Sunday, January 31, 2010

A reception last night at Every Letter In The Alphabet (1875 Powell Street) for Alex Morrison’s new sign (out front), Dexter Sinister’s Newsreader Furniture (installation), publications by Jason McLean and Mark DeLong, and the Broadsiding banner project Geoffrey Farmer and I collaborated on, now hanging in the apertures of the Vancouver Public Library atrium.

Although delighted by how the banners turned out, it was Mark DeLong’s Cold Pop that made my evening.

DeLong, a self-taught artist living in Vancouver, is at his best with 2x3 panel grids on A4 paper, sometimes marking all six panels, other times leaving them blank, for emphasis. These are hastily-drawn sequences, as quick to paper as the synapses that inspired them. Recurrent characters include Grape Ape, Susan and Dan the Baby.

Cold Pop is published by Seems.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two songs in my head last night -- Beck's Nitemare Hippy Girl (1994) and the Great Lake Swimmers' See You On The Moon (2005) -- both of which allowed for this conflation:

When I grow up maybe I’ll change my gender
Knit a poncho and a headband
Add a tology to your Scien
So we can audit my childhood triumphs
While your guitar goes strum, strum, strum
And your keyboard goes tap, tap, tap
And thank you, Beck Hansen

Maybe I’ll be a nitemare girl, work for hippies
Maybe I’ll see you on YouTube
I’ll see you on YouTube
I’ll see you on YouTube

There is nothing I can’t think
When I'm high on LSD

Friday, January 29, 2010

I am hearing more talk of Holden Caulfied than I thought I would after Salinger's passing. Caufield, a first-person construction, bored me as a teen, for I had gone to school with too many of them. The character I most related to was written in the third-person, Willa Cather's Paul from "Paul's Case" (1905). I wonder if I am alone on this.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Three songs with Brown in them.

(Bob Dylan)

John Brown went off to war, called to battle on a foreign shore,
And his mother, she sure was proud of him!
When he stood so straight and tall, in his uniform and all,
His mother’s face broke out in a glowing grin.

She said, "Son, you look so fine, I'm so glad you're a son of mine—
You make me proud to know you hold a gun.
Do what your captain says an’ lots of medals you will get,
Then we'll hang them on the wall when you come home."

As that evening train pulled out, John's ma began to shout,
Telling everybody in the neighborhood:
"That's my son that's about to go, he's a soldier now, you know,"
And she made well sure her neighbors understood.

She got a letter once in a while, and her face broke into a smile,
Then she showed them to the people from next door,
And she bragged about her son, with his uniform and gun,
And this thing they called “a good old-fashioned war.”

“A good old-fashioned war.”

After all his letters home, his mail had ceased to come,
And she hadn’t heard a word for nine months or more.
Then one letter finally came: "Go down and meet the train—
Your son is coming home from the war."

Oh, she smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around,
But she could not find her soldier son in sight.
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
And when she did, she could hardly believe her eyes.

His young face was all shot up, and one hand had been blown off,
And he wore a metal brace around his waist.
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know,
And she could not even recognize his face.

She said, "Oh, my darling son, Lord, tell me what they’ve done.
How is it that you ended up this way?"
He tried his best to speak, but his mouth could hardly move,
And his mother had to turn her face away.

"Don't you remember, Ma, when I went off to war,
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
When I was on that battleground, you were home an’ acting proud.
Be glad that you weren’t standing in my shoes.

And I thought when I was there, ‘God, what am I doing here?
Just tryin’ to kill somebody or DIE tryin'.’
But the thing that scared me most, when my enemy came up close,
I saw his frightened face looked just like mine.

Lord, just like mine!

Then I couldn't help but think, through that thunder and the stink,
I was only one more puppet in their play.
And through the roar and smoke, that string, it finally broke,
And a blast of fire blew my eyes away."

When the young man tried to walk, his mother was still in shock,
As she saw that metal brace that helped him stand.
But as they turned to go, he held his mother close,
And he dropped his medals down into her hand.


