29 June 2005

Big bucks for poems

I've just about recovered from Book Expo. Just about.

Tomorrow I head off to the Niagara Region for three days of training for Centauri Summer Arts Camp, where I'll be leading a two-week writing workshop for teens in August. I'm sort of looking forward to being mostly Internetless for those days. And looking forward to being out of my messy apartment. And away from CNN access. I spent most of my goddamn days with CNN blaring in the background, as I grind my teeth over the murderous lies of George W. Bush.

What I'm hoping to do at Centauri is stay up late and work on my novel and read a bit, and embrace the serenity of the military academy. I mean, Centauri takes place on the property of a military academy, which at first might seem like a scarey proposition, but really means that for two months the military gives way to the arts. Sorta neat.

Meanwhile, a literary magazine has been wooing me for a while, and I said I'd give them something if I had something. Now the crunch is here. But I'm having a crisis of publishing philosophy. I'm thinking that, after all these years of being a writer and doing stuff for free, maybe I should only give my work to mags that pay. I mean, unless it's some labour of love put out by a high school student or Jay MillAr. The reason I think this, partly, is that when I began my own mag, Syd & Shirley, I decided I would pay my contributors. Which is nuts, because it's all out of my own pocket, and it's just more money I'm going to lose. (If you want to subscribe, PayPal me $25 for 3 issues to sydandshirley@sympatico.ca! (more if you're not in North America!)).

So do I give them my poems for free or do I make my stand now, at the halfway point of my life?

Over and out.

28 June 2005

Book Expo, thou hast slain me!

Spent all day yesterday at Book Expo, down at the Toronto Convention Centre. Didn't have to, but I did. What a grotesque experience -- although it allegedly had something to do with books and writing and stuff, I felt like an alien. It all seemed to have no relation to my life as a writer.

I went down at about 11 a.m. to do a signing at the Anvil Press table and a sort of closed-circuit radio interview. A few friends ended up in the lineup for free, signed books, so that made me happy, and some owners of independent bookstores, too, which was cool, but what really got me was the string of about five employees from the same Scarborough Chapters outlet. I really gave them a rough time -- made them display some evidence that they knew who I was and didn't just want any free book being given out. Bugged them to try to sell my books, and then pointed to the last one of them in line and said she was the manager. So when she got to me, I asked her if her store stocked my book and if they were going to push it. She shrugged, and said, "I dunno, ask those guys." Dennis Bolen, who was signing beside me, said, "Those guys said you were the manager." She said, "Yeah, but I dunno." So I took the book back from her without signing it and went on to the next person. This "manager" was incensed. She was being denied her free book! After signing a couple of other folks' books, I did sign this teenybopper manager's book and told her to enjoy it. Through gritted teeth.

Can I refuse to give a free book to someone at Book Expo? I'll have to find out next time, if there is a next time. Anyway, I hope the Chapters gang likes the two nasty mentions of their store in my book -- especially the one where I wonder whether "they don't stock Jews" when I can't find my book in a London, Ont., branch.

Had a nice visit with Dan, the manager of the Book Shelf in Guelph. He's a neat guy. And bumped into the effervescent Sheree Fitch, who I haven't seen since the Banff/Calgary Wordfest in 2003. They've invited her back for this year, but not me. Sigh. Kitty from Brick Books was the only continuously cheerful person I saw at the Expo. I did see Ian Samuels, WordFest's artistic director, and the main reason I hung around for four hours after my signing was that he suggested we'd go for drinks at the end of the day.

At the end of the day he was nowhere to be found. At the end of the day I felt like my soul had been sucked out my body through my nostrils. At the end of the day I felt precipitously close to depression. I went home and slept a lot.

Over and out.

25 June 2005

of ottawa, owen, and orangeville


Went to the Ottawa Small Press Fair last weekend, and I always have such a good time in Ottawa. Stayed with the ever-generous Michael Dennis and Kirsty Jackson for the weekend. First night there, Michael surprises me with tickets to the National Arts Centre, where Kirsty's choir is one of a few singing with the NAC Orchestra in their performance of Beethoven's 9th. I don't think I've experienced live classical music since Andrew Davis' debut with the Toronto Symphony, which was probably about 30 years ago or somethin'.

It was pretty glorious, and I liked how the choir members all simply stared forward motionlessly for the first hour, until their moment at plinging the triangle came along. Weird experience being among the well-dressed symphony-goers when my usual cultural outing is a poetry reading. Later, my fave part of staying with Michael: talking with him late into the night.

