Thursday, December 31, 2009

A furnished sitting room with sleeping accommodations (and some plumbing).

Also known as a bed-sitting room. A form of rented accommodation common in Great Britain consisting of a single room with a shared bathroom and lavatory, part of a legal category of dwellings referred to as Houses In Multiple Occupation.

A room providing a combined living and sleeping area with access to shared bathroom/shower and WC facilities.

An American-born Aussie replied, 'An efficiency apartment...

By London definition: a combined Bedroom and Sitting Room (hence the term 'Bedsit').
A Jack Spicer poem. (Do we know who "Mac" is, besides a computer?)

For Mac

A dead starfish on a beach
He has five branches
Representing the five senses
Representing the jokes we did not tell each other
Call the earth flat
Call other people human
But let this creature lie
Flat upon our senses
Like a love
Prefigured in the sea
That died.
And went to water
All the oceans
Of emotion. All the oceans of emotion
are full of such fish
Is this dead one of such importance?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Monday, December 28, 2009

I read last night that Vic Chestnutt passed away on Christmas Day. I met Vic about fifteen years ago, when he played a solo show at the Malcolm Lowry Room (1993-1997), a club I opened in the North Burnaby Inn.

Vic was one of many bookings helped along by Keith Parry from Scratch Records. Demolition Doll Rods, Destroyer, Duotron -- none of these bands would have played the MLR had it not been for Keith.

I had heard Vic Chestnutt’s music prior to his booking, mostly his album Little (1990), which I saw in a Seattle record store and bought because I liked Louis Zukofsky’s book Little (1970), but also the song titles, many of which were people’s names. I was reading Gertrude Stein’s portraits at the time.

The day of the show I asked Keith what Vic might like on his rider, and Keith said no booze – Vic’s on the wagon.

About a hundred people showed up, which was perfect, because that was all we were licensed for. Vic played a fairly long set, made longer because, lo and behold, he was drinking rusty nails. Lots of them. It was a great show, one I will let someone else describe.

At the time of the booking I was told that Vic would not need a hotel room because he would be leaving right after for a stateside gig the following day. But when I went to pay him, at 2 a.m., it was clear that he was in no condition to drive. I offered him a room upstairs, for free, but he said no, and would I help him to his car. I tried to talk him out of it but he was adamant.

Vic’s car was huge, a 1970 Mercury El Gato stuffed with clothes, books and endless bags of chips, with barely enough room for his tiny frame and his wheelchair, which he kept on the rubble behind him.

How far you goin’, Vic?



Yup. He looked at his watch. Show’s in nineteen hours.

Insane, I thought. He’ll never make it. Even if he survived the drive (11 hours), he would still be too drunk to cross the border.

I slept poorly that night, haunted by a super-slow strobe that had Vic in his car intercut with that scene in Dr. Strangelove, where Slim Pickens rides to earth on an atom bomb.

Later, around 9 p.m., I got a call from Keith. He had just spoken to the Boise promoter. Vic was in the middle of his soundcheck, and holy shit if this wasn’t going to be an excellent show!

He made it. Vic made it.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is it just me or is something fishy going on with the recent airplane bombing attempt over Detroit? Curious to know more, I went online and started sifting through the wreckage. This headline (Reuters) caught my eye:


Apparently the alleged bomber, a 23-year-old Muslim man named Umar Abdulmutallab, had been an engineering student at University College London, but had drifted from his studies – and his multi-million dollar pad – so that he might spend more time in Yemen.

Not sure which foreign school is being referred to here. If by "foreign" we mean England and Yemen, are we to assume that blowing up airplanes is a form of middle ground? Only if we believe an English engineering degree program to be one of the more politically benign forms of education – and that Yemen, as we are told in the North American media (backed up by what the New York Times frequently refers to as “officials”), is a terrorist training centre. Coming from a country where engineering students (Marc Lepine) and faculty (Valery Fabrikant) kill people, I am tempted to add Yemen to my list of vacation destinations.

Here’s a quote from the (Reuters) article:

“Everyone knew the Mutallabs and the father is honest, generous, helpful and above all a prominent banker. I cannot see why his son should be involved in this act,” Funtua resident Ibrahim Bello, 65, said, close to the Mutallab family home.

“[A]bove all a prominent banker”? What I like best about bankers has them level with “honest, generous and helpful.” Anything beyond that feels dishonest, greedy and spiteful.

There’s more from Bello:

“My only advice to the elite is that they allow their children to mingle with the children of the masses so that he will have some of the traditional morals and values that (the elder) Mutallab himself enjoyed.”

(Could “the masses” be any more virtuous than those New York Times “officials”?)

I have my own theory as to why Umar attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253, and that is the English diet. Cream, gluten, red meat -- these are no substitutes for healthy living! Somebody, get this man a salad.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The song in my head yesterday. From Human League's 1983 EP Fascination!

(Keep Feeling) Fascination
(Jo Callis/Philip Oakley)

If it seems a little time is needed
Decisions to be made
The good advice of friends unheeded
The best of plans mislaid
Just looking for a new direction
In an old familiar way
The forming of a new connection
To study or to play

And so the conversation turned
Until the sun went down
And many fantasies were learned
On that day

Keep feeling fascination
Passion burning
Love so strong
Keep feeling fascination
Looking learning
Moving on

Well the truth may need some
Stories to be told
And plain to see the facts are changing
No meaning left to hold

And so the conversation turned
Until the sun went down
And many fantasies were learned
On that day

And so the conversation turned
Until the sun went down
And many fantasies were learned
On that day

Friday, December 25, 2009

I had a dream last night -- a rare occurrence for me. They say we always dream, whether we remember our dreams or not. It has been ages since I had a dream I remembered. Last night I had one.

I was sitting at an outdoor café, distracted by the chatter behind me -- a young couple arguing about music. Arguments like these were not uncommon when I was young; music was all we cared about, all we wanted to do. Usually they revolved around who was the better band, something recently brought to mind by artist Brady Cranfield, whose Music Appreciation Society asked, Who is better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?

Cranfield’s question is a familiar one, and a question I have always refused. Even at fifteen I knew my response would be grist for a larger set of reductions. To wit: Of course Michael Turner doesn’t like strawberry ice cream – he’s a Rolling Stones fan. As for my response, I could never get past the choices, which is why I always said the Kinks.

