GEIST Fact & Fiction Made In Canada
Margaret Atwood Beth Jankola Anaïs Nin Eleanor Wachtel bill bissett Daphne Marlatt Milton Acorn
Carol Bergé Al Purdy Patricia Young Michael Turner David Albahari D.M. Fraser Marcello Di Cintio
ISSUE 82 FALL 2011 $6.95
FACT & FICTION u
MADE IN CANADA FALL 2011 GEIST.COM
Signs of Literary Life Laundry Day with Bukowski • Third World Canada • Strange Men at Bus Stops La Femme du Monde • LSD and Motherhood • Legacy Lit • The Other Norman Mailer 3 Billion Definitions of Freedom • Banana Smoke-In • A Good Night for Tramping The Canadian Map of Women [The Entire Orchestra, Conductor Included, Danced the Calypso in Unison]
Volume 20 · Number 82 · Fall 2011
F E AT U R E s
Signs of Literary Life 19
Subversive lit from a Kitsilano commune, lowercase poetry reviled in Parliament, uppity women in control of the means of production, and other scenes from the literary renaissance of 1960s and ’70s Vancouver
Calypso, Itch, Elegance David Albahari Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac 44
Dance, scratch, play hooky, hang on, hear the unambiguous sounds, play the game, wait for the sentence, reach for the bookmark, hear the song of life
Signs of Literary Life in Vancouver Rebecca Dolen 50
The Geist centrefold—an idiosyncratic map of writing and publishing life in Vancouver back in the days of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll
Local Lit 52
Writings from the inner city: Drunken Laundry Day with Charles Bukowski, Wine and Doorbells and A Little Girl Fight, from the winners of the 2011 Downtown Eastside Writers’ Jamboree Writing Contest
The Great Wall of Montreal Marcello Di Cintio 58
L’Acadie fence was installed to protect children from the traffic, or to keep the poor people in Parc-X away from the rich folks in the Town of Mount Royal—depending on your point of view
N OT E S & D I S PATC HE S
Stephen Osborne Michael Turner
Life on Masterpiece Avenue Making Stuff Up
CO M M E N T
Alberto Manguel Stephen Henighan Daniel Francis
66 69 71
Cri de Coeur Third World Canada Double Life
D E PA RT M E N TS
Stan Douglas Letters Geist staff & correspondents Meandricus Melissa Edwards
On the cover Photograph by Tom Osborne, an illustration for Crimes, or I’m Sorry Sir, But We Do Not Sell Handguns to Junkies by Vicar Vicars (Ted Mann), published by Pulp Press in 1973. The photo was composed against the wall of the Pulp Press office at 440 West Pender Street, Vancouver.
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4 In Camera 6 75 Endnotes, Noted Elsewhere, Off the Shelf 87 Puzzle 88 Caught Mapping
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Jill Boettger, Brad Cran, Melissa Edwards, Robert Everett-Green, Derek Fairbridge, Daniel Francis, Erinna Gilkison, Helen Godolphin, Leni T. Goggins, Lily Gontard, Michael Hayward, Sarah Hillier, Gillian Jerome, Brian Lam, Sarah Leavitt, Becky McEachern, Thad McIlroy, Ross Merriam, Billeh Nickerson, Eric Peterson, Leah Pires, Leah Rae, Debby Reis, Kris Rothstein, Norbert Ruebsaat, Jane Silcott, Paul Tough, Michelle van der Merwe, Carrie Villeneuve, Kathy Vito
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Remaking the Riot
he Gastown Smoke-in of 1971 began as a peaceful demon-
stration against Operation Dustpan, a campaign of police harassment directed against “undesirables” in the Downtown Eastside, and grew into a full-blown police riot that remains a dark memory in the history of Vancouver. Abbott & Cordova, 1971 is the title of a photographic image of the riot made in 2009 by Stan Douglas, a photographer and visual artist who lives in Vancouver. The construction of the photo graph required the construction of a simulated intersection (in a rented parking lot), with streets, sidewalks and storefronts, and 700,000 watts of tungsten light. After an arduous casting process, performers were fitted for period costumes and hairstyles. The shooting went on for three nights. The final enormous image (8 × 13 metres), a composite of some fifty images, now hangs in the atrium of the recently renovated Woodward’s building at Abbott and Cordova Streets; the north wall of the building is represented in the photograph, one block from the epicentre of the riot. Stan Douglas says: “A lot of conventional public art uses a plaque to explain why something that would normally be found in a museum has been placed out of doors, or what some man on a horse accomplished in this or that particular location. Such works become subordinate to their explanation. In contrast, I wasn’t interested in the image conveying a single message. I was more interested in facilitating a conversation between people about a historical event, a series of historical events. In that sense, even the book in which this interview will be published is very much part of that conversation. And I’d rather something as multivalent as a book pry open the photograph, or elaborate the discussion about the photograph, than a single plaque that reads: “On this spot, on August 7, 1971, Police Beat Up Some Hippies.” —Mandelbrot
The book Stan Douglas: Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 will be published in 2011 by Arsenal Pulp Press. Page 4 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 5
Geist is published four times a year by The Geist Foundation. Contents copyright © 2011 The Geist Foundation. All rights reserved. Subscriptions: in Canada: Individuals $29.95 (6 issues); Institutions $33; in the United States: $37.95; elsewhere: $37.95. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Correspondence and inquiries: subscriptions @geist.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, letters @geist.com, email@example.com. Include sase with Canadian postage or irc with all submissions and queries. #210 – 111 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC Canada v6b 1h4. Submission guidelines are available at geist.com. issn 1181-6554. Geist swaps its subscriber list with other cultural magazines for one-time mailings. Please contact us if you prefer not to receive these mailings. Publications Mail Agreement 40069678 Registration No. 07582 Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Circulation Department, #210 – 111 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC Canada v6b 1h4. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: (604) 681-9161, 1-888-geist-eh; Fax: (604) 677-6319; Web: geist.com Geist is a member of Magazines Canada and the Magazines Association of BC. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and available on microfilm from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The Geist Foundation receives assistance from private donors, the Tula Foundation, the Canada Council, the BC Arts Council and the BC Gaming Branch. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF) of the Department of Canadian Heritage.
special thanks to the tula foundation
R em em b eri n g was deeply moved by Rhonda Waterfall’s tribute to her great-great uncle James Douglas Whims, who died at age eighteen while fighting in France as part of Canada’s “coloured only” military battalion (“Saltspring to Étaples,” Geist 81). The regrets she expressed about arriving at Whims’s gravesite “empty-handed” are countered, magnificently, by her beautifully crafted words. —Evelyn C. White, Salt Spring Island, BC Read Rhonda Waterfall’s work at geist.com.
Hal Niedzviecki’s tribute to his grandfather (“The Life and Death of Zadie Avrohom Krolik,” No. 80) grapples with questions of not knowing the “whys” about a grandparent’s life. But for all he didn’t know, he has brought his grandfather to life in this writing. I’m experimenting with a “perhapsing” technique to build a picture of my grandparents’ lives because they’re long gone. It’s all we are left with. Niedzviecki summed up his grandfather as a survivalist, which tells us a great deal about how he overcame the odds in the difficult war years in Poland and Russia. You have to admire him, if not his methods. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. The era of Zadie Avrohom Krolik in Montreal was one of great Jewish stories of surviving and thriving for the children. —Mary E. McIntyre, Stouffville ON Read Hal Niedzviecki’s work at geist.com. I don’t know Robbie or Steve, the musicians mentioned in Sharon Thesen’s poem “Robbie King:
Page 6 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
1947–2003” (No. 80), but I do know that Thesen’s poetry is jazzy and cinematic and sexy, and always has been. So—how delicious, how delightful to read this unexpected elegy today, in northern Ontario, and remember Sharon’s kitchen full of writers and poets, dancing and laughter, LPs dropping. . . maybe I was listening to Robbie and Steve and didn’t know it then. Thanks for this eloquent introduction. —Mary C. Howes, Madoc, BC Read “Robbie King” at geist.com. Becom i ng Canadi an hanks to Stephen Henighan for his penetrating and wellwritten analysis of Discover Canada, the government-published study guide for people seeking Canadian citizenship (“Canada for Spartans,” No. 80). As a person who teaches English to immigrants, I was similarly creeped out by it. Arts and culture are as underemphasized as the military is overemphasized in the guide: on the one page dealing with Canadian culture, some literary names are mentioned, but all of those pictured on the page are sports figures. The only performing artists’ photos I remember are an anonymous Prince Edward Island fiddler and, in another small picture, a bagpiper and congo drummer. One poem is quoted in full in the guide: John McCrae’s elegy “In Flanders Fields.” Plus, of course, our national anthem and “God Save the Queen.” Consider the cover of the guide: two pudgy Canadians paddling on the Rideau Canal—in their identical red life jackets and yellow baseball caps, they bring to mind the McKenzie brothers. Other images: the
Canadarm (yup! always of assistance to our big neighbours to the south), a bemedalled veteran, a moose, tulips in front of the Parliament Buildings, a maple leaf, an altarpiece bearing a crucifix. As if that’s not enough, the Conservative government has beefed up the presence of the armed forces in the citizenship ceremony, with members of the military seated on the platform with the presiding judge, and also standing in the receiving line congratulating the new citizens, even giving short speeches. Overall, the portrayal of our culture in the guide is not only out-and-out militaristic, but almost unendurably bland—and it gives the lie to the Canada I know as well. Thanks again for Henighan’s insights. —Brian Campbell, Montreal The Canada described in the guidebook is very much like the one I learned about in high school, and very much like the one I live in today. It is unfortunate that Stephen Henighan has misinterpreted the intent of the booklet. It’s not supposed to be a comprehensive guide to Canadian history, politics and society. It is intended to be a concise document that introduces some of the basics of our country. Granted, the guide does not give emphasis to Medicare, but surely it is obvious that newcomers to Canada would not depend on this booklet as their sole reference to Canadian society. What’s more troubling to me is how petty Henighan’s criticism is. There must be more important things to worry about than where pictures of Canadian soldiers are placed or whether a specific government-funded agency is mentioned by name in a Canadian citizenship study guide. It is especially Letters continue on page 86 Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 7
N O TES & D IS P ATC H ES
Life on Masterpiece Avenue Stephen Osb orne
Vancouver was a ramshackle city with few cultural pretensions in the 1970s, when D.M. Fraser wrote sentences that made you want to take him (and them) home with you
n a summer afternoon in 1972, in Vancouver during a heat wave, D.M. Fraser, a long-time graduate student and unpublished fiction writer, collapsed on the sidewalk while carrying a case of Old Style beer home from the liquor store. A case of beer in those days consisted of twelve bottles, a heavy weight for someone of his physique, for he was a tiny ancient man even at the young age of twenty-six. When he came to, as he reported to his friends in the Cecil beer parlour, he was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance, and the case of Old Style beer was, to his great relief, lying on the floor of the ambulance beside his shoes. He left the hospital a few days later with a supply of nitroglycerine Page 12 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
tablets, and his shoes and his case of beer were restored to him, intact, as he reported to his friends in the Cecil, a group of untested editors and unpublished writers associated, as he was, with a newly formed publishing house of no fixed address calling itself Pulp Press. From then on, D.M. Fraser, who soon became known for his brilliant fiction, held ambulance drivers in the highest regard, as he did taxi drivers, bus drivers, street poets—and all angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection. D.M. Fraser lived for years in a dark, illegal suite in a remote neighbourhood ignored by literature and loved by the Rhododendron League, shaded by elm trees and filled with the sound of lawn
mowers on Sundays—and forever illuminated in the minds of his admirers by his presence there in the early seventies, where he conceived “Masterpiece Avenue,” a narrative of monumental living written against and away from his own sombre refuge and the life of student poverty that he never escaped—even when his student life had been over for many years and he had relocated to a railway flat above a junk store on Main Street, assisted by friends and followers, worriers about his health and admirers of his generous learned talk, people who wished to sustain him in life as long as possible, lenders of funds and good dope, professional drivers and hefters of books in boxes and his collection of years of The New Yorker. Fraser’s photo by mandelbrot
N O TES & D IS P ATC H ES
sentences were what made you want to take him (and them) home with you (as many did, from time to time): Janey and Ambrose and Spiffy and I live on Masterpiece Avenue, in the historic site; we have had invitations to move elsewhere, generous offers, but we have always refused them. It is a thing of some consequence, after all, to be where we are, to have stayed here. In times of restlessness, we take pleasure in this; we stumble trustfully through the barren opulent rooms, fondling woodwork, plaster, chimney tile, groping the scabrous face of history. From their vantage point in the house on Masterpiece Avenue, the so-called historic site, the narrator and his friends, whose lives during a seven-year tenancy have achieved “the texture of fine sculpture,” are able to observe and to ruminate upon the decaying remnants of the past: There are stories, which we prefer to disregard, of old iniquity in our domain: heathen practices, crimes of passion, conspiracies against the state . . . From time to time, we observe, through the wreckage of our hedge, elderly ladies in poetic headgear standing in an attitude which may be reverence, in front of the Plaque. We seldom complain: the Plaque is attached securely to the gatepost, on the outermost surface; it is thus exterior to us, and incidental.
“Masterpiece Avenue” was published in January 1973, in the fourth issue of 3¢ Pulp, a four-page zine published by Pulp Press Book Publishers, the “underground” literary press (now Arsenal Pulp Press) that had moved from the Cecil beer parlour into a decrepit three-storey walk-up at 440 West Pender Street (still standing, as of this writing), across the alley from the Marble Arch beer parlour, and which included D.M. Fraser in its editorial collective. Fraser, inspired, he said, by the move into official premises, had worked up notes for “Masterpiece Avenue” in the cafés nearby, where a veal cutlet with industrial-strength potatoes and gravy ran to $1.85: the Richard Pender, the White Rose, the Smile; and in the Marble Arch beer parlour, where a glass of beer had gone from from a quarter to fifty cents in only a few months; he composed his final drafts late at night, directly on the photo-typesetting machine (which displayed only a single line of text at a time in a tiny LED window) in the publishing office. In the morning someone else would take the lighttight cassette out of the typesetting machine and process the paper galley and hang it up to dry. Half a dozen such stories appeared in this way over the next few months, and constituted in the eyes of the astonished editors at Pulp Press a minor miracle: nowhere in Canada, or in North America, they were certain, had anyone encountered sentences and paragraphs like the ones that emerged from the keyboard of D.M. Fraser between 1972 and 1975—to constitute something new in the world. For whom was he speaking in his mock cri de coeur, if not for his friends? You who are free, alive in the quick confident world, forgive us . . . Forgive us all who are your monuFall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 13
N O TES & D IS P ATC H ES
ments, your history, who stand watch for you at the mouth of the labyrinth, beside Masterpiece Avenue. Have faith in us, whom you appointed to this eminence . . . We have our work, as you in the ordinary world have yours: forgive us the work we do for you. Deserve well of us, as we deserve of you, on Masterpiece Avenue, this eminence. 3¢ Pulp had a circulation of 1,000 copies and appeared nominally twice a month throughout the decade; it sold in bookstores across the country and to a subscriber list upwards of 300; when it folded in 1980, it had published 117 numbers, each notable in its own way for scrappy presentation, scrappy aesthetics and scrappy politics. D.M. Fraser was part of its editorial soul for most of those issues, and he contributed his
own writing regularly under a variety of pseudonyms. On the first of May, 1974, while he was otherwise occupied writing the stories that would make up his first book, he published a scathing response to Margaret Atwood’s novel Surfacing, which had appeared to much acclaim in 1972. Surfacing was symptomatic to Fraser of the state of Canadian letters; it represents the world that he was writing against: . . . the real outrage here is that we are, as a “nation,” so obsessed with our (nonexistent) Cultural Identity that we are willing to settle for, and embrace, any sort of pretentious mediocrity which offers itself for our consumption, willing to accept any seriosity as seriousness, any topicality, however trivial, as Relevance, any narcissism as self-criticism, any
thesis-izing as evidence of intelligence, any “Canadian Content” as actual content. (The full text of the essay is printed elsewhere in this issue.) Vancouver in the seventies was a ramshackle city with few cultural pretensions beyond those sanctioned by the Presbyterian church. The mayor had made it his mission to clear the city of those he called scum, lowlifes and loitering louts; he was eager to protect the rights of those he called decent people. The police force was a brutal presence whose apotheosis was the Gastown Police Riot of 1971, an event that turned even shopkeepers and aldermen against the city government. The Vietnam War was killing hundreds of people every week, the invasion of Cambodia in 1970 had provoked a small army of the loiterers and louts despised by the mayor to mount the first invasion of the USA since the War of 1812 (they were beaten back by police and the National Guard at Blaine, Washington, with no casualties). It was a decade of hysteria at high levels: the Prime Minister, two days before his fifty-first birthday, unleashed the War Measures Act in October 1970; six months later he married a woman from North Vancouver who was twenty-two. In 1971 he opened the whale pool at the Vancouver aquarium, and told onlookers that “too often the mystery of nature is far from us.” Press reports that day record that Mrs. Trudeau wore an off-white suit “in the fashionable below the knee length,” and the Prime Minister a blue blazer and striped shirt. In the evening the Prime Minister was burned in effigy outside the Hotel Vancouver by demonstrators described in the news as a mob of unionists, unemployed, women’s liberationists, members of the Gay Liberation front and agitators waving Che flags and chanting obscene Page 14 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
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slogans, while the Prime Minister and his wife consumed Cold Deck shrimp, Black Forest beer soup, “Hooktender,” chokerman’s tomato and catskinner’s delight ($50 a plate) at a Liberal Party dinner. “The people outside are doing their thing in a beautiful way,” said the Prime Minister, “peacefully expressing their views just as we are expressing ours.” The demonstrators ate fruit salad, rice, bread, potatoes, broth and chili con carne supplied by the Hare Krishnas at 50 cents a plate. Next day on television, the Prime Minister spoke of the “mass of physical and sexual and psychic energy that is bottled up in today’s youth” and offered a modest proposal for dealing with it: “I wish we could take 10,000 of them and say go and build a city up in the northern part of Canada. You’ve got some engineers, you’ve got some doctors, you’ve got some groovy people, people who want to live in communes—go and stake out a new city up there.” Hannah Arendt writes of the “odd in-between periods that insert themselves into ordinary time,” periods when living participants, and not just later historians, become aware of an interval altogether determined by things that are no longer and things that are not yet: such was the time of the early seventies in Vancouver. As the editors of Pulp Press were dragging an ancient printing press up three flights of stairs, and old desks, tables and a supply of ancient Remington typewriters, other groups of untested or yet-to-be-tested editors and writers were similarly dragging old furniture into decaying buildings in other parts of the city: a women’s collective called Press Gang was setting up shop as a printer and publisher in a warehouse on East Hastings Street; activists living in Kitsilano in a rickety frame house with a veranda were bringing New Star Books into being; higher-browed literary types at Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 15
Talon Books found a redoubt above a brass foundry near the tracks on Cordova Street; feminist writers and artists were preparing to launch Makara magazine from a low-rent storefront on Commercial Drive; there were poets and artists at Intermedia Press under Granville Bridge; the Knights of Pythias Hall near Kingsway and Broadway had been invested by artists and conceptualists calling themselves the Western Front; the poets and theoreticians of TISH worked out of living rooms and disused university barracks. And somewhere, who knew where, in some basement or backroom sanctuary, resided the mimeograph machine on which blewointment press continued producing its multifarious stapled volumes of poetry. These centres of cultural activity emerged more or less at the same time,
and more or less independently of each other; like D.M. Fraser and his friends at Pulp Press, they had turned their backs on the universities, the professions, the lure of the government job. They were dropouts, they had come into their place in the world without inheritance; and without testament, as Hannah Arendt points out, without tradition, there is no continuity, and hence no past, no future. What remains is only the interval: Those days: a mousetrap for time, an intention that hid itself in the cobwebs, eyes bright and nose a-quiver, the moment we named it. Let’s make memories, Janey said. She has pale hair, educated nostrils, hepatitis, a mother in Miami. We are all waiting, stoically, for the arrival of the Past.
