27 April 2006

I otter know better

OK, so on Sunday, on the way to Kimberley, I stopped off for a bit of lunch in Nelson, and to pay respects to Hipperson's Hardware, of David McFadden fame, and to pop into Otter Books. So I checked out the poetry in Otter, and the sale shelves, and then I bought a collection of short stories by James Salter.

When I paid, I gave the woman at the cash a copy of the little poetry leaflet I prepared for this trip (a poem called "Coup," which I wish I'd named "Coup Tinny). She looked at it and said, "We just sold a book of yours." I looked astonished, and she added, "Hey, Crumbling Balcony! Just 20 minutes ago." Then she checked her till and said it was "two transactions ago."

OK, that's a pretty weird coincidence. I mean, during the hour that I'm in Nelson this year, someone buys my book, and I don't even have any events happening in Nelson. The Otter woman said, "People know you here." Geez.

Of course, as I walked down the main street later, I watched for people with Otter Books bags, figuring I'd accost them and tell them to hurry and get their money back!

Over and out

Diana Hartog

Sat out this afternoon on the little back deck, overlooking the trees that lead down to the lake, and read the entirety of Diana Hartog's 1982 collection, Matinee Light. It was her first book of poetry, put through Coach House Press by bpNichol. And it's really fantastic: sometimes hilarious, sometimes surreal, sometimes pastoral, and sometimes sensual. And sometimes mixtures of those qualities.

It was really nice reading it here in the Kootenays, where I imagine some of it was written. It's a scritchy, worn copy I found in a used bookstore in Nakusp. And it makes me think of all the great poetry books that go out of print and nearly disappear: like David McFadden's A Poet's Progress (to make another Coach House title), or Tom Walmsley's Lexington Hero, or Elaine Equi's Shrew Crazy.

I mean, of course there are zillions of terrible poetry books that are out of print, but there's some great stuff, too.

Hey, is this one of these half-baked thoughts that Mark Truscott recently alluded to when discussing the value of blogging?

I think it is!

Man, I'm going to lose so many blog readers today.

Over and out.

3 Kootenay Poems


one glacier
reaches into the sky
the other
into the lake

when i turn away
they switch places


mountain goats watch me
drive along the precipice
fingers tight
on the steering wheel

my stereo leaks
out window cracked
for mountain air

neil diamond
they say
last year it was john cale
guy’s going downhill


the woodpecker
on my cabin’s metal roof
has got a brand new bag

27 April 2006, New Denver

Me on Bravo, mountain goats, and my pal Kev

Some things:

On April 27, the Heart of a Poet episode about me airs on Bravo, at 8 pm. Not sure if that's across Canada, or just in Ontario. The folks who made the show had promised to let me know when it's on TV, but they've failed miserably: I haven't been told of a single airing, though it's been on several different stations across the country. Anyways, I haven't actually watched the whole episode, but the fragments of it I saw seemed pretty well done: except for the cheesey jazz music they added behind my readings.

Other episodes feature Sandra Alland (I saw that one: it was good, though it packaged Sandra in a convenient way), bill bissett, and Christian Bök.

What else? Oh yeah, I just heard today that Kevin Connolly won the Trillium Award for Poetry! That's incredibly exciting. Man, he deserved it. No one in this country is doing what he does in Drift. His poetry is so smart and weird and often funny.

What else? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: on the to Kimberley, I saw mountain goats on the Salmo-Creston Pass: dozens of them. It was pretty cool, even though I was concentrating on not driving off the edge of the precipice. On the way over the pass, I listened to Joanna Newsom. Very soothing. On the way back from Kimberley, I listened to Neil Diamond. Very inspiring, but a terrible version of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." And a very surreal version of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."

What else? Oh yeah, I'm back in New Denver. Worked on my novel a lot today. Read the first few chapters to Jeff and Alison on Monday night -- which brought to my awareness all these new problems. But Jeff and Alison seemed to like what they heard. Maybe there's hope for it yet. Terry is being really supportive of me here: giving me this space and calm in which to write.

What else? Oh yeah, I better get to sleep. And dream of mountain goats leaping over glaciers.

Over and out.

25 April 2006

Letter from Castlegar

Sitting in a coffeehouse with wireless, here in Castlegar. Had hoped to meet with Almeda Glenn Miller and a couple of her writing students, but it's not going to happen.