The Small Press Fair was sparsely attended but still worthwhile. rob and I stayed well away from each other most of the time. Had great visits at my table with John Lavery and Stephen Brockwell, and Kristiana's old roommate Karen Meaghar (who I'm sure doesn't spell her last name that way), and I got to see pregnant Kira and Sean of the Ottawa Int'l Writers' Festival, with whom I visited the Manx post-fair. Michael Dennis dropped by the fair, which was shocking, because he don't go out to nuthin' literary. Behind the tables were Jon Paul Fiorentino, Jennifer Mulligan, Wanda O'Connor, Amanda Earl, Joe Blades, Gary Gravelle, and a bunch of others. I sold about $225 worth of stuff and bought a few cool items.

After the Manx, Sean, Kira and I joined the post-fair get-together at the James Station Pub or whatever it's called, and then took a cab to their new gigantic house, which is about two blocks from Michael's. It was great to visit with them; it's been a while. They'd bought a copy of Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer at the fair and I'm a little anxious about how they'll view my column on getting turfed from my traditional residency in the hospitality suite of the OIWF.

Sunday lunch with the wonderful Melanie Little and Peter Norman at Ceylonta, my favourite Ottawa restaurant. They're about to move to Calgary, where Melanie got a writer-in-residence position that I've tried for a bunch of times. Damn her! Great lunch, great company, and then the road back to Toronto.


June 23 was my brother Owen's birthday. But he died in 2000, at age 46, the age I'm about to turn in a few weeks. He'll forever be my older brother, even though I'll soon overtake the highest age he reached. Owen would have been 52 this year. My relationship with him was complex, because we talked very little and had very tempestuous times as we grew up. He was a gruff, private person whose only great pleasure was coaching little league baseball, at which he was incredible apparently. His funeral, which took place 14 hours after his sudden death, was attended by a phalanx of kids in baseball uniforms. To this day, a North York league baseball hat sits on his grave.


Last night I went to Orangeville for the Lyrical Coffeehouse gig, with singer-songwriter Marianne Girard, at the Baba Ghanoush Restaurant. Everyone who attended was a folkie fan -- no one came for the poetry, so I felt a little odd there. But they were a warm and welcoming audience, and my stuff went over pretty well. The cover charge was $12, so I was surprised that anyone came at all, but my cut of the door was an astonishing $140, and I sold three copies of Crumbling Balcony, so it ended up being more lucrative than most strictly literary gigs I do. The series is organized by Tracy Harrison, who has had me read a couple of times at the Furry Folk Festival at Hugh's Room. She's damn cool. I liked Orangeville, and will return to wander around. I bet there's some good stuff at the Sally Ann Thrift Store.


Since returning from Europe, I haven't gotten back into full productive mode. I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff that's built up. My solution is to avoid most of it, but that's got to change. Right? It's a strange thing trying to piece together a living from my writing life, but I don't ever want to work in an office again, so I've got to get to work.


14 June 2005

David, you... you...

Tonight I'm reading at the Art Bar's Canadian Poets Night. At least, I think that's what it's called. A whole bunch of poets have been invited to read the works of another Canadian poet. It was a tough choice, that's for sure. My first impulse was to read from W.W.E. Ross, a really interesting minimalist poet who wrote most of his stuff, I think, in the 1930s. I liked the idea of a Ross reading a Ross. But then I decided on David UU, the writing name of David W. Harris, a visual, sound, and linear poet who started up grOnk with bpNichol. He also had a few of his own imprints and magazines, including Fleye and Berkeley Horse. David killed himself in 1994. At his wake, I read the poem he had contributed to my "e-less" issue of Dwarf Puppets on Parade; I think I'll read that again tonight, along with a few other pieces. On David's shelf of current reading when he died was a copy of The Hermit of 69th Street, the nearly unreadable novel Jerzy Kosinski wrote before killing himself. Nearby was a Stuart Ross collection, a jwcurry collection, and a bpNichol collection.

No one talks much about David UU these days; he never achieved the acclaim of a Nichol or a bissett. I hope that what I read tonight might intrigue a couple of people. But I think it'll just feel good letting some of his work meet with the air again.

Over and out.

11 June 2005

Toronto, land of too many pressures

It's really hot in Toronto. There are a million responsibilities to attend to in Toronto. My seasonal allergies this year, here in Toronto, are far more severe than ever before. My apartment is a mess.