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The editors at Pulp Press knew that they were being mocked in “Masterpiece Avenue,” that Fraser was mocking himself, and at the same time offering a prophecy, and an admonition. “We might ourselves become, in our fashion, a species of monument, an item in the history of the site,” says Fraser’s narrator: We are constrained to be outlaws, desperadoes, the stuff of an incipient mythology. My own weakness is that I am small and squirrely, much given to moody brooding, inchoate inspirations (to violate the boundaries of our monumentality, embrace the poetic ladies, bare myself before the multitudes), and a not always disposition to tears . . . I am unworthy of Masterpiece Avenue. Masterpiece Avenue stands in for the city, the nation, the world that was given in that time, as he and his friends were given to the world, a world that was for a time, for that interval, exterior to us and incidental. D.M. Fraser was a tiny, ramshackle man with a bad heart and a weak constitution. He refused to align his life with the advice of doctors. He smoked Sportsman cigarettes and drank 3-star whiskey. At any odd hour he would settle fitfully into a corner of the Pulp Press office to leaf through manuscripts and letters, scratch notes into little black books, or clatter energetically on one of the Remington typewriters. He belonged to no coterie; he shunned literary scenes inside and outside of the universities. His friends were dope dealers and draft dodgers, union organizers, posties, professional drivers, pool sharks, racetrack habitués and a few poets and fictioneers who shared his tastes in literature and politics. The beer parlours he frequented with his friends at Pulp Press were the Marble Page 16 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
Arch, the Alacazar, the Piccadilly, the Niagara and later the Inn Transit, the bus drivers’ private club, in which D.M. Fraser had an honorary membership. He conversed through clouds of cigarette smoke; he spoke in complete sentences and paragraphs, slowly, so that one could follow his thinking, just as he was following it. He seemed barely to belong in the world, especially in this Canadian world, where all traditions and cultures—to borrow the words of Hannah Arendt, writing of Kafka and Walter Benjamin—had become equally questionable to him, and to us, who were less articulate than he, and also to our disaffected peers who occupied other addresses on Masterpiece Avenue. Toward the end of the seventies, an era remembered not only for the War Measures Act, the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia, but also for the resurgence of feminism, the rise of Aboriginal resistance and the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, D.M. Fraser left an undated memo on one of the office typewriters; in it we can hear the same voice, in its semiprivate urgency, that we could hear in the beer parlours as we listened to Fraser talk during those years on Masterpiece Avenue. I, for example. I wrote, One day we shall unite all the contradictions in love. That was written to a lover in 1968, in a letter, every word of which I still subscribe to. Four years later, I remembered it and put it in a story, out of any context but the one I alone knew: I needed the Word, and it came back, in the Vancouver beer parlour where I was writing the story. In the first draft, I gave it a special emphasis; in the others (and there were several) I didn’t. Gradually I buried it where it belonged, among the trite
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Making Stuff Up
and tender mouthings of romantic conversation. It seems to me now that we shall not, ever, unite all the contradictions, in love or otherwise; we may at best stick a few of them precariously together, with glue and patience, for a time. D.M. Fraser was a writer of great talent who died at the age of thirtyeight in Vancouver, in 1985, after the seventies had gone. He published two collections of stories during his lifetime and left the world a small archive of journals and drafts and parts of a novel. He was admired by other writers for the beauty of his prose and the intensity of his conversation. A few days after he died, as I was riding the number 17 bus, I saw the apparition of his face rise into the sky from behind the mountains in the north; I got off the bus and it was still there. It was not Fraser, it was his likeness, smiling and rather handsome, hovering over the city like an immense photograph taped to a stick; it was a perfectly bland sunny afternoon in the city, and I remember that earlier in the day I had been offended by the unrelenting pleasantness of the weather, which had become a pitiless reminder of the emptiness of all things. Now as I stood on the sidewalk I heard Fraser’s voice speak into my ear and then his apparition vanished from the sky. It was a hallucination and a blessing and the beginning of a restoration to the world.
Stephen Osborne is publisher and editor-inchief of Geist. He is also the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works— most recently “Banker Poet” (No. 80)— many of which can be read at geist.com.
M ichae l T urner
Upon rereading Class Warfare, short fiction by D.M. Fraser, first published nearly forty years ago
n the evening, on a good night for tramping, I see my friends in their amber mugs, the grass they played on as kids, before I knew them, going only on what they told me, what I have cobbled together on my long walks home, down the same steps, past the same homes, none of them theirs, living as they do in other parts of the city, driving to where I drink because otherwise they would never see me. This writing is that walk, having nothing left on nights like this, when things don’t go well, an argument that isn’t about anything other than my own frustration, why the world can’t behave as I’d like it to, and Can’t you see that? Can’t you understand that this is not about everyone having their turn, their opinion, but an ongoing conversation? the stuff we started years ago, when we made this stuff up? And now it is just that—stuff—no different from printer ink or the garbage going out, a plant packed in a bucket with a note about its care and no one caring, the plant having sat in
its bucket all summer, dead brown by the door where the shoes come off, a hat thrown over it, until the plant is garbage too, to be thrown out, the dirt still good, and no thought given to how it found its bucket, the need to have something other than oneself in the window, you said, what mattered in the moment when the thought was expressed, and who packed the bucket for you. The context of the conversation, when we speak of simpler things, a break from our usual attempts at making difficulty meaningful, an explanation of what is and isn’t missing, the logic we employ to make everything as obvious as possible, as if guided by something other than ourselves, yet forgetting ourselves in the process, coasting on our logic until someone calls us on it, and we argue about that too. Which is fine, until this writing, why it looks the way it does, how I don’t feel better for it, how it takes me away from the stuff we started years ago, when we made this stuff up.
Michael Turner is the author of 8x10, The Pornographer’s Poem, Hard Core Logo and other works. In 2011, he was one of six writers invited by the Association of Book Publishers of BC and the City of Vancouver to select ten classic Vancouver books to be brought back into print, in honour of the city’s 125th birthday. Among these books is Class Warfare, by the late D.M. Fraser, reissued by Arsenal Pulp Press in September. Read other work by Michael Turner at geist.com. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 17
Signs of Literary Life literary vancouver in the 1970s
n the 1960 and ’70s, feminists, Marxists, anarchists, antiestablishmentarians, poets, writers and artists in Vancouver, who had found no place for their work in the publications of the mainstream, began to form their own book and magazine publishing enterprises. This was the era of the War Measures Act, the Vietnam War and the Gastown Police Riot, of baby boomers coming of age. The CRTC introduced CanCon and the Federal Book Publishing Policy began to provide financial assistance to Canadian publishers. Small, niche presses began popping up all over Canada, which, until then, had been dominated by a few Canadian and foreign-owned companies with headquarters in Ontario. Vancouver, at the time, had a population of about 426,000 (about a million in Greater Vancouver), two universities, many bookstores, a thriving counterculture scene and an NDP government (1972–75). Rent was still affordable, subsidized daycare was available, and people could support their artistic and cultural work for short periods with unemployment insurance claims, welfare benefits or temporary employment through government make-work programs. There were no publishing courses then; the editors and publishers of the 1970s learned everything from experienced people and/or just by doing.
What came out of this milieu in Vancouver was an efflorescence of publishing activity: feminist book and periodical publishers such as Press Gang, Makara and Room of One’s Own; counterculture presses such as Pulp Press and Vancouver Community Press/NewStar Books; avant-garde literary book publishers such as Talonbooks, and periodicals such as blewointment, Periodics and TISH. The following pages celebrate these publishers, on the occasion of Vancouver’s 125th birthday, with materials found in archives, libraries, basements and attics by Geist interns and volunteers, some of whom were born a year after the ’70s ended, others almost a decade after. The young writers, editors and publishers at Geist chose materials that seemed best to represent a decade that they can only imagine, from over here, on the other side of the ’70s. Special thanks to the City of Vancouver, which funded much of this project through the 125th Anniversary Grant Program. Thanks also to Simon Fraser University Archives and to the University of British Columbia Library, Rare Books and Special Collections. —Michal Kozlowski
To Mr. Tish
Financial Collection Agencies Ltd. From TISH 27 (November 1964).
ISH was a monthly poetry newsletter established in 1961 by Frank Davey, James Reid, George Bowering, Fred Wah and David Dawson. The name TISH was chosen because it was an anagram for shit, evoking “a movement,” “a sound” and a sense of “what must come and does.” Although it got its start at UBC, TISH had no permanent address; it tended to relocate when the publishers saw an opportunity for cheaper rent. The newsletter was also habitually broke, often relying on favours from friends and colleagues, such as free mimeographing or a new place to set up shop. TISH continued to publish until 1969. It was an influential periodical that informed many local literary endeavours through the 1970s. graphic from the cover of tish 33 (january 1966).
To Mr. Tish: Rush-Letter
garnishee proceedings accordingly,
This is absolutely against you Within seven days, on or before that date, your actions will be recommended final, so govern this office unless payment is in
Financial Collection Agencies Ltd. 540 Seymour Street Vancouver 2, BC TISH needs poems letters money (!)
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 19
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — TI S H
To the Editor Al Purdy
From TISH 4 (December 1961), copyright the estate of Al Purdy. Al Purdy (1918–2000) was the author of thirty-three books of poetry, a novel, an auto biography and nine collections of essays and correspondence. Editor, TISH: Might say my own approach to poetry deals with the specific (almost always) in order to reach the general. And with me, generally the specific means people. That’s why I prefer in this presumably first ish [Frank] Davey’s stuff. But there were other bits and pieces I liked, but not as whole poems. [Lionel] Kearns SUDDEN INTIMATIONS is a bit prosy, but he ends it well. Bowering’s Sunday Poem is pretty damn good. (I’ll retract that no “whole poems” opinion.) That’s a good poem. “I swear/ there are/ pieces of pollen/ in the air you breathe into my lungs/ And your/ hair/ I am mystified by the forehead dance of air—” I think that’s really pretty good. Also like the first part of [Fred] Wah’s Landscale—the word “through” seems to me awkward where it was placed. I hope you keep it up, and since you seem to have enough labor listed on first page, continuity seems promising.
From TISH 40 (March 1967).
Best, Al Purdy
George Bowering From TISH 1 (Fall 1961). George Bowering is a writer of poetry, fiction, memoir and essays, author of more than forty published books and Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate. He co-founded TISH in 1961 while studying English at UBC. From 1964 to 1974 he published Imago, a periodical dedicated to the long poem or serial poem. I cycle bumping on a woods walking path God leaning over me with alder branches I swish through a swamp puddle
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disturbing pollywogs oozing a trail visions of Jesuit-habited Hopkins traced among the inscape trelliced sky
out: into a street straight man lines again dry bright cement lays itself under my wheel
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — t a l o n b oo k s
alon Books Ltd. is a literary book publishing company best known for its special interest in Canadian drama. It began as a small poetry magazine, Talon, founded in 1963 by an editorial collective of Magee High School students; in 1967 they began to publish books. Poetry by George Bowering and Ken Belford led the way, and soon the press diversified into Canadian drama by Beverley Simons, George Ryga, James Reaney, Michel Tremblay and many others, as well as early works of fiction by Jane Rule and Audrey Thomas. Talon had published several books by the poet bill bissett in 1977, when Cover of a collection of poems by bill MPs in the House of Commons bissett, one of the Selected Works series attacked bissett for writing the published by Talonbooks in 1980. poem “a warm place to shit” and excoriated the Canada Council for subsidizing publication with taxpayers’ money. The furor died down after Talonbooks and bissett filed suit against MPs, newspapers and others for libel and copyright infringement (the poem had been reprinted without permission in a constituency newsletter), and joined Warren Tallman in organizing an anti-censorship reading series. Thirty-five years later the company is still healthy, with almost five hundred titles in print.
Bare Particulars Fred Wah
From Loki Is Buried at Smoky Creek: Selected Poems, published by Talonbooks in 1980. Fred Wah is a Vancouver poet, novelist, essayist and editor with more than twenty books to his credit, most recently the poetry collection is a door. He was a founding editor of TISH. I thought where I came from we grow up also only to reach heaven and / or what our bodies dictate to us. Sometimes I remember the ‘hinge’ too late or what we call the ‘fence’ having crossed over it side to side. Such ‘things’ and their ideas are ‘walls’ and demand me return into my life as the dogs scratch at the door for the warmth there. I wonder if I can ever pay attention like that to my own life and the simple or bare particulars of what is its ‘number’ without making up some other cruel paradigm to swim around in. I feel the spring in me and the water running. But I don’t know how it does that or where.
ar thees patreearks bill bissett
From Animal Uproar, published by Talonbooks in 1987. bill bissett is a writer, editor, artist and musician, with more than sixty published books and several CDs to his credit. In 1963 he launched blewointment magazine, which became blewointment press, a book publisher, a year later. wendee told me abt th ded popes in th basement uv th vatikan undr glass coverd in gold n jewels theyr skeletons bones possessing wealth no wun can use Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 21
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — t a l o n b oo k s
La Femme du Monde Michel Tremblay
From “La Duchesse de Langeais” in La Duchesse de Langeais & Other Plays, translated by John Van Burek and published by Talonbooks in 1976. Michel Tremblay is a Montreal playwright and novelist, author of more than fifty works of fiction and drama, as well as several film scripts. His most recent book available in English is Crossing the Continent, translated by Sheila Fischman. A “terrasse de café.” “La Duchesse de Langeais,” an aging queen about sixty years old, vacationing somewhere in the sunny climes, is seated in front of a half-empty bottle of scotch. She is already visibly under the weather. The character, “la Duchesse de Langeais,” should be as effeminate as possible. No wiggle of the hips, wave of the hand or “wink perverse” should be spared. The caricature should be complete, perfect . . . and touching. “La Duchesse” often tries to speak à la française, but her “joual” origins always show through[...] LA DUCHESSE [to herself]: Darling, you’re so vulgar! If the vacationing CBC girls ever heard you! It’s a good thing they’re taking their “siestas,” hein? Why, the poor dears, they’d swoon on the spot if they heard you talk like that! Because, can you believe it, nowadays when they meet me, they’re ashamed! Eh, oui! That’s what they told me, like this, with their lips all pinched and their pinkies in the air . . . They want nothing more to do with me if don’t clean up my act. “You call yourself ‘Duchesse,’ you should set a good example.” Aie, wow, hein? Nothing but . . . snotty ladies! Bloody bitches! I’d scratch their faces if I still had my nails! They make me sick, lying around on the beach, playing Madame . . . Like they were queens of the world . . . They’ve got about as much class as . . . And of course, they haven’t got two cents to rub together! Oh, I know them all, those CBC whores who come down here on vacation. Queers, tapettes, every one of them!
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Cocksuckers, all of them! The whole bloody gang! There are a few who try to be males, but they just look like constipated whores. It’s a long time since I’ve been fooled, hein? I can smell a queer a hundred miles away! That means I’ve always got a nose full, but that’s another story . . . Yesterday, my dear ladies, they were eating les fruits de mer, sprawled all over the beach, pinkies in the air, yeah, in the air, and they’d coo with pleasure and roll back their eyes everytime they’d pop a little fishie into their mouths . . . But back in Montréal, they’d die of fright if they saw a fly in their soup. Aie, wow, hein? I mean there’s ridiculous and ridiculous! No, that doesn’t work with me anymore. I wasn’t born yesterday and these “princesses” from Montréal, Canada, haven’t impressed me for a long time. Look, I’ve got forty years experience and a few thousand men up my ass, so I can afford to play “la Duchesse” . . . But them, they’re not even thirty years old and they want to play woman of the world. Between you and me, hein? . . . All they manage to look like is cheap little Jewish ladies coming out of the five and dime . . . Their petits bleached hairdos, their petits fingernails all filed, their petits bikinis transparent and their cute little petit walk . . . that they copied from me . . . Aie, wow, hein? Grow up a little first, sister, then come see your aunt. You can play the ingénue all you want, but not la femme du monde! If it’s lessons you want, I’ll give them to you, free of charge, but don’t try to pass for a pro. Not in front of me! . . . Tiens, my glass is empty. God, the way this stuff disappears! Maybe there are ghosts, eh?
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — p e r i od i c s
There’s No Room Ken Belford
From Fireweed published by Talonbooks in 1967. Ken Belford is a poet who has published seven books, most recently Decompositions. He lives in Prince George, BC. There’s no room in the city for wood. What they want is cement. Permanence, So they are coming to tear the house down. Already the caretaker is gone. Old Stan. The police came, took him away. Smashed his door in first, not knowing there was no lock. Went away laughing because they found him cringing In the corner, clutching the camera he bought At the department store where he forged the cheque. I think it was the crone downstairs told me. The one that paints. But she is not to be believed, Not caring to sign her name as a witness. And I wonder where they will go. The people who stare like animals At the sun. Who run the tap water all night long, Or move the furniture, again, again, Whispering, whispering in their stale rooms.
Periodics 2 (Fall 1977). Cover art by Carole Itter, a Vancouver artist who works in performance, installation and short film.
eriodics, an experimental magazine of literature and theory, was first published in the spring of 1977 by Paul de Barros and Daphne Marlatt. Periodics ran for four years without ever having an official office, only a postal box at Station K in Vancouver as a place to receive manuscripts. Nearly a hundred authors appeared in the magazine during its few years in print, including Michael Ondaatje, bpNichol, Artie Gold, Robert Kroetsch, Kathy Acker, Fred Wah and Charles Bernstein. The final issue of Periodics, numbers 7 and 8, appeared in the winter of 1981.
Long Ongoing Line Daphne Marlatt
From Periodics 3 (Fall 1978). Daphne Marlatt is a poet, novelist and theorist, author of more than twenty-five books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She became an editor of TISH in 1963, edited the Capilano Review from 1973 to 1976, co-edited Periodics from 1977 to 1981 (with Paul de Barros) and was a founding co-editor of Tessera, a feminist journal. Vancouver, BC 6/9/77 Dear Paul (Kahn), We’ve had these two terms, prose & poetry, for a long time now & the question really seems to be whether they’re relevant any longer to the kinds of writing now being written. Yet there’s no point in blurring, for the sake of some notion of the avantgarde, actual experienced distinctions & I know that writing a long ongoing line (which I take to be the basis of prose (prosa, forward) whether or not some people use periods where others would use commas) is distinct
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 23
Signs of Literary Life — periodics
for me from writing a series of short ones which, tho they vary in actual length, always seek to return to the pole of that left margin. The distinction (for me) has to do with the way in which language in poetry plays with silence or its own absence: each word radiates multiple possibilities, pure potential in the silence surrounding it that is then closed down into manifest direction by that which follows it. The direction of thought in prose seems more linear to me, perhaps because it moves in larger units, phrases or clauses (& poetic prose is that prose where the insistence of the word as singular moves against or across the more normal prose thrust forward—a very complex music, counterpoint), & doesn’t stop to hear the silence. In prose, normally, words fill the page & create a surface that is all language. —Daphne Marlatt
Animal Visions Carol Bergé
From Periodics 4 (Fall 1978). Carol Bergé (1928–2006) was an American poet and the founder of CENTER magazine. Her books Antics (Regent Press/ AWAREing Press) and Light Years (Spuyten Duyvil/AWAREing Press) were both published in 2010. She attended the Vancouver poetry seminar at UBC in 1962 and wrote The Vancouver Report, an account of and response to the event. Peach cobbler seasoned with nutmeg. Fried chicken covered with batter made with jalapeno peppers. Chess pie. Blackeyed peas with slab bacon. Ham hocks and turnip greens. Doughnuts made by cutting out biscuit dough with coke bottle, then frying, then rolling in cinnamon and sugar. Corn bread liberally mixed with jalapeno peppers. Coca-cola, in the morning on arising, with meals, between meals, as a midnight beverage. Grits, green beans with fatback. Red beans, rice & sausage meat. Lemon lime cream pie. Dr. Pepper. Claude Fike. Bert Goss. Charles Acres. Ellistine Lewis. Peggy Prenshaw. Dale Danks. Chauncey Godwin. Elizabeth Dribben. Herman DeCell. Jimmy Weems. Estus Smith. Armin Twiss. Cliff Finch. Ronald Knouse. Davenport Mosby. James Edgy. Gavin MacBain. Gayle Goodin. Lewis Dollarhide. David Berry. Bernice (pronounced burn-niss). Imogene (pronounced I’m a gin). Chris Wilberding. Mavis Payne, DeWayne Dee. Jo Bee Oilschlager. Dalbert. Marla Lou. Judee Sue Dockery. Billie Jo. Jackie Jo. Billie Lou. Billie Anne. Jimmy Ann. Dorothy Ann. Sammy Lou. Jimmy Sue. Susie Jo. Honey Lee. Lacy, Leola, Lina. Wilburn Wade, Truman Walley, Levis Yarbrough. Lavelle Cooley, Alton Hall, Berdie Summer. Evon Kurley, Vonce Butler; Royce, Elmo, Levon, Jewell, Purvis, Aubrey, Duval, Lacoy. Earline Roseberry. Dace. Vester. Rhynda Lynn. Tommie Lou. LaNelle Schimpf. Earl Crawley. Byron Bynum. Orville Sugg. Lister Broom. Niles Dwain. Lesha Camp. Porpia Fant. Elzey Arledge. Diemut Horne. Poteet DeWeese. Morson Lott. Theora Hamblet. Pecolia Yates. Talmadge Lamar Tenhet. Ronee Hermetz. Sign on a Gas Station (changed daily): “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
Cover of the Vancouver Women’s Bookstore catalogue, 1975.
