29 January 2006

The Long Goodbye

San Pablo is a non-descript, working-class suburb on the edge of Santiago, about half an hour from El Noviciado. Here there is no European influence. Little evidence of culture. But it still seems like a vital place. The people give me sidelong glances, but they´re very nice. This is where I am now, on my second-last day in Chile.

For the first time, as I left Los Parronales and set out onto the dirt road for the bus stop, someone in a car stopped and offered me a lift. A young guy who lives on a neighbouring parcela. He was really neat. Then, at the bus stop, instead of a bus, I was confronted by a, um, perhaps they call them camionettas here? A little van with a few rows of seats. For a little more than the bus cost, I got a lift all the way into San Pablo, the only passenger most of the way. The driver, again, was a nice guy and seemed to warm especially when I told him I was from Canada (he first guessed USA). On a patio the other evening in Santiago, a woman asked me if Canada was one of the States. She was surprised to hear it was a separate country.

Last night I swam for an hour after midnight. It was so dark and peaceful, even with the dogs discussing me from across all the nearby parcelas. I was grateful for the warm water at night. I got a supernasty sunburn the other day and didn't want to aggravate matters by swimming during the day yesterday.

Perhaps my novel will make me millions and I can buy a place with a swimming pool. I suspect, though, that my novel will make me about $1,312, plus Public Lending Rights payments each year. If anyone chooses to publish it.

I'm feeling like I'm getting close to finishing it, now that I've got the ending. If so, it´s going to be a tiny thing like Sheila Heti's novel, but I'm no Sheila Heti. But even on the bus into San Pablo today, I decided that I needed a few more chapters to flesh out a couple of the main characters. So maybe I'll even hit 150 pages.

Really pleasant lunch of papas fritas, palta y queso with Gord and Susan on the patio yesterday. They are generous and funny people. Susan gave me a folder of poems and flash fictions to read last night, and the stuff was so good.

Friday night I went to Santiago, stayed south of the river. A long visit to Metales Pesados (Heavy Metal) bookstore. Turns out the guy who's been so nice to be there is a poet, too. Name of Sergio Parra. We really got to talking; for the first time, my lousy Spanish didn't present as much of a problem. He loves the New York poets -- especially Ashbery, but also Ron (here pronounced Roan) Padgett. I told him I'd had lunch with Padgett a couple months ago, and his eyes widened. I wonder if he's related to Nicanor. We're going to correspond, so I´ll find out. I bought his book: looks like something I'd actually be able to read: lots of pop references too, like Valerie Solanis. Anne, if you're reading this, perhaps we should collaborate on translating this guy.

Last night I spent mainly north of the river, wandering the streets of Bellavista one last time. The best street there is Pio Nono, crammed with bars and tables on the sidewalks and people just wiling away the many many slow summer hours with a giant bottle of Cristal cerveza. A little east is the Pablo Neruda house, and on the intervening streets are some really upscale restaurants. I mean, it's very pretty, but I finally found where all the tourists hang out. Me, I´ll stick to Pio Nono if I ever get back here.

Which I hope I do.

Even though the Plato Vegetariano I ordered last night in a schoperia had a big rolled-up wad of sliced ham in the middle of it.

Over and out.

27 January 2006

Several thousand grillos clicking

Didn’t leave the parcela yesterday. Woke up early and dove into my novel. I’ve had some breakthroughs here and it seems finally to be falling into place, after two years of stops and starts. This thing of having an agent a-waiting has been sort of crippling. I don’t this is the book he’s wanting, but it’s the book I’m needing to write. And it might be crap! I have so little perspective on it. It’s so full of lists.

Gord and Sue were in Santiago and the main house was locked up. I had a bit of bread and cheese on hand and a bag of raw almonds. I wrote in the “workshop room” — which was strange, because I was aware of Merle, Frank, Barbara, Eileen, and Sue all in their regular seats around me, even though the chairs are no longer even there, let alone the people.

