Saturday, February 27, 2010

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Every night my prayers I say,
And get my dinner every day;
And every day that I've been good,
I get an orange after food.

The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure--
Or else his dear papa is poor.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Peter Culley, who will be DJing at The Candhar tomorrow, has posted his playlist. At Number 12, Humble Pie’s “Beckton Dumps”.

The author of “Beckton Dumps” was born and raised not far from Beckton, in Manor Park, North East London. The Beckton Steve Marriott knew was home to Europe’s largest gasworks, as well as the town’s other major industry, sewage treatment. When the UK switched from town gas to natural gas in 1969, the gasworks closed, leaving thousands unemployed (and sewage the main employer).

The hero of Marriott’s song is the singer himself, a rock star living in a 16th-century house in Essex, on the other side of London. Like Proust, he spends his days at home, servicing his routines, distracted by his past.

Well what does it take / To make a jelly roll? / Who can you sell?

When Marriott was young, his father sold jellied eels, pies and mash from a kiosk outside a pub. The reverie occurs at the bridge, enhanced by a change in the song’s sonic texture (in the vocal, the instrumentation and the room in which he is singing). After eight bars, our hero returns to reality.

Drowning! / Now warn ya! / I'll be right back! / I won't go there!

Marriott yearns for his childhood, only to recoil from it just as quick. Culley, who has spent most of his life in the country, yearns for a city he barely lived in, a city he both craves and loathes. Marriot’s situation is common amongst his contemporaries. Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson describes a similar state in “Back To The Family” (1969), a place he longs to return to (“I’m going back to the family / ‘cos I’ve had about all I can take”), but one that is no better than the one he is living in.

Baudelaire once wrote “It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am.” Although written in 1869, this for me is one of the great lines of the twentieth century, one that continues to have resonance today. The challenge is to understand this feeling, come to terms with it, and not take it out on others.

(Steve Marriott)

I can't seem to open my eyes
But I must get out of this bed
'Cause the phone keeps ringing downstairs
And I know that this ain't no place for a sleepy head
I go down to my chest
Oh! Yer!
Put on my old string vest
Swing it on baby
Well I feel like I'm in need
So I go back up for a smoke
And then I slip back in my easy chair
Then I give my lucky dog a stroke
Well he just gives me a wink
And I know what that mean now
Well it mean that I need to put on his lead
If I don't want a mess on my cheap pan
That's cool
'Cause I know I can trust him
To grab the fuzz if they bust in
Get him boy! Oh! yer!
Well what does it take
To make a jelly roll?
Who can you sell?
When I wake up to a grey day
How do I slip away so easily?
Well I feel too old to get a hair cut
And I ain't had a shave in months
Now when I don't go out
I keep my door shut
And I get on back to good old Beckton Dumps
Now warn ya!
I'll be right back!
I won't go there!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our final day's program is now in place.

(a presentation of Presentation House Gallery)

Playwrights Theatre Company
1398 Cartwright Street, 3rd Floor
Sunday Feb. 28 (noon - midnight)

- a presentation of the "Blackout At The Candahar" poetry project -

- a presentation on the connection between the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics -

- a critique of Richard Florida's "creative class" -


- a presentation on CBC television representations of Vancouver in the 1980s -

- a critical evaluation of the Kootenay School of Writing -

6:00 KEN LUM
- an artist talk on public artworks -


- City Dialogue: VancouverIS and VancouverISN'T -


Legendary Faces DJ

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

According to Quillblog, Bridge House Publishing has launched a benefit anthology called 100 Stories for Haiti, a glue-and-paper affair that “originated on Twitter and spans multiple continents.”

As it happens, I began rereading Kathy Acker’s Kathy Goes To Haiti (1990) last week, a novel comprised of almost three thousand tweets -- well before tweeting had entered the genresphere.

I love Kathy’s alternations, how easily she moves between indifference, incredulity and desire. I hope those interested in helping Haiti might purchase Kathy’s book as well.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The song in my head yesterday (a catchy tune, like the drug it alludes to) from Hello World's Candahar performance the night before. I've been told it will appear on their upcoming (debut) release.

(Tom Anselmi)

Now the liquid is sucked into the needle
Now the needle is stuck into the vein
Obliteration is on its way
Relax now baby
Obliteration is on its way
Now you're drifting somewhere in the ocean
Far from shore but somehow unafraid
The waves rock you with a sexual motion
You're unafraid
Relax now baby
Obliteration is on its way
It's on its way, it's on its way, it's on its way

Saturday, February 20, 2010

At 5PM last night Skeena Reece called to say that she was unable to give her artist talk, but that Nurse Shaman would be taking her place.

