24 October 2005

Go, Badgers!

Was blessedly able to sleep in. Met Dana for lunch at a great little veggie place called Get Real near her gallery. Checked on this new used bookstore called Babel, on Ossington near Queen. It was incredible, and I bought a whole lotta stuff: a poetry book by Sharon Olds, a poetry book by Joe Rosenblatt, an autobiography of Sam Fuller, and a documentary DVD called Shanghai Ghetto. It's so great to find an excellent used bookstore I haven't been to before. It's so nice that there are options other than the Neo-Nazi-friendly BMVs.

At home: did some grant applications, then played some online chess at GameKnot.com, and had a nice chat while playing with a guy whose handle is limonbadgerfan -- he's from Limon, Colorado, but is living in San Diego now because he wanted to be near the ocean.

After he beat me, I wrote him a poem:


The government was bugging me.
I was gloomy.
CNN was on in the background.
A thing about guys getting killed
because other guys were mean.
I was playing chess
with a guy near the ocean.
I did this with my computer.
I told him the ocean’s
got a lot of water in it,
it’s full of fish.
After he checkmated me,
he walked out his door.
The ocean *was* full of water!
He waded in
and saw there were fish.
He ate them with French fries.
Later in the day,
he sliced up a lemon,
put it in a pitcher of water.
He refreshed all his friends.
When he slept that night,
the ocean peered through his window.

24 October 2005

Over and out.

It's late, I'm cold, where's sleep?

Man, it's a little after 2 a.m. and I just woke up from a fitful brief sleep that probably lasted about 20 minutes. In my feverish dream, there was stuff about my dad and mom, as there often is, and my brother Barry was there, wearing a baseball cap with a small American flag sewn onto it. I think the guilt of not having spoken to Barry in a few months is what woke me up. My teeth ache: from grinding: either because it's way cold in my bedroom (I just turned on the space heater) or out of anxiety.

What an exhausting weekend!

Saturday's teen writers' conference went really well, overall, though I rushed through my closing remarks (because everything was behind schedule), and wish I could do them over again. I did include a short excerpt from my novel-in-progress to round off my closing remarks, and that felt good. My opening remarks seemed to get a positive response, and then it was blue pencil session after blue pencil session after blue pencil session. About a dozen of them over the course of the day: a new kid and new writing every 20 minutes. I really enjoyed those: man, there are some mighty confident teenagers out there. Most were very interested in what I had to say, and had questions for me; only a couple seemed disappointed that I had anything to say aside from the fact that they were brilliant.

Angela Rawlings was there to do a poetry workshop, and during the morning intro's she was cutting paper into strips and I was dying to know what she did in her workshop! Mark Truscott was there, too, but strictly in his capacity of hubby to Lisa Heggum, a librarian for teens who's pretty involved in these teen library events. Edo Van Belkom... man, I hadn't seen him in many years, and it was about two decades ago that we'd worked together at York U's Excalibur. He looks the same. The first thing he did was gripe about how we probably wouldn't get paid for a couple of weeks: he griped to everyone around: I would suspect that as a horror-novel writer -- i.e., a writer who actually makes some money sometimes from his writing -- the payment thing was more of a concern than it was for us poets. Great to see Edo. And he didn't call me "Beef Stu" as he used to at Excalibur. Other writers presenting workshops included the playwright Judith Thompson, graphic novelist Marc Ngui, who's such a sweet guy and who was in Yellowknife blazing the trail the year before me, and dub poet Clifton Joseph.

It was a long day.

And so was Sunday.

An all-day Poetry Boot Camp at This Ain't the Rosedale Library. Followed two nights of only four hours' sleep. I had six students this time, which was a few fewer than I'd have liked, but I was out of town so much beforehand that I didn't get to promote it as much as I'd have liked to. But it still went really well: interestingly, Marvynne Jenoff, a poet who has had a few books published, and whose work I remember first noticing when I was in high school, took the Boot Camp. She was a great addition to the group, really raised the bar quality-wise too. Nice also to have another "established" poet to call on when participants were asking for advice on various things. Pretty much good writing all around, and I tried out quite a few different exercises today, some of which I will definitely use again.

But yeah, another long day.

The coming week'll be easier, even with a reading Thursday night and the Small Press Book Fair on Saturday.

Time to hunker down to my novel.

But first time to sleep.

Over and out.

