30 May 2007

Tonight: McFadden!

Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David McFadden is finally out from Insomniac Press, and the launch is tonight, 7 p.m., at the Dora Keogh Pub, 141 Danforth. Also being launched is Roseanne Carrara's A Newer Wilderness.

The McFadden book is 320 pages and features extensive notes on the poems by the author, a practice he's employed in many of his previous books. It's a blast. And he was amazing to work with. Maddening but amazing. For me, it was a dream to edit the Selected of my favourite Canadian poet, a guy I've been reading since, as a teenager, I stumbled on A Knight in Dried Plums at Bathurst Heights Library.

While many regard Dave as a very important poet, I don't think he's ever received the accolades he deserves. For example, no GG. I'm hoping that this hefty book brings him a lot more attention and wins him all sorts of new readers.


It's been a busy time since I returned from BC. A small but really fun Boot Camp a couple weekends ago. A fantastic Fictitious Reading by Gary Barwin and Maggie Helwig on Sunday night — with great attendance, too. And the Small Press Book Fair on Saturday was a really good one: I sold lots, I got to visit with the divine Sandra on the eve of her departure for Scotland, saw heaps of old friends (always a highlight of the fair).

This Sunday I'm leading a prose-editing seminar at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, if registration steps up a bit. Details in the column to the right.

Over and out.

29 May 2007

One American who speaks tough truths

"The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."

CINDY SHEEHAN, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004

See her entire letter here.

28 May 2007

The Word of Gawd

can be found right here.

Over and out.

26 May 2007

Today, the Small Press Book Fair; tomorrow, Fictitious!

Been a chaotic week of catching up since returning from out West.

But here's the skinny on this weekend:

Saturday, May 26, 11 am - 5 pm
Trinity St. Paul Centre, 427 Bloor West (near Spadina)
I'll be there with my new Ron Padgett book, my own new book, and a new issue of my mag of one-line poems, Peter O'Toole. Should be about 69 other presses there, too!

Sunday, May 27, 7:30 pm
featuring Gary Barwin and Maggie Helwig
This Ain't the Rosedale Library, 483 Church (near Wellesley)
Two dear friends are reading at this one! Admission is by pass-the-hat, with proceeds to the authors. Snacks provided, but bring your own moonshine.

Over and out.

18 May 2007

Vancouver launch, Vancouver paunch

It's been a great three days in Vancouver. I officially love this city. It's been a process since the first time I visited Tom Walmsley here in the early 1980s and used the Pulp Press facilities to typeset Father, The Cowboys Are Ready To Come Down From The Attic.

Wednesday night's launch at Pulp Fiction was a blast. We packed the place, and there were lots of old and new friends there. It was fantastic to see Michael Boyce, who has recently moved here from Calgary, and Rox
drove all the way in from Washington. April has also just moved here from Castlegar, and Louis Cabri was visited from Windsor. Michael Barnholden, Judy Copithorne.... A pleasure to meet Elizabeth Bashinsky at last. And Mark Laba showed up, so I guess our 40-something year friendship has not come to an end! Dave and Alison were there, too. It was just great all-round.

The readings went well. It's also fascinating to see how accessible Clint

makes his difficult work when he reads aloud. I felt like mine was, well, light in comparison. But we both got great responses. We each started our readings by reading a poem by the other, a little nicety that RM Vaughan taught me when we launched together in 1999.

Pulp Fiction sold about 20 of Clint's book and a dozen of mine. Now, a little whining is in order: when all was done, they took two of Clint's books to put on the shelf for sale, and zero of mine. They told Brian Kaufman of Anvil that they wouldn't be able to sell mine. Though they'd just sold twelve of them.

