Saturday, July 31, 2010

A good-sized crowd out at Howler’s last night. At one point the pub lost its power and Betsy was forced to read her “flash fictions” by flashlight.

Unfortunately for me, the outage had the kitchen closed just long enough to keep it from re-opening. So I did not get my supper, surviving on peanuts until Heather, Graham, Adele and I decamped to the porch outside my apartment, where Adele put together a pea and salmon feast.

I enjoyed the reading, the questions from the audience. I enjoyed our conversation on the moonlit porch.

Afterwards, while brushing my teeth, I recalled the interactions I’d had since arriving on Haida Gwaii. If a theme were to emerge, it would concern that which is supposed to happen easily and doesn’t, and that which is not expected but happens perfectly nonetheless.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Up at 6AM to make the 7:30 YVR South Terminal check-in for the 8:20 flight to Masset, Haida Gwaii. No reserved seating on this twin-prop. A Saab product, if I heard the flight attendant correctly.

Two distinct casts for the Masset flights. The first, a charter, was exclusively white men, all in their early-50s, en route to the Islands’ four or five fishing lodges, where they will compete for big tyee. The second, operated by Pacific Coastal, was comprised of everyone else.

The flight went smoothly, though too milky to get a sense of where I was. Only during the last five minutes, as we flew under the clouds, could I see the Hecate Strait and the wooly green surface that surrounds the Massets.

Upon landing I was met by my host, Adele Weder, along with her two daughters and their friend. Also at the airport was Susan Musgrave, who was dropping off guests from her recently-acquired Copper Beech Inn. A quick visit to Susan’s pioneer-style B&B, an emporium made up of small, enthusiastically decorated rooms, before the six of us lunched at a remote and equally rustic restaurant, where nasturtiums grew indoors.

From there, a one-hour drive south to Queen Charlotte City. This is where Adele and her family spend a good part of their summers. The guest suite is spacious, well-appointed and overlooks the tiny islands that float like hedgehogs in the middle of Skidegate Narrows. The bathroom, under renovation, is in the style of Mondrian.

It would be difficult to describe Haida Gwaii without comparing it to other northern locales I have visited, such as Haisla and Port Edward, or the many coastal islands I have come to know over the years. But one thing that separates this place from the others, a feeling that did not occur to me during my last visit her in 1983, is this incredible all-consuming calm, as if I was in the lap of something.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I leave tomorrow for Haida Gwaii. Two weeks. A reading tomorrow night at Howler’s Pub, with CBC’s Voice of the North, Betsy Trumpener, then another Sunday, at the Tlell Fall Fair.

At Howler’s I will read from 8x10, and maybe the “Lowry” piece from the “Moodyville" issue of the Capilano Review. For Tlell I will read a piece specifically written for the fair, on gardening.

As for the ten days remaining, the Haida Gwaii Arts Council, in conjunction with authors Susan Musgrave and Adele Weder, have set up some garden and studio visits, which I am also looking forward to.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There is something familiar about “Ringo”. Boy saves boy, boy loses boy, first boy becomes a lawman while second boy becomes a "terrorist," "terrorist" spares lawman only to be killed by lawman’s posse. U.S. foreign policy? Did “Ringo” anticipate Saddam Hussein?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The season premiere of Mad Men took place over the U.S. Thanksgiving Day weekend. The number one song that week (November 22-28, 1964) was “Leader of the Pack”, performed by the Shangri-Las. Before that, the Supremes “Baby Love”; after that, Lorne Greene’s “Ringo”.

While “Leader of the Pack” features spoken elements, “Ringo”, apart from it’s chorus, is entirely spoken.

This is what “Ringo” looks like:

(Don Robertson and Hal Blair)

He lay face down in the desert sand
Clutching his six-gun in his hand
Shot from behind, I thought he was dead
But under his heart was an ounce of lead
But a spark still burned so I used my knife
And late that night I saved the life of Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo . . .)