What was strange about last night’s dream was the content -- there wasn’t any. The argument was about music, but there were no details, only a proposition that had success predicated on the failure of something else (not unlike Gore Vidal’s adage: It is not enough to succeed; others must fail). Thus, all I had besides the intensity of the combatants was an equation. So I did something I had not done in years: I attempted to introduce some content.

The content had to do with the Beatles and their use of instruments not associated with pop music -- specifically the French horn and the sitar. Not which is better, but how these instruments informed the recordings in which they were used.

In the past, attempts at content introduction were met with waking, the realization that dreams, no matter how good we might make them, are best forgotten. Last night was no different, though I did learn who played the French horn solo on "For No One".

Thursday, December 24, 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.

Nor the floors, which are made of maple planks, the corners an elaborate parquet. In one corner stands a bonsaied ficus. Twice a year I take it from its pot and clip its roots, like I was taught.

Tonight was one of those times.

Once done, I gathered up all but one root end and dropped them in the compost. The one I saved I put in a shotglass filled with water, placing it on the windowsill, where I watched it, lit by street light, as I drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Monday, December 21, 2009

Has anyone done a study of bookstores that sell second-hand titles versus those that sell new ones? Seems second-hand bookstores have grown healthier, and I wonder if this is due to chain stores carrying fewer backlist titles (and more candles, picture frames and greeting cards). But the healthiest bookstores seem to be the discount chains, who, in addition to buying remaindered books, buy selected new titles in large quantities and sell them below traditional retail mark-up (40%). I may be wrong on that, and if I am, I would like to know.

Last night I read George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories” (Fortnightly, 1936) and was amazed at how little has changed in the second-hand trade (though I have yet to witness “oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks”). Orwell, who once worked at a second-hand bookstore, spoke of the various "sidelines" such stores delve into -- like the selling of second-hand typewriters. In all the second-hand bookstores I visited in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, not once did I see a second-hand typewriter for sale. Second-hand other stuff, but not typewriters.

But imagine what that might look like, to walk into a bookstore and see the devices on which books are first drafted, the relationship between reading and writing. The thought brings to mind other relationships linking writing, publishing and retail. For example, What is the history of publishing houses and their involvement in the development of printing machines, and, more recently, software? The question is of interest, given that it is a retailer, not a publisher, who is now producing the thing that looks most like a book. That the retailer is without a physical presence is also remarkable, one that makes the retailer both a book and a store – but not a bookstore.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yesterday being one of the shortest days of the year I decided to make it shorter by spending two-and-a-half hours at the Park Theatre, where I took in the noon screening of Avatar. Not sure if it was the popcorn, the 3D effects, the lack of daylight or a combination of the above, but man, was I wrecked after.

Though set in the twenty-second century, Avatar, like most science fiction, is a western. Besides its humanitarianism and dazzling effects, what made the film enjoyable was its relationship to the films that came before it – films such as Star Wars, Alien, Starship Troopers and The Matrix. We talk a lot about Tarantino’s films and their references to past works, but in Tarantino's films the references have more to do with flourishes (how many homages have we seen to Ford’s The Searchers, the indoor shot of a figure moving outdoors?) than plot and story templates, of which there are few.

Without giving too much away, Avatar is the story of a paraplegic U.S. Marine who arrives on one of Jupiter’s moons to take part in a program where his mind is transported into a hybrid clone made of homo sapien and alien DNA. The alien, or indigene in this case, is an eighteen-foot-tall cat-like creature that lives in the forest and seems to do little more than hunt animals and commune with nature. The purpose of the Avatar program has less to do with military operations than science, and this is where the story turns.

Along with the scientific presence, we have a corporate presence and a military presence. The corporate presence is there to extract minerals, while the military presence protects industry from the indigenous population, who, prior to the military's destruction of their home (a massive tree), are never once seen engaging in an act of anti-Earthling violence (the only evidence being the cat scratch on the commander’s right cheek). One day, while joining the scientists on a field trip, our soldier/avatar gets lost, only to be saved by an indigenous woman, the daughter of her people’s spiritual leader. Moments later, she witnesses a blessing conferred upon the soldier/avatar by a cluster of airborne spores from her people’s healing tree. This being Christmas (here, not there), another Christ is born.

Do we need to hear the rest?

More than its genre, Avatar is a morality tale, the latest stage in the evolution of science fiction, from communist allegory (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to environmentalism (Silent Running) to self-help (Close Encounters, ET) to allegory again – in this instance, U.S. foreign policy (Starship Troopers) and the capitalist mode of production (The Matrix). Does it succeed? Yes. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the ecological survival of our planet. Does it do anything unsightly? Yes. Indigenous peoples are once again depicted as child-like structures incapable of dealing with anything outside their world-view. Earthlings (Americans) are, as usual, depicted as both plunderer and savior.

Besides sasquatches, there are no “lost peoples” left on Earth -- everyone has been accounted for. Which is a shame, because we were never very good at "discovery", and I think it would be a great indicator of how far we have progressed if we were to discover someone new, especially after what we have learned about those not like us. So bring on the sasquatches! Until then, we will have to get by on aliens, and Hollywood.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Maxine Gadd poem written sometime between 1967-1971. From Lost Language: Selected Poems (Toronto: Coach House, 1982).

i am on my high horse

(for Diane di Prima)

i am on my high horse when the snake came along
and wow, wound itself
about my thigh
hardboiled? mother!
what grace within yr voice
I'll fake whatever you find
so as not to tremble
as the sweet notes in you do
yr nerves are as glass; had i the power
my hair washed by the warmest rain
be grass on which to lie, our prisons broken down
step out now

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Wednesday I began installing “to show, to give, to make it be there”: Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969 at SFU Gallery. One work that presented a problem was Maxine Gadd’s Practical Knowledge (1969), a legal-sized unbound book the artist printed at Intermedia using a Roneo and multi-coloured inks.

Practical Knowledge comes with instructions: certain editions are to be exhibited with a slice of bread (though not the one we borrowed). But that's not the problem. Because the book is rare, it cannot be handled; so I had to find a suitable method of display. My decision was to fan out its pages on a table, revealing portions of each, then covering the "book" with Plexi.

Our quest for the right table took us to SFU Stores. Nothing presented itself, so we improvised, beginning with a small swiveling stool. The carpenters at Stores were kind enough to cut a 30” diameter circular plywood top and a matching piece of Plexi; from there they would attach it to the stool. Now viewers can circle the book or turn the table.