Yesterday's all-day workshop in Kimberley went well: some really talented writers. They're lucky to have Jeff as a teacher, as the New Denver kids are lucky to have Terry. We ended our session with a few improvised sound poetry pieces in the Platzl, which is this incredibly kitschy outdoor pedestrian mall downtown: with a Bavarian theme, as the whole town sorta strives for. You can put a quarter in a slot, and a plaster dude in liederhosen comes out of a clock and yodels. Anyway, I was really impressed with the kids' chutzpah. There were people walking by us as we screeched, chanted, sung, hummed, and growled.

Oh, and 10 kids bought books from me: that's a record! A few of the students had studied with me last year, and it was nice to see them again. One of the new students, Dan Moe, a neat guy, had sent me a letter a couple months ago: it was modelled on my "Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Ron Padgett," though I thought it had been inspired by my letter to Heidi Fleiss. He read it to the class; it was funny and embarrassing. Also there was Stephanie Warner, who graduated from high school last year and is studying writing at UVic; she was back in town and sat in on most of the workshop. That's the kind of thing that Jeff has cultivated in Kimberley.

Jeff also gave me the skinny on his three-plus years of putting together the bissett anthology with Rox. Sounds like it was both incredibly rewarding and often trying: I mean, dealing with 80 writers, that's understandable. I still haven't dug into the book seriously, but it looks like it's going to be great. Good visit with Jeff, and his partner Alison. Hopefully I'll be able to stick around longer next time.

Had a nice stop in Cranbrook on the way home. Interesting town. Decent used bookstore. I found a copy of the Four Horsemen's mass-market (yup!) paperback, Horse D'Oeuvres. At the Owl & Teapot in Marysville, on the outer edge of Kimberley, I found a copy of Daphe Marlatt's experimental novel Ana Historic. Looking forward to that.

Now I'm heading down to the used bookstore here in Castlegar.

Over and out.

24 April 2006

Radiant dance of Bing Crosby

I survived the Kootenay Pass. I'd been dreading it all week, but I survived. Before I left New Denver, Jeff and Alison called to tell me there was an alternate route: a ferry from Nelson, and then a different, windy highway. Just knowing I was actually making a choice really helped: I opted for the Pass.

Luckily, this time there was no snow. Not like last year, when a beautiful, sunny day below turned into a mild snowstorm up in the mountains, and slush, and slippery roads. This time, too, I focussed on the line in the middle of the highway and never looked out at the precipice or the mountains around me. I was tense, vertiginous, and chest-tightened, but the worst of it seemed to go by in about five minutes and then I was already on the gradual descent.

At Jeff and Alison's, Alison was cutting her kids' hair. I asked if she'd but mine too. So my first act in Kimberley was to get a haircut. Pretty thorough one, too. And then, after an excellent curry meal, Jeff and I headed to the school and did some photocopying for today's workshop, and then to the strange space in the local museum where the workshop will be held, where we set up the tables in an as unboardroom-like manner as we could. Outside our workshop door is a big stuffed bear, killed years ago by some little kid. Inspiration!

Got to hear tales of last week's launch of radiant danse uv being, the amazing bill-bissett-homage anthology that Jeff and Rox edited and published through Nightwood. There will be a Toronto launch on June 1 at Clinton's.

Today's workshop goes from 9 till 3, with about 20 kids, most of whom I've never worked with before. Jeff gave me zines by a bunch of them (he assigns zine-making in his classes!) who had pirated my poems, which was pretty cool.

Saturday's work on the novel was extensive, but I ended up deciding my book is crap. Oh, I'll still finish it.

Over and out.

22 April 2006

Sitting in the peat blog; or, Ladies & gentlemen, Ethel Ermine

Dana just sent me a couple of links: the first was to an article in the Calgary Herald, from January, which contains a sidebar listing Bloggamooga as one of 10 worthwhile writer's blogs. I was shocked, and in weird company. The other was some kind of "Best of the Blogs" listing, which I think listed just about every writer's blog, but it identified me as a "Latin American writer." Success, at last.

Woke up early this morning, as I always do here in New Denver, and finished watching Amélie on my iBook. Started watching with last night's rain beating against the cabin's metal roof and finished with this morning's tenuous sunshine pouring in the windows. Nice movie, and I'll want to watch it again. Really delightfully weird, though I miss the dark edge that a movie like Delicatessen has. There's a bit where Amélie gives a video montage to a neighbour, and I believe one of the clips is of the black gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, maybe from the late 50s or early 60s. But she has a guitar slung around her neck, so maybe it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I wish I had some Rosetta Tharpe to listen to right now. Man, her twangy guitar sound was brilliant: and I think it predated Pops Staples' guitarwork. I wonder if it influenced Kristin Hersh.

