Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Two-Hander (with Moderation)

Complete transcription (with typos; for example, "Here's" not "He's" at 14:21) of last night's performance.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Plagues and Wars

In his "Harlequin" chapter on the writing of Bruce Chatwin's Utz (1988), Nicholas Shakespeare writes:

"In Love Undetectable, Andrew Sullivan, an HIV-positive and openly homosexual writer, asks what can be purchased from the horror of AIDS: 'Plagues and wars do this to people. They force them to ask more fundamental questions of who they are and what they want ... Out of cathartic necessity and loss and endurance comes, at least for a while, a desire to turn these things into something constructive, to appease the trauma by some tangible residue that can give meaning and dignity to what has happened.'" (508)

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Berkeley 2

The Berkeley had a huge sooty grey basement. Along the north wall were coin-operated washing machines and dryers. My first visits there it was just me and my darks and lights. The third time all the machines were in use.

Sitting on top of a washer, legs crossed flipping through Interview magazine, was a young man about my age (I was 24 in the spring of 1987). He had on a white crewneck sweatshirt like the one my Mom used to wear as a councillor at Camp Artaban in the 1950s. I would say he took no notice me if I didn't believe he was doing everything he could to be noticed.

"All the machines are going," I said.

The young man lifted the magazine to his face. His face was now the face of Lisa Bonet. In the voice of Lisa Bonet he said, "You like my shirt? Just like the shirt I wore on Letterman, the WHITEBOY shirt without the word WHITEBOY. A gift from a friend. A white boy."

"I like your face more than your shirt."

"Oh, you prefer the girl face?" he said still holding up the magazine.

"I think Lisa Bonet has a pretty face."

"Yes, me too, if I don't say so myself."

This went on for awhile. Eventually one of the dryers buzzed and the young man hopped down to take out a bundle of dried white sweatshirts, just like the one he was wearing. These shirts, he told me, had to be washed first before they could be decorated. The decorators were a group of building residents who, with indelible markers, made flowery sweatshirts to raise money for a meal delivery program to help those living with AIDS.

Over the next ninety minutes I learned a great deal about the Berkeley, its residents and who this young man was -- among other things, a former "party boy" who, he believed, contracted HIV in the early-1980s and was now spending half the week as a "volunteer washer woman."

"I am the oldest of five," he said pulling out another load. "My mother's from another marriage. I was twelve when my sister was born, fourteen when my brother was born, etcetera. My mother and stepfather worked long hours; I more or less raised my siblings. Laundry is nothing knew to me." Then, for the first time since we'd met, he looked me in the eye. "After ironing, there is nothing I like better than folding. What's your preference, young man? Ironing? Folding? A bit of both?"

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Berkeley

It was April 1987 when I moved from my one bedroom apartment at Salsbury and East Pender, where I had been living for six months after caring for my grandmother in Los Angeles (and before that, three years in Victoria, BC, where I completed a Bachelor of Arts in April 1986), to a bachelor suite in The Berkeley, at the corner of Bute and Nelson in Vancouver's West End.

The rents were the same in both places ($400 a month), so too was the square footage (500 sq. ft.). Surrendering a living room and a bedroom seemed a shame; but the bachelor suite had huge south-facing windows, which meant tons of sunshine, and I was but a couple of blocks from Robson Street, where our band Hard Rock Miners had begun busking and, as it happened, were making enough to supplement what was for most of us an eight-hour work week.

When I read the notice for a suite in The Berkeley I phoned the landlady and arranged a visit. The following day I arrived in my best clothes, where I was met by a chubby older woman who took me up the wide marshmallowy stairs to the third floor, opened a door two apartments to the right and, in a more-world-weary-than-gruff voice, said, "Here it is -- you can't go in because the floors are still drying." And floors they were! Yellow sun-lit oak with what looked like three coats of Verathane.  I told her I'd take it and she sighed, "We'll see if your references check out. You'll know within a couple of days."

