22 August 2005

Estuardo the Human Weakling

Just got back an hour ago from the Secret Ceremony, a tradition on the last night of Centauri. I can't divulge the nature of the ceremony. It's a secret.

Yesterday, at the Centauri Carnival, I was Estuardo the Human Weakling. I wondered around with a lighter-than-air barbell and read a biography of Jacqueline Susann. The kids seemed to think my character was pretty funny. I kept asking them to hold my barbell so I could rest my arm and turn the page of my book.

Last night I was up till 5 in the morning, typesetting Sugar In My Angst, a little anthology of writing by my campers.

Tonight was the "dress rehearsal" reading; it's really a performance for the whole camp. Tomorrow the parents will be here for the final-day performances. My campers acquitted themselves admirably in their readings.

My brain is full of stuff about my experience here. A very intense 11 days. I hope I'll be invited back for next summer. There's so much more I want to try. And it's been an amazing time, tough as it is.

Gawd, I'm tired.

Over and out.

17 August 2005

I think that I shall never see...

Today for Wizard of Oz dinner I dressed up as an Angry Tree.

Over and out.

16 August 2005

Centauri of the universe

Centauri is going great. I've got 17 kids in my programme, a huge variety of personalities and writing interests, but they all seem very into it. My two "electives" also went really well: "Everything But The Book" and "Sound Poetry Choir."

I'm more comfortable than I thought I might be here: as the newest programme director, I'm like a new kid at the camp. But the other kids are making my integration as easy as possible.

Today was a day off: another programme director and I hit Grimsby for the afternoon. A great time: the curried lentil soup at the Smiling Dog Cafe was a nice reprieve from the decent but unexciting meals at camp. The thrift store on main street offers paperback books for 10 cents and hardcover for 25. Found some amazing things there: James M. Cain, Flannery O'Connor, David Suzuki, and a pulp-paperback biography of Jacqueline Suzanne that I'll have to give to Lynn Crosbie.

There are crickets everywhere. Crickets everywhere. Crickets everywhere.

Over and out.

13 August 2005

Panic in teensville!

The kids arrived yesterday at Centauri. I stood out on the gravel road and waved, smiled, and directed cars towards the parking spaces. I wish I could do that for a living and not have to worry about how long it's been since I've written a poem.

There are about 130 kids here this session, and 17 of them are in my Poetry...with Fiction group. Many of them have taken sessions with Beth Follett before, and they adored and admired her, so that's a tough act to follow. My counsellor/assistant is Alanna. She is full of energy. I am an energy-depleted old geezer. But our first "class" went OK. It was just a brief one -- and it was in a classroom: gotta get my mindset out of school workshops and into camp workshops: i.e., fun is important. But they wrote some really good stuff and I'm looking forward to getting to know them a bit and getting a sense of what they can/want to do.

Last night, though, I was in a panic. Probably it was just partly exhaustion. But I'm supposed to do a 2-hour elective tomorrow afternoon and now, in the reality of being here, I realize the idea I had was awful. I flipped through a pile of books last night, looking for ideas. And then I started freaking over the Sound Poetry Choir I've planned for the day after tomorrow. I haven't done sound poetry in ages. Can I do this?

Anyway, came up with a good one for tomorrow: Everything But The Book. Feeling a little more settled this morning, though I sure am not sleeping well on this little single bed with a mattress that feels like a 1966 car seat. There are crickets inside and crickets outside, but no Buddy Holly.

I'd hoped to devote four or five days prior to Centauri to meticulously planning everything I was going to do, but a big editing job prevented that. My first work for ECW in over a year, and I didn't want to turn it down. I think Cary Fagan and his nasty review of my Confessions book brought me and ECW back together again, at least in a publisher/editor relationship. It was shortly after Fagan called me a "lowlife" and "disshevelled" in his Toronto Star review, and I wrote a letter to the editor saying that ECW and I were "still strangely fond of one another" that they contacted me to renew our fractured friendship.

