Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Modern Review

If you're looking for some good reviews and essays, you could do far worse than checking out The Modern Review. I've enjoyed a great deal of the writing over there, even when I don't agree with it. They seem to be one of the few mags around that is actively fostering (loathsome word!) mettlesome critical conversation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lynn Canyon

Rachel and I headed out to North Vancouver this afternoon to check out Lynn Canyon Park. It's amazing how close to the city this kind of thing is here. It was rainy, but we were dressed for it. We went on a mini-hike to Twin Falls and lolled about by the river for a spell. Sublime, despite the presence of a lot of other folks. Had dinner tonight at R's mom's, then a rather nasty ride home in the dark and the rain on the motorcycle. Pretty exhausted now. Off to Winnipeg tomorrow. My third last trip before I get the boot for the winter. I'm ready for it. Kick me!

The Vanity of Scribes

For quite a while, I swore off posting comments at Bookninja, mainly because any time someone advances an argument there that goes against the grain of approved sentiment, they get vilified and called names. And because I find writers, particularly when they gather in packs, to be--brace yourself for gross unfair generalisations--a petty, self-absorbed lot, whose sense of entitlement is way bigger than their brains or talent. In fact, I started this blog back in February in large part because I wanted to haul my arguments about the Atwood-Harper issue out of the mud-slinging morass that had bogged it down in the Bookninja discussion forum. Although several people, both on Bookninja and in back-channel emails, supported the case I was making and criticised the distorting arguments of others, the whole thing became incredibly distasteful.

But, like that kid who repeatedly gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole, I couldn't stay away. The issue that drew me back into the fray is a post on The Writers Union of Canada's press release about the civic strike here in Vancouver. First, someone made an ill-informed statement about TWUC's supposed lack of support for their striking brethren. George Murray pointed out that TWUC isn't a "real union" and I pointed out that there was no lack of support and that, in a press release, it's far more strategically sound not to explicitly take a side, so as to avoid polarising the issue and alienating people's sympathies. (Were I in their position, I would have done the same. Fortunately, I'm not, so I can alienate people's sympathies as much as I want...) So far, so good. But then Zsuzsi (presumably Gartner, but it makes no difference really) contributes a long, articulately emotional post about how the work stoppage has affected the city and her family. Which she then goes and stomps all over (see "sense of entitlement" and "petty, self-absorbed lot" above) by saying this:

And, let’s face it, the “sanitation workers,” for example, make more an hour than any of us writers could hope to. A starting wage for a garage collector is even more than I get an hour teaching part-time at UBC at the graduate level. I know it’s “not about the money” as they say — but, come on, it’s always about the money.

Clearly, for Zsuzsi, at any rate, it's about the money. Moreover, it's about resentment that someone in an "unskilled" trade is making more than she is for the valuable contribution she makes to society teaching people how to write fiction. Look at the phrasing here: "starting wage"; "even more"--like, can you believe it? Isn't that atrocious (cue the application of the back of the hand to the backtilted brow). Okay, I'm being a mite sarcastic, but I do sympathise with Zsuzsi's plight. I have a lot of friends who work as sessional instructors at universities, and altho many of them are exceptionally good teachers, they are used and abused and generally treated as a caste below the "real professors" who have tenure and do research and all that good stuff. The treatment of part-time staff in relation to tenured faculty is a serious issue. But in relation to garbage collectors??? Jesus. Zsuzsi, I'm sorry your job sucks, but that doesn't mean that people should simply be satisfied with what they've got and go back to work because you make a pittance at UBC. Boohoo. The ultimate test, to me, of this apples-and-oranges nonsense is this: would you trade places with the trash collector to get his wage instead of yours. If you wouldn't, then just maybe they deserve what they make. I'd love to have a train-engineer's salary (circa $120K/year) and I could have it, if I trained for the job (there's a massive shortage of qualified engineers in this country, which is only going to get worse as the aging corps starts retiring in droves). But I don't want that lifestyle. It's a tradeoff I'm not willing to make and as Nathan Whitlock points out in the Bookninja discussion "I feel very lucky to have the privilege to choose to make a terrible wage in the cultural sector, and am more than happy to have people doing shit work that I don’t want to do make more than me per hour. I call it a trade-off." So let 'em have it. Ditto lawyers, ditto doctors, ditto UBC professors. Ditto sanitation engineers (altho it's a career path I've contemplated in the past--cause, you know, the money's good...).

As much as the citizens of Vancouver are suffering as a result of this strike, the people who have lost the most are the workers on the line. And the people who have saved the most are the citizens of Vancouver, or at least their proxy, the City Council. Every day and week the strike goes on, the workers lose more and the city saves more. Which is why we've seen none of the strike-breaking legislation that has become the too-typical norm in our neo-liberal age.

So anyway, I told Zsuzsi I thought her concluding "argument" was sickening. Which pissed off someone pretty good:

Zsuzsi was merely stating basic undeniable facts ... very relevantly on a site that is frequented by writers, not too many of whom are likely also Heroic and Sweaty members of the Labouring-TrainWorkingclass such as yourself.