After viewing the apartment I walked over to Caroline Court to share the news with my fellow Miners, most of whom were living there. While walking I replayed the experience: pressing the landlady's buzzer, noting the wide hallways (the building was built by the Lightheart Brothers in 1913), how well-kept everything was, arriving at the landlady's tiny ground floor office where she sat slumped on a swivel stool; but then, as we turned right on the third floor, the two apartments we walked past, both doors open, and inside the first a frighteningly skinny old-looking younger man sitting before a walker, and inside the second, a similar looking man in pyjamas and dressing gown being helped through a jungle of rubber trees to the door, one of the two men on either side of him whispering, as if for the umpteenth time, "She's waiting out front in the car."

The men living in these apartments, I would learn, were end-stage AIDS. Indeed, over half the people living in the Berkeley were HIV/AIDS, many of whom would pass away within the six months I lived there. Why only six months? Not because I didn't like living there -- I loved living there more than any place I have ever lived -- but because I too had come down with an illness and, at my mother's insistence, moved home with her. I went to give notice and as usual saw the landlady through the open door of her office at the end of the hall, working at her desk. She seemed surprised I was leaving. "Is it too much?" she asked, and I told her no, I could afford it. "Not the rent," she said, "the ambulances. I keep telling them to turn off their goddamn lights!"

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Chatwin's Aesthetic

Now in the final stretch of Nicholas Shakespeare's biography of Bruce Chatwin, symptoms of the latter's still-unidentified "virus" continue to mount. Accounts of food poisoning are consistent with the initial flu-like symptoms of HIV/AIDS infection, followed by fatigue, thrush, lumps and "chicken pox-like" blemishes (Kaposi's sarcoma), which Chatwin's estranged wife Elizabeth says were burned off with liquid nitrogen by Chatwin's unsuspecting doctor. Chatwin, nor the world, didn't know much about HIV/AIDS at the time, but Chatwin continued to travel, at this point in the company of the author
Murray Bail

Shakespeare writes:

"Few understood Bruce's aesthetic better [than Murray Bail]. 'It was an aesthetic of removal.' It struck Bail from their discussion on art how many of the paintings and photographs Bruce admired had no people in them: Malevich's white canvases; the cloud scenes of Turner and Constable; the spotted bare landscapes of Fred Williams, whose work would appear on the paperback cover of The Songlines; the grey abstracts of the Australian Ian Fairweather (on whom Bail had written a monograph). 'They were emptied of character and references.' Bruce's admiration for austerity and plainness pervaded the arts. He urged Bail to visit the unfinished Cistercian Abbey at La Thornier in Var. 'Everything has been removed,' says Bail. "It was plain, immaterial and resonant because of the emptiness. It summed him up.'"

Just writing that first paragraph takes me back to those early years of the 1980s, when people were getting sick; and then nearer to the end of that decade, under the HIV/AIDS blanket, they began dying like crazy. For the first time in my life I did a count of those I knew who passed and they quickly numbered more than my fingers and toes. At some point I have to spend more time on this. From the shaking of my hands I have clearly not dealt with it.

Friday, September 25, 2020

On Forgetting a Language

Last week I received a copy of a poetry chapbook written by someone born in 21st century. Her name is Isabella Wang and her book is called On Forgetting a Language (London, ON: baseline press, 2019). Click here for my review.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Three Inches (Black) 1-11, 1997

I remember seeing a couple of these Douglas Gordon pictures at the VAG in 2002. Weird to see them now. Three inches refers to the length of a knife blade in relation to its ability to pierce the heart. I am not sure if that number is enough or not enough. Whatever. Enough is enough for so much of what is and isn't happening these days.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


PINK: How long have we known each other?

RED: Since August.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


6:31 a.m. Fall. I was awake for it, listening to the CBC morning drive show, where they played the Kinks' "Autumn Almanac" (1967).

Up top, a picture I took last month. A just-leafless poppy -- now a dried-out husk full of hard black seed.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Painted Veil (1925) 2

Almost a hundred years since W. Somerset Maugham sat down to write The Painted Veil. In a passage where Hong Kong Assistant Colonial Secretary Charles Townsend asks his wife Dorothy about the wife of newly arrived bacteriologist Walter Fane, Dorothy describes Kitty as "actressy."