Where the hell was the goodwill? Pulp Fiction stayed open an extra two hours on Wednesday, pushed the front-room shelves out of the way, and put up posters. In return, they probably netted about $400 or $500, including non-launch books that people were buying. They also had their store introduced to a lot of people who'd never been there before. You'd think they could have taken 10 of Clint's books — I mean, he's a celebrity in the neighbourhood! — and a few of mine. Show some support for the press that gave them an opportunity to sell all those books. I mean, Anvil could easily have held the launch at a coffeehouse or bar or gallery and kept all the sales revenue.

In fact, Pulp Fiction should have a little section of Anvil books: it's a publisher in the neighbourhood. And they should have sub-Terrain by the cash register. They'd be cornering the Mount Pleasant market on that.

Too bad. It's a great store.

Otherwise: ecstatically good night. Post-launch drinks and grub at Habit nearby. We closed the place down.

I gotta run, see Dave and Al, and catch my plane.

Over and out.

15 May 2007

Kootenay Katch-up #3: the Valhalla Film Fest & T-shirt slogans

"Dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians." That's what it said on the back of this biker guy's T-shirt at the Silverton Country Inn the other week. I still can't quite figure it out. Theories are invited.

Speaking of the Silverton Country Inn, I wound up there by chance one night. I'd intended to make the much longer drive to Wiley's in Nakusp, hoping for some live music, and Terry convinced me that it was the height of deer-in-the-road time and, in fact, someone had just had a deer-crash the previous night and had their car -- and the deer -- totalled. So I went to Silverton, just a couple kilometres over from New Denver. And, wonder of wonders, serendipity of serendipities, there was live music there! A guy named Shane Philip, from Quadra. He's a one-man band and a constructor of superb didgeridoos. He was a blast, so charismatic and fun. I mean, he overcame the enormously irritating sound of didgeridoos! Highly recommended if he's coming to a folk festival near you.

Speaking of festivals, concurrent with my residency with the high-school students last week was the Valhalla Film Festival, at the Silverton Gallery, where I'd worked with the elementary school kids. It was curated by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, two brilliant animators who were working with the younger kids at Lucerne School. The first night was a programme of family-rated animations, including an awesome old black-and-white Popeye episode and the magically bleak The Big Snit. Oh, and a lovely film called The Monk and the Fish. The kids present went crazy.

The next night I wasn't in town, but they showed the Edward Burtynsky documentary Manufactured Landscapes and another one I'm not certain of. Seemed to really make an impact on those who saw it. Thursday was the student films, which I've already talked about, and Friday featured an incredibly inspiring programme of animated films, including Hilary and Village of Idiots, based on an old Russian-Jewish folktale. The night closed off with Dave and Alison's wonderful Bob's Birthday, which sparked their TV series Bob & Margaret. My favourite, though, was a brief animated requiem called Overtime, about puppets keeping their puppetmaster alive. Sort of.

Last night I spent a couple hours at the school, helping Terry lay out this year's yearbook. She gave me the five pages of elementary and high school creative writing to choose, edit, and lay out. It was a blast. It was also nice to help Terry out after all her generosity.

Just packing up my stuff now. Leaving the New Denver cabin for Vancouver and tomorrow night's book launch at Pulp Fiction. Beckham is outside barking.

The cabin still smells faintly of woodsmoke from last night's awesome fire. I'm going to head down to the beach for one last moment of serenity by Slocan Lake.

Over and out.

14 May 2007

Kootenay Katch-up #2: the tango singer speeds to Nelson

A chill night last night, so I built a fire in the woodstove. It's the most comforting sensation, being in the cabin while the fire burns.

Last Wednesday's trip to Nelson to read at Oxygen turned out to be an adventure. I set out at a reasonable hour. I love the winding mountain roads, the straightaways through the valley. It's really an exhilarating drive. On the way through Winlaw, which is a small village mainly set along the highway, I kept my eyes open for a bookstore that Ali Riley, who once lived there, always swore existed but that I had never seen. And there it was: hiding behind some trees in a small row of shops almost across from the coffee shop Sleep Is For Sissies.