Yesterday I took a trip into Nakusp to check out the used bookstore and Time Warp Records. Well, Time Warp is gone now, a real shame. Nakuspers'll have to travel a couple hours now to find a good selection of music. The used bookstore wasn't too bad: picked up a copy of Patricia Highsmith's The Two Faces Of January. She's always worth re-reading, and I think I've read every one of her brilliant novels. Also picked up a copy of the classic New American Poetry anthology from the 1960s. That red-and-white-covered one: do I have the title right? Anyway, I have it at home, but thought it would be a nice addition to the cabin's small book collection. Happy also to find a worn copy of Diana Hartog's 1983 Coach House collection, Matinee Light. Be fun to read it here, just across the highway from her property, and down the hill from her writing studio.

Wednesday and Thursday's workshops with the teens from Lucerne Secondary School and Nakusp Secondary School went really well, though I was unsure of them at the time. I always get a little antsy while they're happening, or right after they're done, because, well, teenagers are teenagers, and they don't always seem as engaged as adults in a workshop. Wednesday we did all poetry and Thursday was fiction. There was some amazing stuff produced. I enjoyed seeing some students I'd worked with here last year, and also meeting a bunch of new ones. With a couple days' distance now, I feel really good about the workshops. But really I knew it went well when 13 of the 21 participants showed up for the Writers' Festival High School coffeehouse on Thursday night, which I hosted. They all read well, and there was so much variety. Man, I felt proud of those students. I hope at least a few of them give this writing thing a real go.

Some fireworks on Thursday morning when I read a short story story by American writer Alison Bundy. Just a little tale about a beefsteak on a white plate. Andrea, the teacher from Nakusp, said it wasn't a story, and she'd never accept it if it was handed in to her, and she'd wonder if it was "just written on the bus to school." I was a little shaken, because it was the beginning of the day's session and I've never before been so strongly challenged by a host teacher. Anyway, I went through the story sentence by sentence, and explained what I thought the piece was doing, and I also asked her if she really thought great writing couldn't be produced on a bus. I said I thought the story was as good as Poe or Alice Munro. So we had some back-and-forth about it; the students didn't say a word. I really admire the teacher, though, for speaking her mind. I just didn't agree with her.

We bumped into each other Friday in Wylie's Pub in Nakusp, where about half a dozen of the teachers were having an end-of-week pint, and we discussed it some more. I had wandered into Wylie's thinking I could get some work done on my novel, but ended up sitting with the teachers for a few hours. Andrea said I was a really good poet, but not a fiction writer; hence my judgement about Alison Bundy's story. I wonder what's become of Alison Bundy anyway: I love her books, especially Dunce Cap.

Earlier in the week, I woke up to see a sleek white rodent peering at me from a metre away, beside the woodstove. It was really cute. I though at first it was a mouse, but it was too long. It looked like an albino weasel. Or was it a mink? Discussion with locals later that day resulted in a consensus that it was an ermine. I'd never really known what an ermine was before, but I remember that number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe sing about "ermine and pearls" in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Anyway, this ermine was amazing: when I moved, it dashed away, and then appeared poking its head out of a cupboard. Then it disappeared again and in a flash was peering over a shelf on the other side of the room. It was like a cartoon character. Tess the dog put in some time in the cabin that night, and the ermine never came back.

Over and out.

19 April 2006

11 years after Mom

Lighting a yahrzeit candle for my mother tonight. What an odd thing to be lighting it in a little cabin in the Slocan Valley. My mom, Shirley, died in April 1995. I'm sure it'll always feel a lot more recent than that. Anyways, she has probably never had a memorial candle lit from her in view of a glacier.

This afternoon's workshop at the school was a little bumpy, but some good things came of it. So odd to enter a classroom and have worked with all the kids before, but a year earlier. So I wasn't a novelty to them, but we weren't exactly pals from last week. The highlight was the group collaborative poem, one word at a time, written on the chalkboard. Tomorrow I'll be doing four hours of poetry with 25 kids from two schools. It will be outside the school setting, which is good. Again, I worked with some of these students before, but I'm feeling very positive about this session. On Thursday I'll be doing fiction with the same group.

