Friday, November 30, 2018

Thursday Walk

Yesterday afternoon. Another break in the weather. Out the back this time, down the lane, left onto Clark to 11th, right to Commercial, where I turn left again, keeping to the east side of the street, the sunnier side, stopping outside Pulp Fiction Books because JP's behind the desk, and I have never seen that before: JP at the Commercial store.

On the desk, a display of Metatron titles, the first I have seen from this press I have heard so much about. But these books -- like the Pocket Poets series City Lights puts out. 6.5x4.75. An ideal size. A true pocket book! Twelve titles, of which Aja Moore is the only writer I am familiar with, whose work I have read, so it is Aja's book -- hotwheel -- that I set aside in the midst of my conversation with JP about the leap between poetic lines -- how hard they can be to stay with, as a reader, and harder still to trust, as a writer.

"Like an enthymeme," says JP. "You know what an enthymeme is," he says, and I confess that I don't. "A suppressed premise," he says, writing it down (at my urging), and from there he tells me what he learned from Aristotle's Rhetoric, a 4th century B.C. treatise on persuasion.

Further on, crossing 1st, my mind turning, coming up with stuff, "dumb shit," as George Bowering would call it -- or "a lot of dumb shit" as he once called Kevin Davies's "script" as he tossed it from the podium after Kevin aggressively read from it at the Western Front in October 1983, a benefit for a firebombed MacLeod's Books that Peter Culley used as a lede years later for his contribution to the Western Front's Whispered Art History: 1973-1993 (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 1993).

I stop, write in my notebook

when missing you (withers?) into heartbreak

when I notice a picture of Pete Fry on the cover of a free daily. Inspired, I add

green critique of capital-is-him/patriarchy

and in re-reading these lines I feel nothing for the space between them.

A couple blocks later I am outside the People's Co-op Bookstore, and in the window is Byung-Chul Han's Psycho-Politics (London: Verso, 2017), which I grab without cracking and pay for. Later, over coffee, I flip through both books and turn down a corner in each. In Han's book, the opening page of Chapter 5, "Foucault's Dilemma", where he tells us how Foucault got it wrong: that it is not biopolitics (in relation to neoliberalism) but psycho-politics. In Aja's book, halfway through her poem "After I Definitely Can't Afford to Study w/ Sharon Olds" -- this:

I avoid my body     its triumphs and

its defeats

If I think of you at all

it is to wonder just how badly

I wanted a proper and final


And all the ways we feel about it

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Film Critic Pauline Kael

Readers familiar with websit's ebb and flow will know that November marks a change in bathroom reading. Gone is last year's People's Almanac #3 (1981) and in its place something I picked up at the MCC Thrift Shop on yesterday's late-morning walk -- a 650 page collection of New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael's 1972-1975 film reviews.

The first entry in Reeling (1977) appears under the chapter title "Soul Food". In an artful pairing, Kael discusses two films -- Sounder (1972) and The Emigrants (1972) -- and leaves it the reader to wonder why.

So what do we know about these two films? Sounder is a dog, a coon hound. The family he lives with are Depression-era Black sharecroppers; not slaves like the parents' parents' generation but enslaved by Jim Crow laws that were enforced in the American South as late as 1965. The emigrants in this case are Swedes who came willingly to the United States in the mid-19th century, many of whom settled in north-central winter states like Minnesota. Traces of Swedish immigration can be found in later films like the Cohen Brothers' Fargo (1996).

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Buster Keaton

Orson Welles says Buster Keaton's The General (1926), made near the end of the "silent era", is one of the greatest films ever. However, upon its initial release, critics were ambivalent, and the greater public, who don't generally care what critics think, responded similarly.

The General lost money, and Keaton his independence as a film artist.

Keaton died in 1966, a couple years after the CBC documentary at the top of this post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A small room behind 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.

All day long, from 7am to midnight, the rain fell. I could hear it on the concrete walkway, the wooden porch, an upturned glass.

More rain today, turning to showers in the afternoon.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

"Five emerging Canadian philanthropists wear brilliant holiday fashion"

The headline reads like something you might hear on CBC Radio's carefully funny This Is That. But nope, it is an article from this weekend's Globe and Mail.

What have we to learned?

That philanthropy is intergenerational:

“It was something that was really important to both of us, to show the transition of a cause and how two generations can be supportive of it,” says Jen McCain.

That people can be herded:

“It’s fun for me to put people in a room and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? They don’t have a good time? They’ll get over it!” says Barbara Frum.


“It’s okay not to be okay," says Meghan Yuri Young.

