Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dungeness Shingle

Yesterday's post refers to what happens to Sartre's protagonist on February 2, 1938, 5:30 p.m. Fifty years later, on March 6, 1989, on the other side of the Channel, Derek Jarman filed this in his journal:

"Weeded the back garden, wired over the fennel the rabbits keep cutting back, planted two new irises and montbretsia. At 5:30 I sat on the old wicker chair facing the setting sun and read the newspapers. A slight chill descended; a choir of gnats floated by, golden sparks catching the last rays of the sun. The wind got up, bringing the smell of the sea; a russet kestrel flew by. Extraordinary peacefulness." (30)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Nausea (1938)

The last time I read like I have been reading since April was in the midst of my high school career when, near the end of Grade 10, I relaxed my Grade 9 habits and dove headlong into a spring break-up of books, most of them from Wednesday night buying sprees at Oakridge with my mom. 

There was a little bookstore next to Kelly's Records, back when the mall was open-aired, and it was there that I chose books by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Herman Hesse, Erma Bombeck, Andre Gide and Jean-Paul Sartre. None of these were authors who came up in any of my high school classes, though I remember Mr. Brooks cocking an eyebrow when he walked into our English 11 Fiction class and noticed me reading Richard Howard's 1970 translation of Gide's The Immoralist (1902).

One book I never got around to reading but knew of through numerous mentions in Forewords and Afterwords was Sartre's first novel, Nausea (1938). Nor had I ever come upon a copy that didn't look like it had been a road pillow for Neal Cassady, or someone inspired by him. Only recently did I happen upon an uncracked copy at Tanglewood, and so I snapped it up! 

The most oft-quoted line in Nausea comes on Page 14 of Lloyd Alexander's New Directions translation, where Sartre writes: "Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do." But the turning point, as it were, comes four pages later -- at "5:30" of the same day:

"Things are bad! Things are very bad: I have it, the filth, the Nausea. And this time it is new: it caught me in a cafe. Until now cafes were my only refuge because they were full of people and well lighted: now there won't even be that any more; when I am run to earth in my room, I shan't know where to go."

Three pages later, in an effort to break the spell, the protagonist asks cafe server Madeline if she could put on that "rag-time" song he likes, the one he "heard American soldiers whistle ... in 1917." After consulting with the card players nearby (who don't like music while they are playing), she cranks up the phonograph and the protagonist begins to "grow warm ... feel happy." 

Shortly after that, Sartre writes:

"A few more seconds and the Negress will sing. It seems inevitable, so strong is the necessity of this music: nothing can interrupt it, nothing which comes from this time in which the world has fallen; it will stop of itself, as if by order. If I love this beautiful voice it is especially because of that: it is neither for its fulness nor its sadness, rather because it is the event for which so many notes have been preparing, from so far away, dying that it might be born."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Dungeness, Kent, UK

Dungeness, at the southeastern tip of Kent, England. A shingled landscape shaped by wind and ocean tides, over which the sun and moon preside. Not sure where exactly Jarman's Prospect Cottage is in this picture, but it's there, like Jarman's spirit is there.

Last night I read the final pages of Jarman's February 1989 journal entries, and oh my if his book doesn't suddenly lift off like Dorothy's house and give us a Toto run of prose. Fitting too that Jarman should mention The Wizard of Oz ("As the black twister hurled the little house in Kansas through the raging clouds to Oz ..."), beginning on "February 24" when he introduces us to the wind and its travelling presence, sharing with us all manner of things, from his periodic ambivalence for film to his increasingly certain future ("I live in borrowed time").

Reading these fine pages brought to mind another film that features a tornado as an agent of change: Harmony Korine's Gummo (1997). A couple years ago I found the DVD in a thrift store and, though I was mesmerized when I saw it in the theatre, found it too insistent the second time around. Funny how that happens. At what point between now and then did a tornado pass through me?

photo: Kim Traynor

Monday, December 28, 2020

Wizard of Oz (1939)

Had to pause the Wizard of Oz to take a phone call. When I came back -- huh, what's Donald Trump doing as the Wizard?

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Lexicon

It makes sense in our age of extremes that absolutely is a common reply. Absolutely in the affirmative, just the adverb, without the exclamation (yes). Question: Do you believe in social justice? Answer: Absolutely.

Social justice in the extreme, to the letter of the law. But whose law?

Justice for the family of the murdered is the execution of the murderer. That's the law of the Old Testament, but is Allah more merciful? In Sharia law, murderers are executed along with adulterers, apostates, homosexuals, pirates, rapists ...

Now there's a new word in town, a new affirmative: correct. Yet where all of absolutely's four syllables are relished, correct comes out as one syllable: crecked.

What accounts for the rise of this word, a word that brings to mind cops and courtrooms? Judge: Can the court take that as a confirmation -- that you saw the accused at the Wing Sang Building on the night in question? Police Officer: Crecked, Your Honour.

Last year's word fatigue included the word obviously, often used more than once in interviews with media-uneasy hockey players. Next year it might be crecked. So far this year it is absolutely.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Birds and the Beavers

After breakfast, presents, then the winter skeleton that is Lost Lagoon.

Beavers made this:

Near the tennis courts, the synaptic architecture of nesting herons:

Friday, December 25, 2020

Modern Nature (1991)

A present I wasn't expecting and a book I have always wanted to read. The cover photo was shot by Howard Sooley, who first visited Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, Kent to photograph Derek Jarman in 1989. 

