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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stopped by the BookRiff offices, where Julie Morris presented me with five copies of what is now 8x10 (collage version).

Julie was quick to point out the jacket’s design flaws, a series of dotted lines on the front and spine that the computer was supposed to read (and ignore) but didn’t. Personally, I love these kinds of flaws -- but on the outside of the book.

The interior flaws were more prominent, and concerned verso-recto reversals that could have been remedied with the insertion of blank pages. Design issues remain a stumbling block in BookRiff’s attempt at hands-free publishing.

Of greater concern is the arrangement of “events”. In the Doubleday version, the events and their gridded intros are evenly spaced, while in 8x10 (collage version) there are some sizeable gaps. For instance, on pp.122-123 we have two sentences atop the verso, a grid at the bottom of the recto. A designer – the human hand – would never let this happen.

Finally, although I was pleased to see that the gutters in 8x10 (collage version) were generous, the type was smaller. Worse, because of the haphazard “event” spacing, 8x10 (collage version) is 234 pages to Doubleday's 166 —a difference of almost 50%! What they save on ink, they lose on paper.

Last night, while flipping through 8x10 (collage version), I found a sequence of three events that meant something to me -- 5C, 5I, 4D. I will read this sequence tomorrow at Word on the Street, 1PM.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Thursday, September 24, 2009

“Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.”
--Gertrude Stein

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lunch with BookRiff’s Julie Morris yesterday. Apparently the BookRiff version of 8x10 will indeed be available in advance of the “original” Doubleday version, whose publication date is Tuesday, September 29. As planned, I will be reading a three “event” sequence from the BookRiff version this Sunday at Vancouver’s Word On The Street. Copies of the Doubleday version will also be available -- two days before publication.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the Automatic Kalashnikov-47 assault rifle (aka the AK-47 --“47” being 1947, the year in which this World War Two veteran launched his creation), is upset that his gun has been pirated by Bulgarian, Chinese and Polish copycats.

“They just use the brand, the fame. It’s not fair,” said Kalashnikov in today’s Globe and Mail.

The Globe also quoted Virden, Manitoba gun dealer John Hipwell, who said the AK-47, known to be less accurate than other machine guns, “was designed to be used by people with minimum training.”

The article goes on to say that the gun was never patented, which is not surprising given the former Soviet Union’s indisposition towards intellectual property.

At present “there are 70 million AK-47 type guns in circulation around the world," the Globe added, making it the most popular gun on the planet. "[I]n some countries the weapon can be bought for as little as $50.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Inside the paper, an article on Laurie Anderson and her work with NASA. The article didn’t say much, distracted as I was by my mistrust of NASA, the space program being a branch of the United States military. Does that make Laurie Anderson a war artist?

I would be curious to hear how Anderson might approach working with marching cadences -- her and Robert Wilson, whose texts I prefer, he being more effective at taking portentousness beyond the length of the standard pop song. Not that astronauts march.

Funny watching her videos on youtube, as I did just now, how the work changed as the budgets grew. Everything started to sound like money. The African-American backup singers, Adrian Belew’s guitar, the applause. It’s amazing how much it costs to get a rocket into space.

Saturday, September 19, 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. From left to right: a pair of binoculars, a red flannel jacket and a coat-hanger belonging to Valetor Cleaners.

Below the jacket, a pair of rubber boots. And below them, yesterday's paper, covered in mud.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A friend asked if I might "recommend a short text/ excerpt about time (preferably slowness)?" What came to mind was the fifth paragraph of Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890), where Peyton Farquhar, about to be hanged...

"...closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift--all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by--it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and--he knew not why--apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Always good to see the national literature debated in the national papers. Pity these debates always take place within such narrow parameters. In this instance, the reactionary Barbara Kay lobbing softballs at novelist-first writers like Steven Galloway. At issue, lyricism versus narrative – again.

