Monday, December 31, 2018

A First Verse from The Lost Songs of Christmas

It was felt that it is time to find some lost songs of Christmas. And so, between Xmas and NewYear's, I sat down to write one, invent its discovery -- a page of chords and lyrics typed up on an old typewriter (which I have access to), on some yellowed acidic paper (which I have access to), tucked inside an old Look magazine (which I have in my possession). "Look!" I would say, opening the magazine to where the song lay nestled in the manger of its pages. "The last line of the first verse is right out of [Alexandro Jodorowsky's] The Holy Mountain!" And you might nod, take it further, suggest that "it could have been written by [cast member Kris] Kristofferson." And from there we would talk about (Dennis) Hopper's The Last Movie (1971), the influence Jodorowsky had on him (the editing of Easy Rider, 1969), and drugs, of course, how we used to take them, and how they used to take us on such excellent adventures, long before that adjective became associated with that (plural) noun.

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Walking back from Famous Foods I saw these birdhouses outside the second-hand store on the south side of the 1300 block of Kingsway. While taking their picture the proprietor came out and asked me which one I wanted. Before I could answer she said, "Both, right?" And before I could answer that she asked again and I pointed to the saloon.

"Eight dollars," she said.

I asked about the other one.

"Five dollars," she said. "Less work."

A beat.

"I give you both for fourteen dollars."

Another beat.

"How much is [the saloon] again?"

"Nine dollars."

"Will you take eight?"


"I'll give you eight."

She laughs. "Okay, eight!"

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Journey Without Maps (1936)

On a Liberia-bound cargo ship Graham Greene meets a young German couple who boarded as deck passengers at Funchal. From what I can ascertain, the husband could be the painter Mathias Alten (self-portrait above), though Alten is almost too old for Green to describe him as "young" in 1935. On page 26, Greene writes:

He was a bad artist, but he wasn't a bogus one. He lived on almost nothing; he believed in himself and his hazy Teutonic ideas; and there was a sensual beauty in their relationship. The two lived in a kind of continuous intimacy, she had no ideas but his, no vitality but his; he supplied all the life for both of them and she supplied a warm friendly sensual death; they shared the universe between them. All the time, in the cabin, at dinner, at a cafe table, they gave the impression of having only just risen from bed. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Ernie Game (1968)

Before starting in on my seasonal David Lean binge I visited the VPL's online NFB library to watch a Don Owen film that looked nothing like its NFB site description ("a twenty-something man who is struggling to define his position in the world"), but that of a man with mental health issues.

Of equal interest are the women in his life: the former girlfriend who takes him in when he is homeless and a single-parent mom who adds him to her dating list. Both women are independent, free-spirited and sympathetic to what they see as this man's attempt to "find himself".

There are many highlights in this remarkable film, but the one that really grabbed me came at the 31:40 mark, when Judith Gault (above) busts a two-minute move -- to the groovin' sounds of the Kensington Market.

Wednesday, December 26, 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.

At my window is a sill, an apron, a sash and glass, amongst other parts. Even before looking out a window we are faced with the names that make it so.

Behind me, on my table, are piles of books that need to be cleared. The days between Xmas and New Year's are magical, timeless days that I have come to cherish. When not watching the films of David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter, in that order), I make cards for those who have sent me gifts.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Xmas Eve Eve

At Brian's hearth with Laser Beams (picture by Amy) hoping I don't find an Instagram account in my stocking, only peace on Earth!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

On the Thin Ice of a New Day

Amy and Brian grew up on skates and are great skaters. Here they are on a break from challenging gender norms at the outdoor rink at Silver Star, Vernon.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Make No Mistake

Sometimes I find it impossible to make a picture that looks like it was taken by mistake.

Friday, December 21, 2018


I borrowed(?) this picture of Monique Mouton's MBO (2018) from Eileen Myles's Instagram account.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"End of Innocence"

"Part Two" of Pauline Kael's Reeling (1977) opens with "End of Innocence", an intriguing text that has American involvement in Vietnam and the Watergate Hotel break-in by members of the Nixon administration as keys factors in a shift from the post-war American hero as a "natural leader" and a representative of the strongest (and free-ist?) economy in the world to "an enemy of all men -- a man out for his own good only, and, very likely, a psychotic racist." The publication date of Kael's text (first published in the New Yorker) is October 1, 1973, 15 days before the U.S. Department of Justice brought a suit against Trump Management Corporation for "discrimination against [B]lacks in rental apartments," of which TMC at the time owned more than 14,000 units in New York City.