I thought of apprising Maxine, but decided to surprise her instead. If she protests, I will put the book in the "Appendix" section of the exhibit, a cabinet of four covered drawers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

There is an alley I visit when I want to change my mind about something. The alley runs just north of Kingsway, and the portion I walk along stretches from Clark to 16th.

In the middle of the last block (west) there is a six-foot section of fence. To the east, a garage; to the west, a laurel hedge. The fence is composed of different woods, different formats in various states of decay, and is held together with wire and nails and, at one time, a bicycle inner-tube stretched so tight it had gone from black to grey.

If the fence was not vertical, if it had fallen over before I had discovered it, I might have thought it was a raft, built in advance of a flood, or the kind a hobo might take en route to a place I used to sing about while busking the post-Expo streets of Vancouver: The Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain is the story of a hobo paradise where “little streams of alky-hol” flow past “soda fountain waters”; where “hand-outs grow on bushes,” “the box cars are all empty,” “cops have wooden legs” and “the jails are made of tin.” Like the fence (or the raft), the song is composed of odd and often contrasting elements.

When I first learned The Big Rock Candy Mountain, I thought it strange that a paradise would retain the conditions that lead to its imagining: where people were still homeless and living near railroad tracks; where life would be better if “railroad bulls [were] blind” and “bull dogs all [had] rubber teeth.” Seems if you were imagining a better place, why would it have a police force at all? It was only after performing the song a few times that I realized a better world would only be agreeable if it retained the impulse that brought it into being, and that the song was less about a better world than the moment in which it was written: when utopias were as open to satire as the political programs that offered to lead you to them. Not a profound thought, but one that occurred to me at a time when ideas were many and examples were few.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was on my mind the last time I visited the fence. A kind of swirling thought collage that soon enough had me thinking less of the fence’s composition than its dual purpose: a fence, yes, but also a raft -- and how different the two are: the fence being to cops what the raft was to arriving at a better place.

It was while thinking of this, just now, that I found myself entertaining a thought that I have been trying to change my mind about for some time, a thought I have had more than once the past while, and now, just like that, I have forgotten.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The song in my head today (and yesterday). From Cream's 1966 (debut) album Fresh Cream.

(Jack Bruce)

Dreaming about my love.
You bring me joy and hours of happiness,
More or less.
I dream my life away.

Waiting for you to come.
Changing my life for you to emptiness,
Minutes just drift by.

I don't care if I get nowhere.
I can just dream and you'll be there.
What else is there to do?

Dreaming about my life.
Where are you now, and when will you
Come to me?
I dream my life away.

I don't care if I get nowhere.
I can just dream and you'll be there.
What else is there to do?

Dreaming about my love.
You bring me joy and hours of happiness,
More or less.
I dream my life away.

Dreaming, dreaming.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Saturday, December 12, 2009

When I saw a link to Christian Bok and Carmine Starnino's November 29 Mount Royal University debate on contemporary Canadian poetry, my first thought was, What took them so long? It was only while waiting for the download that I imagined the outcome would differ little from what these two have already said on the topic, and that a master rhetorician like Bok would no doubt crush an opponent who (and this was borne out) only comes to life when deploying his well-rehearsed aphorisms.

That the moderator had asked Bok to speak first put Starnino in the position of respondent -- so what resulted was not dissimilar to what walked out of the transporter in the 1958 version of The Fly: one part statement, one part defense; neither of which resembled anything beyond a reactionary cri du chat, with Starnino performing more like Louis Dudek's successor than someone we might look to for a reading of contemporary Canadian poetry.

As the debate progressed, it became clear that, although both poets know something of the current Canadian poetry landscape, both are conservative in conception and approach. Bok, who did not challenge the moderator's depiction of him as an "experimental poet" (in fact, he embraced it), is interested in equivalencies between poetic and scientific methodological composition, while the diffident Starnino prefers a poetry where emotion is to the garment what syntax is to the clothesline. Neither question the ideological construction of the structures they inhabit, and only barely did Starnino refer to Eunoia's "success" as defined not by critique but by the market.

On the topic of Eunoia, I remember when Bok was writing it, how his excitement returned me to its source -- (the translation of) Perec's Avoid, a novel without the letter "e". However, that the "e" is the most ubiquitous vowel in both English and French -- and therefore the most difficult to avoid -- diminished my appreciation of Bok's effort. If only I had not known? No, I prefer to know -- just as I despair the not-knowing Starnino promotes when saying that he looks at a poem from the sixteenth century in the same way he looks at a poem from today. That is, void of the social and historical forces that shape poems (not to mention our reading of them).

Starnino's critique of Eunoia is that it is "a prank." Where I live, the response to Eunoia is related to the author's democratic distribution of the vowel conceit (Chapter A, Chapter E, Chapter I, etc) and therefore its reduction of Perec and his translator's achievement. Although I enjoy reading and listening to Eunoia, it is not what I expect from someone who refers to himself as an "experimental poet". For me, the experiment has more to do with locating poetry in new and convergent forms, something Bok is open to. Indeed, Bok's experimental approach seems better served by his current Xenotext project: the writing of poetry into the genetic code of bacteria. Bok's strongest lines recognize that the poetry of today resides not in magazines like The Fiddlehead but in ad copy, or social networks like Twitter.

Starnino is the consummate aesthete, a connoisseur, the likes of which could only be supported by an Anglo-Montreal bourgeoisie (think: the French plantation owners in Apocalypse Now Redux). He either "likes" things ("good," "best"), or he doesn't ("bad," etc.). Bok, on the other hand, can at least see the landscape and its endless replications, not unlike the scientist in The Fly after he emerges from the transporter. Recall the scene where the scientist, his head now a fly's head, approaches his wife. Not her response, which is predictable, but the scientist's POV, as a fly might see her -- multiplied.

Where Starnino wants to charge into the landscape and plant his flag atop the highest hill (think: James Cameron's Academy Awards acceptance speech for The Titanic), Bok is content to repeat (with some variation) the soil tests of others, indifferent to the life forms the soil supports, yet faithful to the laws, both natural and economic, that govern our survival.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I don't often find myself reading Metro (" the world's largest global newspaper"), but as there was nothing else at the cafe this morning, I gave it a flip.