Here is a short film Sooley made based on what he learned from Jarman and his garden during subsequent visits.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Cheryl Siegel's Seasonal Tree

This time last year was a Tuesday. On that day I posted a picture I took of the "seasonal tree" Cheryl Siegel made and displayed over many Decembers as Vancouver Art Gallery librarian.

Rather than cut down a tree and decorate it, my seasonal tree ritual is to cut Cheryl's tree from the previous year's post and paste it into a new post, with new writing presented beneath it. 

As much as I would like this new writing to announce that Cheryl's tree is the inspiration for the VAG's not-yet-announced, build-to-budget design, I can't -- not even in fun. The VAG has been the butt of too many jokes over the years, and that's not where Cheryl's tree belongs.

Season's Greetings, Cheryl! My best to you and your family!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Good Shepherd (2006)

A couple days ago a friend wrote of her interest in Cockney rhyming slang. Coincidence, I wrote back, because I had just seen an example of it in the remake of Ocean's 11 (2001). "We're in Barney. Barney Rubble. Trouble" says explosives expert Basher Tarr to his colleagues after something besides his shaky Cockney accent goes awry. 

Yesterday afternoon I did some googling and found evidence that Cockney rhyming slang is rooted in the coded language of 19th century East London stallholders and criminals, a way of communicating openly without drawing the attention of eavesdropping bobbies.

Last night's DVD, The Good Shepherd (2006), is the story of a U.S. English Lit major, Edward Wilson, who is recruited by the newly-formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS) shortly after his country enters the Second World War. Deployed to London, Wilson meets the former Yale poetry professor whom he had turned-in after U.S. security officials asked Wilson to find any evidence he could of the professor's Nazi sympathies. Wilson went through the professor's satchel, found a list and submitted it.

As it turns out, the professor is, and always had been, a British spy, an expert in counter-intelligence and now an ally of Wilson and his country. Pictured up top is a scene where the professor explains to Wilson the finer points of counter-intelligence. Cockney rhyming slang is not dissimilar, for the focus is not on the words you are seeing and hearing, but on what is going on behind them. No wonder British spies like David Cornwell were so good at it: they had the poetry of their people to draw on.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Elizabeth: the Golden Age (2007)

The moment Walter Raleigh convinces Queen Elizabeth I that he is more than just a pretty face, more than a "discoverer" of potatoes, tobacco and Croatans Manteo and Wanchese, is the moment he presents to her the "New World" through imagery:

At first it's no more than a haze on the horizon. So you watch, you watch, then it's a smudge, a shadow on the far water. For a day, for another day, the stain slowly spreads along the horizon taking form, until on the third day you let yourself believe, you dare to whisper the word: land.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Enemy of the State (1998)

Yesterday afternoon the CBC aired a 2010 interview with the late John Le Carré. As always when listening to John Le Carré, I hang on every word. 

During the interview Le Carré told a story (the same story that ends his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel, 2016) of a locked safe that he and his MI6 colleagues believed might hold the answer to every security question ever pondered. When the day finally came for the safe to be opened, all it contained were the pants of Adolph Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess -- who, in 1941, is said to have flown solo to Scotland to meet with the British monarchy to negotiate a separate peace and, after crashing his plane, was captured and held in detention until his suicide in 1987 (at the age of 93!).

But it was Le Carré's incredulity as to why Hess's pants were held that had me wondering if a) expressions of incredulity were part of Le Carré's training (one of his super powers) and, if true, b) whether the smokescreen that his incredulity contributed to remains part of a larger mission to have us believe that Hess's mission was not in fact a defection.

After dinner I sat down to watch another of my recent DVDs, this one from a box passed on to me from a friend. The film was Enemy of the State (1998), the story of a DC lawyer caught up in overlapping intrigues that have him on the run, and eventually under the care of an uncared for and self-exiled NSA agent. Heavy bugged by the current NSA regime, the lawyer, in an effort to get away, begins to shed his personal effects -- the last of them being his pants.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

A Vermeer moment, lit by the filmmakers and cropped by my camera. We are looking at Daisy the moment Benjamin leaves her, not because she is getting older, but because he is getting younger. This is the premise of the film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (1922): a child born old (November 11, 1918), only to grow younger over his remaining 85 years. 

Benjamin gives his reasons for leaving Daisy: he wants their newly-born daughter to have a real father, which Benjamin didn't have (nor a mother, who died in childbirth) after his father took one look at him and left him on the steps of a New Orleans care home; but also, Benjamin doesn't want Daisy to have to look after him too, something she does eventually after a pre-teen Benjamin is brought to that same care home after he was found in an abandoned warehouse and displaying signs of dementia (Daisy's name and address were in Benjamin's diary, which Daisy had asked her daughter to read out to her, along with Benjamin's postcards, while Daisy is on her deathbed).

At 166 minutes, this is one of the longer films I have seen of late. Could it have been shorter? Of course. But it could have been longer too. If it were made today, it could have been commissioned by Netflix and shown over eight decade-themed episodes. Who knows -- it still might.

