Saturday, October 31, 2009

Almost a week now since I left Vancouver, right after the Performance Works reading, which I enjoyed very much despite a nasty spill at the authors’ table, where a server’s cuff touched a glass of orange juice, emptying it onto Monique’s black wool skirt, and thereabouts.

Of the six of us sitting there, only Annabel had the sense to get to her feet and assist, expertly dabbing at Monique’s skirt, while with the other hand swabbing the floor below.

The following day, after our reading with Michael Crummey at the Ottawa Writer’s Festival, moderator Phil Jenkins asked Annabel about writing and parenting, how she did it. I was tempted to contribute my anecdote.

Friday, October 30, 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.

Above the door, clinging to the picture rail, a bird's nest made of twigs and foolscap. Poking out, what looks to be a pair of nose hair scissors, upside-down.

A truck passes.

Only the scissors quiver.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading tomorrow at Performance Works, Granville Island. Also on the bill: Robert Arthur Alexie, Annabel Lyon, Ashok Mathur, Maile Meloy and Monique Proulx. 11:00AM-12:30PM.

Enjoyed reading with Marie-Claire Blais and Leon Rooke the other day. I'd read Marie-Claire's Mad Shadows in high school, a work she wrote when she was nineteen (the other Canadian Literature titles were Mitchell's Who Has Seen The Wind and Richler's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz). Leon I'd seen while at university, when Shakespeare's Dog came out. I remember how he shook when he read.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I will be reading tomorrow, October 23 at 10AM with Marie-Claire Blais and Leon Rooke at the Granville Island Arts Club Main Stage.

Later, from 9:30PM to midnight, Allison Hrabluik and I will be doing some "live" writing from the juliettes of the Vancouver Art Gallery's third floor rotunda. I will be writing towards "heaven", Allison will be writing towards "hell".

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In his book Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928), Vladimir Propp reduced the Russian folk tale to its smallest narrative units, or narratemes. He then characterized a tale as having 31 functions, and seven character types.

Pandora, a product of the Music Genome Project, is an automated music recommendation and internet radio service. Listeners select a song and Pandora provides a selection of similar songs, based on an inventory of 400 “musical attributes” and a further 2,000 “focus traits”.

As far as I know there is no such service for books, although Amazon will tell you that people who bought Book A also bought Book B, Book C and Book D.

Yesterday I typed my 1999 book The Pornographer’s Poem into and learned that people who bought TPP also bought my 1997 book American Whiskey Bar, along with Marty Beckerman’s Generation S.L.U.T: A Brutal Feel-up Session With Today’s Sex-Crazed Adolscent Populace, Darcey Steinke’s Suicide Blonde, Jonathan Safron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel and Alex O’Loughlin’s DVD Moonlight – The Complete Series. I typed the same into and what should come up but Charles Bukowski’s Post Office: A Novel, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Jackson Tippett McCrae’s Katzenjammer: Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

Tempted as I am to draw conclusions, I know it could all change tomorrow.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A fascinating review of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assualt on Humanity in yesterday’s New York Times.

Reviewer James Traub opens with this: “Evil repels analysis. Poets from the time of Homer have sung of war, but only a monster sings of atrocities. So, too, with journalism and scholarship.”

Reading on, Traub quotes Goldhagen: “Elimination politics, like the politics of war, is a politics of purposive acts to achieve political outcomes, often of ultimate ends and often of desired power redistribution.”

Traub: “We place the Holocaust outside of history; Goldhagen embeds it in the larger, recurring pattern of genocidal killing.” An inch or so later: “Invocations of the national interest, [Goldhagen] observes, routinely facilitate mass murder by rationalizing a passive response. Our policy, rather, should be founded on a recognition that genocidal eliminationism, which Goldhagen argues has killed more people in recent generations than war itself, is the supreme moral problem of our time.”

The piece concludes with Traub noting that the United Nations has done “virtually nothing” to enforce the “responsibility to protect” principle introduced by the General Assembly in 2005, and that until it does, “those few states that are committed to preventing mass murder may have to act without international approval.” Sound familiar? It should. The United States made a similar argument the last time they invaded Iraq.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

There is someone in the hall. A woman's voice. She is asking after someone who no longer lives here. She is convinced they no longer live here.

Outside a dog is barking. These are not absent barks, but the kind you hear when something is found, cornered, trapped.