22 October 2005

Attack of the teen writers

In a few hours, just a few hours, I will be delivering the opening remarks for Toronto Public Library's Young Voices Writers Conference, a gathering for teen writers. Then I'll be doing blue pencil sessions all day, while writers including Edo Van Belkom (who I worked with 20 years ago at the York University paper Excalibur), Angela Rawlings, Marc Ngui, Clifton Joseph and Judith Thompson do workshops with the kids. I'll close the conference off with some writing tips and an excerpt from my novel progress.

This gig is connected to my position as Electronic Writer in Residence for TPL, which I've been doing since mid-September.

If I wasn't so dead tired right now, I'd be excited about it.

Over and out.

20 October 2005

I live in Toronto, and at all hours

I want to thank the people who write comments on my blog. I'm humbled that you find this stuff interesting, or amusing. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I've decided (with rare exceptions) not to respond to the comments here on my blog, though sometimes I send a personal note along, if I have an email address to write to.

But I want you to know that I read your comments!

Anyway, here I am in Toronto. Getting used to the idea again. So great to see Dana and talk with my friends. But my north/west tour left a real impression on me. Yellowknife seems like ages ago, but still it's vivid. And the Kootenays seem like this morning. And I'm longing to be back in the log house my cousin Fern built.

Sigh. (I used to know a guy in public school named Cy Stanway. I used to own a vinyl record by Stan Ridgeway. Tonight, on my way out to the IGA, I found a stack of vinyl 45's sitting atop my neighbour's trash. I scooped them up, but haven't looked at them yet. I'm willing to bet that one of those singles is "My Sharona.")

I have a busy weekend and then I'm going to write like crazy. And I've got to come up with something to publish for the Toronto Small Press Book Fair on October 29. Wish I could get another Syd & Shirley done, but that will wait a little longer.

I could imagine living in Edmonton. Within striking distance of the Kootenays, the log house, Banff, and even Yellowknife.

I'm rambling. It's 3:33 a.m.

I wonder if Joe and Suz are parents now.

The girl from Castlegar who commented on my blog has a great blog herself, with excellent photos of her noble dog, and also mushrooms and ants.

Saddam Hussein appointed himself well this morning, the first day of his trial, although CNN had "The Trail of Saddam Hussein" up on the screen for the longest time. I hope Saddam gets convicted, and then I hope they put George W. Bush on trial, or trail. And then they convict him. And then they spare them both the death penalty and lock them up together in a 5x5-metre cell. And Saddam, who reads books, reads aloud to George. And George covers his ears and yells, "There's too many adjectives!"

Dana found a new apartment, just around the corner from where she lives now. It sounds pretty darn good. It's got a study. Someday I'll have a study.

Over and out.

17 October 2005

I make a difficult career choice

I'm home at last. Bagged. I'd be double-bagged, but I'm ecology-conscious.

Saturday night in Nelson: went to Fluid to see Cuff the Duke, who'd I'd heard of and was vaguely aware of. Opening band was the Old Soul. The joint was empty when I arrived at 10, except for this tireless dude on the dancefloor teaching swing-dancing to a couple of girls, with recorded swing music playing. I drank beer and watched the swing-dancing lessons.

Eventually Aaron and Toni, my Spokane friends, arrived. We hung out. Drank beer. Talked a little politics, a bad idea since Aaron was in the army and navy, and gets a little touchy around Bush-bashing.

A girl with hula hoops arrived. I was confused. Toni explained that girls bring hula hoops to concerts and hula on the dancefloor. That sounded like fun.

One of my favourite novels is Hula, by Lisa Shea. I think it's the only thing she's ever written, but it's fabulous and beautiful and I recommend it to everyone. Very short novel, just the way I like 'em.

About 11:30, the Old Soul take the stage, and they're amazing. Really upbeat and fun, and unusual too. The horn player is a bald, bespectacled guy in a porkpie hat. He looks familiar to me. Then they mention that they're from Toronto, and I realize I've seen him on Queen West about 8 billion times. I bob my head to their music. I watch the hula girl. I'm getting really sick of the swing-dance guy who is still out there working his now-tiresome magic. He's a one-trick pony, and it becomes really apparent when he's still swing-dancing to Cuff the Duke, who are sorta alt-country and depressing. A couple of wiry girls are dancing by themselves in extremely eccentric and creative ways.

