Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stop Yelling at Steve, You're Only Making Him More Likeable

Before I hit the steel road, I'll leave you with a link to a post by Patricia Storms, which reproduces a lovely bit of satire by John Allemang, making exactly the point I made a while back about protests against the arts cuts being counter-productive to the cause of not giving Stephen Harper another term in office. Come to think of it, I've been flogging this for a while. Cough, cough, Yann Martel.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Power of Bulk Buying

What was I thinking, buying copies of my book from my publisher?! If I order them from the Reading Warehouse, I can get 'em for $0.75 cheaper!


Rachel, Kaleb and I headed downtown yesterday to check out Word on the Street. Beautiful sunny day for it. We took in a few readings and were reminded what a lousy, noisy, full-of-distractions venue it is for reading. Still, we were enraptured by Robert Heidbreder's performance of his new kids book, Crocodiles Play. Robert--or Mr. H., as he's widely known--was Rachel's kindergarten teacher, so it was a very special thing for her to present him with a copy of Anything But Hank! We picked up Crocodiles Play as well as its prequel, Crocodiles Say, very fun books, which I'm sure Kaleb will get a kick out of some day soon. (At this point, he's more into Graham Greene.)

We also saw Elizabeth Bachinsky, George McWhirter and Shannon Stewart read and I got my souvenir poster for the Rocksalt anthology from publisher Mona Fertig. If the book's as nicely designed as the poster, it'll be very purty indeed.

I'm off on the rails tomorrow, with a Thursday night layover in Winnipeg. Should be my third-last trip of the season. Not that I'm counting.

Head of Skate

This one's for you, Megan.

Friday, September 26, 2008


A cool profile of Adam Sol and his new book, Jeremiah, Ohio, which I can't recommend highly enough. I've got a review of it coming out soon in Quill & Quire. Be sure to hear Sol read from the book at the Anansi link above.

Some press for Once Upon a Huckleberry Bush

Nice little article--even if it doesn't acknowledge Rachel and Eric's indispensable roles in the making of our book--on the Q&Q site about the very cool new store that's hosting the ABH launch next month.

Fred Wah and Margaret Christakos at Emily Carr

Another Review for Anything But Hank!

This one appears to be an excerpt of a longer review in the print version of Canadian Materials magazine. It's mostly descriptive, but ends with a "Recommended." Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A bland and friendly review

... for Anything But Hank!

Anything but Hank! is a rhyming children's picturebook about a young infant in need of a name. His father wants to call him Hank, but his mother is against the idea. A pig decides the boy is in need of wisdom from a Wizard and his Mexican bearded [sic] lizard, which so happens to specialize in naming babies! Together they go on a wondrous journey, brought to life with sweeping paintings by illustrator Eric Orchard. Anything but Hank! is a lovely read-aloud book perfect for storytime.

Notable Omissions

I was at the library yesterday and checked out Graeme Gibson's Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany. It's a gorgeously designed book and looks to be a very well assembled anthology. But there's one glaring omission: no John Clare. How you can put together a book like this--particularly one whose royalties go towards supporting a bird observatory--and leave Clare out, I can't fathom.

One fine thing in the book is P.K. Page's chillingly beautiful poem "Only Child":

Which brings me to another case of notable omissions. Yesterday, The Essential P.K. Page came across my desk. "Only Child" is not included. Nor are "The Stenographers"--probably Page's most anthologized poem, tho also, oddly, left out of her quite large Selected, Planet Earth, by Eric Ormsby--and the stunning "Photos of a Salt Mine" (also left out by Ormsby, which makes me wonder to what extent the editors of the Essential built their book from Ormsby's selection, rather than from the Collected Page and the volumes that followed it; there are two excerpts from her recently published autobiography in verse, Hand Luggage, so the editors have strayed from Ormsby's selection somewhat, at least). Any selection of Page's lapidary oeuvre is worth reading, and I certainly will read it, but I'm scratching my head over these editorial decisions. But, as this article suggests, Page is a tricky poet to anthologize (an essential collection is basically an expanded anthology pick) and the exclusion of these former favourites might be a reaction to earlier editors' choices. But, since Lampert and Gray have decided to forgo an introduction, saying that Page's poetry needs none, one can only speculate as to their motives.