I nursed him till the danger passed
The days went by, he mended fast
Then from dawn till setting sun
He practiced with that deadly gun
And hour on hour I watched in awe
No human being could match the draw of Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

One day we rode the mountain crest
And I went east and he went west
I took to law and wore a star
While he spread terror near and far
With lead and blood he gained such fame
All throught the West they feared the name of Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

I knew someday I'd face the test
Which one of us would be the best
And sure enough the word came down
That he was holed up in the town
I left the posse out in the street
And I went in alone to meet Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

They said my speed was next to none
But my lightning draw had just begun
When I heard a blast that stung my wrist
The gun went flying from my fist
And I was looking down the bore
Of the deadly .44 of Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

They say that was the only time
That anyone had seen him smile
He slowly lowered his gun and then
He said to me "We're even, friend"
And so at last I understood
That there was still a spark of good in Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

I blocked the path of his retreat
He turned and stepped into the street
A dozen guns spit fire and lead
A moment later, he lay dead
The town began to shout and cheer
Nowhere was there shed a tear for Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )

The story spread throughout the land
That I had beaten Ringo's hand
And it was just the years, they say
That made me put my guns away
But on his grave they can't explain
The tarnished star above the name of Ringo

(Ringo... Ringo... )
(Ringo... Ringo... )

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last night I watched the season premiere of Mad Man. For some reason I thought the company was relocating to California (San Francisco), where the fellows shed their suits for black cotton turtlenecks and suede car coats. I was wrong.

The episode was bookended by interviews with Don Draper, one from an advertising trade magazine, the other from the Wall Street Journal. In the first interview, Don is cagey and reveals nothing, leading his colleagues to chastise him for a missed opportunity; in the second, he grabs the reins and speaks of the company as if it were the brain behind his face.

Meta highlight: the company has devised a TV spot that looks like content but in fact is an advertisement, something that, to my knowledge, had not been attempted until the 1970s. Later in the episode, a similar strategy for Dove soap is employed, for real.

Character highlight: Don likes to get slapped in bed.

With respect to tone, it felt as though the actors were dancing around the script, as opposed to embodying it. An odd effect, one that reminded me of what happens to all successful shows after the third or fourth season: self-parody.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Visual arts coverage in the Sunday New York Times tends to play it safe, both in subject and criticism. This morning’s Times features a profile on English-born New York City pleine air painter Rackstraw Downes, whose defeatured landscapes bring to mind the photo-based work of Vancouverites Roy Arden and Arni Harraldson.

In recounting what he has seen and heard during his six-hour painting sessions, my favorite story concerns a one-sided conversation Downes overheard while painting near a phone booth. “But John,” the woman said, “we can’t let the apartment dictate the nature of our relationship.” (If this is not already a New Yorker cartoon, it could be.)

As the anecdote came early in the article, I was curious to read what Downes (age 70) might have to say about the art of his time, specifically minimal and conceptual practices. Only near the end do we discover that he and Frank Stella studied under the abstract painter Al Held at Yale in 1961, and shortly after that, the profile’s author, Dorothy Spears, begins a paragraph with this inversion: “Flying in the face of 1970s minimalism, Mr. Downes’s landscapes continued to buck reigning art world trends in the next decades.”

As for Downes’s opinions, the closest we get is Held’s implication that his student, Downes, was, in Spears’s words, “overly influenced” by his teacher's work, and that hearing this was a “fateful blow.” Another indication could be based on what Downes heard near the phone booth, his meant-for-laughs recounting of a conversation concerning spatial determinates and human subjectivity, which, to my mind, is one of the great art conversations of the last fifty years.

Clearly this figurative painter has no time for the work of Michael Fried, nor his critics, the artists Dan Graham, Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ken Lum.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I try not to use the words "America" or "American" when writing about the United States or its people. Ever since I saw Godard’s Notre Musique (or the one before it, Eloge de l’amour), the scene where someone says (en francais), "America," and someone else says, "Which America? North America, South America?" I have been unable to use these words without thinking.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Guess Who is one of Canada’s best-known bands, "American Woman" (1970) their biggest hit. The song came out of a "live" jam session, with lyrics improvised by singer Burton Cummings.

Over the years, "American Woman" has been covered by a number of artists, including Lenny Kravtiz, who lent his version to the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack.

My lyric arrangement attempts to give the song a "positive" spin.


American woman, come to me
American woman, I want my mother
Knock on my door
I want to see you
I have nothing to do
We could be friends, forever
Now woman, come to me
American woman, can you hear me?

American woman, come to me
American woman, I want my mother
Knock on my door
Ah, your shadow!
And the lunchroom lights – so pretty
In your eyes
Now woman, come to me
American woman, can you hear me?

