Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vendler on Armitage

Helen Vendler has written a lengthy review of Simon Armitage's latest book, Tyrannosaurus Rex Vs. the Corduroy Kid. The review, and especially the book, which was published by Anansi hereabouts, are both worth a good look. Of younger (sub-50) poets working in English, Armitage is one of the few bona fide contenders for the mantle of major poet. I haven't read all his books, but each of the four books I've read has amazing poems in it. There are very few poets with the combination of craft, vision and civic engagement possessed by Armitage. Vendler says something about hoping his popularity won't prove too distracting. I don't think it's a real concern with him, somehow; if he was going to get a big head, it would've happened by now.

Thousands of Poets We Just Can't Do Without

Friday, February 27, 2009

Best Poetry Book Title...

...and cover image combo EVER.

The Essential Don Coles (The Porcupine’s Quill)

Edited by Robyn Sarah - 64 pages, sewn paper, $10.95

"All those things which we require of poetry – intelligence, illumination, pleasure in the placing of one surprising word beside another, sudden unexpected deepenings of feeling – all these are present in Don Coles' fine poems... Furthermore, they are rich in content as well as in reflection, and in those qualities which we admire in our fellow humans as much as we do in literature: tenderness, affection, humility, respect, courage."

- Carol Shields

The Essential Poets series aims to provide the best possible introduction to a preeminent Canadian poet, by selecting poems that carry the essence of an individual poetic sensibility as it evolves over time. Each volume includes an editor’s foreword, a bibliography, and a thumbnail biography of the poet. The series is based on the ‘less is more’ premise that a smaller selection of poems fosters deeper reading and re-reading, and that the full pleasure of poetry is to be found in the poems one has lingered over and lived with for a while.

Toronto Launch on Tuesday, March 24

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street

Please join us if you can. And please forward to Toronto-area friends who might be interested.

To order book: Ben McNally (416) 361-0032

or direct from The Porcupine’s Quill (519) 833-9158

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I was going for something along the lines of "The Villainous Poetry Critic"

...but apparently they don't make super heroes that lame.


Among twenty lowing Holsteins,
The only moving things
Were the flies and the cowbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a nest
In which there are six eggs.

The cowbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A male cowbird and a female cowbird
Are one.
A male cowbird and a female cowbird and a finch
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The cowbird screaming
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the cowbird
Was nowhere to be seen.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the cowbird
Pecks around the feet
Of the cattle about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the cowbird isn’t involved
In what I don’t know.

When the cowbird flew out of sight,
It sought the edge
Of one of many nests.

At the sight of cowbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bards of phony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For cowbirds.

The river is moving.
The cowbird must be fleeing.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The cowbird sat
In Mexican cedar-limbs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Cooper Clarke - Chickentown 2

Et une autre...

John Cooper Clarke - Chickentown

Another version of this poem, a bit cleaner than the one I've got. And a whole lot quicker.

Evidently Chicken Town

In celebration of Freedom to Read Week, I thought I'd read you a fucking poem:

Mucking about with software and mic

Red in Tooth and Claw

In case you think the poetry reviewing world is cut-throat...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Une Pensée

Negative Review: n. Critical writing in which the text is white and the background black.

David Orr on Greatness

Here is the essay by David Orr quoted in the negative review discussion I posted. The whole thing is well worth a read.

Orr's piece reminds me of another favourite poet of Ashbery's--and of mine--John Clare, a poet in many ways similar in sensibility to Elizabeth Bishop: a poet who values a close look at a small thing more than the windy effusions of ego favoured by his elder contemporary, Wordsworth the Great. (Not that Clare couldn't turn on the rhetoric when he wanted to.) The ambition is more humble, and for a long time Clare's work was neglected and ignored, or dismissed as quirky. But lately he seems to be one of the most talked-about of the Romantics. He's certainly my favourite. I think he's pretty great. Bishop too.

I think Orr's a bit too broadstroke about Lowell. Like Ashbery, Lowell wrote a great many disposable poems. But he did leave behind a fair clutch of amazingly good work, too. The little Selected published by Faber, edited by Michael Hoffmann, is probably a better place to read Lowell than in his doorstopper of a Collected.

