Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mark C. Durfee, Citizen poet of Detroit

A broken down old house in Detroit.
A rose growing out of the foundation of a levelled bungalow.
A city going to hell, and a man seemingly going to hell.
All is decay and confusion. But the Detroit denizen looks up, not down, while all around him the streets are filled with loopiness, murder, mayhem.

...Are we ready to look at
the lives ignored for so long
without fear of corneal blindness?
Is it time now? Are we ready
to turn face to the darkness
of the tortured days and
place our eye upon them?
You do know,
you do know don’t you
that if you don’t look you’re blind already? ...

--Mark Durfee

Look up, look up for a way for the city and for the man.
And he can already, though blind, see the high-seated charioteer..

Mark Durfee lives in Detroit. He has scarecely ever left town. There wasn't the time..
A series of car accidents (Where else but in Detroit, mostly freeway?) has left him all but immobile.


The skies are strown with stars,
The streets are fresh with dew
A thin moon drifts to westward,
The night is hushed and cheerftd .
My thought is quick with you.

Near windows gleam and laugh,

And far away a train
Clanks glowing through the stillness :
A great content 's in all things.

And life is not in vain.

Mark Durfee, with his echoes of Henley.
And he knows not who Henley was.
And of Dylan Thomas not going gently into that night.
Natural talent. But art and life teaches that somebody has already thought of what you now think. But, sadly--better.

So it would seem that Mark Durfee, likening himself to a blind seer, augurs for the high-seated charioteer. It is not a Greek god up there, but an Englishman named Henley who too saw polluted, death-filled London slums. And he could also see his own high-seated charioteer. And likely would have welcomed Mark to his fire.

So a publishing for Detroit poet Mark Durfee.
A grudging publishing, for the Island Grove Press committe is divided, The ladies are murmuring back and forth...He is not ready, he is not ready.
But there are people who just have to be published.
People like Mark Durfee, who are writing for their lives.
And braver than you or I, Gunga Din.

The covering letter for Mark's poems makes all the mistakes that a poet can make in a covering letter. A chumminess with the editors, hyperbole, Uriah Heapism.. Viz,

To:Island Grove Press

Dear Editorial Board,

I pray your indulgence o arbiters of things submitted if I have not exactly followed the proper course of laying my poetry at your alter. It has been awhile since I’ve been to this particular church. Years in fact and I tremble at the prospect of roofs caving in and pews flying across the room as I enter the door to your worthy institution, to crush me.

Before I allow the demons of doubt to persuade me otherwise allow me to explain the poetry I am submitting for your consideration. First nothing here is previously published or currently available in any public domain and are not part of a multiple submission package.

I chose these four pieces as four different styles of my writing done in years past (’05-’07). The disparity of style being the theme that connects them as opposed to some connective doctrine. In my own mind, that after forty years of trying I still have not settled on one particular style of writing is both curse and pleasure. And as long as I am in the confessional, I will say that I am branching out looking for new experimental ways of expression but am not quite ready for a public debut of that method yet so I lay these at your feet for consideration instead.

While I have no curriculum vitae to submit or even a worthy resume other than I have been published in The White Pelican journal, have a chap book on the market available from The LeadFoot press (Black, White and Blue in Detroit-2006), and somehow or another duped the editors at Detroit’s Metro Times, Free Press and Detroit News to occasionally publish a letter or two, I am ever looking for ways to be heard among the rather loud choir in the church of publication. While I would love a solo, a lead tenor part would be perfectly fine if you think my work up to the challenge.

For you consideration I thank you, most humbly.

Mark C. Durfee


I must say I overrode my editorial board.
I understood that here was a man very nearly going to hell.
His cry must be heard. Even if it seems sometimes a shriek.
First a litle prose:

Going, Going, Gone

This Goddamn cursor keeps blinking at me like I should be writing something or playing with it or anything other than let the bitch wink at me…”I think it’s an alien uprising” the cursor that tells you, “you must do something with me. Something, anything, just keep writing until I stop blinking; I won’t stop blinking until you put something down on this electron filled pad.”

God it’s like mosquitoes…as long as you’re moving those little nuisance diseases carrying bastards won’t land on you; but as soon as you stop…you’re meat, blood and, hopefully a recipient for tsetse sickness, malaria or swine flu…”swine flu; why swine flu?” Because cursors are like mosquitoes and virus plagued pigs they just won’t leave your stupid constipated blocked ass alone without being an annoyance or a near death feeling. “Don’t just sit there run, move feed it, feed it bent and broken letters, feed the cursor anything to make it rest bloated on the couch.” The cursor god demands

I feel it now, the invasion into my electron filled space, my last brain cell is gone, lost in the space between winks, my mind has turned into a black vertical line that blinks until someone else uses it.


And now some poetry.

You Already Hold the Key

I want to be the key
in your head.
that opens the secrets

Making you afraid, wanting to be dead

I’d lay there with you
sighing and crying alone in the dark.
I want to open all the secret
places of your heart.

A spirit within you made not seen
looking at and removing
the things that make you afraid

Wishing you’d never been.

Taking fear away to a
dark and silent room

where I could cast all fear

remorselessly to doom.

I would be a key allowing you

freedom from your fears;

comforting your one last lonely cry

drinking the soon forgotten tears.

I’d like to be the key

Opening space, widening the bars
and let you dance unafraid in the dark
to a new tune played among the stars

I wish I were the key,
The key to release your fear.
But you hold it already, it jingles on your ring
all you really have to do is turn the thing.


(Fine poem. But one is tempted to add a Cf.. Not a footnote, but Control Freak....But then all people of high intelligence tend to mold people somehow).

More prose:


Waiting rooms are similar to elevators except they don’t put a magazine rack in the elevators to help avoid human contact. In elevators you stare at the rising or descending numbers just waiting your turn to get off and away. In waiting rooms you stare at words and pictures to ward off contact and conversation waiting to get out. The results are the same; both places are as isolating as a bad marriage.


And finally, the bone of contention, this poem.

Inchoate, hissed one Board member. Clarity, clarity above all else.

I have attempted to edit, without Mark's permission but I suppose that is not entirely kosher.

Trained to Submit

Wild wolves tamed and trained

to be showpieces.

(But as for me)

I like to wear prey

on my sleeves.

Conquest is not respected

unless it is shown off.

Wolves, the pack animal,

trained to submit

trained to attack my enemies.

Let the wolves return from near extinction.

My sleeves are empty.


Well, not empty of talent.

Good luck, Mark.

--Ivan Prokopchuk
Proprietor, Island Grove Press.

Editorial Board.

"Donnetta Lee"
Johanna Nicholson
E.A. Monroe
Pamela Russsell

Mark C. Durfee is published now by Island Grove Press, Toronto, Canada.Mr. Durfee holds all rights.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Droll workaday tales. How the f*ck-up got a buck-up.

The dream had to be put aside. Family starving. You'd taken the job as copyeditor and headline writer, poet of typography, zippy headlines produced in a seconds, somebody else's copy polished to a tight sheen, every word counting, as if there were a paper shortage.

At least that was more or less the job description. Desk man, or sub-editor as they say in the U.K.

Last person to see the copy before the mighty presses rolled. You processed the copy and wrote the headline; writers did not write their own headlines. There was the matter of advertising already dummied in. There was column width and depth. There were instances where you only had only one column in which to write your head, so you'd
use three or even four lines in that narrow space. Farm boys did not like a movie about their town, so in those days you wrote, aping some oher adept in the past:


Oh you had to be good. No fuzzy-eared Wordworths here. Speed and accuracy was the shiibboleth.

Except that I was neither speedy nor accurate. And I had a big mouth and an ego the size of Newfoundland.


Me? The published poet, short-story prizewinner, former Toronto Star man?


The music playing in my head, out of Charlie Brown: "Who me?"

"Yes, you! "

He's a clown, that Charlie Brown.



Wife is pregnant again.
Buck up, fuckup!