In 1980, when their daughter is twelve and Daisy is in her mid-50s and married to the man her daughter believes is her father, Benjamin, now T minus 23, returns from his world travels to visit Daisy at her dance school. Later that night she visits Benjamin at his hotel room and they make love. The last time we see Benjamin is in Daisy's arms some 23 years later, cradling him like the baby he now is -- this after Daisy had moved into the care home to look after him.  

Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890) came to mind while watching Benjamin Button, but more so Charly (1968), the story of a intellectually-impaired young man who is given an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence, only to discover that the results are temporary (the doctors knew but never told him). Complicating Charly's return to his former self is his now romantic relationship with his former night school teacher, Alice, who looks on during the final scene (which is also the opening scene) as Charly frolics on a busy playground.

The short story that inspired Charly -- Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon" (1958) -- was banned in many schools for its negative view of what was then referred to as "mental retardation". In some ways The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a corrective. Something we have learned over the years, something that has made our species stronger: relationships don't end, they just change.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Seascape with Steamer and Sailboat (n.d.)

I continue to use paper calendars to store my important dates. For years I used the Famous Foods calendars, given out in early December, though I haven't been going to Famous of late due to its line-ups. This year's 2021 calendar is a Tonka Truck-themed production from the dollar store down the street.

Around five years ago, after reacquainting myself with the Langmann Family, I began to receive their company calendar. These are smaller calendars that I keep by the hook that holds my keys. The Langmann calendar features paintings from their collection; however, their 2021 calendar kicks off with an unattributed and undated (Meiji period) rosewood carving of three rikishi wrestlers.

Up top is the Langmann's June entry: a watercolour by Emil Nolde (1867-1956) called Seascape with Steamer and Sailboat. It too is undated. Nolde, like the Langmanns, was of Danish descent, and is notable historically for being among the first Expressionists. Although an early supporter of the National Socialist German Workers' Party and an anti-Semite, Nolde was nevertheless deemed a "degenerate" artist in 1941 and barred from painting. Over the next four years, until the overthrow of the ruling Nazis, Nolde secretly painted hundreds of watercolours, what he called his "Unpainted Pictures."

I appreciate Nolde's Seascape because the harbour where I live has always been shared by freighters (work) and sailboats (play). As for its colours, although they are not those I associate with Vancouver, I am nevertheless accepting of them, for this is, after all, a work of artistic expression.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Twilight (2008)

In which the blogger returns to the place of his raising to peruse French stationary, Scottish baked goods and thrift store DVDs, of which five were purchased: The Wizard of Oz (1939), American Graffiti (1973), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and Twilight (2008). Last night I watched Twilight

Twilight is another of the many teen films since Rebel Without a Cause (1955) where the protagonist arrives at a new school and is immediately defined through difference. But whereas the students at Jim Stark's Dawson High (Rebel Without a Cause) are divided between "good" kids (conforming) and "bad" kids (delinquent), the kids at Forks High (Twilight) are all "good" and are altogether supportive of each other, with a kind of shimmering weirdness taking the place of those we once called "bad".

Protagonist Bella Swan is immediately drawn to the shimmering Cullen kids, particularly her fellow junior Edward, whom every girl desires but of whom Edward apparently wants no part. Sure enough, when Bella is assigned a seat in her biology class, it is next to Edward (see picture). Nothing is said between them, apart from their movements (flaring nostrils, furrowed brows, parting lips and high-speed seat re-positionings), a dance that looked to this old man like agitated attraction -- but to those for whom this film was designed, a dance they know so well.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Vanguard Magazine

Vanguard (1972-1989) was a much-lauded visual arts periodical that emerged from the Vancouver Art Gallery Bulletin (1931-1971) "to cover all the arts and give space to cultural events of interest in British Columbia." After Luke Rombout replaced VAG director Tony Emery in 1975, the magazine, like the exhibition program, placed greater emphasis on what Rombout called "the visual arts" over Emery's "larger cultural milieu." This shift intensified in 1979 when the magazine expanded to 56 glossy, perfect-bound pages and featured some of the densest art criticism this side of the Seine.

Something that is rarely talked about in Vanguard's history is the "rogue year" of 1976, when editorial met with representatives of the British garment industry to produce an issue devoted entirely to cable knits. Some saw the gesture as conceptual, while others saw it in reaction to a rising regional interest in Cowichan or "Indian" sweaters (whether this reaction was in fear of a burgeoning Indigenous clothing industry or to issues of cultural appropriation is uncertain). In any event, after a single issue (see picture) the magazine returned to visual art exhibitions, lectures and publications, leaving the business of culture to future generations.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


That last long walk -- to Gene at 7th, south on Main to 23rd, east to Clark Dr, then north to where I started. At 20th I am about to cross when I hear a voice call out "Hey, look both ways!" Paul Wong and Anastasia McDonald, one-quarter of that self-described "art gang" known as Mainstreeters, who, though not self-consciously, extended the intermedial dream of Roy Kiyooka in advance of the relational turn that gave us Vancouver's social practice variants (Intermission, et al.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Still Life Subject Bank

Nothing breaks down like a lemon.

Monday, December 14, 2020

My Life (1928)

I found my copy of Isadora Duncan's autobiography My Life (1928) on the two dollar shelf outside Carson Books last week. Had to look twice to see that it was what it was, and not a Harold Robbins romance. The cover of this edition is the movie tie-in for Isadora (1968), starring one of the leading actors of her day, Vanessa Redgrave.