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Painted Veil (1925)

Kitty's vision (pattern, without order?):

"... in a moment, out of the mist, looming vastly and touched here and there by a yellow ray of sun, there was seen a cluster of green and yellow roofs. Huge they seemed and you could make out the pattern; the order, if order there was, escaped you; wayward and extravagant, but of an unimaginable richness. This was no fortress, nor a temple, but the magic palace of some emperor of the gods where no man might enter. It was too airy, fantastic, and unsubstantial to be the work of human hands; it was the fabric of a dream." (p. 96)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Smoke on the Water

From East 19th north on Glen to Great Northern Way, west to Ontario then north on the seawall, eventually to Chilco, then north until Haro. I budget an hour for this bike trip, but it keeps happening faster. I kill time at English Bay staring at the walkers, the ocean and the shore beyond.

This time it is the total composition, what returns with me in the form of a picture taken. Wildfire smoke is an eco medium now, a scrim before life's theatre. The Impressionist sky of Monet's Le Havre. Only this time the sun is setting.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Writing in the Time You've Been Given

We like to think our time -- our “free time” -- is our own, and in some sense it is. But more often than not this kind of time does not come from us but is “given” to us through subtraction -- once our commitments to parents, children, teachers, students, employers and employees, to name a few, are fulfilled. Our commitment to -- and participation in -- our familial and economic relationships orders what remains of our time. What happens in the space between is what we call “ours” -- our “free time”.


The notion that free time is given to us contradicts the belief that we, as human beings, are free to choose how we live our lives, and by extension are responsible for what befalls us. This view, popularized at various points since the Renaissance, continues in the form of the libertarian U.S. president Trump, while a contrary view is held by those who, through Indigenous knowledge systems, economic theories of inter-dependency, or more recent tendencies in contemporary art, take a more relational approach, where the focus is less on the self-serving, autonomous or rude individual than on collective intersectional participation in communities that share in and celebrate difference.


Regardless of one’s philosophical orientation, “free time” has become a non-denominational shorthand colloquialism used to denote that which exists outside the realm of our irreducible responsibilities -- the necessity of food, clothing and shelter. Apart from a need for recuperative “me time”, I most often hear the words “free time” used by younger or emerging writers, alone or in collaborative partnerships, when complaining how they can’t find large enough blocks of time to develop their ideas, let alone execute them in the form of a poetry collection, a novel or a play; that the demands of 21stcentury life do not allow them this kind of time.


In light of this complaint, I have begun preparations for a workshop that I hope might address some of the conditions by which our slivers of “free time” are managed and how these slivers might be put to use. I say “slivers” here to address an emergent condition characterized by what Byung-Chul Han refers to as an “achievement-oriented” culture prone to constant multi-tasking and micro-managing, a behaviour that has contributed to the erosion of these longed for blocks of time. It is this shift in the way we experience time that will engender an art and literature whose form is reflective of this condition.


Shortly before his death in 1990, the American musician and composer Leonard Bernstein was asked what he thought of digital recordings and the compact disc. His immediate response was that he “missed the room,” that the digital process does not capture room sounds (specifically, the great music halls and ballrooms he was so familiar with) but responds directly to signals from the instrument and/or voice. But rather than dwell on this loss, rather than lament recordings where the music “just hangs there,” Bernstein said he was excited by the potential of digital recordings to inspire a new kind of music, a music composed with that roomlessness in mind. I am hoping we might inspire something similar through the Writing in the Time You’ve Been Given workshop. 


For more information, visit Mobil Art School.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) is a romantic comedy with some nicely placed moments of pain and insight, despite an unfortunate performance by Mickey Rooney (in yellow face) as the landlord, Mr. Yunioshi. The opening scene, with Holly Golightly in evening wear outside the venerable jeweller, is a beautiful instance of unlit outdoor photography. I would love to know more about how that scene was shot.

