Friday, April 30, 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.

At the head of the bed, a stack of books, on top of which sits an orange peel curled around a crumpled tissue, and below that, a pencil, its tip broken.

Somewhere there is a piece of lead gathering dust. What would a spider make of it? Would it investigate, or would it be repelled by its properties? Maybe neither. Maybe there are no spiders in this room.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A busy night last night with a talk by art historian John C. Welchman on Paul McCarthy at the Church of Jane and Ross (sponsored by Fillip Magazine and the CAG), and later, at Main and 15th, a massive Talon book launch, this one featuring eight authors, all men.

Welchman’s talk was a standard academic lecture, beginning first with a detailed description of the Los Angeles-based McCarthy's Caribbean Pirates (2001-2005), some historical scholarship on 17th century sea piracy (a reaction, Welchman argues, to a state structure increasingly concerned with the protection and promotion of private property), before concluding with McCarthy’s numerous purpose-oriented studios.

The art historian was quick to draw a parallel between McCarthy’s project and Hollywood’s first post-9/11 billion dollar franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2011), and he could have extended that parallel to McCarthy’s numerous artist studios in relation to Hollywood’s own. Indeed, just as the adult film industry provides a burlesque of mainstream Hollywood, so too does the work of McCarthy.

My favorite part of the Talon launch, besides catching up with writers Ken Belford and Renee Rodin, was Karl Siegler’s introduction. Listening to Siegler, one might have thought he was working from a script – only in this instance he began by addressing a comment made within minutes of taking the stage, when Judith Copithorne asked, “Why are there no women on your spring list? What sprung from Siegler was a response so careful, so methodical, one might have thought he had been asked to speak on the topic last year. I won’t go into everything Siegler said, but his short answer was this: not a single woman submitted.

The best part of Siegler’s intro was his recognition of our current literary moment as one of constraint (contrast that with the work of McCarthy, where excess is everything). Though he did not provide examples, I am sure many in the room thought of Christian Bok’s Eunonia -- but to many more outside, Twitter’s 140 word maximum. Siegler went on to say that he has taken "great delight" in writing book synopses of exactly 300 words for his Canadian catalogues and exactly 90 words for his U.S. versions. “If I cannot say all I need to say about a manuscript in 300 words, it will not be published by Talon.” At least not in Canada.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last night I was among the thirty who attended a reading by Sina Queryas at Emily Carr University. I was hoping to say hi, but left before the end.

I sent her this instead:


I would have stayed if not for the panel erected after your reading. What was that all about? And what of the Acconcian gesture, the guy to your immediate right? What a ghostly presence. Acconcian as in Vito.

I had some questions, one of which concerned a poem you dedicated to Christian Bok that, once heard, reminded me of what Dorothy Livesay talked about when she wrote (favorably) of the "documentary poem" tradition. That you dedicated a poem like that to someone whose weaknesses include an aesthetic (as opposed to political) intolerance of anything un-meta-cated had me curious. Provocations like that are best served when the person is in the room. Also, what was Marjorie Perloff protesting when you said she took issue with the poem?

There were other questions amidst the proper-nounage tally. Looking at my notebook, I wrote:

Virginia Woolf (1)
Margaret Atwood (1)
Michael Ondaatje (1)
Christopher Dewdney (1)
Christian Bok (4)
Marjorie Perloff (1)
Kenneth Goldsmith (1)
Dorothy Wordsworth (1)

Here's a nice line:

"There are hooks in the air that catch and carry us."

Could you break it for me so that I might post it on my blog?

I caught the metaphoric intake of the expressway. Wish in your book you restrained from explaining it.

I have a copy of Expressway on order. I am looking forward to reading it in relation to Oana Avasilichioaei's feria: a poempark (2008) and, after all these years, my own book, Kingsway (1995).

Two weeks ago Jamie Hider and I gave a presentation at Artspeak entitled Talking Conceptual Writing, in which we attempted a critical survey of the current conversation as well as a periodization of conceptual art practices of the late-1960s/early-1970s. My thesis is that a move towards an "expanded" contemporary writing must see itself in conversation with the conceptual art moment, as opposed to shopping at its stores.

When I talk about what I do, I talk about the writings of Douglas Huebler and Dan Graham as literary influences -- that what I do, and have done, is closer to the interdisciplinarity of what locals Malcolm Lowry (his 1954 "Through the Panama" is our city's first instance of collagist fiction), Al Neil (our first bricoleur), bill bissett, Roy Kiyooka, Maxine Gadd, Judith Copithorne and Gerry Gilbert were doing, something I made a show of at SFU Gallery in January (Expanded Literary Practices).

