Monday, May 31, 2010

From the punctuation scene in Charly (1968):

CHARLY: That that is, is. That that is not, is not.

MRS. KINIAN: Is that it?

CHARLY: It is.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

For colons, I have always enjoyed Harold Nicolson, who would often use three or four in a sentence, like he did in Some People (1926), one of my favorite books, ever. Malcolm Lowry also made liberal (and visual) use of colons. Below is my favorite sentence from "The Greyhound", the first "chapter" of his posthumously published novel October Ferry to Gabriola (1970), edited by his wife, Margerie Bonner:

"The bus changed gear, going up a hill: beginning: beginning: beginning again: beginning yet again: here we go, into the blue morning."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Let me be plain: the semi-colon is ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog's belly. I pinch them out of my prose."
--Donald Barthelme

Friday, May 28, 2010

Where Things Go

Does anyone remember the punctuation scene from the 1968 film Charly? After Charly successfully punctuates the beginning of the Gettysburg Address, he asks his teacher, Mrs. Kinian, to punctuate this:


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Three days removed from an invigorating three-night stay on Hornby Island, the drive and all those ferries (Attila riding shotgun), to celebrate, with fifteen others, Scott’s 60th birthday at the former home (now his family’s) of Doris and Jack Shadbolt; studio visits with Wayne Ngan and Gordon Payne, the ritual walk to Downes Point, the annual Hornby Island Plant Sale (where I bought a humongous cluster of Siberian irises), and all that time on my knees, weeding the garden behind the house, my favorite place, the garden where Doris grew herbs and vegetables, and a magnificent rose that is so deer-protected one needs a ladder to see it. Not sure when I’ll be back, but I always enjoy my time there.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In response to Allen Garr's May 26 piece in the Vancouver Courier:

Re: “City holds power on VAG’s future”

After reading Allen Garr’s Wednesday May 26 “Opinion” piece on the proposed relocation of the Vancouver Art Gallery, I was left wondering, Where’s the opinion part?

Garr’s failure to opine echoes a story that appeared in the May 19 Globe and Mail, where mention was made of the mere seven emails the City had received on the question of the gallery’s relocation. Clearly many Vancouverites, not just Garr, are indifferent to the issue.

As someone who writes on art, and who agrees the current gallery site is problematic, it seems to me that the starting point for any conversation concerning the gallery is not a new site, and what “icon” might be dropped on top of it, but the insufficiencies of the current site in relation to the gallery’s long-term plans.

And what are those plans? Has anyone asked? Does the VAG want to be a modern and contemporary art gallery that buys onto blockbuster touring shows of Renaissance masters? Does it want to be all those things under one roof?

If that is the only reason to build such a roof, then I say no, spread it around, ask more of our city’s Contemporary Art Gallery, keep the current VAG site for historical wall work and, yes, explore what remains of Robson Square, or an aspect of the Sears Building, for video, film and installation works.

It is only through conversation, in the broadest sense, that new questions emerge, some of which will speak to the root of this indifference and invariably propel us forward. Because like many, I am of the opinion that it is the way the VAG does things, not the ends it is trying to achieve, that alienates its publics.

VAG director Kathleen Bartels has accomplished a great many things since arriving from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2001, such as boosting membership, increasing attendance and mounting successful fundraisers. But the bar was low. And the means by which she achieved these feats came with more than a few bruised toes.

Now the bar is high, the stakes even higher -- and Bartels, who appeared to us as Hillary Clinton, is in danger of becoming the next Sarah Palin. She wants a new building but, after nine years, has learned little of the city (and indeed, the country) on whose lap it will sit. How else to explain our indifference?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Sunday, May 23, 2010

I missed the Vancouver Art Gallery's public forum last Thursday, regarding their proposed relocation to a purpose-built singular structure at Larwell Park. Have yet to speak with anyone who attended the event, though both the Globe and Mail and Vancouver Sun have weighed in – the Globe with reportage, the Sun with (snide) commentary.

One bell that keeps tolling is Vancouver City Councillor Heather Deal on a) how disinterested Vancouverites are about the move (only seven emails in favour) and b) how a number of local architects want the gallery to remain at its current site – the heart of the city.