For more -- and less -- on the topic of real estate and race relations in NYC, check out Hal Ashby's The Landlord (1970), a film on which Kael had this to say:

Hal Ashby’s début film as a director is one of his best. Based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, a black woman, and adapted by another black writer, William Gunn, it’s about a rich blond bachelor (Beau Bridges) who gets in over his head when he buys a house in a black ghetto, intending to throw out the tenants and turn it into his own handsome town house. The tenants include Pearl Bailey and Diana Sands, in probably her finest screen performance—when she becomes sexually and emotionally involved with the new landlord, he starts learning something about passion and terror. The dialogue is crisp and often quite startling, and though the editing may be a little too showy and jumpy, the picture has originality and depth, and it’s full of sharp, absurdist humor. Lee Grant is particularly funny as Beau Bridges’s ditzy mother, and Lou Gossett, Jr., is fairly amazing as Diana Sands’s axe-wielding husband. Released in 1970.—Pauline Kael 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Morning Drive

Something's gone awry at the CBC studios in Vancouver (a technical problem, we are told). As a result, yesterday and today local listeners awoke to feeds from CBC Kelowna and Victoria, respectively.

As much as I appreciate the variety -- hearing different voices from different places -- it is only my privilege that has it appearing as such, as all three hosts are, like me for the most part, white middle-aged heterosexual men.

Is this a problem?

Having lived in both Kelowna and Victoria (BA, UVic, 1986; MFA, UBC Okanagan, 2018), I can say that these are overwhelmingly white spaces, with Victoria the more socially progressive of the two. But does that justify their representation by white men? Of course not.

My notion of diversity is not secondary to majority rule -- a hallmark of democracy -- but based on equal participation and representation by those of as many self-identifiers as we can think of, not just those that immediately spring to mind (gender, race/ethnicity, class, disability).

On the topic of Democracy, is there any news? Is it, like our planet, running out of a gas (fossil fuel)? Is there a more efficient alternative? Is efficiency even the desired goal? (Is gas, too, a tiresome metaphor?)

In an achievement-driven culture, the answer is always yes. And Byung-Chul Han continues to ask the best questions about why our achievement culture is killing us ("auto-aggression") -- one individual at a time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018



not Aristotle but a system too
of suppositions, principles
independent of what you need

explained: a subject you started
-- patrifluff before turning to
face cream, your serum as you

put it -- liposomes, proteins
peptides -- fascinating stuff
the liquid part of blood taken

from an animal and entered
into human tissue, protection 
from disease, Latin for whey

what separates from the curds 
in the cheese-making process
the glow you make of your face

Monday, December 17, 2018

Notes from a Studio Visit with the Artist Neil Campbell

On the farm, in a shed, running lights from trucks -- red, amber, green and blue. We'd take them outside and look at the sun through them. That was a big moment.

Neil Campbell: Wheatfield and Jeremy Shaw: Quantification Trilogy open at Calgary's Esker Foundation on January 25th, 2019.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


I just received my wool Cloth Tone skinny scarf and couldn’t be happier! The dimensions are perfect (62” x 6.5”), allowing for easy pocket transport on warmer days and, when worn, keeping my shirt collar and coat lapel free of accessory overflow. Finally, someone has recognized the need for a warm and cozy scarf that looks more like a tie than an Elizabethan ruff!

Saturday, December 15, 2018


Those who pass at Xmas, led away on those pull-tabs of radio news we hear between carols. Happy news. Purposely so. No more than five items per newscast, including a Santa siting and a longer than usual bio of someone who, if passing at any other time of the year, might not bear mention.

Death is part of that happy news, in the way that it can inspire a smiling sadness. The passing of a (benevolent) business person, a (charismatic) character actor (male or female), an inventor of a life-saving device.

Sometimes these deaths belong to unpleasant people, like Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, who, according to their prosecutor (the no-longer-Communist-state of Romania), were accused of "genocide by starvation, lack of heating and lighting ... [and] the most hideous crime[:] ... suppressing the soul of the nation."

