Saturday, November 30, 2019

Summer Friends

The morning of November 27th was cold enough to finish off garden stalwarts the fuschia, the lobelia, the geranium and (pictured above) the begonia.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Room With a View (1908)

Forster's end-stage Victorian "social comedy" (middle-class Brits holidaying in Italy) asks if the English heart is "cold" or simply "undeveloped."

"The luxury of self-exposure kept [Lucy] almost happy through the long evening. She thought not so much of what had happened as of how she should describe it. All her sensations, her spasm of courage, her moments of unreasonable joy, her mysterious discontent, should be carefully laid before her cousin [Charlotte].  And together in divine confidence they would disentangle and interpret them all.

'At last,' thought [Lucy], 'I shall understand myself. I shan't again be troubled by things that come out of nothing, and mean I don't know what.'"
                                                                                    -- E.M. Forster

Image: Grand Canal, Venice, 1908, Claude Monet

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Little Things

I am taking greater pleasure in the little things, like taking off my shoes before entering someone's home. A gesture of respect, a way to keep the dirt out, but also the exercise I get from it. Another is my morning multi: not just the pill and its alleged goodness, but the glass of water I take to get it down. We are told that we never drink as much water as we should be drinking, though most of us know we are mostly made of it.

photo: William Anders, Apollo 8 (12/24/1968)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Eleanor Collins

Speaking of birthdays, CBC radio's long-running, regionally broadcast Hot Air jazz show celebrated the birthday of singer Eleanor Collins yesterday.

Collins, who turned 100-years-old last Thursday, was born in Edmonton on November 21, 1919 of American parents. She had many offers to visit the U.S. and pursue her career there, but chose to remain in Canada in honour of her parents' decision to to come to the Prairies, as other Black American families did, and "homestead." A long-time resident of Vancouver, Collins is the first woman in Canada to have hosted her own TV show.

A big thank you to Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher and part-time host Paolo Pietropaolo for putting together yesterday's episode. If I could ask one thing of you two: How about gathering some of Eleanor's past performances and making a concert of them, to be shown on the CBC's outdoor screen some summer's night?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

bill bissett (November 23, 1939 -)

For me, the beginning of bill bissett was a poet who wrote semi-phonetically, who appeared in pictures as someone who was once a beatnik, might have been a hippie, dabbled in glam and skipped punk to wear all four at once. Then, in the fall of 1983, I found an issue of 3 Cent Pulp atop a garbage bin at the Granville Island Public Market -- a beautifully printed poem by bill that told me it didn't necessarily want to be treated so beautifully, so completely, and I felt embarrassed by what I thought I "knew".

Years later, after seeing bill perform numerous times (sometimes sucking the life out of a room, other times injecting it with what he'd stored from the night before), I set out on a concentrated study of all things bill and, while an SFU Writer-in-Residence (2009-10), decided to use a line from the editorial of bill's first issue of blewointment magazine as the title of my exhibition at SFU Gallery, Burnaby: "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver: 1954 - 1969.

Following that, bill figured prominently in a curatorial segment Charo Neville and I worked on for Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties, an online project initiated by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and grunt gallery. A few years after that I included some of bill's written and editorial work in a small room at the Belkin devoted to 60s and 70s concrete poetry (part of the Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry exhibition) and bill kindly stopped by to give a tour. But it wasn't until Brock University's 2016 Two Days of Canada Conference (themed The Concept of Vancouver) that I had a chance to sit with bill and have a sustained conversation.

I forget what time it was, but it was after midnight and a group of us had just landed in Gregory Betts's kitchen where Greg was melting cheese onto bread for our snack. I noticed on the table a newspaper that included an article featuring the American actress Carol Channing and expressed shock that she was 95-years-old -- at which point bill started chanting, "The grand dames, the grand dames, the grand dames of Hollywood ... Carol Channing, the grand dames, Angela Lansbury, the grand dames ...." And this went on, with all of us shovelling names at bill of Hollywood actresses that we knew of in their 90s ("Eva Marie Saint, the grand dames ...  Betty White, the grand dames ...."). From that point on, if I wanted to ask bill a scholarly question about, say, the relationship between bpNichol and Earle Birney, or d.a. levy's Cleveland, or Judith Copithorne's convergence of concrete and expressive rhetorics, I would have to include the words "grand dames"  -- and endure those words in his reply!

bill bissett turns 80 today. happy birthday bill!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Spinning Chandelier

Less than a week to go before artist Rodney Graham's Spinning Chandelier drops (literally) from the underside of the north end of the Granville Street Bridge. As I understand it, the chandelier is designed to climb towards the bridge deck, where at a certain point it releases itself and twirls down, to begin again (twice a day).

For those already bashing it, calling it "tacky," let's consider this work in relation to a city that uses a military armament as a timepiece -- the beloved 9 O'Clock Gun.

Those who know the history of the Gun (a 12-pound muzzle-loaded naval cannon) will recall that it was placed at the Stanley Park side of Coal Harbour in 1898, to notify fishers of the end of the fishing day. This was when Vancouver's economic base was resource extraction (furs, gold, fish, timber), not the service-oriented (IT, film and television, real estate, tourism, gambling/money laundering) resort it is today.