American woman, come to me
American woman, I want my mother
Knock on my door
I want to see you
I have defense contracts
I believe in social housing
Ah, your shadow!
And the lunchroom lights – so pretty
Now woman, come to me
American woman, can you hear me?
American woman, come to me
American woman, I want my mother

I can’t leave
I can’t go anywhere
Think I should stay
I am happy on the ground
I will stay by your side
I will stay by your side
I will stay by your side
I will stay by your side

Hello, hello
Hello, hello
American woman
You are good for me
I am good for you
Your gaze is so powerful
That I can only tell your feet
That I am going to stay with you woman
You know I have to stay
I am going to stay with you woman
Am going to stay
I am going to stay

I am going to stay
American woman

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Susan Sontag’s novel In America (1999) is based on the story of the Polish actor Helena Modjeska, who came to California in 1876, where she found fame and fortune. Shortly after publication it was alleged that at least twelve of the book’s passages were plagiarized from four other books on Modjeska, one of which was written by Willa Cather.

Here is what Cather wrote: "When Oswald asked her to propose a toast, she put out her long arm, lifted her glass, and looking into the blur of the candlelight with a grave face, said: 'To my coun-n-try!'"

Now here is what Sontag wrote: "When asked to propose a toast, she put out her long arm, lifted her glass, and looking into the blur of the candlelight, crooned, 'To my new country!'" "Country," muttered Miss Collingridge. "Not 'coun-n-try'."

In her defense, Sontag, whose book contains no attributions, said in the New York Times Book Review : "All of us who deal with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources in the original domain. I've used these sources and I've completely transformed them. I have these books. I've looked at these books. There's a larger argument to be made that all of literature is a series of references and allusions."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Of my earliest lessons, three involved the apple. The first concerned Eve, who angered God by picking and sharing an apple with her husband, Adam; second, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, inspired by an apple that picked itself; third, if I wanted something from my father, I had to stand on the kitchen table and sing Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” (1968), which, as some of you will know, was released on Apple Records.

However, it was not Newton’s law of gravity that I was reminded of this morning but his Third Law: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The source was Neil Reynold’s Globe column and its focus on the welfare state in relation to antagonisms between U.S. federal and state governments.

Reynold’s begins by reminding us of Thomas Jefferson’s 1798 doctrine of nullification that permits state governments to unilaterally declare federal laws unconstitutional. The doctrine had been evoked by a handful of states in 2005 over the allowance of “obtrusive” police searches, but more recently with respect to the application of Obama’s national health care reforms.

Where I was reminded of Newton’s Third Law was not Reynold’s assertion that “conservatives accept the legitimacy of the welfare state [and that] liberals accept limits on it,” but in the latest stage play know as American Politics, where the reaction to President Obama’s attentive eggheaded jock is met by that pit-lamped word-imperfect hick, Sarah Palin.

This is screwball politics at its most cynical. Yet to call it that would weigh it in Palin’s favour. Indeed, from what I have learned, the majority of Americans would rather laugh at something than take it for a walk, the latter taking up too much time, too much thought. When it comes to thinking, most Americans prefer blindness and faith, belief as opposed to critique.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Monday, July 19, 2010

What we know about Patricia “Peppermint Patty” Reichardt:

She made her comic strip debut on August 22, 1966.

Peanuts author Charles Schulz has said that she was conceived in response to the feminist movement.

She lives across town from Charlie Brown and Lucy.

In 1967 she showed up in the animated special, You’re in Love, Charlie Brown.

She coaches the baseball team Charlie Brown plays against.

She is an exceptional athlete.

Her birthday is October 4th.

She wears shorts and sandals, and, to my knowledge, has never been seen in a dress.

Her best friend is Marcie, an Alice B. Toklas-like “id” figure with whom she most often appears and who refers to her as “Sir“ (much to her chagrin).

She is the product of a single-parent household.

According to Wikipedia, she is “noted for her persistent habit of profoundly misunderstanding basic concepts and ideas that most people would consider obvious, leading to ultimately embarrassing situations.”

She is a poor student.

For many years she referred to Snoopy as "the funny looking kid with the big nose."

In 1974 Marcie told her that Snoopy was not a “kid” but a dog.

Patty and Snoopy have a close relationship.