I was on the second page of the "Movie Section" when this headline caught my eye: "Autism doc lacks flow." Why wouldn't it? Later, an AP story entitled "Through ten years of escapism." Here is the first inch:

"In an era that brought harsh reality home with the war on terror and an economy gone bust, Hollywood became more of a dream factory than ever, embracing fantastic escapism when audiences needed it most."

There is so much to object to in this paragraph. Where to begin? How about at the end, with the audiences' needs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stopped into Duthie's last week to see if they had a copy of Beckett's 800 page book of letters. They did. Thinking I might fall sideways, I grabbed Orwell's essays for ballast, purchasing both.

Beckett's first letter is to Joyce. It is brief. This is the first half:

"Mr. Joyce,

Here is the latest insertion. I think it might follow the passage which treats of form a concretion of content. I have succeeded in combining the three points in a more or less reasonable paragraph."

(The footnotes are five times as long as the letter.)

Though my intention was Beckett, it is Orwell I am reading. Last night I started his March 1945 piece for The New Saxon Pamphlet, "Poetry and the Microphone".

Here are some excerpts:

"It is commonplace that in modern times -- the last two hundred years, say -- poetry has come to have less and less connection with either music or with the spoken word."

"Lyrical and rhetorical poetry have almost ceased to be written..."

"How many people do not feel quasi-instinctively that there must be something wrong with any poem whose meaning can be taken in at a single glance?"

Orwell then makes a case for poetry on the radio:

"The poet feels that he is addressing people to whom poetry means something, and it is a fact that poets who are used to broadcasting can read into a microphone with a virtuousity they would not equal if they had a visible audience in front of them."

Something odd about that. I wonder if the same effect could be achieved if the "live" audience listened with their eyes closed and the poet read to his water glass.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Twenty-four days until 2010, and the end of a decade that remains nameless. (What did they call the 1900s in the 1910s? What did they call the 1910s? Why does no one know these things?)

Twenty years ago I was asked by a magazine to submit a year-end Top-10 on anything I wanted. I did, and it was rejected. It's not about anything, they said. But it is, was my reply. My interest is in the form itself.

This is what I sent them:


1. Recognition

2. Reduction

3. Competition

4. Organization

5. Stratification

6. Authority

7. Completion

8. Satisfaction

9. Participation

10. Dissemination

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Two openings last night, both at artist-run centres.

First, the homeless Pitt at the Or: Michael Jones's Tolerance Time, an exploration of the social construction of multicultural policy and practice in Canada. Second, Reece Terris's Western Front Front -- Another False Front at the Western Front, where the artist has added an elaborate parapet and cornice structure to the building's historic boomtown facade.

Looking at the two shows together, one cannot help but see the irony: with their provincial funding cut, the Pitt is forced to exhibit at other galleries, while Terris's 2010 Cultural Olympiad-funded project is an addition to a building in which its exhibition programme is housed.

What is best about Terris's False Front is that it takes the addition beyond the pretensions of the original boomtown conceit, thus generating a further irony, one not lost on Western Front co-founder Eric Metcalfe who, upon seeing Terris's piece, said: The building looks like an overdecorated general.

As for Jones's show, I missed the film portion, where the artist plays a cop investigating a broken window at a multicultural centre. Something I hope to get to today.

Friday, December 4, 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.

Nor the floors, which are made of maple planks, the corners an elaborate parquet. In one corner stands a bonsaied ficus. Twice a year I take it from its pot and clip its roots, like I was taught.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Below is an essay I wrote to accompany an exhibition I am curating at SFU Gallery next month, entitled "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver: 1954-1969.

“to show, to give, to make it be there”: Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver: 1954-1969

This year saw dramatic changes in the book publishing industry. Though the reintroduction of the e-book grabbed most of the headlines, almost lost in the hoopla was word that book promotion would be going online, and that a book’s success would be contingent on its author having an online platform. Some authors took this further, expanding their readings to include projections, singers, actors and props. Stagings such as these were met with bemusement by arts commentators accustomed to more traditional forms of presentation. The author most cited as an exemplar of this trend was Margaret Atwood.

What is conspicuous about the bemused response is that it reminds us of a time when expanded literary activities were encouraged, not indulged. Atwood, like bill bissett, turned seventy this year, and though it might seem odd to see these two names in the same sentence, it was Atwood who published one of her strongest poems (from Power Politics, 1971) in a 1970 issue of bissett’s blewointment magazine. Still, that she is now participating in what bissett and others engaged in so freely feels more like market forces than artistic exploration.

The title of this exhibition comes from bissett’s first issue of blewointment, his editorial poem in praise of Leonard Forest’s 1963 documentary In Search of Innocence. Forest’s film is an outsider’s view of an emerging Vancouver art scene, where Jack Shadbolt builds a painting, Al Neil plays a gig (and scores the film), Fred Douglas reads his poems (with Neil’s band), Douglas and Kiyooka argue, and more. Although he makes only a brief appearance in the film, bissett’s contribution will be remembered less as a participant than as the film’s ideal reader. He writes:

“to me, you showed all these levels instead
of talking about them, i.e. you have made a visual
poem, which I think must be the artistic solution

Forest’s film is not a narrative but a collage, one that allows its viewer to visit Vancouver’s art scene for the first time, without preconceived notions about when is a poem and what is a painting. It is in this spirit that bissett and radiofreerainforest’s Gerry Gilbert chose to compose their magazines (in contrast to the “straight” literary modernism of TISH and “The Georgia Straight Writing Supplement”). It is also how Al Neil (and later Carole Itter) chose to occupy a shack at Dollarton, and how Margerie Lowry, also of Dollarton, edited her deceased husband’s “Through The Panama” (written in 1954), arguably Vancouver’s first work of collage fiction.


This exhibition is an exploration of a fifteen-year moment in Vancouver’s cultural history, a time when visual artists, writers, dancers and filmmakers transcended disciplines to engage in new forms of composition, new modes of production. Whether this transcendence was unconscious, or whether it speaks of a post-war artistic culture dissatisfied with modernism’s tendency to totalize and refine (at a time when the world was atomizing), are questions worth asking.

To the first question, the shape of Malcolm Lowry’s “Through The Panama” was more likely a result of the author’s early demise than anything he might have intended. To suggest that it was an intuitive composition might belong more to those who followed the Lowrys at Dollarton. Neil recomposed what came ashore as artist materials. Maplewood Mudflat’s Tom Burrows, whose intertidal sculptures drew on nature’s rhythms for completion, showed how an abstracted steel hoop achieves figuration (the numeral 8) at high tide.

