Friday, February 28, 2014

A small room inside 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 stack of books beside my bed gets ever higher. Atop it now is Lynn Crosbie's Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems (1997), which is about to be re-issued. The publisher, Anansi, asked me to write its Introduction, and I said yes.

Queen Rat selects from Crosbie's first three books and includes three longer serial works, one of which, "Alphabet City", was commissioned by a now-defuct journal, also called Alphabet City.

So much of what Crosbie writes about in "Alphabet City" is gone. All those amazing bars and clubs. Even those still open, like the Cameron House, are no longer what they once were. But neither am I, nor Lynn.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

East End Transportation Complex (1958)

Completed in 1958, the roller-coaster at Playland is one of the few wooden coasters still operating in North America. The view from its highest point (on the right side of the image above) looks north, towards the mountains.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

West End Housing Complex (1956)

The term Vancouverism is used to describe an urban environment that allows for large populations to be housed in medium and tall commercial and residential buildings without forsaking views.

A key to this concept is the absence of an interurban freeway, something that was fought by local citizens in the 1960s -- the result of which was a municipal party known as the Committee for Progressive Electors (COPE).

The drawing above is by the architect Arthur Erickson, a progenitor of Vancouverism. Entitled West End Housing Complex (1956), it depicts a city based not on what a domicile looks like on the inside but what it looks onto. At the time this drawing was made, the southwest view was of False Creek, a smouldering sculpture made up of beehive burners and sooty tugs.

Today, False Creek is a tourist market, while the once pristine North Shore Mountains (to the northwest) is a glass staircase known as West Vancouver, the richest municipality in the country and home to Vancouver's wealthiest developers, many of whom look onto Vancouver as if it were their playground.

Monday, February 24, 2014


The German language is big on compound words. An example of a compound word whose form speaks to its content is Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates into English as "a total work of art."

Imagine my surprise, then, as I approached the Granville Street Bridge last week, where I saw the word Gesamtkunstwerk partitioned like those towers that have retail shops on the bottom (WERK), office space in the middle (KUNST) and residential units up top (GESAMT). And then to learn that this sign is in fact an advertisement for an art exhibition that celebrates the "evolution of the city's built form," presumably from the first pre-contact long houses to the integration of tall buildings, view corridors and parks in a porridge of Culture and Nature.

GESAMT/KUNST/WERK is due to open ("to the public") March 22. For more information, click here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Public Space

If not what, then where.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A small room inside 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 awake to the neighbour's radio, which is louder than usual, too loud to make out what is said. I think instead of what I knew of the world before I went to bed, when I pulled the covers under my chin and asked them to help me sleep.

Cossacks performing at the Winter Olympics, the Ukraine, the world's fresh water supply -- none of which gives shape to what the radio makes. And so I refocus, absorb the rain's plastic dots. I think about the day ahead, and what can wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Hey Baby" (1994)

Back in the early 1990s, younger writers -- poets, in particular -- fell into debates over poems as visual compositions versus those as performative scripts. This debate seems silly now, but it was silly then, too.

A shame that yesterday's silliness has given way to an indifference to difference; that everything in this era of publicity has been ironed out and presented less as critique than as affirmation, decoration.

Poets for whom performance is key include Henry Rollins, a driving force in what was in the early 1990s called "spoken word", but has since become better known by its more competitive name, "slam poetry".

One of the poets to have emerged during this time was Maggie Estep, a graduate of Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and an MTV regular who is perhaps best-known as fodder for Beavis and Butthead.

In the video above, Estep performs a poem (with band) where she addresses harassment from men in public space while Beavis and Butthead assess her performance in the privacy of their cartoon home.

Maggie Estep passed away last week after suffering a heart attack. She was 50.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,   
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries   
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am   
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,   
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,   
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,   
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here   
should snip a few testicles. If we wise   
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,   
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over   
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing   
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits   
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries   
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

"We Have No Language for the Future"

Futurist Ray Hammond channels Wittgenstein, Haraway.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"In the not too distant future…"

In Futurology Fiasco, the author claims that futurology is a Western preoccupation that serves the capitalist mode of production. For as all Marxist-Leninist's know, Socialism is the inevitable outcome of all industrial societies. After that comes Communism, where, as Marx predicted, man's central conflict will be not amongst the social classes, but with Nature.