I think drugs are involved. But I'm just sayin'.

I talk to the lead singer for Old Soul, a nice fella named Luka. I buy their CD. He says this Nelson audience is amazing (even though the club is mainly empty — maybe 50 or so people are there), and he really likes their unself-conscious dancing.

The swing-dance guy is not unself-conscious. Every time he does a really fancy move, like swingin' some girl around his head and under his legs and over his shoulders, he looks up to make sure people are watching him.

After the show, Aaron and Toni come to my motel room where I have two very big bottles of Corona that I'm not going to get to before I leave. We hang out and talk a bit. I give them a book. It's funny when you're travelling and you hang out with people you wouldn't normally hang out with. But they're nice. I walk them back towards their hotel, and we witness scores of really really really fucked-up teenagers on the streets of Nelson at 2:30 a.m.

And so ends my night.

Sunday involves 20 hours of travel and waiting for planes, and then I'm home, Monday morning, today.

I want to be a writer when I grow up.

Over and out.

15 October 2005

Do you know the way to Hipperson's Hardware?

It's all becoming such a blur. All this travelling from place to place. I think it was yesterday I arrived in Nelson, a town I'd only passed through once before, last spring, when I discovered -- upon noticing Hipperson Hardware -- that it was the setting for a favourite David McFadden poem: Secrets of the Universe.

Really nice afternoon with Linda and Fred Crosfield just outside Castlegar. Linda is one of the four women behind the Kootenay School of Writing, here in Nelson, where Tom Wayman started it up so many years ago. She's a poet, and a maker of pretty excellent handmade books. Ted turns wood, or spins wood, or however he put it. He has a huge studio on their amazing property where he makes wooden bowls, trays, beer-keg handles, whatever. Great craftsman, very funny guy. Told me the different between arts and crafts: "With art, you can only piss on it; with crafts, you can piss into it."

We had some supernaturally good borscht from a tiny place in Castlegar, and then they drove me to Nelson, where it was soon time for dinner at Eileen Delahanty Pearkes' place, another beautiful home, and dinner with a family, and a much less religious saying of grace than I experienced way back last week in Yellowknife at the Dennises'. Eileen is the another member of the KSW quartet.

The evening reading at Nelson Municipal Library went well, if a little modestly attended. I guess about a dozen people showed up; I read, answered questions, sold half a dozen books. Really nice, as always, to read to a completely new audience, though I had the feeling I hadn't made the best selections. Anyway, they seemed happy enough with me.

A night at Mike's Place followed, where a Spokane couple befriend me sitting at the bar. Aaron, hearing that I was a writer, said that Toni had read him the first couple of pages of an Anne Rice novel: "Man, that was weird. All those adjectives!" And he splapped me hard on the back, as he would do so many more times that evening. And he's a big, big guy. Apparently Spokane is only 3 hours from here; and he told me that Missoula is a mere 5 or so. Had I known that, I mighta tried to meet up with debby florence & family while I was here. Next time....

This morning's Boot Camp at the library was great: 8 people; 4 hours. And I tried out some exercises I hadn't inflicted before, and they wrote very good stuff, and they enjoyed it. Felt good that my final event on the Western Tour was successful. And I made some money too, so that doesn't hurt.

Gonna go for a walk along the waterfront in a bit, and I picked up a ticket to see Cuff The Duke at a bar called Fluid tonight. My last night in Nelson. I am now officially eager to get home. See Dana, check my mail, get ready for next weekend, which'll be a busy one.

I wonder if the folks in Hipperson's Hardware know that their place is the subject of a poem by Canada's best.

Over and out.


Before heading out to Fluid, I attended Eileen's book launch at a nifty space called the Oxygen Lounge or Room or something, off a back alley behind, yes, Hipperson's Hardware. She and her co-author have put together this incredibly detailed, scientific, but also personal book about the plants and topography and rivers of the Kootenays, or at least their part of it. The place was packed and celebratory. I was so happy to be able to attend an actual local book launch while I was in town. And Eileen, in her opening remarks, spotted me and said very nice things about my visit -- at my reading the night before, I had urged those in attendance to do freebie poetry leaflets for their own readings, like I do, for free distribution... and Eileen had done just that. In fact, I noticed it immediately when I walked in, and scooped up a copy.

Over and over and over and out.