The Ceausescus were tried on December 25, 1989 and sentenced to death. Guards were ordered to take them outside, one at a time, and shoot them; but Elena protested ("If you want to kill us, kill us together. We have the right to die together!"). A guard asked -- and was granted -- permission to shoot them, together. When another guard tried to tie them up -- tie their hands behind their back -- Elena protested again ("Don't tie us up! Don't offend us! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame on you! I brought you up as a mother!"), but they were tied up nonetheless and executed at 2:50pm.

Bucharest is ten hours ahead of Vancouver, making news of the Ceausescus' execution available to Vancouverites over morning coffee. That's when I heard it. Huddled over the gas stove at 441 Powell Street, waiting for the espresso pot to gurgle, the heat to kick in, hung over from a night of revelling at the Railway Club, where Jamey Kosh stole the show -- singing the lyrics to "Frosty the Snowman" to the tune of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". A night I shall never forget.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Nancy Wilson (1937-2018)

My mother's cousin Tommy's ex-wife Dale (Martin) was an important influence when I was a boy. She knew a lot about a lot of things, but never cared much about what she knew, or who knew it.

Dale would often stop by the house and invite me to join her on her errands. Sometimes when I visited she would put on a record and watch me listen to it. I tried to look interested, but I always felt embarrassed, because I knew she knew I was trying too hard.

After a couple years of putting on records, Dale put on Nancy Wilson's How Glad I Am (1966) and, just before the needle dropped, told me that Nancy Wilson is her favourite singer and that I am her favourite husband's cousin's son.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"Cities" (1916) by H.D. (1886-1961)


Can we believe—by an effort 
comfort our hearts: 
it is not waste all this, 
not placed here in disgust, 
street after street, 
each patterned alike, 
no grace to lighten 
a single house of the hundred 
crowded into one garden-space. 

Crowded—can we believe, 
not in utter disgust, 
in ironical play— 
but the maker of cities grew faint 
with the beauty of temple 
and space before temple, 
arch upon perfect arch, 
of pillars and corridors that led out 
to strange court-yards and porches 
where sun-light stamped 
black on the pavement. 

That the maker of cities grew faint 
with the splendour of palaces, 
paused while the incense-flowers 
from the incense-trees 
dropped on the marble-walk, 
thought anew, fashioned this— 
street after street alike. 

For alas, 
he had crowded the city so full 
that men could not grasp beauty, 
beauty was over them, 
through them, about them, 
no crevice unpacked with the honey, 
rare, measureless. 

So he built a new city, 
ah can we believe, not ironically 
but for new splendour 
constructed new people 
to lift through slow growth 
to a beauty unrivalled yet— 
and created new cells, 
hideous first, hideous now— 
spread larve across them, 
not honey but seething life. 

And in these dark cells, 
packed street after street, 
souls live, hideous yet— 
O disfigured, defaced, 
with no trace of the beauty 
men once held so light. 

Can we think a few old cells 
were left—we are left— 
grains of honey, 
old dust of stray pollen 
dull on our torn wings, 
we are left to recall the old streets? 

Is our task the less sweet 
that the larvae still sleep in their cells? 
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength: 
You are useless. We live. 
We await great events. 
We are spread through this earth. 
We protect our strong race. 
You are useless. 
Your cell takes the place 
of our young future strength. 

Though they sleep or wake to torment 
and wish to displace our old cells— 
thin rare gold— 
that their larve grow fat— 
is our task the less sweet? 

Though we wander about, 
find no honey of flowers in this waste, 
is our task the less sweet— 
who recall the old splendour, 
await the new beauty of cities? 

The city is peopled 
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love: 

Though they crowded between 
and usurped the kiss of my mouth 
their breath was your gift, 
their beauty, your life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

GNK 3-2-1

3: the number of writers it took to write a three paragraph review of ...

2: the number of curators it took to curate ...

1: a single artist who, with little more than a pencil and a stool, wrote on the gallery wall "the names of everyone [he] ever met."

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Maxwell Bates (1906-1980)

Last Saturday afternoon I visited the nineteenth century -- also known as Uno Langman's Xmas open house. Before that I stopped at Heffel, where I saw Myfanwy Pavelic's Portrait of Maxwell Bennett Bates (1979) and, on the wall opposite, Bates's Forest Spirits (n.d.).

