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