UPDATE: A roundup of responses to Orr's article. But really, I'm just linking to this for the video.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Call to Arms

Okay, so regular readers of CLM know that yours truly isn't exactly bleeding heart about funding for the arts. I believe that the government of a democratic society should provide financial support for unremunerative artistic endeavours, but I dislike many of the ways in which said funds are disbursed, and I dislike the self-absorbed sense of entitlement evinced by a good many soi-disant artists who seem to think they are owed a living.

I also dislike the rather naive argument routinely trotted out when funding cuts happen or are threatened: that the arts are good for the economy. Why do I dislike this? Because only some arts are good for the economy; if we're going to determine funding on a case by case basis in terms of potential return on investment, a lot of the things we value would get zip, zero, zilch.

Something I learned of today confirms that I'm right about this. Quill & Quire reports that a new rationalised funding programme for magazines introduced by the Heritage dept. of the Conservative government will result in mags with fewer than 5000 subscribers getting no funding. That will include every literary magazine in the country. Some of these mags probably shouldn't be receiving as much moola as they do, but this has nothing at all to do with their subscription base. This is absolutely the wrong way to go about redistributing the monies allotted to magazines.

CNQ, the magazine I work for, will lose $10,000, according to the publisher. They already don't have enough money in the budget to pay me for my editorial work. A hit like that will drastically affect the way the magazine operates. It will affect production values, frequency, page count, contributor payments, etc.

Fortunately, these new guidelines are not in effect yet and there seems to be some optimism that the Heritage dept. can be headed off at the pass. A quick, strong and broad response is needed. Write to the Minister. Write to your MP.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Awards Shenanigans

So the Commonwealth Prize shortlists have been announced. One of the Canadian authors shortlisted is married to one of the judges. Can't wait to hear about how this isn't a conflict of interest.

UPDATE: Thanks to Steven Beattie for posting this link. Apparently, Dr. Banting had nothing to do with Mr. Stenson's book being on the shortlist and will have nothing to do with whether it wins or loses. Prize administrator Jennifer Sobol has been quoted as saying you can "stick a needle in [her] eye" if this ain't so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Praise Song for the Not-Lame

A while back, I suggested that Martin Espada would have made a much better inaugural poet than Elizabeth Alexander. Re-reading his occasional elegy/praise song "Alabanza" today, I was reminded of just how much can be done in this mode by a poet not hamstrung by a) a lack of native ability and b) a desire to cater to the common denominators of a crowd and the goodwill of the powers that be. To those who defend Alexander's poem as a piece of democratic plain speech, as opposed to high-falutin ivory tower poetic esoterica, I would say that "Alabanza" is plain speech par excellence, in that fine American tradition inaugurated by Whitman: plain speech with rhetorical verve, with rhythmic propulsion, with emotional valence. Espada's poem is written to people, whereas Alexander's was written about a subject. "Alabanza" soars, whereas "Praise Song for the Day" shuffles, stutters and sinks. Apparently, she's said she'll never read it again. Smart move.

Wells Retires

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy 100th, Abraham

This year, were he still alive, AM Klein, one of Canada's most significant and verbally inventive poets would have turned one hundred. Two days ago, I believe. I love a lot of Klein poems, but none so much as "Heirloom."

Hear me read it:


I have sired more young than Genghis Khan.

I went into a room with a cup and magazine.

I haven’t ever met a single one.

I did it for a dollar, I thought it might be fun.

I didn’t think, at first, that it would mean

I’d sire more young than Genghis Khan.

Spread out my offspring on a lush suburban lawn,

You wouldn’t see one little blade of green—

But I’ve never met a single one.

At any given moment, twenty ovens, twenty buns

Rising like the beanstalk from the bean.

I have sired more young than Genghis Khan.

No one tells me where it is that all my seed has gone.

It’s just as well, they’re only genes.

I don’t ever want to meet a single one.

I like to go to bars at night, I like to cruise for cun.

I really dig the swingin’ singles scene.

I have sired more young than Genghis Khan.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single one.

James Langer's Bushcraft

I recently had the opportunity to review the galleys of Gun Dogs, the forthcoming debut collection by James Langer. I can't say much about it here, as my review's not published yet and nor is the book, but I think you should check it out when it is. Here's his poem "Bushcraft."

Jack Pine: The Opera

Rachel, Kaleb and I headed over to North Vancouver yesterday to attend the grand opening of Jack Pine, an opera for children based on the book by Christopher Patton. The libretto and music were written by Veda Hille, who is a musical favourite in this household.

