Monday, February 28, 2011


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yesterday’s 6:40 a.m. train to Portland had me up at 5:00, drunk with fatigue. Seems the difference between 6.5 hours sleep and 7 is everything, though I think it was more like 6.

My last trip on Amtrak was to Seattle, in September, 2009, for Dimitri’s sentencing. What has changed since then, besides wireless internet, is the tone, with staff performing more self-consciously, as if their scripts were dramaturged by the ad agencies behind WestJet and Alaska Airlines. I laughed at their jokes until it started to feel like 5:00 a.m. again.

Around Bellingham it began to snow, and further south, evidence of past snows. A backyard ride through the United States had suddenly turned Zhivago, and I was starving. Amtrak makes a big deal out of their “green” campaign, yet the food in their “bistro” is straight out of the 1970s. A plastic wrapped cinnamon bun looked like an organ from an alien autopsy.

One of the hallmarks of fascism is the punctuality of its nations' trains, and I was relieved to arrive fifteen minutes late. The United States is more comforting as a Weimar Republic than what followed. At the same time, the “downturn,” like Portland's NO PUBLIC WASHROOM signs, are everywhere.

After checking-in I was met by Matthew Stadler, who took me to Andina, subtitled “Novo Peruvian Cuisine”. A pisco sour for me and a surf ‘n’ turf medley to share. Locally sourced Willapa oysters, octopus, and the ultimate turf – beef heart. (I can still feel the iron coursing through my veins.)

Matthew is the reason I am in Portland: to celebrate his new book, Chloe Jarren’s La Cucaracha, a novel that borrows its narrative structure from John le Carre’s A Murder of Quality (1962), and to talk further about his Publication Studio, which has invited me, along with a dozen other authors, to make books using material posted on Wikileaks. For those in the area, Matthew’s launch is at the Publication Studio storefront, 717 SW Akeny St., 6 p.m.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

(Stephen Foster)

I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee
I'm going to Louisiana
My true love for to see

It rained all night
The day I left
The weather it was dry
The sun so hot
I froze to death
Susanna, don't you cry

Oh, Susanna,
Oh don't you cry for me
For I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee

I had a dream the other night
When everything was still
I thought I saw Susanna
A-coming down the hill

The buckwheat cake
Was in her mouth
The tear was
In her eye
Says I, I'm coming from the south
Susanna, don't you cry

Oh, Susanna,
Oh don't you cry for me
For I come from Alabama
With my banjo on my knee

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Page 48 of my 1959 Modern Library edition of Light In August, Lena asks Byron: "Has he [Joe Brown] got a little white scar right there by his mouth?" And Byron, who is suddenly in love with her, "cannot look at her, and he sits there on the stacked lumber when it is too late, and he could have bitten his tongue in two."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

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.

The sun is blue and I am on my back reading my way towards "Lucas Burches". This is the fourth time I have tried this, the first two efforts ending in failure. But the third -- wow!

And now the fourth.

Readers of Light In August (1932) will recall Lena's first thought: "I have come from Alabama: a fur piece." What a union! Stephen Foster's "Oh! Susanna" (1848) meets Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons (1914).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Readers of our national newspapers will have noticed two recent articles concerning the written sentence and the English language. On January 28 the National Post gave us Mike Doherty’s review of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One, while on February 18 The Globe and Mail did the same with Zsuzsi Gartner’s review of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

While Doherty is quick to identify Fish as “a connoisseur, not a polemicist,” both could be said of Gartner, a sentencista who identifies as a “card-carrying cult member,” a phrase not unlike the one-too-many she packs into her fiction, teetering as they do in the middle of her long and thoroughly worried sentences, invariably falling off by the time I get to the period (gasping for air!). Malcolm Lowry, whose own sentences are often unwieldy and fragmentary, manages to create a different effect, where by the end of the paragraph they fall nicely into place, providing overtone, an experience I rarely have with Gartner.

Another bothersome aspect of Gartner’s review is related to something Doherty brought up, and that is context. Not once in Gartner’s article does she refer to the materiality of sentences in relation to content, an absence that seems in support of the romantic writer, one who develops their own style, their own voice, like those graduating from the "success-oriented" creative writing classes Gartner is also a card-carrying member of. Whatever happened to using style in relation to content, as content? Style and voice, like setting and character, are materials too. Must one always write the same way every time?