For a time she “smoked” candy cigarettes.

In 1984 she failed all her classes.

Her father, who travels a lot, refers to her as his “rare gem."

Her mother, whom she has no memory of, died long ago.

She appears to be an only child.

She has had crushes on Pig-Pen, Charlie Brown and, while starring in the 1980 Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!), the son of her Parisian hosts, Pierre.

Charles Schulz has said repeatedly that what happens in the animations is in no way related to the strips.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Three years ago "Monty_Cristo" began a thread entitled "Famous Bullies of Television & Cinema" on the Comic Book Resources Forum. Most interesting was not the names MC selected (if Peppermint Patty is a bully, is she of the passive-aggressive variety?) but the categories he came up with:

Scut Farkas [A Christmas Story] played by Zack Ward
Larry Kubiac [Parker Lewis Can't Lose] played by Abraham Benrubi
John Bender played by Judd Nelson
Endless Mike Hellstrom [Adventures of Pete & Pete] played by Rick Gomez
Robert Budnick [Salute Your Shorts] played by Danny Cooksey
Biff Tannen [Back To the Future] played by Thomas F Wilson
Roger Klotz [Doug] voiced by Billy West
Buddy Revell [Three O'Clock High] played by Richard Tyson
Fred O'Bannion [Dazed & Confused] played by Ben Affleck
Ace Merrill [Stand by Me]
Henry Bowers [Stephen King's It] played by Michael Cole
Nelson Munce [The Simpsons]
Peppermint Patty [Peanuts]
Wolfgang [Hey Arnold]

Cordelia Chase played by Charisma Carpenter
Bo [Cursed] played by Milo Ventimiglia
Laura Lizzie [The Craft] played by Christine Taylor
Mick McAllister [Teen Wolf] Mark Arnold
half-the-school [Carrie]
Alpha Beta Fraternity [Revenge of the Nerds]
Flash Thompson [Spider-man] played by Joe Manganiello
Johnny Lawrence [Karate Kid] William Zabka
Jim [Edward Scissorhands] Anthony Michael Hall
Doug Niedermeyer played by Mark Metcalf

Wayne Arnold [Wonder Years] played by Jason Hervey
Chet Donnelly [Weird Science] played by Bill Paxton/Lee Tergesen
Randy [Clownhouse] played by Sam Rockwell
John Mapplethorpe
Angelica [Rugrats]

Elton [Clueless] played by Jeremy Sisto
Chris Hooker [The Craft] played by Skeet Ulrich

Captain Thaddeus Harris [Police Academy] played by G.W. Bailey
Nurse Ratched [One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest]
Curtis Mooney [Killer Clowns from Outerspace] played by John Vernon
Sarge[Full Metal Jacket] as played by R Lee Ermey
Captain Hadley [Shawshank Redemption] played by Clancy Brown
Bill Lumbergh [Office Space] played by Gary Cole

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Recently, while catching up with an old friend, I was told a story about my friend’s then-tweenaged daughter and bullying -- how the bullying at her daughter’s elementary got so bad that teachers and principals had the students concerned dispersed to other schools. When a letter came recommending that her daughter be transferred, she asked her, Do you know about this? and the girl said yes. Pressed on the matter, she said she did not want to talk about it and retreated angrily to her room.

That evening, while preparing supper, my friend conveyed the news to her husband, and he, like her, expressed his shock and disappointment. I don’t understand, he said, everything we stand for, everything we have taught her, is opposed to that. She agreed, and together they decided it was time for a meeting.

Once the dishes were done the three of them reconvened to the living room, where she and her husband took turns lecturing their daughter, pausing on occasion so that she could collect herself, for she was crying too. When finished they asked her if she had anything to say. The daughter nodded. Then, after a pause of her own, she told them that she was not a bully, but one of the bullied. She said she was dealing with it as best she could and was looking forward to a fresh start. Embarrassed and relieved, the parents apologized and allowed their daughter the last word. Never again was it spoken of.

Last year my friend received a group email from the father of a girl her daughter had gone to school with. The contents of the letter concerned another schoolmate, who was dying of cancer, and maybe those who knew her might send her a note – a memory, a recollection, something to cheer her up. Because her daughter was overseas, and it was late there, she forwarded the email with the words “Ring me” above it. Four days passed and still she had not heard from her daughter. Fuelled by anger, she picked up the phone and called.