Then out to the poolside, where I felt incredibly decadent. Lots of grillos in the pool, and a couple of big spiders on the pool floor. How come I’m less freaked out by big bugs here in Chile than I am at home? Around noon, Alejandra came from next door (the farmhand’s family house), carrying a big plate of lunch for me. Man, I was surprised and it made her laugh. I had the biggest heap of mashed potatoes imaginable, a fried egg, some sliced tomatoes and sliced cucumbers. It was delicious. And so nice of Sue to arrange for.

I joined the grillos and spiders in the pool later in the afternoon, and then Sue got back from Santiago and invited the children from the aforementioned house to come for a swim. It was pretty fun, and then we all had tea and manjar cake afterwards.

As the sun was setting, I went for a walk on the parcela and stood and watched the cows for a long while. The cows watched me (as one of them is probably writing right now on some bovine blog).

Received an incredible email from debby in Missoula this morning: she recounted, in spectacular detail, her first day of classes with Bill Knott. It’s weird to think I now have a friend who knows Bill Knott. There are only three students in the class. It sounds insane, and pretty cool.

The sun is just rising now. It’s a relatively quiet morning: just a few hundred birds complaining and several thousand grillos clicking. Lucho is presumably out milking the cows, and they’re telling him about the weird guy who came and stared at them last night.

Over and out.

26 January 2006

After carrots

After carrots,
asparagus. After
that, a leap
into the roiling
cauldron of lunch.
I can’t
explain to you
how I
arrived here, or
where next,
dogs snapping
at my ankles.
I pour
concrete into abstraction
and place
my fingertips
on your eyelids.
I remember
how close
the ground once
looked, but now
it’s further away
each day.
The sun
cups us in
its cool palm
and feeds us
of what
we remember.

25 January 2006


My three days of morning workshops in Santiago are over. They went just fine. I was happy to see that Suan has such a great community of expat writers here. And now I’m free of work, and have only to work on my novel. And swim in the pool. And take my long walks into El Noviciado to remind myself that I’m in Chile, in case the mountains aren’t doing their job.

I took a bus into Pomaire, about 60 minutes from Santiago. A beautiful little town, its main street is lined with pottery shops and small restaurants and tiendas. The side streets were far more tranquil. It’s a real tourist spot – for internal tourists, Chileans, mostly. And yet the bus from Santiago drops you off a couple kilometres from Pomaire, where you have to walk through a ditch and scamper up an incline to catch a local bus into town. I chose to walk, and on the outskirts of town, wandered into a small restaurant – really just a living room with a table in it for guests – where a very friendly woman named Aurora made empanadas to order. We got to talking, and I showed her my two poems in Spanish, and she told me that she too wrote poetry and asked for my address so she could mail me some. She explained that hers were “poemas romanticos” while mine were “contemporaneas” (or something to that effect) and that I might not like her work. I assured her that my tastes were broader than my own crazy poetry. Seems everywhere you go here, there are incredibly nice Chileans.

This afternoon I asked my friend Jorge Garreton about the niceness of Chileans. He said that they (and he is one of them) are always so eager to please, so helpful, that at times they become annoyingly subservient. He said they are sort of like Canadians in their slightly formal politeness. I used to work with Jorge at York U’s radio station, and I hadn’t seen him in years. We met up at Los Leones Metro station and he dragged me back to his office, where he files stories for print and radio news. To my great surprise, he was sharing an office with Patricio Mason, who I haven’t seen since 1989, when we – along with Jim Smith, Gary Geddes, and a couple of others – went to Nicaragua as the unofficial Canadian delegation at the Feria Internacional del Libro in Managua. I remember being pretty intimidated by the cerebral Mason, but he was so warm in Santiago. (He’s a born Chilean, and moved back in 1991, from Toronto.)