Monday, February 21, 2011

This morning I invested the 3:19 it took to watch Heather Russell perform "You're Beautiful", a song she wrote two years ago, when she was eight. The performance (available on YouTube) took place beside a guitar stand within the bare walls of what could be the family home. Piano accompaniment was off-camera.

Heather has been compared to a young Michael Jackson, and after watching her performance, I can see why. Not only does she possess a great set of pipes, she has that ineffable quality known as presence. Was Michael writing songs at eight? I don't think so.

As you'll see from the last two hours of comments generated by Heather's performance (see bel[l]ow), mention is made of the singer's dynamics, which range from pianissimo to fortissimo. Recall that one of the last great pop acts to break into the mainstream employed a similar technique, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991). (Hard to believe that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out 20 years ago, and that we are still in an era notable for its extremes.)

couldn't hear her at first, so turned up the volume. I SHOULD NEVER HAD DONE THAT! 

whyarewelaughing 16 hours

You are the best heather realy the best :) German Loves you 

LetsPlayerA 22 minutes ago 2

It's not really yelling, it's poor sound quality in bad acoustics in a home video. Der!

sagechild1 38 minutes ago

@JohnnyJML3 :
Not like you could yell any better.
She's 10. & amazing.
Go help yourself by not watching it.

HipHopBreaker12 1 hour ago

this is not singing .. it's yelling .. srsly .. help me ..

JohnnyJML3 1 hour ago

she has been signed up by Simon Cowell

SheldonSweetie97 2 hours ago

OMG this is so cute and so good!

diamondxK 2 hours ago

OMG this is so cute and so good!

diamondxK 2 hours ago

what's with the screaming??? screaming does NOT mean you can sing!!
at first you cant hear hear her, and then she screams so loud you actually want your ears to fall off!
dont get me wrong, i bet she is talented, but the screaming is ruining it!! :(

kaplumbag 2 hours ago

Sunday, February 20, 2011

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.

The workmen have returned, this time with a city official. I can't make out what they're saying, but the official seems upset. I open the window and listen.

It took a minute before the words fell into place: Patrick Bouvier Kennedy did not die of hyaline membrane disease, as we were told, but was murdered by a fan of his father's former lover, Maria Callas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

From Chapter III of The Elements of Style, on titles:

Omit initial A or The from titles when you place the possessive before them.

A Tale of Two Cities; Dickens's Tale of Two Cities

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prado on Commercial Drive serves perfectly tart espressos. Problem is there is rarely parking. Last week, while driving by, I saw a spot. Because I was early, I took it.

While getting out of the car I saw in the window of the bookstore across the street a book I had not seen in years: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. I purchased the book ($4.95) and flipped through it over coffee, reacquainting myself not only with its laws but its many fine examples.

The first “Rule of Usage” is “the possessive singular of nouns”:

“Charlie’s friend”

“Burns’s poems”

and my favorite:

“the witch’s malice”

The next is "exceptions," such as “ancient proper names,” like Jesus, written Jesus’.

So property first, religion second.

In God We Trust.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Monday, February 14, 2011

A course description for The Poem's Story and Silence (Fall 2010) offered through Simon Fraser University's Writing and Publishing Program:

Investigate the peculiar, seemingly contradictory ability of poetry to tell story while speaking through silence. Through discussions, examples and in-class exercises, identify whether and how to improve your poems by increasing the story or the silence. You’ll also have the opportunity to custom-design your own course project.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Introduction" to Three Egyptian Poets by Maged Zaher (editor), first published in Jacket Magazine, Issue 36, 2008:


Arabic poetry originated like all other poetic traditions — as an oral art. Two thousand years later, innovative contemporary Arab poets are still working to transform the oral nature of their tradition, and its established rhetorical and formal devices, with their cultural implications of favoring passion over intellect, the masculine over the feminine, and patriarchy over subversion.


Art is inextricable from the political. At its inception among desert nomads and tribes, oral poetry was the most advanced media form, and poets had an important political role: they were the spokespersons of their tribes. Poetry then had to be easily memorable, which was accomplished formally via regular rhythm and rhyme schemes, and rhetorically via hyperbole.