To the second question, one could say that the presence of Neil and Burrows squatting at the city’s edge was itself an act of conspicuous composition, an alternative to the geometry of the western city, with its manicured parks and gessoed canvases, its university lectures halls and white cube galleries. This was the same city that bissett and Roy Kiyooka moved to at the end of the 1950s (bissett from the Maritmes, Kiyooka from the Prairies). Common to these artists was that they arrived as adults, with Kiyooka already an established abstract painter, someone for whom his adopted city, with its social history of Japanese settlement (and overnight evacuation/internment in 1942), provided a canvas upon which to explore the ideogrammatic as both figure and map. bissett, whose first artistic impulses were the writing and performance of poetry, began inserting his drawings and paintings (amongst other things) into what might otherwise be editorial breaks in his magazine.

Unlike bissett and Kiyooka, Judith Copithorne and Maxine Gadd spent enough of their youth here to have grown with the city. Whereas Burrows (who came west from Ontario) attuned himself to the ebb and flow of Nature, Copithorne and Gadd were present for Vancouver’s material highs and lows: not only the built environment of roads and bridges, but also the unequal distribution of wealth. Although class politics were not at the forefront of their work, they recognized class as part of a larger patriarchal complex that had as much to do with the curriculum of the academy (the singularity of “Poetry”, “Drawing”, “Painting” and “Dance” classes) as the architecture of the hotel beerhall, where “Men” entered separately from “Ladies & Escorts”. Indeed, it was their recognition of these knotted and seemingly immutable structures that created a space for their hybrid activities – poetry, drawing and dance in Copithorne’s case, the spoken, sung and sculptural with respect to Gadd.

For artists such as Gary Lee-Nova, Glenn Lewis and Michael Morris, all of whom attended art school (Lee-Nova studied with Kiyooka at the Vancouver School of Art), post-medium explorations were based less on a public articulation of their medium’s limitations (pottery for Lewis; painting for Morris and Lee-Nova) than an invitation to participate in an emerging epistolary form known as “mail art” -- an invitation that came from New York Correspondence School founder Ray Johnson in a 1968 letter to Morris after Johnson had seen a reproduction of Morris’s The Problem of Nothing (1966) in Artforum. What resulted was a flurry of collaborative networking, from Lewis’s New York Corres Sponge Dance School to Lee-Nova’s Dead Letter Funeral (1972) and beyond.

Much of this networking manifested itself in the UBC Fine Art Gallery’s Concrete Poetry exhibition, curated by Morris and then-director/curator Alvin Balkind, in 1969. Though the show featured contributions from locals bissett, Copithorne, Gilbert, Morris and Lee-Nova, many more, such as Joseph Kosuth, Bruce Nauman, Johnson, Claus Oldenburg and Emmett Williams, came from outside. Another local participant was newcomer Ian Wallace, whose crossword collages appeared in blewointment, and who was represented by a catalogue text that exclaims: “concrete poetry plays a special role in the modernization of literature, a role that becomes more important as the power of rhetoric becomes exhausted.”

Although tempted to see this fifteen year period as a lost continent of Vancouver art, its productions eroded by an intransigent academy and the political economy of retail shelving, I would argue that the work has continued, though less through literary-based practitioners than theatrically-expansive artists such as Liz Magor, Laiwan, Myfanwy MacLeod, Judy Radul, Steven Shearer and Geoffrey Farmer, all of whom have made collage a material as well as a method. With the advent of recent changes to book publishing, one might expect more performative, collagist acts, not only from literary artists, but from those who comment on their work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The song in my head today. From her 1993 (debut) album Exile In Guyville.

(Liz Phair)

I bet you fall in bed too easily
With the beautiful girls who are shyly brave
And you sell yourself as a man to save
But all the money in the world is not enough

I bet you've long since passed understanding
What it takes to be satisfied
You're like a vine that keeps climbing higher
But all the money in the world is not enough
And all the bridges blown away keep floating up

It's cold
And rough

And I kept standing six-feet-one
Instead of five-feet-two
And I loved my life
And I hated you


It's cold out there
And rough

And I kept standing six-feet-one
Instead of five-feet-two
And I loved my life
And I hated you

Monday, November 30, 2009

Filmmaker Jocelyne Chaput dropped by last night with her excellent edit of Eric Cable's 16mm documentation of James Clavell's The Sweet and the Bitter (1967), a film I will be screening at the Pacific Cinematheque on December 10.

For those unfamiliar with Clavell's film, it concerns the story of a Japanese woman who comes to Vancouver as a mail order bride (betrothed to a Japanese fisherman) with the intention of seducing -- and ruining -- the son of the salmon canner who expropriated her father's fishing boat after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour. The film is also significant in that it was the first film to be shot and set in Vancouver, and the one and only effort of the West Vancouver-based Commonwealth Film Productions, whose sound stage, if I'm not mistaken, was used by Robert Altman when shooting the second film to be shot and set in Vancouver: That Cold Day In The Park (1969).

The footage Jocelyne edited (from a repetitive 38 minutes to 22) opens and closes with Cable's kooky homemade credits, and features the building of the CFP studio and its colourful Arthurian mural. From there we visit locations such as the long-erased Millard Cannery (started by the grandfather of the Arts Club's Bill Millard), the dock at Ballantine Pier, the former BC Hydro Building (now the Electra apartments), Lighthouse Park and another West Vancouver park whose name escapes me.

Instrumental in sourcing both Clavell's film and Cable's documentation (from Colin Preston at CBC Archives) is Pacific Cinematheque volunteer and advocate Anu Sahota, to whom I am very grateful.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A newspaper asked for my favorite books of the 2000s, a favorite and a Canadian favorite. After submitting my picks I realized I had exceeded their word limit. For the record:

Plateforme (2001)

At the moment, my favorite book of the past ten years is Plateforme (2001) by Michel Houellebecq. I have returned to this book many times, in the way I return to restaurants because I’ve had good meals there, or I like the staff, the décor -- where eventually the relationship deepens, achieves the kind of overtone I hope for in all things. Plateforme is not a perfect novel. As in most of Houellebecq’s poorly-written fictions we meet a misanthrope who accepts the market as the arbiter of all human relations, be they economic, social or personal. If there is hope in this book it lies in the reader's potential to recognize the relationship between the author’s crippled syntax and his narrator’s crippled subjectivity. Whether Houellebecq writes "badly" on purpose (or whether he behaves badly in person) is irrelevant. The book works in part because the form (the author’s prose) relates to the content (an alienated narrator). Michel Houellebecq is the only writer I know who writes about the world from the top down.