I had initially quit my job at The Canadian Star Weekly so I could finally write that great novel. Ran out of money;
ran back to what was by now called The Canadian magazine. "Think I'll pass," said top editor Gerald Anglin.

Sure as hell can't go home again.

Over to the Toronto Telegram. They needed headline writers. I had a rep. I was soon in.
But you have to work nights to put the paper out in the morning. Two a.m. And three a.m. and four. Always working in the wee hours. And you had to be brilliant on demand, sleepy or no. These were the days before
serious barbiturates. Mind spinning in the morning. Impossible to sleep. I drank.

Walking into work at three a.m., still half drunk. Actress June Havoc having an up-and down career. Head editor, or "slot man" wants an eight column headline, 36 points high to explain the story. You set HB pencil to paper,

"Havoc an apt name for showbiz game."

"Good," says the slot man. "But can you keep it up?"

I couldn't.


You go back to the university. "Yes, yes, we can find a job for a recent graduate. But a mature man?
Things were so bad that at thirty, I was seriously thinking of going back to my faculty advisor.

Catch Thirty . Here you were in your twenties, brilliant, you thought, bulletproof. Instant publishing for anything you wrote.

Catch thirty. You'd already burned yourself out.
It was now that you had to pay for all those superiorities, the newspapers and magazines with so much of you in it, the yearbook, the student newspaper, the literary magazine.

Catch thirty. Like the -30- journalistic ending for a written piece.

"You've dug your last hole, Mole!". At least that's what had happened to a plug-ugly character in MAD magazine.

Now the novel, the project with the terrible price, has drawn you back, back to the cashing in of beer bottles, Mac' milk jugs, painting furniture for your mother-in-law.

Hugo the Yugo, who owns the apartment complex, wants his money.


Then sudden, unexpected relief.
The mother-in-law wants to go to Florida. She is a little ill. Very like a baby. She has no babysitter for her Florida vacation.

Does a cat have a tail?
I would be her constant companion, confidante, bottle-washer, bum-boy. My wife too, offered her services.And wouldn't my little boy like a Florida vacation?

Leonardo Arms, the famous condo in Fort Myers.

Gulf wind wafting through the white stucco penthouse.
Going shelling in the morning, shopping for momma-in-law at Winn-Dixie. Dolphins jumping up and down as you drive over the bridge to the Winn-Dixie.

What a marvellous way to screw up! Did actually I know what I was doing when I let my life just float away?
Wife and chubby-chucks doing fine. Momma has big bucks. We suddenly had big bucks and a new station wagon to drive (Mother-in-law had to get around). Hey, this was just like downtown! But better.

Sharp stinging sense of inferiority all the same. I had been fired. I took it personally.

Had to make amends. Put pen to paper, did some golf course story and what do you know? Published in the Reader's Digest.

I had killed the incubus, but did not yet give it a name, so it really stayed down there, tamped-down but ugly and accusing all the same. Deep down, you are a fuck-up. You are a turd.

Well, here we were, living the life of millionaires on Mommy's money.
And yet, deep down, I was a turd. I knew it, mother-in-law knew it; only my poor wife didn't know it.

Losing at scrabble (some editor!); Losing at board games. A duffer at bridge. Piss- poor swimmer at the dive club.

On the outside, we were on top of the world.

But I was a turd.

Late at night the twelve-pack to feel like a kid again, the twenty cigarettes. "You're turning alcoholic baby," says wife.
I know. That's because I'm a turd.

Can not snap out of the lassitude. The worm gnaws away. I needed a karma mechanic. I prayed for a karma mechanic. Head of the household going mad. What shall we tell the children?

My mother, though highly intelligent, as are most crazy people, had once been institutionalized.

Like mother like son?

Catch Thirty. You who have enjoyed life and sampled some of its pleasure, will die. And not only will you die, but you'll die crazy. What will we tell the children?

Well, at least I had bred out --totally out of my gene pool, diving into a nother ethnic group's gene pool. I married someone as far from my backround as possible..

My mother, once she recovered, said, "Your son is lucky. He is a troika. Three ethnic groups in one. He will do well." He did.

But the search for the karma mechanic.
The more I drank, the more I seemed to disappear up my own aperture.
And then finally, the karma mechanic.
Would you believe it?

Willie Nelson.
There he was in Florida.

There was that long-suffering, almost angelic face on the TV screen. "There were seven Spanish angels in the altar of the Sun/ They were praying for two lovers, in the valley of the gun." Well, I had certainly considered going out and buying a gun.

But the life story, Willie Nelson's life story. The sleeping in laundromats, the whiskey bottles piled up, history of family anxieties, divorce, orphanhood. And there he was, bright and angelic on TV, singing his life song.
On the Road Again.

The snap had somehow been achieved. Suddenly I was free. And sane. And on the road again.

Back in the station wagon, back up 75 towards Detroit and Toronto.

I was going to take on those goddamn towers, write my book and bring the house down.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The sellout novelist and his pal The Mad Hatter

I used to do this when I was working in magazines and had a mental block.
"I can't give you a column today, because I'm stuck. So here is Chapter Fourteen of my novel, THE HAT PEOPLE."

...Well, I was told the book had life. Even if it was about a sold-out novelist and his friend the mad hatter...Below is an exerpt from Chapter Fourteen, The Hat People.

So here is some boilerplate for you. Readers will please refrain from yawning. :)


The furor over John's book had died now. Three thousand copies had been printed, reviewed, finished with. To John, at his leisurely job it didn't seem to matter. Maybe through the writing of the book, he had really wanted this. Even if it bored him occasionally. He would visit a bookshop every so often, not too disappointed to see his book reduced from $2.15 to $1.15. John and Laura threw a party. John got some Danish cheeses, good German meats, wine. He decided to live like those who had arrived. He invited three authors, most of his University friends and a couple of people from the magazine. Five people showed up. Later that night, John bottle of beer in his hand and anger in his guts, stared at the wall while Laura prepared to go to sleep. "Honey, they're all busy that's all. Most of them have jobs, and some of them have to come a long way. Don't take it so hard. "At least Tom Speight could have come", John rasped. Pricks. Bastards. We go to all their parties. Honey, they're writers and newspapermen. The most unreliable, immoral people on earth. You just have to realize that writers aren't joiners. John got to dislike his glamorous job and where he worked. Every morning, he would sit behind his desk, a little lonesome, his door closed and get on the telephone to follow up the small news clippings he had to make into expanded stories. Most of his work was done in this way, by telephone, and by improving on the work of others. Magazines and newspapers were notoriously cannibalistic and he had long ago accepted this.

Day job. Magazine writer. His stories began to appear. He would feel proud of some of them, every so often producing the piece in the course of a party. People took a tolerant air. Kind.

Almost everybody had forgotten the Madonna and the Teuton. Bookshops had stopped carrying the book. Here and there in some literary column, someone took a mild swipe at the book for being an example of making all the mistakes a first novelist makes.

To most people, John now became a guy making a living. A consumer, father, provider.

John continued to work each day to write of inventors of single skis with which to slide down, toboggan like, down hills. And there were interviews with peanut vendors with their whistling machines on Yonge Street. And there was a fellow out in Alberta who had succeeded in growing a pineapple in his greenhouse, the only one in Lethbridge.

A friend who came one night for dinner, given a few beers first, suggested John should peddle his kind of writing to the National Geographic, where John "could sell the same kind of crap" he wrote for Canuck. John resisted the impulse to throw the man out. He drank long and hard through the night.

He had tried for the past year to get another novel off the ground. But at night, he would come home wrung out. Though his work load and assignments with Canuck were soft, John discovered again that writing is much like sex. If one masturbates at the office all day there isn't much left at the end of the day for much else.

Laura's mother Margaret, meanwhile, proud of her son-in-law and his impressive job, would be all compliments. "You're really doing well John. $200 a week. A nice family. You've got responsibilities now, you have a wife and a lovely child. And you're handling them so well. John took to drinking. In the morning he would have to go into his cubicle of an office, view of Bay Street or no.