2 Tim 3:16”
Bumper sticker: “Smile, God loves you.”
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S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — v a n c o u v e r c o m m u n i t y p r e ss / n e w s t a r b o o k s
Vancouver Community Press / New Star Books
ew Star Books got its start in 1969, when a group of writers and editors working for the Georgia Straight, an alternative Vancouver weekly paper, published the first of several literary supplements inserted in the paper. Within a year, this group had begun to publish books under the name Georgia Straight Writing Series.
Early work by bill bissett, Judith Copithorne, Fred Wah, Brian Fawcett, George Bowering and Daphne Marlatt was featured in this series. In 1971, some members of the group (the York Street commune) started their own book-publishing project under a new imprint, Vancouver Community Press. Workers came and went, and by 1974 the press’s editorial focus had shifted to non-fiction titles about current affairs and politics. One of these books, Two Roads by Jack Scott, a largely positive account of the People’s Republic of China, inspired another name change, to New Star Books. In 2011, the press had about eighty books in print.
One Day Kennedy Died and So Did the Birdman of Alcatraz Milton Acorn
From Essays in BC Political Economy, published by New Star in 1974, and by permission of the Estate of Milton J.R. Acorn, Poet. Milton Acorn (1923–1986) was a writer of poetry, prose and plays. In the 1960s, Acorn was a co-founder of The Georgia Straight. (Why was Kennedy killed? He was a rich warmaker who was beginning to learn that war didn’t pay— That no people who resisted him was helpless... On the day he died, murdered no one will admit knowing by whom— Another man who had done far more good to the human race, died; I wrote this poem— The world rolls, lives flick off, rain in the dark, Oftener than I blink they fall
, each one more momentous than a sun going out. Shall I make fractions of my tears? ration to each one molecule of salt? How many shots in Texas? How many hungers fade only as the mind fades? Yet I love Prince Charley because he’s a boy I know of and a boy’s portion is love. Churchill’s cigar, Khrushchev’s shoe are talismans I touch vaguely with the spirit. Unlike some friends I don’t snarl “Good riddance!” but for each one lost I have a particular kind of sorrow.
For Kennedy, the image-man, his very soul wired and tugged into shape by advertisers, his words so evidently sincere and false, false, I mourn with Sartre for the hell that is other people . . . the man who never was: But for Stroud in his cell with a roaring toilet who just the same fashioned a heaven of birdsongs for himself and others, I cry sincerely precisely because the assassin failed
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 25
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — v a n c o u v e r c o m m u n i t y p r e s s / n e w s t a r b oo k s
Canada the Colony Marjaleena Repo
From “Toward an Authentic Canadian Left,” published in The Grape Writing Supplement #10 (June 21–27, 1972). Marjaleena Repo is a freelance writer with a special interest in justice issues. She is also the national organizer for Citizens Concerned About Free Trade. She lives and works in Saskatoon and Toronto. One does not have to be supremely astute and observant to realize that Canada today is in the throes of major economic and political crisis. Even without the recent events in Quebec—the outlawing of the FLQ and the utilization of the War Measures Act to suppress other independence movements and progressive organizations in the province—there were plenty of serious problems. The downward business cycle (the inability to get rid of goods and to expand), euphemistically called “inflation,” has thrown a substantial percentage—close to 10%—of the working population out of work. The heightening contradictions between the imperialist centre, the United States, and Canada, the colony, are creating a new class of underemployed and unemployed people, the intellectuals and professionals. These are people who are being educated at great cost for jobs that do not exist. They are pouring out of graduate schools, universities, and community colleges; and are discovering to their dismay that they, too, are surplus labour. The job market in a foreign dominated economy simply does not expand to suit the needs of the nationals in this country, who at every level of education are being systematically reduced to “drawers of wood and hewers of water” for the US. When unemployment grows, so grow the welfare rolls, and the consequent cutbacks in ordinary benefits, pushing the recipients, old
Copyright From Should Stick to Carrying Water, published in the Georgia Straight Writing Supplement #1 (October 29, 1969). Scott Lawrance is on the faculty of the City University of Seattle. He lives in Victoria.
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and new, into further misery. Those who manage to hold onto their jobs are submitted to more and more restrictive legislation, including compulsory arbitration, which is looming on the horizon for all provinces and is already in existence in many. The farmers are fighting a survival battle against the encroaching agrobusiness—the industrialization of farming—and are losing. They are also fighting a losing battle against the anarchy of capitalist production: their produce, from grain to dairy products, is rotting in storage while people all over Canada are seriously undernourished and actually starving. The fishermen, on the other hand, are struggling against the stranglehold of the fishing industry, which has kept them in virtual serfdom up to now. At the same time they are losing their livelihood altogether due to the oil spills and various other forms of industrial water pollution. There is the planned, forced assimilation of the Native Peoples, as well as their casual extermination by lack of medical care and adequate nutrition, and by the destruction of their livelihood through, for instance, the flooding of their lands. Indian and Metis people are being driven into the cities, where they cannot function. The Eskimos of the North are under attack, too, by the Canadian state representing the US oil interests. Oil tankers circle the Arctic, and pipelines threaten the natural equilibrium.
Signs of Literary Life — room of one's own
Room of One’s Own
oom of One’s Own (now named Room), C a n a d a ’s o l d e s t literary journal by, for and about women, publishes poetry, fiction and literary criticism. The first issue was produced in 1975 by a collective of volunteers who took the name from Virginia Woolf’s essay, written in 1929 (“It is necessary to have five hundred [pounds] a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry”). The journal has published more than one hundred issues, with work by Audrey Thomas, Carol Shields, Dorothy Livesay, Marian Engel, Helen Humphreys, Lorna Crozier and many others. Eleanor Wachtel, Jean Wilson and Gayla Reid are among the women who served as editors in the early years.
When Looking for a Man Patricia Young
From Room of One’s Own, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter 1979). Patricia Young is the author of nine collections of poetry and one of short fiction. She has taught at the University of Victoria and served as editorial assistant at the Malahat Review. I always remember the day the fair came to town when i’m looking for a man heather and i leaning out of an upstairs window watched papa walk down our street holding a strange lady by the hand that night the screams and banging on the door woke us but this time
Above: Drawing by Jaki Boyle in Room of One’s Own, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 1976). Top left: Cover of Room of One’s Own, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1977). Cover photo by Eleanor Wachtel. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 27
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — r oo m o f o n e ' s o w n
he could go to hell and back before mama would let him in that’s when heather and i stole down the stairs and saw his hand break through the window we stood and shivered in the silence that always follows broken glass in nightgowns and bare feet we crept outside and in the dark we followed drops of blood along the sidewalk hugging an empty bottle and curled up on a neighbour’s lawn we found him crying heather and i knelt down and held papa’s bleeding hand i’m going to the fair tonight yes, i’m looking for a man who doesn’t bend and doesn’t bleed heather’s crawling around all the bars tonight she’s looking for a man whose hands are full of scars
Eleanor Wachtel From “Introduction; or, Affront/A Front of Language,” published in Room of One’s Own, Vol. 4, Nos. 1 & 2 (1978). Eleanor Wachtel was a member of the Growing Room Collective during the 1970s and ’80s. She is the host of Writers and Company on CBC Radio One. Quebec is not a province like all the rest. It never has been. Women got the vote federally in 1918; by 1922 all provinces but Quebec had enfranchised women. In Quebec, 40,000 signatures were collected by a coalition of women’s associations renouncing their claim to suffrage. Similarly, the first women lawyers could practise in Ontario in 1895, and by 1923 all provinces except Quebec allowed women to study and practise law. Although women had graduated from McGill Law School and applied to the Quebec Bar as early as 1914, they weren’t permitted to practise until 1941 (women finally got the vote the year before). Woman’s place was in the home; that theory kept them from sitting on juries in Quebec until 1972. Thus, in 1976, when the second wave of feminism was generally considered to have peaked in North America, with articles proclaiming “The Death of the Women’s Movement” rippling through the media, Quebec feminism, continuing to move to its own inner tempo, made a dramatic resurgence. That February, an explicitly feminist novel, a “woman’s Bible,” L’Euguélionne by Louky Bersianik, surfaced and immediately became the literary happening of the year—more than 27 weeks on the bestseller list. In March, poets, novelists, and historians, Nicole Brossard, France Théoret, Michèle Jean, and others formed a collective to publish a monthly newspaper, Les Têtes de Pioche (literally Pickaxe Heads or any stubborn, determined person). Then in November, the first provincial government dedicated to the separation of Quebec was elected. With the Parti Québécois in office, the energy of women activists for so long siphoned off into the nationalist movement — just as women were absorbed into the New Left and SDS in the late ’60s prior to the second wave of feminism—could be released and rechannelled. And what more natural medium for feminist action than the very stuff at the base of the nationalist movement: language! Critic Gilles Marcotte has pointed out the centrality of language in Quebec culture even in the economic arena. While elite English-Quebecers were industrialists, entrepreneurs, and merchants, law, politics and religion—occupations with an emphasis on words—fell to their French counterparts. We put a stronger stress on speech, on the expression of ourselves, thereby establishing an essential link between our collective existence and the expression of that existence through speech—and primarily by the written speech of literature. We were—and still are, up to a point—nominalists: we believed that by naming things we possessed them.
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S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — b l e w o i n t m e n t p r e ss
When women turned to language, they found every word weighted with a sexual bias, an affront. French is a gender-based language, so very soon the message became the medium. Language itself had to be explored, broken down, re-invented to accommodate new ways of thinking—often by writers with PhDs or other advanced degrees in classical programs. Like abstract painters, they already knew how to draw portraits. Writing became an experiment and seems as a result less accessible to those reared on traditional forms. In describing the work of Nicole Brossard, Louise Forsyth writes (in “The Novels of Nicole Brossard: An Active Voice”): “Brossard will not use writing for the accumulation of a series of illusory events and characters who acquire the semblance of reality as a result of the order and coherence of the text. Such is the process of social myths, by which women (and members of other dominated groups) have received an image and a role too often taken as the faithful reflection of an objectively verifiable material reality.” Old moulds cannot contain the new forms. There’s a blur between essay and “fiction,” with, for example, Madeleine Gagnon’s “Mouth Full of Words” seeming to parody the social science essay. Puns, homonyms, and other types of wordplay abound. The title of Monique Bosco’s “Mooring-Buoy/Moored Body” is “CorpsMort” in French, with resonances available only in the original. In one line, for example, she writes, “sea, bitter mother,” la mer, l’amère mère. Words are sought, chosen, and handled like the ingredients of poetry, and the writing translated here must be approached with the same patient care as that summoned for poetry. The awkwardness, the ostensible ungrammatical passages are deliberate, and painstakingly reproduced from the original French. The reader is no longer a passive receptacle; she has to get her feet wet, to wade in and do some work.
lewointment press was a book publishing company that grew out of blewointment, a literary periodical founded in 1962 by the poet bill bissett and noted for its lowercase, phonetic spellings and for its hand-decorated and mixed-media covers and inserts. In 1967, blewointment began to publish chapbooks by authors such as Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Maxine Gadd, Al Purdy and Gwendolyn MacEwen. bissett sold the press in 1983, and it has continued as Nightwood Editions— which, in 2005, launched a new blewointment imprint.
Margaret Atwood An untitled poem from The Occupation Issew, published by blewointment press in 1970. The poem was published in the book Power Politics, copyright 1971 by Margaret Atwood, used by permission of the author, reprinted with permission from House of Anansi Press. It is available in Canada, in Selected Poems, 1966–1984, published by McClelland and Stewart, ©Margaret Atwood 1990; and in the United States, in Selected Poems I, 1965–1975, published by Houghton Mifflin, ©Margaret Atwood 1976. Margaret Atwood is a writer, editor and cartoonist, author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. You refuse to own yourself, you permit others to do it for you: you become slowly more public, in a year there will be nothing left of you but a megaphone or you will descend through the roof with the spurious authority of a government official, blue as a policeman, grey as a used angel, having long forgotten the difference between an annunciation and a parking ticket
or you will be slipped under the door, your skin furred with cancelled airmail stamps, your kiss no longer literature but fine print, a set of instructions. If you deny these uniforms and choose to repossess yourself, your future will be less dignified, more painful, death will be sooner, (it is no longer possible to be both human and alive): lying piled with the others, your face and body covered so thickly with scars only the eyes show through. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 29
S i g n s o f L i t e r a r y L i f e — b l e w o i n t m e n t p r e ss
Bankruptcy Proceedings Al Purdy
From The Occupation Issew, published by blewointment press in 1970, copyright the estate of Al Purdy. Al Purdy (1918–2000) was the author of thirty-three books of poetry, a novel, an autobiography and nine collections of essays and correspondence. I get handed bills like To: one bouquet of flowers I never one bottle of chianti I didn’t one life that isn’t quite wasn’t and pounds of pieces of parts of a carseat mattress or wet grass one long overdue on the 15th isn’t. last and the bastards dont wanta wait Even my friends one failed poet gone west a doctor exiled in Vancouver an alcoholic bookdealer also the guy i usta work with and slug beer with
they think I owe them something too moonlight info recipe for firefly vomit and want me to tell them about the desperate semaphore of thoughts congealed and betrayed by words the long captivity of stones Even the women I knew years ago like one last night telling me how I made a pass at her 15 years ago (which I’ve forgotten now –tho it might be so) on the telephone and her getting sore and saving it up saving it up like a bag of rotten dog piss all that time to tell my wife
while we’re eating dinner together which ended at that point My ageing plain-faced wife to whom I suddenly realize I do owe something owe all of them something for turning themselves inside out into me They are skywriting liens and judgments on the clouds and credit bureaus garnishes chimpanzees’ wages and bailiffs sneak up on flowers of the field and I’ll never pay a damn cent
“Typescape #7: Uribus” from Arbormundi: 16 Selected Typescapes by Robert Zend, published by blewointment press in 1982. Reprinted courtesy of Ronsdale Press. Page 30 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
Signs of literary life — makara
Makara Doctor’s Orders A template promotion letter from the archives of Makara magazine, dated January 1976. Dear Doctor, Having a lot of trouble with irritable patients lately? Would you like them to come in either chuckling or too preoccupied to worry about what you may be doing to them? Well, we’ve run a survey (10 of our friends, a good representative sample) which indicates that faded copies of foreign periodicals in the waiting room tend to irritate people beyond belief. What you need is a few copies of a visually and intellectually exciting Canadian magazine strewn about, namely MAKARA. We must admit you will have a problem with people sneaking them out under their coats, so we suggest you take out several subscriptions. Keep one in your office for moments when you feel irritated. Bonne santé, MAKARA Colette French is a painter, printmaker and curator. She lives in Toronto, where she owned and operated Painted City art gallery for ten years, and now serves as acting director of Coopers Fine Art Gallery.
Strange Men at Bus Stops
From Makara, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 1977). Jeannine Mitchell’s non-fiction and fiction have appeared in more than 100 publications in North America and Asia. She has worked as a writer and editor in Hong Kong, Vancouver and Toronto.
akara was a Canadian literary and cultural journal published from 1975 to 1978 by the Pacific Women’s Graphic Arts Co-operative from offices on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. Makara was billed as “The Canadian magazine by women for people”; its mandate was to present arts, culture and politics from a feminist perspective. Contributors included Cynthia Flood, Sandy Duncan, Anne Cameron, Daphne Marlatt and Sky Lee. The collective produced thirteen issues that included fiction, poetry, articles, interviews, comics, art portfolios and work for children. Most issues of the magazine were printed by Press Gang, a women-owned printing and publishing company.
Many of my strange encounters with men occur because I never learned not to talk to strangers. Strangers interest me—and I haven’t met a person yet who isn’t strange. pardon me miss. i’d like to tell you what i’m going to do. I’m at a bus stop in the spring of ’74 in Berkeley. Recovering. Recovering from a film event I’d just come from. The films were based on buglike people swallowing jewels. Also, the filmmaker was present to explain his work, but he only screamed hysterically about minnie mouse and outer space creatures surrounding the auditorium. The last thing he yelled as I walked out was abolish birth control–you too can bear god! I suppose you could say that the film event put me into the state of quiet shock most conducive to spending half an hour at a bus stop with a maniac. This man has the look of a maniac. He pulls a torn piece of paper out of his pocket. would you like to read a poem i wrote? It’s rhyming verse, a takeoff on John Brown’s Body. Only it’s about your ego and how you should let it flow, etc. Like this, only longer, much longer:
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 31
Signs of literary life — makara
So you’re feeling kind of empty and you’re running out of dough and the city life has got you down and now you got to go But you’re angry at yourself for having fallen down so low just let your ego flow! As it turns out, the poem isn’t directly related to what he is going to do. He’s going to raise funds for a people’s freedom park. He tells me some of the details. i’m gonna have lawyers draw it up, the charter, and i’ll invite the sds and the panthers and other people’s struggle groups to buy land with me and we’ll turn it over to the indians, far out, eh?, and live there with them, free of fascist rules, following the earth and its natural laws, following our natural animalistic desires, y’know—fww fww, uuh uuh . . . He really is a maniac. i n c i d e n t a l ly, he says, my name is r o b e r t r a i n b ow. what’s yours? jeannie? well, hey jeann i e , h a s a n yo n e ever told you that you’re beautiful? (Wow, I’m thinking. That’s what’s strange about tonight. I’ve fallen into a time warp.) hey! look at me, jeannie. come on, don’t be shy. i can t e l l yo u ’ r e n e w here and you got no people. listen, let me take you home, Photograph by Lynn Phipps, from “Just Like You and Me: Images of the Downtown Eastside,” in Makara, Vol.1, No.2 (February/March 1976).
Page 32 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
turn you onto a little weed, and we’ll satisfy our animalistic desires . . . “No.” what’s the matter? jeannie, are you a virgin? I try to get him back to his land strategy. It doesn’t work. jeannie, i’m awfully lonely. y’know, i’d really like to have some kids. you’re a gentle person, i bet you’d groove on kids, and for sure you’d groove on the freedom of living under the earth’s natural laws, out in the mountains and open air. you’d have all your needs taken care of . . . “Listen, uh, Robert. It sounds like a really fine plan and I hope everything works out okay. But I’ve got my own trips.” your own trips . . . but listen, i’m talking about freedom! freedom to live outside the laws of fascist governments, living under the natural laws of the earth! “Yeah, but your idea of freedom isn’t mine. I mean, there’s 3 billion people on this planet, right? So there’s 3 billion definitions of freedom.” what! well, jeannie, look, i dig that everyone has his own trip, but i’m talking beyond that—i’m saying real freedom , freedom that we all need, freedom to follow our animalistic desires, fww, fww, uuh, uhh . . . The bus comes, I get up, and Robert Rainbow takes my hand. jeannie please. don’t go. give me your phone number. let’s keep in touch. i really like you and i need your help. And as the bus door is closing, he’s still there, pleading with me. jeannie, won’t you satisfy and glorify my universe? That poor, fried-out man . . . I’ll do for him what I haven’t done since my high school dope connection turned out to be an informer. I flash him a peace sign.
Signs of literary life — makara
Dear Anaïs Nin, Dear Lynne Kokke: Letters Between Friends Anaïs Nin and Lynne Kokke
From Makara, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Fall 1977). Anaïs Nin (1903–1977) is best known for her diaries, written over more than six decades, and for her erotic literature. Lynne Kokke is the author of Shimmerings, published by blewointment press in 1977. Lynne to Anaïs November 22, 1974 The LSD experience is over now and I’m still digesting. I remember saying during the experience that I could fulfill myself as a woman as well as a writer while staying home (and being wife and mother). A compromise between desires and demands. I chose to stay with my family. I wouldn’t be where I am at present if it weren’t for my children’s honest opinions. They forced my growth. . . During the experience I had become a bird when I talked about creativity. A firebird with a long neck and the bird turned into a goldencoppertone color and spread its tail. Then vultures, owls and bats with long claws descended and wanted to use the bird for food. I (it) hid the head underneath the wings in protection of the self. The realization that I should no longer aspire to be an artist gave me another insight. I decided to share my diary regardless of the lack of artistry. It has some qualities of humanness and honesty, especially in the dialogues with my family. The last year especially, I went through a deep depression without pills or medication. My writing was my life-line at suicidal moments. As part of the diary, I enclosed quotations or copies of letters I treasure. Yours were amongst them and I wrote to the publisher: “When I write Anaïs Nin later this month, I’ll tell her that I enclosed copies of her letters. I have the feeling that she won’t mind.” I want to come to a close with a question: Would it relieve you if I stopped writing to you? If I would do this, it would free your energy for other things. That would mean real love. Because, if I know you as I think I do, I feel that each unanswered letter weighs on you and you
will not rest until you have done justice to those who have written to you. Anaïs to Lynne January 5, 1975 I would regret very much not hearing from you again. The person revealed in the letters is after my own heart. I may not write you back immediately or as fully because of overwork, but you are already installed in my life as a friend. I like everything you say, do write. At the moment I am to undergo major surgery to deliver me from a cancer which has been off and on since 1966. I cannot take any more radium so there is no alternative. I’m writing you from the hospital. I brought with me a beautiful fish pennant made by an artist. It hangs in front of me. It is a dazzling sunrise all gold and red. Don’t wish to be solely an artist. The more we experience and expand the richer the artist. Your LSD experience is beautiful—“in touch with the firebird inside of me”—bird symbol. I’m curious too about the fate of your diary. I have no objection to your including my letters. I know you would protect any revelation I would not want published. I place your letters inside of my diaries! Your letters are warm and if your diary has that it should be published.