14 October 2005

Valley of the Dals

Just about to leave Castlegar for Nelson, just a half-hour or so away. Being handed off from Selkirk College to the KSW. Feel like someone surfing across the moshpit the last couple of weeks.

Had to go on Nelson community radio at 8 a.m. yesterday morning, which meant waking up an hour earlier and talking to myself a lot, so I could clear the various amphibians from my throat before the broadcast. Was then picked up by Almeda for a 9 a.m. workshop at Selkirk. I was relieved to be assuming role of workshop guy/writer at last; I realize that it's only after I've established myself thusly that I feel more comfortable among the strangers who bring me in. I felt like a real mook at the "book club" Wednesday night, for example, because I hadn't yet actively been a writer in their midst.

Anyway, the workshop was pure pleasure. Two and a half hours working with a first- and second-year creative-writing students. So they were *all* into it, and some great work came out of the class. I think they're very lucky to have Almeda as their writing teacher at the college -- she's this great mixture of accessible academic and wildwoman. Very sharp, outspoken, funny, and really cares about the students. I pestered the class a bit to start a literary magazine, because I don't think there is one yet in Castlegar, maybe not even in Nelson.

The workshop was followed up by a noontime reading in the library. I stood at a podium with my back to a window, in front of about 30 or 40 filled chairs. Behind me were the rolling green mountains of the West Kootenays, and, as I was told by several people, the magnificent confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers. The school itself is, architecturally, not much: little more than an oversized high school, with uninspiring hallways, low ceilings, and utilitarian everything. But hell, it's set into this incredible valley, and it sure does look beautiful around here in the fall.

I read for about half an hour, to a thoughtful, appreciative response, then did some Q&A: good questions, and I tried to answer some of them with pieces of my writing. Then I wrapped up with a few more poems, sold about 10 books, and my work here was over. Well, almost. We grabbed some food from the cafeteria, and then Almeda set me up for a meeting with one of her students, Yasha. I had read a few of his poems in advance, and liked half of them. We found a corner of the staff room and had a really good talk about writing, about his discovery of poetry, about Bukowski. I encouraged him to keep in touch with me, let me know how his writing is going.

I'm only hours away from my friend Jeff Pew, in Kimberley, and Terry Taylor, in New Denver, and it feels weird that I won't get to see them. In fact, they were supposed to be off with their high school students in Calgary for WordFest this weekend, but the wildcat teachers' strike in BC probably means they're on the picket line. Well, hopefully I'll get back here in the spring and see them.

An evening wander from my Super 8 Motel into Castlegar didn't really give me a sense of the town, maybe because most things were closed. It's such an odd place: small downtown that stretches up along the highway into sporadic strip malls and motels. It was about an hour walk down, and I figured there'd be a cab to take me back, but I didn't see one the whole journey. So walked back up much later, which was... exercise. Which sure doesn't hurt me.

A long phone chat with Dana back in Toronto (I'd started the day off reading, on community radio, my poem "I Cut My Finger," which mentions trying to phone Dana from the top of a mountain!), and then I headed down to the motel bar, the Black Rooster, As it turned out, April, who had been in my Boot Camp that morning, was tending bar. She moved here from Scarborough a few years back and she runs an occasional spoken word series in town. Actually got more of a sense of Castlegar talking with her than I did from my wander through its streets at night.

Oh, and I picked up a couple of cheap DVDs from a nearby supermarket; I'll watch them on my computer to kill some time during my 8-hour wait between flights on Sunday.

So yeah, right now I'm waiting for my lift to Nelson. We're supposed to get some food here in Castlegar first. I'm hoping for the Cuisine of Indian buffet — didn't try their dal the other night, and it's supposed to be pretty good. (There, now I've justified the title of this entry.)

This thing of being a travelling workshop guy/writer: I hate the actual travel part of it, and the anxiety that leads up to the flights; I'm a basketcase. But the experiences in the various towns and communities — those feel pretty good. Every place I go to, I want to return to.

Good luck, Jeff and Terry!

Over and out.

13 October 2005

It was bumpy! OK? Now shut up, Paul!

Paul Theroux rolls his eyes when travel writers write about the descent of the plane and the view out of the window. He wants to hear about the *journey* itself! Well, Paul, the flight to Castlegar was bumpy. Not real bumpy, but fairly bumpy. The plane was smaller than a big city slicker like me is used to. But in a rare moment of courage, I had asked for a window seat, and in fact got the emergency-exit window seat and thus had upon my shoulders the responsibility for the lives of my fellow travellers.