So with this economic shift in mind (and the ever-increasing disparities that go with it), can we not have a public art work that, like the city itself, both attracts and repulses? I say yes. But let's call it for what it is -- not simply a chandelier, but a release.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

John Mann (1962-2019)

Hard Rock Miners were fortunate to share the stage with Spirit of the West on a couple of occasions.

The time I remember best was a four-band bill that included the Rheostatics and headliners Barenaked Ladies, who were celebrating the release of their major label debut, Gordon, at the Pacific Coliseum in the summer of 1992.

If it can be said that multi-band bills create instant cities, John, more than any other musician that night, was our mayor.

Rest in peace, Mayor John.

photo courtesy of piquenewsmagazine

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Scorned as Ornament, Beloved of the Forest Floor

My homage to Emily Carr's great painting, as found on a Lynn Valley trail near the Pipe Bridge.

Tonight, one of Emily Carr's Alert Bay paintings (Street, Alert Bay, 1912) will be auctioned in Toronto. I had no idea she had done so many Alert Bay paintings!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Wallcreeper (2014)

Last month I was given a list of books to read in advance of some meetings with a younger writer/editor whose work I admire and who chose me to help pilot a manuscript she is captaining. Some of these writers I am familiar with (Ingeborg Bachmann, Donald Barthelme, Richard Brautigan, Nathalie Saurraute, Daphne Marlatt,  Susan Sontag), others I was not (Nell Zink, Renee Gladman, Lucy Ives, Fleur Jaeggy, Joanne Rocco). Of the writers I was not familiar with, Jaeggy's collection of seven stories -- Last Vanities (1994; translated from the Italian by Tim Parks, 1998) -- brilliantly transcends both the knot and its bow. The book I am currently reading, Zink's The Wallcreeper (2014), is a looser, though no less minimal, weave.

Although only 66 pages into The Wallcreeper (Zink's first novel), I find my relationship to the narrator (an American named Tiffany) alternating between attraction and repulsion. Attraction to the humorous insights and the knowledge base that enables it; repulsion towards the character's cynicism ("We failed technology when it needed us most") and the libertarianism that justifies it (Is Zink, like Tiffany, a climate-change denier, or is she a satirist? Does it matter?)

At her best, Zink does two things well. In addition to rehabilitating the simile ("His awkward hands reminded me of the flames around Joan of Arc at the stake"), she is most adept at juxtaposition. Here's one (from the first page):

"I opened the door and put my feet outside, threw up, and lay down, not in the vomit but near it. The fir tops next to me had their roots at the bottom of the cliff."

Here's another (within the line itself) that involves Tiffany's family's visit to Switzerland, where she and her IT specialist husband are living:

"I took my parents to a craft market so Stephen could sleep with my sister."

Something else: legend has it that Zink wrote the first draft of The Wallcreeper in three weeks, to prove to Jonathan Franzen, with whom she was corresponding, that she knew what she was doing as a literary writer. I believe it, too, because writing like this often comes in concentrated bursts. Whether Zink can maintain that energy, or indeed modulate it in new directions, was called into question in a 2016 Atlantic review of her third book, Nicotine (2016), which Juliet Lapidos refers to as a "disappointment." She writes: "Third time around, Zink skips the telling nuances and settles for hurried farce."

Where (or how many times) have we heard this before -- the story of a writer who explodes onto the scene with something new and unusually relevant, only to abandon subtlety for laughs in subsequent works? From Erma Bombeck to Douglas Coupland, the list is long. Here is Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a 1985 Vanity Fair article on Brautigan:

"As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naïf, and I don't think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally. It was like he was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people."

Not sure I would call Zink a "naïf" (nor Brautigan, too, for that matter, as writers like he and Clarice Lispector belong more to the autism spectrum than something as medieval as a naif). As for having more in common with animals than with people, that appears to be case with Tiffany's husband Stephen, who is devastated by the murder of Rudolph, the couple's pet wallcreeper. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

On Hardy

Much of Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That (1929) is set in the trenches of World War One France, the horrors of which are conveyed with a calm that owes more to injury (PTSD) than indifference. The final sixth deals with his post-war years, where, among other things, he and Nancy Nicholson visit Thomas Hardy and Florence (Dugdale) Hardy (pictured above).

Graves took heat for his portrayal of Hardy (and others), but without him, we would not have passages like this:

"One or twice [Hardy] had looked up a word in the dictionary for fear of being again accused of coining, and found it there right enough -- only to read on and discover that the soul authority quoted was himself in a half-forgotten novel!"

Thursday, November 14, 2019

La paura del cielo (1994)

"The village has no name. There's a church, fenced in by the dead, a dozen or so houses, the barns and the Schübeli twins' broken-down cottage. If a traveller should pass by, and it's a rare occurrence, he stops to look at the graves. All stone but one, carved in wood that looks like leather. And how could the traveller know that behind curtained windows hard, sharp eyes are watching him?"
                                                                 -- Fleur Jaeggy, "The Twins"

La paura del cielo. In inglese: fear of the sky. Was it the translator (Tim Parks) who came up with the (English) title -- Last Vanities? Neither feel right to me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mona's Tent

Agnes Varda's Sans toi ni loi (1985) translates as "with neither shelter nor law" in English but is called Vagabond for short. The story begins with the death of Mona, a drifter (as we once called them), followed by her ocean re-birth and what might be crudely described as the events leading up to her death.