The shop is called Jennie's Gardens, and it's a tiny place — just a single room — but the book selection is fantastic. There must only be a few hundred fiction titles, but there are tons of books in translation, really high quality stuff. I didn't exactly need another book, but I wanted to buy something there: just to recognize this fantastic bookstore in a village smaller than New Denver. And to my amazement, I found a copy of The Tango Singer, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, translated by my friend Anne McLean! I remember Anne sending me a few sentences while she was working on this book, asking if they sounded right to me. So that was the book I bought and it sure felt nice buying it at this little literary oasis in the Kootenays. Can't wait to read it!

Hopped back into the car and began speeding off to Nelson, as I was now late for my pre-reading dinner with Castlegar poet Linda Crosfield, who organized the reading, and some of her friends. I'd also invited Peter McPhee, the Toronto poet who'd moved to the Koots a couple years back. Anyway, speeding was the operative word, and I soon got pulled over for my first-ever speeding ticket. The cop was a personable fellow, informing me I was doing doing 112 in a 90 zone. I felt like an idiot. And now I'd be even later for dinner. So, $113 poorer, I gave the officer a copy of my little poetry leaflet. "Hey, you should write a poem about being pulled over!" he offered. "No, it's something I'll want to forget," I told him.

We met for dinner at a great Nelson restaurant, of which there are plenty, called the Outer Clove. Linda was there, as well as poet Bobbie Oggletree and a couple of other friends. Peter came wandering in a little later and eventually we all headed off to Oxygen, a little artspace tucked in an alley behind Hipperson's Hardware,

upon the roof of which magical things take place in David McFadden's amazing poem "Secrets of the Universe." Anyway, my assumption was that I was doing a free reading; Linda had told me that we'd have to pass the hat to raise the $15/hour that Oxygen charged for the space. At the door as we walked in, Oxygen director Nic Harwood sat behind a table with a sign: "Suggested Donation: $5-$10." I started to realize what was going on, but pushed it outta my head till later.

Soon the room was filled -- about 25 people coming out to hear a poetry reading organized by Linda on about a week's notice. I had told her I'd hoped to hear some local poets, and I was not disappointed. The evening began with brief and engaging readings by Linda, Bobbie, Judy Wapp, and Harwood herself. It was great to hear the range of what the local writers were up to: Bobbie read two long poems that were funny and pointed; Linda read a cluster of vivid, precise shorter poems; Judy read one long and impassioned rant; Nic read a couple of Day of the Dead poems and some other stuff. The audience was enthusiastic and receptive. For my set, I read mainly from I Cut My Finger, including the various Kootenay poems and two poems about David McFadden, who taught in Nelson in the late 1970s (I sure hope David gets invited back for a Kootenay reunion, now that his Selected Poems is out!), and I read a few newer poems, including a couple from my back-and-forthage with Richard Huttel (a correspondence I've been stupidly neglecting lately!).

Half an hour later, the deed was done, and I sold about eight or nine books, which was great. Had some nice chats, and was urged by a few people to come back and do a workshop again sometime (I'd done one in Nelson in 2005), and a very interesting guy named Doug Wilton. Before the reading he told me how much he loved my stuff and how much he enjoyed Hey, Crumbling Balcony! After the reading, he told me he felt unmoved by the new work, but he bought a copy of the new book anyway to check it out on the page. He asked me if I liked philosophy and gave me a copy of his own book, To Break the Wheel of War: Waking from the Nightmare Circus of the Dualistic Mind (New Orphic Publishers, 2006), which looks like a wild trip about "human consciousness and its propensity for inner and outer conflict," with a lot of great graphics and bits of poetry scattered throughout.

As we were getting ready to go, I heard Nic ask Linda about her expenses around the poster for the reading. I'd seen the donation bowl: musta been at least $100 in there, maybe $150. But did Oxygen offer the readers the surplus above the space rental? Nope. It felt a bit like I'd just done a benefit reading for the artspace.