Kay’s provocation is hardly worth repeating, though I can assure you, unlike Kay with Lisa Moore’s February, I have read her articles and “have no apologies.” Galloway’s argument, on the other hand, provides the usual B+ response, setting in motion his own blindered outlook.

Where I take issue with Galloway is not his connoisseurial take on what is “neither a novel nor literature,” but his denial of new forms (radio, film, television, internet...) and their influence not only on the literature but as literature – a position typical of a novelist-first writer.

I have read novels (let’s call them fictions, too) “ripped from the headlines” (American Tabloid), just as I have read them as "sitcoms" (Pride and Prejudice), "action movies" (Heinlein’s Starship Soldiers begat Starship Troopers), and, sooner than later, tweets.

Because Galloway has reminded us that “[o]urs is not a homogenous literature,” I would hope that he might prove that to us one day by acknowledging this country’s post-genre, post-medium literary tradition. Until then, and in his words, “literature ceases to exist.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I am looking at the new cover of Hard Core Logo, the third since the book was first published in May, 1993. Not feeling very good about it. The publisher said they needed a new cover because the files were lost and they had to reprint. Same with the rest of the book, which had to be rebuilt from scratch (an attempt to restore the original titles has the letters too close).

How is it that these things get lost? You would think they might look after this stuff.

The cover is based on a Roaring Springs brand college notebook, with a sticker over the box for your name, grade and school. Printed onto the sticker is the original Hard Core Logo cover text, in red, white and black. Above it is a quote from the Georgia Straight; below it, my name. Both are illegible.

The idea was to make a kind of anti-book, closer to the notebook carried around by the band’s bass player. Problem is, it doesn’t work. The proportions are wrong, and the spine’s too administrative.

Wish I went with my instincts and insisted on something so basic you’d have to open the book to know what it was about. Next time the files go missing, I’ll do that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lindsay Brown emailed this morning to ask if I might have something public to say on the provincial government's recent cuts to arts funding. This is what I came up with:

The BC Liberal government’s recent cuts to arts funding confounds at every level. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on the arts, a dollar-thirty-eight is returned to the economy. As for the argument that the poor should be prioritized, that too is specious, given that many of our province's artists and art institutions live and operate near or below the poverty line. The only conclusion that can be drawn from these cuts is that the Liberals are concerned with the optics of funding something that will have voters voting against them. But if that’s the case, then they have alienated not only artists and art institutions but all British Columbians -- because nobody's that gullible. The facts speak for themselves, in Liberal-friendly economic terms. What more does this government not want from us?

Monday, September 14, 2009


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last December, very early in the morning, my friend and business partner in the Venus Theatre film archive, Dhymitruy Bouryiotis, was caught loading a hundred kilograms of cocaine onto a jet-ski operated by another of his business partners, Montgomery Hill. That this happened in the United States (less than a mile from the Canada/US border) meant Dhymitruy was taken to a US jail, arraigned in a US court, and ultimately sentenced by a US judge – a sentence that was handed down on Friday. So that’s why I was in Seattle, to support Dhimitruy, but also to see how these things work.

The hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse on Stewart Street, a new fifteen-storey tower across the street from where I was staying, at the Hotel Max. D’s sentence would be delivered in one of two top-floor courtrooms, which was fitting, I suppose, because the presiding judge was a Chief Judge, a 52-year-old Clinton appointee who, over the course of the proceedings, seemed more like a philosopher than a martinet. Indeed, that was to be the highlight of the hearing: the exchange between the judge and D.

The prosecutor began with a rather dry case for D getting 72 months (they speak in months, not years, at a sentencing). Her reasoning was based on D’s business partner being “first in” when it came to “co-operating” with the District Attorney’s Office. Thus, D should get more time, not the same as Hill, who received a “downward departure” sentence of 60 months. (For the record, the textbook case for a Class A felony like this is 10 years.) The prosecutor concluded by saying that, apart from cocaine’s destructive effect on families, the drug trade supports “crimes in other countries.”