The Night is A Mouth (2008)

For the past couple months, my favorite Canadian book of the past ten years has been The Night is A Mouth (2008) by Lisa Foad. I have chosen this book because it is new, the last best book I’ve read (and are we not like that with new things, how the new temporarily obliterates all that comes before it?) Foad’s poetic fictions concern the lives of girls and women. But these are not the carefully-beaded stories of Alice Munro, nor are the transgressions as guarded as those of conservative postmoderns like Zsuzsi Gartner. Foad’s extremism parallels the world we live in today, just as de Sade attempted earlier, when he had the audacity to show us that a woman’s body was not a site of reproduction but one of (her) pleasure. There is humour here. Tears too. At times the writing is jagged, not unlike the way our brain goes spazz when suddenly faced with danger.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I was tidying my shelves last night when I came upon a book I bought based on something I had read in Lisa Moore’s now-defunct Globe and Mail column. I cannot recall her topic but I remember she mentioned Faulkner’s New Orleans Sketches (1958) and that I would pick up a copy next time I was out.

New Orleans Sketches is a collection of short pieces (portraits mostly) written during the first half of 1925, when Faulkner worked for the Times-Picayune. These pieces, said to be the author’s first foray into fiction, were published in the newspaper’s Sunday feature section, as well as The Double Dealer, one of the South’s earliest and most influential modern literary journals.

Flipping through the book (a Digit Books paperback edition), I stopped on “Frankie and Johnny”. This is an entirely spoken piece, with all but two of its five hundred words (“Oh, Johnny!”) belonging to Johnny. Below is the first half of the second paragraph, the one I reread this morning:

“When I see you coming down the street back yonder it was like them two ferry boats hadn’t seen each other until then, and they would stop when they met instead of crossing each other, and they would turn and go off side by side together where they wasn’t nobody except them.”

Monday, November 23, 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.

There are two doors. Behind the narrow door is a closet. Below the top shelf, a pole running left to right with five coat hangers, none in use. The shelf is lined with newspaper, and at its centre, a dark green hat like the one at the beginning of Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, what is for me the most memorable part of the book.

West writes:

"He left the car at Vine Street. As he walked along, he examined the evening crowd. A great many of the people wore sports clothes which were not really sports clothes. Their sweaters, knickers, slacks, blue flannel jackets with brass buttons were fancy dress. The fat lady in the yachting cap was going shopping, not boating; the man in the Norfolk jacket and Tyrolean hat was returning, not from a mountain, but an insurance office; and the girl in slacks and sneaks with a bandana around her head had just left a switchboard, not a tennis court."

West's paragraph was written in 1938. In 1967 I made a similar observation while walking on Sunset with my grandmother. Only later, in my teens, did it occur to me that what I once identified as two things were, in fact, one, and why it is best for some things, like people, to be seen that way.

From the last paragraph:

"He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into the police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On Thursday and Friday I took part in the 2nd Annual Writers Jamboree at the Carnegie Centre. Four one-on-one sessions, followed by a roundtable. Everyone I met with left an impression, though two stood out.

K and W are both middle-aged and have been writing for some time. K’s manuscript consisted of a series of film reviews written in the voice of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, via Stephen Colbert. K alluded to how liberated he felt to be channeling someone with whom he had so little in common, and what can be gained from such a perspective. W’s manuscript was the opposite: a memoir focused on her experiences living in a farmer’s outbuilding during a bout of mental illness, where nothing much happens apart from her prose. Reading W’s work was like reading Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping – fluid, seamless, translucent.

There was not much I could say to writers as assured as these. To K, who is more interested in writing screenplays, I suggested his reviews become a blog. To W, who would like to see her story in book form, I put her in touch with my agent.

But the writer most on my mind after the second and final day was someone so eager for us to get at his work that he did not have time to tell me his name. This was someone of indeterminate age (he could have been thirty, he could have been fifty), someone who could not get beyond voice and description, two things he did incredibly well. As I waited for the light to change, I saw him leaning against the Carnegie’s wrought iron fence, his eyes, at least as far as I could tell, on nothing.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Thursday, November 19, 2009

After hearing word of a possible collaboration between filmmaker Michael Haneke and author Michael Houellebecq, the Globe and Mail’s Russell Smith has given us his review:

“It is true that the film Haneke and Houellebecq will come up with will undoubtedly be the saddest film ever made, and it will be hated and reviled by normal people, and yet it will end up being, like their respective oeuvres, incisive and enlightening, somehow inspiring.” (November 19, 2009)

Smith, who has long prided himself on his innate understanding of the new (while at the same time retaining a connoisseur’s love of the classics), has once again proven (“It is true…”) that the marriage of proper names (“undoubtedly”) makes for that which can only be described as “incisive,” “enlightening” and “inspiring.”

That the only other people who talk like that are monarchs (Prince Philip) and baseball team owners (George Steinbrenner) is not important to Smith. As ever, he remains at the edge of things, firm in his convictions and his got’em-in-London shoes.
Tonight will mark the third night in which drivers and pedestrians can experience David MacWilliam’s Kingsway Luminaires, a work of (public) art that has three poles installed on a median strip at Dumfries, three at Clark. Atop each pole is a glass blown form. Inside the form, a full-spectrum LED light capable of nine colours. Visitors should take their time -- unlike the traffic lights, the colours change slowly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bed In Summer
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reid Shier and I will be giving a talk tomorrow at 7PM on the art bar we will be operating during the 2010 Olympic Games. The talk is hosted by the Langara College Centre for Public Art, located at 100 West 49th Avenue, 3rd Floor, Library. Admission is free.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In yet another instance of property conferring identity, this week’s Georgia Straight cover story (“Real estate bounces back: Is there any connection between the 2010 Winter Games and a remarkable recovery in the Vancouver housing market?”) begins with a 24-year-old pharmicist who, after purchasing his first home (a two bedroom condo at Hornby and Smithe), is heard to say: “One of my friends who I used to live with in university, he’s like, ‘I feel since you bought your place, you’ve matured. You’ve completely changed in the way you are. Before, we used to live the student lifestyle. Now, you’re always cleaning your place. You have plants. You look after them. You’ve even got a cat now. It’s like you’re an adult.’”