Very relevantly? Relevant to writers, I suppose, but scarcely relevant to the topic at hand, particularly considering that garbage collectors are but one group--albeit a prominent one, given the stink of rotting refuse in the streets and parks--in this dispute. Is the only way to make something politically relevant to writers to bring it back to their own wealth and welfare? This does seem to be a leitmotif on Bookninja, so maybe so. But it only underscores the gross, unfair generalisations I make above. Zsuzsi was making a good point and making it well--right up to the point at which she moaned about how good the garbage guys have it compared to her. Maybe, given a do-over, she'd have the sense and decency to revise her post and cut those two offensive final paragraphs. She's a good writer, so there's reason to believe this. We'll see if she has anything else to say.

"JS" goes on:

I could go on to jerk your ignorant speculation about the strike out of context and pretend you’re advocating for back-to-work legislation (wouldn’t your Working Brothers in Solidarity love to hear that?), kind of like your cheap distortion of Zsuzsi’s comments as “don’t tell me about how good they have it, okay?”/“that shit,” but that wouldn’t be diplomatic… or tactful.

Actually, no you couldn't JS, but no matter. The only distortion he does perpetrate is that I was sickened by all of what Zsuzsi said--when I made it clear it was only the end of her statement that stank. What she said was shit and there was a very strong implication (see, again, the emphases she places on "starting" and "even more") that she deserved more than they do. This is not a wacky reading of her statement, it's the only reading of it she allows.

In typical Bookninja fashion (referring here to the site's commenting readers, not its admin), some anonymous dipshit in the peanut gallery told me to "put my leash on." Harharhar. So many arguments have been derailed over there by this kind of passive-aggressive name-calling crap. What the hell is your argument exactly, "Anonymous Donor"? That I'm a dog? Good one, shithead. Sorry, just talkin' to ya on your level...

And now, once more, I'm taking Sieur de Montaigne's counsel and swearing off arguing with idiots.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Zsuzsi responded intelligently to me on Bookninja and conceded that her point about the garbage collectors wasn't quite on the money, as it were. I say not surprisingly because I've heard her on the radio, read her reviews and I know she appreciates a good argument. Unlike this JS character, who, like other shrill shrews on Bookninja, was reduced to even more petulant name-calling. Perhaps JS's most stunning coup-de-grace is this:

Anyway, thanks for your insightful and creative translation of those three sentences into “disgusting crabs-in-a-bucket clichĂ©,” “a great deal of snobbery, ressentiment [what?] and self-entitlement,” “shit,” “tell[ing] me about how good they have it,” and “whatever garbagemen make, it should be less than me, on principle.”

The "[what?]" is his/her editorial insertion, implying I suppose that I made up this word, or misspelled it or something, a pretty cheap tactic to try and discredit an argument, even if it's accurate. It's not, in this case. All this proves is that s/he's not only ignorant of the term in question, but also doesn't know how to use google. Go home, JS, you suck at this game. Nahnahnahnah-nahnahnahnah-hey-hey-hey-goo-ood-bye.

Because Zsuzsi isn't an idiot--just a little naive about labour relations--I did respond to her. What I forgot to say in my response is that, just like there are lots of writers and teachers who think they should be earning more than garbage collectors, there are lots of blue-collar workers who think they should be making more than teachers. There are also lots of people who think that writers are self-important narcissists. So what? Nul point. Here's what I do know: with all the extra garbage--er, recycling?--being generated by CW programmes, we need good trash disposal more than ever.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I hate it when this happens

I lost my rhyming dictionary;
I think I left it on the car-boat.
I need my rhyming dictionary
Like a muskox needs its fur-pelt.

Thanks to my ma for telling me about this!

The Good-Morrow

My darling wife came home yesterday with a gift for me: an edition of Donne's love poems she picked up second-hand at a shop on Commercial Dr. The first poem in the book is "The Good-Morrow." Hear me read it here.

Unhappy Bubbles of Anal Wind

Continuing with the scatological metaphors... (This and the Buk video from Bookninja)

Like a Good Hot Beershit

Ah, Buk!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I was going to do an audio-post tonight, but's balky, so it'll have to wait.

Finished writing a Canada Council grant application tonight. A "project description" is probably as close to prose fiction as I'll ever get, since I never write with anything so puritan as a project in mind. One is tempted to do it in one word: "Writing." But that's not likely to get you the moolah, now is it?

I've been pretty lucky in the grant lottery to-date. I've applied for five and received three. My last three, in fact, have been successful. But it's a crapshoot. I just hope that this jury likes weird poems about silverfish, starfish, moths, lobsters, cats, dogs, herons, lyrebirds, naked mole rats, colourblind painters and other critters, more or less human. And if they don't, well then my grant app for next year's already written!