Children are more important than books

Don Denton has an interesting interview up with Tim Bowling. I find Bowling is over-prolific and consequently the quality of his poetry is wildly uneven, but at his best he's in the front rank of contemporary poets in this country, for sure. I also have a lot of respect for his values and the way he practices them. It takes no small amount of discipline to lead the kind of life he lives.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fool Me Twice...

...shame on me. I returned to Vancouver today to find that, once again, my motorcycle, parked at my employer's office, had been plundered. This time, the helmet--yes, that's right, the more expensive one--was left alone as was my pricey pair of riding gloves, but the thief lifted the dustcover up to take 1) out of one saddle bag, my magnetic tank bag, containing rain jacket and pants 2) out of the other saddle bag, a bag full of bungee cords and 3) from the luggage rack, a Rubbermaid box, containing a pair of rain slicks that fit over my shoes. Again, I've left this stuff on my bike every trip I make and again, it's not especially valuable stuff, but it's stuff that was very useful to me. I'm glad I'm leaving this city. It's really starting to piss me off.


Climbing ivy

clings grace

to a wall,

brings beauty

to bare brick.

It is

the opposite

of death.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Duty Calls

I'm off on the railroad today, one of my lovely Friday trips with no layover in Winnipeg. This will probably be my third- or fourth-last trip of the season. Not that I'm counting. I'm looking forward to October and November. I've got quite a few events lined up, with more to come, I think.

Ciao for now.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Death, Celebrity and Vicarious Grief

I got myself in hot water a while back when, in a discussion thread on a blog, I suggested that the untimely death of a much-beloved writer had done good things for his reputation. I was leapt upon as an inhuman monster. One person, a friend of the late writer (who died about 20 years ago, of cancer) took my meaning to be "It 's a good thing he's dead." This is only so if you think literary reputation more important than a human life. At any rate, what was from my perspective a detached, value-neutral statement was hardly received as such.

Whether it's writers, musicians, actors or other popular public figures, people generally react very differently to an unexpected early death than they would have had the same figures died quietly at an advanced age. Think Princess Diana, think Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Page, Cobain. And now, think David Foster Wallace. The reaction seems to be particularly strong if the death is self-inflicted. Part of it has to be that we're disappointed that we'll be seeing no more new work from our hero. Part of it must be that we can more easily see ourselves in that situation than dying of old age. A big part of it has to be that we see these exceptional figures as standing out from the dross of the age, as totems of hope in a hopeless world, and if they couldn't make it, what chance can we have? I haven't seen it explicitly expressed thus yet, but in the case of DFW, who was such a satirist of our society, people probably on some level see him as a martyr, killed by that very society. There has certainly been a lot of rhetoric going around suggesting that DFW was somehow "more human" than the rest of us and hence, presumably, more susceptible to the inhuman brutalities of his social environs. The facts of the matter, insofar as we know them, is that he was badly depressed and used a rope to end his depression.

When Roland Elliott Brown had the temerity to suggest that a public memorial being held for DFW in Toronto might be a "Diana-style vicarious grief-wank," he was immediately pilloried, called a "pitiful fucking troll" and a "fucking douchebag," and was told to "go fuck [him]self." Granted, for anyone planning to attend the memorial, Brown's phrasing was bound to be inflammatory, if only because there's probably very little overlap between the fans-of-Diana and the fans-of-DFW cohorts. Still, the flaming insults seem to me vastly out of proportion with Brown's offense. What he did was call into question the emotional authenticity of DFW's mourners. He went on to elaborate: "People will go there to worship their own idea of a person they did not know. They have been invited to do this. It is a form narcissism." This sounds pretty accurate to me; for someone to claim grief over the death of a stranger, they must have invested something of their own identity in that stranger's life and death: in it, they see a reflection of themselves and what might become of them. This is of course far easier to do with a writer or performer than with most other people. A reader can easily develop a sense that they know the writer from having read his works. But folks, this is a fallacy, pure and simple, an illusion created by the artifice of very good writing.

It's been stated in the Bookninja discussion thread that people's grief and the forms it takes should not be called into question, that it's "absolutely vile" and "reptilian" to do so. Ironically, this charge, along with several epithets thrown at Brown and another person who has had the spine to stand up for his argument, has come from my friend Paul Vermeersch, who has been most outspoken on many occasions in his opposition to religious belief. It's often argued that atheists should not tell people how or what to believe, that this is none of their business. Paul should be aware of this and be able to see the parallels with his own attempted shout-down of Brown's skepticism. For an atheist, the only taboo should be against taboo. There's no reason grief should be left off the table, particularly when it's public grief. The grief, pretend or real, over the deaths of people like DFW is tantamount to idolatry. People who only know the writing of a person have no entitlement to public grief because what they know of that person is the thin edge of the wedge and, moreover, it's not dead.

