26 July 2005

I Cut My Finger

In the process of figuring out the logistics of going to the Kootenays again -- in October and again in March. I had an amazing time there last spring. This time I've been invited to Nelson and Castlegaar in the fall, and back to New Denver in the spring. I hate making travel arrangements -- turns me into a neurotic mess. So I'll put it off just a little longer. Here's the poem I wrote for distribution in New Denver, Nakusp, Cranbrook, and Kimberley on the last trip, where I did workshops in schools and readings in the communities.

Over and out.


A mountain was on the ground.
I don’t know how it got there, probably a thing
regarding the earth.
I walked up it quick but it was high
and took a long time. I thought
maybe Mom and Dad and Owen would be there,
or at least floating above it.
Oh the adventures I had climbing,
let me recount them (in case I counted
wrong the first time). Numerous
calendar pages flipped by
like in a movie you saw,
and then I was on top.

I tried calling Dana but there wasn’t any phone
and I cut my finger dialling
a rock. The bad thing was
there was nobody up there,
and nobody floating above.
Not even a store when I felt like Chiclets.

But I could feel my tired brain wobbling,
and I sat down and got ready to think:
and then I thought: I thought that for me
mountains are big solid things poking into the air,
like at god, but for people for who solid
is the absence of solid,
then they’ve got upside-down mountains
pointing down at earth.

I rested a bit,
then came back down.

6-7 April 2005

My kingdom for a replicant

Amazing visit with Joe on Friday. We poked around Windsor briefly, visited an excellent bookstore called Biblioasis, which also publishes small-press books, including Goran Simic's latest. Anyway, the guy at the cash, Dan, recognized me and said he's seen me read before. Joe was tickled being with such a celebrity. I picked up a nice hardback copy of Ashbery's Girls on the Run, and also Simic's book.

Joe then took me to Detroit for a few hours. It was eye-opening. I really had no idea. I mean, I thought it was a city with some bad areas. It's actually a city with a few good areas. The decay and devastation was astounding. The magnificent train station, unused for however long since the train stopped coming through, stands in a barren area, fenced in, most windows shattered. Neighbourhoods full of once-regal Victorian homes are now near-slums. The city is broke, Joe explains. There's no money to clean up the crumbling structures, or to revivify what's left. We stopped at a convenience store in a neighbourhood called Mexicantown. The guy at the cash was behind a bullet-proof window and we had to pay through a little slot and place our purchases on a turntable so he could access them.

The downtown is beautiful, though, and the waterfront features a great sculpture commemorating the Underground Railroad, and nearby is the Union Ring, an amazing tribute to labour and labourers, with quotes from Emma Goldman (!!!), Woody Guthrie, ML King, and others. You can read a bit about it here: http://retaildetroit.com/monuments/The_Union_Ring.htm

We went back to Windsor, had a few drinks in our "regular" bar, the Aard-vaark. Great place. A few hours of beer, some food, and chatting, and then Joe and I went our separate ways. We've agreed to make the Windsor meeting an annual event.

Oh, and I need a replicant because I have way too much to do. Just accepted a job from ECW, my first after more than a year and a bad falling-out. Like I've got time to do the thing. Couldn't turn it down, though. I need the work, and definitely wanted to renew my editing relationship with the press. Long as we keep things professional.

Meanwhile, I've promised big writing projects to Lichen and YYZ Zine.. And I've got prepare for Centauri. And finish a MS evaluation by Wednesday. And clean my disastrous apartment.

God, this is the most boring blog ever.

Over and out.

20 July 2005

A novel happening

I can't remember the last time I finished reading an entire novel. Oh yes, I can. About 10 minutes ago. A fat mystery novel by George P. Pelecanos called Hell To Pay. It was a gripping read, though a little sappy at times. Some great street lingo. My favourite word in it is "sumshit." As in "You know, sumshit like that."

I aspire to finish reading another novel this year. I leave so many things only begun. And not just novels.