No one is listening because the barking has gone on all day. Ruff, ruff, ruff, like a board being planed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Some time last week BC Bookworld publisher Alan Twigg received a phone call from the Director of Arts & Culture at the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and was told that the provincial government would no longer fund his magazine. That same day, the Director made similar calls to the BC Publishers Association and the BC Magazine Publishers Association.

Although cuts such as these have been ongoing since the summer, this is the first I’ve heard of them coming from the Director of Arts & Culture, and not the BC Arts Council, where grants –- and cuts -- are traditionally vetted. That these latest cuts are coming from the office the BC Arts Council receives its budget from is chilling.

Apart from my dismay over these cuts, my biggest fear has always been the elimination of the BC Arts Council, an independent agency (of the Province of British Columbia) whose mandate is "to support the arts and cultural community by providing financial assistance, research, advocacy and public education.” If the provincial government is cutting funding to lobby and advocacy groups such as BC Bookworld, the BC Publishers Association and the BC Magazine Publishers Association, could the BC Arts Council be far behind?

Of course another view is that the Ministry expects the BC Arts Council to take up the slack. But is that feasible? Will the Director of Arts & Culture provide the BC Arts Council with the resources to do what these social profit groups have done for so many years -- or will the Director be taking that on too? That’s what I’d like to know.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The song in my head today. From Fairport Convention's What We Did On Our Holidays (1969):

No Man's Land
(Richard Thompson)

Hey, come and make it easy
Hey, come and make it black
It's no use to be free
If lies are all the truth they see
They'll screw up what you do
When you're through
Hey, come and make it easy
Hey, come and make it black
If you need a friend
And you need a way to lose the end
You know a place for you
When you're through
Hey, come and make it easy
Hey, come and make it black
It's no use to be free
If lies are all the truth they see
They'll screw up what you do
When you're through

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Tuesday, October 13, 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.

Beside the door, about six feet up, three large nails driven into the wall. On the nail closest to the door, a pair of crutches. Below them, a newspaper covered in mud.

There is someone in the hall. A woman's voice. She is asking after someone who no longer lives here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

For the past few years I have ended my day with a neighbourhood walk. During last night’s walk I noticed a handwritten sign in someone’s window, the same window that five years earlier had a sign chastising Vancouver Canuck forward Todd Bertuzzi for suckering punching Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore during a hockey game at GM Place. Last night’s sign read: FREE SPEECH ZONE.

The referent, of course, is the recent attempt by British Columbia’s provincial government to allow municipal officials from Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler the right to enter homes and businesses on short notice and remove unauthorized or anti-Olympic signage. Those displaying such signs could be fined as much as $10,000 and jailed for six months.

As I continued my walk I recalled an earlier controversy regarding the Squamish Nation and their attempt to place billboards at the approaches of the Lions Gate, the Ironworkers Memorial and the Burrard Street Bridges, something they are legally permitted to do. That’s when the light went on – because the issue was not a native band placing billboards beside bridges but a native band having the right to licence that space to the Vancouver Olympic Committee, who would then sub-licence that space to Olympic sponsors. Or, if the British Columbia government continues to drag its feet on the treaty process, the Squamish Nation using that space as a site of protestation. Or, if indeed they intend to use that space as a site of protestation, the Vancouver Olympic Committee offering the Squamish Nation an obscene amount of money to prevent them from doing so.

Not sure whether the British Columbia government’s attempt to invade people’s homes and businesses is related to signage negotiations between the Squamish Nation and the Vancouver Olympic Committee, but given our province’s history, I would not be surprised. All of which is fodder for my own Olympic sign, a project I will continue to work on until the games open in February. So far the best I’ve come up is Vancouver 2012.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A rather sad story in yesterday’s LA Times concerning the world’s “dead zones” -- “oxygen-depleted” coastal areas where, through a combination of run-off pollution and shifting wind patterns, marine life is low and in danger of extinction. One of the larger “dead zones” includes the Oregon coast.

I have always been fond of this coastline. As a child my family would drive Highway 101 at least once a year to visit my grandmother in Los Angeles. It was because of these trips that I came to know places like Astoria and Lincoln City, revisiting them years later, on trips of my own.

One of my most memorable trips was a weekend spent in Yachats, Oregon, in the spring of 1982. I had taken the bus from Vancouver to Seattle, then the train from Seattle to Portland, where I hitchhiked to Astoria, then south. I was somewhere between Depoe Beach and Otter Rock when I was picked up by a guy my age on his way home to Reedsport after a failed relationship in Renton.