Although I am only on Page 60, it is apparent that Duncan (1878-1927) was a highly motivated individual who, like another Bay Area raised self-starter, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), believed in her genius, and fuck off if you didn't. At this point in the book (1900), Duncan, her mother and her brother Raymond are in Paris, after leaving San Francisco for Chicago, New York and London, all at under Isadora's command.

Here are a couple of paragraphs early in the Duncans' time in London, after they are taken up by yet another society woman, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who saw Isadora and her brother Raymond dancing within the gates of Kensington Square and, based on Mrs.Campbell's impressions ("Where on earth did you people come from?"), referred Isadora to Mrs. George Wyndham, in whose home she danced and, at the end of the evening, met New Gallery director Charles Hallé, with whom she formed an attachment:

There is something about an open fire, bread and butter sandwiches, very strong tea, a yellow fog without, and the cultural drawl of English voices which make London very attractive, and, if I had been fascinated before, from that moment I loved it dearly. There was in this house a magic atmosphere of security and comfort, of culture and ease, and I must say I felt very much at home as a fish that has found the water to which it belongs. The beautiful library, too, attracted me very much.

It was in this house that I first noticed the extraordinary demeanour of good English servants, who move about with a sort of assured aristocratic manner of their own, and, far from objecting to being servants, or wishing to rise in the social scale as they do in America, are proud of working "for the best families." Their fathers did it before them, and their children will do it after them. This is the kind of thing that makes for the calm and security of existence. (48)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Saturday, December 12, 2020

I Got a Hundred Bucks for This!

a future obsessed

with its redecoration

of the past

Friday, December 11, 2020


We are mean to pigs because we are close to each other, evolutionarily. But that is not why we are mean to them. We are mean to pigs because that closeness has them thinking so. Pigs recognize and remember our meanness, and perhaps pathologize it. We have all heard stories of pigs setting traps for keepers who they kill in sophisticated and therefore terrifying ways. Pigs are mean to us in that way too.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Manny's Apartment

On Page 97 of her memoir The Odd Woman and the City (2015) Vivian Gornick returns to her life and times with Manny Rader:

It was then that I began to think about the lack of acquisitiveness in myself that I have earlier written of. When I saw Manny's apartment, I at once understood its meaning for both of us. He lived in one large room in a loft building in Brooklyn. The room was bright and clean and neat. In it he had one bed, one table, two chairs, and a lamp; in the kitchen, two pots and a frying pan, two dinner plates, two cups, two sets of flatware, three or four drinking glasses. Minimal, I thought dryly, very minimal ... and in that instant I saw myself plain.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Render (2020)

My review copy of Sachiko Murakami's Render (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020) arrived yesterday afternoon. As is my tendency when reviewing poetry books, I do a preliminary read-through, then a red-pen read-through, underlining, writing in the margins and ticking the titles of poems worth returning to. Lots of red pen in my copy of Render! I expect to have my review up on the Ormsby Review site sometime next week.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Die Hard (1988)

Another of the DVDs hauled from the Victoria Drive Value Village is a Christmas movie, Die Hard (1988). I had never seen it before, and for that reason, not to mention a long-standing crush on Bonnie Bedelia, I jumped on it.

The picture up top was shot with my phone during the finale -- the police riot outside Fox Plaza and the explosive redistribution of $640 million in untraceable bearer bonds, as played by blank paper. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Monday, December 7, 2020


From the entrance of the exhibition space at Catriona Jeffries Gallery are four of the six works in Liz Magor's Downer -- three on the floor (Shaved, Coiffed and Dressed, 2020), two hanging from the ceiling (Delivery [red] and Delivery [brown], 2018) and a wall work (Migros Shopper, 2020).

The floor works attract me, particularly the first one, Shaved. A "space" machine, as evidenced by its constituent parts: a skirted (curtained?) platform that brings to mind a bed, on which sits a "cast" of packaging materials (wrapping paper), a silicone rubber dog (pet?) on a faux fur blanket and the remains of someone's lunch (a cake box and a cardboard coffee holder). A "space" machine in the way a bed, not a dining table, becomes the surface on which a production (gift wrapping) is staged.

Our world is accelerating, though Covid has us slowing down. Our world is expanding through a de-centralization of symbolic power, yet shrinking because more and more of us are forced into economies where we can afford less and less room in which to live. That Covid has us spending more time at home has us experiencing this shrinking feeling in ways that allow certain of us to identify with a work that has one activity overlaying an object we associate with another -- rest. If there is an art work that best exemplifies Byung-Chul Han's concept of "auto-exhaustion", Shaved might just be it.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Odd Woman and the City (2015)

Two years ago I went Christmas shopping for a friend who writes well but who doesn't identify as a writer -- someone who was entering a program that required writing from her. I thought I would get her some books by non-fiction writers with whom she might identify, stylistically.

I had a couple books in mind, but I also thought to ask J.P., a bookseller I have come to know and trust, to recommend a book he had read recently that I could add to my pile. The book he recommended was Vivian Gornick's unfortunately titled The Odd Woman and the City: a Memoir (2015).

Turns out the books I gave my friend for Christmas were returned and exchanged for others. Which was fine, I didn't take it personally. But I remained curious about The Odd Woman and the City, so when I saw it at the Victoria Drive Value Village a couple weeks ago, for a tenth of what I paid for it, I added it to my latest haul of DVDs.