In other news, I've finally sent off a chunk of my novel to the agent who's been eager to see it. I've never sent anything to an agent before. And I wouldn't have sent it to this one either, because I'm not fond of agents, except that I knew home from his pre-agent days and liked him, and even then he was a big supporter of my work, back when he had little to gain from it. Somehow, though, I think he's gonna read this excerpt and go, "Stuart expects me to sell *this* obscure thing?"

Oh, an addendum to the McFadden launch entry: the restaurant/bar it took place is called Bohemia Havana. It's on St. Clair West near Oakwood. Very nifty place, with a good little bookcase of Cuba books.

Over and out.

11 August 2005

An Innocent in Cuba

Yikes! I've got to leave shortly for Centauri and I still have a million things to do!

Just this, though: went to the launch yesterday for David McFadden's An Innocent in Cuba (buy many copies!), and it was a really nice, cozy event. Among those there: John Barlow, Sharon Harris, Nicky Drumbolis, Victor Coleman, Sam Andreyev, Lynda Curnoe, Dana Samuel, Stan Bevington, Kate Van Dusen, Gord Phinn. David's oddball and humble remarks were wonderful — just remarks, though, no reading from the book. Was that his choice?

Gotta run!

Over and out.

10 August 2005

Bitterness revisited; rabbi redux

Cindy Sheehan is preparing herself for arrest tomorrow outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, and I'm pissed off that people don't thank me enough? Very sad indeed.

Anyway, I've been thinking about that lack of thanks I received from the editor and publisher of Word when I handed in my snort of resignation last month. I was unfair: my editor thanked me several times as I handed in columns over the years; the publisher inserted free ads for my various events in lieu of payment.

Somehow, I'd just been wanting a big final thanks, I guess, but you can't expect people to respond, gratitude-wise, in the exact way you happen to emotionally need it at a given moment.

I'm off to Centauri tomorrow and frantically trying to tie up loose ends and finish projects before I push off. It's hopeless: I won't finish everything before noon. And I got a call today from the agent who wants to see my novel. I've ignored his last two emails because I just couldn't deal with it. We had a nice chat, though, and I'm going to send him 70 pages of it this weekend. I told him that if I don't, he could have all my money, the pick of my poetry books, and my girlfriend, and he could kick me in the ass. I don't think my girlfriend would appreciate being part of this transaction.

I want to write about an amazing chapbook I received from a fantastic, largely unpublished New York poet named Kim Bernstein. But I don't have time to write about it now.

And I want to write about this crazy, anarchic, fascinating CD I received from Steve Rox, a Canuck who lives near Seattle. But I don't have time to write about it now.

My kingdom for seven bonus hours on August 10, seven hours to get things done.

Over and out.

The bravest woman in the USA

On July 19, I blogged about a brief email exchange I had with an American woman whose son had been killed in Iraq. She had been writing rawly but effectively and strongly about Bush's sick policies and I wrote her a letter of support.

Today, that woman, Cindy Sheehan, is holding a sit-in near Bush's Crawford ranch and she refuses to leave until he comes out to speak with her, or until he returns to Washington after his 5-week vacation while people are getting blown to bits in Iraq, or until she is arrested. Right now, the latter scenario looks most likely.

People are streaming in from all over the U.S. to support Sheehan, whose son Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004. She's an incredibly brave and resourceful woman. And I marvel at what one woman is capable of doing. If more and more people in the U.S. stood up like she has done, the world would change.

Over and out.

09 August 2005

Volunteering means never having to say, "You're welcome"

Funny thing, and I hope this doesn't hurt any feelings. Just a point I think needs to be made.

About 15 years ago, I quit doing my hour-long, bi-weekly gospel/doo-wop radio show, "The Upper Room with Brother Stu," at York University's CHRY. It was a volunteer gig I'd been doing for about four years. I gave them my notice and they confirmed the date of my final show so that something else could be put into that slot, but they never thanked me. The volunteer coordinator, the station manager, nobody. Nobody said, "Thanks for your four years of volunteer work here."