Now, I've just got five books to read and review, an anthology to finish editing, a poetry ms. to edit and three more trips to Winnipeg before I get laid off and can get down to some serious work. Yeehaw.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

After the Blizzard

Got the proofs for my "chipbook" After the Blizzard from the good folks at littlefishcartpress the other day. We still haven't settled on a cover image, but it shouldn't be long till the thing's in print. For those unfamiliar with the chipbook, it's a mini chapbook, about 4 inches square, very attractive. Mine consists of a linked crown of seven sonnets about the record-breaking blizzard, dubbed "White Juan," that hit Halifax in the winter of '03/'04. It was originally published in The Fiddlehead in 2005 and is included in Track & Trace, my next trade collection of poems, due out in 2009 (or so). The text is also online at UofT's ZW site. The chipbook's a ltd. ed.--possibly as few as 50 copies--so if you want one, best to put in an order with the fishcart folks soon.

At it again

I picked up the new issue of Books in Canada while I was in Winnipeg. There are some excellent reviews in it, especially Jason Guriel's take on Dennis Lee and Barbara Nickel.

But then, there is something most puzzling at the end: a lengthy letter to the editor from David Solway, complaining about the review of his "non-fiction" book The Big Lie. It should be noted that David Solway is an editor at BiC, so to have his book reviewed in its pages is ethically dubious; to complain publicly about the content of that review is harebrained. This isn't the first time that Solway's shot himself in the foot by complaining about content in BiC in BiC's own letters page; I'm beginning to suspect that he suffers from some sort of dissociative disorder. It should also be noted that the reviewer is a right-wing Zionist intellectual (probably hand-picked by Solway's right-wing Zionist co-editors because one might suppose such a figure to be sympathetic to Solway's cause), but Solway manages to rationalise away Clifford Orwin's objections to his book by saying that he, along with just about everyone who is not David Solway--with the probable exception of Mark Steyn--, "just doesn't get it." Um, Dave, maybe it's you, bud.

This me-against-the-world shtick was mildly amusing--harmless, at least--when Solway was talking about poetry. In the realm of politics, it's much less funny. Solway should stick to what he's good at--writing mostly dull books of poetry in the voices of cleverly created personae (see my above suspicions of a dissociative disorder)--and leave political thought to those with political minds.

(Thanks to Lynda P. for the tip on the visuals!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Essential George Johnston

When I got home yesterday, there was a pile of mail waiting for me. Most of it was books for review, but one slim package contained The Essential George Johnston and a brief letter from Robyn Sarah, its editor. Robyn sent me a free copy because she'd used a comment I'd once made on Johnston's Collected Poems, Endeared by Dark, as a cover endorsement.

(To the best of my knowledge this is the second time I've been quoted on a dust jacket, the other instance being on John Smith's latest book, Maps of Invariance. As some readers of CLM know, I have an intense distaste for the blurb qua literary sub-genre, but one can't prevent someone else quoting you. In the cases of Smith and Johnston, I was pleased to find out I'd been quoted, since I genuinely admire both poets' work and the excerpt was in tune with my overall opinion. But I've also been quoted in publisher publicity bumph, completely out of context, an ellipsis eliding the true substance of my commentary. Specifically, this review got boiled down to "a linguistic tour de force." This is dirty pool and it's the sort of thing that makes reviewers paranoiacally cautious about where and how they dispense praise, lest it come back on them in some kind of mutant form.)

I love the idea of the "Essentials" series that the Porcupine's Quill has inaugurated with this book. I've been arguing for a while that we need more of such slim, tight-focus looks at our best poets. Wilfrid Laurier UP has started a somewhat similar series, but theirs is more academic in orientation and thus far their choices of poets and/or poems have been underwhelmingly predictable or just plain strange (tho I'm glad to see that M. Travis Lane is being included).

Johnston was a consummate craftsman and a few of his poems are as fine as any other lyrics of the last century. Sincerity and irony, humour and seriousness in Johnston's work are perfectly balanced, and there's just the right synchronic tension between spontaneity of syntactical invention and intricacy of formal stanzaic and metrical structures, public speech and private feeling. I haven't re-read the selection in this book yet, but given that Robyn has made it, I reckon it'll be pretty damn good; there are few if any critics or poets better attuned to Johnston and his world than she is. I have read her introduction, which is eloquent and appropriately brief. Anyone interested in a longer treatment of Johnston's work by her would do well to check out her book Little Eurekas, in which is included a substantial essay on Johnston.

There's a quote from Johnston in the biographical afterword: "I am not so much a poet as a teacher and a family man who has been lucky enough to write some acceptable poems." The modesty is wholly credible from this particular poet--and typically deceptive, since "acceptable poem" means a lot more coming from someone of GJ's standards than it does from most. My aunt had the good fortune to take a class of Johnston's in Old English at Carleton U. She once told me the story of a student in that class asking GJ why he didn't teach Creative Writing, since he was such a good poet. "Why," he replied, "I do!" Lovely. In his introduction to Endeared by Dark, GJ inveighs against CW; it's hard to imagine there ever being a place in the workshop-driven industry for a poet of his skills, erudition and preoccupations. One can easily imagine his students complaining that they're being made to work--instead of having their formless emotings fiddled with and rubber-stamped as art. George Johnston did not follow trends, and his verse should endure all the better for it. Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of this book or, should you want a more substantial serving, Endeared by Dark, if you can get a hold of it.