I am now on Page 53 of The Odd Woman (notice how I keep shortening the title?), and I have to say, this is one of the most honest and nicely-written books I have read in some time. Gornick, now 80, has lived a remarkable life, and yet it is by no means over. I expect Gornick continues to walk the city she has lived in all her life, commenting on what she sees, what has dogged her, and what of the future she is most interested in.

Here is a paragraph that comes early in the book, where Gornick writes of the bond between her and her walking mate, Leonard:

We share the politics of damage, Leonard and I. An impassioned sense of having been born into preordained social inequity burns brightly in each of us. Our subject is the unlived life. The question for each of us: Would we have manufactured the inequity had one not been there, ready-made -- he is gay, I am the Odd Woman -- for our grievances to make use of? To this question our friendship is devoted. The question, in fact, defines the friendship -- gives it its character and its idiom -- and has shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than any other intimacy I have known. (p. 4)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"Like a Hurricane" (1975)

You are like a hurricane
There's calm in your eye
And I'm gettin' blown away
To somewhere safer where the feeling stays

                                            -- Neil Young

Friday, December 4, 2020

I, Tonya (2017)

A recent haul of Value Village DVDs included I, Tonya (2017), a relatively recent film that, for some reason, was WITHDRAWN from the Burnaby Public Library. What accounts for a DVD, CD or book to be withdrawn from a public library? In the case of I, Tonya, it couldn't be the condition of the DVD, as it played perfectly.

Was it the content, then? You would think that the story of a poor kid from Portland, Oregon, who endured a lifetime of mental and physical abuse to achieve her dream as a figure skater, would be supported by Burnaby's librarians. Was the depiction of abuse in the context of a mockumentary too much for some borrowers, and one or more of them complained? If so, is there a mechanism for such complaints, or is the offending material simply (and quietly) withdrawn? 

Did I read somewhere that the placement of a comedic moment too close to a tragic moment scores poorly in movie test screenings? I never know what I know anymore, whether I lived it or dreamed it or read it on social media. One thing I do know is that the Tonya Harding story is complicated and, as with many stories where gender, class and race intersect, goes to the heart of the American experience.

I cannot say enough about I, Tonya. And yet I've said nothing, really. But if the availability of books, music, film and television is being overtaken by the interweb, might we expect libraries to function as places where controversial or "withdrawn" materials can be discussed in open forums? Some might see Value Village as the perfect place for anything to do with Tonya Harding, and leave it at that. I'm just glad to have seen it. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Tuesday's Walk

Across the street and slightly further south than yesterday's picture is the official entrance to Clark Park. Those first steps from the street into the park are steep for a path with neither traction devices nor stairs. In winters past I have seen young and old slip on this asphalt path, which can get icy.

Funny how taking a picture of something can bring out something you might not otherwise notice. For example, the square made between the two trees and the ground at the centre of this picture. Something about the bouqueting branches of the tree southwest of the tree to the left that brings out that tree's hard edge.

When I see squares like these I think of doors, gateways, but to pass through this door is to leave its referent behind, and then where are we?

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Buckling Sidewalk

Walking south on the east side of Commercial Drive, between 13th and 14th Avenues, just before it turns into Victoria.

The tree up top is about time. Ringed with years, it casts the hour of the day (1:03 p.m. when I took its picture). To determine its exact age, you'd have to cut it down.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Hastings-Sunrise (2015)

Another poetry collection I purchased recently at Pulp Fiction Books: Bren Simmers's Hastings-Sunrise (Gibsons: Nightwood Editions, 2015).

Named after an East Vancouver neighbourhood whose name was deemed too unfriendly by its BIA, Simmers's poet walks us past houses, parks and businesses, "[l]earning new streets by foot," mapping, logging, wondering aloud the difference between what is looked at and what is seen. 

Like so much of what was written pre-Covid, I check its imagery against our current moment. A trip to the race track -- imagine that!

Here's the opening stanza of a poem on Page 28:

Friday night at Hastings Park.
Our beer in plastic cups. Pre-race,
the announcer tells us to look for
     a big ass, a line of muscle along the abs
     as horses bounce and prance past
patio tables, retirees with circled stats,
hipsters in fedoras, weekend warriors,
families and first-timers craving novelty.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Wake-Pick Poems (1981)

The year 1981 is not among the more resonant years in recent history. Of course stuff happened in 1981, indeed everything happened in 1981, as it does every year, but it is not a year where many of us are prone to say, Oh, that was the year the AIDS virus was identified, or the year the word "Internet" was first uttered, or the year the UK, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, began the privatization of nationalized industries, or the year the Iran Hostage Crisis ended, or the year of the general strike in Poland, the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, Post It Notes ...

For those in Canadian literary circles, 1981 saw the launch of Icelandic-Canadian poet Kristjana Gunnars's Wake-Pick Poems (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1981), which I picked up yesterday at Pulp Fiction Books. How nice to finally add this book I have looked for for so long to another of my companion books -- Gunnars's Settlement Poems 1 (Winnipeg: Turnstone, 1980). What is a wake-pick? A wake-pick is a small stick used by Icelandic women to keep their eyes open while knitting. Historically, to fall asleep while knitting is to fall behind on a quota designed for their very survival. 