A key omission in Craig Dworkin's "Introduction" (on his ubuweb site) is Dan Graham, who famously defined "conceptual art" as "Vietnam" in an effort to critique the apolitical nature of Minimalism and its adherence to Friedian notions of purity. Graham reminds us that in our pursuit of "team jackets" (Jeff Derksen) we cannot forget that conceptual art is less a genre than a critique.

So that is my argument against Conceptual Writing -- where is the critique? Furthermore, if Conceptual Writing wants to further itself, become a jacketted movement, it must drop the Writing part and work within the larger critical (post-medium) history. For it is the persistence of the Writing part that has Conceptual Writing wanting it both ways -- on the one hand, to “make it new”, while on the other, retreating to mom and dad's (aka The Literary) when the going gets tough (aka The Critique). Finally, any movement that has as its creation myth Christian Bok and Darren Wershler-Henry driving to Buffalo to talk to Kenny Goldsmith is suspect in my books.

I wish we could have spoken about this at your talk, and not had to endure that panel.

In eleven hours the cash-poor Vancouver Art Gallery will pitch the Vancouver Board of Trade on a new building at the site of the former bus depot on West Georgia Street. Topic heading: “A Vancouver Masterpiece.”

As much as I would like the gallery to reorganize, create a better situation for the display and dissemination of art and art production, my hope is that they do so as part of a larger conversation -- where the desire for a new gallery is based not on the egotistical posturing of its Chairs and Director but on a civic understanding of what a gallery is and how it might serve the city and its guests. Only when people feel part of something do projects like the VAG’s come to pass.

Will the Board of Trade be open to the VAG’s pitch? A few years ago the owner of the local soccer club put up the cash to build a new stadium at the west end of Gastown. All that was needed was City approval, and the City said no -- the owner wanted to include market housing. In the VAG’s case, they want the opposite -- a stand-alone building. But the City wants a shared site.

Is there a compromise? Yes. The new VAG will have corporate skyboxes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I busied myself for as long as possible yesterday. Until the rains came. Then I changed out of my work clothes and set off for Mandeville Gardens, where I purchased a scented daphne and an azalea that did the same.

On the way home I stopped at Metrotown, to look at hats.

As usual I got lost, and in trying to find my way out found myself in an HMV. There, in the new releases section, Jonathan Miller’s 1966 BBC production of Alice In Wonderland, a film that has haunted me since childhood, one I was sure I would never see again.

I cannot begin to describe what it was like watching a film that had such a profound effect on me. As soon as Anne-Marie Mallik’s face came on screen, I was transported back to my babushka’s Los Angeles apartment, sitting on her huge silk pillows, her equally huge television glowing before me.

“Who are you? Come on, don’t just stand there -- who are you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know just at the moment. I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I have changed several times since then.”

And so it went.

Unlike a lot of films these days, especially those with psychedelically available content, Miller’s Alice is more costumes than sets, more acting than CGI. As for Mallik’s performance, she is Bartleby. When she says she does not know who she is, you believe her, and that allows for so much more.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Sunday, April 25, 2010

More from Ken Belford's wise new book, Decompositions:

If we could look back and remember
when systems fail we live the same pattern over,
and know bungles are understandable, that
misprints are not random events but near misses,
and whoever is closest to the error is not
the reason for the failure.

Saturday, April 24, 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.

At the head of the bed, a stack of books, on top of which sits a second-hand copy of Sherwood Anderson's Winesberg, Ohio (1919), the top corner of the third page ("The Book of the Grotesque") turned down.

Someone (Samuel Beckett?) underlined these lines:

"It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spurred on by favorable reviews, a friend and I visited the Pink Peppercorn (1485 Kingsway) last night for dinner.

Seeing as the restaurant bills itself as a “seafood house,” and that the owner-chef came from The Cannery, I had the Ahi tuna and my friend, the un-Wellington-ed spring salmon. Both dishes were to our immediate satisfaction, though on the walk home it occurred to us that everything we ate, and everything we saw carried past us, was bathed in butter.