Shaman and her assistant arrived at The Candahar shortly before her scheduled 8PM performance. Together they waded into the crowd, took its temperature, looked at its tongue, its eyes…

Once seated, Shaman told us what ails us (colonialism), and how we might expect to be treated. When the time came, she invited audience members on stage for consultations. Of the four interviewed, only one required inoculation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

While at the Triangle Market yesterday I caught 30 seconds of ski jumping on the TV behind the till. The camera angle was new to me: not the profile view from days gone by but a dead-on shot, taken from a distance, the effect of which had the jumper flattened against what appeared to be a collapsing landscape, with him floating, as if suspended by wire before a blue screen, an effect similar to the one used in that U2 video.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How odd to read in this morning’s Globe and Mail the story of UK publishing house Faber and Faber setting up a creative writing school in Toronto. Doesn’t Toronto already have a creative writing school in Humber? Do they need another?

On Toronto, Faber Academy Toronto head Patrick Keogh is quoted as saying: “There is something very organic about the way a literary culture has come together,” adding that the culture of writers and those “who have aspirations to be writers…naturally tie into what we were already doing in Europe.”

The article goes on to say that Keogh has interviewed a number of Toronto writers (many of whom have taught at Humber) and, in the Globe’s words, is “so confident the Toronto school will be a success, Faber is already looking into plans to expand the model to Montreal and Vancouver.”

But given what Keogh has said about Toronto’s “organic” literary community, not to mention its writers, why the need for Faber? And what of this model? How would it differ from Humber’s?

Unfortunately the Globe carried no details of the Faber model, an omission that leads me to think the model is little more than the Faber brand. Or maybe it is more than that. Maybe the model is that of a publisher expanding its traditional (and increasingly threatened) role to include literary agency, with authors in the role of teachers. Could the Harlequin Academy be far behind?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lee Henderson put on a great show last night at The Candahar, the first of our two-part Writers Research series, where novelists are asked to present not their books but their research towards them. For his show Lee arranged a (projected) loop of photos and archival materials from early Vancouver coupled with readings he gave from interviews between City Archivist Major Matthews and local chief August Jack Khahtsahlano, amongst others. Following Lee, Jeffrey Allport’s minimalist trio (harmonium, percussion, driftwood) performed Oregon style, which is to say seated on a rug.

After Lee and Jeffrey I found myself in a series of conversations regarding our opening night, specifically the Rebecca Belmore-led “Indians Only” occupation of the Candahar bar proper, a gesture that created an incredible amount of tension -- only to be raised a tone with the overlapping performance of Ensemble Sisyphe’s word-by-word, tone-by-tone cumulative looping piece, based on the line “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.” Because the piece involved recorded tones that were sung and played prior to current “live” measures, evidence of the Belmore junta could be heard throughout. For every abo whoop, an abo shush was heard to follow.

The best of last night's conversations concerned the overlap, something I had arranged in advance with Rebecca and Ensemble Sisyphe, a decision that had me accused of “bad curation” by an art historian. When asked to elaborate, the art historian suggested that I was disrespectful to Rebecca, that I should have left a space between each performance. To which I replied (somewhat defensively), A space for what? A border? Are we not restricted enough by such borders, be they political, economic, social, aesthetic?

But I knew what the art historian was getting at, just as I did not anticipate how the overlap might create a new tension, both in the audience and amongst Rebecca’s crew, most of whom are involved in the arts. Like I said, for every whoop, a shush. Politics, aesthetics, respect. First Nations people have been given symbolic power, but not the constitutional right to political and economic self-determination (these rights are entrenched but not defined). For me, this is a question worth arguing over.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yet another personification of Vancouver, this time from sportswriter and rhythm guitarist Dave Bidini, on behalf of the National Post.

Unlike Ian Brown’s Globe column, or Gary Stephen Ross’ Walrus feature (see my 2/1/10 post), Bidini inhabits Vancouver, greeting the reader with a “Hi there! I’m Vancouver,” before asking us to wait while he adjusts his “flowing blond mane.” From there we are invited to lay our head at his “bosom” and listen as he states a preference for Nature (over Culture?), how one needs “a million” to “live here,” and would we like a martini, sushi, “more sushi” or a frappuccino?