(Bob Marley)

(Who-oo-oo-oo is Mr Brown?)
Mr Brown is a clown who rides through town in a coffin
(Where he be found?)
In the coffin where there is
Three crows on top and two is laughing
Oh, what a confusion! Ooh, yeah, yeah!
What a botheration! Ooh, now, now!

Who is Mr Brown? I wanna know now!
He is nowhere to be found
From Mandeville to Slygoville, coffin runnin' around,
Upsetting, upsetting, upsetting the town,
Asking for Mr Brown
From Mandeville to Slygoville, coffin runnin' around,
Upsetting, upsetting, upsetting the town,
Asking for Mr Brown
I wanna know who (is Mr Brown)?
Is Mr Brown controlled by remote?

O-o-oh, calling duppy conqueror,
I'm the ghost-catcher!
This is your chance, oh big, big Bill bull-bucka,
Take your chance! Prove yourself! Oh, yeah!

Down in parade
People runnin like a masquerade
The police make a raid,
But the - oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
The thing get fade

What a thing in town
Crows chauffeur-driven around,
Skankin' as if they had never known
The man they call "Mr Brown"

I can't tell you where he's from now
From Mandeville to Slygoville, coffin runnin' around,
Upsetting, upsetting, upsetting the town,
Asking for Mr Brown
From Mandeville to Slygoville


(Bruce Springsteen)

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call him Johnny 99
Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's wavin' his gun around and threatenin' to blow his top
When an off-duty cop snuck up on him from behind
Out in front of the Club Tip Top they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99

Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared young Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for 98 and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99

A fist fight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's girl away
His mama stood up and shouted "Judge don't take my boy this way"
Well son you got a statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away

Now judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin' my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away
Now I ain't sayin' that makes me an innocent man
But it was more `n all this that put that gun in my hand

Well your honor I do believe I'd be better off dead
So if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head
Then sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let `em shave off my hair and put me on that killin' line


Monday, January 25, 2010

This morning I received yet another email from a foreign journalist hoping to chat about Vancouver and the Olympics. I am almost always open to such conversations, and generally reply with a bit of context. For the New York Times, I gave them this:

The Olympics is Vancouver's second mega-project in 25 years, the first being Expo '86, a "world class" "B" Exposition (B-rated, as these things go) organized by the then Social Credit provincial government (Thatcher-driven in ideology) to assist in the reconfiguration of the province's economic base from resources (forestry, fishing, mining) to service (light industry, "hi-tech", film and video production). As with China's attempt to shift the flow of its rivers, there were consequences, namely to the city's downtown eastside, where our city's temperature has traditionally been taken.

The downtown eastside is where our city began, and, until Expo '86, a place where many of our province's working men and woman lived when not logging, fishing and mining. When Expo '86 was confirmed, hotel owners began evicting residents so that they might charge by the day what seasonal workers had paid by the month. Coupled with that, our provincial government shifted federal transfer payment revenues from health and education (where they had traditionally been spent) to transportation infrastructure in order to make our province and our city more amenable to visitors -- one result being the closure of health institutions (something the Reagan Administration was infamous for), which led to the downtown eastside filling up with former mental patients, many of whom are homeless.

I'm sure in your research you've heard stories about the downtown eastside. More than anything, these stories provide insight into how to read our city. On the one hand, there are those who feel the downtown eastside is a Mogadishu, a blight standing in the way of progress, decency; on the other, a long-standing and diverse community, a muddy flower that has earned the right to grow as its gardener advocates see fit. At the moment, the downtown eastside is experiencing both gentrification, most recently in the form of the Woodward's Building (an architectural collage of market housing, two kinds of social housing, a drugstore, a foodstore, a National Film Board office, the community-based Portland Hotel Society and Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts), and criticism, lead by independent scholars, social activists, certain social service agencies, etc.

I give you all this as a context, towards a further conversation. I'd love to chat, if you're still willing.