Now, I sometimes don't mind reading for free, as long as no one's paying to get in and it's understood that that's the arrangement. But I would think that people entering a reading and being asked to pony up $5 or $10 expect that the money is going to the artists they've come to hear. I really hate when this kinda thing happens, and I feel like a mook for not checking out the terms in advance. Artists have to make a living, too, and even a nominal $25 makes one feel recognized.

Anyway, this little tooth-grinder wasn't enough to spoil the evening for me. Linda did a fabulous job and made me feel very welcome. She put together a great event. I regret I didn't have much time to hang with her and talk more, but hopefully next time.

Headed off with Peter to his new home in Slocan Park. It was incredible: a huge three-storey house set on about 10 acres of wild land, with creeks and rivers and little waterfalls. Shangri-la. Rekindled my own sometime dream of having a place in the Kootenays. It was a really brave thing for him to pack up his Toronto life and move out here. I mean, he was so embedded in the reading and poetry community back home, where he'd founded the Scream in High Park and organized reading series and been a fixture at other reading series.

Had a great visit and wanted to accept his invite to crash overnight, but I had a 9 a.m. class in New Denver the next morning, so I hit the road a little before midnight. Had never driven any real distance here after serious dark, but I took it slowly, as there were tons of deer out: some on the roadside embankments, some just leisurely standing in mid-highway. Listened to the Pernice Brothers as I glided slowly through the surreal scene of animals on the road at night. A serene drive, and nice to get back to the cabin's coziness at the end of it all.

Over and out.

12 May 2007

Kootenay Katch-up #1: the students

Been a bit of a whirlwind this past week in New Denver (downtown pictured below).

The four-day workshop with the high-school kids at Lucerne was a success in the end, but after the first two poetry days, I was feeling a bit like I couldn't really connect. A fresh start, with fiction, on day 3 seemed to energize things: although most of them said they preferred poetry, they really dug into the fiction projects and things began to feel way more positive. At the end of day 4, they were going crazy getting their poems online in the e-zine that Terry set up for them, and bugging me for editing help, and choosing with pieces they would read at Thursday evening's coffeehouse at the Silverton Gallery.

The coffeehouse was packed: standing room only. Not only were the student writers presenting their work, but we were going to see the animated films that came out of Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby's four-day residency. And lots of parents were there, too, and younger siblings.

My students, on the most part, acquitted themselves really well, especially considering we didn't have time to practice. They read confidently, if even they didn't all feel confident, and there was a lot of good work. The audience seemed really impressed and the poetry and fiction got a warm reception. I was pretty darn proud of my brood: I gave them each one of my ECW poetry books afterwards and a lot of them had very nice things to say about the residency: it was especially heartening to hear from a few of them who said that they never knew they could write before, or that they thought poetry was this really difficult thing, but now they had a new way to express themselves and to play around with words.

In my MC'ing, I said how impressed I was by the support for arts in this small community. And teachers Terry and Katrina obviously give a lot of value to writing, and so New Denver treasures and rewards its young writers. It's a tradition here!

The student films were amazing: I couldn't believe Wendy and Amanda could get all that stuff out of their students in just four days, particularly considering all the technical stuff involved. There were pixilations, drawing-on-films, cut-out animation, and other techniques. Most of the films were really funny and really imaginative. The audience went pretty crazy over them.

After the student films screened, we got to watch Wendy and Amanda's award-winning When the Day Breaks, which I'd never seen before. It was sublime and beautiful, a little funny and a lot sad. And very thoughtful. It demands a lot of viewings.

I ended the readings with a few of my poems, mainly the various Kootenay pieces from I Cut My Finger. Got a nice response again, particularly for "One Fine Afternoon in New Denver, B.C." Alas, no one bought one of my books, but obviously that wasn't the point of it.

With all the work done here, all that was left to do was enjoy my last few days in New Denver.

Over and out.