At the beginning of the last paragraph, Bidini’s “Vancouver” introduces the “other Vancouvers,” those on “Commercial Drive and along East Hastings,” those employed in “shipyards and lumber mills,” those who play in “punk bands” and work at “art galleries,” “mean people” who are against the Olympics. Once dismissed, he offers to soothe our “agitated” state with marijuana and a "rub," and would we like to be “spanked” (because we are “bad”), and would we like another?

However, it is in his final lines that Bidini reveals to us that the “you” his “Vancouver” is referring to is in fact “Toronto”, a place I have visited many times and never would have recognized through its author's tired, blindered eyes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We are now three days into The Candahar, and over a thousand people have passed through our doors. The staff at Presentation House Gallery, resident artist Theo Sims and bartenders Conor and Chris Roddy from Belfast, not to mention architect Robert Kleyn, who did our sign, lighting and furniture, have worked hard to make this place a gas. As I find myself busier than I thought I would be, postings may wane.

Tonight being Valentine's Day (Gung Hey Fat Choy! my dear), The Candahar will feature "From Russia, With Love", an evening hosted by The Here & Now, a duo comprised of ex-cub vocalist Lisa Marr, now of Los Angeles, and Paulo. The band will talk, sing songs and show clips of their travels in the former Soviet Union. Perogies will be served.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Thursday, February 11, 2010

While at Arsenal Pulp Press last week publisher Brian Lam gave me a copy of Charles Demers' Vancouver Special. My litmus test for any book “about” Vancouver is its treatment of Kingsway, a road that existed prior to European contact and remains one of our city’s most complex and misunderstand immigrant neighbourhoods.

A quick glance at the index had "Kingsway" appearing on pp. 67-8.

Demers, on the gentrification of "shitty neighbourhoods," writes:

"For years the smart money has been on picking out spots along Kingsway and Hastings-Sunrise [note juxtaposition], finding seams of coal that, with the right kind of pressure, could yield diamonds. In a conversation about how hideous and altogether free of personality Kingsway is [note personification], a friend once said to me, 'Yeah, but at least it is the thing that it is.'" [note persistence of former Canuck Todd Bertuzzi's "It is what it is" tautology].


Too much acid, not enough alkaline.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vancouver’s Poet Laureate has refused to take part in the Olympics because he feels his poem will be construed as “negative or derogatory” – an interpretation based on his understanding of a clause in a Vancouver Olympic Committee contract:

“The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement genrally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”

What I object to is the Poet Laureate’s willingness to accept the VANOC clause as a standard of artistic merit. Why not fight the reduction of one’s work to terms like “negative or derogatory” (or “positive and complimentary”) by challenging the categories in which the law wants that work assigned? Moreover, why not address such an imposition in a poem, as opposed to a prefatory essay?

The Poet Laureate has promised to reveal his poem on Friday.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Among the avalanche of questions being asked by foreign journalists about Vancouver and the Winter Olympics, one took aim at our Prime Minister’s recent remarks regarding Canada’s intention to win these games, and isn’t that uncharacteristic of a Canadian -- to insist you are out to win something?

The question caught me off-guard. In responding I had to step back and examine the assumptions behind it. I had to remind myself what a Canadian was, a question that never yields a good response, Canada being indivisible, the equivalent of 1080 into 343, something that cannot be melted in a pot. Second, is our Prime Minister someone who relates to this kind of ambiguity? No. Harper is to the cookie cutter what El Zorro is to the sabre. Third…what was the question again?

The question was repeated.

Where did you hear him says this? I asked.

The reporter told me it was something he had heard second-hand, from a Canadian back east.

But that is where Canada lives, I replied, where it is constructed, disseminated. You are asking me to comment on something twice-removed.

That's when it dawned on me: I was being taken for a ride, lured into saying something impractical, unuseable, when what I really wanted to talk about was the symbolic: how for Canada’s Prime Minister the Olympics is our Iraq – a distraction from our “work” in Afghanistan. So I told the reporter, Our Prime Ministers are not part of our intellectual tradition. We’ve never had a Thomas Jefferson.

What about Trudeau?

I think Trudeau was out to destroy intellectuals through his inhabitation of stereotypical intellectual behaviour – detached, arrogant, impatient. Our intellectuals – our public intellectuals -- come from the infrastructural: transportation in the case of Harold Innes, communication in the case of Marshall McLuhan. But getting back to Trudeau, this was a man who, in 1970, evoked the War Measures Act because he had lost touch with Quebec, an action that allowed the RCMP to enter any home in Canada, not just in Quebec, and beat the shit out of anyone who stood in their way. The only thing that comes close was Brian Mulroney’s first act as Prime Minister: the dissolution of the Foreign Investment Review Board in order to open the country to a trade deal that would endanger one of its most treasured assets -- a mixed economy.