As for D’s attorney, his defense was based on aberration: D’s crime was out of character, and there were mitigating circumstances that may have led him down the wrong path -- in this case, flying to LA with his longtime friend “Mr. Farina” to help drive a car back to Vancouver. Only after they arrived did D’s friend tell him that the purpose of their trip was to smuggle drugs. It was then that D’s attorney insisted that D’s role should be seen as a “minor one,” before concluding with a review of some of the letters sent on D’s behalf, one of which spoke of D's work with a couple’s autistic son.

The judge then asked if D had anything to say.

D described himself as a “passive person"; that when someone asked him to do something, he said yes. D rationalized this by saying that ever since he was a kid he felt that to say no to someone was to put himself in a situation where he “wouldn’t be liked,” and that being liked was important to him. Thus, when “Mr. Farina” asked him to smuggle drugs, he said yes, “because he asked me.” There was more – about ten minutes more – all of it gripping, poignant and true to his character, the same person I met many years ago when I too said yes to his suggestion that we buy the Venus Theatre film archive.

But the highlight of the day was the dialogue between the judge and D, a Q&A than went on for twenty minutes and featured questions like, “How do you separate your actions from the consequences of your actions? You make kind decisions, but when someone asks you to do something, you do it. So is there something else – depression, mid-life crisis?” To which D said, “You say no to people – they don’t like you. I don’t like saying no to people.” The judge then asked, “How did you meet ‘Farina’? D: “At a spiritual centre.” Judge: “What would you do in my situation?” D began an answer, but the part that stuck with me was this: “I wanted to teach. It didn’t work out, and it bothered me.”

From there the judge described a sentence he gave to another drug runner the day before, someone who started life badly, the opposite of D. He then reiterated that D had committed a “Class A federal offence,” and that he did not believe D played a “minor role.” He then reviewed the textbook sentence, before proceeding with a very fast breakdown of numbers and months and circumstances that worked in D’s favour, such as letters, the appearance of family and friends, and what I can only describe as a genuine interest in someone who appeared to be a very different person than those who usually stood before him. What started sternly ended with a look that I can only describe as a cross between curiosity and compassion. It was clear that the judge liked D, and perhaps that’s why he gave him 54 months, with the potential for “transfer treaty” (an opportunity to serve part of his sentence in Canada).

But it was at the end of his remarks that the judge gave D something that appeared to mean a great deal to my friend and business partner: that when D goes to his new jail (a minimum security prison) he spend some of his time talking to those around him, some of whom “have never had a kind word said to them.” I looked at D , and for the first time that day, his eyes, like everyone else’s in the room, were welling.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Returned from Seattle at midnight, the train an hour late from Portland, two hours late arriving in Vancouver. As with soccer, the relationship between the United States and train travel has never been an enduring one -- (American) football and the automobile having displaced them during the early part of the last century.

Seattle has changed a lot since my last visit there twelve years ago, when I read at Bumbershoot. Areas that once seemed emergent, like Belltown, have returned to the vacant somnambulistic Belltown of the early 1990s. As for the larger city, Seattle looks like a cross between Chicago and New Westminster – iconic architecture of the 60s and 70s combined with post-war worker housing plopped along its slopes

Managed to see quite a bit during my two-day stay. The Henry Art Gallery had Jasper Johns’s light bulb project (drawings and Metal-sculpts) in the basement next to a trippy projection by local artists Jeffry Mitchell and Tivon Rice. In Panda (2005), a camera records shaving-cream falling onto a lit transparent surface, after which the video is subjected to a mirroring process. The effect is dazzling, but over time I became bored with the symmetrical nature of these new and at times horrific forms – the ongoing (and expected) display having trumped the unexpected.

Upstairs, another pairing – a two-p show entitled Business As Usual/New Video From China. Three short videos by Cao Fei, two by Yang Fudong. Although interested in the migration of young people from rural to urban China, Cao’s videos, with their focus on factory workers, have a righteous documentarian feel, while Yang, whose shooting and editing strategies are decidedly more lyrical, is interested in the criminal demimonde. The videos owe more to MTV than, and are suffused with an old world French sentimentality that feels received, too reliant on the pop songs that accompany them.