08 May 2007

Big-city dog

A glorious morning in the cabin, listening to the Pernice Brothers and getting ready for my second day of poetry with the older students. The light is amazing in the morning, like at 6 a.m., a time I am rarely awake. And the light is amazing at dusk, the way it drifts through the trees, over the mountains. The buzz of insects sounds pretty good too.

Apparently there is a bear in town. Spotted on the highway last night. Just a little one, so that means there's a big one around too.

Got some writing on the novel done this past weekend. Had an amazing hike with Terry and her brother Russ and Russ's kid Ev. Veered off the Galeana trail up past Sandin, a ghost town that once housed miners and now hosts a dilapidated train and bus collection. We made out way up a mountain to where there was once a mansion; all that remains are a few big rocks that once made the structure's foundation. The servants' quarters are in better shape: a big collapsed mass of wood with some cement foundation still visible. To get there, I went across a river on one of these things:

Now, there's something I never imagined I'd do. Also had to walk along some very narrow precipices. I had to send the others ahead so I could face these passes myself. Awkwardly, I made my way. Is it possible to beat acrophobia? I'm thinking maybe I can at least get myself to a place where I can do "normal" things, like peer off balconies and walk across those pods at Ontario Place.

Yesterday's poetry workshop with the older kids went fairly well, especially when we moved into collaborative poems. But because it's off-site and a lot of the kids don't know each other, there was a big giddy factor that surprised me. And working for part of the time down on the pebble beach by the lake, the kids went a bit crazy. Big spider scare.

But we made our way through a bunch of different poetry strategies, and some fabulous lines and passages emerged. Today should be a lot more consistent, and I'll be trying out a different approach: imitation.

Met Wendy and Amanda, who are the visiting animators for the town's film festival. I'd met Wendy about 25 years ago in Montreal and Dave and Alison's place. Nice to see her again and talk about film and writing and art. Thing is, they brought their pooch, Rosco, along and we were supposed to look after Rosco for the day here at the house yesterday, while W&A worked at the school with the kids. Wasn't long before Rosco went awol, off into the woods. I took Beckham the bigger doggie and we searched the Galeana trail, calling for Rosco and waving a freshly BBQ'd hamburger in the air. No luck.

Rosco had now been gone for about five or six hours. What would I tell Wendy and Amanda when they came to pick up their little guy? But, through wondrous serendipity, one of my poet students had taken the back path into town and saw Rosco's shivering beneath an old abandoned prospector's cabin. I went out with a leash and Beck, and then some more of the kids showed up, and after an hour or two we got Rosco out from under there.

Good ending to a scarey prospect: big-city dog gets lost in the woods.

Over and out.

04 May 2007

Learning from the rascals

My week with the 10- to 12-year-olds from Burton and Lucerne schools has come to an end. It was exhausting! But a great experience. The kids camped out at the Silverton Gallery and I showed up each day and we worked together as a big group (40 kids!) and in smaller groups. Poetry, fiction, personal writing.

There was something very liberating about working with kids that age: they weren't suspicious of me and my writing methods like older kids can be. And I could say stuff to them, in a wide-eyed tone, like "OK, imagine that an emotion comes to your front door and knocks, but nobody's home...."

At that age, there's some very good writing, but the thing isn't to produce good writing, but to break the imagination free. To get them excited about poetry, about writing; to let them know that they are capable of producing sentences and phrases that will entertain and interest other kids, and maybe even adults.

But they're also pretty rambunctious at that age: especially the boys. I can't believe what full-time teachers must go through day after day. The amount of time spent maintaining and restoring order, negotiating, and futilely reasoning is incredible: but once they get writing, there is so much excitement, and sometimes silent, absorbed excitement.

So I spent a week with these Kootenays pre-teens and became very fond of them — even the trouble-makers, who often surprised with some great lines — and now I move on to another group. It's a strange thing to parachute into their lives and then to suddenly leave. I want to know how the story proceeds: which ones keep writing? what do they write? what do they read? what do they wonder? will they ever write another cento?