Jorge took me on a tour through his Santiago, which, though it covered much of the same ground, was very different from my previous wanderings. He knows the country’s political history inside-out, and he took me to the presidential palace (we weren’t allowed instead because they were preparing for Monday’s visit by Vicente Fox), Centro Civico, where most of the major government buildings are, Plaza de Armas, and other major downtown landmarks, telling me of the incredible transformations his country has been going through. I mentioned that what I loved most about Santiago were all the public spaces: parks, squares, terraces where people just sit and relax and play and make out. He said it’s been a really gradual process since the return of democracy: the people are gradually reclaiming their public spaces. For so long they were off the streets, things were tense. Now, more and more, it’s becoming a city for the people again. If only Toronto had a small fraction of the public spaces that Santiago has.

I wandered back to Metales Pesados, my favourite bookstore in Santiago, and I picked up books by a couple of surrealists Beatriz Hausner had recommended. The people working there all recognized me by now, and Jorge told them that I was really famous in Canada. There was a poet from Buenos Aires there, and he spoke English, which made things much easier: to my astonishment, when I said I was from Canada, the poet he mentioned was bpNichol! He also knew the work of Steve McCaffery and mentioned Black Debt in particular. Increible. He and I are going to try to keep in touch. And I plan on returning one more time to Metales Pesados to give the staff a copy of my Surreal Estate anthology.

The visit with Jorge was great, and we embraced farewell at the Metro. On the way back to Los Parronales, I wound up on the most decrepid bus 817 so far. But, in usual Chilean spirit, the people on the bus were just laughing at all the broken-down seats and the vehicle’s unbelievable rattling. When I hopped off at the end of the dirt road leading home, an old guy got off with me and smiled. He rattled something quick to me, in heavy slang, I think. I asked him to repeat it. Turns out he had been on the bus a couple weeks ago when I’d been unsure of my stop and he had helped. And he remembered the gringo.

I called him "amigo" (cornball!) and headed to the dirt road. The sun was nearly down, and it was the end of the most beautiful couple of hours in Chile, from 7 to 9, when the light does incredible things with the mountains, the trees, the dirt road.

Over and out.

24 January 2006

PEDAZOS (buyer beware: this is not a poem)

Chileans are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. That might sound trite, but their friendliness is profound.

Chile is most beautiful between 7 and 9 p.m., when in the country the line makes the fields and mountains a beautiful brown and green, and in the city the streets become alive and become serene at the same time.

In a small square in Bellavista, a wonderful, studenty, artsy area, a puppet theatre company set up and performed an hour-long show. One of the most creative live performances I’ve ever witnessed, though I don’t much know what it was about. About 100 Chileans gathered to watch, and they sat through the whole thing, appreciative and mesmerized.

The day we writers decide to hit Santiago and visit museums, it is, by coincidence, the one day of the year in which the museums are free till late from 6 p.m. Some great contemporary art out there. Also by coincidence, there is a book fair adjacent to El Museo de Belles Artes. I meet a really neat guy – a Chilean short-story writer named Lenin. We have a good chat. I buy his book, and from the same booth, a CD of readings by Roque Dalton!

Chilean dogs are the most cowering I’ve ever met. I really like them, though. Too many of them have only three legs.

When gringos suddenly think they’re lost on a local bus, everybody offers to help. Everybody cares.

Santiago is saturated with bookstores. Many Metro stations have pretty sophisticated book outlets too.

This is an amazing country. In spite of what the people here have been through, or perhaps because of it.

Big Ears comes to Stuartscratching

There are all these dogs on the parcela, belonging to Lucho, who runs the property for Gord and Susan. Little scrawny dogs, big flea-bitten dogs, all of them yapping deep into the night many nights. One , the Duke, immediately became my best friend, running up for a good snout-scratching every morning and often when I came in during the day. Another, with big ears, I called him Big Ears, would cower whenever someone walked by. Amazing guard dogs!

This morning, though, perhaps with most of the visitors gone from the parcela, Big Ears came trotting over to me and pressed his nose against my leg. I scratched his head and he revelled in it till Duke came along and they both competed for my attentions. Very flattering.

