Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Salvage Colonialism

The scholarship on Ken Monkman's re-history paintings (reverse-tory paintings? rehearse-tory paintings? ) keeps growing. Most recently, Regan de Loggans (Mississippi Choctaw/ Ki’Che Maya), a two-spirit agitator, art historian, curator and educator based in so-called Brooklyn, New York, on Lenape land, published an article in Canadian Art arguing that Monkman's series "participates in continuing narratives of 'the other' (narratives that are highly visible within the Met's collection) and therefore adopts the colonial gaze he attempts to work against." 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Bushy Bushy B[]on[] Hairdos, Covid-19, Eh?

Fifteen years since I've had my hair this long.

Amir, أنا بحاجة إلى قصة شعر!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Dances with Wolves (1990)

Wednesday's AA Furniture & Appliance DVD purchases were put to use last night. I lasted all of ten minutes into Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King (2003) before retuning the disc to its case. I have no words to describe why this "epic fantasy adventure film" did nothing for me, nor the energy to summon them.

Tolkien had little time for critics and scholars. "It's just a story," he was wont to say when asked if The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were allegories. In certain respects, Peter Jackson's film adaptation could be seen as a tribute to Tolkien's diffidence: not only has he cut out the tongue of this critic, he has removed his nervous system as well. (With a little help from the virus, that is.)

With Tolkien back in his case, I inserted my second unseen film of the evening. Dances with Wolves (1990) is the story of a bored Union soldier who has been redeployed by his employer, the expansionist United States federal government, as an unwitting arms dealer in an effort to help the Lakota Sioux defeat the more resistant Pawnee.

The picture up top features the nicely-assed Lieutenant Mullet and his soon-to-be-wife Finger in Socket as they return to her Lakota Sioux camp. It was the Sioux who adopted Finger when she was a child (the Pawnee killed her settler family). A few scenes later, the Sioux adopt Mullet too. The film ends with a written epilogue torn from the "salvage anthropology" playbook.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Revolve (1977)

A couple days ago Amy emailed to say that the Holt/Smithson Foundation is making some of its films and videos available between April 24-April 25, including Nancy Holt's Revolve (1977). Yesterday and the day before I watched Revolve and, as I had feared, was taken back to the cancer ward of my youth -- where I was given a decent chance at recovery, while the subject of Revolve, Dennis Wheeler, was not.

At 70 minutes, Revolve features an off-camera interviewer (Holt) and a seated Wheeler (behind his typewriter). There are as many as three cameras at work in this b&w production, two of which are operated by sisters Marian (Penner-Bancroft) and Susan (Penner-Wheeler), one from the side of Wheeler, the other from behind him. The third ("dead-on") camera feels unmanned.

I watched the video twice. The first time with an ever-growing sense of awe (I was familiar with Wheeler's life and work, first as the then-recently deceased uncle of my high school friend, Karen, later as the subject of a long poem by Tom Wayman, later still as the co-author of a film we were shown in Grade Seven called POTLATCH...a strict law bids us dance (1975), even later as the author of a penetrating essay on the work of Robert Smithson ...), the second time as a notetaker:

"so many inputs and outputs"

"black abyss that opens up and you have to comprehend your own death"

"live in the midst" (said more than once, proprioceptivity)

"we're so tied to wheels"

"the veins of the hospital, the veins of my body"

"it's not like being acted upon; you have to become an agent"


"within the domain of his own life experience"

"image" therapy

become "porous"

There's more, some of it based on Wheeler's readings and what he gathered from them.

At one point Wheeler tells Holt how he returned to the Tibetan Book of the Dead after attempting it years earlier (when he found it more or less gobbledygook), only to come away from it this time with an understanding of its structure, its movements. Attention to structure is present in a lot of Wheeler's work, and indeed was the subject of his book Form and Structure in Recent Film (1972).

Had Wheeler read much Barthes or Foucault during his lifetime? I am sure he was aware of them. He knew so much, was so impressive in is thinking. Revolve has a lot to say, and says it well. I would recommend it to anyone nearing fearing hearing death. Experiencing this video has helped me to understand how I went so long without it.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Adventures in Concrete Poetry: the Language of Limited Availability

It is not profitable for restaurants to abide by the spatial relationships ("social distancing") imposed by authorities in light of the current pandemic. The inability to maintain this distance is no more apparent than in the missing sheet of ("blank") paper between the "TO" and the "GO" in that take-out phrase "to go". As such, restaurants like these have joined together, renamed themselves. All are known as TOGO.