Tonight I was to do a poetry/fiction workshop with a small group of adults. They elected to keep doing poetry through the whole three hours. It was a blast, a lot of fun. Most of them had never written poetry before. Two of them were songwriters. I wrote a poem I'm pretty pleased with.

Getting back to Terry's property, I passed a deer just 20 metres from the house. It was a lovely sight in the dark, just off the driveway. Neat to know there are deer wandering around so close.

Went for a drive this afternoon. It's amazing how the scenery changes every time you come around a bend in these winding roads. Lakes, mountains, glaciers, trees. And again, the occasional deer at the side of the highway, grazing in the afternoon sun.

Over and out.

18 April 2006

The Fog: A Movie by John Carpenter

Fog nearly obliterated the mountains and the Valhalla Glacier across the lake early this morning. Roosters were crowing, but otherwise all was quiet. My fire had crackled its last but the cabin was still fairly warm. This afternoon, a class visit with a class I visited last year: how to make things different? And tonight a workshop with adults: we'll write some poetry and some fiction, and I'll try to cram as much as I can into three hours.

Much of yesterday was spent trying to solve an electricity problem in the cabin. I think I shorted things by having the jacuzzi, the capuccino maker, the widescreen TV, and the robot all going at the same time. Well, the heater and the kettle, anyway. But before that, Terry introduced me to a couple of her friends who live on the poet Diana Hartog's old property nearby, and I got to see the eccentric, beautiful house that Hartog built with her own hands. It reminded me a lot of Pablo Neruda's house in Valparaiso: vertical, angular, with lots of windows in strategic places; it also has a sort of gangway all around the outside, as if it were a boat.

I have no idea what a gangway is. Is that even a word?

Nice rain yesterday afternoon drove me down to the cabin where I holed up for an hour and made some progress on piecing together my poetry manuscript. I think I no longer like the title New Hope For The Disenfranchised. Gotta think it through some more. I suddenly remembered a few poems that I've never entered into my computer from my notebook, including some haiku I wrote last year in Edmonton. I think I blogged them. My memory is that they were awful, but maybe they were awful in an interesting way. I'll have to look for them.

The next few days are busy with workshops and readings. Looking forward to the time to relax and write after that.

Over and out.

16 April 2006

Back to the Kootenays

I'm back in the Kootenays, for my third time in a year, and my third time in a lifetime. Just at the Castlegar Airport now, using their free wireless before heading to the wondercabin in New Denver. Maybe I'll get some borscht from the airport cafe for later.

Bumpy ride down through the clouds, with an argh and a bleh, only to emerge at the bottom for a glorious view during the approach. Yeah, it's real nice here. A good feeling.

I'm gonna hit the road now.

Over and out.

14 April 2006

Beer and poetry

Once upon a time, Kevin Connolly and I could split six pitchers of beer. Tonight we managed three, plus a bottle each of Dos Equis, and then a nightcap of Dos Equis for Kev and Campari for me. Campari, as it turns out, is bitter for the first few sips and then nice afterwards. It's rather red.

Oh, and Kev and I solved all the problems of the poetry world. So there's nothing to worry about. Please. Just go to sleep. We've got everything under control.

Over and out.

12 April 2006

The smote and the smitten: traditional post-Seder blogging

Then came the Holy One, blessed be He,
And slew the angel of death,
That killed the shohet that slaughtered the ox
That drank the water that quenched the fire
That burned the stick that beat the dog
That bit the cat that ate the goat
My father bought for two zuzim.
One little goat, one little goat.

Thus ended our tiny seder tonight. No one had sauntered in through the open door.

This afternoon, Dana and I visited my mom, dad, and brother in the cemetery up in North York. And then we went to Regina's, the wonderful Jewish foodery at Wilmington and Sheppard. The sign said they closed at noon, but it was nearly two and the place was packed. Everyone was so cheerful and helpful in this little place. I remember that when I was a kid (not a goat, not a goat), I used to walk the kilometre or two to Regina's, from Pannahill Road, and buy myself a kosher egg roll. They were 35 cents. And then, a few doors over from Regina's, was DeHavilland Books, the first used bookstore I ever knew. Musty old paperbacks. I bought some MAD paperbacks, and once I bought a Man from U.N.C.L.E. paperback there, and I also bought a Conan the Barbarian book. I think I also bought my first Mickey Spillane novel at DeHavilland Books. The place was run by an old couple with a son who I guess we called then "retarded." They were orthodox. I can picture them exactly, though the place has probably been gone for 30 years.

Those kosher egg rolls sure were good.