Finally, let me add that Vancouver is where I was born and raised -- yet unlike New York City and Paris, it is not people like myself that define the Vancouverite, it is those who come here with an idea in mind, only to discover that that which they thought they would hate (Nature, the oppressor) provides comfort, while that which they thought they would love (a new beginning) brings disappointment. The Vancouverite, to my mind, is someone who struggles with that contradiction, only to discover in it something meaningful, leading to declarations like: "Vancouver: love it, hate it, love what I hate about it." I think we can say that about all west coast cities, how they are based not on what has happened, or is happening, but on what is going to happen (gold, fish, trees, market speculation, real estate…). Vancouver has always been haunted by the future.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A sudden and unexpectedly gorgeous January 22nd morning. Not just a peek at the sun, but the prospect of sun all day.

At 10 a.m. I received a call from Christopher Eamon asking if I might tour him through the SFU Gallery show. Chris, in town for his curation of Vancouver Art Gallery’s Cue: Artists' Videos, had never visited the Burnaby campus, so I made a point of arriving via the western-most road, the way its architect, Arthur Erickson, had envisioned. At the final turn, the woods gave way, and bang, there it was, the Academic Quadrangle (like a giant elbow!), and Chris took its picture.

Upon returning downtown we visited the Cue site – a huge monitor installed on the VAG’s south steps, below which stood a wall high enough to keep people from gathering (the steps are a popular site of protest), one that also doubles as a "Table of Contents" and a schedule for the videos in the show. Unfortunately (in this instance) the sun was shining, and the screen was washed out. You could hear the audio, but that could use some tweaking too.

From there Chris and I wandered the VAG giftshop. As we were leaving I noticed the recent VAG/Douglas & McIntyre publication Visions of British Columbia: A Landscape Manual, a pairing of BC literary writings with BC artworks intended to coincide with the gallery’s latest collection show of the same name, which itself is intended to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Because I had time to kill, I purchased a copy and took it with me to my office at SFU Harbour Centre.

The book is a disappointment, its problems having less to do with the images than the texts selected to accompany them. Is Maurice Gibbons’ gentle testimonial concerning his and his wife’s participation in the Clayoquot protest what comes to mind when considering what is possible in the monochromic space of Ian Wallace’s Clayoquot Protest (August 9, 1993)? I, for one, am not that literal. In place of Gibbons, why not an excerpt from Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach (2000), a book that Visions (literary) editor Scott Steedman chose not to include because, as he said in his “Introduction”, “to produce one page and reproduce it out of context would have been a folly.” Well, I have read Robinson’s novel, and it is full of follies, just as it is full of interior passages that would have worked well with Wallace’s piece – an idle thought, a remembrance, a non sequitur – anything other than what is already stated photographically.

Another poor pairing is a poem by Gregory Scofield placed next to Stan Douglas’s photograph Every Building On 100 Hundred Block West Hastings (2001), a work that, because it lacks people, has been criticized for dehumanizing what is widely-seen as Vancouver’s most abject city block; at the same time, a critique that ignores how the photo’s composition (a montage of buildings, which the artist shot independently) is not unrelated to the means by which hidden economic forces (objective material conditions) shape (dehumanize?) the lives of those no longer capable of appearing in such pictures. (A presence born from two conspicuous absences?) As with Wallace’s photo/painting, it is often how a work is made that contributes to its content.

That Steedman proceeded in such as literal fashion is indicative of the difference between written and visual literacy (I think Steedman lacks both). Indeed, a visionary editor might have paired texts and pictures that operate in a more ambiguous relationship, creating the potential for a third work, as opposed to something as unilateral as the often strident Scofield berating his “grinning” “businessman” for not getting it, while the first-on-the-scene poet/healer does. (From the literal to the Biblical!) As for omissions, Where are our civic poets -- Maxine Gadd, Gerry Gilbert, George Stanley? Or our great prose stylists -- George Bowering and Sheila Watson? I am not an Evelyn Lau fan, but there is room for her psychosexualizations in Visions – especially when some contributors are represented by multiple entries. Surely a literary advisory panel comprised of Clint Burnham, Douglas Coupland, Peter Culley (not included), Lee Henderson (not included), Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and Deborah Campbell (“Five men and one woman” quoth Steedman) would have kept those names from slipping by.