I would recommend this restaurant, especially to the strong-hearted, though at the same time would urge the chef to pursue a new and healthier medium in which to cook his dishes, many of which could be made with olive oil, to similar effect.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail carried a story on copyright infringement concerning visual artist Marcel Dzama’s uncredited use of scenes from Deco Dawson’s 2001 film FILM (dzama) in Dzama’s 2004-2005 film The Lotus Eaters. Allegations of plagiarism were also leveled.

The Lotus Eaters, one of two films on display at the Musee d’art Contemporain de Montreal’s Marcel Dzama retrospective (entitled Of Many Turns), was returned to Dzama’s New York gallerist David Zwirner prior to the show’s closure – not because the Musee believed the allegations to be true, but because they wanted to avoid being “enmeshed in a possible legal joust,” according to the Globe.

My problem has less to do with the allegations than the behaviour of the Musee. Isn’t it the responsibility of the museum to prevent situations like this from happening? And if not, shouldn't they at least step up, as opposed to stepping aside? You would think that the curator in charge of the exhibition would know Dzama’s work well enough to know what is -- and isn’t -- his.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Three lines near the end of Ken Belford's Decompositions (Talon, 2010), his brand new book of poems:

I give away words for a living.
Sometimes I'm running the title,
others the saw and scene, period.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Monday, April 19, 2010

After seven days, a thousand highway miles and fourteen readings in northern schools, libraries, book stores and museums, I am home, having caught the Sunday 8 a.m. plane out of Terrace and, three hours later, finding myself in the backyard pulling weeds. Amazing what a week’s absence brings -- the rock daphne, which you can smell at the end of the block, glowing like a piece of coral.

I imagine I will be reflecting on this tour for some time, not only the places we visited, but the people too. Nice to have such fine writers at our Prince George stop, poets like Barry McKinnon, who wrote one of my favorite books, ever, in Pulp Log; Ken Belford, who gave me a hot-off-the-press copy of his new book, Decompositions; and Gillian Wigmore, whose 2008 book, Soft Geography, I will purchase soon. Thanks to Books & Co. for hosting the event. A beautifully curated bookstore.

But now I must rest, contemplate the cancellation of this week’s volcano-interrupted flight to Brussels, where I was to present at the Comite Van Roosendaal’s Institutional Attitudes conference. Not sure how much use I’d be after this recent trip, but I’m sure I'd find a way.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Awoke in Prince George, two hours later than usual. A leisurely morning, our ETD a slothful 10AM.

For the first time in six days I turned on a TV, concerned that my upcoming flight to Brussels might be cancelled. The volcano looked intense, like a dragon. Suddenly a string of ads, the last one for

“You don’t have to know what youre looking for, you just have to start looking.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Our last school visit took place at Quesnel Junior Secondary, where we met with a group of Grade Eights and Nines. This was a lively bunch, with many comments and questions.

After class, Cathleen and I were approached by Christina Liggitt, who shared with us her work.

Christina's pages were nicely composed, full of poems and drawings, one of which carried this haiku:

First Spring, then silence
This one thousand dollar screen
Dies so beautifully
We have been listening to a lot of music on our drives between northern towns. Bryan Pike, our driver, is also our DJ; he has a well-stocked music machine and is open to requests.

Yesterday, somewhere between Decker Lake and Vanderhoof, Kristin wanted to hear Billy Joel, and Bryan complied. One of the songs reminded me of other songs (written by men) with "Woman" in the title.

(Lennon & McCartney)

My love don't give me presents.
I know that she's no peasant,
Only ever has to give me love forever and forever,
My love don't give me presents,
Turn me on when I get lonely,
People tell me that she's only
Foolin', I know she isn't.

She don't give the boys the eye,
She hates to see me cry,
She is happy just to hear me say
That I will never leave her.
She don't give the boys the eye,
She will never make me jealous,
Gives me all her time as well as
Lovin', don't ask me why.

She's a woman who understands.
She's a woman who loves her man.

My love don't give me presents.
I know that she's no peasant,
Only ever has to give me love forever and forever,
My love don't give me presents,
Turn me on when I get lonely,
People tell me that she's only
Foolin', I know she isn't.

Shes a woman who understands
Shes a woman who loves her man

My love don't give me presents.
I know that she's no peasant,
Only ever has to give me love forever and forever,
My love don't give me presents,
Turn me on when I get lonely,
People tell me that she's only
Foolin', I know she isn't.

She's a woman, she's a woman.