There's been so much to do, I haven't had a chance to catch up with many of my friends. This weekend in the League of Canadian Poets AGM. It's my first one. I don't know if I'll go to another. And this week has also been somewhat consumed with the shooting of Heart Of A Poet, a TV series made in part by my very long-time friend Maureen Judge. There are episodes on Sandra Alland, Sherwin Tija, Christian Bök, me, and a bunch of other poets. Maureen's been trying to make things as comfortable as possible, but I sure do dislike being on camera and being made to do things for the camera. The highlight, though, was that they had me go out on the street to sell my books again, which I haven't done since about 1990. Was only out for an hour, and though the camera crew was on the other side of the road for most of that time, I didn't sell a single book. But I sure had fun, and think I'll go out and try to do it again. Back in the 80s, though, I was selling $2-$5 chapbooks. Now I'm out there with $10-$25 books.

On the bright side, David McFadden has moved into my neighbourhood. Dana starts her excellent new job downtown on Monday, and will no longer have to make the excruciating trek to Oakville. And, um, I'm sure there's more of a bright side.

Over and out.

06 June 2005

The lure of the sirens

Monday morning. I am coming down with a cold. It is raining outside. The emergency vehicles are zipping past, the lure of their European-movie sirens stronger than ever. In a few hours, we head for the plane.

Today is June 6, and I believe that in the Kootenays, the Stuart Ross Award for Poetry Adventurism will be announced. After my griping about the low number of applicants, one more student applied. The winner will be a smart fellow named Roberto DeSandoli, who really does seem interested in poetry, and willing to try out all sorts of different forms and approaches. Some good political content too. He'll get 250 bucks out of my pocket and 10 Canadian poetry books, courtesy of Brick, Coach House, Anvil, Anansi, Arsenal Pulp, Mercury, Pedlar Press, and Wolsak & Wynn.

Yesterday I had a very nice two hours with Sam Andreyev, who moved to Paris two years ago to study music. He said he'd dreamed since he was a teenager that he wanted to live in Europe, and here he is. I found our talk inspiring and motivating. I wish I'd had his kind of focus when I was his age. But then I'm not a genius!

Dana and I visited the Shoah Memorial, which was very powerful. Marble walls are inscribed with the names of the 70,000 Paris Jews the Vichy gov't was complicit in shipping out to concentration camps. About 2,500 of them survived. There's also a small room that contains narrow trays stuffed with index cards -- the Paris police record for each Jew in the city. The museum is simple and elegant and respectful. Security is very tight, though -- although it's free to enter, you must go through an airport-style baggage x-ray and body check. And when you leave, you have to buzz to be let into the first part of the exit chamber, where you're locked in from both sides, and then you buzz again to be let into the street. Very sad that this must be the case. But the sculptures and displays in this memorial make it all worthwhile.

At night, we did a last-minute blitz of tourist attractions: the Champs Elysee, the Arc de Triumph, and the Eiffel Tower, where we took the elevator up to niveux 2. The tower was a lot of fun. And though it's not all that tall, once you get up to it, it's pretty darn impressive. We also visited the Palais de Tokyo last night -- an incredible museum of contemporary art that's open six days a week from noon till midnight! Man, I wish we had something like that in Toronto. There was a lot of strong stuff in there (which I'm too whoozy to detail right now), plus a great bookshop.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Cary Fagan has reviewed my Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer in the Toronto Star. Though the review seems sort of snitty, and there are little personal attacks in it, I'm very pleased!

And now, you will excuse me while I pack.

Over and out.

05 June 2005

Trapped in a Patricia Highsmith novel

Which Patricia Highsmith novels took place in Paris? Any of them? I know she lived here. My favourite streets are the really narrow, windy ones -- especially those not filled with tourists. Whenever I'm walking such streets, I think of claustrophobic, paranoid pursuits in Highsmith novels -- disorientation, panic, confusion. It's so comforting.

Yesterday Dana and I saw a lot of art, and walked a whole lot. It rained on and off through the day. Every once in a while I stumble on some visual art that I find thoroughly inspiring, and such a stumble occurred: a loop of about a dozen very brief videos by a guy named Igor Krenz. In each video, he attempted some simple feat, like breaking a bottle or throwing a little ball into a tin. In slightly strange ways. But he made me want to write, and got my mind churning. I really, really, really don't write enough. Maybe when I get home, which will be very late tomorrow, the writing will flood out. In Oslo, I made a lot of progress on my novel, but only two poems have arrived. Perhaps on the long flight tomorrow.