The opera was alright, but we came away with the impression that Chris's text wasn't ideally suited to adaptation. The best element of the show was the core part, which used Chris's poem. The story built around the poem felt like ... a story built around a poem. There was also a lot of "educational" content about trees that was more didactic than lyrical. The thing as a whole was a bit long for young kids. (Tho it should be said that K almost made it thru the whole thing without fussing.)

The book, which we bought in the lobby, is a thing of beauty, both the text and Cybèle Young's artwork. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A wee lesson in demographics

In the Globe and Mail, Cormorant Books publisher Marc Coté laments the fact that only 20% of books purchased by Canadians are Canadian-authored. He blames this on "colonialism" on the part of the UK and "protectionism" on the part of the US. He says nothing about Franco-Canadians and France, which seems a significant oversight. One can understand how these factors would affect sales of Canadian books outside of Canada, but it's unclear how they are supposed, in Coté's mind, to be hampering domestic sales.

This needs, rather badly, to be put into statistical perspective. The population of Canada is about 33 million. The combined populations of the UK, US, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and France: 465 million. So our population is less than 7% of the grand total of almost 500 million people. Hm, 7% is a lot less than 20%. Interesting. Could it be that, pace persistent nationalist rhetoric, Canadian books actually over-achieve in their domestic sales? Seems like it. Especially when you consider just how many of our people come from other countries and have mother tongues other than English or French. Especially when you consider that the language spoken and read by the majority of Canadians is the world-dominant language.

Coté is right to complain about subsidies not keeping up with inflation. That should be fixed, if it's so. But I wish he wouldn't bemoan the cosmopolitan tastes of Canadian readers. It's a bit ... provincial. I'm gonna go back to reading my Faulkner novel now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love, Lobster Lust and Bad Luck

Here's the audio from my reading last night, graciously hosted by Jane Mellor and The Writers' Studio.

From the People Who Brought You Such Things as the Weekend

It sounds as though, after 35 years of operation, the Writers' Union of Canada is finally going to start performing some of the functions of a union. It's kind of ridiculous how many leagues, associations, federations and unions for writers there are out there. I've never joined one, in part because I share Groucho Marx's view of clubs that would have me as a member, but also because I've never seen any benefit in membership. At least none commensurate with the annual fees. But I would like to retire from the labour force in another five years or so (right about the time that I'd have to start working year round on the railroad); if TWUC has bona fide medical and pension plans by then, I might actually consider signing up. All the other parliaments of fowls would do well to fold themselves into TWUC to eliminate redundancy and maximise benefits to members. But I imagine there's way too much territorial pissing for that to ever happen. Another problem is that TWUC, for reasons known only to its legislators, does not admit writers who haven't published a book. So if you're a full-time freelancer, as of right now, you're shit out of luck. But if you're a crappy poet whose book was published by your best friend, come on in. If they're serious about getting medical and pension plans started, they really need to drop the arbitrary exclusion criteria.

Something in this story I found bemusing is the statement that some 3000 "writers" declared no earnings from their writing. How can someone report this without commentary? I wonder how many "gardeners" found themselves in a similar predicament. At some point, you have to stop pretending that your past-time is your occupation. It's figures like that that make me very damn skeptical of statistical surveys on such things. 3000 zeros skew the numbers pretty damn badly.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What makes for a good reading?

A thoughtful blog post at the Guardian on the good, the bad and the ugly in poetry reading, with lots of links to various poets reading their work. One of the links is to this recording of Wallace Stevens reading "The Idea of Order at Key West." Very different from my oral interpretation of the piece:

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Patricia & Terence Young, live at the UBC bookstore, Feb. 12 2009.


You can tell it’s hard times for the arts

By how many buskers are out hustling

Quarters on street corners. You can tell

By their bewildered looks, the exceeding

Refinement of their style and their swell

Manners that they are unaccustomed

To such crude environs and to the rude

Rebuffs of passers by with no intention

Of being detained. Pity the poor buggers,

Forced by the twin threats of starvation

And creditors, from their studios, stages

And pits out into the dinful, bustling

Market. They are such sensitive creatures—

Can’t you see how your lack of appreciation

For the nuances of their interpretations

Plunges them into sullen depression?