UPDATE: Hear me read George Johnston's Veterans

An essay by WJ Keith on Johnston's later poetry

A memorial essay by Stephen Morrissey

Amanda Jernigan on GJ's "Firefly Evening"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stupid Internets

Well, I had a whole post typed up, but neglected to save it before I started inserting some links and my browser froze and I lost the whole damn thing. I'm too tired and irritated to re-type it now, so here it is in bullet form

  • People in tour groups disgust me.
  • The train was late, but we saw an awesome hailstorm/double rainbow in Jasper because of it.
  • I got The Essential George Johnston in the mail while I was gone. You should read it; I even say so on the back cover. That and his Endeared by Dark. (Amazon doesn't seem to have it so order from your local bookshop or used from Abebooks.)
I'll perhaps expand on one or more of these later, but I've got a pile of work to do. For now, I bid you goodnight.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Chance Encounter Between Coasts

After my last post, but before my nap, I learned that George Murray of Bookninja fame (pictured left with cheesy fake aurora) was also in Winnipeg, on business from St. John's. Wound up having supper with him and Adam Levin tonight, at an obscure strip-mall Israeli joint, where we ate our schwarmas and matzo ball soup to death metal, whilst discussing serious issues like the comedic genius of Sacha Baron Cohen. First time I'd met Adam; very likeable guy.

Afterwards, we stopped by for a tour of Adam's house, met his dog and headed back downtown, where George and I had a pint at his hotel and shot the shit for a bit before retiring to our respective employer-paid accommodations. It was good to see George. He's largely responsible for instigating my ventures into public writing, having, through Bookninja, introduced my poems to Paul Vermeersch at Insomniac and my opinionations to Carmine Starnino. So if you're looking for someone to blame...


Had possibly my busiest trip of the summer coming here. Certainly the most sales I've made in a trip. Some very nice folks on board. Sold a copy of Unsettled to a couple from Kamloops whose son writes. That's two trips in a row I've moved a book. I'm gonna have to start carrying more than one copy with me.

Tired out now, time for a long hard nap.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Chuggin to the Peg

Rachel and I saw "Across the Universe" the other night. It had a couple brilliant set-pieces (particularly Max's army induction scene), but tended to drift and drag and didn't hold together well, often seeming to haul itself willfully towards the next song. Some of the songs were integrated cleverly into the story, but others seemed slotted in. Overall, disappointing.

I'm off on the rails today, with a layover in Winnipeg on Thursday. Still trying to get caught up on editing work, but I might post a thing or two. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Eric Orchard

A kids' book, of which I am a co-author (Rachel's the other), is coming out next year. It's illustrated by a very talented guy we met while we were living in Halifax, Eric Orchard. He's just posted one of the illustrations on his blog. Obviously, Rachel and I are amped to be working with such a terrific artist.

I'll be posting more about this down the line, closer to the book's release.


Here's another of Gord's videos, this one about First Air's cargo operations in Iqaluit. It features two poems by yours truly. I just learned yesterday that Clifford, who appears in the film, has left the company after injuring his back.

Resolute Bay Documentary (Trailer One)

Gord Declerq, my former cargo colleague in Iqaluit and Resolute Bay (in the territory of Nunavut in Canada's Arctic, for anyone scratching their heads) has made a few short films about the place. Here's one about Resolute Bay, with the local sword-wielding weather dude playing a key role. The screaming monkey man is the guy who replaced me when I left. No one else applied.

It's, like, ALTERNATIVE, man

This is good for a laugh.

Every time I run into an earnest little manifesto like this, I think of an episode in the Irving Layton-Robert Creeley correspondence. Over the course of a few letters Layton tries doggedly to get Creeley to explain to him just what "Projective Verse" is. Completely at a loss to explain--probably because of the fact that it isn't anything but a bandwagon with bad wheels--Creeley finally capitulates and says that PV is a "state of mind." "Oh," says Layton, "well then, I've been writing projective verse all along and never even realized it!" At least "projective verse" had the ring of something original, even if it lacked real substance. "Alternative" is just a muzzy term borrowed from 90s pop music to describe bands whose members wore plaid shirts and lived in Seattle and were otherwise not "mainstream."

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fog on the Fraser

A bit foggy and groggy on a grey mizzly day here on the banks of the mighty Fraser, after a festive evening celebrating my 31st birthday and our move into new digs. The discovery of the evening: "The Flame," an aperitif wine from the Silver Sage Winery in Oliver, BC. Beautifully complex bouquet of peach and apricot, the sweetness of the fruit perfectly matched with the spicy zing imparted by a chili pepper infusion. Tingles on the tongue and tastes better and better the more sips you take. The blurb on the bottle says "The taste that leaves you wanting more" and 'tis no lie. I wish we were eating lobster, because that would have been just the right pairing. Scallops would be amazing too.