“Mark” drove a suped-up AMC Gremlin that had belonged to his oldest brother, a U.S. army corporal who was among the last American soldiers to die in Vietnam. Mark didn’t have much going for him, and as our time together “progressed”, I didn't have much going for me either.

The more Mark gassed on about his relationship, the more I wondered how I might escape his car. Unfortunately I had told him too soon that I was going to LA, and that I was hoping to take my time. (If I have learned one thing from hitchhiking, it is set your destination no further than thirty miles. It’s easier to confess your lies to sane people than those who have come undone.)

We were just south of Waldport when Mark announced we were taking a detour through Yachats. “You remind me of this woman I know,” he said. “I want you to meet her.” Before I could respond, Mark had turned off the highway and began climbing a long gravel road, stopping at a cluster of trailers overlooking the ocean.

There was no name for this place, nor was there anything to indicate that it was part of the larger world. Most of these trailers were rusted or blanketed in morning glory, with two of them standing on what seemed like uninhabitable angles. Children ran barefoot, in ragged clothes. Outside every door was a hog.

Turns out that this woman, who could have been my mother's age, was in fact a lot like me. She liked to play guitar, talk politics, and she knew enough about these things that I knew I would be safe in her company. When Mark excused himself (to “take a leak”) she leaned over and assured me that everything was going to be okay, that if I stayed a couple days it would do Mark good, help him readjust. “He left with nothing you, you know. At least he has you to show for it.”

About ten years ago, while driving to San Francisco, I went looking for this place and found the trailers gone, only to be replaced with expensive grey condos and imported shrubs. Apart from the half-full parking lot, there was nothing to say that people lived here. I got out of my car and headed towards the ocean. Up ahead, a security guard stepped from a van and asked me my business. “The view,” I said, to which he recommended an “official lookout” down the road – “on public property.” I got the hint. Life, as I knew it, was dead.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I have been obsessed of late with the snare shot that opens The Door’s “Light My Fire”. I was five when the song was released, in 1967, and the image that first came to me, in the back of my parents’ convertible, in the middle of the Northern Californian night, waiting at the roadside to see if my father would be commandeered to fight a forest fire, was of a match exploding.

Although the image remains, the imagery has changed. First when I was fifteen, after eating what looked like a handful of dirt but was, as promised, magic mushrooms. This time the snare shot went on forever; and as I returned to the exploding match, I did not see the black that preceded it but that which the match illuminated: a huge grey room, not unlike the underground parking lot where we hid, giggling, the song coming from a hotel shuttle bus.

Then, in my mid-twenties, the title essay from Joan Didion’s The White Album (1979), her chronicle of California and the 1960s. After reading the section where she hung out at a Doors recording session, I cued up Track Six, Side One of the band’s first album and waited for the pow! Only this time, instead of a huge grey room, I saw a wood-panelled studio, mike stands and Ray Manzarek’s organ.

Not long after that, in 1990, an interview with an ailing Leonard Bernstein, where he was asked about compact discs. He said he liked them, but missed the room, the grand halls where the music he knew and loved was recorded. Then he said something I have never forgotten -- how new technology brings with it new opportunities, as if technology itself was a material. Bernstein’s complaint was that digitally recorded music “just hangs there,” without floor or walls or ceiling, and that the composers of today should be composing with that in mind.

Last week, while sampling a new batch of digital “radio” stations, I heard “Light My Fire” again. This time it was not the exploding match or the underground parking lot or the Doors’ recording sesseion but something I remember from our trip down the coast, while stopped at my grandmother's house in Pacific Palisades. This was something that had happened across the street -- someone running around with a gun. I remember my grandmother ushering me inside, but not before I looked over my shoulder and saw a man take aim at a green-and-white VW microbus. Pow! Then that avalanche of notes from Ray Manzarek’s organ.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Heather Sanderson emailed to say that the electronic version of 8x10 is now available through Shortcovers.

Looking at the site I was happy to see that the book can be purchased not only in its "original" form but on an event-by-event basis. I say "event" because that is what I have been calling the various sections of the book, though I noticed Shortcovers have used the word "chapter". To say that I don't have a problem with the word "chapter" is only partially true, given that chapters, at least for me, connote a linear progression.