Here are lines 15-24 from Gunnars's "wake pick 1":

tonight again I pretend

to be salt

i separate myself again

fine from coarse

die another death tonight


& when I’m dead

i turn to knotweed on the knolls

to starlings in the rain

i turn to blood, hair, bone

i turn to stone

Sunday, November 29, 2020


You may know her as Sarah, "the top empath from the Berkeley School for the Clairovoyant in San Francisco," but I knew her before the strings and bangs, when she was just another kid from Fitchburg.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Vietnam (1967)

As a child growing up with television, we didn't always have cable, or colour, but we always had a TV set and it was always on, marking time with program theme songs, some of which signalled bedtime, others calling to me like a friend on the other side of the playground. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was among the programs that beckoned, and I remember how the broadcast sometimes opened with a graphic in the top corner of the daily DEAD and MISSING American soldiers in Vietnam.

I cannot understate the effect the Vietnam War (or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it) had on my development. Even as a ten-year-old I had the sense that this war was a fiction cast with unprofessional actors trying to maintain a reality similar to what I experienced at my classmates' birthday parties, or saw out my bedroom window when the park across the street was suddenly alive with what I later learned was a rugby match. Once, when I asked my father what the War was "about", I was told of the physical properties of dominoes -- how if you stand them on their ends within a length of each other, you get "an effect." As for my mother, she never gave the same answer twice.

As an undergraduate (1981-1986) I remember spending a Saturday in the UVic library reading (skimming) all I could on the Vietnam War. A book that often came up in bibliographies -- a book that was always referred to as "important" -- was Mary McCarthy's Vietnam (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), though when I googled "important books on the Vietnam War" yesterday afternoon it was not among the Herrs, Halberstams, Caputos and Hayslips. Last week, while walking back from the Save On, I peeked inside Susan and Sri's recently installed front yard book exchange and, for the second time in my life, saw a copy of McCarthy's book.

Though only a 110 pages (the last four are blank), McCarthy's Vietnam is crammed with remarkable observations made during the author's New York Review of Books sponsored February 1967 visit. Most interesting to this reader, and perhaps most relevant to our current moment, is McCarthy's attention to language and rhetoric with respect to what then-U.S. President Johnson referred to not as a war but as a "police action." Here is McCarthy on the difference between "honesty" and "truth":

It may be that the Information officers, whose job it is to give the reverse information ("How many of the residents have come back to Rach Kien?" Briefing captain: "Almost a thousand." Field major, half an hour later: "632"), are more honest, in a way, than the field officers who burst out with the truth. That is, the blunt colonels and sympathetic majors have not been able to realize that this is a war, unlike World War II or the Korean War, in which the truth must not be told, except when it cannot be hidden. Even then it must be turned upside down or restyled, viz., "the problems of success," which also comprised inflation. Those who lie and cover up are complicity acknowledging this, in some recess of their souls, while the outspoken field officer still lets himself think he is fighting the kind of war where an honest officer can gripe. (54)

Reading this passage recalled McCarthy's almost fifty year feud with Lillian Hellman over their contrasting views of reality. Nora Ephron attempted to bring this to light in her play Imaginary Friends (2002). For Ephron, McCarthy's problem with Hellman concerned Hellman's tendency to present fiction as fact, while Hellman's problem with McCarthy was McCarthy's presentation of fact as fiction. In 1980, Hellman sued McCarthy after the latter called her a liar on The Dick Cavett Show, an action that backfired on Hellman after McCarthy's legal team uncovered so much damaging information on Hellman that her reputation never recovered.

Might we expect something similar after lawyers go after Donald Trump on January 21st, 2021, or will his indiscretions only make him stronger amongst those who believe (in) him unconditionally?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Outrageous! (1977)

A scene from Outrageous! (1977), where Craig Russell wows the crowd at Toronto's The Manatee with his impressions of Bette Davis.

How great to see this film again after not having seen it since it first came out, when, as a fifteen-year-old, I would often go to movies by myself. I am not sure what lead me to see this film by myself, other than the differences I felt with those I could easily see Star Wars (1977) with. Who was I then that I did not even think of asking someone to join me for a film about the relationship between a female impersonator and a young woman struggling with mental health issues? And who might that make me today, for saying so?

Canadian taxpayers contributed to another watchable film concerning mental health, though it is never advertised as such. Click here for Don Owens's Montreal-set The Ernie Game (1967).

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Extension (1967)

Here they are -- bill bissett (in pre-Covid mask), bpNicol and Phyllis Webb -- in an episode of CBC's Extension, a mid-1960s television show "devoted to modern Canadian poetry."

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Peacock Blue: the Collected Poems (2014)

Phyllis Webb is a poet I have known of for a long time, but whose poems I have never spent much time with. I am not sure why this is. Maybe it has more to do with the how -- not the when -- I get around to reading certain writers. 

A few years ago I was in Pulp Fiction Books when Chris showed me a copy of Webb's Wilson's Bowl (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1980). The book had just come into the store and I noted right away how lovingly it was put together. Nice paper, nice printing, nice endorsements from Northrop Frye, bpNichol, D.G. Jones and Margaret Atwood.

Wilson's Bowl begins with a "Foreword" by Webb that begins with a quote from Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse (1977) (published in English in 1979, a year before Wilson's Bowl). Rather than set off as an epigraph, the quote is imbedded in the body of the text, a decision (the poet's, I'm sure) that had bearing on my reading of the "Foreword". Something else that had bearing was John Bentley May's essay on Webb's work in a 1973 issue of Open Letter, an essay I had never read (until yesterday) but was aware of -- and reminded of when, in accounting for why Wilson's Bowl was "a long time coming," Webb referred to "critical wounds."