Atop this post is a crop of a screen shot -- the menu board from a Central Park kiosk. This scene, too, is nicely photographed -- and made better for its unexpected outcome: not a detective hired by Emily's husband to spy on his wife, as Emily fears, and as Emily's young lover Paul goes outside to ascertain, but Holly's much older estranged husband Doc, who came to New York City to take Holly, whose real name is Lula Mae Barnes, back to rural Texas.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Aline Chrétien passed away last week. I never knew much about her, apart from her coming from a very large family and that she quit school in her mid-teens to look after her siblings. Also, that she thwarted a home invasion when her husband was Prime Minster of Canada, an incident that, according to her many obituaries, was her highest achievement. 

Something that went unmentioned in Chrétien's obituaries was her negative feelings toward the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a revelation that came to light during her husband's term as Prime Minister (1993-2003), when cuts to the public broadcaster were not uncommon. I have heard it said that Chrétien resented characterizations of her husband by the broadcaster's journalists and broadcasters, in addition to cultural programming that many continue to find condescending in its disingenuous attempts at neutrality.

Talk of the CBC and its future has come up recently with the emergence of federal Conservative party leader Erin O'Toole. If elected, O'Toole has promised to end all funding to CBC Digital; cut funding to CBC TV and News Network by 50%, with the goal of fully privatizing CBC by the end of his first mandate; and maintain funding for CBC Radio and Radio-Canada. Nowhere in his platform has O'Toole said he will attempt to silence his critics by giving CBC Radio and Radio-Canada to a yet-to-be-established consortium of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ journalists, broadcasters and business managers, with the intent of dividing and conquering those whose stripe is not, like O'Toole's, "True Blue".

Monday, September 14, 2020

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

And where there's haze, there's smoke.

Right now much of southern B.C. is engulfed in a particulate-filled haze, but because it is the result of smoke from California, Oregon and Washington forest fires, it doesn't rate much interest in Canada's newspaper of record. Not like, say, a U.S. government unilaterally imposing trade tariffs on Canadian lumber and soft woods. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

A Recently Discovered "Lost" Poem by Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

Winter Colony

 Stylishly, in the white season,

we come here wearing awkward logs

on our feet, to skate on icebergs,

to ride pulleys into the sky

and ride the sky down.


We ride the sky down,

our voices falling back behind us,

unraveling like smooth threads.

Say, I am the air I break; or say,

I am a spool unwinding.


I am the spool that unwound

while riding the sky down, that waits

now to ride the pulley back into the sky,

that comes here, stylishly,

each weekend, for the same trick

in the white season.


from The Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 1959

Saturday, September 12, 2020

"The Custard Heart" (1939)

Penguin continues to anticipate with its latest series of inexpensive ($4.95) pocket-sized (6.5"x4.5") 54-page re-packs of modern writers and speech-makers.

At bottom is an excerpt from "The Custard Heart", the first of a three story collection of portraits by the American author Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). The subject of the portrait is the "wistful" Mrs Lanier, who stood for a painting by Sir James Weir:

"He has shown her at her full length, all in yellows, the delicately heaped curls, the slender arched feet like elegant bananas, the shining stretch of the evening gown; Mrs Lanier habitually wore white in the evening, but white is the devil's own hue to paint, and could a man be expected to spend his entire six weeks in the States on the execution of a single commission? Wistfulness rests, immortal, in the dark eyes with sad hope, in the pleading mouth, the droop of the little head on the long sweet neck, bowed as if in submission to the three ropes of Lanier pearls. It is true that, when the portrait was exhibited, one critic expressed in print his puzzlement as to what a woman who owned such pearls had to be wistful about; but that was doubtless because he sold his saffron-coloured soul for a few pennies to the proprietor of a rival gallery. Certainly, no man could touch Sir James on pearls. Each one is as distinct, as individual, as is each little soldier's face in a Meissonier battle scene." (pp.1-2)

Friday, September 11, 2020

One Hundred Years of B.C. Art

Twins at Night (1958) by five-year-old Quilchena Elementary Kindergarten student Debbie McKee.

Thursday, September 10, 2020


BEN BRADLEE: Mitchell know he was talking to a reporter?