Did you get the email, about the memory? Yes, said her daughter. Did you send something? No, she replied. Are you going to? A long pause. Then another no.

Again she lectured her daughter, only this time, because they were both adults, the words were sharper, more direct. Didn’t you learn anything from being bullied? Where is your heart, your compassion? This is not how your father and I raised you. When she was done, she asked her daughter to explain herself. As before, there was a pause. Then, between sobs, she told her: But mom, you don’t understand. Of all the bullies, this girl was the worst.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beth Jankola is Vancouver poet who wrote and read poems at places like the Black Spot in the late-1950s.

In 1974, Jankola published a small unpaginated chapbook entitled The Way I See It (Intermedia Press). The poems featured forward slashes and justified margins.

In reproducing the poem below, I have tried to stay true to character placement. As you can see, the right margin is serrated.

She was home/from school/talkin
g/about her day/so I told her a
bout mine/I had gone to the Art
Gallery /to see the photos/I had
been told were hanging/photos o
f me/Beth Jankola 1962/and Beth
Jankola 1972/I feel so bad/I us
ed to be/pretty/even prettier /
than you/I remember you/she sai
d/with your hair/down to here /
touching my back/you were beaut
iful/yeah I said/remembering/yo
u just gotta face it/mum you’re

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ever wonder what the character allowance is for a single line on Blogspot? Let’s start with 100 characters and see where things break:


So 67 (in this instance).

Less than the max tweet.

Here’s a single line from my Jargon/Corinth edition of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems (1960), “Letter 9”:

my own wrists and all my joints, versus speech’s connectives, versus the tasks


(Sorry Charlie.)

Now here’s what the Associated Press’s Hillel Italie reported yesterday on the topic of e-books and poetry:

A leading developer of e-reading technology, eBook Technologies, is working on improving the formatting for poetry, although no major breakthroughs are expected before 2011. Company president Garth Conboy said that for now the most realistic options are either to keep a long line intact by scrolling horizontally across the screen — "A really bad experience," he says — or to find a way to "better communicate" to readers that a line broken in two was meant to be a single line.

"Neither are perfect solutions," he said. "I'm not sure what the perfect solution is."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Our houseguest, Juan, has given me a book he thinks I should read – Boyhood (1997) by J.M. Coetzee. Because the timeline of the protagonist corresponds with the life of its author, I am uncertain whether it is fiction or non-fiction. The subtitle – Scenes from Provincial Life – suggests the latter.

I do not know enough of Coetzee’s life to know if it is his life I am reading or his protagonist’s. Not that it matters. The book is told in the third-person and focuses on a boy growing up in Worcester, ninety miles from Cape Town, South Africa. I am only on Page 47, but already I am reminded of a book I recommended to Juan some years back – Michel Tournier’s The Ogre (1970).

What both books have in common is the meticulous construction of a subject. But while Tournier’s “ogre” (who grows up to be a fascist) is wrong from the start, there is nothing inhuman about Coetzee’s boy, who, like those around him, is full of recognizable (and therefore forgivable?) contradictions, the same complex of (offsetting?) contradictions, I am supposing, that allowed for the persistence of a class-bound, racially segregated state.

If asked to reduce Boyhood to a single sentence, it would be what the narrator says of the boy’s mixed feelings towards his father: “He does not understand this contradiction, but has no interest in understanding it.” Everyone in this book, to a greater or lesser extent, is contradictory. No one seems to mind, and this is how white South Africa lived with itself.

There is more than a hint of social psychological accounting in the other Coetzee book I read, Disgrace (1999). This one, so far, has more of it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The poem below appeared in the original (1915) edition of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, one of my favorite books, ever. Both "Butch" Weldy and Doctor Meyers appear in poems of "their" own.


I am Minerva, the village poetess,
Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
Captured me after a brutal hunt.
He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up,
Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice.
Will someone go to the village newspaper,
And gather into a book the verses I wrote?--
I thirsted so for love
I hungered so for life!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In this morning’s New York Times Will Blythe reviewed Jennifer Egan’s unfortunately titled but otherwise attractive sounding latest work of fiction, A Visit From the Goon Squad. He had this to say:

“Whether it is a novel or a collection of linked stories is a matter for the literary accountants to tote up in their ledgers of the inconsequential.”