Friday, April 24, 2020

AA Furniture & Appliance

My new rule is three hours (per day) with the computer on, with maybe an hour in the late afternoon, but that's it. If I want to watch "TV", it's a DVD player hooked up to a monitor (I don't have basic cable). My afternoon walks are based on DVD availability, and I know all the shops. One of them is AA Furniture & Appliance, whose owner, Lee, is celebrating her fortieth year in Canada after emigrating from Malaysia.

Lee had a new box of DVDs in back, but I had to help her dig it out. This wall of recent acquisitions was not the orderly wall of boxes you see at Best Buy, but a blend of boxes supporting (or supported by) overstuffed black garbage bags, ironing boards, plastic tubs, lampshades, ottomans ... One false move and the whole thing could come crashing down!

The DVDs were priced at a dollar each, and that included multi-volume sets. I purchased The Sopranos first season (never seen it), a Leo DiCaprio triple feature (I have seen The Beach, but not his Man in the Iron Mask or Romeo & Juliette), Dances With Wolves (never seen it), X-Men (saw it during its theatrical release), Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (never seen it), Behind Enemy Lines (seen parts of it three times on airplanes), Terminator 2 (theatrical release), Traffic (never seen it), The Day the Earth Stood Still (turns out the Keanu Reeves remake had the original in its box as well), Lord of War (about the rise and fall of a Ukranian-American arms dealer) and the film I watched the other night, Jurassic Park: the Lost World.

I had seen the first Jurassic Park in a theatre. Apart from its special effects, I was not particularly wowed by it. As for the sequel, it's like there are two movies going on at once -- one beholden to the script, the other to the odd energies of Jeff Goldblum, who has what Warren Beatty has in mutter and movement, but is unable to meld. The only time I have seen Goldblum in a role that suited his style was when he played the lead in David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly (Geena Davis: "What does the disease want?" Goldblum: "It wants to turn me into something else"). His and Cyndi Lauper's Vibes (1988) is quite possibly the worst (bad-bad) film I have ever seen.

At bottom is my favourite "scene" in Lost World. We're near the end of the film, when the adult tyrannosaurus rex is ravaging San Diego in search of its kid. People take shelter in a Blockbuster store, where one of the movie posters has Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of King Lear.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Moose (singular)

The picture above (taken at a mini-mall on the 1200 block of Kingsway, southside, looking east) contains a painted image of a moose in its natural habitat. Nothing for sale here, apart from the billboard's availability -- and if you want to lease it, call Pattison.

The picture below (taken at the 1000 block of Kingsway, northside, looking west) contains the same image, yet it doesn't, because this one is on the horizontal axis. Taken together, this image and the one two blocks away are part of a larger image we can only imagine. So is that what's being advertised -- our imaginations?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987)

Iris Green describes her daughter Jacqueline du Pré (b.1945) as having a childhood "like any other [middle-class Anglo-Celtic] English child," until the age of four, when she heard a cello on the radio and fell for its sound. As is often the case, music lessons are imposed on children; but not on Jacqueline du Pré, who, despite her prodigious talent, remained like any other middle-class Anglo-Celtic English child -- except when playing the cello.

Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait (BBC/Opus Arte/Allegro Films, 2004) is both a documentary of du Pré's short yet exuberant life (she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973, and passed away in 1987) and a document of two of her most notable performances: first with the New Philharmonia Orchestra -- Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor Op. 85 -- in 1967 (conducted by her prodigious and equally young husband, Daniel Barenboim); the second with Beethoven's Piano Trio No. 5 in D major Op. 70 No. 1 (The Ghost) in 1970 (with Barenboim on piano and Pinchas Zukerman on violin).

Watching du Pré and Barenboim together, at work and at play, is its own sweet music. Yes, Barenboim comes off as a man with some aggressively conservative ideas about gender relations, but he is quick to acknowledge du Pré's powers as an artist and a human being, and he appears to articulate these powers in a way that pleases her. As for du Pré, who has a good three inches on her short, barrel-chested husband, it occurred to me that in considering someone to share your life and music with, what could be a better fit than with someone shaped like the very instrument you fell for all those years ago?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


The Save-On at King Edward & Knight has a magazine rack that brackets the bathrooms. An aisle to the east of it advertises cleaning products -- and books! But where? Where on the shelves are these books? I open a scouring pad and turn to Page 50: George Stanley's "Vancouver in April".  Five stanzas down:

I lived here three months
in a house where I never once
heard anyone say please or thanks.