I told the Word folks I would no longer write the Hunkamooga column for them. Only three times a year, published online -- just didn't feel right to me. Hoping I can continue my association with Word, in some form. Hoping I can find a new home for Hunkamooga. Any ideas?

Perhaps I'll put up a recent poem tomorrow. That would make me feel like a writer again.

Over and out.

19 July 2005

A tale of two Joes

Last night, for my birthday, Dana took me to see Joe Pernice at Lee's Palace. An amazing concert. Joe's guitar was all sweaty from working so hard. I hadn't noticed before how many of his songs are just so damn pretty, too. A good respite from the swamp. And bumped into some neat friends there, too.

I read a really moving anti-war article linked to informationclearinghouse.info today -- it was by the mother of a soldier killed last year in Iraq. It was smart and brave, and said things that so badly need to be said. I wish she could have read it out on CNN -- and Fox, for that matter.

Anyway, I wrote her a very quick note, commending her for the article, and wishing her well in her attempts to save American and Iraqi lives. I got a brief note of thanks back, and somehow that microscopic connection with someone who actually lost a child in Bush's war of greed made it all that much more real to me. Just her few words of thanks were somehow more vital than 500 hours of CNN coverage.

Speaking of Americans, this Friday I meet with another Joe -- a friend I made in Guatemala in 1989 -- in Windsor, not too far from Ann Arbor, where he lives. This will be our second annual Windsor Convention. Joe's one of the smartest, finest, most decent people I know. There seem to be many such Americans. Gonna be a nice day.

In the meantime, trying to get the tax monkey off my back, and trying to finish a freelance editing job, and playing too much online chess. Fighting off the panic caused by looming travel to Yellowknife, the Kootenays, Ottawa, Chile, and the Kootenays again. Plus a couple weeks at Centauri Summer Arts Camp, near Grimsby, where I'm teaching poetry and fiction to teens.

On the upside, had a great workshop on Saturday at This Ain't. My "students" were all very pleased, and it felt good to know I'm good at something.

Over and out.

15 July 2005

The worst kind of monkey

A subdued return to Toronto, capped by the acquisition of a Revenue Canada monkey on my back. Alana says that's "the worst kind of monkey." But I deserve said banana-consumer for being a chronic late filer. Now I am paying.

The babysitting gig wth Devon was a lot of fun. We invented the Nose Game, in which, for example, I hold my nose with thumb and forefinger and beep out a little rhythm, using high and low notes. He then holds his nose and repeats my "tune," then leads off the next round. We also did a sound poem based on the word "Google" and on dogs in space. I enjoyed the evening so much, and it was nice to know that Clint and Julie were off on a rare evening out themselves, seeing a movie.

Paid a visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery too. I'm too morose over the Revenue Canada thing at the moment to talk about it, but man, there was some excellent stuff in the contemporary exhibits. Wandered briefly through the Rodin exhibition, and the most striking thing there was a massive B&W photo of his funeral -- Rodin's coffin sitting in front of The Thinker, with hundreds of men crowding around.

Astonishingly, I wrote about 15 pages of poetry in the past week, mainly on the planes to and from Vancouver. The new Big Poem is coming along pretty well. It's a very cathartic piece in which I get sort of emotional. But hopefully not crappy.

Tomorrow is a Poetry Boot Camp at This Ain't the Rosedale Library. I think I have seven participants. Gonna try out some new experiments on them.

Please don't feed the monkey.

Over and out.

11 July 2005

Do Think

Monday morning. Devon is scraping away at his bowl, the last of his yoghurt gone. Clint is getting ready to take him to day camp. Julie has gone off to work. I volunteered to look after Devon tonight, so C & J can have a night off. Babysitting tips are welcome.