The view out the window, from Vancouver (a connection airport) to Castlegar was spectactular. As we came down out of the clouds from 23,000 feet, it was just endless rolling green beneath us, mountains and valleys and rivers. Castlegar airport is set in a little valley, in which the plane had to do a 360-degree turn, which was sorta exciting. And then I was out of the tarmac, and peering with awe all around me at mountains, mountains in every direction. Felt so good to be back in the Kootenays.

I was met by Almeda Glenn Miller, a teacher at Selkirk College and a novelist, the author of Tiger Dreams, which I bought at the college's little bookstore within the hour, as she toured me around there. Almeda is yet another in a string of quirky, charming, nifty people I've met on this trip so far. Again, one of those people who do a lot for their small community, and without whom the community would be way less rich.

She dumped me off at the Super 8 Motel, and after staying with five different families in the preceding week, it was sorta nice to have my own weird little motel room. Dinner with Almeda and three of her students followed, at -- yay! -- Cuisine of India in "downtown" Castlegar. Nifty students, too. And then it was off to a bit of a surreal event: a group discussion at the library of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, which I've never read. About 20 people were there, mainly college teachers, plus some students, and a smattering of local citizens. I identified myself as being there under UN Observer Status and so did not participate. It was interesting to see how professors talk to each other about literature when they're not doing classes. Some of them sounded like professors, and other just like regular people.

Gotta go shower now. It's 7:30 in the morning and a community radio station in Nelson is going to do a phone interview with me at 8 a.m., then it's off to Selkirk for a several-hour workshop, followed by a noon reading. Really looking forward to this.

Over and out.

12 October 2005


Left Fern's 80 acres this morning, after a great last visit with her and Harvey. I feel so far from family these days that it felt excellent to spend time with them. A sombre note: Fern's daughter Leanne was killed by a drunk driver in 1988, a tragedy that shook up the whole family. Leanne had wanted to be a writer, and had in fact written a huge heap of poems and stories. In 1990, we put together a collection of her work under the name The Flashback Storm, and Fern sold copies to raise money for Parents Against Impaired Drivers.

There was a shelf of kids' books in the room where I slept, and the first one I checked out -- The Twits, by Roald Dahl -- had Leanne's signature inside the front cover. So there I was, holding a book that Leanne had held. Fern told me it was one of Leanne's favourites, so I read it. What a twisted, fantastic story. Further inspiration for me to do some children's writing.

Wrote a short essay about Leanne over the past couple of days, Hunkamooga-style. Don't know what I'll do with it now that I have declared myself columnless, but perhaps I'll gather up another batch and try to do another book.

Fern passed me along to Hunter Gates, at whose Academy of Physical Arts, in St. Albert, I did a workshop this afternoon. I met Hunter at Centauri this past summer, where she was teaching combat stuff. She has two students right now, Melodie and Gustave from South Africa, and today was the first day of classes for them. Hunter sat in on the workshop, too, and it was a blast working with just three "students." I got to hear everything each of them wrote during the two-hour session. Some very good stuff, though a strong tendency towards rhyming.

I'm tired, and fear that I have nothing to say. For an awesome blog whose subject is its own lack of things to say, visit www.waynearthurson.blogspot.com.

The bed I'm sleeping in tonight has a poster on the wall of Jessica Simpson in The Dukes Of Hazzard.

Over and out.

10 October 2005

I knew Basho, and you, sir, are no Basho

Deep into the crispy trail
on my cousin's 80 acres
George W. Bush does not exist.


A plastic orange ribbon
hangs from a tree branch.
My shoes are caked with bearshit.


A thin dead tree
arches over the trail.
I stomp on a wineglass.


Beyond the barb wire
across the rolling field
a black cow stares back at me
we clutch our notebooks


Grasshoppers hopping all over the place
bouncing off my feet
yearning for Wal-Mart

09 October 2005

Roaring in Edmonton

Some catch-up is in order.

My last Yellowknife lunch I spent at the Gold Range bistro with Deborah, her son Ben, and Shad Turner, community cholir director and former librarian. Also a big plate of curried noodles and veggies. Yum. Really nice time, followed by a wander to the Prince of Wales museum, which was under reconstruction, but still had some pretty great exhibits. Especially liked the photographs by George Hunter of gold mining in the 1950s. I think I want to explore the history of mining a little further. Man, these guys lowering themselves into the depths of the earth to make some other guys rich.