We walked past the Shoah memorial yesterday, but it was Saturday, and it was closed, as was the Jewish Museum. Might go back there this morning -- at least to the memorial. What we saw through the locked gates looked very stunning, very thoughtful, very sad. We also passed a huge synagogue, but it was on a very narrow street and it wasn't detached, so you couldn't even back up to get a good look at its stone-and-stained-glass facade, like you can do with churches. The Holocaust memorial, too, was on a very narrow, unbusy street, and I wondered about Jewishness being hidden away here in Paris.

Hope to see Sam Andreyev later this morning. And the Jewish stuff again. And then later tonight, Dana and I will hit the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, and the Palais de Tokyo, which sounds pretty incredible. We'll have to get back to the hotel in time for me to down the Portuguese bottle of wine that Gunnar sneakily bought for me in a small village near Brandbu.

Over and out.

P.S. - Thanks to those who have commented on my blog, and on the poems I've posted!

04 June 2005

Pretend I'm rich, real rich...

First, I must apologize for how boring my last bloggamooga entry was. Oy.

Next, I must report that Dana and I just consulted an international currency converter online, and it turns out we're nearly rich. We thought the Euro was about $1.90 Canadian. So our 30-Euro dinner splurge last night would have cost close to $60, which we would never spend back in Canada! And the pair of cool books that Dana bought yesterday, I Still Believe in Miracles, a two-book catalogue for a show we saw at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, cost 50 Euros, which we thought was close to a sawbuck. But, in reality, the Euro is only CAN$1.50! Imagine our joy!

I hadn't griped here yet about the price of everything in Norway, but here are a few examples, a result of the unbelievable exchange rate with the Kroner... public toilet: $4. bus ride: $6. half-pint of beer: $10. chana masala: $25. medium pizza: $30. can of Coke: $4. chicken kebab: $10 (and that's the real bargain food of Norway).

We're very lucky in Canada.

Over and out.

03 June 2005

Father, the Chair!

So yesterday we met Kim at the Gare du Nord train station. She'd come in all the way from Rotterdam, and she and I had not seen each other in 15 years. And the last time was pretty depressing (see my poem "The Catch"). It was a really nice reunion, and Kim and Dana got on very well, which was a relief, I'll tell you.

We all climbed 50 million stairs to Sacre Coeur, but what I liked most was the walk from Gare du Nord to the base of the stairs -- the guidebooks call it "dreary," but it was simply a working-class neighbourhood devoid of any touristic espoilation (not a word, but wouldn't it be nice if it were?). Sort of like Toronto's Parkdale about five or six years ago.

Anyway, the view from Paris up at Sacre Coeur was pretty spectacular, and the walk back down the stairs was very lovely in comparison to the walk up. Kim asked what we wanted to do, and we asked what she wanted to do. She lived in Paris for a year about two decades ago, so I thought there might be something she wanted to revisit. I knew nothing much of Paris as of yesterday, so I chose Pere Lachaise Cemetery, being the morbid lad that I am.

So we hopped in the Metro and were soon there. At the top of my must-see list was Apollinaire's grave, and Dana wanted to see some dude named Hausmann who more or less designed this city apparently. Funny thing: Kim is a crown prosecutor in Holland, and, taking the day off, she missed her first autopsy (she'd begun the investigation of a murder the day before). So there she was skipping an autopsy and spending the afternoon in a cemetery! I did feel a little terrible dragging her all the way from Holland to hang out amongst corpses, but she didn't seem to mind at all. It was lovely to see her again -- and perhaps offered some closure from a rather sad episode of 1990. We both were amazed at how little it felt like 15 years had gone by.

The afternoon ended with a near-disaster as Kim and I thought we'd lost Dana, and while Dana was missing, which she really wasn't, I couldn't help but think of one of the most terrifying films ever -- the original, Dutch version of The Vanishing. Turned out to be a misunderstanding, and I found Dana at a café outside the cemetery and all was well and we saw Kim off, made our way to Place d'Italie and had us a nice dinner.

Gosh, this really is rather banal, isn't it?