"You're turning alcoholic baby, Laura said carefully one day after she woke up in the middle of the night to see a line-up of beer bottles on the kitchen table, John in front of these grinning idiotically. What's bothering you? Is it the job? Is it me? Have I done something?"

"No honey. Of course it isn't you. Much better the magazine. It's the idealistic stuff I wrote at college than this inoffensive lower middle class paff I have to write now. It's bad for my style; it's doing something to my mind. It's driving me crazy. Stories of muskrat trappers, boy scouts and baton twirlers..."

"Come on. You're over-reacting as usual. It can't be that bad."

He was suddenly angry. For no apparent reason. These adopted countrymen of mine. They never fail to make me wonder. They're trying so hard to find a culture, as if with their shopping style of mentality all they had to do was go out and buy it. As far as the magazine was concerned, no one in their country every heard of serious ideas, of the faceless man of the masses, of something electronic having fielded itself on the soul of man. "They can't seem to see behind the snowshoes and the muskrat traps, the Skidoos, fashions," he said aloud.

Laura's tone rose. "Oh, precious you. It offends your sensibilities so much to write about the plain folks."

"You don't have to do it. How can you know what I'm going through? You who have always had your own car, and the horse that you board, and your allowance in high school and University."


"Oh just shut up." She complied for a few seconds and finally stood up, lit a cigarette and said "Stop John. Just stop."

John dragged on his own cigarette.

"Look," she said "why don't you just explain to me why you can't hold this job down?"

He told her that coming in every morning to stare at the grey wall of his office, dipping into is assignment sheets which would instruct him to call some guy in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland about some wild horses that were being unlawfully ridden by teenagers... well, it was just too much. "And I'm sort of in a box with Terry Franklin. I like and respect him. He's such a human being. He praises everything I do, even if it's loose and needs a rewrite. But a benevolent boss is one thing and making a public whorehouse out of your mind, a whorehouse where no one somehow gets fucked, well... I'm vegetating, Laura. I've gotten to Canuck too early. It's a place for old burnouts who have had twenty years of newspapers and are now prepared to do nothing more than hold down a well paying, low pressure job."

"Honey," she said, you don't know how lucky you are. You haven't been put down enough yet. That's your problem. Nobody has it his way. You say that you write about boring subjects and that this is why people are avoiding you. People aren't avoiding you over the things you write. It's, well," she said it, "You've become a pompous ass."

"Thanks a lot," he said. "I'm trying to help you. You think you've sold out? Everybody has to compromise, even the ones who are doing better than you. Look at Joan Forman, your old school friend. She turns out worthwhile plays almost routinely, but she keeps her CBC job for money. She grinds out these dull consumer reports every day. It pays for her but she can't find it much fun either.”

"Now baby, it's not them, it's you. Something's happened to you. You're lot your capacity for enjoyment. You've lot the facility to relax, to take things in stride. I don't know, maybe you've just got it too good too soon. It's made you vain and restless. A minute passed. John bit a nail.

Laura squeezed his arm. "I love you", she said softly. And then "Look, why don't you go out and have a few drinks with your pal Werther? Much as I can't stand the phoney bastard, he's your best friend. Maybe he'll set you straight. If he's capable of setting anybody straight."

Werther was not an ordinary man. In fact, one of his life's ambitions was to be put in a cage and exhibited. "Paid as a subsidized freak, I wouldn’t have to get into the petty personality clashes and hang-ups that come from working and dealing with people. Then I could go about the serious business of writing after my eight hour shift in the cage every day. Jobless for four years, he lived with his mother while at night writing treatises on the feasibility of her destruction. Werther was a massive, somewhat hulky six footer, blond, handsome in a degenerated way straight nose, slightly bloodshot blue eyes with dark pouches underneath and a sensuous Greek mouth. Twenty six years of age, he was something of a spooky legend in his college class. A devout reader of the Marquis de Sade, especially the sexual philosophy, he was reputed to have installed a swing in his chess broad-slinky sweater girlfriend's apartment, and was reputed to be experimenting with whips and leather pyjamas. Many a time in school, he'd tell John that his, John's sense of lovemaking was all wrong. "You should turn your women around when you screw them John. It's tighter than anything you can imagine." In his own gloomy way Wether was likeable. He seemed somehow the repository for people's evil, everybody's shadow side. He talked and perhaps did things that the timid could only dream of. He brought peoples dark side out into the open for analysis. He was also kidded quite a bit. One day when he walked into the cafeteria hung over and strung out, his girlfriend Frieda trailing tiredly after him. His class mates sat around a table. One of them said "Hey Wether!"

"What," from an impatient, spaced out Werther.

"I hear you're you're going to take up politics."

Wether's hand shot up towards the antagonist, as if to brush off a fly. What are you talking about?"

"I'm told that you're the party whip". The table burst into laughter.

Werther glared at them, fire and brimstone. "Churls. Buffons. Simpletons."

“Come on Werther, sit down, have a coffee. We all love ya," somebody called out. Werther was the class's gloomy genius. Stepped in Oscar Wilde and H.L. Mencken, he would publish brilliant vitriolic essays in the university newspaper on the happiness of church wrecking, necrophilia and masturbation for astronauts. He's never get these tracts past an editor were he not so blessed with a black humour that the articles left the reader alternately shuddering in horror or belly laughing. His relationships with people, though bumpy, were usually honest. And Werther was the kind of man who told you what was on his mind.

And so tonight Werther sat across a pub table with John, listening to what the other had to say. About working for Canadian Era the magazine, about selling out, about the anticlimax of authorship.

Werther was violating a cigarette, European fashion, hand turned outward cigarette between thumb and forefinger. Werther never merely smoked, he would hold the cigarette caressingly up to his lips, inhaling deeply and rhapsodically before holding it out much like Artie Johnson, the "very interesting" man on the TV program Laugh In. "Hm." He said. You are trapped between choices. You can either settle for the role of an ordinary man or quit your boring routine and take a chance on finding out whether you're an artist. That sounds trite I know. I don't think you sold out. Right now, I'm offering my soul to work as a newspaperman. I want to sell out but no one will buy." He chuckled. "At least you have the choice he said. Think of the poor pricks who are really trapped, sentenced to a life of hard labour for the crime of a historical circumstances or because of stupidity. Busy, working flogging, not having time to life their heads up and hear the angels sing. You've survived a lot of people John, be grateful for that."

Then he went on, as his mind clicked over to talking enthusiastically of whips and razors. Why is wisdom more often the possession of the street corner exhibitionist and the little funny guy in the attic who has a propensity to make it with chickens? Where have the universities failed?

One night John woke up in a cold seat over a dream. Vicious, menacing phantoms, all wearing hats. Completely ruthless, overbearingly intelligent. They set the styles. They manipulated consciousness and tinkered with the spirit of the age. They taught people bullshit like self-realization, meaningful relationships, safety valve literary sentiments. The Hat People controlled all conventions, vogues and fashions. Because of the Hat People, individuals became ambitious, jumped through hoops to become, they thought, fulfilled. But in fact they were the chattels of the Hat People. In the dream, which almost always began with a kind of floating down the River Styx, past hieroglyphs, down a pipe tunnel, a scene would open to reveal John travelling to Mexico to write a book unwittingly under the direction of the Hat People. He was doing his work for them. On the way back from Mexico they had intercepted him, and finding the work unsatisfactory, threw him into a dream of the future, putting him into a "training camp" with the "kiddies", the other failed candidates, youngsters as misguided, naïve and innocent as John himself. Here, in the training camp, John and the "kiddies", chained, watch endless film footage of walls falling down in flames.

John had awakened trying to escape from the kiddie compound, trying to flee from the influence of the demonic Hat People.