It appears that Deal, who was appointed by the mayor to oversee the gallery’s proposal, is there to steer support for a shared site at Larwell, the last city-owned block in downtown Vancouver. Sharing, in this instance, would mean a gallery and a tower, for the City has committed millions from any Larwell Park development to the renovation of the nearby Queen Elizabeth Theatre --something only a commercial-residential tower could provide, something the VAG wants no part of.

Not sure how the VAG is going to get around this. Nor do I see the City budging. That, to me, is the biggest problem facing the VAG's proposed move, a ball Heather Deal is doing her best to keep out of the City's court.

Saturday, May 22, 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 foot of the bed, a guitar, and beside it, a song book open to Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races", first published in Foster's Plantation Melodies (1850). Camptown was not a place but a situation that occurred wherever railroads were being built. In camptowns, people live in tents.

"Camptown Races" was written from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. At times I get the feeling that the "races" part has less to do with the town's activities (betting on horses) than the ethnicities of those who live there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The song in my head today is not from the newly-reissued Rolling Stones's double-album Exile on Main Street (1972) but an earlier effort, Aftermath (1966).


I am waiting, I am waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
I am waiting, I am waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

You can't hold out, you can't hold out
Oh yeah, oh yeah
You can't hold out, you can't hold out
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

See it come along and
don't know where it's from
Oh, yes you will find out

Well, it happens all the time
It's censored from our minds
You'll find out

Slow or fast, slow or fast
Oh yeah, oh yeah
End at last, end at last
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

Stand up coming years
and escalation fears
Oh, yes we will find out

Well, like a withered stone
Fears will pierce your bones
You'll find out

Oh we're waiting, oh we're waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Oh we're waiting, oh we're waiting
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere
Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere

Oh we're waiting, oh we're waiting
Oh we're waiting, oh were waiting...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A request posted on Dr. Ruth’s site:

Please help us. My 21-year old son who is new to sex, says that he cannot tolerate even the extra large condoms as they are painful and cause him to lose the erection. They are too tight. (His dad was like this also). He is very tall and a big athletic guy. Are there any other ideas or condoms that you can suggest so he will use them? Please advise.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Monday, May 17, 2010

A server's "Ask" page carried this translation request:

thank you again last time for help. I need this to be italian:////
I trusted you, I believed in you and you hurt me when I needed you most. You were my family and friend. I told you if there was trust I knew alot more than I could ever have shared with you, because everything I told you you told others and you used my feelings and heart for a very bad thing. You were truly my everything, my love, my life and my friend. I needed you the most when all you did was turn your back. This is not a wife but an enemy and God sees all and will do to you what you did to me. I am so hurt and for what Love? Thank you so much. I love you Godd bye forever my old friend

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Last night Every Letter in The Alphabet hosted a gang reading of the Lebedev-led people-eating scene in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I went as a visitor, but upon arrival was asked by organizers Hadley + Maxwell if I would read the part of Prince Myshkyn, as the first Prince Myshkyn, Damian Petryshyn, was up to his neck in food prep.

When the time came, readers were given name tags and books, with the various parts marked off. But in reading along, it became apparent that the translation I was given differed from the other readers. It was strange reading one translation while listening to another. Was that the object? Part of it?

Damian did a nice job with the food, all of it Russian. Piroshky, cabbage rolls, rye bread, caviar…

As Damian was prepping I spoke with Kevin Schmidt about his trip up north, where, as a point of departure, he installed a billboard. I would have asked the content of that billboard had Kevin not been so enthusiastic about his dealings, how in the north a maybe is contingent on a complex cluster of yesses.

I wanted to hear more but it was time for the reading.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

According to a writer at Red Barn Plants:

Parochetus communis, Papilionaceae, China, 10cm ht., spreading. A strange and wonderful plant where the leaves and [blue] flowers don't seem to go together. Flowers are produced mid-summer into fall. This plant spreads and roots above ground forming a mat in semi-shade and moist to wet soils. It can tolerate a wide range of conditions from sun (in wet) to shade in average garden soils.

Friday, May 14, 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.

I wish I could say the same for the walls, with their endless layers of wallpaper, paint, and the current coat, yellowed from cigarettes.