Today, we saw some art. And then I went snooping through some English and French bookstores. In my ideal world, Paris bookstores would be all too aware that this city was once blessed as a second home to several New York School poets. But there wasn't an Ashbery, Padgett, O'Hara, Berrigan, or Koch book to be found anywhere, in any damn language, though I did come across Padgett's wonderful translation of Blaise Cendrars' poems. Still, it was fascinating looking through French bookshops at all the Max Jacob and Apollinaire and Tzara that isn't in English. Makes me wanna learn French so I can read that stuff. Every time I try to speak French, Spanish comes to mind. I always say "y" instead of "et". I say "con permiso" instead of "scoozaymwa". It's pathetic.

Made contact with Toronto writer and composer Sam Andreyev today and hope to meet with him Sunday for lunch. He's living here in Paris now, lucky guy. Oh! And the weirdest thing happened this evening -- while examining some Moroccan restaurants for dinner, I hear "Is that Stuart Ross?" and up walk Ellie and Sarah Nichol! In this vast, vast city, what were the chances of bumping into them here? We had a great chat -- they're here for pretty much the same week as Dana and I. I was thrilled to hear that Ellie picked up a (second) copy of my Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer to give to the poet Sean O'Huigin, who they'll be visiting next week in Ireland. I had dropped off a copy of Confessions to Ellie a few days before my own trip, because of all the bp content and the bp dedication.

Tomorrow (Saturday): more wanderings and galleries. I'd also like to try to do a bit more writing.

Over and out.

02 June 2005

"I speak English, Wall Street English"

In the Métro, at Bastille station,
a bunny rabbit in yellow pyjamas
warns against
trapping our hands
in the doors.
The force of the closing doors
is of a mighty power.
It's all we can do
to clamp our palms
between our knees
to resist
the doors' stubborn pull.

(written on the Paris Métro, 2 June 05)

A Poem from Norway


- for Gunnar Kopperud

Jungle comrade,
drive me to the cows,
the sheep,
far from the steamshovels
that sidle up in the brief night
to watch me through the window.
Bring me up to the cemetery
in the hills,
where there is a church and
also a church beside it.
Tell me the saga of the surgeon
who separated the conjoined churches,
of the priest who loved
two sisters, or the choir
so magnificent they built
another church for the overflow.
Jungle comrade,
leave me on the banks
of the fjord. Introduce
me to your friends in the ice.

(written on the train from Jaren to Oslo, 30 May 05)


When I went to New York for the first time a year ago, I was stunned that everything was even bigger and more spectacular and more grotesque than I ever imagined. Like Times Square, for example. You can't imagine just how vast and gaudy it is from the glimpses you get on TV and in films.

Well, Paris is like that too, for me. The city seems never to end... there's always some astonishing building just a few blocks further away. Which makes for very very very long walks and very sore legs and feet. The Louvre, for example. I thought it was just some big old building that was really beautiful. In fact, it's practically a kingdom. It stretches on forever. And did you know that Napoleon built it by himself (one night, while everyone else was sleeping; when they woke up and saw it, they really liked it a lot and thought he was a neat guy)?

Here's another thing that was unexpected. On just about every block there's a little Asian takeaway restaurant with tray after tray of excellent dishes at the counter and you point at stuff and then you have a meal. It's very different from Manchu Wok, though I can't express exactly how. Except maybe that the food is really good. And they microwave it for you after you've made your choices. The Oslo equivalent was the kebab joints, which I don't know if I discussed earlier. They were all over the place there -- you'd get this pita stuffed to the gills with lettuce, rice, spicy sauce and some kind of meat (though veg was available). They were deeeeelicious.

Today Dana and I are heading up to Gare du Nord, a train station, where we're going to meet Kim, from Holland, who I met in Guatemala and dated briefly 15 years ago and haven't seen since. I sure hope Kim and Dana like each other. So we'll spend the day up in the north part of Paris, some arrondisement or another in the high teens, and we'll visit Sacre Coeur, whatever that is, and wander around.

We spent much of today in the Georges Pompidou Centre, which is a massive arts complex, and is massive enough that you'd need a few days to see everything there. We concentrated on the 1960-present floor, which was pretty spectacular.

Oh, I should briefly mention the hotel we're staying in. It's called Jeanne D'Arc; the guidebook I used said it was on a quiet street. I imagine that is defined as a lower level of nonstop noise. I love hearing the emergency sirens, because it's like in the movies, but I guess it means that someone's life is in danger somewhere, so it's probably not so cool after all. The room is extraordinarily tiny, but sort of charming. The washroom is a challenge to manoeuvre in, and there are no hooks on the walls anywhere so you can't hang anything much up. Not a particularly economical use of space.

God, I'm fascinating on the topic of Paris!

Over and out.