One of the most regrettable things about DFW's death is that we will never get to read the hilariously incisive satirical essay he might have written about attending one of his own public memorials. This is the worst, most unintentionally ironic thing about all this earnest mourning: it goes against the grain of DFW's work as a writer. Far better the Onion's take on it, which, as George Murray says, "Wallace might have got a kick out of." But what do we know? We never met the guy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Addena Sumter-Freetag and Matt Rader live at the Railway Club

Sonnet L'Abbé and Russell Thornton live at the Railway Club


So I'm running some errands this afternoon. I park my motorbike around the corner from the grocery store. I'm gone maybe 15 minutes. I come back and find that some son of a bitch has stolen my helmet, which I'd left on the bike's backrest. Now, you're probably thinking, "Serves him right, leaving it there." Thing is, I've been leaving it there for seven years. The only time I take my lid in with me is if it's raining. I've always figured this was a virtually no-risk act, since a)anyone who might need a motorcycle helmet already has one b)a second-hand helmet, being a hat, is not something most people would want to wear, ergo c)the resale value of second-hand helmets is almost nil and d)my helmet was nothing special, a seven-year-old basic black HJC open-face (something like the one pictured, which retails new for about $85). So, I had to ride home a few blocks without protection. Fortunately, I've got another helmet. This one's worth more than three times the stolen one, so I'd better keep a good eye on it.

Anyway, asshole, I hope you enjoy your stinky, worthless new acquisition. And I hope someone does something equally shitty to you soon.

I'm off to a reading tonight. Sonnet L'Abbé and Matt Rader are reading at the Railway Club downtown. I hope to get a good recording of them, which I'll post anon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fight the Power!

In my previous post I said that protests against the arts cuts have not been merely futile, but are apt to prove self-defeating. Today, artists are taking some really meaningful action.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Conservative Party Wants You, Beleaguered and Embattled Aspirational Voter

Thanks to Peter at CanCult for pointing out this very interesting article about Harper's campaign strategies. It confirms what seemed to me quite obvious, that these recent cuts to arts programmes are targeted tactical manoeuvres, not merely ideological reflexes, as the noisy opponents of them seem to believe. I say "noisy" pejoratively not because I disagree with their position, but because I think it's a tactical blunder, playing right into the hands of Harper and his strategists. This is not a stupid man, no matter what anyone thinks. He is a Machiavellian schemer, playing his cards close to his chest. The artists and others who have been loudly decrying his devilish acts (really minor ones, compared to some of the things this guy's up to) would be far better off devising similarly canny responses and in helping to rally support for someone who might defeat him. Instead, they're running around in circles, alienating the very voters Harper's trying to sway.

Personally, I'm for cutting a lot more arts funding (along with EI, welfare, family allowance, CPP and all the bureaucratic apparatus that administer them) and redirecting it into Elizabeth May's proposal of Guaranteed Livable Income. With a GLI, all kinds of creative people would be freed up to do creative things. I'm also for universal, but conditional, free university tuition. But I have a hard time seeing our country being ready to implement such pragmatically visionary policies any time soon. Not till we get rid of first-past-the-post...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"It took everything I had in [sic] to not throw the book to the ground and begin performing a much needed exorcism."

I somehow missed this, erm, review of Unsettled, which was posted back in the spring. One doesn't quite know whether to weep or laugh, but I'm inclined towards the latter.


Just read this very cogent essay on difficulty in poetry by the recently deceased American poet Reginald Shepherd. I'm completely unfamiliar with Shepherd's verse, but anyone who can write so intelligently about poetry is worth a look.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Anything But Hank?

Seems the word is spreading about our new book. There's even a band named after it!

Literary Readings Suck

So says Michael Carbert. And it's true. But I keep going to them hoping for the magic that happens at a really good reading. But yes, for the most part, both hosts and readers don't take the whole business half as seriously as they should.

Kaleb's first train trip

He's not apt to remember much of it, but Kaleb's first train trip was memorable for us at least. I was too busy with work to spend much time with him and Rachel, but he kept himself occupied...