When I get back from out west, I'm going to make a trip to Pannahill Road, and drop by 179, and give them (probably leave in their mailbox) a copy of Henry Kafka And Other Stories. There's a story in there called "The Story of My Family," and it takes place in the driveway of that house. Maybe the current owners of the house would like a copy.

There's some stuff in the Haggadah that you read after the seder meal. I think that after all the grandparents were finally gone, we skipped that part in our family seders. But even when we included it, it was read in Hebrew. Now Dana and I read it in English, and there's a bit of pretty ugly stuff in there, calling for the wrath of god against enemies. Not only enemies, but those who don't believe the same as we do.

I guess they were pretty desperate and scared back then, getting chased all over the desert, with only time to eat matzoh. It was hot and bloody. There've certainly been similar times for Jews not all that long ago, and similar times for others, too, but I don't think this smoting business is really the answer. Better that everyone on earth simply be smitten than anyone gets smoted.

Over and out.

11 April 2006

Matzoh, matzoh, matzoh, I made you out of clay

Passover creeps closer on its little matzoh feet.

So do the Kootenays, where I'm headed on Sunday. Readings and workshops in New Denver and Silverton; workshops in Kimberley, and maybe I'll get to Jeff Pew's Poetry on the Rocks festival there. Rox and Jeff will be launching their bissett homage anthology. (The Toronto launch is June 1, at Clinton's!)

My novel turns out to be much more complex to complete than I had thought. Gosh, how does anyone keep all that info sorted out with a tiny little human brain? Perhaps the answer will come to me in New Denver, in the little cabin by the lake, with the woodstove burning, the window cracked for ventilation, Tess the dog scratching at my door. And maybe, somewhere in the woods, bears.

This time I think George W. Bush is really going down. I mean, it's gotta happen. It's gotta. I swear.

Over and out.

06 April 2006

Shrinkage may occur

Over the past while, I have received amazing poetry chapbooks in the mail from Sam Andreyev in Paris and from Hugh Thomas in Fredericton. Sam has been producing books and tapes and comics for about a decade, and I think this is Hugh's first chapbook. I'm in the middle of a rush copyedit for Coach House right now, so my mind is too elsewhere-focused to comment any further.

Meanwhile, I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of radiant danse uv being: A Poetic Portrait of bill bissett, edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen "Rox" Roxborough. Apparently it's enormous. Poems by about 100 Canadian poets, for bill. I have a little pantoum in there about the time bill kissed me in front of a threatening cluster of homophobes. Gonna be a nice book, I think.

Next weekend I head out to the Kootenays to do some workshops and readings, and I'll likely head to Kimberley for the first launch of the bill book. Going to spend a couple weeks in Terry Taylor's amazing cabin, where last year I learned to light a woodstove and use an outhouse. Maybe we'll kayak some more. Maybe I'll finally finally finally finish my goddamn novel.

Looked at the proofs today for the upcoming issue of This Magazine. The mag has a new editor -- will she keep me on? I wonder. I've been there a few years now, so maybe it's time for me to be bumped. But I have so much more I want to do!

Some progress is being made on Syd & Shirley #2. One of my poets seems to have gone AWOL, so I had to replace her. I wrote to one of my favourite American poets (no, no one in New York), and to my shock, because I don't know him, he said yeah! Now I have to finesse the interview with Joel Lewis and get that thing going. It's a little boy-heavy, that's for sure. I'll make up for it next time.

I've been wondering for a while whether I should mention on my blog that I'm seeing a shrink lately. I haven't decided yet. He's an existentialist. I mean, if I was seeing a shrink, he'd be an existentialist.

Dana and I are finishing off the final season of Homicide on DVD. It's the worst season yet, but this two-parter featuring the return of Mike Kellerman is pretty good. There are far too many beautiful new main characters on the show in the last season or two. It's like an Eaton's catalogue or somethin'. But man, for the first few years, it was the best TV I've ever seen.

I'm reading David McFadden's An Innocent in Cuba, finally. He and I went for lunch last week: Mezzetta, our original plan, was closed, so we drove out to Little India and went to the Famous. It was spectacular as always. What a great visit. Afterwards, Dave invited me into his apartment and he gave me a couple of books: Lowry and Allende. I looked at the Greg Curnoe art on his walls. He explained to me his incredible, unique system for choosing what to read from his wonderful book collection. Ask him about it sometime.

Over and out.

02 April 2006

a fragment

It felt like his teeth had become his entire face.