I miss doing the radio show, because it really was a blast. I liked spinning my black vinyl black gospel of the 1940s and 1950s.

More recently, on July 19, I sent a note to my editor and publisher at Word that I wouldn't be continuing with my Hunkamooga column, after about four years of volunteer contributions. Now, when I'd broached the possibility of quitting a couple months back, Word's publisher did express appreciation for all my work, in the context of trying to get me to reconsider.

But now that I've actually quit, not a word on the topic. Here's what I'd have written me: "We're sorry to see you go. Thanks for all your good work over the years."

My suspicion is this: Word is run by people who are in the small press for the love of it -- no one's making any money off this thing. I don't think they're ungrateful, but maybe they're just so busy trying to keep things going, it simply didn't occur to them to thank me.

On the subject of thanks, here's another thing that's been bugging me for a while. Last May, I think it was, I invited some Ottawa writer friends to Toronto to do a reading in my irregular Kat Biscuits! series at Yammy the Cat: Peter Norman, Melanie Little, and Stephen Brockwell, all excellent writers and rare readers in this city. Although the previous three Kat Biscuit! events were standing-room only (about 30 or 40 people), I wanted to match them up with a local writer, a) to let our visitors see some local talent, and b) to ensure an audience. I try to book local people who just about never do readings: I asked Sharon Harris, who I knew was wrapping up her first major poetry manuscript, who had just had a chapbook out from BookThug, and who is a tireless documenter of Toronto poetry events on her iloveyougalleries.com website. Out of the goodness of her very big heart, and presumably out of a love for the Toronto poetry community, she has photographed dozens of events over the past several years, archiving them on her site.

So what happens when someone gives so much to a community and asks for nothing in return? Well, we had an audience of maybe six. I think two of them came specifically to hear Sharon (one of them was Word's editor, by the way). Where were all the self-satisfied Lexiconjurers? Where were all the people who are always so happy to have their photos appear on Sharon's website?

The bottom line is this: they should have been there. And not just because Sharon has given so much to the community, but because she's a really good writer and she was giving one of her first-ever feature readings. And because we had three visitors from Ottawa who deserved our interest.

That said, the four writers were very gracious and had no complaints, gave good readings and said they enjoyed themselves, and the small audience that was there had a very good time. I'm the only one griping about this.

I've got a couple friends coming in from England in September, and I promised them long ago that I'd organize a reading for them. I'm going to go through with it, but frankly, I'm very scared that no one will show up.

Over and out.

06 August 2005

I see my future in front of Shoppers Drug Mart

So Dana and I pop into Shoppers at Bathurst and St. Clair late the other evening. I need to pick up some bug repellent and other stuff for my journey to Centauri later this week.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had a wonderful visit with Sam Andreyev, who is visiting from Paris. (See fhole.blogspot.com for details about Sam's excellent return to the chapbook world! See Torporvigil.com for info on Sam's wonderfully demented song CDs.) On the topic of children, I lamented that my lack of any will mean a horrible, destitute, lonely life in my later years. Well, I didn't say exactly those words, but that's how I often feel. Another thing we talked about was David McFadden, who is a close friend of Sam's family -- had been a very close friend of Sam's late uncle, Greg Curnoe. We discussed how McFadden is way neglected in this country, and we compared our favourite books of his.

Anyway, outside of Shoppers Drug Mart there are traditionally two milk crates inhabited by rough-looking characters with their palms out, asking for money. As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I saw a familiar face in front of me. It took a long time to register as I stared into those dark brown eyes: it couldn't be. Not sitting there in front of Shoppers, unshaven, a little haggard, with his palm out. He was nearly expressionless as we stared at each other.

It was David McFadden.