Makara, Vol. 1, No. 6 (October/November 1976). Cover art is by Judith Williams, an artist and writer now living on Cortes Island, BC. Her most recent published book is Clam Gardens: Aboriginal Mariculture on Canada’s West Coast (New Star Books).
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 33
signs of literary life — pulp press
ulp Press Book Publishers was established in downtown Vancouver in 1971 by a group of disenchanted university students and their associates, including Stephen Osborne, Tom Osborne and Greg Enright. The press was known for its intelligent, irreverent books, chapbooks and broadsheets, and for cultural innovations such as the 3-Day Novel Contest, conceived in a pub and launched in 1978. D.M. Fraser, Jon Furberg, Tom Walmsley and other writers published by the press also worked in editorial and production. In 1978, Pulp Press was accused in Parliament of terrorism for publishing “The Anarchist Peril,” a satirical work; the office telephones were tapped and the principals were investigated by federal security agents. In 1982 the press was reorganized and renamed Arsenal Pulp Press. Today the company has more than two hundred titles in print and is one of Canada’s most successful independent book publishers.
D.M. Fraser and Sherie Kaplan posing for a film noir spoof. Photo by Tom Osborne. Page 34 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
Sincerely, Norman Mailer Anonymous
From the collected correspondence of the Pulp Press office. Gen. Delivery, Popcum, BC, March 17/73 Sirs: I don’t usually answer unsolicited mail. Too many people clamour for my attention and demand things from me that I’m not willing to give. My time is too valuable to waste on fools, incompetents and artistic gossipmongers. However, knowing the sheer hell your firm has been through and that you are on the brink of failure, I am making this one exception in your case. If I find that we cannot communicate meaningfully, do not expect me to continue a sterile correspondence for, unlike most of the social butterflies and limp-wristed armchair critics who call themselves writers in this country, I do not intend to throw away my unique artistic vision by kowtowing to the demands of publishers who lack the ability to recognize good written art that will endure. You ask what I’ve been writing recently. Okay, here goes: Novels— the human comedy, madame bovary, crime and punishment, ulysses, remembrance of things past, the sun also rises, the great gatsby, the sound and the fury, tropic of cancer, naked lunch, lolita, our lady of the flowers, one day in the life of ivan denisovich; Plays— the cherry orchard, miss julie, a doll’s house, mourning becomes electra, a streetcar named desire, death of a salesman, waiting for godot, marat/sade, the deputy; Poetry—The Collected Works. All these works exist on an artistic plane, somewhat above the level of petty snivelling artistic dilettantes and would-be authors who continue to line their pockets with government grants while failing to produce a single line worthy of posterity. I am not sending you any of these manuscripts as I have no faith in your readers’ ability to recognize their true worth. I have had experience with publishers before and even though none of the above is published in my lifetime I can wait. I am content to go on working in the darkness of obscurity until someone comes along and recognizes the true value of my unique personal vision; and then that person and I are going to get very rich. But I can keep money in perspective. I know that if I never write another word of English, I can rest on what I’ve already done and my place in literature is assured. I don’t expect to get a reply from you. I’ve had enough experience with you bush-league publishers to know better than that but maybe someday you will awake to the irony of what you missed out on the day you threw this letter into the garbage. Please do not bother me with any more of your ineffectual letters. Sincerely, Norman Mailer photo: first pulp press office , mandelbrot
signs of literary life — pulp press
Prepositions Jon Furberg
From Prepositions for Remembrance Day, published by Pulp Press in 1981. Jon Furberg (1944–1992) was a poet, teacher and co-founder of Pulp Press. He wrote two published books of poetry, a student style guide and many shorter works. Of Generatio ns of generations we come to say something of what walks speechless, of lips the tongue, borne there of what arises, talks because we must
of the course of solitude, of going down alone, and so concerns all— meat of the ground, fruit of this swollen air of autumn speaks of our road, what wind lifts us odour of ripe oatgrass, fenceposts steaming worn by winter; bees swarm in the hawthorn. Man of a house, Woman of a place: bring what you can sing of what comes, of itself, this issuing the shape of the light of the mass of the scent of the opening
What We Come From
what we come from, how we turn from our source—try as we may we can’t remember how the green sea yields us swaying into the air from darkness, from kindness then.
after. yes. what came next came then, after that he passed the hat
childhood warm wood smooth from use a child’s nice chair from where. your mother’s excellent skin your father certainly strong still, their voices from a long way off from a place far from home we are so far from there Let us go, we said and ran away from the big stone lion and the small torn ball red white and blue stripes lost in the long grass. I remember the rainglow as the day dimmed slowly, Mom calling and calling Try to recall it all, you haven’t changed a bit from what you were, from where we came, the same, again and again, from there
a man came first and after him with him came the woman, and then after we all came, and after he left we left right after, behind—and then next we did it again after the laughter, long after, and long after that we were still at it, continuing singing, and after we sat laughing, Next next next! and one came after another, one and then his brother came next and yes after we were drinking and there was more after that there was still something and more at the door, and he came and she came after and then I came again after that, also and one came who was good at thinking, very good, and, well, we could just tell and said so after: Good, good thinking! and we kept talking and drinking then it finished right after that and he passed the hat and that was that Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 35
signs of literary life — pulp press
Tom Walmsley From Doctor Tin, published by Pulp Press in 1979. Tom Walmsley is a playwright, novelist, poet and screenwriter, author of twenty books and many shorter works. He lives in Toronto. Doctor Tin, the winner of the first annual 3-Day Novel Contest, was republished as Shades in 1992. McGraw sat at his kitchen table, waiting for the coffee. It looked wet and gray through the window, impossible to judge the time of day. In an apartment below, someone was banging the hell out of something metal with a hammer. “What time is it?” McGraw said. “Three hours later than when you went to bed. Harry, what in God’s name happened to your shoes?” His wife brought the coffee pot to the table and poured him a cup. She whitened and sweetened it herself. McGraw knew there was something dangerously wrong with a cop who used milk and sugar, but he couldn’t get past it. “Woman was killed and dumped near the river. Place was full of fucking mud.” “Couldn’t they just bring the body to you?” “No.” He picked up the cup and wondered how it would feel, losing a finger. Not too good, probably. If the thing was sharp enough and it happened fast enough, maybe you’d hardly feel it. People say that. “She was a hooker. Some guy, or more likely a couple guys, killed her. She was covered in welts and burns, all sorts of stuff. Davis is just going to kill those fucking guys.” Page 36 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
His wife had poured half a cup of coffee for herself, and halted in mid-pour. “What kind of welts? Where? What kind of burns?” she asked. “You don’t want to hear about it.” “Was she naked? Tied up? Did they use a . . .” her voice turned husky, “ . . . a whip?” “Doris, the fuck is wrong with you?” Doris moved away from the table, replacing the pot on the stove. “Can’t I show a little interest in your work?” she said. “Anyhow,” McGraw went on, “the vice boys made her. She’s been around maybe a year, same address. We show up at the place, high-rise, and I want to tell you, it’s quite a setup. Whoever the bastard is she lived with is some character. Handcuffs, chains, leather masks, everything. Each corner of the bed had a little leather thing for holding down your hands and feet. Couldn’t believe it. Is this making you upset?” “No, no, go ahead,” Doris said, sitting down. “You looked a little funny there, for a second. Anyway, I guess she was a little nuts herself, going along with it. We figured the set-up was maybe for her tricks, but there’s defi-
signs of literary life — pulp press
nitely a guy living there. Still, could be for tricks, if you had a bodyguard around, make sure you didn’t get killed. So it’s one of two things: trick works out on her and it gets out of hand, or her boyfriend.” “Was she. . . beaten. . . to death?” “No, no. Stabbed, just once. Stopped bleeding a long time before she got dumped. Hell of a thing. Now this apartment where she lived, the other weird thing, no TV, no radio, no books, magazines, nothing, like she’d just moved in. But she’d been there a year, all her clothes are there, groceries, coffee, everything. In the whole place, all there was was a guitar and a writing pad by the phone. Nothing written in it, but you could see something was written on the first sheet and torn off: Davis ran a pencil over it, colouring it in . . .” “Harry, that’s so old.” “Yeah, Davis said he hated to do it, but we had no choice. It was a room number, that’s all. Called every hotel in town. Turns out, down at the Royal, the nightclerk’s been worked over and dumped in a room. Guess which room? So . . . ” “You say . . . worked over . . . ?” “Somebody cut off one of his fingers. They sewed the finger back on, down at the hospital, but the guy was still out when we got there. I’m meeting Davis down there in—what?— half an hour, I guess. Try and find out what the fuck is going on.” “Do you want another coffee before you go?” “Sure, that’d be fine.” He watched his wife as she poured the coffee and replaced the pot. “Listen, Doris,” McGraw said, “does this stuff make you feel kind of—well—kind of funny?” “Funny how, Harry?” Doris hissed. “Funny how?” They stared across the table at each other, hearts pounding loudly, and McGraw felt he was at the beginning of a very interesting case, indeed.[ . . .] McGraw was tired, after a hell of a long day of making the rounds of every likely-seeming bar, showing people a company photograph of Peterson, dozens of people to track down and question, and all those tedious things that make a cop’s
life no bowl of cherries, brutalize him, etc. He went home for dinner feeling underpaid and unappreciated by the community at large. The discovery of Peterson’s body had not made his day, either, and he decided to omit the gory details when relating it to Doris, who even now was expecting him home—and a great little cook she was, too. As he trudged through the door of their apartment, it would be fair to say McGraw was taking the bitter with the sweet. The first thing he saw was Doris’s legs, bare, lying across the threshold of the bathroom. Her upper body was covered in a green garbage bag. McGraw, not breathing, not thinking—in fact, some distance from his own body, watching his actions—fell down beside his wife and tore the bag away, not recognizing his own hands as he did so. Her hands were handcuffed behind her back and her buttocks had a smattering of tiny burns. She was quite nude. Still not breathing, thinking only enough to recognize the handcuffs as a pair of his own, McGraw turned the body over and looked into the face of his wife, tears welling out of her adorable blue eyes. “Oh, Harry,” Doris sobbed, “it isn’t fun at all!” McGraw fumbled up the key that was lying between his wife’s nifty legs and unlocked the cuffs, as one would expect, expertly. His hands were shaking. Even with milk, he was drinking too much coffee. “For God’s sake, Doris,” McGraw croaked. “I did it for us, darling,” said Doris, wrapping her arms around her husband. “I even burned myself with a cigarette and it hurt!” She pulled back suddenly and looked at McGraw’s face, the birth of delight in her cute, pixie features. “Harry! I didn’t like it!” she squealed. “Do you know what that means? I’m normal!” Their mouths met, saliva mixing like lava, and they rolled on the bathroom tiles imprisoned by the claws of a greater passion than they ever knew existed. The phone began to ring.
doctor tin , published in 1979. image courtesy arsenal pulp press.
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 37
signs of literary life — 3¢ Pulp
3¢ Pulp Surfacing: Some Notes D.M. Fraser
From 3¢ Pulp, Vol. 2, No. 7 (May 1, 1974). D.M. Fraser (1947–1985) was the author of Class Warfare, The Voice of Emma Sachs and Ignorant Armies.
¢ Pulp, a biweekly (though irregular) literary magazine, was published by Pulp Press from 1972 to 1978. The typical issue consisted of one printed and folded letter-size page—on which, as the proprietors had realized, “you could get 5,000 words in 5-point type if you weren’t too picky about margins”—and contained some combination of stories, essays, letters, rants, drawings and photos. The cover price really was 3 cents, though a subscription cost 10 dollars a year. In all, 107 issues of the magazine were produced and distributed.
Page 38 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
By the time I came to read Surfacing, the novel had already established itself as some kind of Canadian Ur-Myth, the Great Summing Up of All Our Serious Themes. Enough to put anyone off, especially someone who suspects (as I do) that the themes Canadian writers like best to take seriously are remarkable chiefly for their banality, provincialism, chauvinism: the awful hillbilly earnestness of the Official Literature, so beloved of the Canada Council and people who write long poems about The Land and print them in sepia. It hasn’t been easy to escape Surfacing as the apotheosis of the genre, the novel that finally, definitively, gets our national shit together, thereby—coincidentally?—demonstrating once again the perspicacity of Ms. Atwood’s famous Victim Thesis as expounded in Survival. Given such a context, I was prepared to be humbled—and bored. As it turned out, I was neither humbled nor (in fairness) bored; it isn’t possible to be humble in the presence of the wilfully third-rate, or to be bored by a book which infuriates to the point of frenzy. In fact, it was rather a lot of fun throwing Surfacing around the living-room, defacing it with rude comments, pacing up and down muttering curses; it’s been a long time—all the way since Beautiful Losers—since a Canadian novel had any effect on me at all. But I’m afraid my response wasn’t so much to Surfacing itself, as a piece of writing neither more nor less inept than most of what gets subsidized and praised here, as it was to the climate in which a work of consistent and self-congratulatory feeblemindedness can be sold, bought and thereafter glorified as an exemplary achievement, as something major. This book, whatever else it may be, is not major. It is so relentlessly minor that you could play it at a funeral and everyone would fall asleep. As just about everyone knows, Surfacing is the story of a young woman, lately city-sophisticated, who goes home to the North Woods, in the company of some slick friends, to look for her father and ends up by Finding Herself, or some approximation thereof, in a (pseudo-) confrontation with Primeval Forces, one of which may or may not be Daddy. What an opportunity to combine the worst of Ernest Hemingway and Doris Lessing, and in an Authentic Canadian Setting, too! lrresistible . . . Here are all the standard contrasts: Effete City vs. Tough Existential Bush, Conditioned Sanity vs. Primitive Madness, Emerging Woman vs. Oppressive Male, and best of all, our own very special local twist, Rapacious America vs. Victimized Canada. Add a dollop of Post-Hippie Coitus (see, we’ve come of age, haven’t we?), a dash of Endangered Scenery, a handful of Hardy Quebecois (two cultures, right?), and several cupfuls of Graduate School Introspection, and there you have it: yessir, the Great Canadian Novel itself, just the sort of thing Maclean’s and Saturday Night will lick up by the shovelful. As, predictably, they did.
signs of literary life — 3¢ Pulp
Well, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because formulas aren’t themes, subject-matter is not content (cf John Berger), and content is not a matter of paintingby-number on the grid of our supposed national neuroses. Stereotypes, as the Great Critic said (rightly, for once) aren’t archetypes. There’s not a single realized human character in the whole of Surfacing—only a crew of one-dimensional clichés wandering around acting out the parts assigned to them by some Royal Commission on the Meaning of Life in Canada. There isn’t a single insight, a single flicker of political revelation, that hasn’t been hammered into baby powder by every liberal-bourgeois publication in the country since 1967. There isn’t a glimmer of self-perception that isn’t corroded, deformed, by self-indulgence, selfpity, the cant and posturing of Pop-Psych. In place of feeling, we’re served a smorgasbord of leftover sentimentalities topped with cheap ironies like stale whipped cream; in place of thought, a catalogue of Information Canada platitudes; in place of reasoned political analysis, an undigested lump of anti-American rhetoric no self-respecting paranoiac would lay claim to. And, at the end, we have a cop-out even in terms of the novel itself: another of those weary reconciliations in which, god help us, Revolt is snuffed out in the great damp blanket of Instant Transcendence. Women take note: the message here, what Surfacing at last comes down to, is that Woman’s place really is, after all, with her Man, just as long as he’s a Canadian: “he may have been sent as a trick. But he isn’t an American, I can see that now; he isn’t anything, he is only half-formed, and for that reason I can trust him.” Surfacing? Submerging’s more like it. There’s more to complain of: secondary characters (i.e., everyone but the narrator) treated with condescension and/or contempt, prose that must have been cut with a dull knife from a mound of melting textbooks (How to Write Groovy and Influence People), scene upon scene that sinks like a waterlogged condom under the burden of enforced Significance. As a poet, Margaret Atwood has shown that she’s capable of incision and lucidity; as an editor (of bill bissett’s nobody owns th earth), that she does have an acute literary judgement. But there is no discernible incision or lucidity in Surfacing; and the wisest exercise of judgement, in this instance, might well have been to have flushed the manuscript down the drain.
But the real outrage here is that we are, as a “nation,” so obsessed with our (nonexistent) Cultural Identity that we are willing to settle for, and embrace, any sort of pretentious mediocrity which offers itself for our consumption, willing to accept any seriosity as seriousness, any topicality, however trivial, as Relevance, any narcissism as self-criticism, any thesis-izing as evidence of intelligence, any “Canadian Content”’ as actual content. Drivel like Surfacing gets touted in the press, writers of limited gifts like Margaret Atwood get transmogrified into culture-heroes (or heroines), billboards flog the New Canada (where dat?) as if it were a new brand of mouthwash, while we remain the same backwater, the same breeding-ground of pious kitsch, we always have been—and while we proceed, with murderous innocence, down precisely the same paths we’ve loved to condemn the United States for taking. If, as some suppose and Margaret Atwood apparently fears, this country will eventually be swallowed up—politically and culturally as already economically—by our more powerful neighbour, we need have no regrets: having championed, encouraged, inferiority for so long, we can scarcely consider it hardship, or change, to have another kind of inferiority imposed upon us. If a book like Surfacing is typical of what we value, then it may be that we have no sense of value worth defending, and no “identity” beyond the empty rationalizations of self-aggrandizement. In any event, I eagerly await Ms. Atwood’s forthcoming books: Simonizing, Sanforizing, Sinking . . .
president nixon meets the lone ranger, 3¢ pulp , vol. 4, no. 5 (june 1, 1977)
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 39
signs of literary life — press gang
o’clock, and some of us hadn’t had a bath for three days. But it didn’t matter, because the art show was over. The artists had all left to go somewhere else, wherever artists go when they leave. They gave us strange looks as we went up the stairs toward the art show. They said, “Excuse me, please,” as we passed. The art show had been held in a large room, one of the many large rooms that art shows are held in, when art shows are held in the city. The city was all around us, going about its business. One of us must have been in love, but it was too late, because everything was over, including the art show. We went up the stairs, and when we got to the top of them, there was nothing to do but turn around and go down to the bottom again. We did that, and it was boring. A lot of the artists had babies, and a lot of the babies were crying; they were saying the following things: (1) We have not experienced the Experience, and until we do so (2) we shall nevertheless experience what is here to be experienced. (3) All we ask is that it be meaningful but it is so seldom (4) meaningful (5) that we have given up on experience as a meaningful (6) experience of meaning. (7) What does it mean? After that, we felt better and went home again. The babies cried and cried, as the artists went down the stairs, and we went down behind them. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, there was nothing to do but to open the door and go outside through it, into the city. We did that. Then we couldn’t hear the babies crying. We felt a whole lot better, then. We thought: the art show was very interesting.