Now — in the late twentieth and early twenty first century — the avant-garde Arab poets face different political and cultural tasks. They recognize the need for a multiplicity of voices, and for a balanced dialogue between passion and intellect. They also recognize the need to challenge both the patriarchal aspects of their lives including the political dictatorships, and celebrate both feminine and masculine voices on equal terms.


The generation of poets represented here claims that the current recognized icons of Arabic poetry — mainly the occasional short list candidates for Nobel prize: Mahmoud Darwish and Adonis — although admirable and ground breaking, haven’t fully broken free from this oral and patriarchal tradition. They also claim that this intense celebration of these figures to the exclusion of other poets, is in itself a symptom of the ills of the romantic, patriarchal aspect, they are set out to challenge.


Of course there were many attempts to break with the strict form throughout the history of Arabic poetry: In the 1920s and 1930s the romantic poets’ generation — e.g. the Apollo group in Egypt — tampered slightly with the strict form by using softer language, imagery, and multiple rhyme schemes in the same poem. However, the usage of regular rhythm and hyperbole were still intact.


In the late 1940s, the Free Verse Movement started using irregular rhythm and rhyme schemes, which was considered to be a major break with tradition. However this poetic revolution stopped short from doing away with rhythm and rhyme entirely, which made it essentially — although necessarily a major step on the path of modernizing Arabic poetry — a variation from within the oral tradition, in terms of both form and rhetorical devices.


The innovation of the Arabic poetry in Lebanon started in the late forties and early fifties with the works of Youssef El-Khal, Onsi El-Haj and others. Adonis and El-Khal magazine Shi’r made a lasting impact on the Arabic language poetics, and the poets it published, who abandoned both rhythm and rhyme altogether: El-Khal, Adonis, El-Maghout, and others, acted as a precursor to the work of the Lebanese poets of the seventies and eighties: Wadih Saadeh, Bassam Haggar, Abbas Beydoun, who acted in their own as precursors to the poets represented here.


The Egyptian poets of the nineties generation took the achievement of their Lebanese predecessors several steps forward, via 1 — employing plain and simple language. 2 — writing about the “non-poetic” details of everyday life. Effectively, the poet opted out of being a hero challenging the world (a la Darwish and Adonis) and — in the work of these poets — poetry didn’t just stop being an oral art, it also rid itself from hyperbole and heroism. An illustration of this would be Ahmed Taha’s important article: “From Reciting To Writing” published in the first issue of the underground influential magazine El-Garad “Locusts” co-edited by Mohamed Metwalli.


Some terminology issues:

In the Arab world, the term “Prose Poetry” is used to describe poems that do not use rhythm or rhyme, even if these poems have line breaks. This usage is different from what the Western poetic tradition recognizes as prose poetry. In effect the Arab poetics tradition’s “Prose Poetry” is more equivalent to the Western poetic tradition’s “Free Verse.”
Meanwhile. in the Arabic tradition the term free verse is used to describe poetry that has irregular rhythm and rhyme schemes. (Imagine poetry written in the iambic but every line has a different count, with arbitrary rhyme scheme)


In the Arab world a continuous gap between the spoken and written languages exists. The written language is formal while the spoken is not. An example of this would be — for an English language speaker — to use the standard everyday English language for speaking, yet old Shakespearian English for writing.

Political speeches are always rendered in the formal language. They depend — at large — on the same rhetorical devices of hyperbole and exaggeration used in classical Arabic poetry. Most poetry is written in the formal language. The nineties generation poets still used formal language but they somewhat modified their diction to match journalistic and everyday speech.


Breaking with the existing rhetoric is considered a sort of a heresy and challenge to the culturally — romantic/patriarchal/religious — accepted language, hence the major cultural tension that surrounds this form of poetry. The aesthetic debate was often peppered by accusations of the poets who broke with the tradition as agents of imperialism or communism.


The three poets chosen for translation here are emblematic of the thematic and linguistic changes mentioned in this introduction.

The poetry of Ahmed Taha, the oldest of the poets included here, is an example of the transition: the poet’s protagonist is still, largely, a tragic figure, yet not a heroic one like the ones you find in Darwish or Adonis’ poetry.