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Friday, November 13, 2009

Joyland Vancouver is hosting a reading tonight at W2 Perel Gallery, 112 West Hastings, 8PM. On the bill, Rachel Knudsen, Alex Leslie, myself and Rhonda Waterfall. Kevin Chong, editor of Joyland Vancouver, will emcee.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An October 29th update from BookRiff's Julie Morris.

Apparently BookRiff's latest fumagation worked and the system is once again up and running. Julie also corrected the formatting and imposition concerns I had with the first copies of 8x10 (collage version), and my order for more is in transit.

I have received a fair bit of mail regarding 8x10 (collage version). For those who think the "collage version" is the Doubleday version, it is not. For those interested in acquiring a copy of the "collage version", please see the BookRiff site. In the meantime, I will paste below the "Introduction" to 8x10 (collage version).



This version of 8x10 is not the “original” but a collage. The idea for a collage version came about after a conversation with my publisher, Doubleday Canada, concerning the “realities” of electronic publishing. It was during our conversation that I learned of BookRiff, a Vancouver-based company that allows readers and writers to make books based on selected and uploaded Internet content. Once the content is cleared and a price determined (and agreed upon), the composition, or riff, is sent to the printers and within days a perfect-bound book is delivered to your door.

Intrigued by this service, I called BookRiff founder and CEO Mark Scott and asked for a meeting. He obliged, and by week’s end I was being taken through the company’s online tutorial. A number of questions arose, the first of which concerned design. Wouldn’t potential composers want more than the standardized BookRiff template? Scott agreed. “BookRiff is an evolutionary service, one that will respond to the demands placed upon it.” The second question concerned the data from the composers’ riffs. “Composer riffs will be available online. So if you want a copy of a Michael Turner riff, that could be arranged.” But what if I don’t want my riff publicized? “Then that’s your choice,” said Scott. So not all riffs will be online.

Whether they are made public or not, BookRiff will have a record of all submitted riffs. Which of course leads to more questions: Will the data be sold? And if so, how will it be used? Will it influence my country’s cultural policies? Will it alter the publishing program of the traditional book publisher, like the one that told me about BookRiff? In considering these questions I decided I had no choice but to attempt a contrarian relationship with the BookRiff database. And to do so, I would use my new book, 8x10.

8x10 is a fiction based on the lives of eight people visited ten times. The book is comprised of events, some of which appear fleeting, like life itself, while others are more sophisticated, like the Short Story and its attempt to keep up with the Novel. There are no names or places in 8x10, nor is there a specific sense of time. At the beginning of each event is a gridded box with a blackened square. The first event in the “original” version has the blackened square in the top left-hand corner. The next event, the square below it. And so on, until we reach the eighth square, at which point we return to the top of the second column. There is a logic to the composition, and a hidden logic as well.

What I proposed to BookRiff was a recomposition of 8x10 using an automated process, as opposed to a more subjective one. In doing so I hoped to achieve two things. First, to inject a little inhumanity into the BookRiff database, and second, to see what narratives would emerge. The idea of a new and unexpected narrative appealed to me. I also liked the quick turnaround: the BookRiff version would be published two days before the “original”.

In recomposing 8x10 I considered cutting out the gridded boxes from the galleys and tossing them in the air, with the new composition determined by the order in which I picked them up. The problem with this method, made famous by the Surrealists (and later William S. Burroughs), is the chance that I might pick them up in the same order as the original – a chance I was not prepared to take. Another idea was to employ a chance operation, assigning each event to a toss of the I Ching, as John Cage did with music, Merce Cunningham with dance, and Jackson Mac Low with poetry. The problem with this method is repetition, which I am not philosophically indisposed to, but could result in the same event recurring throughout the book. My final option was to build a robot and let it decide. But as robots are expensive, I decided to call Stan Douglas, an artist who makes recombinant narrative films and has experience programming random numbers. After assigning lettered numbers to the corresponding gridded boxes (1A for the first gridded box, 2A for the one below it, 3A for the one below that, etc.) I passed the lot his way.

In an email dated August 27, 2009, Douglas replied:

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 from the Y axis (0-7) and odd numbers select from the X axis (0-9). If there is no corresponding "event" I invert the pair to 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 events left over:

1 2G(6)

2 3A(0)

6 7B(1) 7F(5)

7 8H(7)

But this was 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


What follows is the event sequence that corresponds to the above lettered numbers, the collage version of 8x10.

Michael Turner
September 9, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Garbage day tomorrow, and en route to the bins I passed begonias, lobelia and nasturtium, now at war with the leaves.

The leaves are from our apple tree, whose fruit was delicious and abundant this year, as were the grapes. It was a good year for the hydrangea, too, but not the Bowen Island fern I transplanted five Februarys ago, taken from a meadow behind the summer home of Toronto’s Ardis Breeze.

I took an apple with me on my recent trip out east, hoping to leave it with Ardis. It was only after landing that I remembered she and Claude were still on Hornby Island, so I gave it to a taxi driver, who said he would take it home, share it with his family. As he pulled away I noticed his window descend, the apple bouncing behind him.

Tuesday, November 10, 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, a ceramic figure -- a girl, hands on hips, looking to the left.

A knock.

She falls.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Speaking of Madison Avenue, I watched Sunday night’s Season Three finale of Mad Men, AMC’s paean to masculinity, persuasion and cigarettes, and, as usual, was entertained by the show’s writing but also by my memory of past shows that had daddies working in advertising, shows such as Bewitched (1964-1972) and Thirtysomething (1987-1991). (Note that the time between the final episode of Bewitched and the first episode of Thirtysomething is within a year of the final episode of Thirtysomething and the first episode of Mad Men, which debuted in 2007.)

Although not surprised by Sunday’s episode (season finales either protract or accelerate the usual flow of events), I was awed by a shot taken from the perspective of the cast: their collective last look at the office of Sterling Cooper, a beautiful arrangement of desks and chairs that spoke more to the end of the 1950s than the end of 1963. Indeed, that many believe the “Sixties” began in 1964 (and ended in 1973) suggests that next year’s shows will have “Don” and “Roger” coming to work not in suits but in suede car coats, their office walls adorned not with Rothkos but Ruschas.