In the film Gattaca (1997), an individual's future is determined by his or her genetic composition. Why this measure is made at birth and not in the womb, through amniocentesis, is the film's first flaw. Had this been addressed, Gattaca would be about eugenics and/or abortion. Moreover, we are told little about how this world arrived at genetic determinism, just as we are told little about why people want to leave Earth and live in outer space, as our hero hopes to do -- but cannot because he has the wrong DNA.

If the arguments posed in Futurology Fiasco were applied to Gattaca, it would recognize a film that assumes the triumph of the (capitalist) individual and, in this case, his ability to succeed in both a corporate world and a scientific one. But the science of Gattaca is not the science that today's governments keep cutting support for. That science is the one that provides evidence that we are killing Nature (fossil fuels, nuclear meltdowns), as opposed to working in harmony with it. (Perhaps this is why our hero wants to leave the planet?)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Soviet Publishing

Yesterday afternoon I paid a visit to the People's Co-op Bookstore with an architect friend who had never spent much time in the store and knew nothing of its history. After a quick orientation I asked him what could be done to make the store more inviting, and because he is that kind of architect, he wanted to know more.

Above the shelves sit a number of books the store had ordered since its inception in 1945. So I showed him these books and he was amazed not only at their content but their design. Mid-1970s souvenir books of the Siberian city of Irkutsk filled with matte finished photographs rephotographed and printed on high gloss paper; 1960s anthologies of Soviet Stories illustrated with wood block prints; 1950s textbooks on paediatric osteopathy.

But the books that grabbed our attention were those from the very early 1980s, one of which, Vic Schneierson's 1982 English translation of Georgi Shakhnazarov's Futurology Fiasco: A Critical Study of Non-Marxist Concepts of How Society Develops (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980) I cracked last night before settling into bed.

For anyone interested in these books, most of them can be found at the west end of the store. They are reasonably priced, and worth it for their design alone.

Here is another:

Monday, February 10, 2014


Jean Rhys was born here, in Roseau, Dominca in 1890.

Such a startling composition. One person did not build or paint this town, nor did one person intend for it to look this way.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On Happiness and Writing

"When I was excited about life, I didn't want to write at all."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A small room inside 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 roll over and reach for the book at the top of the stack, reading aloud its title as if speaking to the person next to me, "Good Morning, Midnight," and from there I wonder, If this is writing, would I have to write this title in italics as well?

Opening the book at random, I read: "I know all about myself, I know. You've told me so often. You haven't left me one rag of illusion to clothe myself in."

I set down the book and think of the author's relationship with a man who was described by Ezra Pound like this: "if he were place naked and alone in a room without furniture, I would come back in an hour and find total chaos."

Illusion's wardrobe, nudity's chaos. Shall I roll over and go back to sleep, or get up, get dressed and launch myself into this cold blue world?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

People's Co-op Bookstore

Then one day the child turned to his mother and asked, Mommy, what's a bookstore? And the mother, who was a child herself once and who, as a child, went inside these stores to warm up, only to emerge one afternoon with a book given to her by a keen-eyed clerk, a book that changed her life, said as much.

(Photo by Larry Cohen of a reading unrelated to this text.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Capilano Review (3.22)

The latest issue of The Capilano Review arrived last week. On the cover is an image from a painting by Margaux Williamson, but the featured artist is Lyndl Hall (pictured above), who, when not in the studio, is in charge of Bookstore Operations at READ Books, a division of ECUAD's Charles H. Scott Gallery.

With every issue, TCR editorial invites a guest blogger to respond on its website to the magazine and/or its ti-TCR web folio. Yesterday I posted something on its cover and the first thirty pages; for my next post I will include something on Lyndl's work as it pertains to the issue's quiet thematic: geometry.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"We see the light"

Time in space (Ziegfeld, Elvis. Crosby, Stills & Nash) -- before computer generated imagery.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"That's now. That's real now."

The original Star Trek television series (1966-1969) was a science fiction that at times felt like Shakespeare in space. Certainly this is true of what William Shatner brought to his character. Prior to taking on the role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Shatner was Stratford regular.

As with Shakespeare, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry drew on current events when constructing his story lines. In the clip above, a hippie cult, led by Doctor Severin, is rescued by the U.S.S. Enterprise, only to take over the ship and its crew.