Not a big crowd, but an interesting mix of people. Besides writers (myself, Rachel, Lynda Philippsen and the newly Vancouverised Sonnet L'Abbé), there was a songwriter/musician (Eden Fineday--lead singer of the band Vancougar--who lives across the street from us) and a comic actor (Trevor Campbell of Obscene but not Heard--whose show "Jihad Me at Hello" is playing at the Vancouver Fringefest--who came to the party as the guest of Rachel's friend Val), as well as two people not directly involved in the arts (the aforementioned Val and Eden's partner Devin). At one point the topic of reviews came up in general conversation. Sonnet, Lynda and I all do quite a bit of reviewing and we all favour a policy of honesty over niceness. Which often feels like a minority position in the writing world. What was interesting to me was what Trevor and Eden had to say. Trevor's received a full spectrum of reviews over his career, from "brilliant" to "you shouldn't be on stage," and said that the only ones he really doesn't like are the lukewarm reviews. Similarly, Eden said she loved reading really negative music reviews. Granted, these are only two people, but still I think it says something about the review culture in writing compared with other art forms; it didn't even seem like it was a controversial issue. Maybe it has something to do with non-practitioners doing more theatre and music reviews. Or maybe it just has to do with most writers being cry-babies...

Fenton on Professionalism

Paul Vermeersch points to this article by James Fenton on poetry readings.

Fenton's one of the foremost living poetry critics and it's wonderful to see him turning his attention to poetry as performance and not just as text. I agree with most everything he says here, but it smacks of wishful thinking; I have to wonder where the impetus for these predicted changes is supposed to come from. In order to have better reading series we need to have better impresarios. And the job is a pretty thankless one and certainly not a remunerative one, which makes it unlikely that the best possible people might step up. As it is, most hosts are pretty indiscriminate, and many will host readers whose work they don't even like. In my 6 or so years of doing readings, I think I've only actually been turned down for a reading I've asked about/applied for twice. It would be nice to think that this success rate is a reflection of the quality of my work and/or my rep as a reader--but it would also be false. It's just really easy to get readings. Which has been of some benefit to me personally, but on the whole it's led to the poetry reading being a rather dubious form of entertainment. Most funded series are little better than open mics.

There are a few ambitious and highly selective hosts out there. David O'Meara is one. Dave's a very smart guy and one of the best poets in the country, so that's no big surprise. But I bet that part of it is that he's an employee of the Manx Pub, where he hosts his readings. This has to lead to a heightened sense of accountability, I would think.

Failing the emergence of a guild of great hosts, poets themselves can do something about this. Being better prepared and more organized is something that anyone can do on their own. But how about replacing some of the multitude of poetry writing workshops out there with poetry reading workshops? I don't think I've ever seen such a thing. Maybe it's time for it.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Heh. Just found this. Someone has set my reading of John Betjeman's "Slough" to a slideshow of stock photos. Pretty fun.

Slough from sanddunesandsea on Vimeo.

The Secret Agent and Contemporary Terror

An excellent piece on the contemporary relevance of Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, from Radio Netherlands.

The ebb begins from dream

Went out and spent some birthday money yesterday on a new headset mic. My old one suddenly stopped working for no obvious reason (tho I might've frigged up the cord by squashing it under the foot of my chair). Anyway, thought I'd try out the new hardware by recording a poem by Earle Birney. Finally, after way too long, a collection of Birney poems is back in print. One Muddy Hand is the first selected of Birney published since 1977. This is one of the most important literary figures of the last century in this country! I've got some reservations about the book as a whole (which you'll be able to read about in the next issue of Arc, where my review of it will appear), mostly the editorial side of things, but Birney left us some terrific poems, many of which are included in OMH. "The ebb begins from dream" (scroll to page 13 of the linked PDF for an early version of this poem, which gives an idea of what a restless reviser Birney was of his own poems) is one of them. Hear me read it here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"You’re welcome. It’s been a most unusual interview."

A few days ago, I posted a link to a weirdass interview with Steven Pinker. The same weirdass interviewer, it turns out, has also interviewed the philosopher Daniel Dennett. Dennett is much less tolerant of this guy's stupid questions than Pinker is, and the results can be pretty funny:

DS: As an artist, and someone who has achieved greatness in my field of writing, I have noticed that ‘greatness’ is something that simply seems to be a random thing. When people have tried to make available the sperm or eggs of Nobel winners or Mensans, the kids turn out to be rather average. This gibes with the fact that almost all great people, such as Picasso, Newton, Einstein, and most famously- Thomas Jefferson, have never had any forebears nor descendents come close to their achievements. And the few famed people who’ve had success run in their families- the Adamses, the Darwins, the Barrymores, have never really had greats in their clans, or- as in the Darwin case, Erasmus was not in a league with his grandson Charles. I call this fact the Infinity Spike, meaning that the idea that a Master Race could be engineered- at least intellectually, is folly. Perhaps physical characteristics, but the chances of two Mensans or Nobel Laureates producing another Michelangelo or Kurosawa are only negligibly greater than such a person coming from a plumber and a teacher. Perhaps a three or four out of fifty million chance versus a one and a half to two chance. In short, greatness spikes toward infinity out of nowhere- there is no predictable Bell Curve nor progression toward excellence. What are your thoughts on this posit? Also, what of false modesty? Just as I have stated I am a great writer/poet, and been ripped for it, you have taken massive attacks and distortions (such as that above) because you have stated similar things about yourself, and claimed philosophic descent from other well known thinkers. What’s wrong with people who claim to want honesty, but get ruffled over it if that honesty includes someone admitting their excellence at some task? Is this American Puritanism, or simple schizophrenia?