At 4 p.m. SFU PH.D candidate Jason Starnes knocked on my door, and we made our way to the Railway Club. How sweet it was to chat with Jason about Olson and Gloucester, Williams and Paterson, Niedecker and Black Hawk Island, watching the club fill up around us. After too many beers, we parted -- he to a concert, me down Hastings. Lots of action on the 100 Block West, our provincial government having shelled out thousands for its temporary Olympic makeover.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The (untitled) song in my head today. From my 2009 book, 8x10.

Oh where do we go
Up or down or in or
Out into the street
Where do we go
Now that things have gone full
Circle in the air
Maybe it’s over
If it is I want to
Ask you once again
Where do we go
And if you are going
Can I go with you

Oooo what do we do
Sit around and kiss and
Tell it like it is
What do we do
Find ourselves a job and
Work it out at night
Maybe it’s over
If it is I want to
Ask you once again
Where do we go
And if you are going
Can I go with you

So what do we know
Years go by and still we
Think about these things
What do we know
I know I will always
Love you with my life
Maybe it’s over
If it is I want to
Ask you once again
Where do we go
And if you are going
Can I go with you
Only you
Only you

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Another show that opened last week was Audrey Capel Doray’s How I Became A Solitary Noisemaker: works from 1965-1966 at blanket gallery.

The show’s title, I’m guessing, speaks to the artist’s particular relationship to the local Sixties scene, which Doray arrived in advance of, from Montreal, in 1957. That she came to Vancouver a mid-20s wife and mom, and as teacher at the Vancouver School of Art (Doray studied at McGill), no doubt had bearing on the nature of her participation.

For those younger, Doray is best-known for mixed-media sculptural works Wheel of Fortune (1968) and Electronic Seascape (1969), two notable entries into the city’s Sixties sensorium. The work in this show (eight or so paintings, the largest of which measures around 3’x5’) precedes such experiments, highlighting the artist’s technical achievement in colour and form, her careful arrangements of figuration and abstraction, her integration of the graphic and the fine.

According to the blanket press release, this will be the first of three shows, the work in Solitary Noisemaker representing the middle period. Looking at the paintings in relation to Doray’s more ambitious later works provides a new layer; guessing what came before it, well, I guess we’ll wait and see.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Would John Ashbery have thought so richly about Guadalajara, a city he "wanted most to see, but did not see," had it not been for that instruction manual? I guess that's the point: doing what you do not want to be doing, how that takes you elsewhere. How many times a day does that happen? How often do we notice?

I will be going to Mexico after my residency in April, part of which will be spent in Gaudalajara, where I have rented a small seaside apartment. My plan is to rewrite Ashbery's "The Instructional Manual" -- as an instruction manual. What those instructions will be for, I'm not sure yet. Something unlikely. A fiberglass pinata? Yes! But instead of sticks -- Glock pistols!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A week has passed since the opening of "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969. Most of the (living) artists were in attendance --Tom Burrows, Judith Copithorne, Stan Douglas, Maxine Gadd, Glenn Lewis, Ian Wallace -- while Al Neil, whose legs "ain't what they used to be," dropped by the reception.

The walking tour was well-received, though exhausting: fifty minutes non-stop. I invited Judith and Maxine to say a few words, which they did. Ian Wallace too. I repeated the tour on Wednesday, for the SFU Graduate Student Society's Correspondences series, and managed to knock off a few minutes. A good discussion after.