A last wander of downtown Yellowknife, and then Deborah drove me to the airport for my flight to Edmonton, where I was picked up by Harvey, my cousin Fern's boyfriend. It was quite a hike to Fern's spectacular secluded loghouse outside of Stony Plain. I've hoped to visit her for so many years, and am so glad I finally could. Fern is a very special cousin; she lives so far away yet I feel so close to her. And she and Harvey are incredibly adventurous, so they are full of good stories. But, wow, she has created such a beautiful, serene retreat for herself. I had a lovely evening there and am looking forward to a couple more days in the cabin.

Saturday, it was off to Edmonton for the Roar on '24th, a one-day poetry festival that organizer Thomas Trofimuk fit me into on pretty short notice. It was a great event, with about 30 or 40 poets reading at various venues throughout the afternoon. I was honoured with my own half-hour slot, right after Mingus Tourette, who last year drove his pink poetry ambulance halfway across the country. The audience was very nice in the little tea shop where the reading took place. My stuff went over well, but I was surprised that almost no one came over to chat with me afterwards. Later, though, when Thomas took me out for dinner, an elderly couple at the next table commented that they liked my reading and bought me a beer.

Anyway, I liked that little festival. I liked that everything was free. I liked that hey had a "quiet reading" in a yoga studio, where people didn't *perform*, they just read quiet, meditative work. Some good, some bad, but a nice spirit to the event.

Staying here in Edmonton with Wayne Arthurson and his family. I met Wayne a couple years back at the Banff-Calgary WordFest. He wrote a really good novel called Final Season. He's got another under his belt, and hopefully it'll get published soon. He used to drum in a punk band, and he gave me a couple of their CDs. What a nice guy. Wayne, his wife Anya, and their child Vianne (is that a nice name or what? reminds me of Boris Vian!) went for lunch at the High Level diner and then for a wander along Whyte, which is a mixture of way yuppie and nifty little stores. A hell of a lot of homeless and panhandlers on the street.

Way to go, Ralph Klein, you asshole.

Edmonton would be a nice city to move to. So close to Fern's cabin, and to Banff, and to the Kootenays, and to visit debby florence in Missoula, Montana (a measly 7 hours away, apparently). And it's a pretty big city, and a pretty one, and rumour has it there's a vegetarian East Indian restaurant here. And lots of used bookstores. I know that Dana really liked Edmonton, too, last year when she had a show at Latitude 53 or 54 or whatever it's called.

Well, I'm hitting the road for the log cabin again, where I'll spend a couple of relaxing days before I help my friend Hunter Gates inaugurate her new school with a workshop and a reading on Tuesday.

Yellowknife seems so far away now, but I feel so fortunate to have experienced it. I'm scheming to return.

Over and out.

07 October 2005

Last day in Yellowknife

Yesterday was another exhausting but excellent day in NWT. Brenda from the NWT Literacy Council drove me to Rae-Edzo, an aboriginal community about 90 minutes north of Yellowknife, along some paved and some unpaved highway. Quite a few people here in Yellowknife had snickered a bit or rolled their eyes when I mentioned I'd be going to Rae, or talked of the discipline problems in the school. But I've seen far worse behaviour at schools in Toronto. I did quickie one-hour workshops with four classes there, and it went pretty well.

I felt sorta self-conscious, and was really aware of a cultural barrier, but I generally got a pretty warm welcome, and most of the kids were writing away during the exercises. When it came time to read their work aloud, it was like pulling teeth to get volunteers, so I offered to read their works to the class, and that went marginally better. But the stuff was good -- and I could see, peeking at papers as I wandered through the classroom while they wrote, that there was a lot of really interesting writing going on that never got presented.

Important thing was that they wrote. Most of these kids (and there were actually some adults in a couple of the classes) hadn't written poetry before. So I guess I did my job.

When Brenda and I went to leave at the end of the long day, we found out her rented SUV had a flat tire. We filled it with air and made the 15-km drive from Edzo to Rae, where there was a mechanic. Apparently, Rae was the original village, and then a buncha years ago the government built Edzo for the community and encouraged them to move there, but most of the people chose to stay in Rae, by the water, and where they had their history in the area. So there's this weird divide between Rae and its muddy roads, and Edzo, a somewhat more upscale settlement. I took a long walk in Rae, and it was really beautiful, and friendly too. The housing ranged from nice two-stories to trailer homes to shacks, but there was a good feel on the streets there.