For the next few days, John now with six months of Canuck behind him, found he had great difficulty in doing his job. His work swam before him as if in a dream, trains of stories entering and leaving his mind. Stories of school kids caught in a jurisdictional dispute, the bussing; zoo crocodiles caught with their mouths open for that is how crocodiles sleep, prankish kids throwing pennies into the gap-toothed wishing wells; a guy in Vancouver who'd converted his bathtub into an aquarium. Is this really Canada I'm experiencing and writing about? It seemed the mass medium of the English language had grafted him onto a race of Timber Toms. Where was the modern urban Canadian? The economy was about to tumble; the greatest intellectual upheaval in history was taking place. The Aristotelian railway had jumped tracks as the quantum technicians tooled up. Men were under influences no longer perceived by the senses.

And Canuck was worried about bear hunting in the Arctic, better homes and gardens and now snowmobiles that may be able to hover over homes and gardens. Better mousetrap stories, all of them.

It seemed to John that a curious combination of death acceptance, resignation to meaningless work and money worship had made automations out of most Canadians, had made them, as Mordecai Richler once put it the world's elected squares. Even the Commies Trots and idealists had grown fat and rich, their children now pathetically attending shrinking meetings and demonstrations. Nobody wants to hear your second hand radical shit. The universal tool is money man, grab it by the handle. To allay your guilt there's always Hertz renta-Trotskyist in a little bookshop on Queen Street West. The changes would come from the right, but would you entrust your political future to ranks swelling with Gordon Sinclairs and his lower middleclass entourage of depression-hardened tough nut landladies, Orange to the core? And yet, and yet. What about the underlying decency? The genius for allowing the bright to rise upward, later to suffer pangs of dislocation but nevertheless contributing something to the society. Impoverishing the ethnic sub society, yes, but allowed to rise, not stifled. To be a carbon copy Wasp is a brutal social contact, but then one couldn't blame the wasps for all of the levels of the world. But, so much must have had to be abandoned. Spontaneity, elan, a Slavic condition matched only by the French-Canadians themselves put down. It's just so tiresome to see that Pierre Berton, Charles Templeton, Betty Kennedy, Warren Davis, Adrianne Clarkston the list is endless could have been stamped out of the same mold. The fashionable liberalism, the CBC diction, the ability on the spot to make lucid and controversial statements. These were the super Canucks, what we were all trying to become. Bright, articulate, handsome, upper middleclass, teeth capped, antiseptic. Seeing the world through Rosedale coloured glasses. And yet, Canada was one of the few countries in the world which did not put a premium on being a bona fide, certified native. It was, in fact, easier to make it as a fashionable European than a fourth generation Anglo Saxon who suffered a childhood in Toronto's inner city, there picking up a life style of immediacy, living entirely in the present, bound up in a robbers' social contact which left him no room for an ultimate deviancy. No one, save possibly J.D. Salinger likes an introspective goof, down below, or up above. Poets shoot pool at the Junction. Love, hate, Love, hate. O Canada.

Back to Title Page The Hat People

* (I was looking for a new book cover illustration, and Liz Monroe just sent me this delightful picture of Jonny Depp in the new Alice in Wonderland).


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pathos and Bathos

One of my lady correspondents, noting that my blogs of late had had middle aged lotharios chasing unnaturally beautiul women, had warned, "Beware of what you want. You might just get it."
Well it happened once. And man, did I get it.
Such a raking over the coals did I get that I am still not all right-- after twenty years! -- and I am a litle like Lady Macbeth trying to wash the guilt and sin away. Trying to put the my psychic laundry up on the clothesline of cyberspace, while knowing for sure that one is no closer to redemption or piety.
I am sure readers of this blog are tired of all this pathos, and face it, bathos but bathos is a state one is surely in, and once again, I will become like the cartoon of the same model engine going around the same track, over and over again, a little like to old movie starlet whom the gods destroyed by calling her promising.
Or maybe I just need a bath.
So once again, the potbellied middle aged man--some superhero!--Singleman on his quest for the unattainable bitch goddess.
Says Norman Mailer---the real bitch goddess is of no importance. It is the novel, the novel. That is your bitch.
You must break her or she will break you.
Well, one is very nearly broken. But like many another aging author, you can never give up. Never give in.
Faint pen never won fair lady. And here we go again.

Chapter One

Lana appears before you while you are rolling your own cigarettes, the 1920's Vogue face, the bobbed hair, a Drew Barrymore fallen into the rye on one September day, though I knew in future September days it was not a field of rye that Lana would fall into, but a baroque field of dreams, of opium, and then the rush of cocaine that would make her thoroughly modern, thoroughly Chicago out of 1930.

Yet it was l986.

I was a newspaperman with a predilection for French authors, because they were so maddeningly thorough, the linchpin of real writers and so well did I get to know twentieth century authors in French that I soon got to teach a night course in it.

Ah, the French penchant for the absurd, the splayed-out mysticism of an Andre Malraux and the incredible clarity of image and idea that only Frenchmen possess, and they'd be the first to tell you. Despite the utter incomprehensiveness of their humour (Fat man wears mop-wig--ha- ha) the French are somewhat superior and they know it. Celine, for instance, or, for that matter, Celine Dion.

Enough that I was a teacher of French authors and she walked in one day with no hint of the Vogue beauty that I would later know, no inkling as to the heaviness of spirit that would later come to oppress me, no clue at all as to the beautiful woman who resided in the suburban Mam's overalls, the little white tee shirt with the red apple monogram, the closely cropped hair like Celine Dion in Las Vegas.

Thoroughly modern.

But not me.

I was an old hot-lead linotype newspaperman just getting over a divorce, getting my love out of imagination, tossing the I-Ching, seeing my love in the allure of print until she walked in.

We had actually met the very first time on the stairs of Sacred Heart School where Seneca had a night class. She was on the way up and I was on my way down. She had looked different then, walking right up to what seemed the middle of a Goethe fantasy of mine. How these screwball women with their multiple personalities and costumes do attract one: She was the very image of Kathschen Shonkopf, Goethe's firs love, the nice high forehead so many girls from Ontario possess, the hair severely back in a bun with the neatest little bonnet atop, large haunting eyes like your mother's, straight nose somewhat probing, delightful little crooked lips and the cutest overbite.

She did encourage my Goethe fantasy. I saw another image of Lana, but this time with a pre-Victorian dress exquisitely corseted, nice breasts, waist hardly existent at all. And Granny boots!

So there were at least two Lanas that I already knew about, and after the years, many, many more.

But on this particular autumn evening, she was in to study French authors, a fascination for the Bastille, I guess, the French Revolution, socking it to the Bourbons (who would return a generation later to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing)--all that stuff of high drama for a fairly active imagination, constrained somewhat by a husband she imagined as pesky.

She did seem to know her French authors, but largely of the Victor Hugo mold and a lot of Dumas, the adventure, misery, suffering, cell-to-cell signaling. Was there a dungeon in her life?...Lord knows what the suburbanites in Bradford were up to these days.

I always found myself charmed to find that in spite of possibly rococo lifestyles up there in Riveredge Park, hardly anybody in my class, largely women, had ever read real novels like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, the substance of all those adventurous, adulterous wives who think their problems will end by leaving old hubber, only to find with Chekhov, that their problems were just beginning. Or was old Mr. Chekhov just a prig and a spoilsport who knew nothing about real swingers, a Wayne Newton who didn't know the first thing about Shania Twain. I don't know how I'd ended up at Lana's house.

A somewhat raffish untenured professor who enjoyed drinking with his students after class, I had no objections at all when she asked through a third person if she could come to one of the pub nights, and could she bring her husband.

Hubby was handsome as the night is long, like a European Wayne Gretzky, his manners continental, but no accent at all. Dracula in a hockey jersey, liked by all immediately, sweet as a pimp.

I could not help but marvel at the Vogue beauty of Lana now before me. What had happened to the closely-cropped hair? How did it reach lovely 1920's back-cut modishness in the scant three weeks that I'd seen her last, before she'd begged to get a little time off from her classes to go on a "camping trip"? A wig, of course, but it made her look more like Drew Barrymore, though Lana had a deeper beauty, more English, the inner glow, the hint of Viking.