DD: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not shy about putting forward my ideas and the arguments for them, but I leave the value judgments about “great people” to others. Jerks can come up with really good ideas, and there are people I admire no end but have learned next to nothing from. This is not a fruitful topic of inquiry, I think.

How does this clown get these major figures to talk to him? I'm glad they do, anyway--great entertainment value.

I Am

John Clare is one of my very favourite poets and "I Am" is one of the saddest poems written in English. Hear me read it here.

Jay Parini on Atwood

An incredibly flaccid review of Margaret Atwood's new book of poems. My review of same is in the current issue of Quill & Quire; it's not online yet, so you can't see it, but suffice to say my take on it's quite a bit less generous than Parini's. It's hard to believe that Parini and I read the same book. It's hard to believe that Parini likes the book as much as he claims to, if only because the dullness of his praise is echoed by the dullness of his prose.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

O.T. on my birthday, who could ask for more?

Oy vey, what a trip! On the way to Winnipeg, I was considerably busier than usual, which was good for the gratuities. Met some fine and fascinating folk, including an English woman who was visiting Canada in no small part so that she could put a stone on her father's grave. He came to Canada after leaving her mother for another woman, and served a full career with the RCMP. She's writing a book about him now. The most interesting passengers, however, were a couple from Alberta. The man worked in the oil industry, having started as a young man and worked his way up, and gave a fascinating little impromptu seminar on the Fort MacMurray tar sands. Both he and his wife--who engaged everyone in the dome in a Q&A session about their origins and destinations--epitomise the unabashedly bold, outgoing positivity of Alberta. While this can be extremely obnoxious on the macro political level, I find it enormously appealing in individual people, infinitely more interesting than a more typically Canadian modesty. Besides his work in the oil industry, this guy had an eclectic variety of hobbies and interests. He said that, besides being a music producer, he's written a musical play based on ancient Sumerian texts. Who knows if it's any good, but it certainly doesn't sound pedestrian! I gave him a copy of my book because he seemed like the sort of person who'd appreciate it.

We arrived in Winnipeg 4 hours late, thanks to mechanical problems with a freight train ahead of us, putting us in just before the westbound train arrived. Normally, this would mean that working back to Vancouver would be optional for me (this was source of my mini-conflict with management a while back), but due to my employer's unofficial policy of hiring insufficient staff, they had no one to replace the Vancouver-based crew, so we all worked back at time-and-a-half--better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but then, so's a poke in the eye with a blunt stick... Yesterday was my birthday, so I think I'll buy myself something nice with the extra dough. I was too tired and disgruntled to do my job with any energy on Sunday, but was back to my shmoozy self yesterday and had some good exchanges with passengers. Also found out that one of my co-workers--who I had a strange sense of having seen/known in a past life--was in residence at the U of King's College while I was there. We didn't know each other, but it being a small school knew a lot of the same people. He was working in journalism in Halifax, but got sick of it and moved to Vancouver, where he became a flight attendant for an airline that promptly folded after its CEO was "caught with crack and crack whores" on East Hastings. Then he switched to work on the train (my co-worker, not the CEO!).

It didn't affect me directly, but there was some high drama on the way home when a man, while taking a shower, suddenly started bleeding from an artery in his lower leg. Three of my colleagues administered first aid while the engineers called an ambulance and the Service Manager coordinated logistics. The guy lost a couple pints of blood (apparently it was just spurting out, as is typical of arterial bleeds), but the paramedics complimented the staff on their excellent work. On the odd occasion when I've been on shift for a medical or other sort of emergency, I've had this experience of the training just kicking in. You never want to have it tested, but it's nonetheless fortifying when you handle a tough situation well. Passengers who were aware of the incident were very impressed with how it was handled.

Arrived this morning completely exhausted and had a long nap this aft. Looking forward to getting some editorial work done over the next few days.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Only on PEI...

... could a potato farmer be made Minister of the Environment. Just heard the Hon. George Webster being interviewed by Chef Michael Smith on CBC. Webster warned that "going organic" might not be doable on PEI, reminding us in his closing remarks that the Potato Famine is the reason that PEI is populated now. Thank you, Mr. Webster, for doing absolutely nothing to dispel impressions that PEIslanders and farmers are quaint rubes, with this sophisticated analysis of history and agriculture.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the Great Hunger, which was caused by economics as much as it was by blight, it's that reliance on--addiction to--a monoculture is FUCKING STUPID. Particularly when that monocultural product is low in nutritional value and hard on the soil, never mind more modern worries about pesticides killing fish and causing cancer and other diseases in humans. Potato farmers do massive damage to PEI, ploughing their fields too close to streams and cliff edges (contributing greatly to the rapid shrinking of the Island's total surface area) and too late in the year, leaving the potato-impoverished topsoil to blow off in a fine cinammon dust you can see garnishing snowbanks all around fields ploughed in the fall. (The argument for fall ploughing tends to boil down to "my father did it and his father before him and it didn't do no harm then"--which also tends to be the rationale for how many Islanders vote.) All in the name of keeping Bud the Spud rollin' down the highway smilin', dimwits like George Webster in office and the Cavendish Farms plant belching out those yummy-yummy french fry exhaust fumes.