Had some dinner with Deborah and her family, then went for a nighttime wander through Yellowknife. There's a really dicey block of bars on 50th Ave, with one really notorious place: The Gold Range, or the Strange Range, as everyone calls it. I was originally determined to go in there, and had seen a number of drunken fights outside it over the week. But in the end I chickened out. Went down the block instead to a somewhat more friendly place called Raven's Pub, spent a couple hours there, sipping beers and watching the locals talk, play pool, and dance. Eventually it got incredibly crowded in there. As I was leaving, a little hammered, a young woman said, "Hi, Stuart! I was in the English class you visited!" And I thought, great, here's the Toronto poet staggering out of a bar in the wee hours.

And now it's morning. And my head hurts. My last day here: gotta get up and get out the door, go for another walk in Old Town before I catch my plane to Edmonton.

Over and out.

06 October 2005

Prospecting for default

In my room in the billet house, there is an elusive wireless signal called "default." There are several others: linksys, Ralph, and Dennis. But I can only connect with default. I spend as much time looking for the 3-square-centimetre space of air that offers me default as I spend actually on the internet. It's a bit, perhaps, like prospecting for gold. You have to have a huge amount of patience to get into that wireless signal.

The reading last night went extremely well. Small crowd of about 30, but they were really warm, and the local bookseller sold about 10 of my books, which they said was pretty good. About half a dozen local writers each read first, for a minutes each, and that was neat. Then I read for some boomin' 40 minutes or so: fiction, poetry, and a rant from Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. Signed a lot of books afterwards. I was surprised by how many really young people showed up and liked the reading, including a couple of kids from the school workshops and readings I did. The event was wonderfully hosted by Deborah Bruser, the librarian who put this journey together for me.

Then it was, inevitably, back to the Monkey Tree. They served me a plate of onions the size of a Rocky Mountain. I just had a few. And then there was a fight. Some guy hittin' on some guy's girl. Three guys shoving at each other. A bunch of other big big big guys jumping in to break it up, and a bunch of scrawny asshole college kids, yelling, "Fight! Fight!" and getting all excited. The fight was taken outside, and I don't know what happened. But various members of the fight kept coming back in for a quick drink, then going back out. Ahhh, the Monkey Tree. I shall miss you.

Shortly, I'm off to Rae for four workshops that will keep me there all day. When I return, I move to a billet downtown -- the home of the person who's driving me to the airport tomorrow.

Yesterday, a fantastic walk through Old Town... and a visit to the shore so I could gaze out at the houseboat I ate in on Monday night. The water was choppy, and my houseboat host, Cynthia, was just coming across to shore in a canoe. We had a nice chat, and I gave her a book. I wandered along the ragged roads, and some pretty fancy ones, in Old Town, and I think I got a much greater sense of this place as a result. Dinner last night was with Deborah Bruser, who brought me here to Yellowknife. Really awesome person. Nice meal. (Did I mention? Her husband, Brian Bruser, is a nephew or cousin or somethin' of Fredelle Bruser Maynard, who's the author of a Jewish memoir called Raisins And Almonds, which was popular back when I was a teen working in the North York Public Library system. Thing is, Fredelle is the mother of Joyce Maynard, the teenybopper writer who became involved with geezerly J.D. Salinger and wrote the memoir At Home In The World about that particular disaster.)

I'll resume my wanderings this evening, and tomorrow, before I leave.

Over and out.

05 October 2005

Is a monkey the same as a gorilla?

Woke up exhausted this morning, thought I was getting sick. Headed off to my first gig of the day, three back-to-back readings/talks for Grade 8's at St. Joe's high school here in Yellowknife. Adrenaline kicked in, and sicky symptoms subsided. The classes were each very, very different -- great kids, though. The third class I visited was amazing; I felt I could read them works that might not work with other Grade 8's, and they responded so well. A lot of kids in that class who "write poetry that isn't for school assignments."

But in one of the classes, after I read my poem "Monkeys," one of the kids asked if monkeys and gorillas are different. Gosh, I really wasn't sure. So we talked a bit about alligators and crocodiles, and figured it was a similar situation. I suggested asking someone aside from a poet.