The picture above is of Mona's tent, which she pitched the night before. A man walks by and asks

"Anyone in there?"

"Yeah, I'm sleeping," replies Mona.

"Know where you are?"

"No, I got here at night."

"It's a graveyard. Can't stay here."

And it's true -- Mona can't stay here, ever. Why? Because her death is forever followed by her re-birth. Is this immortality? No, it is her nature -- to prefer not to, as Melville once wrote (of Bartleby).

But that's not the pattern I am interested in. The pattern I am interested in is the one on Mona's tent. A non-patterned pattern!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Three Poets

In the summer of 1916 Graves (above, bottom) receives a serious lung wound (it was originally reported that he was killed). His friend Siegfried Sassoon (above, top) is wounded in the lung as well. Both are returned to England.

Here is Graves on Page 188 of Goodbye to All That (1929):

"England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war-madness that ran wild everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language; and it was a newspaper language. I found serious conversation with my parents all but impossible."

The 1929 publication of Goodbye to All That was the end of Graves and Sassoons' friendship. Sassoon felt the book was factually inaccurate; he was bothered also by Graves's 1918 marriage to Nancy Nicholson, and his 1926 affair with the American poet Laura Riding.

Here is a 1925 poem by Laura Riding (Gottschalk):

The Lovers

They come glowing to the gates of the city,
Armed with tenderness,
Resolute to parade
Beneath the windows of the cold women,
With their gifts warm on their shoulders.

The women sit frigidly smiling in their frames,
And their eyes are the eyes of Medusa.
Who but lovers,
Who but unslaked lovers may be starved so?

There is one bird left in the city of the cold women,
Forager of doorsteps,
Cosset of cold women.
It is sweet carrion they scatter to him.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Goodbye to All That (1929)

Found this and a bunch more Graves at one of the newer second-hand stores on East Hastings, between Nanaimo and Slocan.

Here's a passage (p.169) that warms my heart:

I bought a small two-roomed cottage from my mother, who owned considerable house-property at Harlech. This was done in defiance of the war: something to look forward to when the guns stopped. We always thought of the end of the war as 'when the guns stop'. I white-washed the cottage, which stood at some distance from the village, and furnished it with a table, a chair, a bed, a few dishes, and cooking utensils. I had decided to live there one day on bread and butter, bacon and eggs, lettuce in season, cabbage and coffee; and to write poetry. My war bonus would keep me for a year or two at least. Having put in a big window to look out over the wood below and across the broad plain to the sea, I wrote two or three poems here as a foretaste of the good life to come; but have suppressed them all since. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Brittle Britain

Bernard Nossitor's Britain: A Future That Works (1978) argues that the crisis that characterized the UK in the 1970s was in fact a state of "hypochondria," presumably induced by those eager to crush the welfare state, trade unions and intellectuals disposed to egalitarianism and thus make the world safe for neoliberalism. Are Boris Johnson and his kind employing a similar tactic?

Here is the conclusion of Ian Jack's great long 2009 LRB review of Andy Beckett's When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies:

In a book entitled Britain: A Future That Works, the Washington Post’s London correspondent, Bernard Nossiter, was by early 1978 able to wonder if the mid-1970s ‘crisis’ had not been ‘a case of hypochondria’. Nossiter felt London to be ‘the last inhabitable great city’, full of relaxed citizens who had discovered what would now be called a happy work-life balance, as opposed to what Nossiter described as the ‘nervous intensity’ of the crowds in Paris and New York. Britons, he suggested, might be ‘the first citizens of the post-industrial age . . . choosing leisure over goods’. As Beckett points out, Nossiter was known to have soppy Anglophile tendencies; still, there was something to what he wrote. If greater equality nourishes happiness and the public good, as many have come to believe, then it should never be forgotten that in the late 1970s Britain became a more equal country than it had probably ever been and certainly than it has been since. Beckett’s book is not all out revisionism; the facts of industrial turmoil can’t be revised away. But that one fact of greater equality suggests that the received wisdom of the 1970s as Britain’s nightmare decade is little more than a politically convenient libel which suits a narrative of redemption. We must never go back to the 1970s? Perhaps we should be lucky. There are worse places, as we may shortly see.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Town Criers

Only one person walking on Main Street in tears today. Not as bad as last week, when I saw three.

Today's crier was a man, mid-thirties, dressed in cycling gear. No sign of cuts or scrapes. Did someone steal his bike? Open their car door without looking? Something he read on FB?

It's getting harder seeing people walking the streets in distress. Had to walk the last blocks in the alley.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Burcu's Angels

For years Burcu's Angels was on Main Street, then off-Main at 16th. A couple years ago I noticed Burcu had moved to East Hastings near Nanaimo, then further east, between Slocan and Kaslo on the north side, were she is today.