This from someone born and raised in the States, who moved to a country known to use "please" and "thanks" as verbal punctuation. Or was this a house without Canadians? There were number of U.S. Americans living in Vancouver in the early-1970s, people George knew from the San Francisco poetry scene. Rob Blaser, Stan Persky. Never knew Persky to say such things. Never knew Blaser either, though I met him more than once.

Monday, April 20, 2020


When the spotlight is shone on New York Express editor Mark Chapman during his newspaper's content-generating "Lonelyhearts Ball", the camera takes notice of a woman taking notice of Chapman. She is Charlotte, the wife Chapman ran out on twenty years before, when he was known as George.

Charlotte confronts Chapman, and Chapman whisks her away. They go back to her dingy apartment, where Charlotte recounts the pain he caused her. Eager to divest himself of the situation, Chapman throws money on the bed; Charlotte, insulted, throws it back at him and wonders out loud what a rival newspaper might make of her story. You'll have to see the trailer to Phil Karlson's 1952 film Scandal Sheet (based on film director Sam Fuller's 1944 novel The Dark Page) to know the rest.

I love the shot above, where Charlotte, as seen in the mirror's reflection, goes to the window to close the blind. "Outside" the window, a rear-projected film of an approaching train.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

"Requiem for a Nest" (2003)

Requiem for a Nest 

the winged thang built her dream palace
amid the fine green eyes of a sheltering bough
she did not know it was urban turf
disguised as serenely delusionally rural
nor did she know the neighborhood was rife
with slant-mawed felines and those long-taloned
swoopers of prey. she was ignorant of the acidity & oil
that slowly polluted the earth, and was never
to detect the serpent coiled one strong limb below

following her nature she flitted and dove
for whatever blades twigs and mud
could be found under the humming blue
and created a hatchery for her spawn
not knowing all were doomed

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Two Books with Ins in Them

On my brother's wall in Toronto are the false maps. Old portraits of Ceylon. The result of sightings, glances from trading vessels, the theories of the sextant. The shapes differ so much they seem to be translations -- by Ptolemy, Mercator, François Valentyn, Mortier, and Heydt -- growing from mythic shapes into eventual accuracy.  Amoeba, then stout rectangle, and then the island as we know it now, a pendant off the ear of India. Around it, a blue combed ocean busy with dolphin and sea-horse, cherub and compass. Ceylon floats on the Indian Ocean and holds its naive mountains, drawings of cassowary and boar who leap without perspective across imagine "desertum" and plain. (53)

A passage from Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family (1982), a book I read some thirty years ago when it was still easy to read Ondaatje's oeuvre in a week. Most of these books I am still digesting, apart from In the Skin of a Lion (1987), which my enteric system rejected for its passive-aggressive sentimentality. I should try reading it again, see if those tears I now cry for certain of my own pasts have made my stomach immune to the tugs of others.

But right now I am re-reading MO's "memoir", seeing in his false maps the piece of dinosaur Bruce Chatwin grew up touching, the one his grandmother(?) kept in a cabinet and excited his interest in exploring Patagonia, which he did (though some dispute this), and which gave the world one of my favourite books, ever -- In Patagonia (1977). (Funny, in looking for a map of Patagonia I came across one whose shape and colour is reminiscent of the dinosaur part that Chatwin describes.)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Motion Picture Distancing

On Gus Van Sant's Gerry (2002), film critic Roger Ebert writes: "The longer the movie ran, the less I liked it and the more I admired it."

On Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970), Ebert has this to say: "There is no feeling of liberation, or delight, or anything else other than a long, ridiculous time when lots of people roll around in the sand."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Small Community, Long Memory

A friend writes to tell me of some "non-essential travel" he has planned to a small community where he keeps a second house and where the average age of its primary residents is over seventy. In recognition of the government recommended two week quarantine period he has picked up "a carload of groceries" and, in the same breath, he adds that he is looking forward to purchasing plants at the local nurseries and ceramics from the local potteries. Surely not during the quarantine period, right? Right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Lounge Chair Photographer





Monday, April 13, 2020

"Doin' That Rag" (1969)

Take my line and go fishing for a Tuesday
Maybe take my supper, eat it down by the sea
Gave my baby twenty, forty good reasons
Couldn't find any better ones in the morning at three

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967)

Kids are crying
And old folks they are dying

Saturday, April 11, 2020

"90 Seconds of Your Time"

When John Prine passed away last week Bruce Springsteen noted on social media that he and Prine came up together and were referred to as "New Dylans."