Anonymous From 3¢ Pulp, Vol. 2, No. 18 (December 1, 1974). We all bought a case of beer, and went to the art show. It was supposed to start at eight o’clock, and end at ten-thirty, but we went late, we went at ten-thirty, and the art show was over when we arrived at it. All the artists had gone, or were going; they went down the stairs as we went up them, carrying our case of beer. We’d been drinking beer since five
ress Gang Publishers, a worker-owned feminist printing and publishing company, was established in 1970 as a printing collective of six women and men. In 1974 it was reorganized as a women-only feminist and anti-capitalist collective, and began to publish books mainly by Canadian women writers and artists. The focus was on fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art and children’s books that grappled with racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, censorship, women in conflict with the mental health and criminal justice systems, and other social issues. The print shop closed in 1993, and the publishing company carried on until 2002, by which time it had produced more than fifty titles. Page 40 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
graphics: (top) from the cover of 3¢ pulp , vol. 2, no. 3 (february 14, 1974); (above) by chrystos, from the cover of her book not vanishing (press gang, 1988).
signs of literary life — press gang
Blue Chiffon Beth Jankola
From Jody Said, published by Press Gang Publishers in 1977. Beth Jankola is a poet and visual artist, author of seven published books of poetry. Us 5 females / packed together / in my small green volkswagen / agreed / it certainly does feel strange / wearing a skirt / these days / Peggy told us about / a long blue chiffon / she had bought for last year’s festivities / and how she had walked into a party / wearing it / and a few minutes later / had 6 cigarette holes / in her long blue chiffon / we said / maybe they thought you were an ashtray / we finally agreed / that the solution was/to wear a long skirt / with our jeans on underneath /
Shrink! Shrank! Shriek! barbara findlay
From the essay “Shrink! Shrank! Shriek!” in Women Look at Psychiatry, edited by Dorothy E. Smith and Sara J. David, published by Press Gang Publishers (the company’s first book) in 1975. barbara findlay is a writer, social activist and lawyer specializing in family law, equality rights, transgender issues and immigration. All my contacts with the sundry shrinks I saw over the years began the same way, with an “assessment interview” to determine what the diagnosis is. And what has always struck me about the intake interviews was the incongruence between what I was feeling and what they were asking me about . . . The first thing the shrinks wanted to know was who I was. And “who I was” meant: what do you do (I’m a student); how many siblings do you have (4 younger); parents alive and together (yes); and, inevitably, do you have a boyfriend (no). “Do you have a boyfriend” in its various forms has caused me no end of trouble. I always failed that question, because I had never had a “boyfriend” that I could produce as a talisman of my success as a woman. The shrinks always
latched on to that gleefully as an important clue to my unhappiness. In a tiresomely predictable way the questions went from there—have you ever had a boyfriend (yes); do you wish you had one now (not particularly). For them, the fact that I did not have a man was a problem for me. And it didn’t matter that I told them strenuously that it was not in fact a problem, since my vigorous denial was only further “proof” of how much it mattered to me. I had two techniques to get out of the boyfriend bind. One was to answer all the questions matter-of-factly (are you a virgin? when did you lose your virginity? how do you feel about sex? are you sleeping with anyone now?). But that didn’t usually work. My other technique was to lie. In the case of the missing boyfriend, I some-
From the Women’s Calendar, published by Press Gang Publishers in 1974.
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 41
signs of literary life — press gang
times simply invented a conveniently absent lover. Such an invention worked in the short term (yes, I have a boyfriend but he is in Tahiti and leaving shortly for Timbuktu) but not for long, as my derangement was quickly ascribed to his absence. . . The shrinks were the ones who got to ask the questions. And I didn’t get to ask questions back. So I had to learn to frame my life as a response to their questions.
Traffic Court Beth Jankola
From Jody Said, published by Press Gang Publishers in 1977. Beth Jankola is a poet and visual artist, author of seven published books of poetry.
Above and page 43 (top): Images from She Named It Canada, Because That’s What It Was Called, an alternative history of Canada written by the Corrective Collective and illustrated by Colette French, published in 1973.
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Traffic court / you understand the charges / the judge asked me / yes / an illegal left / and no valid driver’s licence / I’m guilty / what do you do / the judge asked / fixing his gaze on me / I’m a housewife and a poet/what was that last one / A POET / ho ho you use / this little drama / that’s taking place in this courtroom / in your poetry / and include my name / and I’ll see / what I can do for you / no my name is too long / you’ll never remember it / here I want you to meet Colin / pointing to the prosecutor / Colin looked embarrassed / by then I was smiling / the judge turned back / to the paper / stating my case / he got the details of my crime / and said doesn’t seem to have been done with intent / I’m going to have to fine you / on one of these counts / $5 for an illegal left / the clerk of the court / dressed as a policeman / escorted me to the cashier / he confided / it isn’t often / people around here / admit / who they are / actually I’m a musician / I write too / have had several stories published he said /
s i g n s o f l i t e r a ry l i f e — wo m e n ' s b o o ksto r e / p r i s m i n t e r n at i o n a l
Vancouver Women’s Bookstore
he Vancouver Women’s Bookstore opened in downtown Vancouver in 1973, at a time when the women’s movement was producing many feminist books, pamphlets and periodicals that were largely unavailable in local stores. To stock the store, organizers bought books from wholesalers, hand-sold them at women’s cultural events and used the proceeds to buy more until they had enough books and journals to line the shelves. The bookstore was also a space for literary readings, workshops and political organizing meetings, and it became a connection point for the international feminist network. The building was burned down by an arsonist in 1980, and the store moved twice before it closed in 1996.
RISM international, a quarterly journal founded in 1959, is western Canada’s oldest literary magazine. It is edited by MFA candidates enrolled in the Creative Writing Program at UBC and published from the offices there. Early contributors to the magazine included Margaret Laurence, George Bowering and Alden Nowlan, and over the years PRISM has published work by hundreds of other writers, in Canada and abroad, in English and in translation. These include Margaret Atwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Raymond Carver, Lorna Crozier, Seamus Heaney, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields and Tennessee Williams.
Graphic from The Pedestal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (January 1973), by Bonita Beckwoman. The Pedestal, published by the Vancouver Women’s Caucus in the early 1970s, was one of the first feminist newspapers in Canada. Bonita Beckwoman is an artist, troublemaker and proprietor of Beckwoman’s Folk Art in Vancouver. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 43
Calypso, Itch, Elegance David Albahari Nine unambiguous short stories Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac
Calypso all of us rose to our feet, anticipating the national anthem, but the orchestra struck up a calypso. And they weren’t just playing, they were dancing. The entire orchestra, conductor included, danced the calypso in unison, and quickly the rhythm moved over to us, crept up our arms and legs, nested in our bellies and behinds, then we were joined by the honour guard, diplomats from the bleachers, children with flowers, even a crew from off a plane that had just landed, and then the presidents began to prance, first ours, then theirs, then together, holding hands, and then the TV cameramen started swaying without letting go of their cameras, so the picture on TV screens all over the country shimmied and shook, but no one complained, no one called in, not then or later, even much later, when the members of the orchestra claimed none of it ever happened.
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photos: mandelbrot, an evening with david albahari in the james joyce pub, calgary
D av i d A l b a h a r i
Itch when she reaches the crosswalk the girl feels an itch, but she finds it awkward to lift up her shirt and scratch her stomach. She decides to do nothing; she will simply wait it out with patience. The itch, however, moves over to her left arm, then down the inside of her left thigh, returns to the left arm and here, as far as she can tell, it goes away. The girl is overjoyed, but still she doesn’t dare take a deep breath. When she finally does, she sees a man across the street slip his hand into his shirt and, sure no one is looking, he scratches his stomach.
Recognition when we skip school, we sit in the park. we have pulled a bench over to some bushes and pine trees so no one walking down the main walkway can spot us. We smoke, sometimes we drink, pop a few pills, eat peanuts, or suck on hard candy. In the afternoon most of us get edgy and restless, some have to get home by then, though the best part is when classes are over and the schoolkids all come out. We stand to the side, we don’t give an inch, we don’t approach anyone. If someone needs us they come to us. Then the teachers appear and a hush settles over the noise. The teachers walk by us without a word, they pretend not to see us. Fine with us, we say, it’s better they don’t see us, because when they do, it will be too late.
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 45
D av i d A l b a h a r i
Flood with the last ounce of his strength the man grabs for branches hanging over the flooding river. He pushes to wedge his feet against the steep riverbank but the water is powerful and pushes his legs up into the air. The man feels his hands slipping down damp leaves and stares up at his palms as if he hopes this will help them hold their grip. His gaze drops to his wristwatch and he is amazed when he realizes he has been in the water less than five minutes. As he struggled against the torrent he flailed arms and legs and ducked the branches and garbage snared in them, convinced that he had been resisting the surging waters for years. It would have been better, he thinks, not to have a watch, but he cannot remove it, he has had to watch the slender second hand carving seconds from the time he has left until he releases first one branch, and then the other.
Arrival the boy fears a nighttime arrival. the sounds he hears when it gets dark come unambiguously from someone digging a tunnel that leads to his room. The boy doesn’t know who it is or where it is coming from, but judging by the loudness of the sound they haven’t far to go. The boy knows they will be there in two or three nights, just as he knows the place under his desk where the parquet flooring will quietly rise until he can see the gleaming eyes of the stranger. He has tried to explain this to his parents, but they shrugged it off and said he is too big for such nonsense. I’ll show them nonsense, whispers the boy, furious, they will see who is big and who is little. And when the slabs of parquet floor beneath the desk begin to shift, he no longer feels fear, only joy.
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D av i d A l b a h a r i
Game in the compartment of a train, on seats by the window, sit a man and boy, probably father and son, caught up in a game. Both of them are counting, and when one of them reaches a certain number, they exchange glances and laugh aloud. The game lasts for a time, and then the father reaches for his bag and takes out two books, one for him and the other for the boy. They both begin reading, and from time to time the boy laughs merrily, as if the game is still on.
Silence at first no one notices the woman with the accordion. some of them eat, drink, doze, talk softly, who cares about the woman with the accordion. Then the woman unlatches the accordion, sits in a corner and begins to sing. Her voice is angelically beautiful, crystal pure though, actually, hoarse, and soon silence reigns in the room as they all listen with equal attention to the voice that first sings of how life used to be, then of how life will be years hence, and then sifts through various memories, and the people sitting in the room suddenly realize she is singing about each one of them, that somehow—no one knows how—she seems to know a little about each of them, no one is spared and the people stand up, press together, and bow their heads, prepared to receive absolution or a curse or whatever is their due, no one will complain, at least not for as long as the voice goes on, as long as life is a song, and after that it doesn’t matter, even silence will do.
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 47
D av i d A l b a h a r i
Bookmark ah, time for a story! what more could a man want while he sits in a chair by the fire, a glass of wine in his hand? So he smacks his lips in anticipation, sets the glass down on the rug, opens the book, and after reading only a few words he sits up excited: what is this? Someone must have moved the bookmark! He does not recall that he had gotten to a part where the hero decides that he will read a nice poem before he goes to bed. The place he had gotten to was where the hero faces the dilemma of whether to remove or not to remove the heroine’s panties. He distinctly remembers how the hero’s fingers had clenched in a surge of lust, how he felt a shiver in his scrotum. He flips a few pages back, then ahead, then he leafs through the whole book. The letters become a shimmering curtain that conveys nothing, not even whether or not a breeze has begun to pick up outside or a gale is about to hit. The man lets the book slide out of his hand, he closes his eyes, breathes in, breathes out, reaches for the glass. What’s this? His hand finds nothing. As he leans toward the edge of his armchair he pictures the spilled liquid, a puddle in which he feels certain he will see his face reflected. But the floor is dry. Even leaning to the other side doesn’t help in his search, but when he turns his head, he spies a glass next to the other armchair, a bit farther from the fireplace. If that is his glass, and he knows it is, what is he doing in the facing chair, with no glass? And whose are the slippers lying there by that other armchair, especially since he has the real, rather worn pair on his feet? Then he notices the book on the arm of the chair, left precariously balanced. This is crystal clear—he feels it like a jab to the cheekbone—this is definitely the book he had had earlier, regardless of the fact that he can’t see the cover, a cover which is not much of a cover and looks like the cover of the book he had in his hands just a moment ago: but what is this? Where is the book he was reading, or rather not reading? It isn’t tucked under the armchair, it isn’t here between his legs, on the chairs, behind the pillow. The man stiffens as if he has heard an alarming sound behind his back, then he takes off his slippers, quickly goes over to the other armchair and sits in it. From there, from the other side, he has a restful view of the fireplace, the shovel and poker, and the armchair in front of which someone has forgotten his slippers. The man picks up the book and sees that in it there are no signs of any kind. He leafs through it, searching in vain, and then he spots the bookmark on the rug in the middle of the room. He stands up to reach it, and remains like that, between things.
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D av i d A l b a h a r i
Elegance “if you go with him, be his completely.” nothing can detract from the elegance of that sentence. I turn and, at the table behind mine, I see two young men. One dark-haired with an earring in his left ear, he had leaned his forehead on the shoulder of the blond, heavier-set young man who sat with eyes closed. Maybe he wasn’t even breathing. No, nothing could detract from the elegance of that sentence, regardless of whom I attribute it to. And here, in fact, the story starts to branch, with the order of words. The dark-haired young man, for instance, if it was he, was thinking perhaps of the moment when he had touched that shoulder for the first time, now: an iceberg from which he was distancing irrevocably. The blond-haired man, I think they were his words, does not hide the tears springing up under his eyelids, still closed, trembling; at the same time, however, he is breathing heavily, as if he is on a mountain meadow, somewhere high up, where every man thinks he can take a step into thin air. My wife could also enter the story at this point. For her, of course, the earring in the ear is a sign of poor taste. She does not tolerate any sort of interruption. “Secret fraternities,” she says, “exist only in Svetislav Basara’s books.” In this story she prods me, not the least bit gently, under the table then plucks me by the sleeve. “I want you,” she says, “right now and here.” She plants her index finger on the table. Again, I turn. The light has changed but the young men have not budged. I hope that shadows aren’t tricking me, especially the ones lying across their faces. “If you go with him, be his completely.” Nothing could detract from the elegance of that sentence, not even a story. The true story is the absence of a story. Only that.
David Albahari (davidalbahari.com) is the author of twenty published books in Serbian; six have been translated into English, including Snow Man (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005) and Leeches (Harcourt, 2011). He lives in Calgary. Read “Two Homes, One Wolf” (No. 76) and his other Geist work at geist.com. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 49
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Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 51
Local Lit Winners of the 2011 Downtown Eastside Writers’ Jamboree Writing Contest The writing contest, open to all residents of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, was part of the 3rd annual DTES Writers’ Jamboree, a jam-packed day of readings, workshops and roundtable talks in April 2011. The Jamboree was organized by the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, with support from the Carnegie Centre, Friends of the Vancouver Public Library, People’s Co-op Bookstore and the Geist Foundation. The Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver is known as Canada’s poorest postal code. It is also the site of vigorous community activism, and home to many writers.
Drunken Laundry Day with Charles Bukowski Henry Doyle
t takes a six-pack just for him to get it together In that dirty underground room of his His radio is cracked “London’s calling” He gets that mess together into a pile Condemned rags, he thinks, and cracks another beer With a pillow case and a box of soap he heads out with that beer-stained Bukowski book of poems The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses His rooming house is in the DTES The laundromat is around the corner The cashier just on his left The rat, tat, tat of a sewing machine behind the counter Heads for the back Chairs, tables, scattered newspapers, He stuffs his stinky rags into a washer He stays and reads Bukowski Puts his workman rags into the dryer
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Sinks enough quarters in for an hour and heads for that closest bar “I’ll have two of your cheapest draft” he says to the young bartender He puts Bukowski’s book down to get at a twenty-dollar bill “I think Mr. Bukowski would approve” the bartender says “I’ve read his shit in college, a lot of us have, dude” He heads for that dirty-fish-bowl smoking room Thinks, all right—college students still read Bukowski After the third round and another poem “Song of my typewriter” He heads back in sunglasses Through a gauntlet of drug addicts Curled up in dirty street blankets Syringes scattered with garbage everywhere Skinny hardened rat-faced drug addicts Committing suicide slowly He stops as this twenty-year-old kid jumps in front of him
Lo c a l L i t
wrapped in a blanket holding a garbage bag suitcase Thin, tall, shaggy long blond hair, blue eyes a sculpted bronze sunken pimpled face Wondering if he’s that fallen angel He looks at him from head to bare dirty feet “Do you want to buy some crack?” “No, my life is hard enough kid, I don’t have to make it any harder man” Stumbles into the laundromat feeling like he just escaped a bunch of zombies The place is full With the extinct middle class Watches them as they slowly turn into fossils Feels more pity for them Than the ones that are outside committing suicide He opens the dryer door “Jesus Christ, hot as hell” he says out loud Bangs his head Curses in silence “Fuck” Then hears a little voice
“Mommy, there’s another man arguing with God again” He turns around, takes off his sunglasses A little girl with sun-kissed freckles smiles As she sits there, on the table Her mother continues folding their clothes With a smile she says “Let the man be, Sara” “My laundry is really hot” he says, in his own mad defiance Stuffs his rags into his pillow case Thinks only of that other warm six-pack Says goodbye to the little girl and her mother Apologizes to them and God He heads back to that dirty little underground To drink and read Bukowski’s drunken knowledge Henry Doyle has been working with the Thursdays Writing Collective in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for four years. His work has been published in four of the group’s chapbooks, in Megaphone, at thetyee.ca and on his blog, wastelandjournalschapters. wordpress.com. Doyle grew up in Ontario and has lived in Vancouver since 2004.
illustrations from neon eulogy , by keith mckellar
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 53
Lo c a l L i t
A Little Girl Fight Lorren Stewart
his is my story. When my parents had me, I was addicted to heroin. I had to fight to stay alive. When I was six years old my parents both died from heroin overdoses. I was put into foster homes until I started to run away at the age of ten. I lived on the streets, where I survived and where my fight really began. Living in doorways and back alleys, I got into drugs. You name it I did it, because it helped to take the pain away. When I found out I was going to have a baby at the age of thirteen, I knew I could not keep the baby. I had no one and I could not read, and I was not willing to bring up a baby at that age. I decided to give her a good family who could give her what she needed to live. After having her I went back to the streets. I could not forget the pain of what I did, because I had just given away my only family that I would love. There were many days I was so upset
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that I could not sleep at night. One time I didn’t sleep for a week, and I tried to end my life. I made a call to someone at Welfare. I don’t know what I said to the lady on the phone. I hung up and sat down and shot myself up with cocaine. The lady tried to call back. I would not answer the phone. The next thing there were police and firemen coming through the door, and the ambulance was taking me away to the hospital, where I stayed for a few weeks. The lady who picked up the phone that day saved my life. I did get to thank her in person, because that is the day my life turned around. I went into detox for a month. I felt great the day I got out. It wasn’t even a minute before I was back doing drugs. I knew it was wrong. I sat down on the street. The lady who had tried to help me came out of the office. She sat down and we started to talk. She said, if you want help, just ask. I looked at her and said, help me
please. We went to work. I got myself into a shelter. That helped me get into a program that helped me get into a community house where I could live for two years. I was doing good. I got myself back into school, where I could learn how to read, write and do basic math. I worked hard every day. I still had my ups and downs, but I pushed on because I wanted to become a writer. I had to move out of my place because my two years were over. I moved into a house with a lady who seemed nice. It started out good, but the lady began to get weird four days before the end of the month. She told me I had two days to move out. I had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and I was very sick with the chemo treatments. I didn’t know where to go. On December 1st I ended up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where I didn’t want to be. All the shelters were packed. It was very hard to find one. I ran into an old friend who said I could stay with him. Wrong move. I went back to shooting heroin. I phoned another friend of mine and asked for help because I didn’t want to be back on the street, where I had worked so hard to get away from. He told me to come stay with him. I knew it was a safe place for me. I am still in school and I am not doing drugs. Don’t get me wrong—now I am older. I am still fighting to stay clean and this time is the time, because I am very happy in my life. I want to thank Linda, my special teacher, for believing in me to write this story.
Lorren Stewart is a writer, student, mother and grandmother. She lives in Vancouver.
Lo c a l L i t
Wine and Doorbells Daggar Earnshaw
he was hiding in a bag of clothespins, Tall as a hammered nail, and slightly rusty. She was ready to hang love boutique panties from the corners of her sprung wooden toes. She wanted the ice. The cool of the clutch. The gathering of princess possessions in the fist of a threesome. Thirty fingers thirsty to taste what she had in the bag. What she was holding.
Are my breasts the serious faces you vowed they would become? They never smiled for you, and now they stick their tongues out, Mocking you, like cherries out of reach on a high, fecund tree. I suppose, someday, these mercury nights will seem benign as mollusks simpering in their poisonous shells. Let us crack calcium knuckles and roll up our sleeves.
Dig in to the armoured meat of underwater wombs. Sucking them down in one, salty gulp. Daggar Earnshaw is a writer and artist, and publisher of the periodical D.E.W.L. Exhaust (Downtown Eastside Writers League). He has served as the official Gastown Steam Clock T-shirt painter for seven years, and his work The Crown of Transpar was part of an Art of the Book exhibition at the Vancouver Public Library. He lives in Vancouver, where he was born.