The last piece, apart from some photographic portraits from the collection, was James Turell’s permanent installation Light Reign (2003), a circular room with a windowed ceiling and an equally circular banquette below. The sky that day was a deep rich blue, and the reflection of the sun cast a rather sexy blob on the wall above, one that reminded me of what I had seen earlier, in the basement (the video, not the light bulbs).

From there, the moribund Seattle Art Museum, with its succession of rooms, from early modern painting to Minimalism to conceptualism, a narrative many collecting museums have fallen into these past few years. In the SAM version, we have the artists but not the art, with Robert Morris’s The Box With the Sound of Its Own Making (1961) being the exception. The SAM’s “Next” artist exhibition does not bear mention.

Finally, the Seattle Public Library, with its brutalist glass overhang and criss-cross girder and grid system. In taking in this marvel I could not help but compare it to the new Vancouver Public Library (now almost fifteen years old!). Although I like the openness and availability of the Seattle library, the Vancouver library is actually a library within a building, a more gradual passage, the atrium appearing to be both inside and outside at once. Still, nothing compares to the Seattle library's fourth floor, an effect best arrived at by elevator.

Overall, a pleasant day. But that’s not why I was in Seattle. Tomorrow I will tell you why.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Still disturbed by Les Wiseman’s review of Douglas Coupland’s latest book, Generation A, in last Saturday’s Victoria Times-Colonist (and syndicated elsewhere in that paper's parent network).

Although not a fan of Coupland’s production (books, art objects, affectations or insights), I am fanatical when it comes to assessing a work on the terms it sets out for itself, something Wiseman can’t bring himself to do.

Wiseman’s inability to assess Coupland’s book on its terms is stated at the outset, where he talks of his preference for “crime stuff [note the informality], so plot, plot twists and surprise endings are important to me.” If ever there was a case of intellectual subjectivitis, this is it.

So Wiseman can’t help himself, and he spends much of his review complaining that because the book doesn’t go anywhere (“no story,” “plot threads left dangling,” “lack of resolution,”), “it is simply not for baby boomers” (like him -- but also Coupland, who was born in 1961), those who “grew up on a different style of storytelling that informs our perceptions of what completes a story, what comprises an ending and what is the point.”

A rather large generalization, especially when one considers that Melville’s The Confidence Man was already 88 years old when the first baby boomer was born (Joyce’s Ulysses was 23).

Or maybe Wiseman is referring to comic books, which, as he notes in his “full disclosure” sidebar, was how Coupland’s Generation X first arrived -- in the pages of Vancouver Magazine, where Wiseman, like a character in another Melville tale, was a scrivener.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The binoculars belonged to my father, part of a package he gave me when he moved apartments. I can't imagine him using them, though he lived in a highrise and I remember the view. Not of the mountains, the park or of English Bay, but of buildings just like his.

My father liked people more than scenery, and strangers best. I can imagine him staring at those buildings, but not with his binoculars.

When I look through those binoculars today, as I rarely do, I think of him walking back from the market. A half-priced chicken, a sack of onions and a loaf of day-old bread.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In 1984, the 35th Edition of the Industrial Workers of the World Songbook (1909) featured new first and third verses to "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum".

The first verse goes like this:

I worked overtime
Like a big greedy slob;
Now the warehouse is full
And I'm out of a job

The third:

Our wages can't buy
All the wealth we produce;
So the factories shut down
And we are turned loose.

When the markets began to tank last year, economists weren't surprised. For the first time in ages, production had exceeded consumption.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

As for the jacket, it is a Champion, made in China. Champion also made a green one and a purple one.

I bought the jacket twenty years ago at the Woodward's on West Hastings, when I was living on Powell, across from Oppenheimer Park. I did a lot of shopping at that store. Produce at Sunrise Market, canned goods at the Woodward's Food Floor.

