Monday, April 19, 2021

Extremes Meet

My reading of James's Washington Square (1880) continues between garden waterings. Lots of wit and wisdom in this novel, set in the 1840s, within a lifetime since the United States revolted from British rule.

The narration of Washington Square is tick-like, as if embedded in its characters. It would be a much shorter lifetime before F. Scott Fitzgerald gave us Nick Carraway to describe the hand-me-down glamour of Jay and Daisy.

The Great Gatsby (1925) is a novel about the three Vs: vanity, voyeurism and vicarity.  I am not yet sure what Washington Square is about, though I am hoping Catherine's still waters continue to run deeper as the novel progresses.

I am half-way through Washington Square and have made a number of notes in its margins. A recent note concerns the ongoing negotiation between Catherine and her father, Dr. Sloper, over Catherine's suitor, Morris Townsend. The following passage is not narratively interesting, though it contains an observation that speaks to our times:

"'You told me that if I should have anything more to say about Mr. Townsend you would be glad to listen to it.'

'Exactly, my dear,' said the Doctor, not turning around, but stopping his pen.

Catherine wished that it would go on, but she herself continued. 'I thought I would tell you that I have not seen him again, but that I should like to do so.'

'To bid him good-bye?' asked the Doctor.

The girl hesitated a moment. 'He is not going away.'

The Doctor wheeled slowly round in his chair, with a smile that seemed to accuse her of an epigram; but extremes meet, and Catherine had not intended one."

It is true -- extremes meet. Never in the way we expect -- as in political orientation, with its moribund Left-Right dichotomy -- but certainly in tone and attitude. Catherine and her father are different from each other, yet both are bound by faith and reason, qualities that were, in mid-19th century America, wound tight.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"so much depends/ upon// a red ..."

For years I walked by this faded red fence, never thinking anything of it, until this spring, when suddenly it became the ideal audience for these gorgeous tulips.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lost Indentation

Recently I was asked by an online journal for a poem in honour of National Poetry Month. The poem I offered was subsequently published incorrectly (the fourth line was not indented) and efforts to have it corrected have proven unsuccessful.  

Everything moves so fast these days; no one has time to fix that which is considered finished. You would think of all the things worth returning to, a poem would be up there. But no, it seems we are always on to the next thing. Oh well. These are the times.

Here is the poem as I would like it to be considered:

We Can Have Both, But Not All
for Ashok Mathur

let's begin with what we have

we have each other

say it

each other

no, all of it

            we have each other

we have each other

all together now

            all together now we have each other

Friday, April 16, 2021

Great Courses

A few months ago a friend subscribed me to the Walrus, Toronto's answer to the Atlantic Monthly. With a subscription to the Walrus, not only do you get the magazine, you get mailings from whoever it shares your address with -- a most recent example being the Great Courses catalogue.

That the Great Courses catalogue arrived within days of Laurentian University's insolvency declaration is a chilling coincidence, one I hope is not indicative of a shift in the way post-secondary education is delivered -- a shift helped along by Covid's normalization of online courses. Most galling to the cultural nationalist who the Walrus counts on as its subscriber base (not to mention those branches of government who provide the magazine with public funding) is that the courses offered in Great Courses are all from U.S. universities.

If the Walrus is, as it bills itself, "Canada's Conversation," why won't it discuss with its subscribers who it sells our info to?  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Plausible Coxcomb


I forget when, but it was many years ago that I thought I should read some Henry James (1843-1916). So I started into The Golden Bowl (1904), and god if that book didn't want me around! Maybe when I'm older? I think I was in high school when I tried this, thought this.

Tanglewood was all out of Golden Bowls when I was in there last time, so I purchased James's Washington Square (1880) and am enjoying both its story and its prose. The States were a lighter place in those days -- if you had money. That hasn't changed, though one gets the sense that the potential for change has never been greater. 

In Washington Square, a widower's only child, Catherine, is now 22 and has attracted the interest of Morris Townsend, an older cousin of the man who is engaged to one of Catherine's seven female cousins. Morris has returned to his hometown (NYC) after years abroad, to settle down, but Catherine's father,  Dr. Sloper, believes his daughter to be too unattractive ("ugly," "diffident") to attract someone as dashing as Townsend, and that he is only after his money.