(Bob Dylan)

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

Queen Mary, she's my friend
Yes, I believe I'll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can't be blessed
Till she finally sees that she's like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls
She takes just like a woman, yes she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.

It's was raining from the first
And I was dying there of thirst
So I came in here
And your long-time curse hurts
But what's worse
Is this pain in here
I can't stay in here
Ain't it clear that.

I just can't fit
Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes you do
You make love just like a woman, yes you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl.


(Billy Joel)

She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies
And she only reveals what she wants you to see
She hides like a child,
But she's always a woman to me

She can lead you to love
She can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth
But she'll never believe you
And she'll take what you give her, as long as it's free
Yeah, she steals like a thief
But she's always a woman to me

Oh--she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants
She's ahead of her time
Oh--and she never gives out
And she never gives in
She just changes her mind

And she'll promise you more
Than the Garden of Eden
Then she'll carelessly cut you
And laugh while you're bleedin'
But she'll bring out the best
And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself
Cause she's always a woman to me

Oh--she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants
She's ahead of her time
Oh--and she never gives out
And she never gives in
She just changes her mind

She is frequently kind
And she's suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She's nobody's fool
And she can't be convicted
She's earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she's always a woman to me


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Almost thirty years since I last visited the Hazeltons – New, Old, South, and Hazelton. Visiting this time reminded me of the Appalachian communities I saw when driving through West Virginia, the arrangement of houses, roads and bridges. In the Hazeltons, it is difficult to tell what is reserve land and what is municipal, the weave is that tight.

Two readings yesterday, one at Hazelton High, the other at The Learning Shop, a centre for storytelling. Once again, the students were bright and inquiring, a couple of whom have made writing not their life’s ambition but, like the layout of their community, part of a larger weave.

Today we set out for Prince Rupert, a town mourning the death of a second young woman -- both of whom have died under mysterious circumstances. Of all the stops on the tour, Prince Rupert is the town I am most familiar with. I was last there during the 1983 salmon season, when I worked at Caspaco on the Inverness Slough. Hopefully we’ll have time to visit there too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I have never done three readings in one day before, let alone over two cities, but yesterday changed that, beginning with a morning stop at Terrace's Caledonia High School, an afternoon stop at Kitimat City High (alternative school), and an evening stop at Kitimat Public Library. In between, lunch at a German schnitzel house and a visit to Haisla, where we watched the herring cloud the waters. Later, a meeting with Sammy Robinson, carver and Haisla chief. Sea Masters cooked us a fine halibut dinner, and as we ate, sea lions danced in the sun-soaked waters outside.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Terrace. While checking-into the hotel, one of the authors I am travelling with said, "Is this place called Terrace because it is built on a terrace?" And another said, "It could be named after a person, like Bob Terrace." No one had the right PDA.

My book, 8x10, was nominated for this year's Ethel Wilson BC Book Prize for Fiction, and I, along with Kristin Butcher (Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize), Kari-Lynn Winters (Christie Harris Illustrated Fiction Prize) and Cathleen With (my competition), have consented to a week-long tour of northern BC towns, places like Kitimat, Hazelton, Prince Rupert, Prince George, Quesnel, Smithers, and our first stop, Terrace.

The tour is young, and after a wobbly Dash-8 descent we got our legs back and gave our first reading at the Terrace Art Gallery, where we met another itinerant writer, Josh Massey, whose engaging novel about tree-planters I am twenty pages into.

A beautiful warm day here in Terrace, the mountains looking like an over-iced bundt cake. Outside my hotel room, a guy is barbequing chicken on the back of a CN repair truck, while in the window opposite, a girl in a tank-top loads a bong.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Thursday, April 8, 2010

If Mattel's Trickster version of Scrabble is open to proper nouns, I'd like to remind players of Zjx, my neighbour's kids' new band.

"Zjx" on a triple-word score will be worth 78 points.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So Mattel is rumoured (Canadian spelling) to be changing the rules of Scrabble. No problem, I live in North America, where Hasbro holds the rights. Not that I care what Hasbro has to say either.

My rules for Scrabble have always been my own: no proper nouns, except the names of poets. For dictionaries, I defer to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English; and for poets, Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry (1960).

A story in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Mattel is engaging in brand extension, warming up consumers for a new variant, to be called Trickster. Brand extension is an old game (trick?), not unlike what the Coca Cola Company did in 1985, when they announced their new formula, a gimmick that gave us two Cokes: New Coke and, after some protest, the original, relabelled (Canadian spelling) Classic.