UPDATE: This just in from my ma:

You didn't mention this directly, but we had two huge fish kills this summer, wiping out the Dunk and the Wilmot Rivers - all the breeding population of trout and salmon gone, and of course most of the other organisms that constitute riparian ecology. The biologists surveying the dead fish said they didn't even know there were fish that big in the system. One of the farmers charged - the brother (and business partner) of our George Webster. You're a bit wrong though on the nutritional value of potatoes - they are pretty good food (grown organically of course) - with protein, vitamin C and minerals.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Tony O'Neill thinks we should take another look at Charles Bukowski. And I agree, if only because Bukowski's one of a handful of poets whose best work keeps me coming back. Most of my library's in my attic in Halifax right now and my Bukowski books (Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, Love is a Dog from Hell, The Roominghouse Madrigals and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills) are among my most-missed possessions. Bukowski's one of those poets who remind you that it ain't all about "craft." Because he has very little of it (tho if you compare these 60s and 70s collections with more recent work, you see he got "plainer" as he aged, and not for the better). He's a poet I shouldn't like, but I can't help it.

Bukowski gets typed as the poet of callow young men, and his books are often shoplifted by them. But it was my good friend Ananda who first introduced me to his poetry and I've met a few women with sense and smarts enough not to dismiss the writing because of the "misogynistic" persona of many poems and stories. That said, a lot--a helluva lot--of the writing deserves to be dismissed. He was damn near indiscriminate (tho the flow of voluminous posthumous works suggests that he held back more than we might have imagined) and missed much more often than he hit. Reading Bukowski, like reading Irving Layton, can be a bit like panning for gold in a muddy creek. But the paydirt makes it worth the trouble. Also, the "Beat" label isn't really apposite. He may have been writing at the same time as the Beats, and been "beat" in his lifestyle, but I don't see much to link his writing to Kerouac or Ginsberg. He's really, as he's jokingly observed himself, more in tune with the spirit of Villon than with Walt Whitman or William Blake.

What's really needed now that the stream of potshumous crap has apparently run dry is a very well-edited selected of about 200 pages--an unassailable canon of Bukowski. A big job for the jack or jill who'd undertake it.


Full day. Before I set out to return my ma-in-law's vehicle, I noticed a drip coming from a corner of the bedroom ceiling. A very steady drip. After talking to landlord, property manager and plumber I left. The drip got worse and became a gush. The plumber came and fixed it (a pinhole leak in the kitchen sink pipes of the apt. above us), but there's water damage to the ceiling and wall in the bedroom and the ceiling in the kitchen. In a way, perhaps a blessing, as we wanted to repaint the bedroom anyway (aforementioned hideous banana colour) and now someone else will probably have to do it for us! This is strangely reminiscent of the plumbing problems we had immediately after taking possession of our house in Halifax. A 60-year-old bathtub drainpipe rusted out and water filled a light fixture in our back entry. I discovered the problem when I heard said fixture, overburdened with its aqueous cargo, smash on the floor. I'm thinking of changing my name to Noah, except with me, I move then it floods, whereas with Noah it kinda worked in reverse.

When I got back, I had to deal with the dual stomach-knotting frustrations of internet tech support and the interpretation of ambiguous Ikea graphic assembly instructions. Finally, got the internet working and the furniture (for Rachel's office) assembled. Water damage aside, the place is really looking sharp now. I love my office. I've had workspace in broom closets before, so this 100 sq. ft. room with big window and French doors feels downright decadent. Looking forward to a winter of diligent quasi-literary pursuits.

And tonight, Rachel got a job. She's going to be teaching a night course to ESL students, which will allow her to substitute teach during the days. She's still waiting to hear back on her applications to local school boards.

I'm off on the rails again tomorrow, a non-layover trip. I've heard that traffic is up in September. It was busy in May, too. Ironically, the "shoulder" seasons, with their lower rates, have been busier on the rails than the putative peak. Why they don't just lower their peak rates is beyond me. Too busy trying to pretend they're a real business, I guess. I wish we could just agree that this is a service worth subsidizing and have done with it. Maybe charge different rates for Canuck taxpayers than for foreigners? Why not? It's such an awesome way to see the country, it's a pity that, at the best time of the year, it's prohibitively expensive for most people to travel in the most comfortable way.

The assumption song

I like this song because it doesn't rhyme. Rhyming sucks.