Here is Dr. Sloper's first spoken assessment of Townsend, as conveyed to his more "sensible" sister, Mrs. Almond:

"He is not what I call a gentleman. He has not the soul of one. He is extremely insinuating; but it's a vulgar nature. I saw through it in a minute. He is altogether too familiar -- I hate familiarity. He is a plausible coxcomb." (54)

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pen and Paper

A couple days ago, while in the garden on the first of our progressively warmer spring days, I finished reading Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979). What a great book to re-visit, particularly now that we have some distance from the British postwar period it attempts to unravel -- the late-1970s, when certain dialecticians and semioticians began to cohabitate. Highlights include Chapter Eight --"Style as homology," "Style as signifying practice" -- with insights by Piccone, Lefebvre, Kristeva, Barthes and Genet.

After a delicious cheese plate of Footnotes and Bibliography I noticed on the last page (interior back cover) a hurricane, what looks like someone trying to get a pen started after years of inactivity. I found the first faint lines where the hurricane began, then its concluding eye. Was it my hand that did this? It could have been, though it doesn't look like it. Not sure I would have used a book this way, even in those days. A second-hand book, I think, purchased in Victoria, where I did my undergrad (1981-1986).

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April is Poetry Month!

"And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is one guy who is always the guy fitting the description." (105) 

Monday, April 12, 2021


Tamsin tells the story of a friend who was having a problem with her toilet. She tried everything before giving up and calling a plumber.

The plumber arrived, turned a screw a quarter-turn and viola -- problem solved. The plumber looked at his watch and said, "You have 57 minutes left on the minimum one hour call-out. Is there anything else I can do?"

What followed were a series of tasks based on an equal number of plumbing problems that conspired to make Tamsin's friend's life less than it could be. The plumber fixed all of them, not in one hour but in two. 

"Where did the time go!" said Tamsin's friend after the plumber once again looked at his watch.

"Into my wallet," he deadpanned, before busting out in laughter.

They agreed to split the difference, but when the plumber wrote out the invoice, it showed only one hour, not two. "For the coffee," he smiled. "And the conversation."

Before labour unions (and indeed after them), when workers were at the beck and call of their employers, a worker could be called-out in the middle of the night for a three minute repair job and be paid only for those minutes. One of the great achievements of a labour union is that workers who show up for work can expect to be paid not only an hourly minimum, but a daily minimum.

When I was a cannery worker on the Skeena River,  the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union saw to it that my work day amounted to a minimum of four hours pay, regardless of whether I worked three minutes or 240 minutes. The same applied to those middle of the night knocks on the bunkhouse door when someone had to take those twenty +30 red springs off the deck of a southbound packer.

Yesterday, while chancing on 221A's website, I noticed a job posting for an On Call/Part Time Technician. The position offers an above-minimum hourly living wage ($25-$32) and a retainer based on a minimum 30-60 hours a month work. What isn't clear in this posting is how call-outs are dealt with. For example, if, in the fourth week, after the technician has surpassed the monthly minimum 60 hours and indeed the 15 hours of that week (as covered by the retainer), the technician is called in for a one hour repair job, is the technician paid only for that hour, or is there, like there is with Tamsin's friend's plummer, a minimum call-out charge? 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Cold Callers

A few days ago I decided it was time to read Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979) from cover to cover. Prior readings were based on whatever I was looking for in the Index -- usually that most misunderstood of postwar formations: "skinheads". I took the book from the shelf, collected my pot of tea and made my way to the porch. 


"Hello!" I said looking up from my book. A young, uncomfortably well-dressed couple on the sidewalk.

"Whatcha reading?" asked the fellow in the almost-too-big blazer.

"I'm reading Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige."

"Subcultures, as in gangs and such?"

"Some might not be happy with the characterization, but yes. And such."

The couple introduced themselves as realtors, with "family in the neighbourhood." Because it was a nice day, they decided to walk to her parents. Because I agreed with them about the weather, I decided not to ask if they always introduced themselves by their professions when on family outings. Nor was I tempted to ask who their family is. None of my business, right?

"You have such a nice house!" the woman said, turning the ankle of her high-heeled right foot inwards, a gesture I associate with deference.

"A lot of sadness in this house," I said forlornly.

"Oh, but a lot of happiness too, I'm sure!" the woman beamed.

"It might have been happy when the skinheads lived here, back in the eighties," I said. At which point the fellow glanced at the woman with a let's-get-out-of-here look.

"What was the name of that book again?" asked the woman, trailing after him.

"I Love Dick by Chris Kraus."

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Back Garden

So many small jobs in the garden today. A little of everything. No list, just walking around noticing things. A self-seeded fern so small it needed potting. A pot that needed moving. A new pot to put in its place. The pot with the fern in it.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Canadian Art

Yesterday the Board of Directors of Canadian Art magazine issued a statement saying that they will postpone its summer issue, pause its online postings and temporarily layoff 12 staff members (for up to three months). There is more, of course, concerning the effort board and staff have made to work through issues facing the magazine and the world in general, but also less, for there is no mention of Editor-in-Chief Jayne Wilkinson's departure, as her name is no longer on the masthead.