Interesting how with DVDs feature-films are now being organized in chapters. We talk a lot about films being made from books, and indeed how film and television have changed our literature; but here is a case where a writing device has been imposed on film, especially when film's closest literary kin is drama (where "scenes" and "acts" are used). Makes me curious when considering films made before the advent of digital technology. Sometimes they've gone so far as to give these chapters names! Not sure how I'd feel about that if I was Jodorowsky.

The idea of making 8x10 available in "chapters" is to allow readers to rearrange the book in a manner they see fit, much like I did when I approached BookRiff about a randomized collage version. If anyone out there were to make their own version of 8x10, I would definitely be interested in reading it.

Tuesday, October 6, 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.

On the table, a pickle jar stuffed with cornflowers, bachelor's buttons or hurtsickle, depending on who you are. Whatever the name, these flowers have been in decline due to agricultural intensification, the cornflower being happiest where grains are grown.

Before the flowers, a sheet of poster paper. On one side, a glue stick and scissors; on the other, a magazine cut to bits. Someone has pasted a tractor in the middle. On one side of the tractor, a barrel of oil; on the other, a bottle of glue.

There is someone in the hall. A woman's voice. She is asking after someone who no longer lives here, an older man who walks with crutches.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Among those at my book launch Friday was University of British Columbia Green College Writer-In-Resident Oana Avasilichioaei. I first came upon Oana’s work five years ago, in an anthology of emerging and established women writers called Portfolio Milieu (Sumach Press), edited by Morgan Chojnakci, Christine Leclerc, Arleen Pare and Ingrid Rose.

Oana’s contribution was a poem sequence set at Vancouver’s Hastings Park, a work I was excited by not only for its focus on place (Lisa Robertson once wrote through there) but for its inventive sense of time. After a little digging, I found Oana’s email and told her how much I enjoyed the sequence and asked if it was part of a larger work.

She replied that it was, but not yet.

Last year, feria: a poempark was published.

feria, along with Lee Henderson’s The Man Game (2008), are two books that consider Vancouver from both the present and the past. While Lee’s book (a novel) has a more defined, episodic structure, feria, which Oana describes as a “palimpsest,” is just that: an overlapping work that, while reading it, reminds me of the fog that was once so common to this city -- until they closed the beehive burners and built tourists traps like Granville Island.

During a recent round of emails Oana apprised me of a growing online discussion concerning “conceptual writing.” Because I know something of the conceptual art practices of the 1960s and 70s, I Googled “conceptual writing” and what should come up but “Kenneth Goldsmith – Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing,” a direct reference to Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art”, first published in England’s Art-Language, May 1969.

However, whereas LeWitt’s list was written with serious intent -- so much so that John Baldessari punished it by singing it into an artwork (LeWitt’s last sentence reads: “These sentences comment on art, but are not art”) -- Goldsmith, who has a fine sense of humour, has comped the tone while, like Baldessari, made art of the content, as writing. His last line, like many of the beautiful contradictions running through his (and LeWitt’s) texts, manages to be tautological, connoisseurial and farcical – “Conceptual writing is good only when the idea is good.”

I will run this by Oana, when I see her tomorrow for drinks.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Awoke this morning to emails requesting a copy of the speech I gave at the SFU Writer-In-Residence reception, one that segued into a reading from my new book (the same reading I gave at Word on the Street). Below is that part of the speech pertinent to the Writer-In-Residence Program.

I would like to begin by saying a few thank yous. The first person I’d like to thank is the person who introduced me tonight, Jeff Derksen.

Jeff was among the first to encourage my writing, and to understand what I was getting at in pursuit of what was, early on, a collagist approach to making books. Not an interest in the line, per se, nor an inquiry into our ideologically-saturated language, but the overall composition, what was at the time a conflation of the poetry book and the ethnography. It was Jeff who reminded me that what I was doing with poetry was not unlike what Dorothy Livesay said of the documentary poem, “a conscious attempt to create a dialectic between the objective facts and the subject feelings of the poet” (“The Documentary Poem: A Canadian Genre,” 267). But more than that, it was Jeff who gave me a chance to express my ideas about what I thought I was doing through an invitation to present my work at the Kootenay School of Writing, in 1992, an opportunity I admitedly wasn’t ready for, given what little I knew of the conversation that was/is contemporary reading and writing, but one I learned from. This is a conversation I would like to think I am now part of, and I think my invitation to be this year’s Ellen and Warren Tallman SFU Writer-In-Residence is an acknowledgement of that.