As much as I appreciate Blythe's comment (in place of reviewers who spend too much time quantifying the author’s adherence to genre as a measure of literary "excellence"), it is now accountants of all stripes, whether in marketing or in retail, that have the biggest hand in what gets read and what does not.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

If Ian Thom’s Challenging Traditions (2009) flew under the traditional book news radar, Whitelaw, Foss and Paikowsky’s The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2010) did not, appearing on the last page of this morning’s Globe and Mail’s “Focus & Books” section, under the redundant headline: “One hundred years of fine Canadian art.”

Any book so titled is of interest, if only because the idea of a Canadian art has been in decline since the 1980s, and because, as Roy Arden nicely pointed out in the accompanying essay to his 2003 Supernatural: Neil Campbell & Beau Dick exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Canadian art today is art made by First Nations artists.

Not that you would know that from Iris Nowell’s review, focused as it was on “high points – admittedly, subjectively, mine.” Indeed, the only mention of art made by First Nations artists is an allusion that apears in one of those “high points,” a chapter on Emily Carr (the other was on Paul-Emile Borduas and the Automatistes): “Of great interest is [Gerta] Moray’s account of Carr’s influence on Canada’s West Coast ethnocultural art history.”

I am not even going to begin to unpack that bit of nonsense. Nor am I going to endorse a book that, based on its review, does not even approach the period where the idea of a Canadian art, like Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s cancellation of the Foreign Investment Review Board (the first thing he did upon taking office in 1984), is no longer part of the conversation. But I will look for this book next time I am out. And if I find it, of course I will peek inside.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A book I did not purchase at MacLeod’s last week was Vancouver Art Gallery Senior Curator Ian Thom’s Challenging Traditions: Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast (2009), published by Douglas & MacIntyre.

Like many books published at a time when book news is increasingly rare (at least through traditional media), I was not aware of Challenging Traditions until I saw it at the VAG gift shop. A quick flip-through revealed the usual names and practices, as well as some surprises – the biggest being an omission.

Absent from Challenging Traditions is the work of Vancouver-based Dunne-za artist Brian Jungen, one of the best-known and most innovative younger artists working out of Vancouver today. That “innovation,” along with “technical accomplishment” and a “clearly developed style of their own,” are touchstones for inclusion does not, according to Thom’s “Preface”, apply to Jungen, whom he feels is “more inflected by conceptual and environmental concerns than aesthetic languages of his ancestry.”

What a strange claim. From Jungen’s masterful inversion of Nike trainers into Kwakwaka’wakw masks to his whale skeletons made of blow-moulded plastic chairs, Jungen fulfills these criteria, and more. But if not, why then does Thom not devote a section of his book to elaborate his argument? I would much rather read that than have to endure Sonny Assu’s literalist re-inscriptions of the Coca Cola logo into “Coast Salish” -- especially in the wake of the cease and desist order issued by Starbuck’s against the Haida Gwaii-based coffee merchant, Haidabucks. What is Assu adding to the conversation that has not already been enacted through litigation’s theatre?

But what is most disturbing, at least to my mind, is reading Thom’s exclusion in relation to Doris Shadbolt’s historic proposition: that art made by First Nations artists today be seen as contemporary art. For Shadbolt, Jungen must have been the artist she was waiting for when conceptualizing her 1967 Arts of the Raven exhibition, an artist that drew from, and reflected, both local and international histories. To exclude Jungen because he is in dialogue with – and making material of – Western art history not only diminishes the relevance of Challenging Traditions but the work of those included, such as Coast Salish artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, who, through his deliberately modernist extrapolation of the ovoid, brought depth to a painting practice that was, by the mid-1990s, on the verge of pasteurization.

Of course I say all this without citing another of the book's exclusions, Rebecca Belmore, an Anishinabe performance-based artist who has been living and working out of Vancouver for the past ten years. Unlike Jungen, she goes unmentioned.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One of the many books I picked up at MacLeod’s last week was the Vancouver Art Gallery’s 1967 Arts of the Raven catalogue, edited by the exhibition’s curator, Doris Shadbolt. This was a landmark exhibition, notable for Bill Holm’s formal analysis of Northwest Coast motifs, but also Shadbolt’s contention that art made by First Nations artists today be considered contemporary art – “high art, not ethnology.”