One day I would like to strip these walls, start again -- or leave them blank, depending on what they look like. But every time I feel inclined, I think, Maybe that's all they are, just layers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Artist Elizabeth McIntosh has a new exhibition of paintings opening at Diaz Cntemporary on May 20, the title of which (A Good Play) is drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

(Robert Louis Stevenson)

We built a ship upon the stairs
All made of the back-bedroom chairs,
And filled it full of sofa pillows
To go a-sailing on the billows.

We took a saw and several nails,
And water in the nursery pails;
And Tom said, “Let us also take
An apple and a slice of cake;”—
Which was enough for Tom and me
To go a-sailing on, till tea.

We sailed along for days and days,
And had the very best of plays;
But Tom fell out and hurt his knee,
So there was no one left but me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After a time-killing stroll through the VAG’s Kerry James Marshall show, I exited the gallery’s south doors only to stumble upon a quartet of chainsaws roaming the Cornelia Oberlander-designed garden of the Provincial Law Courts across the street. Most upsetting was a logger feeding a thirty-year-old in-bloom rhododendron bough into the chipper. Not sure what the Province’s plans are, but could they be any more punitive than what I saw today?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The first paragraph of Alain Robbe-Grillet's 1959 novel Jealousy:

Now the shadow of the column -- the column which supports the southwest corner of the roof -- divides the corresponding corner of the veranda into two equal parts. The veranda is a wide, covered gallery surrounding the house on three sides. Since its width is the same for the central portion as for the sides, the line of the shadow cast by the column extends precisely to the corner of the house; but it stops there, for only the veranda flagstones are reached by the sun, which is still too high in the sky. The wooden walls of the house -- that is, its front and west gable-end -- are still protected from the sun by the roof (common to the house proper and the terrace). So at this moment the shadow of the outer edge of the roof coincides exactly with the right angle formed by the terrace and the two vertical surfaces of the corner of the house.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Our house and the one next to it (west) were built a hundred years ago on what was once a fifty-foot lot, each house the reverse of the other. Between the two houses is an easement four feet wide. The difference between the two roofs is a quarter of that.

The ground between the houses is well-tamped, the drainage good. However, the south entrance has always been lumpy, so on Friday I decided to do something about it.

After much digging (half pebbles, half soil), I gathered up the eighteen bricks I had salvaged from the razing of nearby Charles Dickens School (since rebuilt), as well as a half-dozen 8”x8” pavers left over from a patio I made outside the guest suite, and set out to lay a path.

The pattern I devised began with the side-by-side placement of two pavers, followed by two bricks laid vertically on either side of two bricks laid horizontally, one before the other, followed by two bricks laid side-by-side horizontally, then repeated, up to two bricks laid side-by-side horizontally. That is how things stand so far. I may continue, I may not.

The path is one of many I have constructed in the fifteen years I have lived here. Every time I lay one, I feel I am composing poem. Sometimes the poem is eclectic, made up as I go, based on whatever materials I have lying around; other times premeditated, a recurring pattern. With this latest poem I was thinking of the old school, how neighbours fought to save it, many of whom saw it as emblematic of the neighbourhood.

I was never a fan of the old school, a towering red brick affair whose small rooms and dead ends had more in common with social control than accessibility, the freedom to move and think. Also, because many in the neighbourhood are of Asian descent, the old school spoke of colonial times, the British city and its historic racisms.

Although not perfect, the new school is, at the very least, a better representation of the times we are living in, a more plural -- and open -- neighbourhood than the one constructed a hundred years ago.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

This latest stretch of warm weather had me in the garden more than usual the past few days.

Finally got around to dealing with that heather, crushed to death by heavy snows. In its place, an Andromeda prolifolia, whose blue leaves and pink flowers accent the surrounding green. Also, and more expensively, a "Lawrence Crocker" daphne, which, given the rash of plant thefts in the neighbourhood, was something of a risk.