A hectic day of getting and spending yesterday. Fortunately, my mother-in-law loaned us her van, so I didn't have to put my comfy recliner (a score at the Salvation Army) on my motorcycle. Scored another nice chair at the Sally Ann, a bunch of necessary junk at Canadian Tire, and a few more items at Ikea, where we had a late supper of, what else, Swedish meatballs. The place is starting to look and feel like home now, but we still need some things for the walls and the hideously painted bedroom (it's a banana yellow) needs a facelift. I'll work on that on my next set of days off, methinks.

Just learned that one of the most overrated bores in Canadian poetry, the Black Mountain disciple George Bowering, will be the Canuck member of the Griffin Prize jury, continuing the prize's trend of making past nominees future judges. Not much hope for a good Canadian shortlist next year. They really need to let a barbarian or two in on this process (maybe even, following their own past practice, invite Christian Bok to play)--but I guess with $100K at stake, the trustees don't want to gamble... Which is too bad, because it could make things interesting, instead of either head-scratchingly dumb or perfectly predictable. The picks couldn't, for the most part, get a whole lot worse.

Well, I've got to return a van now. Toodles.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Whole Hawg: More Adventures in Improbable Cargo

Hit Value Village today for a big 50% off sale, in the hopes of acquiring much needed items for our household. Picked up a decent little coffee table for $10. Was thinking of sending it home in a cab with Rachel, but, not wanting to nearly double its price, I decided I'd try loading it on the bike instead. Worked like a charm. As I was strapping it into place, a wiseacre driving by said I could probably get a chesterfield on there if I tried. "Who says I haven't?" I hollered back. Then a woman walking by sneered, "Good luck with that," as if I was auditioning for the Darwin Awards. Pah. Piece o' cake. Got a big smile from a brother biker whose path I crossed on the way home. He knew what it's all about. I don' want a pickle, I just wanna ride my motorciccle.

Steven Pinker and the Funniest Clown on the Internets

Over the past few days, I've been picking away at this interview with Steven Pinker, one of my favourite contemporary thinkers and writers. It's frigging long and could've used a severe edit, but as the interviewer seems inordinately fond of pointing out, the internets are full of assclowns who just throw content up willy-nilly. The interview shows Pinker not only to be keenly intelligent and well-informed in many areas, but extraordinarily patient and good-humoured, as, for the most part, he gives good answers to bad questions. There are points at which he seems to be taking the piss a bit, as when he thanks the interviewer for "teaching me the useful word sciolism"--after the unintentionally hilarious interviewer had used it four times. Sciolism is, funnily enough, making a superficial show of learning. Perhaps in this case, more like making a show of superficial learning. The interviewer's preening, self-congratulatory questions are larded with $10 words and he often uses them slightly incorrectly, giving the impression that he yanks them from one of those word-a-day vocabulary-building calendars and actively seeks opportunities to trot them out. Which is awfully sciolistic, ain't it? But, given that the interviewer seems to see himself as a "great writer" who is reforging the language (by spelling "a lot" "alot," apparently), he would no doubt see this as a pedantic quibble.

At any rate, I've got to get my hands on Pinker's new book (did I mention that my birthday's coming up?). I've read three of his books now and he's greatly informed and clarified my thinking on a number of topics. Anyone who writes should read The Language Instinct at the very least. The Blank Slate is probably my favourite of his books overall.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Moved in--mostly

Well, we're moved out, anyway. Thanks to some help from five very good friends--and thanks to the fact that we have very little stuff or furniture--the move from East Van to New West was pretty painless. But we had so little stuff that after the move--and unfortunately, after I had to return my rental van--I had to find a bed. Picked up an inflatable mattress/folding bed deal at Canadian Tire and strapped it to the back seat of my motorbike. This was quite a sight. Because most of the weight was on the bottom of the three-foot-tall box, I had to set it standing up on the seat and strap it to the backrest, so there was a big, angled white pillar sticking up as I rode home. If I was shown doing this on TV, no doubt the voiceover would be telling you not to try this at home. Since my bike is the only vehicle I've ever owned, I've loaded quite a few strange objects on it over the years, including a big bag of peat moss. That one at least I could set on its side... Anyway, made it home without incident (my past life as an airline cargo hand has made me quite resourceful in the securing of loads; I always carry a whack of straps and bungee cords with me) and got our provisional bed set up. We're getting a secondhand couch and loveseat delivered tomorrow morning, but have to pick up a pile of other stuff before this lovely apartment will start to feel properly like home.

We spent today cleaning up the house and garden at Trinity St. for the new housesitters. In the process, I got stung on the face by a very aggressive wasp. They seem to be nesting inside the deck roof and this one must have been bothered by my presence on the deck. After stinging me, she dive-bombed me several times more. Maybe she's a Lynn Crosbie fan...

Looking forward to getting my internet hooked up. Stealing a signal from somewhere nearby right now. Not quite nearby enough, however. [It took several tries to post this.]

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sir Ken Robinson comment

Someone posted a response to my post on Sir Ken Robinson. I've replied, if anyone is interested in the topic.