My band (Hard Rock Miners) and Corb Lund's old one (The Smalls) came up together, gigged together (U of A's Power Plant), but Lund kept at it as a solo artist and wow has he written a Dylanesque Blonde on Blonde-like PTSD anthem in "90 Seconds of Your Time"!

New album Agricultural Tragic debuts June 26 via New West Records.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Writing Prompts

The long-standing Capilano Review invites submissions to its Long Distance Poem writing prompts project. First up, a prompt from Emily Carr.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

More Orange

A couple weeks ago I wrote the curators of the Vancouver Art Gallery asking which of Vancouver couturier Mano Herendy's designs they are including in Modern in the Making: Post-War Craft and Design in British Columbia.

Expecting a christening gown or a Bat Mitzvah dress, VAG Associate Curator Stephanie Rebick sent a picture of a caftan Mano designed in what would have been the early-1970s.

The caftan was borrowed from the Museum of Vancouver, and led me to wonder, What else have they got of Mano's?

Time for a Mano show!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Orange Ice

Mom always had them -- the same hard scarlet flower with dark green foliage -- but I hated geraniums. Years later, with two medium pots at the foot of my stairs, thoughts of mom, how much she loved her geraniums -- but no, not for me!

A dozen years ago, in the Annuals section at Southlands, a salmon-coloured geranium with yellow and brown foliage. Every year after that -- those ones! But if I couldn't find them, then another pair.

Gardeners who don't like geraniums eventually find their colour(s). This year's sentries are Pelargonium zonale (Orange Ice).

Monday, April 6, 2020

Everything Is Going To Be Alright

I'm hearing it at grocery stores, gas pumps and hospitals -- everywhere that's left for us to gather.

Though it rolls off the tongue like burrs from a sweater, people can't stop saying it: "A man who adheres to a position previously stated when times change is a fool."

Curious to know its source,  I submitted it to Google.

Well there you go.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

some, C and periodicities

Last June I attended the launch of the inaugural issue of Rob Manery's some magazine at Vancouver's Kino Cafe, where I purchased a copy and its promise of a second issue, which arrived on my doorstep a couple days ago. I am sure had I attended the second some launch at the People's Co-op Bookstore on March 13 I would have received my copy there, in person, but by then the Covidian winds were blowing, and I stayed in.

The current some opens with an engaging piece by Alan Daves, entitled "How Writing Happens", and is followed by writings by Nicole Raziya Fong, Nora Collen Fulton, Mark Francis Johnson, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Rob, Gustave Morin and Fred Wah. Rob's "As They Say" is dedicated to Peter Culley and features an appearance by his KSW associate, Dan Farrell.

Another magazine that arrived this week was my contributor's copy of C Magazine. I had mentioned David Garneau's piece in an earlier post, but there are many more worth reading, including Serena Lukas Bhandar's entry in a section that responds to art critic Amy Fung's unasked question about "legibility" with respect to the work of the exclusively non-white 2017 Sobey Art Award finalists who were gathered together for a public panel moderated by an "authoritative" figure whom Fung argues is representative of settler-colonialism ("I wanted to know if their work felt visible here, in this context, and what were their strategies and coping mechanisms?"). Bhandar's response is familiar to those who have read Samuel Beckett -- that a work of art must be considered on the terms it sets out for itself. For Bhandar, these terms are set in the cultural context of "storytelling."

One magazine that didn't arrive on my doorstep this week was rob mclennan's recently revived periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics, which is online and added to daily. Unlike some, which is all poems, and C Magazine, which is all essays, periodicities features essays, online readings, reviews and poems. In the first issue, Klara du Plessis attempts a theorization of the non-individuated poetry reading (collage?), what she calls "Deep Curation," while in Saturday's supplement a number of writers remembered the life and work of Ken Belford, who passed away on February 19, 2020. My contribution appears in the Thursday supplement, and can be read here.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

In No Uncertain Terms

Yesterday Jean alluded to the (mis-)use of epidemic and pandemic as synonyms. Then a rant on my part.

My biggest pet peeve is the word "concerning" -- its passage from preposition to adjective -- how people find things concerning. I believe the word we are searching for is disconcerting. Another is the rampant use of ostensibly amongst uptalking socialites (always in the adverb form, never the adjective ostensible). I'm with Gertrude Stein on adverbs.