CARL BERNSTEIN: Yeah, but I think I woke him up.

BB: Had good notes?

CB: Verbatim.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Maps and Dreams (1981)

Upon arriving at Joseph Patsah's place, the anthropologist Hugh Brody notes:

"On closer to the ground inspection, it was possible to discern slivers of wood shaped to some purpose, fragments of metal or plastic, jettisoned close by but later to be found and used again, and scraps or strips of leather that can be turned into thongs to fix bridal lines and stirrups. It is this blur of stuff, this texture, that causes visitors to see dirt and untidiness where there is often in reality a minor store of all manner of spare parts." (pp. 4-5)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson's twenty-something fairy tale The Royal Tenenbaums was first screened at the New York Film Festival on October 5, 2001, before going into general North American release in December. I was among the thousands who saw the film over the winter holiday and was tickled by its quirk. Looking back on the film today (included in my recent haul of used DVD purchases), the giggles have given way to groans, particularly when considering the film through the bi-focals of race and class.

Pictured above is Henry Sherman. Though for ten years Henry served as Mrs. Etheline Tenenbaum's accountant, his presence in relation to Etheline is closer to that of a domestic servant. Anderson might argue that his scene direction of Henry is intended to denote devotion (he declares his love for Etheline, asks if she would consider divorcing her estranged husband to marry him, to which she eventually agrees), it does not escape the cinematic rut that has the standing serving the sitting.

Like almost every other principal in the film, Henry has contributed an object to the larger culture -- in this instance a book whose title and cover (below) is intended to be funny but now reads like a parody of the demands by racialized human beings for public accountability.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Hungry Slingshots (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2020)

Andy Warhol wanted to be a robot or a machine. Hito Steyerl "declares that, since subjectivity is colonized by capitalism, we might as well identify with objects" (quoted in Hal Foster's What Comes After Farce, 2020). This spring Louis Cabri published a poetry collection whose title suggests that objects indeed have agency and, in the case of weapons of minuscule destruction, are in constant need of re-loading.

Here is a brief passage from the (collapsed) opening of Cabri's "Tasty ... Tasty!" (31):

how come

hm ...

--- Hm!----------

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Letters Home

In a 1978 letter, Bruce Chatwin writes to Elizabeth of his time in New York City:

"Dinner parties every night. Escorting Mrs Onassis to the opera next Thursday. Met her again with the John Russells, and my god she's fly. Far more subtle than any American I've ever met. A man called Charles Rosen, who has a reputation for being THE CLEVEREST MAN IN AMERICA, was pontificating on the poet Aretino, and since nobody reacted or contradicted him, turned his discourse into a lecture. He was halfway through when she turned to him with her puppy-like eyes, smiled and said: 'Yes, of course, you can see it all in the Titian portrait.'"

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Café-Concert (1878)

I was walking back from Save On last week when I noticed yet another public mural, this time in block-letters: M-A-N-E-T. As this wall is accessible to those without keys I assumed it was put there not by the building's landlord or its tenets but by someone looking for such a wall, some who had feelings for a French artist renowned for being among the first to paint what was once called "modern life". Which reminds me: I miss my local!

Friday, September 4, 2020

History Painting

I have seen this street preacher at work, usually in the Davie Village. He says he is doing the Lord's work, but what he really seems to be doing is imposing a literal reading of the Bible on those he has cast as infidels.

The picture above is a screen grab of a baptism the street preacher performed at nearby Sunset Beach last Monday.  Surrounding the preacher are police (there for his protection, apparently), members of the LGBTQ+ community and curious onlookers.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Painting on a Park Bench

For years Vancouverites pushed for memorial benches. Then one day, voila! -- benches with bronze plaques honouring past lives. One of my favourite walks is to read these plaques, then to sit down and take in the view.

Yesterday I heard the story of a memorial bench removed by the City because the partner of the person it is dedicated to had painted it. How sad, I thought. She meant no harm. But when asked if I thought the City was right to remove it, I agreed that it was -- regardless of what I thought of its painting.