The next time I visit the Woodward's site it will be at the invitation of Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts, who have digs there. I will wear my red jacket.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Friday, September 4, 2009

Yesterday morning I spoke with the disembodied voice of Tom Howell at the CBC’s downtown studio. Howell, calling from Toronto, works on The Next Chapter and has an online audio column as well.

It had been awhile since I’d done a radio interview. The CBC interviews I’d been hearing of late, those concerning fiction, focused on the authors’ latest books. And of those books, much of what was talked about seemed preoccupied with time (antiquity) and place (Newfoundland).

So naturally I was curious to see how this might go, given that my new book, 8x10, is deliberately vague with respect to temporal and spatial dimensions, the relationship between form and content being of greater interest to me.

Howell seemed to understand this, delving not only into the new book but also the body of work to which it belongs. Earlier books such as Company Town and Hard Core Logo were alluded to, as well as Kingsway and The Pornographer’s Poem.

The two best questions were those that I hadn’t seen coming. Why is it that the teacher in 8x10 and the teacher in The Pornographer’s Poem come to such a bad end? The second question concerned 8x10's gridded boxes, and are they analogous to the all-knowing Interrogator(s) in The Pornographer’s Poem?

Hearing these questions was not unlike waking from a dream that had me married to my sister. Although I realize interview questions are supposed to be addressed in the moment, these two remain with me, gnawing away. Despite having slept on them, I’m still on the couch, remote in hand, flipping from one to the other.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

There’s a confusing passage halfway through “The Ferry”, where the operator, Josip, is thinking of Maria, a young girl who crosses the river, always late in the day, with parcels for the Lord (though on this occasion Maria “brings only herself”).

Here is the passage:

“The late afternoons bring confusion. His misgivings vanish with weariness. His thoughts are traveling secret paths. The Lord is no longer young. He’ll never harbor any desire as painful as young Josip Poje’s. Why does Maria have to think about him when he doesn’t even look at her, but is thinking instead of great things that are incomprehensible and obscure to her! She can go to him time and again, he won’t so much as see her if she doesn’t say anything. He won’t be able to read her eyes and will send the girl without words away. He’ll know nothing of her sadness and love. And the summer will pass and in winter, Maria will have to go dancing with him.”

For me, the confusion lies in the ambiguous use of the male pronoun.

“The late afternoons bring confusion. His misgivings vanish with weariness. His thoughts are traveling secret paths. The Lord is no longer young. He’ll never harbor any desire as painful as young Josip Poje’s. Why does Maria have to think about him [who?] when he [who?] doesn’t even look at her, but is thinking instead of great things that are incomprehensible and obscure to her! She can go to him [who?] time and again, he won’t so much as see her if she doesn’t say anything. He [who?] won’t be able to read her eyes and will send the girl without words away. He’ll [who?] know nothing of her sadness and love. And the summer will pass and in winter, Maria will have to go dancing with him [who?].”

If I had to guess, I would say that the hes and hims refer to the Lord. But as the story proceeds, Josip, who seems oblivious to Maria’s affair with him (the Lord), “doesn’t look her way, doesn’t want to look at all.” Later, after denying her passage (because he felt like it), Josip says, “I’m thinking of wintertime. Would you go dancing with me?” though he knows she’ll be obliged to dance with the Lord.

There’s more, of course -- more beautiful confusion. Yes, I will look at Bachmann’s German text, to see if the ambiguity originated there. But if it didn’t, if it was a “translation problem", then I will savour that problem with each rereading.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Poking out of the jacket pocket, a Green Integer edition of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Last Living Words, translated into English by Lillian M. Friedberg, a book I took to the park this morning, and whose first story, "The Ferry", I read twice.

Tuesday, September 1, 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. From left to right: a pair of binoculars, a red flannel jacket and a coat-hanger belonging to Valetor Cleaners.