Can’t you see how brutal it is for them

To be grateful for the handful of change

You toss in their box as you stroll by?


I'm off to see the forever youthful duo of Patricia and Terence Young read tonight at the Robson Square bookstore. I'll see about bootlegging it, just for you.

And if you're in Vancouver, don't forget about my reading tomorrow night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Palmu on the Couriers

Brian Palmu has reviewed Peter Richardson's recent book Sympathy for the Couriers in a very unorthodox manner: he goes thru the book poem by poem, giving us a paragraph or two on each. Lately, I'm so much more interested in talking about individual poems than collections; I guess this is one way to do both. Peter's poems deserve the attention and don't get it nearly enough, in my biased opinion. He got his start as a published poet late in the game, but he's miles ahead of most of his contemporaries, never mind mine. And related to the Birney quote I posted in my last entry, he spent a career as an Air Canada ramp hand. Maybe working for a living is good for poetry...

Get a Job

My advice to young Canadian writers is ... to take a temporary part-time job. It could even be in a university, especially in a Creative Writing course, so long as it is temporary or part-time. But better perhaps to fish salmon in the season and work on novels out of it it, as one ex-student of mine is doing; or run a rooming house and write plays for the CBC, which is how a young woman I know is managing both to live and to write what she wants; or take a nine-to-five banking job with no homework, as Raymond Souster has done.

--Earle Birney, "The Writer and His Education"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More on Academic Freedom

Stanley Fish weighs in on the Denis Rancourt situation. It would be helpful to get some kind of official statement from U of O at this point, because what is not at all clear is if they're trying to fire him because of giving all his students A+'s (or saying that he would do so) or because he's a thorn in their side. It's looking like they're going after him for the grading in the same way that the prosecutors here in BC are going after the Mormons for polygamy when what they really want them for is child abuse. In neither case does this seem like a smart move. If Rancourt has, as Fish says, repeatedly overstepped the boundaries of acceptable professional conduct, surely he needs to be disciplined for those things. A friend of mine in high school got expelled after being caught smoking off grounds. He wasn't expelled for being caught smoking, but for all the other things he'd done. He'd been warned that one more infraction would lead to expulsion. Has Rancourt received warnings, or have his bosses just expressed their frustrations to him and told him to behave? Is the grading an actual infraction? A prof got fired at UPEI a few years ago for offering a B- to students in exchange for them not showing up. His course (on the history of Christianity; perhaps this was a concrete lesson in the selling of indulgences...) was over-enrolled and there wasn't enough space for everyone to sit. Fair enough, but dealt with in an unethical way. What Rancourt has done doesn't seem at all the same. He wants the students there. He wants them to get more from their educational experience. He's going about his business in an oddball way, but jesus, universities are full of people who spout weird shit as if it were wisdom and ramble on ad nauseum about things only tangentially related--at best--to the curriculum. If you want to get rid of all the tenured profs who are nuts, you'll have to do a lot of firing and hiring.

This is kind of funny

A Facade of Coherence

Thanks to Owen for sending me the link to this piece about the academic road less travelled: no letter grades. Maybe Alan Rock should take a look at this before he tries to shitcan the quixotic professor Denis Rancourt, who I posted about t'other day.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Thanks to Carmine for posting this awesome video by Leigh Kotsilidis, accompanying music by Mathias Kom and The Burning Hell.

I stayed at Leigh's place in October when I was in Montreal for the Jailbreaks launch. All the sets for the video, which she made herself, were in her hallway. So awesome to see the finished video.

Reading report

What a turnout for the Best Canadian Poetry launch last night. I'm glad I got there early because it was standing room only. The venue, Cafe Montmartre, is long and narrow and gets narrower as it gets longer, as the bar and kitchen are at the back. It's not a bad spot for a crowd of 20-25, but wasn't ideally suited for the 70 or so who turned up last night. They also weren't prepared logistically. I tried to order food and was told they weren't taking any more food orders. Alas.