He stood as I approached him and he said, "Spare some change?" Then he grinned, and I nervously introduced him to Dana, told him I'd RSVP'd about his Wednesday book launch for An Innocent In Cuba (or is it An Innocent in Havana?). We exchanged a few other remarks, small talk. I asked him if the sexy brown body on the cover of his book was him in drag. And then we went our separate ways. As he walked off, the guy on the other milk crate asked him for change. David said, "I think I can do that," and reached into his pocket.

In my car, I told Dana I was a little freaked out. She told me that when we were at the cash at Shoppers, she'd seen this guy walk along the sidewalk, see me through the window, and break into a big grin. Then he sat himself on the crate and waited for me to come out.

Damn, that McFadden! Mr. Mischief! I guess that's what makes him my favourite poet in this country, but I swear, for a few moments that night, I thought I was seeing my own future.

Over and out.

05 August 2005

Bloggamooga attracts entrepreneurial interest

Some very helpful responses to the question of how to deal with the New poems from my New & Selected. I'm going to go with one piece of advice: if the poem *belongs* in my new book, it'll go in. And, as someone else pointed out, those poems already have a good "resting place" in Hey, Crumbling Balcony!

Got together with Kubsch last night. He wants to take over my blog and manage it. I'll still write it, but he'll be in charge. He says provocative things like that a lot. Perhaps he can elucidate his business plan here in one of his notorious anonymous comments. It was a fun time out, though, starting off at Las Iguanas and winding up on the rooftop of the otherwise thoroughly mediocre Paupers. Didn't have all that many pints, but I'm feeling it this morning. A bit of hangover mixed in with a dose of hay fever and a generous dollop of anxiety edging towards panic.

When the fuck is George W. Bush finally going to fall?

And for god's sake, would someone please clean my apartment!

Over and out.

01 August 2005

My next poetry book, and also teaching

I was talking to Kevin the other day about my next book of poetry — when and what and where that might be — and he asked me a question that sent me for a loop. In fact, I'd asked myself the same question, but immediately dismissed it as absurd. See, my next book of poetry, perhaps to be titled New Hope for the Disenfranchised, or, as per a more recent thought, Men of Our Girth, is one that I want to be modest: maybe 50 or 60 pages. I have about 40 manuscript pages of new poetry now, so I'm getting there, I'm getting there.

But Kevin asked, "Will you include poems from the 'New' section of your New & Selected?"

I'd thought of that, because the 'New' section of such a book never really has a life of its own. It appears in a book that contains three-quarters old stuff. In some ways, it disappears. It doesn't get to be part of a "new phase of writing," or "a blob of recent writing," or whatever a new collection is. The new poems from Hey, Crumbling Balcony! were mainly from 2002 and 2003, when the book was published. Are they part of the poems that came before them or the poems that I've written since. I'd like to include about half of them in my new book, because I think they'd fit well.

Is that done?

Also, that would mean the new book is finished. Incorporate those poems and the manuscript is ready to send out.

Any thoughts are appreciated. (Although I never respond on-blog to comments, I do read them, and sometimes respond personally to whoever commented.)

But this is all a distraction from what I'm currently immersing myself in (aside from the quicksand paper heaps of my chaos-strewn apartment): teaching poetry. Next week I head off to Centauri for a couple of weeks' teaching poetry to teens. I was thinking about the first time I taught poetry-writing to children: they were in grades 3 to 6, I think, and I was in high school. I think I did it as part of a sociology course (the teacher, who hated me, failed me; but the "department head" gave me a credit anyway). Anyway, what I remember is that I made kids write poems, then I collected them, and I took them home and corrected the spelling and grammar, and then returned them.

Isn't that fucking horrible? I corrected the spelling and grammar. I was confused, I guess, about whether I was an editor or a writing teacher. I mean, spelling and grammar are important, but they have their time and place.

Anyway, I've come a long way. But I wish I hadn't remembered my horrible beginnings in the teaching racket.

Over and out.