The West Coast Poetry Festival is over. Aside from the atrocious slam elements, it was pretty good -- excellent attendance at most events, the public got in free, the readers got paid. I think I went to about half the events. Tish night on Saturday featured Fred Wah, Jamie Reid, and George Bowering. Bowering devoted his entire set to reading Do Sink, which was amazing. Yesterday I read with Chrystalene, Mari-Lou Rowling, and Christian B-b-b-b-b-b-b-ök. Just before reading, Chrystalene, who apparently does some slam stuff heard me slamming slam to some slam fan man. I felt terrible. Anyway, the readings all went well -- I was going to read "I Am the King of Poetry" from Confessions Of A Small Press Racketeer, but on the bus to the venue, Clint had expressed his enthusiasm for challenging audiences, so I switched up at the last minute to "Platen Place," and generally avoided the easy-laugh poems, except for my Heidi Fleiss letter.

I enjoyed Mari-Lou's reading, especially when it veered away from performance stuff. And Chrsystalene was pretty good; if she lost the "spoken word" delivery, her stuff would be even stronger. I hate being directed how to respond to work through its delivery; I hate the obviousness of spoken word delivery. I was relieved that I could say good things to her afterwards. Christian gave his usual muscular performance, and his sound poetry delivery keeps getting better. He kicked off with Schwitters' Ursonata, as he often (always?) does, and said after it, "This is widely regarded as the most difficult poem to perform." OK, man, you've just done a masterful performance -- do you have to brag after it? He also did this all-sound, kinda techno-voice thing that I can't recall the title of, but it was pretty spectacular.

Nice post-show beer-consumption at the Hildon, a very Vancouver experience. Also nice to see Renee Rodin (Saturday afternoon for some Chinese food) after a couple years -- she has a chapbook coming out, which is an event, since she publishes so rarely.

The festival was only four days long, but it feels like about two weeks. That's what happens with these things.

Over and out.

10 July 2005

Number One Stupid

Slam poetry is number one stupid.

Slam poetry is not poetry.

Slam poetry causes pain in my chest.

Why does something calling itself a "Poetry Festival" include slam poetry?

Oh mammy, I'm not well.

Over and out.

09 July 2005

the scariest van in van

West Coast Poetry Festival last night: a program featuring Oni the Haitian Sensation, Evalyn Parry, and Sheri-D Wilson. Sheri-D phoned in sick. I was not heartbroken. I'm a huge fan of Evalyn's music so it was great to see her do a strictly-spoken-word performance, as she and Oni traded off poems a couple at a time. They are both amazing performers, and there was a pretty big crowd, and they pleased that crowd. (God, everything at this festival seems so well-attended; maybe that's what happens when all events are free.) I gave Oni a poetry leaflet afterwards and she asked me to sign it and I signed it, "Stuart the Russian Concussion." That is my new performing name. I think it'll mean a new level of wealth and notoriety.

Next event featured Wayde Compton and his collaborator Jason (last name?) on turntables, which was a neat way to see Wayde perform. Beats and sweet singing mixing with pomo and social theory. I liked it all right. Also good was Hilary Peach, who apparently I read with 15 years ago, but my memory is pathetic so I'd forgotten. Anyway, her quirky not-exactly-spoken-word performance was intelligent, deliberately naive, mildly surreal; I bought her CD and am looking forward to checking it out. Last up was Alexis O'Hara, who the crowd (of 200!! 200!!) loved, but I wasn't entirely sold on her. She works with echos and tape loops and stuff, building up backing tracks for these strange repetitive narratives she weaves. I liked the first piece well enough, but the next three didn't seem to do anything new. The irony was laid on a bit heavy for me. But maybe I'm too old for this stuff.

Frankly, I just like plain old readings of really good poems.

Afterwards, some drinks at the bizarre Brickhouse with a bunch of the festival people. I mainly talked with Evalyn and her partner Suzanne, who were both great folks (as George W. Bush would say), and I drank two draft beers (Raven cream ale) which are at this moment, the next morning, causing me to suffer greatly. I ride back to Clint's with Johnny Frim in the most rattling, erratic van I have ever climbed into. Johnny was telling me some very intricate story concerning twelve bundles of roof shingles, and was so excited that he was veering in every direction on these narrow, parked-car-lined streets. It was terrifying. But I survived.