Each poet read his or her poem from the book, along with 2 or 3 others. One highlight of the night was Amanda Lamarche, who had some of the best between-poem banter I've heard. She could be a stand-up comedian, I swear. The humour was a nice counterpoint to the pathos of the poems she read. Another was Matt Rader, who gave the best reading I've heard him do, of his outstanding poem "The Great Leap Forward," which he launched into with no preamble other than a quick witty joke about Amanda's reading. Matt's poem is one of the best in the anthology. He then read a poem by David O'Meara and sat down. Short and sweet. His reading and Amanda's made for a nice study in contrasts, how totally different approaches can both yield attention-grabbing performances. I also dug Yvonne Blomer's "The Roll Call to the Ark," a poem in two voices, which she read with her husband. There were some laughs in a couple of the poems read by Leanne Averbach, who reads very well. I wouldn't say they were terrific poems, but they were entertaining at least.

Leanne Averbach's band played after, but I had to go. Pretty hungry by this point and I can't stay out late these days: Kaleb shows no mercy in the morning. I would have recorded the reading, but I was near the back and all that would've come thru would have been kitchen sounds, unfortunately.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Best Canadian Poetry

Off tonight to the launch of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. I'll see if I can bootleg a tape of it. Here's the scoop:

Please join us in celebrating the launch of Tightrope Books’ new anthology series, The Best Canadian Poetry In English. This year’s collection of poetry, edited by Stephanie Bolster, is the first in an annual series showcasing poems published in Canadian literary journals. The evening’s festivities will include readings by contributors, and a performance of music and spoken word by Leanne Averbach & Indigo.

Saturday February 7th, 2009
7:00 pm (readings start at 7:30)
Montmartre Café
4362 Main Street
Free Admission

About the anthology:

From a long list of one hundred poems drawn from Canadian literary journals magazines, this year’s guest editor, award winning poet Stephanie Bolster, has chosen fifty of the best Canadian poems published in 2007. With this anthology readers, baffled by proliferating poems and poets, can for the first time tap into the remarkable and vibrant Canadian poetry scene. Readers are invited to explore the currents and cross-currents of poetry in a distinguished volume distilled by a round robin of esteemed editorial taste.

Readings by:

Yvonne Blomer
Amanda Lamarche
Matt Rader
Keith Maillard
Joy Russell
Leanne Averbach
Maleea Acker
Anna Swanson

Leanne Averbach & Indigo:

FEVER with Leanne Averbach & Indigo is a sultry fusion of the spoken words of Vancouver/New York poet Leanne Averbach and the original blues/jazz accompaniment of Astrid Sars' band trio INDIGO.


Friday, February 6, 2009


I can see you. You can see

Me. I can see you

Can see me. You can see

I can see you. I can see

You can see me

Seeing you. I can see me

In you. I can see you

In me. I can see you

Seeing you in me, seeing

Me in you. You can see

Me seeing me in you,

Seeing you in me. You and me,

We can see me and you.

I can see you can see. You. Me.

Newsflash: University Hostile to Independent Thought and Radical Action

A friend of mine posted this story on Facebook today. I'm totally with this guy. I know grades poisoned my university experience. And not because I got bad ones. Because I got straight A's and had to keep those grades up to keep my scholarships and I had to keep my scholarships to keep out of debt, which I had to keep out of to keep from becoming indentured indefinitely to an economic agenda I'm none too fond of. Rock. Hard Place. So I chose courses strategically, picking the occasional bird course to lighten the load, rather than taking something that might interest and challenge me more and writing papers I knew would succeed rather than pushing into riskier topics and approaches.

Most profs and administrators are so conditioned by the grading system that they don't even think about this sort of thing. When I was choosing courses for my fourth year at university (a year I was only enrolled in for a piece of paper, not for education per se), I signed up for a couple of 2nd year courses in my major. Even tho the department's guidelines said I could take these courses because I'd fulfilled all the specific requirements for an English degree, I was called in to see the department chair. He advised me not to take those courses because they'd be too easy for me. I told him that was part of why I was taking them. He looked at me like I had two heads. I guess that kind of pragmatism doesn't come naturally to an academic. He had no concept that without grades, those kinds of decisions wouldn't be made.

I hope Denis Rancourt prevails. He sounds like a damn good teacher who, unlike so many profs, has actually given a lot of thought to pedagogy. Which you can see for yourself in this interview.

Charles Bruce

Just encountered this lovely reading of Charles Bruce's "Back Road Farm," by someone named David Kosub. Glad to see another Bruce Poem featured at Arc. The more of this that happens, the more likely his exceptionally fine poems will stay alive. I'm still waiting anxiously for the new selected Bruce that's supposed to be published by Signal Editions. The last book of Bruce poems was 1985. Almost a quarter century now. High time for the new one.