I was lighting my cigarettes backwards. I had no idea how this present-day Julie Christie out of the Twenties had even broached the threshold of my life and wondered why she seemed so interested in me. I also wondered, as a veteran of not a few affairs, how many others had been pole-axed in the same way. She'd obviously been charming men for a long, long time, the blue eye shadow, the absolute blondness, pint size and everything about her fashioned, turned, just so. Sheer elegant femininity, and you could bet your granny boots there were at least three other guys playing here besides old hubber. Unnatural elfin beauty. A setup for loners and stoners.

The husband's name was Leif. Leif the Lucky. Or was he?

I balked at first when they poured me into their red SUV, to be carted home with them. Drunk, I was babbling, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass. Leif seemed somehow intrigued by this last reference to Immanuel Kant.

Enough that we somehow got to a neat white cottage in Holland Landing, the husband unexpectedly retired rather suddenly, passed out in the bedroom and Lana and I were left to ourselves in a shag-rugged and Danish-style living room with its U-shaped chesterfield facing an immense picture window with the drapes not yet drawn. And the chess table in the corner.

And suddenly I became aware of how lonely I was, me the divorcee and frequent near-separado from my subsequent live-ins, the man of many wives and master of none. It seemed I was suddenly curved up in a ball of loneliness, vulnerability, want. I just wanted her, anybody, anybody like her, to hold me. "Just hold me," I was beginning to keen.

Very deliberately, she put an open palm and extended, graceful fingers to the seat of where she saw the trouble to be. Maybe just a lonesome woman not sure of herself , or someone used to certain kinds of men, or maybe this had to a a wham-bam-thank-you ma'am, and that would be my fifteen minutes.

Earlier, she had gone to the hi-fi to put on an LP and I noted she kept bending over to reveal a beautiful pear-shaped derriere that she seemed rather anxious to display. Was she a virgin, the wife of some Ruskin, who was found years later to still possess her hymen after a lifetime of marriage? A lesbian? A lady of the night? Or maybe a lonesome woman. A lonesome woman suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's imbroglios, or homosexuality, or extramarital affairs, or all of the above.

In any event, we settled down. She had put on, of all things, my favourite Bob Dylan LP, the "Bringing It All Back Home" one. Pop nihilism , but what an articulate and haunting nothingness. "It's all right ma, I'm only crying," the great American genius rasping it all out, sharp trick-of-the-trade F-chord penetrating the D tonic, then quickly to a G and then back to the D, doom-da-da-dadda dum.

Holy mackerel! She was right on my frequency.

..........end chapter

Well yes folks. You have read this before on this blog.

But I have become like Dustin Hoffman, the madman in the French movie Papillon, madly tilling my garden onto compulsion and delusion, the weeds winning and my seeds not coming up.

It might be time for a swim out of Devil's Island.


From Wikipedia:

Bathos is from the Greek βάθος, meaning depth. As used in English it originally referred to a particular type of bad poetry, but it is now used more broadly to cover any ridiculous artwork or performance. More strictly speaking, bathos is unintended humor caused by an incongruous combination of high and low. If the contrast is intended, it may be described as Burlesque or mock-heroic. It should also not be confused with pathos, which is general storytelling directed to the emotions, usually sadness.

Lower the bathyscape!


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Subterranean adolescent blues. The wit of Michael O'Donoghue

Old Ivan, straddling three generations, and yet, still, somehow in love with the Great Bitch, the Great Unattainable. Idyll. She? Did I want to be Rider Haggard?...Well, there have been women I would have loved to have ridden haggard. Again and again, the adolescent image. Alice in Chains long before the rock group? Was it the idyllic woman or the unattainable novel that I sought? I was certainly stuck on my novel. Nowhere near the real Great Bitch.
Norman Mailer:The novel is the great bitch of your life."
He could have added, "Write the novel and you get the 'bitch.'"
Years later, the cad had seduced many a "bitch" with his novel.

Ah but there was Phoebe Zeitgeist.
Here was wit, here was genius in four-colour form, comic book form, actually, a gorgeus idyll, though often (gasp!) in chains. And in situations that stopped just short of bondage and discipline. Oh scorn the porn!
Oh-oh. Is porn in the eye of the scribbling beholder?
"Porn is in the groin of the beholder", an ad saleman explains whil I am trying to do this column.

My reseach started in the late Sixties, A comic book collaboration between SNL genius Michael O'Donoghue and comic book artist Robert Springer, "The Adventures of Phoebe-Zeitgeist", a gorgeous drop-dead Moonbeam McSwine, almost out of old Al Capp, perhaps-- but nothing McSwinish about Phoebe- Zeitgeist. She is beautiful, especially when drawn nude and in extremely stressful situations.

She is a Serbian debutante, an aristocrat, really--I don't want to mention Raquel Welch and Phoebe in the same breath, but she is certainly as gorgeous as Britney, but younger, and very, very sexy, in no matter in what scene, or at what level of chains and degradation.

Heh. Am I turnning some of you pervs on?

Phoebe-Zeitgeist, the belle of any ambassadorial ball, is suddenly kidnapped and captured by a series of bizarre characters, such as crazed Eskimos, Nazis, Communist Russians, Chinese foot fetishists and lesbian assassins.
She does have a hard time of all this.
She is variously rescued, recaptured and rescued again. How I would have loved to have rescued Phoebe from the clutches of those evil Red Chinese, Russian Communists, Chinese foot fetishits and all the assorted rejects of Katmandu.

I was fresh out of liberal arts school, still high on old Hegel's notions on the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, that old German shepherd seeming more abreast of the times even today, than he was during Bismarck's reign, where a united Germany seemed to be the actual zeitgeist. And Hegel had all the brains. Until recently, America from the Sixties on, seemed to be short on that commodity. But there were seers.
Bob Dylan: Don't let Henry Kissinger tie you in a knot...When you gonna wake up?)

But cut to the chase: I was just out of the liberal Arts school, a former army guy, like James Blunt, guitar handy, sitting in front of a radar console to look for Russians, a real Norman Mailer character, inspired by the best art of my time, like Howl, by Allen Ginsberg, Advertisments for Myself by Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac and, especially Michael O'Donoghue. His was the "Mr. Bill", plasticine puppet on Saturday Night Live, always being dismembered by some sadistic ogre-puppeter.("Oh, Oh, no! Ooooh!)

I was half in love and on the way to writing a beautiful novel about Toronto, and if not that, at least I hoped to meet my personal Phoebe-Zeitgeist. Beautiful elfin women are a magnet for losers like me.

And the image of a naked woman in chains, political correctness be damned,was a huge turn- on for a young horny fool who wanted to write.

I had to be as good as Michael O'Donoghue. I had to find a love object as beautiful as Phoebe-Zeitgeist. Ah, but what is wit? Mine couldn't come close to the master.

Three novels later, I found myself in the unenviable position of an old balding guy in love with a woman out of an erotic coming book, the very epitome of some pimply guy as in the illustration above.

Always the Phoebe- Zeitgeist comic strip. In old Evergreen, Grove Press and even Playboy.

Michael O'Donoghue's perfervid imagination, a Diogenes not with a candle in his hand, but with a candle on the top of his head, the picture of his chained porn queen firmly embedded in the demented seeker's brain, and he had to get her. "Gotta get!"

Well, I typed and sweated.

Well, I was done. The book was done.
And wouldn't you know it? The Idyll appeared.
And didn't she ride me haggard?
Or is it "I wish?"


Monday, March 16, 2009

Every try to write a novel? It's impossible. So you end up writing crap like this:

There was a jam session at a nightclub in Newmarket ON called, oddly,A.J.'s Office.
I suppose if a carousing out-of-work executive wanted a phoney number to be called at, he could say, "Call me at the Office."

Bartender would Pick up phone and say, "AJ's office."
Always a wife or girlfiend. The out-of-work executive would wag his head, or put his finger to his lips. Il'm not here."
"No, Dave's not here."

So much like the "Dave's not here," out of Cheech and Chong.

Dave is just back from toking up in the washroom with five others "That is one fantastic washroom!"; he needs a beer and he sure as hell doesn't want to talk to his wife.