Her colouring book divorce had smeared past its outlines. She felt out-of-register, like a Warhol portrait, or the sardonic, oral meltdown of Robert Smith’s smile. Wine and doorbells. Something to sip on. Something to push. She needed that. Isn’t it true that a thumping tire means it’s deflated, flat? She felt like that too. Obliged to carry the beat in rotating conversation When what she really needed was emergency road repair. Someone to fix her predicament. Strong hands on a round of rubber. I am forgetting my son, and the dog bolted to my ex-husband’s shoe. I am sliding in woollen slippers down a Varathane hallway. I am thinking of you. Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 55
The Great Wall of Montreal Marcello Di Cintio The chain-link fence along boulevard de l’Acadie— two metres high, with “appropriate hedge”—separates one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Montreal from one of the poorest For several years, Marcello Di Cintio has been visiting and writing about communities that live in the shadows of walls, fences and other “hard” barriers. L’Acadie fence in Montreal was the last stop in a three-year-long itinerary that took Di Cintio to the Western Sahara, the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, the India-Bangladesh borderlands, Israel and Palestine, Cyprus, the US-Mexico border and Belfast. “Wall of Shame,” his story of the Saharawis in the Sahara Desert, appeared in Geist 74, and won Honorable Mention at the National Magazine Awards. It can be read at geist.com.
fifty-year-old fence built of chain links and steel
posts separates the Town of Mount Royal, one of Montreal’s most affluent neighbourhoods, from Parc-Extension, one of the poorest. The l’Acadie fence stretches for 1.6 kilometres in the middle of the city, along the west side of boulevard de l’Acadie from rue Jean-Talon to the Rockland shopping centre. The barrier has been referred to as “apartheid fencing” and “Montreal’s Berlin Wall,” but in spite of the hyperbole the fence is almost invisible.
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photography: marcello di cintio
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 59
For most of its length, the l’Acadie fence
the rich to separate themselves from the poor
stands about two metres high. Shrubbery plant-
across the boulevard. In a letter to TMR’s town
ed along the west side, however, grows taller.
council, the City of Montreal wrote that Mon-
The thick hedge and its delicate pink blossoms
trealers “have been greatly offended by the un-
conceal most of the barrier. Only the occasional
sightly fence.” A former president of the TMR
gap in the foliage reveals the chain links and fen-
landlord association admitted to the newspaper
ceposts. Three pedestrian openings marked by
La Presse that the barrier was a terrible political
shiny gates on squeaky spring hinges represent
symbol and said “everywhere we go in Mon-
the only breaches in the barrier. The gates were
treal they want to talk about the fence.”
recently reinstalled and still have that new-gate
Anger over the barrier seethed hottest in
smell, but the rest of the structure betrays its
Parc-Extension, where residents believed the
fifty years. The wire sags. Green paint flakes off
fence had been built to keep them out. “A lot
the fenceposts, and scabs of rust run through the
of people were incensed,” Nick Semeniuk told
me in his home on the east side of boulevard
There are no checkpoints along the fence:
de l’Acadie. The house, which used to belong
no electrified wire, no concertina wire, no red-
to his mother, faces directly across l’Acadie,
lettered signs warning Keep Out. For a tool of
and Nick was living there when the fence first
apartheid, the fence appears almost benign.
went up. “I was quite mad, too. They wanted
to keep out the riff-raff.” For Nick, the fence expressed in galvanized mesh a rivalry that aln the late 1950s, the City of Montreal
ways smouldered between the Parc-X boys and
widened boulevard de l’Acadie, then called
the “Townies” on the other side. Not outright
McEachran Avenue, and converted what was
warfare—Montreal is no Belfast—but the rather
once a dirt track into a busy urban thorough-
more benign enmity of teenagers from oppo-
fare. McEachran formed the eastern boundary
site sides of an economic line. Neighbourhood
of the Town of Mount Royal (TMR); Town res-
toughs from TMR hung out at the corner store
idents worried for their children’s safety, peti-
near Nick’s mother’s house and picked fights
tioned the town council to erect a barrier along
with the local boys, and Parc-X kids felt unwel-
the Town’s eastern edge. According to council
come in TMR. “You couldn’t go to their parks.
minutes from May 1960, the Town contracted
They would chase you out and say ‘You’re from
builders to erect a six-foot high chain-link fence
Parc-X and you don’t belong here,’” Nick said.
with a single pedestrian opening and “an appro-
“So we beat them up.”
priate hedge.” The builders finished the fence in June.
Page 60 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
w ire ,
Parc-Extension ranks among the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, not just in Mon-
The new fence faced Parc-Extension, a
treal. Among dense, urban communities, only
low-income neighborhood crowded with new
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside can claim
Canadians. Montrealers around the city saw
a lower median income than Parc-X. The
the fence as a class barrier, a structure built by
neighbourhood is also among Montreal’s most
sig n s
pe o p l e
crowded; its population density is five times the
From the street, the flat-fronted row hous-
Montreal average. Thirty-three thousand resi-
es and apartment blocks reveal nothing about
dents press into an area about a kilometre long
Parc-X. Instead, neighbourhood life is revealed
and half as wide hemmed in by rail yards on
in the back lanes. Here, women clip their wash
the west and south, Highway 40 to the north
to clotheslines that run to lampposts and back
and the l’Acadie fence on the east. In French,
through squeaking metal wheels. Saris and
the word enclave is also a verb, and Parc-X is
bedsheets hang like flags. Sequins on salwars
flash the sun. The women—brown and black,
clad in hijab or the bold prints of Africa—chat across this canyon of brick ver since the City of
and laundry on balconies
Montreal founded Parc-
linked by coiling iron stair-
Extension as a community
wells. Below, tiny squares
in 1910, the neighbour-
of lawn—some trim, oth-
hood has been a draw for
ers surrendered to dan-
those born elsewhere. The
delions—lie littered with
British bought the first
plastic toys and bicycles.
houses here; then, after
Weeds along l’Acadie trap
World War II, the Ital-
discarded phone cards, the
ians, Ukrainians and other
detritus of the poor and
Eastern Europeans arrived.
the newly arrived.
(Most of these have since
I found it hard not to
left; Nick considers himself the last “Ukie” in
love Parc-X for the spiced colours of elsewhere
Parc-Extension.) Greeks moved in en masse in
the community offers, and found it easy to hate
the 1970s, and by 1976 Greek was the neigh-
a fence that appears to shut these people out.
bourhood’s most prevalent mother tongue. The
Still, the new Parc-X’ers themselves don’t care
Greek community remains strong, and white-
about a fifty-year-old stretch of chain-link across
haired Greek men still crowd the entrances
the road. The immigrants fill their days with the
to their cafés, but the majority of today’s im-
obligations of the New Country. Citizenship
migrants to Parc-X now come from Africa and
papers and school fees. Daycare and groceries
South Asia. Many restaurant kitchens that once
and rent. Secondhand coats for their first cold
served souvlaki and thick-crusted pizzas now
winters, and money wired to family remaining
offer cheap lunchtime thalis and tikka kebab.
where cold never comes.
Nearly every Parc-X depanneur deals in cheap
On the other side of l’Acadie fence, the Town
Bollywood videos. West African grocery stores
of Mount Royal has a more orderly history. Of-
import palm oil and cocoyams and advertise
ficials incorporated TMR in the final days of
“outdooring” ceremonies for local Ghanaian
1912. Urban planners designed it as a “model
city”—a sort of urban utopia featuring a central Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 61
cro w ded
green space bisected by a pair of major roads.
and asked if he lived in TMR and what he was
What was a small farming community known
doing there. “It really stuck out in his mind,”
for its melons quickly became one of Greater
Jill told me.
Montreal’s most-desired addresses, especially
I met Jill in The Little Shop, her store near
among wealthy white Anglophones. Today’s
l’Acadie, which overflows with vintage cloth-
town consists of a more
ing, jewellery and an-
ethnically and linguistical-
tiques. When I arrived, a
ly diverse citizenry, but the
bride-to-be was searching
for a vintage veil in the
“lace room,” while Jill’s
Large single-family homes
have tidy front lawns and
fiddled with an antique
backyard swimming pools.
camera. Costume jewel-
Unlike the littered road-
lery hung from the walls
ways on the other side of
beneath shelves lined tight
the fence in Parc-X, these
with hats befitting British
streets are kept clean by
weddings. In one corner,
scraps of fur formed a pile resembling some headless hybrid beast. I feared moving lest I knock something over
ill Moroz spent her childhood in a house
on the “wrong” or east side of boulevard de
Page 62 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
with my bag, and felt relieved when Jill asked me to sit.
l’Acadie. Her family home, the only single-fam-
The Little Shop opens to the public for only
ily dwelling on l’Acadie, still stands and is hard
three hours on Wednesday, Thursday and Sat-
to miss. Her father built the house at a slight
urday afternoons. Promptly at three o’clock, Jill
angle to the street so the front window faces di-
serves tea and cookies to her customers. When
rectly into every sunset. The house also faces
I visited, there were just as many people there
the fence. “I looked at the fence my whole life,”
to chat as to buy. And because of my questions,
Jill told me. “Then I moved out and got married
they all talked about the fence. Jill’s custom-
and moved to the other side of the fence.” Now
ers believed the barrier was built to keep out
she lives in TMR.
the “riff-raff”—I heard this word again and
Jill’s family was not poor—her father was a
again—and each sneered at the idea that TMR
dentist—but growing up in Parc-X implied a
had erected the fence to protect their progeny.
lower social standing. “The stigma was there,”
Jill accepted it, however. “Why else would it
she said, “that you were on the wrong side of
be there?” she asked. But Jill also understands
the fence. No question.” Her father used to tell
how Parc-X’ers perceive the fence. “It is im-
a story about crossing through the fence into
possible not to recognize the significance,” she
TMR to go for a walk. The police stopped him
said. “This area is considered one of the poorest
low-in co me
pa rc -x
n eig h b o u r h o o d
areas in Montreal and it is stuck up against one
cillor for Parc-Extension vowed to destroy the
of the wealthiest areas. So you can invent what
fence but was voted out of office before he had
the chance. Town residents, though, continued
to express their fidelity to the fence. Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque, who served from 1994
ome time after TMR erected their barrier in
to 2001, observed that “the people of TMR
1960, hundreds of students from the Université
seem to have some sort of psychological need
de Montréal celebrated their winter carnival by
driving to l’Acadie and laying siege to the fence.
Nick remembers the student action occurring
They jumped out of their cars, climbed the
sometime in the early ’60s, while other sources
chain links, wrenched the wire back and forth,
suggest the attack took place about a decade lat-
and uprooted the posts until two twelve-metre
er. I found much of the fence’s history similarly
sections collapsed onto the snow. The students
ambiguous. I investigated TMR town council
were still trampling on it when police came
minutes and archived news stories, and failed
and chased them away. “It
to determine exactly when
wasn’t a riot but it was a lot
the students tore down the
of noise,” Nick told me,
fence. I knew the fence
smiling. “And I was here.
originally ended about
Watching the fun.” The
two-thirds of the way along
students chanted slogans
the length of l’Acadie, but I
declaring the fence an af-
never learned when it was
front to national unity,
extended or when the ad-
and compared Quebec to
ditional gates were added.
Cuba. “They called it class
I read that the Town in-
separation,” Nick said.
stalled security bars on
Their act of civil defiance
one of the gates in July
was short-lived, however;
1985, and removed them
TMR resurrected the fence before the end of
a month later after much public outcry, but I
never learned why they added the bars in the
The student attack was the only physical
first place. And I could never determine when
assault on the fence, but local politicians from
the TMR council started locking the gates on
both communities repeatedly assailed the bar-
rier in the press and in their respective council
Halloween represents the only day of the
chambers. Only two years after the fence went
year people in Parc-Extension have a compelling
up, Reginald Dawson, the sitting Mayor of
reason to visit TMR. Many Parc-X parents take
TMR when the fence was first approved, already
their children into the town to trick-or-treat.
regretted the decision and said that the fence
Children would rather ring doorbells at TMR
was in bad taste. In the late ’80s, the city coun-
houses than get buzzed into Parc-X apartment Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 63
w ea l th y
buildings and have to spend the night hiking
credit, however. Finding the gates locked, the
steep stairwells. Besides, many new immigrants
children simply walked around the fence.
are unfamiliar with the concept of Halloween. I can imagine the confusion of, say, the father of a Bangladeshi family answering the door to find a little girl dressed as a witch and demanding
Page 64 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
he Halloween blockades further soured
the reputation of the l’Acadie fence and of the
candy. Most important, especially to the chil-
neighbourhood that erected it. Whatever the
dren, is the fact that wealthy Townies always
fence was originally meant to do became irrel-
dole out top-shelf sweets. Bags of chips and
evant in the face of public perception. All that
full-sized chocolate bars are Halloween’s Holy
mattered was what the fence seemed to be. If it
Grails. So each year the
was built to keep children
costumed pilgrims from
safe, now it just seemed to
Parc-X cross l’Acadie to
keep children out—at least
pass through the fence into
the poor ones from Parc-
the promised candyland of
Extension. Realizing this,
the Town stopped locking
Sometime in the late
the gates on Halloween in
1990s, however, these kids
2002, and as a gesture of
started finding padlocks
sincerity the embarrassed
on the gates. Town offi-
mayor of TMR, Suzanne
cials claimed to be locking
Caron, removed the gates
out Halloween vandals, but
altogether. But when
few outside the Town were
Caron lost her re-election
convinced. In effect, the padlocks defined Parc-
bid in 2005, the new mayor promptly put the
X kids as vandals while exonerating the children
gates back in: residents had stood up in town
of TMR. The locked gates outraged Mary De-
council meetings and demanded them. New
ros, the long-serving city councillor for Parc-
signs appeared on the gates designed to soften
Extension, who used to take her own children
the effect of the fence by bidding pedestrians
into TMR every Halloween. “We found that
from the Parc-X side bienvenu, and those from
demeaning and totally unacceptable,” she told
the TMR side to soyez prudent—“Be careful.”
me. The local press covered the story, and in
Mary Deros would like to see the gates re-
2001 the scandal reached Ottawa, where MP
moved again “to indicate there is an openness,”
Claude Bachand rose in the House of Com-
but she added, “I have more pressing issues than
mons to speak of the locked gates: “This means
the fence at this point.” Most of the Parc-X resi-
that children from low income families will not
dents I met felt the same way. They don’t care
be able to knock on doors of the homes of the
about the fence. After fifty years, some hardly
wealthy in Mount Royal. This is unacceptable.”
even notice it at all any more, and the structure
Bachand did not give the Parc-X kids enough
itself appears dilapidated, neglected and mean-
to w n
ro y a l ,
“ mode l
ingless. Invocations of the Berlin Wall ring
the l’Acadie fence has mutated into something
absurd. When I saw it, the fence made me think
more than it was ever meant to be: a line drawn
more of archaeology than apartheid.
on a city’s emotional cartography that discrimi-
Still, in spite of its disregard and physical
nates the residents of Here from the residents
decay, the fence remains a symbol. All barri-
of There. I thought of this as I passed through
ers, after all, inspire those on one side to won-
the fence and listened to the spring-loaded gate
der about those on the other. Over the years
clang bienvenue behind me.
cit y ”
Marcello Di Cintio’s writing has been published in Afar, EnRoute, Walrus, Reader’s Digest Canada and other publications. His work has brought him the 2002 Maclean-Hunter Endowment Prize for Creative Nonfiction and several Western and National Magazine Award nominations. He is the author of Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa, winner of the Henry Kriesel Award for Best First Book, and Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey into the Heart of Iran, winner of the Wilfred Eggleston Prize for Best Nonfiction (Alberta Book Awards). In the Shadow of the Wall: Travels Along the Barricades will be published by Goose Lane Editions in the fall of 2012. Di Cintio lives with his family in Calgary.
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 65
Cri de Coeur Compared to today’s vile heroes, Ned Kelly—the Australian outlaw who wrote the angry, articulate Jerilderie letter in 1879—seems as innocent as an ogre-slaughtering hero of fairy tales
he writer and historian Thomas Carlyle, who coupled extraordinary prejudices to extraordinary wisdom, declared in 1841 that “the Hero can be Poet, Prophet, King, Priest or what you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born in.” Carlyle was not saying that the circumstances of our environment exclusively shape who we are, but that our surroundings determine that which we appear to stand for. Though Ulysses’s actions remain the same, in the telling by the Romans he was a brutish, ruthless trickster; in that of the Greeks, a hero. The two denominations are not necessarily contradictory. Page 66 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
The truth be told, most of our heroes are ruthless tricksters, whether their ruses succeed or not. Depending on whether we consider them to have been on the side of the devils or the angels, we consecrate them in our pantheon or damn them for eternity. Robin Hood, Joan of Arc and Che Guevara were all outlaws, and we have granted them the status of heroes because, however bloody their actions, we have decided that they chose the better side. But what side is that? From the time of our earliest tribes, we have established legal codes to allow us to live together in the expectation of harmony.
Not to kill and not to rob are engraved in the laws of every society, and yet eve ry society has armies and police forces that ensure some kind of indentured servitude, and every society has some form of banking system. “If I had to answer the following question, ‘What is slavery?’ and if I answered with a single word, ‘Murder’, I would be understood. Why then to this question, ‘What is property?’ can’t I answer ‘Theft’ without being certain I would not be heard?” wondered Carlyle’s contemporary, the wise politician and philosopher PierreJoseph Proudhon. Our laws, though necessary, are often unjust, and they protect the strong against the weak, the rich against the poor, the old against the young. Most of us like to think of ourselves as law-abiding citizens, but we also admire outlaws because we don’t trust the law. As time passes, our acceptance of what is permissible in the conduct of a hero seems to transgress further and further the limits of what the law lays out as permissible. It was scandalous but heroic of Robin Hood to rob the rich, of Joan of Arc to contest the authority of her confessors, of Che Guevara to fight against the American Empire, while killing their opponents with arrow, sword and gun. They had, in our stories, a certain gallantry and charm. Today, however, our heroes have grown ugly. Millions of readers and viewers accept, without blinking an eye, the bestial methods of a Hannibal Lecter (literally eating the brains of his opponent) or a Lisbeth Salander of the Millennium Saga (brutally sodomizing and then tattooing her opponent). Dante’s Count Ugolino gnawed the skull of his enemy, Archbishop Ruggieri, and Regan had Gloucester’s eyes gouged in King Lear, but neither Regan nor Ugolino became heroic in their time, as Hannibal and Lisbeth have in ours.
photo: ned kelly, the day before his execution, 1880; courtesy state library of victoria collection, photo by charles nettleton
Compared to them, Ned Kelly, the “outlaw and willful murderer” (as the police posters proclaimed) who haunted the Australian bush in the second half of the nineteenth century, seems as innocent as the ogre-slaughtering hero of fairy tales. Ned was born in 1854 (or ’55), the son of an Irish rebel who had been transported to Tasmania for crimes perhaps linked to the Irish Uprising, and who, after his seven-year sentence had been served, settled in Victoria, where he married. Though the Kelly family was suspected several times of cattle and horse stealing, Ned seems to have been a brave and intelligent child: when he was about ten years old, he received a green sash for saving a boy from drowning. The sash must have had a great significance for him, because he wore it under a self-made armour during his final confrontation with the police in 1880. From his adolescence onwards, Ned Kelly led a violent life, involved in punch-ups, assaults, cattle rustling and bank robbing. For the latter purpose, he formed a gang of four: himself as leader, his younger brother Dan, the opium-addicted Joe Byrne and the melancholy adolescent Steve Hart. Ned was finally captured in June 1880, tried for his crimes and condemned to death by hanging. When the judge pronounced the fatal words “May God have mercy on your soul,” Ned replied: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” His mother’s parting words to him were: “Mind that you die like a Kelly.” A petition to spare Ned’s life was signed by over thirty thousand admirers. To “set straight” the account of his adventures (or misdeeds) “present past and future,” Ned Kelly wrote a remarkable document, which he wanted published, and which became known as the Jerilderie letter. A book by the same name was edited by the historian Alex
McDermott, who sets out, in his introduction to the book, the extraordinary facts that led to Ned Kelly’s arrest. On February 4, 1879, the Kelly gang rode north to the small town of Jerilderie, through the parched bush of Victoria, during one of the worst droughts in Australian history. In order to deal with the fearsome gang, wanted for the murders of three policemen, a new Act of Parliament had been passed, the Felons Apprehension Act, which rendered their arrest easier. At the Woolpack Inn in Jerilderie, the four men had a meal and Ned learned the names of the town’s two policemen, George Devine and Henry Richards. That night, outside the police station and under a full moon “so clear that it could have been day,” Ned called out to Senior Constable Devine that a row had started at the inn. Devine and Richards ran outside, only to find themselves facing the gang’s guns. The policemen were disarmed, handcuffed and locked up in the station’s cell. After ascertaining that there was no one else in the station except Devine’s pregnant wife and children, Ned explained that his visit had two purposes: to rob the Bank of New South Wales and to publish a statement he had written. He asked that Ned’s wife cook the gang dinner, and during the meal he read to her and to his captives long passages from the fifty-sixpage document he had composed over the past two months. The next day, Sunday, while his comrades stayed at the station, Ned helped Devine’s wife prepare the courthouse for the priest who was coming to officiate mass, while Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, dressed up in police uniforms, forced Constable Richards to lead them through town, explaining to the citizens of Jerilderie that these were reinforcements on their way to Victoria, where they would help the authorities track down the Kelly gang.