Here's me reading Bruce's "Nova Scotia Fish Hut":

UPDATE: Carmine Starnino has posted about the Kosub essay and provided a link to this virtual chapbook of Bruce's poems. Sounds like the Bruce book I'm looking forward to will be out in a couple of years, 40 years after his death.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CNQ 75

The latest number of CNQ arrived in my box today. This is a special issue edited by Carmine Starnino, featuring soothsaying essays on various cultural topics by different writers. Haven't had a chance to dig into it yet. Looking forward to doing so soon.

In my section of the mag, there's some very good stuff, including

  • Jason Guriel on Nick Thran, JD Black and Christopher Patton's debut collections
  • Nick Thran on Jason Guriel and David McGimpsey's mass media-inspired collections
  • Alessandro Porco on a couple of slippery poets, Kevin Connolly and Walid Bitar
  • Jim Pollock on the black and white magics of Jeffery Donaldson
  • Steven W. Beattie on the Giller list
  • Lyle Neff on David W. McFadden's selected
  • Martin Wallace on WJ Keith's cultural conservatism
  • Yours Truly on first collections by Suzanne Buffam and Pino Coluccio
The last on that list is a bit of a long story. I first wrote the review for The Antigonish Review in 2005. Several issues went by and no review. Then I saw they published a review of a book published in 2006 and asked if I could withdraw the review. I'm the first to admit I'm not the most organized of reviews editors, but that was just a bit too much. So it was homeless for a while till I gave it to Dan Wells. He was going to post it on the CNQ website, but then Carmine wanted it for the issue he was editing, so voila. Never too late for an in-depth review of good books.

But the highlight of my section, if I'm allowed to pick favourites, is Pollock's review essay of Donaldson's oeuvre to-date. James has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the few truly top-notch Canadian poetry critics. His criticism is very precise and meticulously argued, but never dryly dispassionate. An earlier part of this essay was published at Contemporary Poetry Review a while ago. The updated piece takes into account Donaldson's new book, the outstanding Palilalia, as well.

There are also four poems each from a couple of poet-critics who are no slouches themselves, Jason Guriel and Mark Callanan. After precociously strong debuts, they've both got new books coming out soon, I do believe, which I'm looking forward to seeing. An awful lot of good-looking poetry collections on the horizon.

An Event-ful day

Just learned that my poem "Ego Sum" will be published in a forthcoming issue of Event magazine. Very nice. I find Event one of the most interestingly eclectic poetry sections of Canadian mags. This is a poem I can't imagine too many other magazines printing because of its weirdness (39 lines of anaphoric falling rhyme). It was certainly the most oddball poem I sent them. And it's one that I'm particularly fond of, so I'm glad it's found a halfway house.

Lettres miniscules

Could this be the next frontier for Christian Bok?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Les Mis-érables

Ooooh, wasn't that a clever postmodern pun!

So, apparently the average artist in Canada is "almost poor." (Anyone else wondering how much it cost our esteemed institutions to come to this earth-shattering discovery?) That is, if you only consider the income they make from their artsy work and ignore the money they make from their fartsy work.

But "In 2005, 42 per cent of artists said they took part-time jobs, compared with 22 per cent for the overall labour force." Newsflash: the other 22% didn't "take" a part-time job; many of them probably had no choice and had to "take" several such jobs to pay for rent, food, transportation and such. These are the people we might know as actually poor. I hear their hearts are bleeding for the almost-poor artists.

Another thing: how many artists at or below the poverty line (set for a single person in a city of 500,000+) are actually single people in cities of 500,000? What kind of dough do their spouses make? (Full disclosure: my mother is a full-time artisan whose net income is well below the single-person-in-a-city line. She lives in the country in a province with fewer than 200,000 people. My father is a retired deputy minister. My mother used to be federal civil servant. She much prefers being a poor artisan.) Is a tenured professor who teaches a subject related to his or her artistic professor an artist or an academic? It would seem the latter, since the "aristocracy" is identified as being comprised of "producers/directors/choreographers." This skews the numbers something fierce, considering the number of writers who work for university English and/or CW departments.

Interesting to note that 42% of artists are self-employed. At least we know who's exploiting those poor fuckers.