But, man, they were so fired up by the end: they pleaded to do another cut-up, another collaboration, another. They were determined to make their own zines and their own books.

Overall, I was very pleased with how things went. I had to keep making snap decisions and veering away from my plans. On the fly, I can now come up with new writing projects that I hope will tap into wherever the kids' minds are roosting.

Now I have a couple days off before I start my residency with the high school kids.

Yesterday I took an afternoon trip to Kaslo, a very cool town about half an hour from New Denver. Great health-food store, some good restaurants, nice lakefront areas. No bookstore, unfortunately. Just a little paperback exchange in the back of the laundromat would've been nice. But the best part was the drive there, along windy roads and precipices, through the mountains. It's pretty exhilirating. And sometimes scarey.

The nights in the cabin are great, especially since it's been raining (though that might finally have come to an end). I can't believe how early I fall asleep, and how early I wake up. Gotta unplug the fridge to plug in the kettle, or everything'll go kaboom. Shuffling along the little path behind the cabin, over the short footbridge, to the outhouse. Feeling the chill of the mountain air on my face. Having time to read. And the other morning, woke up before 6 a.m. and watched I Am, Unfortunately, Randy Newman, a weird and poignant British TV documentary by Jon Ronson. I loved the incongruity of watching that in a cabin in the woods.

OK, back to some of my own writing.

Over and out.

02 May 2007

Reading in Nelson, Workshop in New Denver

Is this not the best reading poster ever? It was put together by Kootenay poet Linda Crosfield for a reading I'm doing next week with her and three other local writers. I think the photo was taken by Dana on the Metro in Paris, on the very ride where I wrote the poem "I Speak English, Wall Street English," which appears in I Cut My Finger. I have no idea where Linda found this photo!

Tonight I'm giving an abbreviated version of my There's More To Memoir Than Truth workshop in New Denver at Lucerne Elementary and Secondary School, from 6 to 8 pm. Admission by donation. Terry assembled this event pretty quickly, at my request, but I'm hoping for a nice, if modest, turnout.

The first day of working with the elementary school kids went really well. I did two 90-minute sessions with them, focusing on poetry and on principles of writing in general. It's a huge group — 40 kids — so it got a little rowdy at times, but some really good poetry was written during the sessions, and the students obviously enjoyed themselves. In fact, there were some amazing poetry passages that I wish I'd come up with myself.

In the evening, there was a mini-reading by the students. It had some very good moments, but was a little tainted by a few kids going up to the podium just to cut up. A couple of the students who had written strong work during the day were, I guess, too shy to present at the reading. There's another reading tonight, so I'm gonna see what I can do during the day's sessions.

This morning it's raining again and the lake is grey. But I like this. The Kootenays can do no wrong.

Over and out.

01 May 2007

Back in Slocan Valley

Lovely waking up in the cabin in New Denver yesterday morning. Peering out the window, through the trees, across the lake, at the mountains and the Valhalla Glacier. This morning it's rainy, so I can't see across the lake, but the trade-off is that I get to hear rain pummelling the metal roof, which is a fantastic, comforting sound.

The drive out of Vancouver, as soon as I got into the mountains, was great. Mountains make me sort of happy. And they let you drive on them, but only at their pleasure.

Yesterday I visited the school and met the elementary class I'll be working with for four days, starting in a couple of hours. They had all written acrostic poems with their names to introduce themselves to me. They seem pretty neat and very enthusiastic. I think we're going to have a lot of fun. This will be a very different kind of writing-teaching. Can't use the Boot Camp model here: more of an easing them into the world of surprising language, giving them a sense of what poetry can be beyond Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee. It'll be an interesting challenge.

Kenneth Koch's Rose, where did you get that red? is making more sense to me now. While I don't want to use his specific projects, I'm going to adapt aspects of his approach to poems that excite me and that I think will excite the kids. But there are so many possible starting points, and so many directions to go from each starting point.

Better get to it.

Over and out.