The workshop ended Saturday and by yesterday everyone had moved on: Merle back to Canada, Frank on an arduous long journey back to England, Barbara and Eileen off to some resorty town in Northern Chile. The last couple of sessions we discussed publishing, and also how to keep writing without the motivation of the workshop, and the shelter from responsibilities that a retreat brings. But I also made the write, and some of them wrote their best stuff in those last two days.

Frank worked liked a fiend to get the chapbook done for Saturday, and just barely made it. Poets At Parcela 50 was published in an edition of 8 insane little copies. Produced with inappropriate software and with the most convoluted page-layout scheme. Nice book. And it was great to see it happen with practically zero help or motivation from me.

Thursday’s workshop in English Summer Town went really well. A bad start, as I felt like I was just blithering on to a room of 40 Chileans who had no idea what I was talking about. And they probably didn’t until I got them writing, and then things livened up. We explored the list poem and its possibilities as a language-teaching tool. They were all writing in English, not their own language, and some of the poems they wrote were beautiful and odd, while some were more predictable. When we collaborated on a poem, almost every one of them independently wrote lines about love. There is so much love in this country. So much happiness. Is that because of where they’ve come from, because of the fading of the Pinochet days, or has it always been here, even in spite of political upheaval, military coups, torture, and disappearances?

A big luncheon with invited guests from the expat community, the Canuck embassy, and one Chilean writer from a nearby parcela wound things up on Saturday. I got quickly tanked, as a survival strategy. The vegetarian option was spectacular, so it was a nice way to end things here culinarily speaking. The truly uncomfortable moment was when Lucho and his son appeared on horseback, in full Chilean cowboy gear. There was a real sense of them on display for the gringos, and they seemed uncomfortable. But then Lucho came down to dance, and Gord joined them, and a couple of the little children, and all was well: Lucho had that genuine glowing Chilean smile on. Susan asked Frank to recite a couple of poems, and this he did, standing as usual, and had everyone laughing. When I went to speak with him afterwards, I saw that he too was tanked. He was for once, in conversation, spouting random Shakespeare lines and not his own work.

Anyway, that was it. The workshop – the longest one, and the most complex one I’ve given – was over. I’d been thinking that after my three single-morning Santiago workshops for expats, I’d head to Valparaiso for a few days, I’ve decided to stay here on the parcela and see if I can finish my novel.

18 January 2006

Skull of cow, and more!

Little time to blog here in Chile, and so much happening. Tomorrow afternoon I deliver my seminar "The List Poem as a Language-Teaching Tool" at English Summer Town, a two-week conference for Chilean teachers of English. A little anxious about it, but it'll likely go well.

The workshop has been fantastic, and I'm really excited about the work my "kids" are doing, especially now in Week 2. Everyone is pushing beyond what they'd previously done in writing, and have delved deeper. I continue to be amazed that they put up with me, but I assume the fact that they do means they're pleased with their work. A nice bonus is that I've been writing a fair amount in the workshop myself and will have a neat mass of stuff to deal with when I get home, when I get home.

Yesterday we took a day trip to Valparaiso, a very large seaport city where Neruda had yet another of his houses. The house was pretty neat, but the city was especially exciting. Very hilly, with 15 funiculars, a cemetery atop a hill, houses built in the most precarious places. Did an hourlong boat tour of the harbour, and while the Spanish tour-guiding was out of my range, I really enjoyed the crazy trip. Think I might spend a few days in that city to round off this trip, after the workshop is done.

Which I'm sad about -- that this workshop ends in just a few days. But I'll continue to put that out of my mind.

I've been having some great conversations with Susan about poetry, about the retreat, about the workshop. Really enjoying meeting with her about her poems, too. She is pushing way beyond the limits of the rhyming mostly light verse she'd been doing before. I love it when people surprise even themselves.