Although aware of Shadbolt’s proposition, I was not aware of her omissions. Shadbolt writes: “…the main distinction made is between the austere and intellectual elegance of the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian, and the flamboyant histrionic style of the Kwakiutl [Kwakwaka’wakw]. For stylistic reasons, neither the Nootka [Nuuchaanulth] nor Coast Salish are represented, nor is prehistoric stone art included.”

What does Shadbolt mean by “stylistic reasons”? That which Holm had no interest in classifying, or that which she did not like?

In January of this year, the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, under the guest curation of Charlotte Townsend-Gault, took a step towards addressing Shadbolt’s omission with Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-Ke-In, a show that featured numerous thliitsapilthim (portable curtain paintings of various sizes, each telling of the “episodes and exploits from family histories, conflicts, captures and alliances”), as well as drawings, photographs and other contextual materials.

My first impressions upon viewing the show concerned the scale of these thliitsapilthim, one of which measured 3-by-16 metres, making them the biggest paintings in the world. As for the painting, I agree with Shadbolt: though many of these works include coastal motifs, the works are neither elegant nor flamboyant but crudely drawn, largely figurative, with evidence of modern situations. This is not to say that Shadbolt was right to omit the work, only that its inclusion would have complicated the exhibition, making it not so neat and compact, which, to my mind, is never a reason to not do something.

Little more than a month after the Belkin opening, artist Phillip McCrum approached Reid Shier and I and asked if we might show some photos he took during his time in Belfast, Northern Ireland at a multi-media installation we were curating for the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, called the Candahar Bar. Because the bar was built around a functioning Northern Irish pub (a project of Derry-based artist Theo Sims, called The Candahar), we consented.

While I have been to Belfast and seen the house murals there, it was not until McCrum’s images began looping across the screen that I was reminded of the murals in Ki-Ke-In’s show, less for content than style. Of that style, I had a further thought: that maybe these thliitsapilthim owe as much to residential school art classes than what was, like the Troubles in Northern Ireland, handed down by elders.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As far as I know Claude Levi-Strauss never visited Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), though we know he was familiar with the work of Haida artist Bill Reid, at least enough to write a second edition “Preface” to a book of Reid’s retellings of Haida legends and myths, or “mere glancing versions," as Reid put it.

The Raven Steals the Light (1988) is a curious project. Inside are nine “stories”, each prefaced by a Reid drawing, each attributed to Reid and Robert Bringhurst, a poet, typographer and something of a gadfly when it comes to Haida literature.

Bringhurst’s role is strange in light of comments made by Levi-Strauss and Reid.

In dedicating this book to Haida storyteller Henry Young, Reid wrote:

“I wish I had had more patience and had spent the tiny part of my life he requested, to learn something of the wonderful language he spoke so resonantly and well, and to learn more of the stories of all the mythcreatures whose many adventures instructed, informed and entertained the Haidas during their long history.”

So there it is: Reid did not know the Haida language. But he knew English, and was throughout the 1950s a writer-broadcaster at CBC radio. So how does that explain Bringhurst’s contribution?

Nowhere in The Raven Steals the Light does it say how the Reid-Bringhurst co-authorship came about, or why it exists. The only direct attribution to Bringhurst is a 174-word italicization entitled Haida Gwaii (also italicized), which, though it appears on the contents page, is, unlike Levi-Strauss’s “Preface” and Reid’s “Prologue”, unascribed (only after we read the piece do we see that Bringhurst wrote it). As for the content of the piece, we learn that “Haida Gwaii, the Islands of the People, lies equidistant from Luxor, Machu Pichu, Ninevah and Timbuktu,” and that the islands’ namesake is “a woman who never saw them” – Sophie Charlotte Von Meckenburg-Strelitz, who married “the Mad King of England, George III.” If this tour of ancient civilizations should not suffice, Bringhurst concludes with the influence of trickster Raven, and not European colonialism, on why “Haidas and outsiders alike” refer to these islands by their imperial name.

Levi-Strauss tells a different story. At the beginning of his “Preface” we are treated to an anecdote that, inadvertently or otherwise, makes a mess of Reid’s achievement, particularly in light of Reid’s admission: that he does not know the Haida language.