Osama El-Dinasouri, who died in 2007 from a kidney failure, pushed the envelope further: His poetry is a consistent attack on the sentimentalism of the old tradition. In contrast to Taha’s tragic protagonist, Osama’s protagonist doesn’t take himself seriously most of the time.

Mohamed Metwalli pushes things even more, his protagonist is almost the anti-hero, and is more interested in the surrounding objects and their existence than his own thoughts and ideas. One reason that his poetry might be controversial is that Egyptian poetry readers couldn’t relate his poems to the aesthetic boundaries of the two thousand year old oral tradition. His poems were occasionally accused that they sound as if they are translated and not originally written in Arabic.


There are more women poets writing and publishing in this group — e.g. Iman Mirsal, Fatima Kandeel, Nagatt Ali, Hoda Hussein — than all published Arab women poets in the whole twentieth century. I am currently translating some of their work, which I hope to get published in a subsequent volume.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friday’s junk mail:


Paul Eviston is seated. He is dressed in black trousers and a black collarless shirt, squeezing the middle three fingers of his left hand (Is he married? Unmarried? What is Paul trying to hide?). He tells us he is in the “top 1% of Vancouver realtors*” without elaborating on what that 1% stands for. (The asterisk is “[b]ased on statistics by The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.”) “Since 1985!” Paul has just sold a house at 978 W. 23rd Ave. “My Clients just moved into this 2700 SQ FT Douglas Park Home.” “Where would you like to live?” “CALL PAUL EVISTON TODAY AND GET MOVING.” “Want Results? Contact Paul Today.” Not sure what Paul is getting at with his capitalizations. In small print: “This is not intended to induce a breach of an existing agency relationship.” There is something desperate about Paul.

Lorne Goodman [sic] appears from the chest up. He is dressed in a suit and superimposed before a west side character home. He is smiling and there is something wrong with his teeth. “You’ve probably seen his name just about everywhere in Vancouver!” (“everywhere” is underlined). “I know the Vancouver real estate market and I know I can help you! – Lorne.” Lorne is a member of “The President’s Club” of the Real Estate Board of Vancouver. Like Paul, he is part of the “Top 1%.” On the other side of the card is a house at 883 E 21s Avenue with the sale price listed below. Above the house: “I Sold This For Over Full Price!” Above that (in smaller print): “The Glen Park Specialist.” Lorne’s spiel: “The spring 2011 market has arrived early and vendors are receiving multiple offers for their homes. Call me today to possibly get over asking price for your home with my marketing plan based on 30 years of award winning sales!” Phew.

Scott Warren is also in a suit but appears from the shoulders up (“Scott” is underlined, but “Warren” is not). Scott is direct and his card is full of white space. “DREAM IT. OWN IT.” Scott has made this his registered trademark. “Own your dream.” Then a space. “I care about your future, not just one sale or purchase. It’s about making a dream happen. Your dream.” Another space. “Whether you are selling or buying your home, investment property or luxury estate, I will help you achieve your goals.” (When did my “dream” become my “goals”?) “I offer Real Estate Advice like no other – with trust, professionalism and integrity.” Scott is in the “TOP 100.” “Ranked as one of the top 100 REALTORS in Vancouver, out of 10, 000, since 2005.*” (The asterisk is followed by some very small print.) Scott wants my email address for something called “Real Estate Market Watch,” which, like Facebook, I can “cancel or alter…at any time with no obligation.” “Simply call or email Scott with your areas of interest and ‘Be The First To Know’”.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pre-dawn raid on Dan's
Broken doors
The curtains blowing

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Below is the press release for a Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition I was asked to contribute to ("Would you be interested in doing something on film?"). I said yes and devised two displays, one called On Location 1: Elvy Del Bianco's Annotated Film Collection, the other called On Location 2: Four Double Bills. These works, along with many more, will be up for the next three months, beginning this Friday. On the floor above, a long-overdue retrospective on the work of Ken Lum.

WE: Vancouver –12 Manifestos for the City examines Vancouver through the extraordinary range of practices, actions and ideas that shape and activate it.