No, I thought to myself, I can't read Wilson's Bowl just yet -- I have to start at the beginning. Which I did the day after I picked up her collected at the People's Co-op Bookstore last Saturday, beginning with her first book, Trio (1954), followed by Even Your Right Eye (1956), The Sea Is Also a Garden (1962) and her last book before Wilson's Bowl, one of the most remarkable book-length poems I have ever read: Naked Poems (1965).

Naked Poems has its own entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia. Written by Douglas Barbour, it contains a quote from Robert Kroetsch that Barbour believes is "perhaps the finest and most concise statement about this innovative and concise work."

Kroetsch writes:

"On nakedness and lyric and yet on a way out, perhaps a way out of the lyric too, with its ferocious principles of closure, a being compelled out of lyric by lyric."

I agree, particularly the poems in "Suite I" and "Suite II". Reading them I was reminded of how I felt when, as first year undergrad, I read X. J. Kennedy's ekphrastic ode to Marcel Duchamp's 1912 painting in my Norton, his "Nude Descending a Staircase" (1961) -- the woman who "wears/ Her slow descent like a long cape/ And pausing on the final stair/ Collects her motions into shape."

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What's Going On (1971)

Awoke yesterday to the accented two-beat heard in alternating bars of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" (not the original single mix, but the album version). What I always thought was a sonar pulse is in fact a conga shot, presumably run through the attic echo chambers of Motown's 2648 and 2652 West Grand residences. Took a while to figure this out, helped along in no small part by Henry Weinger and Questlove's conversation on the making of this most incredible song.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Moments of Difference ("Against")

"The thin rain, falling past the square of my lighted window, looks like damp, finely-sifted flour, white against the black background of the road." -- Colette, Vagabond, 1910 (111)

"What does a victorious or defeated black woman's body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston's 'I feel most coloured when I am thrown against a sharp white background.' This appropriated line, stencilled in canvas by Glenn Ligon, who used plastic letter stencils, smudging oil sticks, and graphite to transform the words into abstractions, seemed to be ad copy for some aspect of life for all black bodies." -- Claudia Rankine, Citizen: an American Lyric, 2014 (25)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Saturday Walk

Yesterday afternoon was perfectly rainless, so I set off at noon for a walk to Commercial Drive, eventually to the Liquorice Parlour where I bumped into Veda, who I hadn't seen in years, and then back, with stops at the People's Co-op Bookstore, which was doing good business and where I purchased books by Claudia Rankine (Citizen: an American Lyric), Phyllis Webb (a collected) and the first two books by Danielle LaFrance, whose recent Just Like I Like It I thought so much of.

From there to the government liquor store where I picked up another bottle of that nice Latour Bourgogne Gamay 2018 and, at the produce stand just south of it, some fresh vegetables -- before stopping once more outside that failed instance of street access rooftop parking between 7th and Grandview, a building that, at its south end, is a "craft brew house + kitchen" known by its possessive -- St. Augustine's. How odd to name a bar after a saint known for his Confessions. Do I regret stopping there? No!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lamppost Watches Power Lines

Tuesday was the heaviest rain day this week, but it stopped around four.

Layered up, I set out for my walk. East or west?


At the end of the block, north or south?


At Kingsway the clouds parted. I lifted my head and the sun touched my face before setting.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Black Pioneers (c.1990)

A couple days ago I sat down to watch the October 3 digital launch of Canadian Art's "Chroma" issue, featuring co-editors Denise Ryner and Yaniya Lee, along with David Woods, Kelsey Adams and host Alex Bowron, whose opening "moment of reflection" is both a land acknowledgement and a recognition of the systems and structures that define our contradictory cultural present.

As the elder member of the panel, Woods has much to say about his work in -- and on -- Black Maritime Canada. As Woods spoke of the importance of the artist Harold Cromwell, I went looking for what wasn't pictured and found among other works Cromwell's Black Pioneers (c. 1990), a marker and ink on paper drawing of 19th century Black settlers arriving by sail from the U.S. (see above).

There's lots to say about Cromwell's drawing, from its minimal markings beyond the bodies of those arriving at a less-coloured-in and undefined land, sea and sky to the ship in the distance (pointed in the opposite direction) to the title itself (why "Pioneers" and not "Settlers"?). Here too Woods has lots to say on Black Maritime cultural production, but not at the expense of those on the panel who are working in other parts of the country, and whom he asks at one point to speak about their understanding of the Black cultural experience as represented in Toronto and Vancouver.

As a Vancouver resident with an interest in -- and some understanding of -- local histories, I was curious to hear how Ryner, who directs and curates Vancouver's Or Gallery, would respond, what she would highlight; if she would speak of Andrea Fatona and Cornelia Wyngaarden's Hogan's Alley (1994) or Stan Douglas's Circa 1948 (2014) or indeed Cecily Nicholson's essay on The Cheeky Proletariat art space in the current "Chroma" issue. That she chose instead to mention "the work Michelle Jacques and Charles Campbell are doing in Victoria" is fine by me, because the story of Black migration to -- and through -- the former HBC fort is important. But that choice -- I wonder what informed it?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Road Near New Westminster

While scrolling through the Ormsby Review I came upon a supplementary image (above) provided by the magazine's editor Richard Mackie of a circa 1884 engraving by the Marquis of Lorne (1845-1914).