I don't know Jayne very well, but I am acquainted with her and have happily worked with her as a contributor to the magazine. Although I no longer contribute to the magazine with the regularly that I once did, I have kept up with both its content and its controversies, and I have to say that, despite it all, I have often wondered how Jayne kept her head. I would think that someone who has worked as hard and as honestly as Jayne has to keep this magazine going deserves a proper farewell.

Canadian Art is the country's leading visual arts magazine. It boasts a print readership of 94, 568 people and an online readership of 157, 562, according to a 2019 Donor Impact Report. Can Canada do without a national visual arts magazine? One could look elsewhere. Do the visual arts in Canada need one? Same.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Months and Weeks

April is National Poetry Month. April 1-7 is Testicular Cancer Awareness Week. As a testicular cancer survivor and reader of poetry, here are three fairly recent poetry reviews I contributed to the Ormsby Review -- On Forgetting a Language (Baseline, 2019) by Isabella Wang, Render (Arsenal Pulp, 2020) by Sachiko Murakami and The Shadow List  (Wolsak & Wynn/Buckrider, 2021) by Jen Sookfong Lee.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021



In the backyard yesterday, digesting the vaccine, when who should slink past but a long lost friend -- the black-and-white cat who lives down the street. I had some salmon in the fridge for her. A bigger appetite, a bigger cat. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021


Exfoliated face of a house off Fraser Street.

Monday, April 5, 2021


I never see kites getting caught in trees anymore. The danger, the capture, then the flier giving up, taking one last look before saying goodbye.

All I have now are my memories.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Resting Sleep Face

Sleeping, resting, passed-out are all descriptors we apply to images or pictures of people with their eyes closed. Some might even say exacerbated, given the public's growing discomfort with anything ambiguous. That too is tiresome.

One self-described member of the public told me that "instead of funding billboards of passed-out people, the money should be spent on housing them."

"Would you support a public housing project along the corridor where these billboards are placed?" I asked, knowing this person lived on the west side.

I was told I was "being difficult."

"Seems the difficulty," I said, "is in your inability to respond to the question. It doesn't have to be yes or no; you're entitled to your conditions."

"Look, I'm lawyer," the person said. "If you want an argument, I'll crush you."

"Coincidence," I said, "the head of the festival that commissioned these billboards is a lawyer, too. She has a nice quote in response to the billboard company's removal of the signs. She said, "Steven [Shearer]'s project has done exactly what it intended, which is to start conversations about the divide between public and private space."

"Well, we're not having one," said the lawyer, backing away from me like I was some kind of animal.

photo: Dennis Ha

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Pact

I saw the story yesterday. A group of songwriters calling themselves The Pact are refusing to allow singers to receive as much as 30% of their writing credits when a singer has had no "meaningful" involvement in the writing of a song. This is not a new phenomenon. 

Apart from the song "amalgamations" of A. P. Carter, Colonel Tom Parker would insist that certain songs offered to his client Elvis Presley carry his name on the writing credits, while producers like Phil Spector hustled credits out of lesser known writers and musicians for prepositional changes to songs he had arranged and recorded. What is new is that there are less royalty monies available to musicians now that the era of ubiquitous radio play is dead; that digital downloads amount to little more than a tenth-of-a-penny for their Authors and Composers; and that touring during a global pandemic has been declared unsafe, if not illegal.

What is new is not to be confused with what has changed, and it is here that the list is longer, more complicated. One of the biggest changes concerns the way we have come to think about creation: not as a singular endeavour, but as a collaborative or relational activity. Not necessarily a bad thing. But when inclusion is manipulated by those seeking more of the pie than they already have, you have a problem.

Does a singer deserve a writing credit because their spectacular presence is such that the song they record would be nothing without their ability to take it beyond the kitchen table where it was written? Is melisma an essential part of a song's melody, or an example of its interpretation? This, like everything else right now, is a cultural issue. And no, The Pact is not all white guys.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


A leisurely drive to Jenny's yesterday to round up the usual suspects -- begonia, lobelia, fuchsia -- and whatever else caught my eye. This year's catch includes a pomelo, which I can't imagine producing fruit in our climate, though maybe a nice flower? Also, some petunias and pansies. Check out this one (above). Ever seen a pansy so miserable? I am thinking of getting it a Twitter account.