In this city dynamic activities occur at diverse levels and modes of production, from vast multi-million dollar developments to small projects realized on a shoestring. They may involve the work of a few or of many, but their impact on our perception of the city is broad and opens up alternate models for living and new possibilities for thinking about this place.

Architects offer diverse ways for us to occupy our built environment. Designers invite us to consider how we consume and interact with the world around us. Artists reconfigure the city, revealing new ways to see and be seen. Activists unsettle our patterns of engagement, indicating new pathways. Planners shift the very ground we walk on, proposing new models for communities. This exhibition gives form and voice to these many actions.

The exhibition includes the work of more than 40 Vancouver-based cultural producers, including Althea Thauberger, SHAPE, Red Flag Design, Keith Higgins, MGB Architecture, the Office for Soft Architecture, Michael Turner, Natalie Purschwitz, Robert Kleyn, Office Supplies Incorporated, Christian Kliegel, Sabine Bitter + Helmut Webber, and many others.

WE: Vancouver will feature events in collaboration with the exhibition participants. Please visit the Gallery’s Lectures and Talks page for more information

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

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.

No flowers today, though the old ones remained. I tried to rearrange them, because their scent was still there (lilies), but nothing worked, so I cleaned the vase instead.

The vase was a gift from an antique dealer who, after twenty years, was going out of business. She had boxes of stuff that was not antiques but stuff she liked and thought others might like too. She gave me the vase on the condition that I always keep it stocked with fresh flowers -- a directive I resented, but because I liked her, I accepted.

On my way out I dropped the vase in the recycling bin. When I returned, it was still there. I brought it back to my room, placed it in the light and wondered how long before it, too, will be antique.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Sunday, February 6, 2011

One sport I no longer pay attention to is American football.

Except the Super Bowl.

Named not after a flower (Rose Bowl), a dance (Hula Bowl), a sweetener (Sugar Bowl) but an adjective (short for “superlative”?), the Super Bowl is one of the world’s most watched events, where anything can happen, and rarely does.

So watching is waiting, enduring Christina Aguilera’s melismatic national anthem, new television commercials (my heart is not strong enough for McDonald’s latest fat and salt concoction, the Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich), and that most militaristic of operations -- the half-time show.

This year’s halftime show will be the first to feature a woman since Janet Jackson's 2004 prime time celebration of the human form. Fortunately Fergie, who will be singing with her band the Black-Eyed Peas, has been known for “live” celebrations of her own, such as peeing her pants on stage. So I will be watching, waiting, hoping that whatever she attempts will be taken further, not backwards. A celebration as opposed to a “malfunction.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spent the morning designing a postcard for the Egyptian Tourist Authority. I am doing this on spec because I am tired of the usual postcards -- the pyramids, the temples, the statuary – and felt it was time to focus on the country’s modern accomplishments, such as the death threats to Sayyid al-Qimi, reconfigured into poems, one of which will form the content of my card.

Friday, February 4, 2011

At some point today U.S. president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper will sign a deal aimed at shrinking what has been described in trade circles as our “thickening border.” Although designed to both encourage commerce and tighten security, this leaner (and meaner?) border will no doubt include a new set of controls governed more by its aspirations than the means by which those aspirations are achieved.

Not sure the last time I drove across the border into the U.S., but I have experienced the lineups and they are grueling. Still, I am intrigued by the concept of a “thickening border,” where that which meets up with something else allows for a third space, like the DMZ separating North and South Korea, or Checkpoint Charlie, back in the days when Berlin was divided into East and West.

A couple years ago I visited the former site of Checkpoint Charlie and recalled how that border space felt in the winter of 1980, surrounded by sand bags, razor wire and soldiers with bayonets, where I exchanged 50 West German marks for East Germany’s lighter, thinner equivalent. Thinking back on it now I can still smell the bratwurst in the Zollgebiet’s shed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I remain haunted by a news story I heard last week of a Whistler tour operator who ordered the killing of a hundred underemployed sled dogs. The employee in charge of the cull, as it is being called, is now unemployed, or unemployable, the task having been too much for him. Why the SPCA did not investigate when concern was expressed (then rescinded) is beyond me. Why CKNW chose to broadcast the grisly details is beyond me as well. Why I listened, well, that is my fault too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

POEM 348
(Emily Dickinson)

The robin is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.

The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun.

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.