This past weekend saw a number of openings. Today I visited Presentation House Gallery for Laid Over to Cover: Weaving and Photography in the Salishan Landscape, then the Helen and Morris Belkin for Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-Ke-In (aka Ron Hamilton). Last night I attended the opening of the new Woodward's complex, which featured, among other things, the unveiling of Stan Douglas's Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 and the "lighting" of the Woodward's W, a structure that looks more like two Vs -- one for Vancouver the Rich, one for Vancouver the Poor. Following that, a mostly affirmative discussion involving Douglas, community activist Jim Green, developer Ian Gillespie, Liz Evans from the Portland Hotel Society, Owen Underhill from SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts and architect Gregory Henriquez in the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, led by that most conceited of arts commentators, Robert Enright.

So another busy weekend -- with more on the horizon. But after the Olympics, what then? Seems the next three years of provincial arts funding has been advanced to us. Why didn't we see this coming?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The song in my head today. From their 1983 album Meat Puppets II.

(Curt Kirkwood)

Lost on the freeway again
Lookin' for means to an end
Nobody knows which way it's gonna bend
Lost on the freeway again

Walkin' the breezeways again
Lookin' for something my friend
I've grown tired of living Nixon's mess
Walking the breezeways again

I know there'll come a day
When you'll say that you don't know me
I know there'll come a time
When there's nothing no one owes me anymore

Locked in the attic again
Out of the shallow and into the deep end
I've got a wound I know will never mend
Locked in the attic again

I know there'll come a day
When yo say that you don't know me
I know there'll come a time
When there's nothing no one owes me anymore

Lost on the freeway again
Lookin' for means to an end
Nobody knows which way it's gonna bend
Lost on the freeway again

I know there'll come a day
When you say that you don't know me
I know there'll come a time
When there's nothing no one owes me anymore

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Every other morning on my way to coffee I take the lane. Because the street on the other side is commercial, I see the backs of shops; and above those shops, apartments.

Halfway down the lane a sour old man sits at his window. Same old man, same old window. The first couple times I waved. Nothing. Then I stopped looking for him.

Last Thursday I turned into the lane and I saw a young woman walking her dog, a plastic bag in hand. Another fifty feet and I saw the old man, staring at a garbage can.

I’m not sure how I knew what was going to happen, but I did.

Friday, January 8, 2010

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 windowsill, a shotglass full of water. Floating inside, a fuzzy root. Who put it there? I look closer: half the fuzz is bubbles.

I roll over, glancing at the clock. An afternoon nap has turned into evening. Will I sleep tonight? Again I roll over, to look at the root. Falling back to sleep.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A poem by Lorine Niedecker.


Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws

Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land

May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Spent yesterday downtown, poking around the stores, hoping to spend my Christmas money before it turned into groceries. Thought I might buy a shirt, but all the shirts looked the same, either distressed or ruffled. Wandered into a box store and picked up three DVDs -- Pasolini's Il Decameron, Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer (I didn't know James Salter wrote the script) and Distict 9, which, given its protagonist's transformation, made it an unhappier version of Avatar.

While walking back to my car I had one of those moments where what stuck was not what Bernstein remembered in Citizen Kane (while boarding the Staten Island Ferry), but a couple in their early-thirties crossing the street towards me, he in a car coat and she of bronze. As I neared them, she turned from the man and said, in a voice that sounded like a kettle about to boil, and to no one in particular, "I'm feeling like I won't go to yoga today."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

According to the Weather Network, the 14-Day Trend for Vancouver has all but the weekend of the 9th and 10th showing precipitation, with the 11th showing snow, or what I gather to be the symbol for snow. Thursday the 7th shows sun and rain.

Not the news I was hoping for, though I am happy the 9th is dry -- that being the opening of "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969 (see my December 2, 2009 posting).

The exhibition is mostly installed, with only a few details to attend to. For those interested, the opening is 2PM-5PM, with a 3PM tour. There will be an after-party at Geoffrey Farmer's project space, Every Letter of the Alphabet, located at 1875 Powell Street (at Victoria Drive), 6PM-8PM. All are welcome.