Monday, December 10, 2018



a house that has seen enough
money pass through it to shorten
a lifetime

I know you’re in there
the hallway light’s infiltration
of what you assumed

to be a dark room, your silhouette
held in the drapes, a billboard
advertising fear

disguised as
curiosity, now guilt as you
return to your computer

and me to mine
noting those who stop
before your spiked iron fence

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Biography of Joseph Conrad

On Page 38 of her critical biography The Dawn Watchers: Joseph Conrad in a Global World (2017), Maya Jasanoff writes: "A spider in the worldwide web of somewhere, London caught the world in lines of news."

The year is 1878, and Conrad, who is 20, has just arrived from Marseilles, where he worked as a sailor after leaving his native Poland three years before. One of the greatest writers of English literature -- and he has yet to learn the language!

(The image atop this post is also from 1878.)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Words of the Years

Oxford Dictionary's 2018 "Word of the Year" is toxic. (Not its "Word of the Year" promotion, but the word itself.) Like many, I nodded when I heard it.

As for words in the offing, I am seeing the word trauma pop up more and more, most recently in Dodie Bellamy's "Leaky Boundaries" article for Artforum.

Is "trauma" the great intersectional unifier? Byung-Chul Han seems to think so. As our "achievement culture" can't-go-on-will-go-on, as our "auto-aggression" takes it toll, collective -- and competing -- trauma is inevitable.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Civilian Assembly Centre

Seventy-seven years ago today, over a two hour period, the Imperial Japanese Army sent bombs, bullets and torpedoes into the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. After that, the United States and Canada responded with a long, tortuous corralling of its ethnic Japanese population, stripping them of their possessions, their homes, separating family members and relocating them to interior towns like Greenwood, B.C. (below). While on the other side of the Pacific, the Imperial Army invaded the Shanghai International Settlement, taking my father and his parents prisoner and interning them at a civilian assembly centre similar to the one J. G. Ballard and his family were sent to at Lunghua (above).

Thursday, December 6, 2018


"[T]he stories that have always been here" would have something to say about more recent stories of land speculators and private developers whose intention is never to learn from the land but to impose upon it their will, collect those whose vision includes ambiguity, the symbolic, the critical, and absorb them, make headstones of their objects and gestures. The proposal to turn Oakridge into Fort Wealth is the latest manifestation. By concentrating all available pronouns into a subservient "we", the story of that absorption is but six letters short -- s-t-b-a-n-k -- of completion.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"a watersmooth-silver//stallion"

In Design as Art (London: Penguin, 1966), Bruno Munari writes: "A poem only communicates if read slowly: only then does it have time to create a state of mind in which the images can form and be transformed." (68) Yet in e.e. cummings's "Buffalo Bill's" (1920), line 6 is designed to be read quickly:

and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat

Not simply the images in the poem, because these have already been established in the form of our hero (Buffalo Bill) and what he's riding in on ("a watersmooth-silver//stallion"), but their accelerant: the action taken towards Munari's "transformation." This is cummings's debt to the Italian Futurists (1909-1944): the speed -- and the violence -- in which that action takes place. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Wild Kingdom

I am so sensitive.

How sensitive are you?

I am so sensitive that even the breath you take to ask me about the extent of my sensitivity is enough to suck me dry.

Monday, December 3, 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 cry I keep hearing -- it is no longer coming from outside my window but from within this room, from the closet to the right of my table so shallow I cannot hang my shirts and coats with their shoulders front to back, but side to side, a cry

that will soon enough come from inside me, and then what? new forms? these same words but as rungs that poem of those who, like the limbless crying out from battlefields, homebound, unable to rise from their beds, the war

inside us, raging, us against us? It is ... futile? ironic? shitty? given the historic emphasis on hard work, achievement, how important it is to set goals, how if we work hard enough we will achieve them -- over a ground that continues to shift, that never kept still, never neutral, always a battlefield, a script

whose final act is hidden? never written? To write like this, to write through this, to read back on that writing and revise? These are the thoughts I awake to, lucky enough to get out of bed with -- until one day the weight of them ...

Saturday, December 1, 2018


A fews weeks ago a mirthless friend from Saskatoon who loves Leonard Cohen sent me a Winnipeg Free Press review of Cohen's posthumous poetry book The Flame and asked if I had read it. 

Knowing he wasn't referring to the review, I read the review anyway and noticed that the second poetry book mentioned was my own.

I replied to my friend that I had not yet read the Cohen book, but that the second book "looked interesting." Two weeks later I received in the mail the third book mentioned, with a post-it note saying, "You were right!"