Next day, Ned occupied the Royal Mail Hotel, locked up his prisoners in the hotel bar and robbed the Bank of New South Wales next door. Unfortunately for Ned, instead of the large sum he had hoped for to support his gang during their flight, the vault only held some £2,000. Ned led the bank manager and two other employees into the hotel, where he locked them up with his other prisoners, but he was interrupted by three customers coming into the bar for a drink. Ned and his men captured two, but the third, Samuel Gill, editor of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette, managed to escape. Ned’s disappointment was great, because it was Gill whom Ned wanted to see above all, to publish in the Gazette Ned’s exculpatory statement. Ned decided to leave the prisoners in the hands of the rest of the gang and walk over to Gill’s house, taking with him Constable Richards and one of the bank employees, an accountant named Edwin Living, as hostages. Only Mrs. Gill was at home. McDermott reproduces the conversation Ned had with her: “Don’t be afraid, this is Kelly.” “I am not afraid.” “That’s right. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you or your husband. He should not have run away. Where has he gone to?” “If you shoot me dead I don’t know where Mr. Gill is. You gave him such a fright I expect he is lying dead somewhere.” “All I want him for is to print this letter—the history of my life. And I want to see him to explain it to him.” In the end, Ned handed over the letter to Living, who promised to deliver it to the editor. Ned returned to the hotel bar, where he addressed his Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 67
captive audience. “I want to say a few words,” he began, “about why I’m an outlaw, and what I’m doing here today.” Then he gave them a summary of the letter, and he and his men took their leave. Contrary to his promise, Living did not have the letter published but handed it over to the police. The Jerilderie letter finally appeared in print in 1930, in the pages of the Melbourne Herald. The original document was anonymously donated in 2000 to the State Library of Victoria, and The Jerilderie Letter (McDermott’s book) was published in 2001. On the surface, Ned’s letter merely contained his version of the murders of which he and his gang stood accused. Six months before these events, on April 15, 1878, a certain constable Alexander Fitzpatrick had arrived at the Kelly property to arrest Dan for the theft of horses. By all accounts, Fitzpatrick was drunk, and in his attempt to enter the Kelly estate, he was wounded in the wrist. Fitzpatrick claimed that the aggressor was Ned; Ned said that at the time he had been in New South Wales. A day later, Ellen, the boys’ mother, together with some neighbours, was arrested by Fitzpatrick for “attempted murder.” Ned and Dan escaped to the mountains, which they knew very well, and for the next six months the police combed the area without finding them. It was not until October that, panning for gold in a creek, Ned came across a police search party. There was a shootout, and three policemen were killed. The fourth escaped and, upon reaching the town of Mansfield, reported the attack. Ever since, Ned’s response to the accusations was “Fitzpatrick is to blame.” The Jerilderie letter is not merely a personal version of the alleged facts. It is the testimony of an angry man about his time and place, about the country settled by a society that mirrored the Page 68 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
British Empire’s system of privileges, caste and legal corruption. Law is not law, Ned Kelly implies, when it is enforced through “the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police.” And as to the people of this country, he concludes: “If they depend in the police they shall be drove to destruction.” Gradually, furiously, the facts of one man’s life become a depiction of the whole of world that surrounds him, with its fears, violent acts, petty vices, agonies of survival, helplessness. The Jerilderie letter holds its place next to the testimonies of other great outlaws: François Villon, Jean Genet, Jack Henry Abbott. There is a further dimension to Kelly’s character, and that is his genius for language. There is no equivalent in writing for peinture naïve, and yet something of the sort is apparent in the Jerilderie letter. It is impossible to read it and not be reminded of the tongue-freeing artifices of Joyce and the minutely crafted ravages of Céline, and yet there is no conscious artistic intention in Kelly, no second level where the writer knows that he is making literature—wringing new meaning out of language, reshaping grammar and syntax to suit a secret purpose, giving, in Mallarmé’s all-too-literary phrase, “a purer sense to the words of the tribe.” It is up to the reader, a century and a half later, to grant The Jerilderie Letter its rightful place in the universal library. Alberto Manguel is the award-winning author of hundreds of works, most recently (in English) All Men Are Liars, The City of Words, A Reading Diary and The Library at Night. He lives in France. Read more of his Geist work at geist.com.
Third World Canada Canada has begun to suffer from malaises that we once attributed to “poor” countries
hen I was twenty-one years old, I studied for five months in Bogotá, Colombia. I made my first trip to South America in the hope of improving my Spanish, seeing thrilling landscapes and experiencing the societies where many of my favourite writers came from. With breezy complacency, I anticipated gaining a knowledge of what we then referred to as the “Third World.” By this, we meant poor countries which, if they were lucky, would some day become like us. Thirty years later, this is not precisely what has happened. If various countries in South America—Brazil foremost among
them—now enjoy some of our privileges of acquisition and stability, we have begun to suffer from malaises that we once attributed to them. In Bogotá, I refined my vision of the Third World. As I learned in this city of—at that time—five million people, Third World societies were characterized by rapid, uncontrolled urbanization, a chaotic sprawl that obliged people to spend hours in clogged traffic to get to work. Public transportation was shoddy. Pollution hung in the thin mountain air. Residents of the overcrowded, unplanned city endured exorbitant waiting times for
photo: temporary vandalism, by byron barrett
health care; infant mortality rates were high; street crime was rampant. It was clear that Colombia was not innately poor, but rather that a disproportionate quantity of its abundant resources were the property of a tiny elite who disdained their fellow citizens. The middle class was small and, as I discovered by boarding with a suburban middleclass family, nervous, unsure of its values and politically weak. Colombia had a functioning democratic system, with two political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, who often alternated in power. In spite of these democratic mechanics, legislators did not address the country’s social divides: both parties catered first to the foreign companies that exploited Colombia’s mineral and petroleum wealth. Drug trafficking, though present, was not as prevalent then as it became later; yet Colombia in the early 1980s had three guerrilla movements fighting against the government, and a thuggish, omnipresent military that imposed curfews, random identification checks and frisking to keep urban citizens in line (reliable reports claimed that they did much worse in the countryside). My impressions of Colombia three decades ago were resuscitated, to my dismay, by my return to Canada after six months in Western Europe. Naturally, Canada is not Colombia: half our population does not live below the poverty line, our crime rate is low, we have no home-grown insurgent movement and our military has been exercising its brawn on Afghans and Libyans, not on our own citizens. Yet, by comparison with Western Europe, Canada feels “Third World.” This is a new feeling; when I’ve returned to Canada from Europe in the past, I’ve sensed that I was entering a more spacious, less settled land, yet one socially on a par with Europe. Now there is an undeniable sense of moving Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 69
down a rung on the ladder. As the shuttle bus that was taking me home left Pearson Airport in Toronto, it ran into the permanent snarl of traffic on Highway 401 that makes moving in and out of the city a time-consuming ordeal. The driver zigzagged through the cape of grey-brown smog onto other highways, all them packed and stagnant. In Europe I had whisked between cities in high-speed trains that siphoned traffic off the highways and had shuttled around cities on superbly coordinated bus and subway links. In Europe, Montreal and Toronto would be two hours apart by train (rather than five), as is the case for Rome and Florence or London and Paris; here it often takes me more than two hours to reach Toronto from Guelph, Ontario, barely 80 kilometres away. The ugly landscape outside the airport, with huge suburbs thrown senselessly into the middle of fields, far from services or transport links, was more reminiscent of the chaos of suburban Bogotá, where I had lived as a student, than of the integrated suburbs I visited in Hamburg, Munich or Barcelona. In Canada, as in the Third World, more and more people are squeezing into a few big cities; in Europe, a more equitable distribution of resources ensures that provincial life retains its appeal. Similarly, my initial conversations with Canadians revealed a nervous uncertainty that recalled the timorous burghers of Bogotá: they wanted free health care but they didn’t want to offend the free market; they wanted low taxes and they wanted generous social programs; they didn’t know what they stood for. A few nights earlier, on the radio in Paris, I’d heard a conservative, Christian French politician defend social equality, the welfare state and free, secular public education with a vigour that would make the NDP blush. These rights were the foundaPage 70 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
tions of the nation; the politician’s fiscal and social conservatism operated within this framework. No corresponding sense of national values was evident in Canada. The results were obvious: while Europe felt comfortable and egalitarian in spite of having suffered during the recent economic recession, Canada was alternately profligate and squalid. During our stay in Europe, my partner and I fell ill twice, once in Paris and once in Munich. Both times we received health care of a swiftness and efficiency that would be difficult to imagine in Canada, where our lacklustre health system is ranked 30th in the world and our fast-rising infant mortality rate has almost reached the level of those of much less prosperous countries such as Hungary or Poland. As was the case of Colombia thirty years ago (and likely still today), our elite pays scant attention to the problems of most citizens; and our political system, giving first priority to the exploitation of our petroleum and minerals, is unresponsive to social issues. Shortly after my return, I read that in 2009, 3.8 percent of Canadian households controlled 67 percent of the country’s financial wealth. In 1977, four years prior to my trip to Bogotá, the richest 1 percent of Canadians had controlled only 7.7 percent of our wealth. In those days, prior to the NAFTA-driven transformation of our economic and social model, Colombia’s inequalities were a shock to a young Canadian. Today it is Europe’s equality, efficiency and moral self-confidence that feel shocking.
Stephen Henighan is the author of A Grave in the Air (Thistledown) and the translator of Mihail Sebastian’s novel The Accident (Biblioasis). Read his work at geist.com and at stephenhenighan.com.
Double Life The poet John Glassco lived in disguise, masquerading as a member of the gentry while writing pornography and reinventing his past
s he approached his sixtieth birthday John Glassco might reasonably have thought that his life was a complete failure. He was a writer who had published almost nothing but two thin volumes of poetry and a couple of books of pseudonymous pornography. Living in isolation on a farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, he was unknown outside a small circle of Montreal poets. His wife was violently ill with schizophrenia and was starving herself to death. So deep was his despair that he was making plans to commit suicide once she had died. Then, suddenly, his fortunes turned. Several literary projects that had been simmering for years reached a boil at the same time. In a single year, 1970, he published a bestselling memoir
photo: john glassco, by gordon beck
and an anthology of French-Canadian poetry in translation, not to mention another volume of pornography. What’s more, he met and fell in love with the woman who would become his second wife. And he followed up this string of successes the following year by publishing his Selected Poems, which beat out the collected poems of the much better-known Irving Layton for the Governor General’s Award. A decade earlier Glassco had confided to his journal: “I want the world to recognize me as something I suspect I am not, a man of real talent.” Now, much to his own surprise and at an age most people think of retirement, he had achieved the overnight success for which he had been struggling his entire life.
I encountered Glassco’s name for the first time when I was an aspiring young literato writing bad short stories in Vancouver and experiencing the conventional infatuation with the romance of expatriatism. Paris in the twenties was my dreamland. I read everything I could get my hands on by the usual suspects—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein—but Glassco’s book Memoirs of Montparnasse instantly became my favourite. As a nineteen-year-old aesthete on the lam from his well-to-do Montreal family, Glassco ran away to Paris early in 1928 in the company of his friend and lover Graeme Taylor. During the two and half years he spent in France he didn’t do much—hung around the cafés, met a few minor notables, drank a lot, had love affairs— but in the pages of Memoirs, Glassco seemed to evoke all the romance of the literary life. It was amazing to me that such a sophisticated, witty memoir— by a Canadian, no less—was written by someone who was the same age as myself when I was reading it. Except that it wasn’t. When Memoirs appeared in 1970 the critics more or less accepted the auth or’s version of its creation. Glassco’s Parisian idyll had come to a sudden end in the summer of 1930 when he learned that he had contracted tuberculosis. He entered hospital in France, and that winter his mother sent a doctor and a private nurse to Europe to bring him home to Montreal, where he remained bedridden for many months. The fiction that he later invented was that he wrote Memoirs at that time, not knowing whether he would recover, then left the typescript forgotten in an attic for four decades before publishing it more or less unchanged. The fact that it was written under the shadow of death is what gave Memoirs its feeling of immediacy, even urgency, said the critics, most of whom greeted it with glowFall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 71
ing reviews. The Montreal poet Louis Dudek called it “the best book of prose by a Canadian that I have ever read.” Good it may be, truthful it was not. Glassco himself called the book “a loose and lying chronicle,” which is a fair description. It must have been difficult for a scrupulous biographer such as Brian Busby, in his new book about Glassco, A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer (McGill-Queen’s University Press), to untangle the facts from the deceptions, wilful and otherwise. Much of the Memoirs “is both inaccurate and fanciful,” Busby writes. Glassco claims to have had encounters with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Peggy Guggenheim, among others, but “there is no evidence that he was so much as in the same room with even one of these eminent expatriates.”
One of the biggest whoppers Glassco told was about the book itself. It was not composed in a hospital bed in 1931; it was written many years later during the 1960s. Glassco was prompted to revisit his expatriate years by the publication in 1963 of Morley Callaghan’s memoir, That Summer in Paris. Callaghan’s book was a great commercial success, which must have got Glassco thinking, but more important, it presented a portrait of the young Glassco as a shallow dilettante sneering his way around the Latin Quarter. A humiliated Glassco recommenced work on his own memoir at least in part as a way of getting his own explanation of himself on the record. Rearranging and inventing is what most memoirists do, and part of the fun of Busby’s biography is to watch him wheedle out the truth from Glassco’s imaginative version of history. Glassco was not interested in a mundane recitation of events. As he wrote to a friend, “I look on the real value of ‘memoirs’ as being not so much a record of ‘what happened’ as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time. The first approach is so often simply tedious, faded literary gossip, name-dropping, disconnected anecdotes, etc . . . ” Glassco aspired to re-create the feel of Paris, or at least his version of Paris. But, as Busby makes clear, there was more to it than that. Subterfuge seems to have been Glassco’s default position. He called himself “a great practitioner of deceit.” He wrote books under assumed names, donned and discarded different sexual identities, even lied about such an inconsequential matter as the house in which he was born. As he emerges from the pages of Busby’s sympathetic book, Glassco seems a very Canadian figure in the way that he hid his secret inner life behind a veneer of social respectability. (I am thinking here of the priggish prime minister Page 72 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
William Lyon Mackenzie King, who, seemingly the blandest of men, attended seances to communicate with the dead and consorted with prostitutes.) A gentleman farmer in ascot and tweed jacket, Glassco hosted an annual horse show, sat on the local town council and displayed the reactionary political views typical of the Anglo elite, once dismissing Quebecois nationalists as “crybabies seeking a breast.” As a young man he affected disdain for middleclass life, then seemed to become its embodiment. But he was also a rubber fetishist who wrote pornography and hired rent boys to give him spankings. At the same time as his Selected Poems was winning Canada’s highest literary award, another of his books, The Temple of Pederasty, stories of “sentiment, sodomy and cherry-blossoms,” was intercepted at the border and refused entry to Canada. The writer George Fetherling, who met Glassco, described him as a “dissolute and bohemian Vincent Massey,” a phrase that might not mean much to younger readers but delightfully captures Glassco’s double nature, the patrician playing at being the outlaw, or vice versa. How do you write an accurate life of someone who lied for the fun of it? Busby is assiduous in tracking down the facts but sometimes he has to acknow ledge that they do not carry him all the way to the truth. Never mind. A Gentleman of Pleasure is a thorough and thoroughly entertaining study of Canada’s foremost literary charlatan and it is only appropriate if the reader is sometimes left wondering what’s the truth and what’s just the truthiness. Daniel Francis is a writer and historian who lives in North Vancouver. He is the author of two dozen books, most recently Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918–1919, Canada’s First War on Terror (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). Read his Geist work at geist.com.
ENDNOTES Reviews and comments by staff, editors and correspondents Legacy Lit In 2011, in celebration of Vancouver’s 125th anniversary, the city teamed up with the Association of Book Publishers of BC to launch the Legacy Books Project. The idea was to promote Vancouver books that have influenced the life of the city, and to select and republish ten classic local literary titles. Here is the Geist take on some of them. For more on the 2011 Legacy Books Project, go to books.bc.ca.