Monday, I went into Santiago to wander a bit. I really feel the need to get out there every two or three days, and connect with Chileans in the city. Rounds off the experience beautifully for me. Explored Cerro Santa Lucia, this incredible structure downtown that stretches way way up, with winding stone staircases and interesting nooks and crannies everywhere. Tons of young couples making out: Susan explains that most of them live in such close quarters that teens need to go to public places like that to get some privacy.

We wound up at The Crazy Bar (I kid you not), where a guy named Andreas was playing guitar and singing Chilean songs, Silvio Rodrigues, the Beatles, and even My Way. He was amazing, and the feeling in the bar was so upbeat. I approached Andreas after and praised him in my faltering Spanish and he was very gracious. Just about everyone in this country has been gracious, smiling, and helpful. Perhaps because there aren't a huge number of tourists? Perhaps because they just elected a promising new president, a woman, a leftist? I dunno.

At my favourite bookshop, Heavy Metal, in Santiago, a guy there recognized me and told me he'd enjoyed the poetry leaflet I'd left them with last weekend. I couldn't believe he remembered. We had a little chat and he recommended a poet I'd never heard of. Bought it, and will try to make my way through it when I get home. Again, everyone was so friendly in the bookstore. Magical place, this Chile.

This evening, Alejandra, the very young poet whose parents work here on the parcela, came over before dinner for a read-around at the patio table. We all read a couple of poems to her in English and she read a few of hers in Spanish again. Great time. Frank stood up and read some bombastic satirical pieces about the church. Eileen read her excellent new poem about the moon. Barbara read her pantoum, and it was fun to hear her explain in Spanish what a pantoum was. Merle chose not to read her own stuff, instead reading several poems by Charles Bukowski! Most in the group had never heard of him before, but everyone seemed to like him. If only they knew....

Los Parronales is a fascinating place: great paths, cows, vineyards, horses, dilapidated old houses and barns awaiting renovation or the wrecking ball, the beautiful main house, trees and cacti all around, and the occasional cow skull in distant corners of the fields.

Gotta get me some sleep now. Big day in the big city tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Over and out.


In the night
a gunshot
is in the night.
The bullet ricochets
off the Andes
and enters the brain
of a brown rabbit.

The dogs, which had been barking all night, go silent.

Then they go crazy.
The dogs go crazy
under the dark sky
that fills up the space
above my roof.
In the vineyard,
a man holds a pistol.
He spreads out his arms
and a song rises from his chest.

(El Noviciado, Chile, January 2006)

16 January 2006

Frankly speaking

Spoke with Dana on Thursday afternoon, from Chile to Nova Scotia, where she was preparing for that night’s opening of the Halifax presence of The Idea of North. She sounded great, and had her own show prepared, and was helping other artists with theirs. The chat left me feeling buoyant, and it turned out to be a great and full day all round.

My “students” wrote some exciting stuff during our sessions, and in the afternoon I met with Frank Keetley, a British guy in his 70s who has been at 62 writers’ retreats and has written thousands of poems, the great majority of which rhyme, in the tradition of folks like Roger McGough. Barbara called him “your highness” the other day, as he’s the senior writer of the group, and has an incredibly commanding reading voice, a nearly regal voice. Frank’s aesthetic seems light years from my own, and I’d been wondering if he was getting anything out of the workshop sessions. He writes these incredibly spare rhyming poems, hermetically sealed and usually very funny (though he has his poignant moments too). We started off looking at two poems of his, and to his credit, he’d given me two non-rhymers, at least one of which he’d written during the workshop.

They were good and accomplished what he’d apparently set out to do. I had little by way of constructive suggestions for him, but our talk was good. In my workshops, I generally discourage rhyming poetry, but I have to admit I could see little fault in what Frank does. I mean, he really does do it well. It’s not the same experience as reading David McFadden, Dara Wier, or Nelson Ball, but there’s something very satisfying about Frank’s work. He’s a neat guy too, and it seems a compulsive writer. There have been sessions where I assign a project, and soon Frank seems to have dozed off at his chair. But when it comes his turn to read, he has written something invariably clever. Did he write it in his sleep?