It's really strange to make these quick connections with young writers, then never see them again. I want to know what happens to them, whether they keep writing. One girl rushed up to me as one class ended and said, "I've got to talk to you!" She rushed her words, because she had to get to next class. "I want to publish my poems, but not in a school magazine or anything, in a real magazine, I want to get my poems out there!" I wished I could sit and chat with her for a bit. I just encouraged her to contact me through my Electronic Writer in Residency through Toronto Public Libraries. She's a smart kid, and sometimes you can just tell that a kid *needs* to write, and you have to give the quickest encouragement. It can be a bit frustrating.

Heading off now to wander around downtown and old town. Then my public reading at Javaroma tonight.

Over and out.

04 October 2005

Rosh Hoshana in the Monkey Tree

Yellowknife has been an amazing experience so far, and already I wish I were staying for another week. This afternoon I visited Aurora College, an adult-learning centre that focuses on getting adults back into the educational system. I did a two-hour workshop with a group of about 40 students, ranging from 18 into their 40s, and mainly aboriginal. When I asked at the beginning of the session how many had written poetry before, only 3 or 4 hands went up. I was worried that my crazy methods would be too, well, crazy for them. But it went spectacularly. These students were amazingly open-minded, and those who read their work aloud after each exercise were fantastic. There was actually publishable stuff coming out of this group of first-time writers.

Maybe one of the best workshop experiences I've had.

This morning I was at St. Pat's school for a couple one-hour sessions with Grade 8's. The first group went especially well, and the second was more of a challenge, but ended up well. This is one of the most beautiful high schools I have ever seen. It actually has a huge chunk of the Canadian Shield protruding into its atrium, creating a sort of tiered seating for theatre productions. The whole school has such an open feel; a great place. Apparently the kids even had a say in its architecture.

Last night, the Jewish New Year, I spent on a houseboat with Cynthia and Tony. Getting there was harrowing; had to do it by canoe, and I've never been in a canoe before. Stepping in and out was terrifying. But their houseboat was an amazing place, cluttered with fascinating stuff. Tony is known as the Snow King, and builds these huge snowhouses on the lake during the winter -- and holds concerts, theatre, and film festivals in the structures.

From the boathouse I went to Sam's Monkey Tree for a couple of drinks. Very pleasant bar in the newer part of town. And then it was back to my billet, slipping past a wooden crucifix into my room for sleep. My billet family is really nice, and it's a very cozy place.

Thinking perhaps of spending my last night or two in town downtown. Just for the experience.

Gotta run now to a workshop with the Territorial Writers' Association.

Over and out.

02 October 2005

Good morning, Yellowknife

Friday was a crazy day. I had hoped to get everything prepared for my Yellowknife trip in a leisurely fashion, but events conspired against me. Primarily an unfortunate back-and-forth with the Heart of a Poet producer that is making me regret my involvement in that TV series, and a flurry of League of Canadian Poets activity around a grievance by Paul Dutton that I wrote in support of.

Anyway, now I'm in Yellowknife. I am being billeted in the home of a very nice couple. I'm going to spend Rosh Hoshanah in a home hung with crosses. Yellowknife seems fascinating -- reminds me a bit of New Denver, if New Denver was spread over the area of a small city instead of a couple of kilometres. My billet family took me for a quick car tour that included a windy street with several mush-dog kennels, another street called Ragged Ass Road, and all sorts of colourful little locations. This is gonna be an educational one, this stay in Yellowknife. Very excited about it, but filled with some trepidation over a few of the school visits I'll be doing: I mean, I'm a weird-ass poet; what will they think of me here?

Meanwhile, things are going well with my Toronto Public Library electronic residency. I'm enjoying running a discussion forum, and a few kids seem pretty engaged by it. I've only received four manuscripts to critique so far, but I think that'll increase, especially after the Young Writers Conference on October 22.

Also wrote a blurb for Jay MillAr for a book he's publishing through BookThug: author's name is Morten Søndergaard. Incredible book. I wish I'd written it. Haven't read anything much like it before, though it did have shades of Beckett.

I'm dead tired right now. Woke up at 5 Saturday morning to catch my plane. Better get some sleep so I don't get sick.

Tomorrow: a "free" day to just wander the streets of Yellowknife.

Over and out.