That you can have it all:

“I love traditional, but I think you can be contemporary too, and excel at both," says Tanner Kidd.

That the Toronto society scene is:

“not part of my world,” says Sage Paul.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Jack's Book

Yesterday over coffee Rolf gave me a small book by the English painter and critic Robin Ironside. Entitled Painting Since 1939 (London: Longman, Green & Co., 1947), the book is a chaptered 40 page essay that, when not stumbling over its bombast, offers a "General Character of British Painting" (sans Vorticism); a review of Fry's critical influence; a recognition of an emergent "Neo-Romantic" energy (of which Ironside was a force), followed by its "Development"; a detour into the War Artists Advisory Committee, before concluding with some notes on a "Rising Generation", a group that includes a "very amateur" Lucien Freud (below, 1945).

While we hear a lot about Bacon, Bell, Moore, Nash and Sutherland (below, 1940), there is little discussion of paintings made by women. Only Frances Mary Hodgkins and Ethel Walker bear mention: the former described as a member of the Seven and Five Society in her bio; the latter described as a painter of "portraits, flower-pieces, sea-pieces and decorative compositions" in hers.

The best part of this book, or why Rolf gave it to me, concerns its previous owner, whose name and address are written on its cover. Crossed out next to "886 Thurlow St, Vancouver B.C." is "J. L. Shadbolt 128 Monroe St. New York, NY."

Here is a text supplied by Heffel Fine Art Auction House that describes Shadbolt's year in NYC:

"From September 1948 to August 1949, Jack Shadbolt was in New York City, during a time of great vitality in the visual arts that saw the emergence of the New York School of painters. While there, he was drawn to the work of painters such as Arshile Gorky and Pablo Picasso, whose monumental anti-war painting Guernica electrified the art world. Emerging from the shadow of World War II and its anxieties, Shadbolt felt that only abstraction could express the spirit of the times and began to produce vital works such as this one. This powerful watercolour is a study for Shadbolt’s 1948 oil The Great Ones [below], sold for a record price in Heffel’s spring 2009 auction. Both are early abstract works that still retain ties to figuration—for as Scott Watson maintained, “Works like The Great Ones depict fierce abstract totem figures.” Shadbolt was still abstracting from something, whether figures or from nature, and his abstract works were symbolic. Works such as this marked a turning point in Shadbolt’s career and helped to establish his prominence as one of Canada’s leading modernist painters."

Friday, November 23, 2018

Business Models

“What’s come to be shocking to us is this continued, sort of premise, that people have the right to be so hateful and the judge and jury of a business model,” she said. “We’re selling hot lemon water for $3.50 and providing a wonderful place where they can consume that lemon water. There’s no part of us that understands why that piece of the conversation is continually being driven forward.”

I see nothing wrong with making lemon water a menu item. Lemons cost money. So does City supplied water. Heating the water also costs money. Same with clearing away and cleaning out the vessel. Same with the rent on the building it is consumed in. Indeed, there are many costs associated with running a business, some of which can be lost on the patron.

Back in 1993, when I started the 99-seat Malcolm Lowry Room ("Sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name"), my biggest challenge was how to get a largely Vancouver audience to trek out to North Burnaby to drink my liquor and see my shows. What I came up with was a business model that included free admission, paying the talent more than they were making at similar-sized venues, and cheap alcohol. My model was based on the quality of talent and the quantity of beer sales. And it worked. Not super well, but well enough that when people came to see a show and settled into an evening of tap water, they knew enough to tip their server.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


The Perils of a Critical Education
for Karen O'Shaughnessy

the local gourmet cracker queen calls
to ask if the shelter has room for a donation
seconds after a yes, thank you! her van 
at the back door honking, surrounded

by a camera crew, its director urging us
to keep coming! keep coming! you
in the vest to the passenger side, you
in the toque, I want you to hug 

the driver, an older woman who was for years
a resident until her meds got the better
of everyone and her pastor found her 
a basement room at the manse

I don’t know what’s going on, she giggles
as her door is opened for her, I've never
been behind the wheel of a car before
let alone a van as nice as this one

it took two takes to get the hug right
and three to get the gift given, but
by then the damage was done: we broke
receiving's cardinal rule 

when we looked in its mouth 
and saw not those pretty boxes
of sweet 'n' savoury crackers
but a six-foot tube of rock hard heels