Entitled Road Near New Westminster, the engraving was first published in the Marquis's Canadian Pictures (1885) and is a rare view of the former pre-contact Coast Salish footpath that was widened by the Royal Engineers in 1865 when New Westminster officials feared the city was at risk of a Fenian invasion. 

To this day it is unclear whether the road was intended to allow British Navy soldiers an overland route to defend the city (the Fraser River was too shallow for Navy ships), or allow its residents an exit. 

At one point this road featured some of the largest Douglas firs ever seen in the Lower Mainland, the last of which were cut down to make way for that post-WWII innovation known as the used car lot.

The road has had many names since it was first widened, but we know it today as Kingsway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Wet Market

For those in the rainforest, November is the cruelest month. The flowers are gone, and the green, blossoming trees of summer are reduced to their supports. In February I will insist that February is the cruelest month, only because those grey November days take so much out of me. At least in February the days get successively longer.

In past Novembers (and Februarys) I would visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Not the orcas' jump-and-touch-it show, but the huge glass tanks inside. I love the variation in these tanks, where a slow moving shark will glide amongst rock fish and an octopus I want to believe is older than I am. I also love the lighting, how the halls are slightly darkened to accentuate the light inside these tanks. A little like watching a monitor? Sure, but without the eye strain. 

Now that the Aquarium is closed I have had to seek alternatives. Though T&T Market uses lighting similar to other grocery stores, they do have living sea creatures. Included among them are crab, lobster, geoduck and my favourite fish to look at -- the tilapia (picture above). 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

"... the only thing left to people in their despair is reading"

Yesterday, while waiting for my prescription to be filled, I walked west to Tanglewood Books to see what's new in used. More Woody Allen DVDs and Michel Houellebecq novels than usual. Not nice men as men go, we are told, but this did not deter the nice man who acquired them for his store.

I purchased Allen's Zelig (1983) because I have always wanted to see it, and because (I bargained with myself) the film came out before Allen and his now ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow's daughter Soon-Yi Previn took up with each other. I purchased Houellebecq's Submission (2015) because I have always wanted to read it, and because the price was so low the owner was practically giving it away!

Monday, November 16, 2020


Selected Misspellings


alot without the space between

the article and the noun

an adverb now like plenty

I have a lot of time for misdivisions


I fold that time, wedgit between us

you can’t see it, but it’s there

not the time but the fold

I should stop here, end on fold

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Decolonizing Methodologies (1999)

While conversing with someone about Alert Bay, Cormorant Island I brought up Ruth Benedict's configurationalist Patterns of Culture (1934), where she writes of the "Dionysian" Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) in contrast to the "Apollonian" Zuni, with whom she did her fieldwork. 

Here is the concluding paragraph of Benedict's mostly Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) chapter:

The section of human behaviour with which the Northwest Coast has marked out to institutionalize in its culture is one which is recognized as abnormal in our [Eurowestern?] civilization, and yet is sufficiently close to the attitudes of our own culture to be intelligible to us and we have a definite vocabulary with which we may discuss it. The megalomaniac paranoid trend is a definite danger in our society [Mussolini, Hitler, Franco]. It faces us with a choice of possible attitudes. One is to brand it as abnormal and reprehensible, and it is the attitude we have chosen in our civilization. The other extreme is to make it the essential attribute of ideal man, and this is a solution in the culture of the Northwest Coast [and, as of this week, 72+ million U.S. voters?]. (195)

The person I was speaking with was both intrigued and repulsed by Benedict's conclusions, and so in a fit of social responsibility I told him I would pick up for him a copy of Patterns of Culture and we could read and discuss the essay together, perhaps in light of the Beau Dick hosted potlatches he had experienced during his visits to Cormorant Island.

Pulpfiction being my first stop for used books, I stopped there, only to be told by Chris that he was "almost certain" the store didn't have it, but I could look (Aisle 5), and if I found a copy he would be "amazed." No amazement for Chris, but unexpected amazement for me when I found in a jumble under the bottom shelf a book that is now, for some inexplicable reason, almost impossible to find: Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999).

Here is the opening line of Smith's "Introduction":

From the vantage point of the colonized, a position from which I write, and choose to privilege, the term "research" is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. (1)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

How I Found It

Lightning struck a stump exploded an animal step from the forest.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Gene Cafe

When Gideon James opened Gene in Vancouver back in the 2010s his mother placed potted plants throughout the cafe. These plants were a specific kind of geranium that I have not seen anywhere else and, as such, am tempted to ask the current owners if I can take a clipping.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Image Bank

Image Bank co-founder/ingénue Vincent Trasov (valise) and Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (suitcase) performing Text Costume (1977). The picture and reproductions of Cavellini's stamps beside it appear in the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin/Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver's Image Bank catalogue.

Cavellini (1914-1990) was an artist/collector best known for autostoricizzazione (self-historicization). His book titles indicate what Cavellini found historically important: Abstract Art (1959), Man Painter (1960), Diary of Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (1975), Encounters/Clashes in the Jungle of Art (1977) and Life of a Genius (1989).