He smiles through the wafting marijuana smoke being now dissipated by the one of the large ceiling fans. Dave giggles." Next time she phones, tell her I don't want her to call me at The Office.

There is a jam session at the Office tonight.
It is led by a backwoods on-welfare singer named Tom Brown. His wife, also on welfare, will sing.
Sing for your suppah.
Ivan too, not having had his suppah.

"How loud can you sing?" asks Tom Brown....Myself, I am already drunk.

"Well, how loud?"


"You sure you want to be with us?"

"I got no other place to go."

So I pick up my guitar and join Tom Brown on the piano as he sings his original song, "Sometimes I feel like a hologram." Not like a Motherless Child, but a hologram.
It is the shank end of the Nineties and everybody's going high tech. We were learning terms like PC, DVD and the hologram that would surely come in the future. Talk about Surround Sound. You can have a virtual girl..
I wanted a virtual girl! Well, toinight Tom is just singing about being a hologram.
Tonight he sings about feeling spacey, inauthentic. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Hologram."
"A hologram I am," I echo.
"You Dr. Seuss or what?"
"You smoke too much weed, Tom."
"Dave's not home," he winks through his ponyail lock thrugh the smoke.
"Sometimes I feel like a hologram," he sings.
"Hologram," I echo.

....Jesus, I'm getting a second-hand buzz.

We seem to fit well together, Tom, his bosomy strawberry-blonde wife and me. She sings "Wayfaring Stranger."
"I'm bound to leave you," she warbles. I hope she doesn't mean me. I still want a hologram.
We somehow succeed as a trio. There is applause.
They are in! I am in.
We walk off the stage, people sort of nipping and tucking at us. I think I am definietely in
We play weekends. It is not easy. You have to be up all the time. On all the time. My bank teller friend is saying "You look spacey. ..Should really quit that job."
Well darn. Finally made it. Professional lounge singer.
Never mind when everybody says, "There is no money in music". But there was some in Newmarket ON. I had a job.
The bar owner would glare at us every Sunday as we lined up fer to get our pay. "Money-grubbers, miscreants, ne'er-do wells!"
But we did well. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we'd bring back the crowd, not a very well-heeled crowd, mostly on welfare and unemployment insurance, but then so were we. Like attracts like.
Gad, we could start a little Manchester, England here, home of grudge and grunge. I began back-combing my hair. Beatle boots.
Friggin' second childhood. I am fifty.
"Get a haircut!"
Someone yells.
Drunk, I yell back,. "Get a hair lip!"
Ah well. Where else can you get paid for being a drunken asshole who can barely play piano?
Why, at A.J's office.
It was a tough job. Somebody had to do it.
Eventually, AJ's closed down.
Fifty people homeless. Where were they going to spend their pogey money?
"You gonna play somewhere else man? We got nowhere to go."
So I join a splinter group from Glass Tiger.
Somebody else started another bar called, again, The Office. On Main Street this time.
Again,I had an "Office."
And the only reason I was any good was because Al Connely of Glass Tiger was doing riffs over my singing.
I discovered that you didn't have to be all that good.
Just have the Glass Tiger behind you.
I started to wear my hair even longer, affected eye shadow, as if to imitate former Glass Tiger leader Alan Frew.
Fuck off, said Alan. There is only one Glass Tiger.
"You can imitate the actions of the tiger, but you can't be the tiger."
Well, I had the face but not the talent. At least I looked like Alan Frew!

"Too bad," said the barmaid.
"It's just as well that you're mediocre.. If you go big, you go crazy. Stay small."
Heh. It wasn't hard to do.
Now, I'm back toking up in that same washroom that had belonged to AJ's club.
I laugh at a sudden non-sequitur, as all stoners do.
Last girlfriend had said," I am tired of blowing a little dope."
Who did she think I was, Stephane Dion?
I did try it once as a politician, hoping to be like our Stephane Dion. I lost the election.
The new girlfriend ... said she too was tired of was blowing a little dope.
I put on my best Alan Frew face.... He is one good-looking MoFo.
"Well, I'm not very smart, but I'm fancy." She softened.
"Ah, play that funky music, white boy!
I have always maintained that a fool or a knave with an electric dulcimer
Could somehow get by.
I could be William Hung.
Damn. I should be hung.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring for me, but E. A Monroe did such a good job on her SUMMER DOLDRUMS memoir

by E.A. Monroe

The summer doldrums come when the sun bakes the Granite Mountains into a hard boil-- scorcher and the wind, what little wind trickles through the dust and the heat waves, blows a breath that withers and browns the wild grasses growing in the fields and along the roadsides.
It’s a wind that rushes straight out of Momma’s oven and singes the eyebrows right off my face when I open the oven door. We have rebuilt our tree house in the old mesquite tree that grows beside the road a couple of times. Every year, as soon as school lets out for the summer, we tackle last year’s tree house and give it a remodel. The tree house isn’t much more than a frame of 2x4s nailed to the mesquite tree’s limbs and covered over with warped planks salvaged from the scrap heap left by the carpenters who are busy erecting another new house on our street. We scrape together all the nails we can find, plus a few nails confiscated from workbenches and garages. We nail boards to the rickety tree house and brag about how grand this summer’s tree house is gonna look, our voices droning like the cicadas high in the branches above us. I nail a couple of boards across a Y-branch higher up in the tree and claim my look out perch.

Tired of hammering and nailing, the gang sprawls on the floor and dangle their feet and legs over the edge. The tree house doesn’t have any walls and we figure the space between the supporting tree limbs and the bottom of the floorboards an excellent place to cram any “prisoners.”

Beneath the floor the boards bristle with nail spikes.“Hey, what do ya wanna do now?

“Wanna ride bikes down Tin Can Hill and jump the ditch?”“Wanna ’splore Devil’s Canyon and pick up arrow heads?”“Hey, let’s climb Mount Baldy and search for your grandpa’s treasure chest!”“Naw, it’s too hot.” ...meets every suggestion of what to do next.

We’d done everything there was to do that summer. Thanks to ideas stolen from watching too many black- and- white Tarzan movies and Johnny Weissmuller swinging from tree to tree to rescue Jane and Boy; we had hacked and trampled jungle trails through a couple acres of tall Johnson grass, posted warning signs, and laid booby traps — mostly trenches covered over with cut Johnson grass.

We’d caught, tamed and released horny toads. We’d done our best to dig a hole clear to China, before we finally gave up, splashed water into our “swimming pool” from a hose stretched across the street from our house, and wallowed in the resulting mud bath.

We’d made numerous trips to Lake Lugert where our dad fished and to Craterville where we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Tilt-a-Whirl, smacked into the maze of glass walls at the Fun House, and bruised our butts at the skating rink. We’d climbed all over the mountains that rimmed our small town and played dead for the turkey vultures. We’d been to the movies a couple of times. The Craig family who owned the Five & Dime store also owned the tiny movie theatre and it was only open during the summer, except for an afternoon matinee on Christmas Eve. We’d been carted off to church and revivals and church camp; spent nights on the farm at Grandma and Grandpa’s Timmons or in Guthrie with the other grandparents. We’d played and cheated at every game we knew how to play or had invented. We’d camped out in the yard, hiked the network of bar ditches and explored all the nooks and crannies around town. We’d ridden our bikes everywhere and even played countless games of bicycle hockey with baseball bats and a baseball .One time, Momma gave us a dollar and sent us to town to buy a loaf of Mead’s Fine Bread. We almost didn’t survive the hot mile walk home from town. By the time we hiked into the yard, our tongues dragged the dirt gravel road and I had smashed the loaf of bread flatter’n a pancake. Momma was mad about the squashed bread but we figured she wouldn’t make us walk to town for bread again any time soon . “We oughta clip some coupons from the Reader’s Digest and trade ’em for candy at Cothrum & Reeser’s Grocery Store.”
The folks at the grocery store always let us trade coupons for candy; didn’t matter what kind of coupons either — 10 cents off a box of laundry detergent or 5 cents off a bar of soap. With coupons we could fetch a bunch of 1-cent candy, 2-cent cinnamon suckers, 5-cent candy bars and divvy up the sweet loot between Robert, Susan and me and any neighborhood kids hanging out with us.