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Kay Boyle on Robert McAlmon

"When I had gone back to the bar to sit with McAlmon again, what happened then was in a sense a parable acted out for exactly what this man was. He had switched from gin to scotch, and we were sitting there silenced and saddened and embittered by the ugliness and the opulence of the middle-aged people. French and American and English, who danced, and ate, and drank, and threw their money away in handfuls instead of giving it to the poets and the beggars of the world. And then, between the silk draperies that completely concealed the window that stood open on the summer night (they were green, those curtains;  I can see them clearly, stirring, wavering a little in the night air), suddenly a miserable hand reached in from the deserted street, a black-nailed, dirty, defeated hand, with a foul bit of shirt sleeve showing at the wrist. Without a word McAlmon placed his fine, tall glass of whiskey and soda into the fingers of the stranger's hand, and the fingers closed quickly on it and drew it back through the draperies into the lonely dark."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

McAlmon's Chinese Opera

Every few years I pick up Stephen Scobie's McAlmon's Chinese Opera (1980) and read it from start to finish. Last time I read it (five years ago) I recall thinking how lopsided it was, how well it started, but how so much of it (too much of it) was given over to his final "desert" years. Not so this time. This time I thought its proportions ideal.

Poetry has some McAlmon online. Here is his poem "White Men" (1920):

Before they died.
There would be no more white males,
None so clear a white as these;
Only some tinged with grey -- dusty.
But I could not watch them rush to the forest forever --
Not one did I see arrive there --
A cloud or night or blackness always intervened.
I saw them rush forward and disappear,
And then saw no more of them.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Maybe 2 (Image Culture)

When walking with Maybe people ask us what she is.

"What is she? She's a mix, right?"

I don't know, I say. I wasn't present when she was conceived.

"But if you had to guess?"

I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine.

"If I had to guess, I would say your dog's part chihuahua, part Scottie."

Really? I see her more as a Snoopy/Woodstock cross.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Yesterday afternoon I walked to VGH to visit Amarjot, who had emergency surgery last week. As much as I wanted to bring his and Althea's dog Maybe with me (she is staying with me until Am is released), hospital rules are strict about animals at bedsides. Instead, I brought with me a coat covered in Maybe's hair and the picture above, which I took on Friday.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Hey, Whoopie Cat!"

A lesser known mondegreen from Side Two of Led Zeppelin IV. This was the side that provided Mike Carroll, Roger Nay, David Holmes and I our soundtrack during a fateful 1978 trip to Gabriola -- an island from which we were subsequently banned.

Friday, November 16, 2018

All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward

Great to hear Tanya Talaga on the road with the 2018 CBC Massey Lectures.

Last night's "All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward (I Breathe for Them)" broadcast came from Tanya's stop in Saskatoon, Treaty 6 Territory, home of former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas (1904-1986), the "father of universal medical care in Canada," she told us. The "father."

As much as I appreciate Tommy Douglas's push for universal healthcare in Canada, am I wrong to bristle at this personification -- as the father of Canadian healthcare? Is there not a non-patriarchal, less singular way of acknowledging his role? I am asking.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


We Can Have Both, But Not All
for Ashok Mathur

more? let’s begin with what we have

we have each other

say it

each other

no, all of it

            we have each other

we have each other

all together now

            all together now we have each other

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Talonbooks Fall Poetry Launch

Talonbooks tends to launch its Fall (or Spring) titles all at once. Last night's Fall Poetry Launch featured five books and six authors, with Jónína Kirton hosting.

Pictured up top is Tiziana La Melia, author of The Eyelash and the Monochrome. Below is Treaty 6 Deixis by Christine Stewart:

Christine''s book, like Fred Wah's contribution to his and Rita Wong's beholden: a poem as long as the river, was written beside a river (the Columbia River for Fred; the kisiskâciwani-sîpiy or the North Saskatchewan for Christine). I have just started Christine's book and have not yet settled on who she means by "they".

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A small room behind 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 shoes come off outside the door and are left on a mat to the right of it. Inside the door are a pair of felt slippers, always warm because beside them is the heating vent.

On the inside of the door is a hook with a red mac on it. When I return, I remove my coat and replace it with the mac.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


A watercolour by Ian Wallace entitled Poppies from a Field Near Pervillac, France, Summer (1997) currently on display at Fault Line Projects, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Remembrance Day Poem

The Known Soldier
for Dana Claxton

I know her. I don’t know her
well, but we were friendly once 
until she said she had to go away
and that was it, when I saw her next
she wasn’t, not mean but indifferent
or preoccupied. I didn’t press
I just looked away, as she did with me
and this went on for some time
until one day we were approaching
each other and as we were passing
she reached out and touched me
touched my shoulder and I stopped
watched her hand slide away
but by then she was gone, crossing
at the light at the end of the block