Finally, the use of obviously, as practiced by hockey players when responding to interview questions. "Obviously, it's a big game for us. But yeah, it's huge." Usage here is based on the performatively modest athlete who does not want to sound condescending (telling us something we already know -- or should know), while at the same time is passive-aggressively contemptuous of a media who are only adding value to a game that allows these athletes their excellent living.

I could go on, I won't go on, to paraphrase (through inversion) the ever-precise, ever-fascinating Samuel Beckett.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Scale and Treatment

Apropos of yesterday's post, The West Beyond the West: a History of British Columbia author and historian Jean Barman sent me a PDF of an issue of the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Summer, 2019) that provides what amounts to a source. But it's curiously put.

On Page 21 an "epidemic" is mentioned (a couple pages later the word "pandemic" is used), but the disease isn't mentioned, only inferred through mention of "quinine" (treatment for malaria, of course), which the Hudson's Bay Company had in its stores and "distributed." Also, a local-regional comparison based on a HBC employee's family(-ies) having a 90% survival rate, while those nearby (without HBC affiliation) had an extremely high death rate. 

One wonders why the scale of the illness (epidemic, pandemic) and its treatment (quinine) are mentioned, but not its name (malaria). For my part, I guess I am caught up on how the local Coast Salish indigenous population who built Fort Victoria (Songhees?) were paid in blankets; and if those blankets came from Fort Vancouver (which is likely), could they have carried that which killed the Fort Vancouver local indigenous population -- assuming that what these tradable blankets carried was not the unnamed disease (malaria is not transferrable by blanket) but another inferred illness (smallpox)?

Of course there is no evidence to suggest that the Vancouver Island Coast Salish population suffered from anything other than low wages in the building of Fort Victoria. It wasn't until the spring of 1862 that smallpox came to town -- a good thirty years after the epidemic that ravaged Fort Vancouver.

Image: Nuxalt Woman Discovers Smallpox Bodies -- July 1862, Shawn Swanky.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Capitalism and Other Pathogens

UBC professor Scott Watson has devoted much of the past year researching 19th and early 20th century smallpox outbreaks on Canada's Pacific Northwest Coast. We have spoken about this research over email, and more recently Scott mentioned that Margaret Ormsby gave smallpox scant no attention in her long-standing "definitive" history of British Columbia -- British Columbia: a History (1958).

Curious, I looked in the Index of the book that B.C. bookboss Alan Twigg touts as British Columbia: a History's successor -- Jean Barman's The West Beyond the West: a History of British Columbia (1991; revised 1997), and there is no mention of smallpox. There is mention of malaria, though not in the Index.

In Chapter Three ("The Trade in Furs") Barman discusses HBC governor George Simpson's 1841 decision to move the HBC regional headquarters from Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Washington) to Vancouver Island (Victoria, BC). There are a number of reasons for the move, one of them based on a labour shortage in Fort Vancouver. Barman writes:

"... during the early 1830s, the local native population had been decimated by a mysterious epidemic, only later identified as a variety of malaria transmitted by a mosquito that, fortunately, did not thrive farther north. The result was a shortage of labour to acquire pelts, which were declining as the area became trapped out." (43)

Unfortunately Barman provides no "later" source to verify that it was a mosquito and not, say, an infected HBC blanket. The Oregon History Project mentions malaria outbreaks in its "Old World Pathogens" chapter.

Further down the page, Barman writes:

"Construction of Fort Victoria began in 1843, using Indian labour paid at the rate of one Hudson's Bay blanket for every forty cedar pickets cut." (43)

I dunno -- I find it hard to believe that malaria could survive, let alone recur, in what is now southern Washington State (Victoria B.C. actually has a higher seasonal temperature than Vancouver, Washington). The Oregon History Project points out that malaria came by way of West Africa through Central America, whereas smallpox is historically associated with Eurasia. Given Donald Trump's insistence on associating Covid-19 with China, not to mention previous political efforts to link the 1918 influenza pandemic with Spain (and not Kansas), I wonder if "malaria" was a convenient way of saying it's not "us" (European settlers) who brought this on, but "them" (African slaves).

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"I haven't done nothing since I woke up today"

I am convinced that songs written and performed by John Prine have sold more acoustic guitars and enabled more voices than any other voice, ever. But now John Prine is down with the virus ("down" as in ailing, as opposed to agreeable). He is in our thoughts and prayers.

Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" (1971) is a song of I love to sing and play, and there are many versions of it. My favourite version, the one I go to as an occasional pick-me-up, is by Toronto's Leslie Spit Treeo -- the big, insistent voice of the talented Laura Hubert.