“I swear it’s hotter ’n the Sahara Desert!” “So, what are we gonna do now? Can’t build any more on this old tree house without nails.” “I’m thinking,” I said, wondering why I always had to come up with all the ideas. I scratch my butt, fingertips scraping the patch Momma had zigzag stitched on the seat of my shorts after I ripped them taking another trip down the Devil’s Slide during one of our Girl Scout cookouts. I didn’t have to think too hard before an idea struck — a grand idea and maybe one of my best ideas all summer long. “Here’s what we’re gonna do, see. We’re all gonna run home, make up some kinda costume and a mask, too — don’t forget a mask if you got one — and then we’ll meet back in our yard.”

We all scrambled or jumped out of the tree house and everyone darted off home. “And don’t forget to bring a brown paper bag!”

Robert, Susan and I dash home and root through the closets looking for costume stuff. Robert still had his Mad Hatter costume from his school play; Susan only needed to add her battered straw cowboy hat, gun holster riding low on her hips and cap pistols twirling and she was Anne Oakley.

I swiped Momma’s flouncy purple and pink lace petticoat she never wore and some costume jewelry. We met the other kids in the yard, our paper bags crinkling, costumes rustling and the summer heat a dull memory lost to the fun of a wishful plan. We set off and make our circuit through the neighborhood, house by house, knocking on doors or pressing doorbells . Only this time we didn’t run away and hide. We wait until the lady of the house answers the door and then we shout, “Trick or treat!” After a surprised look and oh-my-gosh-don’t-ya’ll-look-cute laughter while we giggle and rattle our paper bags for a handout, she said, “Let me see what I’ve got in the house. Don’t ya’ll look so cute!”

We made an unexpected haul of cookies and candy that hot summer afternoon going from house to house trick-or-treating.

Later, when we sprawled around in the tree house, our feet and legs swinging over the edge of the floorboards, the torture chamber below empty of prisoners, and we feasted on our treats, we decide we’d make this an annual event — Halloween in July. We didn’t have to clip any coupons from the latest Reader’s Digest or hike to town and back. And, the best thing of all? Momma didn’t even get mad.

Trick or Treat

Smell my feet

Give me something Good to eat!

--E.A. Monroe.
(Published electronically by Island Grove Press, Ontario, Canada. ISBN number pending)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"I am famous "Polish' writer. Why you no invite me?

Letter to the Editor of the ERA, Newmarket, Ontario.

Hey Regional Chairman Bill Fisch!

They gave a a York Region Chairman,s dinner to support the arts and I wasn't invited?

I am your friendly down-home novelist, occasional politician and generally the fastest mouth in town.
My poetry graces (or defaces) many a town of Newmarket promotion flyer.
At the Newmarket Public Library, I just loom around, trying to look important. I have four book titles there. The novels are good because I tell everybody they are good. They believe me.

I am a fellow-traveller of the Newmarket Stage Company--and man, could they use support. They tried to hire me as PR rep, but they had no money to pay me; I settled for freebies at the snack bar which former director Ray Burdon operates to help pay the way. Fact is, they are very, very good, but they starve. Bailout package!. Bailout package! They need it more than I do!

I mean, I'm a character. Ask somebody.
Gad. This is sort of like the local Giller and nobody invited me. I had the tux from the Salvation Army. Alll dressed up annd nowhere to go!
Has the council no idea of the kind of person they ignore?
Are they blind, lazy or just stupid?
Says Hugh Grant, I am not one to blow my own horn, but.....
Well, I am a veritable Horatio.
Do a riff for you. Anything.
Just invite me next time.
Of late, I feel much extinguished.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pride and Prejudice in Canada--or is there any?

Every so often, you see a documentary that might as well be about you, not f*cked up at forty, as most of us get, but
F*cked up at 12.

Lester Alfonso came to Canada from the Philippines and that first year shaped who he is today. His film asks the question: if you could go back and speak to your 12-year-old self, what would you say? Alfonso attempts to answer this question by interviewing a dozen people about this pivotal moment in their lives. On the cusp of surging teenage hormones, 12-year-olds often experience emotions with more intensity. Adapting to a new country at this age can be overwhelming and initial impressions sometimes last a lifetime. The stories told recall both pleasure and pain - ranging from the joy of shopping in a store filled with goods to the shame of personal humiliation by a teacher.

Lester Alfonso, filmmaker
By collecting other people's stories and soliciting their words of advice, Alfonso is forced to face some painful memories from his own past. Will this journey finally set him free? Twelve is an utterly unique and visually stylish take on what it means to become Canadian.

I am well past forty, but after seeing Lester Alphonso's film on CBC I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

My parents brought me to Canada earlier than 12, much earlier, but I could identify with the storm and stress of those poor kinds who were thrust into a culture cold, themselves exotic with no english and feeling like Martians.

Interesting, irritating, but almost bringing a yawn here.

I had moved through three cultures and alphabets before coming to Canada at the age of ten. Culture- shocked many times before ten. I felt like a young Hank Snow already, at ten. I been everywhere, man.

I could certainly feel the pain of those kids in the Mr. Alfonso's documentary and relate to their sense of alienation and woe. But, been there, done that. And still, I'm insecure.

But what is admirable about Mr. Alfonso's 12 is that he took what could have been a personal disaster--alienation, drugs, street gangs and instead installed himself into the Canadian film making aristocracy if the NFB could be termed such.

He makes a gentle statement on getting transplanted onto Canadian culture while definitely exotic in appearance and having to learn english, fast. Lose your accent or else.

But I wish I'd never seen his documentary.

It is wrenching. The film is not especially wrenching, but it must be wrenching for any immigrant kid who himself had come into a culture cold, at ten or, for that matter at 12. Especially if he looks like a young Charlie Chan and is not Chinese at all. There is an example in the film of another young Philipino man stomped by Detroi rednecks over being "one of those Japs who make Toyotas."

I think Mr. Alfonso's burdens were greater than mine, though mine were bad enough.

Beatings on the playground for being foreign. Beatings at home for being a Canadian. "Cattlick. What are you doing in a Protestant school? Go to the separate school with the other Cattlicks." Couldn't win for losing.

The unexpected flying scholarship--perfect eyes, perfect IQ--and told at the end I couldn't graduate because I was from that Russkie place. This after I'd gone solo and all.

If I'd only not brought smelly pickles and polish sausage into the cockpit that day for lunch. A lunch is a lunch! How was I to know that garlic wards off not only vampires, but also flying insructors."You got your papers, son?"

I wish I had never seen Lester Alfonso's documentary.

It made me re-live some of the trauma.

But I also remember the triumphs.

Scholarsips, scholarships, scholarships. But always the disappointment at the end. Got your papers?

Graduating from university. But with what seemed to me the Polish mark. C.

"Immigrants aren't stupid," says the boss. "But they might as well be martians And they take our jobs."

The awkard attemps at small talk which come out in crudities. Sometimes obscenities. Nobody laughs. Stick with just plain passing back and forth of information. Talk about specifics only. Don't be a smart alec. Nobody likes a smart-ass. Be an immigrant robot.
It takes so long to get inside. Some never make it, turning to drugs and rock and roll.

I still wish I hadn's seem Mr. Alfonso's documentary.

He came to Canada at a time when there is instant acceptance in a pluralistic society.

Back in l949 it was different. You were a Displaced Person, a D.P. and therefore subhuman. It was the carryover of the previous Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King's dictum:

You have to be like us or go back home. And God help you if you look different from us.

Sometimes I feel that we who had to cut through genuine racial prejudice, State sponsored racial prejudice--were some sort of supporting army for the Lester Alfonsos who were to come.

Pecular case of Crow Jim now.

"You want a job with the CBC? You've got to be kidding.