So thank you, Jeff, and thank you to the rest of Writer-In-Residence Committee – Clint Burnham, David Chariandy, Steven Collis, Tom Grieve, Christine Kim, Graham Lyons and Sophie McCall.

Next I would like to thank Roy Miki for his work in creating this position, for seeing in it the potential to improve not only the SFU English Department, by making it more diverse and accessible to a public, but to improve the material conditions of writers who, as much as anyone, require time, space and money to research and write their books, and who can only benefit from working in a university environment. For me, Roy Miki provides a model for my own aspirations -- as artist, scholar, culture worker and public intellectual. Someone for whom giving is the first line of engagement.

I would like to thank President Michael Stevenson, who has taken a personal interest in this program, and who has, in many ways, all of them affable, gone out of his way to support it. And to that, I would like to extend a thanks to Michael’s partner, Jan Whitford, who, as a literary editor and agent, knows something of the lives of writers and writing, and who would have, through conversation, shared that knowledge with Michael.

Finally, I would like to thank the Ellen and Warren Tallman Fund, and its pilot, Sarah Kennedy, for sustenance. Not just financial, but in lending the names Ellen Tallman and Warren Tallman to the SFU Writer-In-Residence Program. Like the late Alvin Balkin and Abraham Rogatnick, who also came to Canada – to Vancouver – in the mid 1950s, and started Vancouver’s first contemporary art gallery (New Design), Warren and Ellen Tallman brought with them an enthusiasm for the wider world – a world of ideas, different ways of thinking, reading and writing. They did not bring Modernism to Vancouver – Modernism was already here, as Lionel Kearns pointed out last month, in this very room, during Steven Collis’s The Line has Shattered conference. What they did bring was what Balkind and Rogatnick brought earlier, and that’s fresh air, air that allowed our local moderns an alternative to an older fustier British ideal, one that had, as George Bowering pointed out at Steven’s conference, George Barker an Stephen Spender as the leading voices our time. The Tallmans contributed through the usual channels – invitations, conferences -- but they did something else: they opened their family to visiting writers and students by providing a salon in their home. As someone who does not hold an academic position, the Tallmans have helped to create a situation whereby I have been invited into the academy, to a room overlooking a city they not only helped to build but renovate as well. So to them, Jeff, the SFU Writer-In-Residence Committee, Roy, Michael and Jan, I give thanks.

Friday, October 2, 2009

For those interested I will be launching my latest work of fiction, 8x10, tonight at SFU Harbour Centre, Room 1400. The evening will begin at 7:30PM with my introduction as this year's Ellen and Warren Tallman SFU Writer-In-Residence, followed by a short reading.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A golden roll of poets last night at the Anza Club, with readings by Colin Browne, Jeff Derksen, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Miki, emcee George Bowering, and Fred Wah, whose latest book, is a door (Talonbooks), provided the occasion.

The event was called Fred Wah and Friends, and it felt that way. Friends being broadly defined to include those Wah went to school with, edited (with), taught (with), argued with (and for), travelled with (and to), breathed the same air as with his most enduring motif, the sigh.

That sigh was in evidence all night, coming from Fred’s own mouth, but echoed in the mouths of others: from Derksen’s latest long poem (“socialist one-liners” that, among other things, relate the language of commerce to the gating of public space) to Marlatt’s wind-swept gull(iver) to Bowering’s portrait of Fred in Curious (1971), a book which is to Vancouver what Stein’s portraits (of Matisse, Picasso, Sherwood Anderson…) were to Paris.

During the break I spoke with Oana Avasilichioaei, who, like myself at SFU, is UBC’s writer-in-residence, and Sonnet L’Abbe, whom David Chariandy introduced me to.

After the readings I shared a beer with Jean Baird and George -- when who should come over but Montrealers Andre Farkas and Tom Konyves, Vehicule poets in town for a reading. I believe it was another Vehiculian, Ken Norris, who wrote in Beyond Tish how inspired they were by what Vancouverites Bowering, Wah, Marlatt and others were doing in the early-1960s.

Then suddenly it was over. Not with the lights going up and shouts of, Last call! but with another kind of sigh, the noise I make when my head hits the pillow.