Over and out.

08 July 2005

George Vancouver

bill bissett and Susan Musgrave opened up the West Coast Poetry Festival last night here in Vancouver, at the Vancouver Public Library. One of the weirdest readings -- both, over the years, have become equal parts stand-up comic and poet. In fact, they indulged in so much schtick that they each only got around to about to perhaps half a dozen poems in their half-hour slots. Good poems, though, and much of the schtick was pretty funny. Been fascinating watching Musgrave weave tales of Stephen Reid into her patter over the past decade: funny references, with mildly exasperated affection.

The big surprise for me was to walk into the room last night and see... Steven Roxborough -- the Ozzy Osbournesque performance poet I met in Kimberley this past spring -- the guy who has edited the homage-to-bissett anthology with Jeff Pew. Rox, as he is commonly known, drove all the way up from some place near Seattle to see bill's reading. We sat right up front and guffawed together. He's a neat guy, all right. Good to see him out of the context of the Kootenays, where I was simply overwhelmed by everything around me.

I've been wondering why I keep a blog, as I'm sure many bloggers do. I'm confused about whether I'm writing to you or to me. I think it's to both. I think it's to keep my thoughts and issues organized. Maybe I can sleep better. I don't really know. It's a neat discipline, though, especially for someone as scattered as I am.

Still mulling over the future of my Hunkamooga column in Word. On further inspection, not only is it going to be published first on the Web, and then in a thrice-yearly compendium later on, but also I'd only be doing three columns a year instead of five or six. That really changes the nature of the column, because it doesn't allow for much continuity, much flow. I'm wondering if there is another home for Word, a physical mag where it could appear more frequently.

Started the other day, I think I mentioned, on what will be a book-length poem. It's really coming along. I've incorporated an old, longish poem into it, a poem that's already appeared in Razovsky At Peace and Hey Crumbling Balcony! I've rejigged it slightly, and may alter it some more, and it's a good exercise in breaking down the sacredness of an already-published piece.

In a couple hours I'm going to meet Dave and Alison at Pulp Fiction on Main, and in the meantime going to do some thift-store snooping for books. Like I need more books. Tonight: more West Coast Poetry Festival. It's nice to be here in Vancouver, and staying at Clint and Julie's home. Maybe if the rain and mist abate, I'll be able to see the mountains. Rumour has it they're around here somewhere.

Over and out.

06 July 2005

In my mailbox

A couple of interesting things came in the mail this week:

1) A tartan yarmulke, sent to me, I believe, by Jack David, with a note saying "Your dream yarmulke." What a thoughtful guy!

2) A wonderful package from debby florence in missoula, montana. It contains two issues of her amazing zine Search Engine; her reprint of her chapbook My Defense For Why I Talk So Much, which I originally published through my Proper Tales Press; a prose chapbook called Planet X, by her friend Madeline Ffitch. This is great stuff, all of it. I love how different the formats of the two Search Engines are. More on debby and by debby at umbrellatooth.com and slumgullion.org. she's one of those Americans I just wish would defect to Canada.

I was trying to recall how I met debby. I believe it began with a Minneapolis visit to Joe, who I met in Guatemala in 1989. jwcurry told me to look up Michael Mann, a poet and sometime creative-writing teacher at a free school in St. Paul. Michael invited me to come read at his school, and I sat out on the lawn while the students talked about poetry, listened to me reading, and wove little hippie crowns for each other out of flowers, grass, and vines. One of those students was debby.

A few years later, debby and some of her friends came to Toronto to visit and to sell their zine Bomb Threat Checklist at the Small Press Book Fair. They stayed at the home of my friend Charles, an artist who at the time made voodoo dolls and who now co-owns a dumpling shop in Manhattan. I met Charles through my friend Anne, who used to work at Book City, outside of which I once sold my books on the street. Anne and I had a brief thing and I followed her down to Central America (the thing ceased, but Central America was life-changing), where I met Joe. That's not exactly a full circle, but it just goes to show how intricate is this thing called life.