...drinking in the scenery:

...hanging out in the dining car with my colleague Véronique, who threatened to steal him, then downgraded her threat to a standing babysitting offer:

...fraternising with fellow train guests (he was very popular with the ladies, especially):

... chilling out in his room (on the train, the bouncy chair bounces itself, especially in Alberta):

... and spending some quality naked time at the end of a hectic day:

I know how he feels. After 18 hours in my uniform, I too like a bit of naked time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm 32 today. Celebrated by going to Aqua Books for lunch with Rachel and Kaleb. We also had supper at Alycia's last night. Alycia's is a Winnipeg landmark, a Ukrainian restaurant that was John Candy's favourite. They even have a little shrine in his memory there.

Back on the train to Vancouver in a few hours. I'm hoping the trip back will be a little less hectic than the trip up was. Didn't have much time other than my meal breaks to hang out with R and K.

All for now.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I'm hitting the road...

...and taking the family with me. Rachel and Kaleb are joining me for my trip to Winnipeg this evening. A lovely treat to be able to see my loved ones during and after my grueling days in the first class lounge. Check ya later.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Anything But Hank! launch

The official release of Anything But Hank! is the end of this month. To celebrate, we'll be launching it here in Vancouver next month. Details as follows:

Saturday, October 11
Once Upon a Huckleberry Bush
4387 Main St.
1 pm

Sadly, we'll be launching without Eric, who lives too far away. Hope to see Vancouver-area readers there.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I've long been aware of the existence of pro soccer goalie Zach Wells, but had never been mistaken for him. Until today, when a young woman in Washington DC sent me an email asking me to go for drinks with her and her girlfriends. Naturally, I accepted her invitation.

Rocksalt Launches

Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry, which features a poem by yours truly, will be having launches in the coming weeks and months. Mark it on your calendar:

1. Salt Spring Island-Lions' Club - Sat. Oct 18th. 8pm

2. Granville Island-Agro Cafe, during the Vancouver International Writers' Festival, Thursday - Oct. 23rd 7 pm

3. Vernon - Gallery Vertigo, Wednesday - Oct 29th.

• Contact Howard Brown- Howardandalice@shaw.ca

4. The Nanaimo Library - Sunday- Nov. 2nd. 1 pm

• Contact: Kim Goldberg - goldberg@ncf.ca

5. Prince George- TBA, Nov.

• Contact: Al Rempel - arempel@sd57.bc.ca

6. The Vancouver Pubic Library - Friday- Nov. 7th. 7-9:30 pm

7. Victoria- Bolens Books- Sat. Nov.15th. 7 pm

8. North Vancouver - 32 Books- Fri. Nov. 21st ( eve)

I'm not sure which ones I'll be able to attend, but 7 and 8 look like safe bets at this point, with 6 a possibility.

More on the Salon

The media coverage of the CNQ/TNQ Salon des Refusés continues, with a substantial article in McLean's by Paul Wells.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CNQ review

Just stumbled upon this very nice little review of CNQ's translation issue from someone south of the border.

Love for the Book Bloggers

Don Denton of Literary Photographer passed this on to me and I thought I'd pass it on to you:


Vote early, vote often!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pages interviews Dan Wells and Kim Jernigan

Pages books, which hosted the CNQ/TNQ "Salon des Refusés" launch, has posted an interview with the two magazines' editors.

Review Online

My review of Kevin Connolly's Revolver is now up at Quill & Quire. As is my review of Domenico Capilongo's i thought elvis was italian.

Barry Dempster's Long Weekend

Barry Dempster's an under-rated poet. I know, who isn't? Yeah, he's been nominated for a couple of GG's, but one too rarely hears his name come up in conversations about contemporary poetry. I really like Barry's best work. It's clear and direct for the most part, informally colloquial and conversational, which is often mistaken for simple, but is in fact very hard to do well. And he can be damn funny. My favourite poem of his is called "Lucky Pigs," a virtuoso meditation on the prolonged porcine orgasm. I made him read it once. He's a terrific reader. I also quite like the poem "Long Weekend," newly published at Nth Position. Check it out.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Unintentional Irony?

As we were rolling thru Langley this morning on the way into Vancouver, I noticed this place. And hey, they have a rail division!

This is another unfortunately-named establishment the train goes by, in Edmonton.