How long Mad Men will run is hard to say. Bewitched lasted eight seasons (with two Darrins), while Thirtysomething (which had a large cast) lasted four. Law & Order has been on TV how many years now? But of those years, has anyone stayed on from the beginning? I like the idea of a show outlasting its characters, so I will be curious to see the kinds of characters the show’s producers introduce next season. How far a show with “mad” in the title will last into the “Sixties” can only be worth watching.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Curious about the synopsis for last night's TCM airing of Putney Swope, I sent Shaw this email:

On Friday November 6 at 11PM, TCM aired Putney Swope (1969). Pressing the INFO button on my Shaw remote revealed the following synopsis:

"Robert Downey's satire on Madison Avenue Establishment. Contains color sequences."

That "color" is the US spelling implies the synopsis originated in the US. But when I checked the TCM site, it said:

1. Putney Swope (1969)
Black and White, Color (Eastmancolor)
An unexpected member of the executive board of an advertising firm is accidentally put in charge.
84 mins.

My question is this: Given the film’s thematic content, what does one mean by "color sequences"?

Friday, November 6, 2009

I usually leave it to Peter Culley to advertise what's worth watching on TCM, but since there’s no notice: Putney Swope at 11PM (PST).

Here’s what the INFO button on my Shaw remote says:

Putney Swope
46 TCM

Arnold Johnson, Antonio Fargas, (1969), ***, Robert Downey’s satire on the Madison Avenue Establishment. Contains color sequences. Arnold Johnson. (Comedy, 84 Mins.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lavish hotels. Yes. Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, and my suite below the one Keith Richards was arrested in 22 years ago and charged with heroin possession. Oddly enough, this did not occur to me until after my return to Vancouver.

I was looking for a George Jones youtube interview when I stumbled upon a 7:43 min. clip featuring news footage of Richards' arrest, excerpts from Creem magazine, and two of the songs he recorded with pianist Ian Stewart while awaiting trial – “Say It’s Not You” and “Apartment #9”, both of which had been recorded by Jones.

The Richards/Stewart performances are stunning, bringing to mind Scotland’s Jen Hadfield, the attention she gives each word. Richards does the same, particularly on “Say It’s Not You”. But whereas Hadfield’s words emerge like precious stones, Richards’ fall like tears.
This year’s Ottawa Writers Festival felt different from my last reading there, ten years ago. Where the readings once took place at the National Arts Centre, this time they were held in the basement of St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities, a former church. While some writers missed the warm stage and raked seating of the previous digs, I was happy to read at a venue contiguous with the local scene, making it more an Ottawa affair than a Canadian one. Indeed, if Canada loomed large at the Ottawa festival, it did so in the form of the ReLit Awards, a tribute to independent Canadian publishing.

Toronto's International Festival of the Authors remains the most generous in terms of lavish hotel rooms and endless booze and food, though like Ottawa, it has spread its wings to include readings outside the Harbourfront monolith, such as the one I took part in at Don Mills, an odd assemblage that had myself, Kate Pullinger and Anne Michaels, whose Fugitive Pieces I once likened to eating a flower, sharing a stage at the McNally-Robinson Bookstore. I had forgotten about this, until Anne alluded to it when we were introduced in the van.

This year's IFOA thematic was Scotland, and featured rustics like Ron Butlin, who is every bit the Scot I remember from my childhood, growing up in what was then a very British Vancouver, and Alan Bissett, a Glaswegian in the urban mode. The difference between this older Scotland and the everywhere urban world of today was no more pronounced than at last Friday’s reading at the Harbourfront Studio stage, where Torontonian Lisa Foad’s pedal-to-the-metal brilliance was followed by Scot Jen Hadfield's quivering slow-motion word births. Lisa's book, The Night is a Mouth (Exile Editions), was this year’s winner of the ReLit Award for short fiction, and the one I kept reading on the long flight home.

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 29th being the publication date of 8x10, I stopped into a bookstore to have one of those telepathic chats I have with my books when they're new, a pep talk about what it means to be a book amongst many. Not that I got that far, having been distracted by the window display -- candles and picture frames, the very same frame that inspired the title.

Tuesday, September 29, 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's been making collages.

But nothing so far. Only a spot where water's rippled it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word on the Street yesterday, a festival of literacy that has publishers, literary organizations and children’s play areas surrounding the ruin-themed Vancouver Public Library Main Branch as less an example of spectacular architecture than the entire block a feudal manor. My reading took place at the “Authors Tent”, one of many white plastic structures lining Hamilton and Homer Streets. Not my preferred venue, what with all the car honks and tire screeches, but one I consented to, being a believer in the event.

Preceding me was the VPL’s current writer-in-residence, the peripatetic Ivan E. Coyote, whom I first saw at a night club thirteen years ago when she was a member of the thoroughly entertaining Taste This collective (with Anna Camilleri and Lyndell Montgomery), and who has for some time now been out on her own, telling stories, publishing books, insisting her life is simpler than we think it is.

Watching Coyote perform, her biceps bursting from her tight black tee, her back as straight as the mike-stand before her, I saw two people: not the rural/urban Coyote, nor the daughter-as-son Coyote, nor even the bitter/sweet Coyote, but the artist who flickers between that which is written and that which is improvised. It is a subtle shift, not unlike a glitch in an old VHS tape, but one that (at least for this viewer) kept breaking her spell.

Of course there’s a side of me that appreciates the flicker, like the coyote trickster who can never shed its selves, a retention that reminds but does not frighten. As for who those selves might be, one is certainly Will Rogers, America’s “Great Communicator”, while another is his fictive contemporary, the earnest John-Boy Walton.

If only Coyote would expand her repertoire, take on the language that has her so imperfectly determined! As she left the stage I imagined a performance that had less John-Boy, more Gertrude Stein; a conflation of the rote and the unrehearsed, like we find with Lily Tomlin, or more recently, Sarah Silverman. But that’s just me.

Following Hal Wake’s introduction I attempted a few words about 8x10, BookRiff, and the collage version. I say "attempt" because the aforementioned car honks and tire screeches seemed to erase every second sentence, not to mention the impatient whisperings on the other side of the tent – what sounded like a grandmother urging her grandson to have a bowel movement in a bucket. But I may have imagined that too, lost as I was in my reading.