In 1974, while the Levi-Strausses are waiting for a ferry to Alert Bay, Levi-Strauss strikes up a conversation with a “young-looking Indian man in a pink tracksuit.” The man, a decorated athlete, tells the anthropologist that he is returning to his Kwakiutl home, to take up sculpture, which, he adds, will be “difficult,” because he will have to learn the language. “His words seem very revealing,” writes Levi-Strauss, “since the traditional arts of the Indians of the Northwest Coast are indissolubly linked to legends and myths.”

And if you do not know the language in which those legends and myths are told, what might that sculpture look like?

At the conclusion of his “Preface”, Levi-Strauss, while acknowledging Reid’s language deficit, insists that evidence of the artist’s “intimate knowledge” of Haida legends and myths lies in the presence of his “masterworks.” This is an odd assertion, the same "logic" that was noted by my teacher’s teacher, Stanley Diamond, who, also in 1974 (In Search of the Primitive), attacked Levi-Strauss for his a priori reasoning and insistence on the universality of underlying binary structures in determining a culture's shape. Which leads me to wonder, What would Bringhurst make of this?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Stare at our map long enough and eventually things take shape. For me, shape begins at the perimeter and travels inward, dissolving provincial and territorial boundaries until the mainland emerges as a great blank slate, expressionless, leaving only our islands in its wake. Blink, and all but two of them disappear. Canada’s Tasmanias, earrings on the face of the nation: Newfoundland and Haida Gwaii.

Geography will always have a hand in what our country looks like, but it is social relations that fuel my transformation of it -- the best evidence being a televised poll conducted six years ago, where the CBC asked, Who is the “greatest Canadian”? That it came down to an athlete running across the country on a prosthetic limb, and a preacher who championed a system whereby the athlete could afford his limb, proved the real “winner”. If only the poll had stopped there.

Newfoundland and Haida Gwaii are unique not only in geography but in history – and this, I believe, is why my adventures in map-staring always produce the same result. I am fascinated by these places, less by their physical isolation than their relationship to Canada and each other. Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, out of economic necessity (said Joey Smallwood); sixty years later, at the instigation of the British Columbia provincial government, the Queen Charlotte Islands shed their “slave name” and became Haida Gwaii, a move that afforded the Haida Nation symbolic power, as opposed to the more sustainable political-economic variety.

Not to stop there. Newfoundland is generally seen as one of Canada’s oldest settlements, but only to those whose conception of Canada begins with contact, a situation that lead to the elimination of one of the island’s indigenous populations, the Beothuks, extinct by 1823. Haida Gwaii, with its “new” name, is little over a month old, yet many continue to think of Canada’s First Nations peoples as belonging to time immemorial, just as many think of Haida Gwaii as a series of islands comprised wholly of Haida. What better way to further subjugate a people than to reduce their histories to an immutable essence. I say this with the knowledge that although the rights of Canada’s First Nations peoples are entrenched in our constitution, they remain conveniently undefined.

Everything I have written thus far has been written in advance of Pacific Coastline’s July 30th 8:20AM flight to Masset, Haida Gwaii, where I have been invited by the islands’ arts council to read -- first at Howler’s Pub, in Queen Charlotte City, then at the Tllel Fall Fair. Arts organizers have told me that I can go “all out” at Howlers, but that Tlell’s negative thematic (“no sex, no drugs, no alcohol”) implies a family atmosphere. Already I sense the arts council’s disappointment, for the material I want to bring with me is neither incendiary nor kid-friendly. Perhaps I will write something once there.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen," said Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 3, 2010

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense," said Gertrude Stein.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Twenty years after writing his imagist "In a Station of the Metro", Pound, who was by then living in Italy, presented Mussolini with a copy of his XXX Cantos, to which the dictator said, “How amusing.”

But Pound must have made an impression, for nine years later, with the United States a full-patch member of the Second World War, Mussolini asked the poet if he might try his hand at radio.

Below is what you might have heard during an Ezra Pound broadcast (note the Gertrude Stein influence):

"Every man of common sense, including the odd British MP, knows that every man of common sense prefers Fascism to Communism, from the moment that he learns a few concrete facts about both of them."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I have taken the Paris Metro. During my first visit, in October 1980, it was not the train to St. Cyr I was looking for, but this:

(Ezra Pound)

The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.