankrupt." Coolidge had taken a bus to the conference (from the northeastern U.S., via San Francisco) and was surprised and encouraged by the poets' humility. Maria Hindmarch spoke of the conference as the "main thread" in her conversations with Roy Kiyooka, one that lasted "everyday for the next six months." Daphne Marlatt recalled how inspired she was by Denise Levertov, a woman reading alongside literal and figurative giants such as Olson and Ginsberg, while noting how women in Vancouver were still being treated as if it were the 1950s. Marlatt was the first to bring up the importance of Duncan's "Composition By Field". Jamie Reid, the only panelist to have grown up in Vancouver, recalled a Tallman essay he had seen in the Evergreen Review, entitled "Kerouac's Sound", and how that essay lead him to study with Tallman. Michael Palmer (who, like Coolidge, is from the U.S.) spoke carefully about Creeley's syntax, McCarthyism, Vietnam, the southern U.S. poets (Dickey?) "who liked to build pretty things," but especially of Creeley's warning: "If this is something you don't have to do, don't do it." He was also the first to mention the relationship between different mediums: "visual art, music, poetry, dance -- these were all one undertaking." Bernice Lever told us how the move from rural British Columbia (Rossland) brought with it "language problems" (how she took words like "hip" and "cool" literally), but also how attentive Duncan and Ginsberg were to her writing, despite the at-times "impatient sighs" of her peers. Lionel Kearns tried to downplay the impact of the conference by elevating the poems and teachings of Earle Birney, who "started creative writing at UBC," and how with Birney the move to a local Modern literature was already underway. Robert Hogg spoke of coming to Vancouver from rural Abbotsford, forty miles east of Vancouver, and of the Writers Workshop started by the UBC English Department's Tony Friesen, amongst others. George Bowering recalled the "paperback revolution," how it put books in people's hands, as well as his incredulity at seeing Ginsberg break into a recitation of a Shelley poem while on a scenic walk, how it caused him to rethink his disdain for Romantic poetry. (Later, Bowering addressed what Kearns had said of Birney's influence, how the Birney version of the English Department believed that Canadian Literature should be a branch of British Literature, "and thankfully we managed to rescue one of them -- his name was David Bromige.") Fred Wah, who had over an hour to consider Collis's question, suggested the word "coalescence" instead of "presence" -- how if it wasn't for the conference, he might never have understood Olson's "mysterious breath line." Wah finished by saying that after 1963 people from Vancouver moved on, many of them to graduate schools (he followed Creeley to New Mexico). Of course this was not the case for those outside academia, people like Al Neil, bill bissett, Judith Copithorne, Maxine Gadd and Gerry Gilbert, who, if not here, were almost always on their way back.

From there the panelists spoke amongst themselves, eventually taking questions from the audience. In reviewing my notes, I was surprised to see how often the name Ginsberg came up, often in relation to Vietnam, where, prior to his stop in Vancouver, he had been on a civilian fact-finding mission. Kearns, not content to see the '63 conference triumphant, revived his anti-conference campaign, this time championing UBC's Ron Baker and his course on the "structure" of the English language (Baker went on to head the English Department at SFU, hiring Jack Spicer, who died before he could take the position -- a position which was then offered to Robin Blaser, who held it for almost thirty years)). More Ginsberg (Maria Hindmarch brought up "Deliberate Prose") before Coolidge turned the discussion back to formal matters, remarking on the aesthetic shift that had begun in the mid-50s, around the time he was playing drums with Cecil Taylor's former bassist (Taylor being a musician whose work ran parallel to what pianist Al Neil was doing in Vancouver). It was only after reading "Projective Verse" and "Composition By Field" that Coolidge could say: "Thank God we can do this now with words."

Someone in the audience raised the question of social class, and the discussion, led by Wah, turned to those who came from rural areas, how it took a while before people could talk about what that meant. Robert Hogg spoke of arriving at UBC in his father's suit, how self-conscious he felt. I was curious to hear what Coolidge and Palmer might have to say on the topic, given the historic uneasiness those in the U.S. have with respect to class, but they were silent.

Something that did not come up, apart from the odd mention or two, was the parallel literary tendency I spoke of earlier (Tallman had once referred to bissett, Copithorne, Gadd and Gilbert as the "downtown poets" -- because they lived downtown). Kearns invited Maxine Gadd to speak, and she told us she did not attend the conference, having been busy with a new-born baby and trips to California. Judith Copithorne, who at this point had left the panel to wander the room, provided a comment from the back. I can't recall what she said but the mere re-arrangement of her presence -- from panelist to audience member -- seemed in keeping with an artist for whom poetry, movement and equality are one. Indeed, it occurred to me that this is what Collis might have been alluding to with his question. To reduce once more: the difference between an object-based practice (books of poetry) versus a more gestural presence (poet at large).

A final observation concerned the lack of discussion on the local, something that was addressed very nicely at the end by Robert Hogg when he brought up Olson's conference-time revelation that maybe place was not as important as voice -- place being not what's under foot, with yourself in the midst, but that which is in your throat, on the verge of breath, a presence?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At the 2009 Cannes Film Festival U.S. director Francis Ford Coppola said of his latest film, the "autobiographical" Tetro: "Nothing in this movie really happened, but it's all true."

Coppola's quip brought to mind another U.S. director, Terrence Malick, who when asked why there was a twenty year gap between his previous film, Days of Heaven (1978), and his then-current one, The Thin Red Line (1998), replied: "There's something to be said about not making a movie."

Friday, August 14, 2009

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Thursday, August 13, 2009