Three seconds of silence.

You are passionate about your beliefs, said the reporter. Not what I think of when I think of Canadians.

I rest my case.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

With the Winter Olympics just five sleeps away, the hills are alive with the sound of snow-harvesting helicopters. Apparently there is too much grass at Cypress Bowl, and grass is tough to ski on.

At the foot of these hills, Presentation House Gallery continues to repurpose the Playwrights Theatre for the installation of Theo Sims’ The Candahar, a boxed recreation of a fully-functioning Belfast pub. Outside the pub (in what remains of the theatre), a stage for performances, talks and actions, which I helped to program, in addition to writing the bar's theme song.

The song's lyric is comprised of twelve unpaired lines taken from eight Rodney Graham tracks, to which I added lines of my own (“Candahar / Is it far?” and “Everyone is high but me”). The lyrics were then applied to a tune inspired by a radio ad heard during the airplane scene from Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues (1972).

Once written, I played the song for Paul Kajander and Casey Wei (of kick evrything), and they recorded it last weekend on Mayne Island. From there, the song was edited to sound like a cross between an AM radio single and the jingles that pay for their airing.

Below is the lyric to “Candahar”:

(Rodney Graham/Michael Turner)

Is it far?

To be a mess in your old age
Mixing Tylenol and Tanqueray
Same suburban crap café
Restitution must be made
Once I had a life
Everyone is high but me

Is it far?

An actor’s life is the life for me
I planted one, I planted three
In the penitentiary
It’s a sin what you’re doin’ to me
Life is so unfair
Everyone is high but me

Is it far?

Took a lot of knocks today
A little thought gone astray
I was a bottle blonde those days
To need a headache and a shave
Part of my technique
Everyone is high but me

Is it far?

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The City of Vancouver recently installed waist-high metal hoops on the city’s utility poles, most with clear plastic bags attached, what they are calling “anti-explosive garbage rings”, not to be confused with Olympic rings. I have seen a number of these rings this week, the most common piece of refuse being Olympic pamphlets.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

As is my habit, I end the day with a walk. Last night I walked by the house of a couple who had recently moved in down the street. As I passed I could see the flicker of their television, only it was not a TV they were watching but a projected image. Used to be that a couch against a wall had a painting above it. Now it’s a projector.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Two personifications of Vancouver, one from the Globe and Mail’s Ian Brown (“Vancouver suddenly buttons down its shirts and irons its ties” January 30), the other from Vancouver Magazine editor Gary Stephen Ross, writing in The Walrus (“A Tail of Two Cities” March 2010).

Brown, whose recent memoir concerning his genetically challenged son had the author asking, "What is he trying to show me?" (amongst other things), describes Vancouver in a way he will not pander to, for he writes:

"Please do not misunderstand me: I am not about to do the eastern-Canadian, passive-aggressive, Toronto thing that Vancouverites hate, which is to decry Vancouver as a beautiful but empty-headed woman you long to sleep with and then can't wait to ditch so that you can talk about something other than the muscle tone of her thighs."

In other words, don’t think of a purple pony.

As for Ross, we have to wait until the last four paragraphs.

From the fourth-to-last paragraph, first sentence:

"One night at the Blue Boy [a Robson Street hotel], a union pal of my father’s drunkenly informed me that he just might have found a cure for my virginity.”

The third-to-last paragraph:

"I spotted her at once, as would anyone with a Y chromosome. She was stunningly endowed, effortlessly lovely; notepad in hand, she was absorbed in the task of taking an order. I sat at the counter, trembling and dry mouthed. Only when she came over and handed me a menu, brushing aside a tendril of blond hair, did I realize she was not a young woman at all. She was a girl, scarcely older than I. Her name was Lila; her name tag said so.”

From the second-to-last paragraph, first sentence:

"Ever since that day at the Blue Boy…I’ve associated Lila with Vancouver – younger than she seems, less sophisticated than she might like, undeniably radiant, proud to be attracting attention but not quite sure how to deal with it, a little self conscious as the first complications of maturity settle upon her.”

And then the final paragraph/indentation:

"You wonder what she’ll become."

Really Gary? Do you think there's room?

I know Lila. Not well, but well enough to know that she was married to my mother's mother's sister's son. Should I share with you what she "became", or ask instead if you want to know what she might think of your piece?