On the other side of the walk, I began a second rockery, this one featuring a jasmine-scented "Snowbird" azalea to go with the "Hershey Red" Scott Watson recovered and gave to us in 2004. After languishing in a pot all these years, it is nice to see the "Hershey" bedded and doing well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The first paragraph of William Faulkner's 1930 novel As I Lay Dying:

Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file. Although I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching from the cottonhouse can see Jewel's frayed and broken straw hat, a full head above my own.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From the first paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping:

He had grown up in the Middle West, in a house dug out of the ground, with windows just at earth level and just at eye level, so that from without, the house was a mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave, and from within, the perfect horizontality of the world in that place foreshortened the view so severely that the horizon seemed to circumscribe the sod house and nothing more.

Monday, May 3, 2010

This weekend I managed to dip into the UBC Department of Art, Art History and Theory’s Breathless Days: 1959/60 conference, where I sat through a quarter of the presentations, the highlight being Louvre Chief Curator Regis Michel’s responses. In particular, what he said after Tyler Stovall’s assertion of a “transnational Paris.”

Michel spoke of the current Paris, buttressed against her suburbs, as if it echoed the Rome of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962). I was reminded of the film’s final shot, the camera giving the impression of a retreat into the city, when in fact it was only the lens zooming out.

Michel remained in good form at John O’Brian’s dinner the following night, taking on all comers, including myself, who, fighting ennui, attempted a defense of the expatriate French writer Houellebecq. Of course Michel would have none of it, insisting that Houellebecq’s degradation of the French language was not intended to parallel his country’s decline as a global moral authority, that Houellebecq is not a punk, and that he has not tackled issues no one else in France has had the courage to take on.

I enjoyed our conversation, though eventually succumbed to my ennui and took refuge in an overstuffed chair overlooking the city.

Leaning back I recalled a 2006 trip to Paris, where I met Gaspar Noe for lunch in Chateaurouge. I will never forget stepping out of the Metro and seeing three hundred Muslim men in the middle of the street bowed down in protest over the city’s refusal to allow them a mosque. Flanking them were at least as many cops, sitting on the hoods of their squad cars. Gaspar tapped me on the shoulder. “Welcome to Paris.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Love Over and Over (1982) was an album I listened to a lot at university, especially on sunny Sunday mornings. I loved the way their voices twined, but also the songs, which managed to be both deep and breezy.

In 1992, while in Hard Rock Miners, we shared the stage with the McGarrigles at the Edmonton Folk Festival. Singing back-up with the duo were Kate’s then-teenaged son and daughter, Rufus and Martha. Rufus and Martha were interested in musical careers, and were brought along at Kate’s insistence, to see if they could hack it.

That was the first lesson I learned as a professional musician: how a life in music has as much to do with the road below as the instrument you hold in your hands.

“The Work Song” is the third track on Side Two of Love Over and Over, an appropriate song not only because it recalls those who worked so hard to the better the lives of working men and women (today being International Workers' Day), but also Kate, who wrote it, and who died last January, too young.

(Kate McGarrigle)

Back before the blues were blue
When the good ol' songs were new
Songs that may no longer please us
'Bout the darkies, about Jesus
Mississippi minstrels color of molasses
Strummed their banjos to entertain their massas
Some said garbage, others cried art
You couldn't call it soul, you had to call it heart

Backs broke bending digging holes to plant the seeds
The owners ate the cane and the workers ate the weeds
Put the wood in the stove, the water in the cup
You worked so hard that you died standing up

When I was a little thing
Papa tried to make me sing
Home Sweet Home and Aura Lee
These were songs that my daddy tought me
Camptown Races and Susannah Don't You Cry
Gentle Annie still brings a tear to my eye
Label it garbage, label it art
You couldn't call it soul, you had to call it heart

Backs broke bending digging holes to plant the seeds
The owners ate the cane and the workers ate the weeds
Put the wood in the stove, the water in the cup
You worked so hard that you died standing up

Sing me songs of days gone by
Make me laugh, make me cry
Break my female heart in two
Sing me songs that say "I love you"
Lower your eyes, raise your hand to your breast
Sing me one about the sun setting in the west

Backs broke bending digging holes to plant the seeds
The owners ate the cane and the workers ate the weeds
Put the wood in the stove, the water in the cup
You worked so hard that you died standing up

Wood's in the stove, water's in the cup
You worked so hard that you died standing up

The eensy weensy spider went up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
So the eensy weensy spider went up the spout again.