I’m learning a lot from this guy.

Early evening we were treated to a trip to a nearby village for some beers. The venue reminded me a lot of places I visited in Nicaragua: a big, garage-like joint, no sign outside, and one brand of beer (the local Cristal). It was a blast. Eileen, Susan, Barbara, Merle, Frank, and I stayed for a few rounds, and for the longest time we were the only customers there. Susan hadn’t been in a few years, and the ancient woman who owned the place didn’t recall her, but soon they were amazing friends. They held hands up at the bar as Susan, the owner, and a middle-aged woman who ran things had a great talk. It was a genuinely authentic experience in a bar that no tourist had probably ever been in before.

After Thursday’s dinner, Alejandra, the teenage daughter of the family who run the farm for Gord and Susan, came over to Susan’s place and gave us an amazing reading from her poetry. She’s a lovely, humble, friendly girl, but when she read she was full of confidence, making eye contact with her audience and answering questions articulately and openly. Her poetry, to the extent that I could understand it, is generally romantic, a little philosophical, and probably cliche-laced, but there was an incredible ambition and care for the language there too. It was a magical hour or so. After she read, I read a couple of my own poems in Spanish, from my “Dos Poemas” leaflet, and felt like a blundering fool. Alejandra and I had a nice chat afterwards, though perhaps she didn’t understand any of my horrible Spanish.

But hell, my Spanish was better than her English.

Over and out.

The Captain was a blowhard

I admit I was a little skeptical about the Neruda house in Isla Negra. I mean, how interesting could it be? But it was a fascinating place – the extravagant home of an egocentric eccentric. I’d thought Neruda was a seaman, given the ever-present ocean imagery, the title Captain’s Verses and so on. But it turns out he hated travelling by boat and declared himself the “captain of the land.” He designed his house to look like a ship, with rounded ceilings and ship’s wheels all over the place. Outside, he had a complex bell system, and whenever a ship passed he scurried outside and rang his bell to let passing captains know they were being greeted by the captain of the land.

I couldn’t help think what a fatuous blowhard the guy seemed to be. And after the tour, it seemed everyone in our group agreed. Although the tour guide was unfailingly positive and romantic about Neruda, we all got the feeling he was sort of a goof. Luckily, we’d read such a wide range of his poems the night before, so we also knew he was capable of writing good poetry (though our group might disagree on which exactly are the good poems).

A picnic on the rocks a little later in El Tapo, the next village along the coast, some wanderings, some pelicans, some Pacific waves smashing against the coast. And then a bus going the wrong way back to Santiago, a cab driver taking us for a ride, then this:

A cab driver who really did know the way back to Noviciado drives along the dirt road after midnight. As we approach Los Parronales, a stream of horses fills the narrow roadway and they look like a dream through the taxi’s headlights and dust. They look slow motion. They look like a poem.

Over and out.

11 January 2006

Parra vs. Neruda: Match of the Century

The workshop sessions have been going really well. Susan and Gord Siddeley are our hosts at Los Parronales, and the "directors" of this informal retreat, and Susan is also one of the workshop participants. The other participants are Eileen, who I´ve worked with previously at Centauri, and her friend Barb, as well as Merle from Oshawa, and the, um, irrepressible Frank from Yorkshire (there are four Brits in the group!). What a wide range of style, interests, and experience, but what brings everything together is a real dedication to poetry, and to exploring poetry. I think the exploration thing is what poetry is all about.

Already, after just a couple of days, there has been some very fine stuff written, though the writers don´t always agree. Some of what I have them write is pretty weird, some more conventional. They seem to enjoy doing the oddball stuff but find it difficult to consider it "poetry" -- I always find this the biggest challenge in doing workshops. Some of them will come around; for the other, hey, it´s great that they've been enthusiastic enough to try out cut-ups and homolinguistic translations and so on, even if it´s something they'll never employ again.