Not sure the last time I had a Coke, or a Pepsi for that matter. I like to make my own soft drinks, using ginger, lemon, stevia and soda water. The last time I played Scrabble (according to the scribbler we keep in our games drawer) was in September 1999, when I lost to Scott Watson by 11 points, on account of a 12-point subtraction.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Monday I went to see the new Polanski film, The Ghostwriter. The film is set in Cape Cod, which made me wonder where it was shot, given the director's legal status. Thirty seconds of web browsing revealed that the film was indeed shot on location, and that Polanski, presumably through a Skype-like process, oversaw all aspects of production, including the editing, which he did from a Swiss prison.

A couple of things stuck with me. The first is the publisher's mansion, where much of the movie takes place -- a modern beach house with some of the ghastliest neo-expressionist paintings ever. It's like the 80s never ended -- which might tell you why big house publishing is in the state it's in today. The second occurred when the protagonist went into a bar and a Vancouver Canucks game was playing. Odd hearing the voice of Jim Hughson in a Polanski film.

Not sure what I think of The Ghostwriter. The ending was meant to be hefty, but it was nothing like the endings of Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown. Hard to supply endings like those today. Plus the film was weighted in the strangest places. Hard to make a film without being there to make it. Kinda like reading your life story -- as if it were written by someone else.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Sunday, April 4, 2010

This Friday Jamie Hilder and I will be taking part in a talk hosted by Artspeak Gallery (233 Carrall Street), part of their Speakeasy: Writing and Contemporary Art series. The title of our talk is "Talking Conceptual Writing", and will take the form of a dialogue, to be followed (we hope) by a larger conversation.

The evening is free, and begins at 8PM.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two Kathy Acker quotes from a sourceless quotes site:

I still don't have a clear idea of what my voice is.

I found my voice was a reaction to all that voice stuff.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Further to my March 31 post, what struck me most about my visit to the Western Front video archive was not the content of the literary performances (though I enjoyed what I saw) but their documentation, particularly Kathy Acker's 1977 reading of a story from her The Adult Life of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1978). Acker seemed to take care in the staging of her performance, sitting on the floor under a single spot, the camera gently swimming over her, zooming in and out over long periods. However, when she came to the part where “she” is raped by her Vietnam vet brother, the camera zoomed in so fast I thought it might knock her over.

Another thing was a 1975 sound poetry performance by bp nichol and Steve McCaffery. Remarkable here was not the scopic but the contingencies of tape durability, camera cleanliness(?), and storage(?). This was most evident during the performance of “Aupe Relationship”, where the duo’s vocal extensions were complemented by tape glitches, be that at the source or as a result of poor conservation, I'm not sure.

The third thing was a 1983 benefit reading featuring a young Kevin Davies, who announced that he would be reading from his "notes" (as fast as possible) and for the audience to heckle him. What was interesting, in terms of documentation, was that the audience did indeed heckle him, but we could not hear the hecklers, only the audience’s laughter, a laughter that today's listener might confuse (or would they?) with the style and content of Kevin’s reading. The consequence of documentation, in this instance, concerned the enslavement of the camera's sound source to the voice of the reader, not to the individual hecklers. Only when the audience "spoke" en masse (as choral laughers) did they register at the reader's microphone, and thus the documentarian's camera.

So three things, all of which involve documentation. Not sure what I will make of these observations, though I’m sure they will be on my mind next week, when I return for more.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The song in my head yesterday, from her 1990 album Swing the Statue!

(Victoria Williams)

My sister got bit by a copperhead snake
In the woods behind the house
Nobody was home so I grabbed her foot
And I sucked that poison out

My sister got better in a month or two
When the swelling it went down
But I'd started off my teenage years with a poison in my mouth

And we were too young to be hippies
Missed out on the love
Turned to a teen in the late 70's
In the summer of the drugs

Mama and daddy could never understand, their life was never dull
Their idea of a rollicking time was a kitchen taffy pull
Acid grass downs and speed, junk those days were made of
How could they suspect those kids were monsters 'neath their makeup

Mommies and daddies were too shy to talk about those birds and bees
Integrated schools had stopped, the facts of life movies
Girls and boys went away and came back, empty after the weekend
The talk on the phone consisted of hushed voices speaking

Boys and girls in every town
Sand man spread his sand around
Now we are just waking up
From a summer of drugs