24 October 2020

Good night, dazzling RM Vaughan

I don't have a great memory, but here are a few that rise to the surface with the profoundly sad news that RM Vaughan is gone. Richard – poet, essayist, playwright, video artist, performance artist, queer activist – went missing in Fredericton on October 13. His body was discovered by police yesterday. He was 55.

1. In 1996, we both had our first full-length poetry collections published by ECW Press. His was A Selection of Dazzling Scarves; mine was The Inspiration Cha-Cha. At the launch, where Richard wore a dazzling scarf, he suggested we begin by reading one of each other's poems — a beautiful gesture, and one that was especially fun because we were reading aloud in front of an audience a poem we'd never read before. I thought it was such a great act of solidarity. A few years later, we launched our respective second poetry collections together as well.
2. Sometime in the early 2000s, if I remember right, Richard curated an evening at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre called 100 Tiny Queer Performances. He invited 100 artists and performers to create one-minute pieces for the show. As a straight guy, I was pretty honoured and thrilled to be part of this, and to perform for one minute on the stage at Buddies. I have since expanded the one-person play, The Ape Play, from one minute, to two minutes, to six minutes, and I'm currently writing it as a novel. The book, should I ever get it published, will be dedicated to Richard's memory.
3. A few years ago, I was spending a week in Montreal and took along some freelance work. One job was a copy-edit of Richard's book-length essay Bright Eyed, about insomnia. Richard was an insomniac. I have a similar tendency. Struck by insomnia myself, I stayed up all night in my tiny hotel room editing that amazing book from Coach House.
4. This past spring, Richard reached out to me. A very close friend of his and I were not talking, he had heard. He liked both of us and didn't like the idea of us feuding. He wondered how we could heal this rift. It was an act of caring and generosity, an act characteristic of Richard. (He didn't succeed in seeing that rift healing, but not for a lack of trying.)
5. And here's a tiny but memorable thing: back when we worked together at eye Weekly, one of Toronto's two free entertainment tabloids, Richard did some restaurant reviewing. He made an art of that too. I recall him describing the grilled-cheese sandwich at Hooters (yes, he reviewed Hooters!) as a tennis ball melted between two pieces of corrugated cardboard. The review ended with some trademark RM bombast: Hooters was, he said, and I paraphrase, one of the most offensive of institutions: a family restaurant.
Everything Richard did — from his poetry to his video art to his performance and plays — was challenging and brave. And often outrageous. Plus: he was a truly sweet man.
My deepest sympathies to Richard's family and everyone who was very close to him.

Over and out.


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