A couple of days ago, someone I knew a little and quite liked decided to exit this intricate thing called life. Suddenly that person's exhalations are no longer mingling with mine and yours in this smoggy city, and that is terribly sad. Terribly sad that life can become so painful that absence of everything seems a desirable alternative.

Over and out.

05 July 2005


I like when I find a poem that I'd forgotten writing. Like the one that follows -- I wrote it for the "Heart of the Poet" filming at the Avenue Diner. I needed a good burger poem and thought the one Maureen requested I write was too obscure. So I wrote a new one.


I was just a young hamburger, a hamburger
wandering from bun to bun, I did not care,
reading Proust and Beckett and Eluard,
dreaming of a tiny apartment in Paris,

while the other burgers played football and
fought in the alleys with switchblades, spilling
their condiments in their reckless wake.
At night, I nestled beneath a bed

of sautéed onions and shivered,
an orphan of ground flesh whose
visceral nightmares made sleep a world
of terror. Someone once told me

of a thing called love, and also
a thing called lightning, and I
watched the skies for both,
peered longingly through the frail wisps

of cloud that drifted amidst
the airplanes. I was a young hamburger,
and Paris was just a page in a book
that was wrenched from my grasp

by a dark-suited man with a red necktie
who said that the world had changed.

I'm reading this weekend in Vancouver at the West Coast Poetry Festival, so I'll bring this one along, as I like reading poems I've rarely read before.

Over and out.

04 July 2005

Music, not Aaron Brown!

What I've really got to do is turn off the background of CNN and replace it with music. I once loved music. I just lost it.

I'm going to walk over to my TV and turn it off and put on some music right now.

There we go. Bill Laswell's Sacred System/Nagual Site fills the room. A new phase of my life begins.

I need a new phase, because I haven't gotten back on whatever horse I'm supposed to be on since my trip to the Kootenays last spring. I did go to three days of training last week for Centauri Summer Arts Camp, and that was a blast! I learned a lot, met heaps of neat people, got lots of fresh air. Now I can't wait for August 10 when I head back to camp to actually do my Poetry... With Fiction! workshop. It's going to be quite a ride -- there are 130 kids aged 9 through 18, plus about 40 staff members at Centauri. The dining hall gets a little loud, and everyone is in camp mode. Camp mode doesn't come naturally to me, but I'm gonna do my best to be something approaching high energy and upbeat.

On the way to camp on Thursday, I met up with my friends Steve and Anne, and their children George and Eloia, from Minnesota, who were on their way to Niagara Falls. We convened in a great vegetarian joint called the Sleeping Dog Coffee House in beautiful downtown Grimsby and had about an hour and a half to catch up on the previous eight years. I met Steve and Anne through my dear friend Joe, a Minnesotan I met in 1989 in Guatemala. Joe and I are going to engineer our second annual Windsor Convening later this month -- me driving in from Toronto for the day and Joe from Ann Arbor, where he lives now with his wife, Suzanne.

In other news, today I started what I hope will become a book-length poem. I will not reveal the subject yet. It sure felt good to write some poetry, though. I'm hoping I can add to it each day, and let each day control the way the poem evolves, keeping intact the central topic.

Wrestling over another publishing dilemma now: Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar, where I write my Hunkamooga column every two weeks, is going electronic, with a thrice-yearly physical document of the online content. I'm really attached to actual corporeal books and magazines, and don't know if I want to continue writing Hunkamooga for an online publication. I think I don't.

It's nice having this music on in the background. If I can keep the news off, and just catch up with the daily Globe & Mail, my life will be a better place. It began on that trajectory last night when Dana and I actually had a barbecue -- her landlords were gone for the weekend and had offered up their grill and backyard. It was nice. It made me want to own a house.

Over and out.