The City of Vancouver's memorial benches are nicely designed structures well-situated in public space. For me, it is never the bench so much as the view it affords, what it feels like to lean into one, my back supported by its unvarnished wooden slats.

Vancouver's obsession with painting itself is often justified by the city's grey and rainy weather -- benches that look "dead and forgotten," according to the artist whose partner's bench was removed. I for one see nothing wrong with settling into that which is "dead" to watch a sunset. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen is a sunrise touching one of these benches -- and bringing it to life!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

"Put out the fire with a blue hole."

"In December 1980," Nicholas Shakespeare writes, "Bruce [Chatwin] took Donald [Richards, his lover] to a dinner given for him by Freddy Eberstadt. Bruce had suggested the guests. His marriage [to Elizabeth] had put I'm in touch with high society in New York, but it was not the society that appealed to Elizabeth. That night they included ... Robert Wilson, Kynaston MacShine ... Keith Milow, Edward Albee, Jerzy Kosinski, Diana Vreeland and Gloria Vanderbilt. There was also Pam Bell [above], an Australian poet whom Bruce met in London. 'The people were so grand you weren't introduced,' she says ... 'You looked down the long line of tuberoses and there was Gloria Vanderbilt with diamonds literally from one tit to another. She looked like she robbed the burial mound at Ur.' Bell thought Bruce that night was at his most manic. 'He had on a dinner jacket and a bow-tie and jeans and high-heeled yellow boots. Every now and then he threw his knees up to his chin and collapsed in hyena laughter. His face was a Hallowe'en mask: ugly, hysterical, grotesque.'"

Bell presents a chilling image. After finishing Shakespeare's "New York" chapter I looked for Bell online and, with some difficulty, found three of her 1960s poems from Poetry: 1947-1989 (Toowoomba: Rowland, 1989) on a Facebook account:

Woman over Bahrain

Go ahead! Hijack me —
Time's inevitable fool.
The young men are more beautiful ...
Desire tomorrow may be met with casual pity.
Put out the fire with a blue hole.

To a young man

My dear, lie down and sleep.
There isn't time
To tap the age of waters dammed up in one scarred skin ...
And, oh the wells of love are dark and deep ... you'd drown.
It takes an age, an ancient water-course
To hold the rage of rivers,
But for you,
There will always be
Shaped by strange waters, timeless, secret,
Some mysterious pool,
Warm for your heart-break winters and midsummer cool.

Oxford Street

High, high
White cloud
And a blue sky cartwheeling down Oxford Street
In pewter puddles.
I love the crowd, the tired faces of the afternoon,
Preoccupied and inward,
Like sad buds waiting for rain.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Walden (1854)

"Some have been puzzled to tell how the shore became so regularly paved. My townsmen have all heard the tradition -- the oldest people tell me that they heard it in their youth -- that anciently the Indians were holding a pow-wow upon a hill here, which rose as high into the heavens as the pond now sinks deep into the earth, and they used much profanity, as the story goes, though this vice is one of which the Indians were never guilty, and while they were thus engaged the hill shook and suddenly sank, and only one old squaw, named Walden, escaped, and from her the pond was named. It has been conjectured that when the hill shook these stones rolled down its side and became the present shore. It is very certain, at any rate, that once there was no pond here, and now there is one; and this Indian fable does not in any respect conflict with the account of that ancient settler whom I have mentioned, who remembers so well when he first came here with his divining-rod, saw a thin vapor rising from the sward, and the hazel pointed steadily downward, and he concluded to dig a well here. As for the stones, many still think that they are hardly to be accounted for by the action of the waves on these hills; but I observe that the surrounding hills are remarkably full of the same kind of stones, so that they have been obliged to pile them up in walls on both sides of the railroad cut nearest the pond; and, moreover, there are most stones where the shore is most abrupt; so that, unfortunately, it is no longer a mystery to me. I detect the paver. If the name was not derived from that of some English locality -- Saffron Walden, for instance -- one might suppose that it was called originally Walled-in Pond."                       -- from WaldenHenry David Thoreau