Johnson? Your name is Johnson?

"You have to be 23 and exotic!"


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Oh that Bluegrass! Soggy Bottom Boys forever

In the appealing documentary "The Ballad of Bering Strait," a charming Russian bluegrass band travels to Nashville in pursuit of the American Dream. The high-spirited, hard-working group, Bering Strait, doesn't lack for can-do attitude, talent or sponsorship, but as the young members soon discover, it's not as easy as they'd imagined to pull yourself up by your guitar straps.

Well. My kind of movie. Or is it Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

Comes to literature, I sometimes feel like George Clooney in the movie.

I am a man of constant sorrow
I've seen trouble all my days
I bid farewell to old Kentucky
The place where I was born and raised

(The place where he was born and raised)

For six long years I've been in trouble
No pleasure here on Earth I found
For in this world I'm bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now

(He has no friends to help him now)

The somehow natural affinity of Slavs for Anglo Irish-German mountain music,especially its Bluegrass form.
Russians are a hard luck people. They naturally identify with
trouble, woe and lovers' suicides. Not too much into DELIVERANCE though. Like strong voman, not Americal Palooka!
I am Ukrainian, from Russia's back door, but when I hear bluegrass, it's like the angels singing.
Not in West Bank Gaza, as it is for those unfortunate others, but west bank Danube.
Fiddle, guitar and balalaike there, oh, but how I'd love to trade it all for fiddle, guitar and five-string banjo.
Yeah. I'm a frustrated hillbilly singer from the Carpathian mountains.
The movie, the Ballad of Bering Strait brought it al home to me. I've got to be an American hillbilly at once, and sing hillbilly.
Simple origins of emotion. And it waills. Music. The universal art. For anybody.

For six long years I've been in trouble
No pleasure here on Earth I found
For in this world I'm bound to ramble
I have no friends to help me now

(He has no friends to help him now)

Simple pattern. But doesn' it stir your soul, expecially with that five string banjo walking in an out, and played just enough to uh, make you grunt like a pig? :)

Well, our Russian Bluegrass group, The Ballad of Bering Strait, certainly convinced me that when it comes to mountain mysic, I hadn't seen nothin'--Nyet!

I love bluegrass. Even highbrows like bluegrass.
Itself kind of blue, it is an antidote for the blues.
I would rather watch an hour of a group like Bluegrass 101
than sit through three hours of opera and pretending that I liked opera, as most snobs do. Or, for that matter, jazz.
Too damn intellectual. Simple origins of emotion for a simple guy.
And don't the Kentucky bands supply it?

Tune in PBS late Friday nights. Kentucky Music Network.

Great for anybody's soul.

Make you squeal with joy like a piggie. Heh.

...Forget the actor's name, but people are still asking, "Are you the guy who got sodomized in Deliverance?"
Ah well. There's that in mountain music too.

Reminds me of my literary career.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Put a tiger in your tank.

So seductive is blogging that we seem to ignore the major project of our lives and instead splatter the white space with words, hoping to craft some sort of symbol out of the chaos of our life which we hope somebody will understand, and maybe relate to.
Compusive-obsessive blogger, like a madman in a ward,
staring at white all around, hoping for the day's symbol to get him through. Wouldn't you?
There have been psychologists who would deliberately sign theselves into a ward of schizophrenics just to see what they do, and most times they spend all day working at the symbol on the wall. Once the symbol is complete, there is some sort of catharsis. The day is over.
I wish I had that kind of time, to have nothing to do all day but to eat, smoke and excrete, staring at the wall and constructing a symbol.
Hell, I do all that without being in a ward.
Fact is, I once ran for office, and people seeing me on television, nervous as a Dostoevsky, with trembling lips, said," the man is a speedfreak. What's he doing running for Regional Coucillor?" Well, it was a job, like our schizos being in the ward. They have a job. They're all out there doing the same thing. Building symbols. It's a job. Keep busy, or go mad. Hoo-Hah.
For the artist, symbol builing is his or her bread and butter.
Certainly in the high days of modernism, but now we are into post-modernism, which suggests that your novel or painting is only one version of a reality that is quite different from the way you describe. There is no answer. Fare thee well.
This attitude, of course, approaches nihilism and you have to see just one Alain Robbe Grillet novel or movie to realize how f*cked up things had really gotten. Proust with a penis and hardly knowing what to do with it.
Which might probably be an insight.Screw anybody. Screw anything that moves. Screw your parents, at least financially. "I need time to be alone in bed."
Masturbate for posterity, and he did.
There are adeps and there are jerkoffs. There are guitar players and there are hackers. Fortune favours the fast.
I swear that on a Pompeii wall, there was a graffito: "Circa non copulare". Don't fuck around.
Well, it seems I for one have been fucking around.
Botch a novel, cut it up into pieces and run it off. Cut-up art.
If Burroughs could do it, why couldn't I? High modernism.
The Ticket That Exploded. Naked Lunch. Henry Miller with his pervert adepts making it with cored Macintosh apples--hey, that's us!
Here and there someone produces a real novel, maybe like Christ in Concrete. Ha. Renaissance monk. Artiste. Fucking wop.
Oh I so want to be a Renassance monk. So want to be an artiste and fucking wop.
But the talent, the talent.

I shot a talent in the air.
It fell to earth, I know not where.

...I lose more talent that way.

That old master painter from the far away hills.

That old master painter on the keyboard. Master painting, Master painting.
Imitaing the actions of the tiger.

Oh to get ones paws off the machine.

And be that tiger.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Fee Fee Fie Fie Fo Fo Fum. I smell smoke in the crematorium

In springtime an old man's fancy turns to thoughts of his semi-annual erection.
This is an event to be celebrated. Priapus writ large, carted on a wheelbarrow, it seems. Mostrous Priapus. Scare ya. Fee fee fie fie fo fo fum.
I smell smoke in the crematorium.

Snow on the roof. Fire inside.
But most times, as in writing or in serious journalism, all we have is the desire.
Sure would be nice to just have a book out with your name on it.
Hell with the actual performance.
My performance of late has been lacklustre, on the page or in bed.
"Okay, okay. We've both been alone for a long time. Don't be ridiculous. Take your time."
Well it was a darn good thing. Ah. The bounty of the woman. With my luck I would have ended up with a lesbian,
though late night host Craig Ferguson is convinced "Lesbians are awesome." Well, Ellen seems so.
But one is hard-wired, at least twice a year.

Women check their calendars, make notes, leave letters, ring doorbells.
Not a morning goes by now without some lonesome woman coming to the door and forgetting why it was that she came.
I must be sending out signals. And my apartment complex is 90 per cent women. They know.
Molly Bloom's solilique from Ulysses. "Men have this thing, and they all want to stick it in you."
Ah but it is a fleeting thing.
Even Leonard Cohen gets the blues.
"And you know that she's half crazy/and you've got no love to give her."
Well, damn, Mr.Cohen. You're from Montreal. That's French, no? Vive la France. When Dashing Pierre of the Lafayette Escadrille Snoopy Squadron goes down, he goes down in flames
Hang on Snoopy!!

I took my wheelbarrow downtown this morning.
Madman with a wheelbarrow. Feeling a little heat from the cops.
Never mind, Doctor. Isn't it a beaut?
Current girlfriend not too happy. Got me on a low.
"Have you thought about turning gay?
What's so hot about getting a biggie-on for your roommate?
Such courage, such epic quest.
Faint heart never made it with women, or even small animals.
Ah well, my friend Merv the Perv says these are not perversions, they are refinements. Then he goes on to read his copy of The Marquis de Sade. Or really heavy Chekhov, The Lady with the Dog.
I swear the subway ads are full of pornography. "Dude, I am this great lay!"
Ah, Lay, Lady Lay.
And even Bob Dylan wonders about being gay.
Norman Mailer asks more serious questions of a writer.
The Novel or making it with the Great Bitch?
Norman Mailer says the novel first.
Then you'll have to fight them off.
I must write a great novel at once.
What the hell else am I going to do with this?