Friday, November 9, 2018

Fu(rni)ture Shock

Whenever I think the world can't get any worse, and me with it, I look at Ettore Sottsass's Casablanca Sideboard (1981) and I think, Yes, things can get worse: I could visit my mother on Sunday and find Casablanca Sideboard jumping for joy in her dining room.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Colour Rotation (1964)

Consignor Canadian Fine Art's Live Fall Auction of Important Canadian Art is less than two weeks away. Among the highlights is a 1964 Kenneth Lochead painting consigned from the collection of the TransCanada PipeLines Limited of Calgary, Alberta. Yes, this Hard-edge panting looks "like" its title (Colour Rotation), but it could also pass for a buckled (pipe-) line.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


"Only those safe from fascism and its practices are likely to think that there might be a benefit in exchanging ideas with fascists."
--Aleksandar Hemon 

after Aleksandar Hemon

are likely to think that there might be
pulled from its quotation, entered 
into Google’s engine, exciting
(but not matching) a BBC

Learning English course 
so it disappears to be mine
and I am free to present it without 

quotation marks, a staircase stanza 
climbed from right to left, walked across
then jumped from -- without anything
to catch us

who among us are likely to think that
there might be a point in lifting something
from something published and dropping from it
this length of poem?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Two Books in a Thrift Store: Letters on a Flat White Field

A couple months ago I found these two books at the East 12th Avenue Salvation Army Store, at opposite ends of the shelf. Neither bookends nor binaries, they are nonetheless attempts at raising questions of decreasing relevance. Does that make them unimportant? No -- they are of their time.

For those interested in those times, these books will be around as long as publishers keep them in print, retailers keep them on shelves and libraries continue to lend them. What determines their availability is another question. Whether that question is based on the market or a public depends on your disposition.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Walking Back on Kingsway

Yesterday's walk suddenly turned into a Skytrain trip from Broadway-Commercial to Metrotown, where I purchased a couple pairs of pants. I thought I might catch a matinee after, eat a bag of popcorn, but the films didn't interest me. Plus it was too warm and sunny to spend the afternoon indoors -- so I walked back from the 4500 block of Kingsway to the 1200 block, where I live.

In the shadow of the Burnaby Skytrain track, between Jersey and Smith Streets, is Minoas Taverna (above), an ongoing work of restaurant architecture that I hope to dine at one day. Below, a thoughtfully cultivated garden (topiary!) by the owners of the Quán Chay Pháp Uyen Veggie Deli (at McKinnon St):

Near Khan's ladder (Gladstone St.), an upholsterer:

The former Rona store between Dumfries and Perry Streets at the 1400 block (below). Last week saw the last of the rebar bundles removed and the safety fence opened. This morning Lowe's, who purchased a number of Rona stores a couple years ago, announced it would be closing many more stores, even though they said they would integrate these stores if and when the day came.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Care, Protection

Door stops can be springs made of coiled metal wire. They are intended to be flexible. Rubber is flexible, too, and sometimes spring door stops have rubber tips.

Sometimes our stops are too flexible, and are not stoppers at all but slowers, delaying what they are designed to protect. Sometimes adjectives are nouns and appear as such with red squiggly lines under them.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Warm and Sunny Autumn Friday

Yesterday's oddly balmy morning...

At 11am I began my ten-block walk southeast on Kingsway to see Khan Lee's 126-foot tall 108 Steps (2018). On my way back I stopped at a second-hand store and picked up two CDs (Sonic Youth's Goo, 1990, and Beck's Mellow Gold, 1994) for $1.50 each; an IKEA stool for $5; and my biggest score, an Expo '86 umbrella ($2!), whose logo was like a swastika for many of us in the mid-1980s.

At 3pm, a Collective Acts "symposium" at UBC featuring presentations (poems, tales, stories, speculations) by Marilyn Dumont and Candice Hopkins, followed by a Q&A led by moderator Tarah Hogue.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Golden Bird of Kanjataimu (2018)

An ink drawing from Geoffrey Farmer's exhibition Mudpuddlers, Corn Borers, Polymorphic Platyforms at Casey Kaplan (November 1 - December 22).

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Season of Migration to the North (1967)

Page 50 from Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North (1967):

I heard Mansour say to Richard, "You transmitted to us the disease of your capitalist economy. What did you give us except for a handful of capitalist companies that drew off our blood -- and still do?" Richard said to him, "All this shows that you cannot manage to live without us. You used to complain about colonialism and when we left you created the legend of neo-colonialism. It seems that our presence, in an open or undercover form, is as indispensable to you as air or water." They were not angry: they said such things to each other as they laughed, a stone's throw from the Equator, with a bottomless historical chasm separating the two of them.