My favourite part:

What makes the situation even more distressing is that artist earnings have been decreasing since 1990 – a decline likely to intensify over the next two years. While average earnings for the overall labour force rose by almost 10 per cent from 1990 to 2005, artists experienced a slide of 11 per cent – to $22,731 from $25,433 – at the same time as the cultural-sector work force tripled in size. Actors experienced the sharpest decline in average earnings among artists, dropping 34 per cent to about $18,000 in 2005.

It takes a really piss-poor grasp of maths--something for which artists are notorious--not to get this. I think it's safe to assume that the non-cultural workforce did not triple in the 15 years between 1990 and 2005. If it did, boy would the average wage take a hit! That the cultural workforce did triple, and that--recall--42 per cent of that workforce is self-employed, and that the wages dropped--all this might just signify, oh, I don't know .... that there are too many artists for the amount of money available!!! Y'know what, I bet it's those foreign artists, you know the ones, the "exiles" from Bosnia and Iran, coming here and taking our arts dollars. Those bastards.

Finally, what the survey doesn't even pretend to address, because it's not quantifiable: shitty artists don't deserve to earn a living by their art. Many do anyway, but that's another story.

(from CanCult)

Assholes and Idiots

Having been in and out of the service industry for the past 18 years--wow, that's one long low point--I've encountered my fair share of each of these types of obnoxious customers. Or "guests" as we call 'em on board the train.

I'd add "The Nic Fitter" to the list as a transportation specific problem customer. This is the asshole who asks twenty-five times when the next smoke stop is, if you'll wake him up when we get there, constantly pulls his pack out of his pocket and stares at it longingly, tries to sneak a smoke in a washroom or vestibule and then pretends he didn't know he wasn't allowed.

And a somewhat less job-specific jerk is "The Raging Drunk." On the train, this is someone who brings on their own booze, because most train staff--unless they're gettin' real well tipped--won't serve a person till they're in a state of incoherent incapacity. Some of these drunks are Jekyll and Hyde types, sweet as pie when they get on the train, unable to walk and talk or abusive six hours later.

The best thing about the train is that, whether it's the Nic Fitter, the Drunk or the Ticking Timebomb, I have the option of removing them before their stop--and have exercised that option several times. There aren't too many jobs where you can get revenge on the asshole customer. The other categories I pretty much just have to put up with. I actually have to court "The Soapbox" in one of my train jobs. But I also make better coin than most service industry pros, so I shouldn't complain too much.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Upcoming Reading




FRIDAY, FEB. 13, 2009
7:00 TO 9:00 PM

GUEST POET JENNICA HARPER is a screenwriter and poet whose books include The Octopus and OtherPoems (Signature Editions, 2006), and What It Feels Like for a Girl (Anvil Press, 2008). Her poems have been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and featured on Vancouver buses as part of the Poetry in Transit project. When not working on poetry, she's teaching a UBC course called "Introduction to Writing for New Media" and adapting a kids' comic book into an animated feature film.

GUEST WRITER ZACHARIAH WELLS was born and raised on PEI and has since lived all over Canada. He is the author of Unsettled, a collection of poems distilled from his time as an airline cargo hand in Nunavut, the editor of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets, and co-author, with Rachel Lebowitz, of Anything But Hank!, a children's picture book. Wells is the reviews editor for Canadian Notes & Queries magazine, writes freelance book reviews and works seasonally for Via Rail as an onboard train attendant. He has a new collection of poems forthcoming in the fall and a collection of essays and reviews for 2010.

for more information visit


I had the freakiest shit today—

no, wait, don’t walk away,

I’m not the sort of sicko dude

to wax weird about lewd

pervy fetish stuff, this is

something heavier than shits and pisses,

alright? Alright, so there it was: one

solitary turd, the sort of bun

I always hope for,

no mess clean-up, walk away—but just before

I put my finger to the lever,

I realize it's a nugget unlike any I’ve ever

seen: see, it was the same shape, exactly,

as a human brain: two perfectly

symmetric hemispheres, the curvy folds

and involutions. I was totally bowled

over—I mean, it blew my mind

that my sphincter could extrude

such an intricately lined

scale model out of shit—

Eh? What do you think I did with it—

I sent it down the fucking drain.

I told you, I’m not that kind of dude—

brain, or no brain.

I'ts your hamster. And it's not breathing.

I aspire to this level of complaint.