It´s exciting to think we´ve only had two full days of workshops so far: I know great things will come out of this group.

The other aspect to the workshop is the one-on-one meetings with participants: so far I´ve met with three of them, and it´s felt good. This really is a gang who is interested in discussing the art in depth.

Right now I´m at Isla Negra, a little ways from the Pablo Neruda museum here. We have a group tour in an hour, but it´s been exciting just wandering the streets of the town, having some empanadas con queso y papas fritos estupendos. I´m going to try to duck into a grotty little bar and have a beer before the tour.

Yesterday´s main outing was to a nearby home on a hill. Nice to sit out and have some snacks with the family, and then venture up the hill a little more to see Incan "cups" in the rocks. Supposely used so long ago to hold corn and beans and so forth, but we wondered if they were used to hold blood -- if there was some kinda sacrifice thing involved. No way! we were told. Pretty cool, though: storage vessels, concavities the size of tea cups, right in the rock. There are probably hundreds scattered across that hill.

I´ve been doing some writing here: poems at night (inspired by gunshots: another rabbit bites the dust in the dead of night), some work on my novel (writing about Yellowknife while in Chile!), poems in the workshop (I´ve done about half the projects).

OK, un vaso de Cristal Cerveza awaits me. And then the Neruda museum. I´ve already made it clear to my group that I prefer Nicanor Parra, but I´m getting a new respect for Neruda -- ignore those most popular love poems, and he´s got some dark, surreal, radical stuff going.

Over and out y que rico las empanadas.

From Los Parroles to Santiago

It's been a great few days in Chile. All the workshop participants arrived by Sunday morning, and we had our first session that afternoon, a sorta getting-to-know-you session. Did a bit of writing too, and though a couple of the participants are most drawn to conventional poetry (think Mary Oliver) and a couple to the tradition of British rhyming verse (Roger McGough), they´re an open-minded bunch and don´t seem to mind my tortures.

Los Parronales is a lovely estate, a 120-acre property that stretches, pie-shaped, up a small mountain nearby. Though I haven´t yet made that climb. El Novciado is the closest village, a half-hour walk, a charming minimal place: small church, lovely school at the main intersection, three empanada joints, and a couple of little tiendas to buy pop and chips -- as well as a laundry detergent called "Poett." The people are friendly and patient with my faltering Spanish (though I´m surprised at how quickly it´s coming back). Monday was a full day: the morning session featured a few writing projects and some discussion, plus readings of Tate, Kizer, Padgett, and others, while the afternoon I´ve decided to devote to discussion of a writing topic, followed by an hour of critiquing (perhaps three pieces), and then another project to finish the day. I took off for Santiago after the afternoon session, and just being on that local bus to the Metro was exhilirating! The subway itself is modern and spotless and it took us right into the city centre from the distant suburban town of San Pablo.

I loved Santiago, especially the grottier bits I walked through. But some gorgeous museums, tons of parks, a prole market where I bought some cheese (to supplement the vegetarian possibilities among the meat-eaters who make up the rest of the group -- though the meals have been mostly fantastic, and so pleasantly served out on the patio -- lunch -- and in the Siddeleys´ cozy dining room -- breakfast and dinner). Back to Santiago: the park near Plaza de Armas is busy and full of couples making out. It was amazing. I wondered if I just stood in mid-park, puckered up, would someone have come along? Or do you have to bring your own?

We wandered into a few bookstore, and the third was the best: a serious literary place, with helpful staff. I hovered by the poetry looking a little confused, and when the store dude came over, I just knew he was expecting me to ask for a Neruda book -- when I asked for Nicanor Parra, he lit up! There were a couple of Parra books, and I chose a large-format volume called Hojas de Parra, from 1996. I´m sure they were amused that a guy with such bad Spanish was buying a book of poems in Spanish, but they were nice, and the woman at the cash threw in a local literary magazine for me. I gave her one of my "Dos Poemas" leaflets and she was very gracious.

I think I was grinning like a goof the whole time in Santiago. It felt so good to be there. Though I gotta say, the bus ride through working-class San Pablo was a real thrill too. Very nice to stay in the luxury of Los Parronales, but be able to experience the places that ordinary Chileans live in as well.

Looking forward to the next Santiago outing on Friday.

Over and out y hasta pronto.

07 January 2006

Here, in Chile

Arrived in Chile after an all-night flight. Los Parronales is glorious. A real shangri-la. Tomorrow, the poetry sessions start. Four students (for want of a better word) here now; two more arrive tomorrow.

This afternoon, made the 3k walk to the nearest village, El Noviciado. Bought some chips. Wandered into a nice little empanada place. Everything around here is fascinating to me. Even the most inane odd things. Hard to believe I'm in Latin America again.

I think I'm going to finish my novel here. It just feels that way.

Thinking about Dana, who's off to Halifax to install an artwork this coming week. Wish I could be there, and go to Blue Nose Fish and Chips to break my vegetarianism with her.

OK. My students all like some solid poetry: Layton, Neruda, etc. Will I freak them out with Ted Berrigan and Dara Wier. I've got to frame it all just right -- not that *this is the good stuff*, but that *this is stuff worth experiencing, at least once.*

Over and out.

03 January 2006

What the fuck is with Mark Strand?

I was compiling poems by various poets to bring to Chile, and I stumbled upon something I'm surprised I'd missed before.

I have long admired the poetry of Mark Strand, especially the earlier poetry, and especially when I was young. In one of his early books, he has a poem called "The Dirty Hand," which is "after Carlos Drummond de Andrade." This poem blew me away when I was a teenager -- "My hand is dirty. / I must cut it off."

So I was flipping through the Charles Simic/Mark Strand anthology Another Republic, and in the section of poems by de Andrade, there it is -- "The Dirty Hand." Under de Andrade's name and "translated" by Mark Strand.

Same poem: in Strand's book it's under Strand's name, and in the anthology it's under de Andrade's name.

What gives?

Over and out.

01 January 2006

More personal than usual, but I'll back off next time

The first day of the new year.

The last day of Chanukah.

Dana and I are watching episodes of Homicide, Season 6, like crazy so we can finish up the season before I head off to Chile. I am reading poetry like crazy to prepare for Chile. This has caused a few poems to eke out of me lately.

Some excellent emails today and yesterday by writer friends and non-writers. Richard Huttel keeps sending me really good poems. He's trying all sorts of insane things out this last year or so, and that's always good. debby florence wrote me, "You're my friend, not my publicist." Bill Knott is coming to Missoula and she's actually going to study with him. That's amazing.

Kevin and Gil came over to Dana's the other night, and we hooked them on The Office. Dana taught Gil how to make potato latkes.

David McFadden wrote me something unbelievably shocking but also brilliant. This is what he does.

I'm feeding Mary's cats while she's away, but only one of them comes running when I arrive. The other two are, presumably, upstairs playing pinochle.

Never before have I gone from one New Year's Eve party to another. In fact, I usually shun them. Last night, first to Alana's, a lovely little gathering. Then to Beatriz's, a slightly intimidating larger gathering that was really nice nonetheless. Fancy people were there. Cozy homes, both of them.

My mother's friend Norma -- her best friend just about -- left me a message yesterday. I've got to phone her back. I've got to. I was amazed by how much her voice sounds like my mom's sounded. The tone.

Sent out my New Year poem today to my email list. Got a few swell notes back. It was the second year in a row I wrote something upbeat. I'm getting predictable. Everyone knows I'm a fraud now.

Want to try to translate a poem of mine into Spanish, to make a leaflet for distribution in Chile. Anne Maclean has agreed to look it over for me, because my Spanish isn't so good. Her husband, Ben, sent out an end-of-the-year song lyric about shaving cuts yesterday. A great piece of writing.

Over and out.