Opening Doors—In Vancouver’s East End: Strathcona, edited by Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter (Harbour Publishing)
pening Doors, the first of the Legacy Books Project titles to appear in print, was originally published in 1979 and unavailable for many years. I had heard about this elusive book from many quarters but could never manage to track down a copy for myself. Now I can see what the fuss was all about: Opening Doors is a perfect example of civic history as an accretion of personal detail and individual memories, stories collected through interviews (conducted in 1977 and 1978 by Marlatt and Itter) with an assortment of long-time residents of one of Vancouver’s original neighbourhoods. This is living history, which jumps off the page and into your ear: Kiyooka Tanaka-Goto recalling her return to Vancouver from Kamloops in 1927, at which time she “bought a lease on the upstairs of a hotel at 35 West Hastings. Now [at the time of the interview] it’s the Palace Hotel but then the main floor was a medical clinic,
and I turned the upstairs into a whorehouse”; Peter Battistoni remembering the route he took to deliver bread baked in his father’s brick oven, a route that took him down the now-long-vanished Hogan’s Alley: “I was delivering there every Monday and almost every Monday you’d find a body. I seen two women dead one day under a barn. One in a garbage can with her feet sticking out.” Vancouver is a city built upon layers and layers of ghosts; reading Open Doors is like attending an All Hallow’s Eve celebration, where the ancient spirits mingle once more with the living. —Michael Hayward
Anhaga, by Jon Furberg (Smoking Lung Press)
et’s all agree that reading Old English poetry isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time—even for those who truly enjoy poetry. There are just too many frustratingly ancient references, too many symbolic clichés. Thankfully Jon Furberg’s Anhaga, a radical translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer,” doesn’t faithfully translate every stanza, every line, every word. In fact, Furberg gleefully omits
whole sections as the mood strikes him, and adds his own lines when inspired by the anonymous source material. Fur berg openly admits that Anhaga fails as a literal translation. But weren’t we bored with that stuff anyway? Anhaga is far sharper than any other translation of the original. And Furberg’s precision in language, both repurposed and his own, slices through the tedium and repetition that run through the lines of Old English poetry. Perhaps this book you shall purchase? —Jordan Abel
Along the No. 20 Line: Reminiscences of the Vancouver Waterfront, by Rolf Knight (New Star Books)
his book begins with the author, age thirteen, riding on the No. 20 streetcar along the Vancouver waterfront in 1947: the car rolls, swaying from side to side; it accelerates and the motor whines; it swings through a turn and the car body groans and straightens out; it creeps down Eton Street, the body shudders, the windows rattle, the leather pull straps flap from side to side; the engine hums and the rails below go click-clack-clickity clack; the ringing steel wheels slide on steel rails as the car comes to a stop; the car doors clatter open and the passengers Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 75
climb on. The passengers are the working people of East Vancouver—sailors, loggers, longshoremen, women who work at the sugar refinery or the slaughterhouse. They are the former workers—pensioners and retired camp workers. They are the kids of the workers, catching a ride to the theatres downtown. Along the No. 20 Line is not only the story of the streetcar line that served Vancouver from 1909 to 1949; it is also a portrait of the East Van physical and social landscape of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Knight’s descriptions are beautiful, mainly in the details mentioned in passing: the man with the wooden leg boarding the streetcar, wooden homes sagging next to overgrown empty lots in the industrial waterfront district, squatters’ boathouses and migrant workers’ cabins in the Tar Flats, the sudden absence of Japanese businesses after World War II, the hotels, cafés and beer parlours near Carrall and Cordova, where the loggers hung out when they were in from camp. —Michal Kozlowski
Day and Night, by Dorothy Livesay (Oolichan Books)
ooking back on early twentiethcentury poets, it’s easy to overlook everyone but the canonical heavyweights: T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, et al. I wasn’t familiar with Dorothy Livesay’s work although she wrote more than twenty published books of poetry, founded Contemporary Verse 2 and won the Governor General’s Award twice. But when I read through Day and Night, originally published by the Ryerson Press in 1944, I realized that Livesay’s work remains fiercely loyal to the poetic aesthetic of previous generations. The poems in this collection are held back by Page 76 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
biblical and classical allusions, antiquated diction and myriad end rhymed lines that are difficult to take seriously in the current poetry climate. On the other hand, the subject matter is supremely interesting: Livesay was writing about the turbulent era between world wars, and she has produced some striking imagery. But it’s difficult to overlook the frustrating conventions of this type of poetry. This is a collection that was written in a time of poetic transition—a decade after Frost and a decade before Ginsberg—despite its shining moments of political clarity. —Jordan Abel
Crossings, by Betty Lambert (Arsenal Pulp Press)
opened the digital edition of Crossings by Betty Lambert (Arsenal Pulp Press) while sitting on a beach in northwestern Ontario. Next thing I knew, I’d read 100 pages on the 1×2" screen of my BlackBerry. At home I read the next 193 pages in what felt like one breath—and actually gasped as I read the last line. Crossings, set in the 1960s, tells the story of Vicky, a writer, and her volatile relationship with an ex-con turned logger by the name of Mik. When it was first published in 1979, it stirred up controversy for its candid depiction of domestic violence, and sexual and emotional abuse—Lambert is quite direct in exploring the gap between the rise of sexual liberation in the 1960s and the ongoing, largely silent, battle between the genders. Vicky is anything but quiet about it. She vividly describes her visits to the “nut lady” (her therapist), offers the intimate details of her unusual and often violent sexual relationship with Mik, and talks openly about her abortion and multiple pregnancy scares. Lambert’s
off-beat, unconventional style—a nonchronological plot structure and short, abrupt sentences—practically turned the page for me. Her dialogue is razor sharp, and rich in brilliant subtext, making a statement that’s both loud and subtle. Crossings is smart, witty and still relevant in the twenty-first century. It is truly a lost gem, so worthy of republication to honour Vancouver in its 125th year. —Jennesia Pedri
A Hard Man to Beat, by Howard White (Harbour Publishing)
here do you begin when you’re about to review a book that is being republished? First, it must have merit, must deserve another look, must stand the test of time. And this one does. The Globe and Mail called it “blistering”; the Province said that it was “as eloquent as a knuckle sandwich.” But the most engaging aspects of A Hard Man to Beat—Howard White’s oral history of Bill White and his long, hard fight for workers’ rights in the shipyards of Vancouver—are the complications that arise in the attempt to describe it. Howard White (no relation to Bill White) wrote a biography based on the sprawling conversations that he had with Bill—a faithful report, but neither a transcription nor a third-person refinement of their conversations. The book is a first-person narrative written from the perspective of Bill White—a biography written in the form of an autobiography. And written with remarkable vigour and genuine style. Where does Howard White fit into the story? Why did he remove himself from a text that he had so clearly and painstakingly assembled? What role did the biographer play in the biography? Perhaps he extractFall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 77
ed, or omitted, the biographer from the text to keep the focus on the content, or to avoid compromising the singular, persuasive voice that carries the reader from page to page. Either way, A Hard Man to Beat is worth reading whether or not you’re interested in Bill White’s work in, as the publisher calls it, “the bareknuckle days of BC labour.” —Jordan Abel
A Credit to Your Race, by Truman Green (Anvil Press)
illy Robinson is a nice fifteen-yearold kid growing up in Surrey, BC, in the 1960s, doing pretty well in school, excelling as a track star and falling in love with a pretty girl named Mary. But he’s a “coloured boy,” one of the few in the area: “our whole family was made up of a mixture of Seminole Indians, African
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slaves, Cree Indians and white people.” That’s why Mary’s father doesn’t like him, and why the scoutmaster thinks he’d be a natural at boxing, and why the vice principal tells him, “You’ll be a credit to your race, Billy,” meaning it as a compliment. As if this isn’t enough to grapple with, Mary gets pregnant. Who can they tell? What will become of them? Racial prejudice still thrives in Canada, but this novel, self-published in 1973, is evidence of how much worse things were only a few decades ago. Or perhaps people were just more open about their attitudes. Modern readers will wince at every encounter of the N-word, the C-word, the P-word and all the other casual, hateful talk, along with the do-gooder-style racism in the
phrase that gives the book its title, and in people’s endless compulsion to “help” Billy. The story gets its power from Truman Green’s simple, direct, almost deadpan delivery of what people said and did, almost as if he were telling you about it at the kitchen table. Billy Robinson’s acute awareness of what’s wrong, here in the hazy pre-dawn of the Civil Rights movement, is compelling and tangled and credible. We can be sorry for what Billy had to endure, and glad that the Legacy Books Project and Anvil Press have brought back his story. —Mary Schendlinger
The Inverted Pyramid, by Bertrand W. Sinclair (Ronsdale Press)
his novel, written in 1924, is the story of Rod Norquay, the wealthy descendant of a Canadian pioneer who
settled on the coast of BC, claiming a wide reach of timberland as his own. Rod wants to, and then does, marry a woman outside his class, Mary Thorn. The rest of the plot—Rod going off to school, becoming a lumberjack for three chapters, fighting in the Great War, etc.—flows around the main premise much like the rapids of the BC coast that Sinclair goes on and on about. Maybe this book was chosen for the Legacy Books Project for the overthe-top, won’t-the-municipal-governmenteat-this-up descriptions of the BC landscape. Or for the proud thoughts Rod has about his ancestor: “He would visualize old Roderick on the poop of the Hermes, pistol in belt, peering out from under a threecornered hat, one eye on the beauty of a mountainous, thick-forested coast, the
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other keenly on pelts of sea otter and the profitable risks of barter with savages” [my italics]. I don’t think the scenery justifies the cost of reprinting a book with nearly 300 pages full of self-righteous, privileged white-man drivel. A good candidate for the Legacy Books Project might have been She Named It Canada, Because That’s What It Was Called, produced by the Corrective Collective and published by Press Gang in 1973. The book covers what, at the time, was the complete written history of Canada. Important political periods— the War of 1812, the Rebellions of 1837, Confederation, the Nine-Hour Movement, the two world wars, the October Crisis, and more—are captured in irreverent illustration, with (in the later sections) some photography mixed in. The book is also beautifully hand-lettered and printed in brown ink, giving it an extra-retro look. At a time when the government of Canada seems to be rewriting history to
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suit its own purposes, She Named It Canada would be a worthy investment. —Chelsea Novak
Class Warfare, by D.M. Fraser (Arsenal Pulp Press)
his short story collection, first published in 1976, is filled with revolutionaries, artists, kidnappers, rebels, dark streets, anonymous buildings; on the surface, the atmosphere is dark and dangerous. But the rebels seem to rebel against an oblivious society, the revolutionaries practise their revolutions rather than engaging in revolt, and the artists seem to perceive the ills of society but can’t see their own. In a way, the
scenes in these stories are all comedic, and gravely serious: they occupy the space between irony and absurdity. Fraser had a beautiful style, which can be seen in these graceful, sonorous sentences. One hopes that this new edition of Class Warfare will inspire a new generation of Canadian writers to follow in his footsteps. —Michal Kozlowski
Who Killed Janet Smith? by Edward Starkins (Anvil Press)
anet Smith, a Scottish nursemaid who worked for a family in the wealthy Shaughnessy Heights neighbourhood of Vancouver, was only twenty-two years old when she was found shot to death in her employers’ laundry room in 1924. Wong Foon Sing, a Chinese servant in the household, had known where the murder weapon was stored, and had given small
(unwanted) gifts to Janet Smith. These circumstances alone demand more than a conventional real-life mystery story. Add to them other pressures of the time— drug traffic, Roaring Twenties hedonism, official corruption, cutthroat competition among newspapers, a public taste for occultism, etc.—and entrust the whole works to a good storyteller, and you have one terrific political history of Vancouver. That’s what Edward Starkins produced in the early 1980s, when almost no such writing about Vancouver was being done. Who Killed Janet Smith? was, as Daniel Francis writes in his foreword to the new edition, “a social history of the city, perhaps the first.” (And by the way, the Janet Smith murder is still unsolved.) —Mary Schendlinger
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The Full Vancouver Dan Post
n 2011, as Vancouver celebrates its 125th birthday as a city, residents and visitors are treated to old-time photos of dusty, hard-packed streets and women in long dresses posing in front of wagons or the Hollow Tree in Stanley Park. Today’s Vancouver is quite different, and this too is celebrated in Michael Christie’s collection of stories, The Beggar’s Garden (HarperCollins). Here we see an aggregate of young artists, restaurateurs and professionals as well as drug addicts, people with mental illness and denizens of back alleys. We see booming condo development and the rise and fall of historic buildings. And we see street-level cultural landmarks: a West End dog park, a big-time film set, a Gastown dive bar, an illegal nighttime sidewalk market. In Christie’s hands, the official stories of Vancouver—frozen in time for the birthday celebrations—continue. Buildings are resurrected (including the Woodward’s building, home of the Geist office), a couple of smug pet owners hook up in a trendy dog park, another luxury car gets stolen from Kitsilano, a park in the notorious Downtown Eastside buzzes with midnight energy. The Beggar’s Garden delivers a three-dimensional Vancouver: its magnificent accomplishments, but also the shortcomings, embarrassments and middle-of-the-pack human failings that fill out the story of a “world-class city.” Noted Elsewhere A reviewer at Front & Centre wrote that the stories in Salvatore Difalco’s The Mountie at Niagara Falls (Anvil) “stand poised, waiting for a small effort on our part, to burst into majesty or misery or
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both. And though layered with meaning and crammed with humour and menace, they slip off their pages as though they’ve been waiting just for you.” According to Alex Manley of The Link, “the book is something like the younger, wackier, stupider cousin of Jonathan Goldstein’s wonderful Lenny Bruce Is Dead.” Quill & Quire, on Chimo by David Collier (Conundrum), wrote: “Collier’s eye for the seemingly trivial is his biggest achievement as an artist . . . By capturing moments like these, Collier successfully imparts to readers his sense of wonder at the world around him.” A reviewer at Broken Pencil wrote: “Chimo succeeds . . . with its tale of a contemporary Canadian life well worth the telling.” And Comics Comics exclaimed that “Collier has the rare ability to take the reader inside his own mind, to show the world through his eyes.” According to The Hipster Book Club, The Chairs Are Where the People Go, by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti (Faber & Faber), “is just part of a HUGE circle jerk.” Meanwhile, Quill & Quire wrote: “it’s a fun read that will make readers think about the random things we skim over in everyday life.” On Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist (Anansi), the blog The Unexpected Twists and Turns wrote: “kudos to Lynn Coady for taking a risk on a male protagonist and getting the voice pitch perfect.” Quill and Quire wrote: “she has a hearty wit and a piercing understanding of human nature. The Canada she portrays, a world of struggling oddballs who find the social system stacked against them, is a real place rarely visited by our too-complacent and bourgeois fiction writers.” Off the Shelf Adam Pottle writes poems about drugrelated shootings, amputee sex swingers and institutionalized adolescents coerced into sterilization (Beautiful Mutants, Caitlin Press); Daniel Jones relays his Page 84 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
experiences of drinking and publishing (The Brave Never Write Poetry, Coach House); and Jacob McArthur Mooney illuminates airplane crashes off the coast of Nova Scotia (Folk, McClelland & Stewart). Beauty Plus Pity follows a slacker twentysomething Asian-Canadian model whose life is suddenly derailed by the death of his filmmaker father and the betrayal of his fiancée (Kevin Chong, Arsenal Pulp Press); and Don’t Shoot! We’re Republicans! chronicles the life of an FBI agent who rebels by wearing loafers instead of wingtips, long hair instead of a crew cut (Jack Owens, History Publishing). Velazquez dies (Killing Velazquez, Philippe Girard, Conundrum Press,); truth is told (Truth Be Told, Larry King, Viking Canada); outrageous ticket prices and service charges are dissected (Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped, Josh Baron
and Dean Budnick, ECW); a guide to cashing in is written (Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals, Sheri Sanders, Hal Leonard Books). Brian Henderson explores the postapocalypse (Sharawadji, Brick Books); Kevin McNeilly intertwines the lineages of trumpet players (Embouchure, Nightwood); and Jude Neale meditates on despair and longing and mothers struggling with bipolar illness (Only the Fallen Can See, Leaf Press). A boy named Idaho Winter discovers there’s a girl at school who likes him and that he has the power to destroy the world (Idaho Winter, Tony Burgess, ECW); a young squirrel fights against starvation and for Central Park (Beasts of New York: A Children’s Book For Grown-ups, Jon Evans, Porcupine’s Quill); and galactic corporations and terrorist plots threaten the peace (Days of Iron, Russell Proctor,
self-published). America’s most secret domestic military facility is explored (Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, Annie Jacobsen, Little, Brown); a list of things you can’t do while handcuffed is revealed (Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, James Loney, Knopf); and memory and imagination converge (The Perimeter Dog, Julie Vandervoort, Libros Libertad). Two brothers embark on a midday bender that changes their lives forever (Glass Boys, Nicole Lundrigan, Douglas & McIntyre); Alistair MacLeod accuses Douglas Gibson of a home invasion (Douglas Gibson, Stories About Storytellers, ECW); and an obscure company offers custom-designed suicides for its clients—just as long as their desire to die is pure and absolute (Exit, Nelly Arcan, Anvil Press).
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Letters, continued from page 7 unnerving that Henighan so derisively refers to the concept of the rule of law. Those who know what it means will celebrate the emphasis it is given in the booklet. I do not share Henighan’s belief that Discover Canada presents Canada as a “bellicose nation, adamant about its ‘Christian civilizations’,” especially given that “Christian civilizations” appears only once in the publication, referring to England and France at the time of their colonization of North America. The booklet does have a patriotic air in its passages referring to our role in world conflicts, none of which feature Canada as an aggressor. However, section 15 of the Citizenship Regulations, as quoted at the end of the guide, require that those seeking Canadian citizenship must have a general understanding of Canadian political and military history. Throughout our history, Canadians have established a reputation for being very good soldiers when needed, and that knowledge should be part of a new citizen’s general understanding. —Nik Kostyan, Calgary Read “Canada for Spartans” and other work by Stephen Henighan at geist.com. Ma kin g a Li vi n g appreciate Stephen Osborne’s clear portrait of Mehrar Arbab, the schoolteacher who had to flee Iran and now makes his living with a hot dog stand (“Mr. Tube Steak and the Schoolteacher,” No. 80). There are so many Mehrar Arbab stories out there. It is impossible for someone with my privileged Canadian upbringing to imagine such hardship except through well-written stories like these. Thank you. —Colleen Friesen, Sechelt, BC
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The story is very touching—Mehrar Arbab went through a lot. However, it is also Canada’s fault that people like Arbab couldn’t build a teaching career here but had to work rain or shine at a Mr. Tube Steak stand. How much longer will immigrants and refugees suffer like this? A streetfood vendor who is a teacher, a law professor from Sudan selling pitas (I met one), a PhD taxi driver… How much more suffering before we do something to help people like Arbab? —Ella Baranowska, Vancouver Read this piece and Stephen Osborne’s other writing at geist.com. Sma rtenin g Up eading “Phony War,” Stephen Henighan’s article about climate change (No. 77), reminded me that when I was at college in England around 1970, as part of our course work we all watched a movie called The War Game—a horrifying premonition of what would happen in the event of a nuclear war. A decade later, when my children were babies, this still preyed on my mind, and I would anxiously talk with other young mothers about what we would do to protect our children in the event of an attack. Fortunately, the cold war ended, and our worries faded. But this war is not going to go away. Living now in the United States, and having survived the Bush era, I am constantly appalled at the refusal of most citizens even to concede that climate change is underway, much less think they should do something about it. Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth stirred a small sector of the population, but his lack of charisma alienated as many as it inspired. The nuclear reactor situation in Japan has distressed the world, but here in North America the biggest concern is whether the radiation will cross the Pacific
Ocean. We must develop a national conscience that overrides selfishness. —Judy, Cyberspace oop s n our shout-out to What Passes for Love by Greta Chapin-McGill (Off the Shelf, No. 81), we misspelled the name of Guy Trebay, the New York Times writer who had praised the novel. Our apologies!
send your letter to: The Editor, Geist email@example.com Fax 604-677-6319 #210 – 111 W. Hastings Street Vancouver, BC v6b 1h4 Letters to Geist may be edited for clarity, brevity and decorum. Authors of published letters will receive a Geist Map, suitable for framing.
Artists in this issue Byron Barrett is a photographer, currently at work on a project in Japan. He lives in Vancouver and at byronbarrett.dphoto.com. Gordon Beck is a former Montreal Gazette photographer. He lives in Merrickville, Ontario. Rebecca Dolen is a Vancouver writter, artist and co-proprietor of the Regional Assembly of Text (assemblyoftext.com). See more of her work at geist.com. Keith McKellar, also known as Laughing Hand (laughinghand.com), has worked as a street artist for twenty-nine years. He is now at work on a suite of illustrations of Vancouver cafés and theatres, and a collection of short stories. He lives in Victoria with his wife and son. Mandelbrot is a photographer who has been writing about photography since 1990. In another life he is Stephen Osborne, publisher of Geist. See more of his work at geist.com. Tom Osborne is a writer and artist, author of Dead Man in the Orchestra Pit, Foozlers, and several poetry collections. He was a co-founder of Pulp Press. He lives in Maple Ridge, BC. See more of his work at geist.com.
The G E I ST Cryptic Crossword Prepared by Meandricus
Send copy of completed puzzle with name and address to:
Puzzle #82 GEIST 210-111 West Hastings St. Vancouver, B.C. V6B 1H4 Fax 604-677-6319 The winner will be selected at random from correct solutions received and will be awarded a one-year subscription to Geist or—if already a subscriber—a Geist magnet. Good luck! ACROSS 1 I feel funny and I’m not seeing straight thanks to these LCD eye chips 6 Baba was an old one, wasn’t she? 8 Is it true the man wrote about killing reptiles? (3) 10 1 + 1 = 2 11 As a pond enthusiast, he had to go back to the woods to hear out that writer 13 There were 69 of them following that bear’s reflection (abbrev) 15 What’s the psi on that bit of liquid? 16 At 39 can you still drop out and get the munchies or are you too worried about your pear shape? 18 However, up to now 21 That car is not liable to be registered (abbrev) 22 Palindrome sends out detection waves 23 He feels blind but must be fond of her 26 I cut a fine figure in Annette’s hometown 27 It sounds strange but at least we can hear it 28 Then she screamed over those British bugs 30 When do you think you’ll get here? 32 The draper and his cohorts are mad about the display 33 Don’t chicle overnight or it’ll lose its flavour 34 Sounds like you’re beckoning surreptitiously so that you won’t have to pay that unworldly charge on sails (abbrev) 35 I don’t have enough energy to play golf or go to a cinema 38 Sounds like that famous black woman should repay me 39 Back in the day that kid really blossomed (2) 40 Stick with feathers for keeping the rain off 41 That covering made you look like a bug or a monkey, not like the Prime Minister (2)
DOWN 1 Ian loves those swirled patterns even though they’re kind of gay 2 A crafty way to put money into an even bigger hole 3 LOL he wrote to good Will. 4 That jovial giant always advised us to find information (2) 5 In the east they have trouble collecting from those cold-blooded ones 6 Hey, man, you’re messing with what’s left in that jar of empty beer foam 7 Paul was feelin’ good once he made art in the channel 9 Shortly she was favoured by divine grace 12 Single form of syndrome can be a good resource 13 Point out the subordinate one 14 Electronic connection doesn’t hang short or full-length 17 You can sit on that part. 19 Yikes, he’s really aged, hasn’t he? 20 From the crane, the brass played while they announced the news 21 The fifth cat is in the sun 22 Race with that ladder and score! 24 Horace had to be paid back for the dedications 25 In the empire do they hop for size 16 or size 20?
8 What you have when time flies 2 29 It bewildered her that she was puzzled by the route 31 She’s one of those who broadcasts her opinions from a dun pit (2) 32 In that seedy place, it’s best to order one rolled roast (2) 33 One rubber can protect 36 Holy cow, where do we bow? 37 Baby, that bird is bitchin’ 39 She had one of 28 agitators The winners for Puzzle 81 were our regulars, Jim Lowe and Brian Goth of Elizaville, NY. Congrats!
Fall 2011 • GEIST 82 • Page 87
CAUG H T MA P P ING
t h e ca n a d ia n ma p o f wo men by Melissa Edwards
modified Geistonic projection
Middlemiss Bay Sheho (SK)
Four Sisters Dome
Big Woman Lake
Amazon (SK) Chick Lake Maidstone
La Fille de Personne
Bird Lac de la Crampe Gynane Bay
Mummie Pup Beaver Creek
Lac de la Grosse Femelle Damsel Point (Labrador)
Belle Isle Lac le Gal
Crying Girl Prairie
Pointe de Grande-Maman
Mother Mountain (AB)
Flapper Hill Three Ladies Mountain
Biddys Mount Girl Guide Gully
The Witch Tower
The Old Woman Pretty Girl Cove
Bras d’Or Wry Widow Rock
Mad Moll Rock Big Sister Lake
Toots Point L’Île-Madame
Ta Ta Creek
Daughter Lake Granny Bay
Lassie Creek Princess Empress
Old Wives Lake
Little Auntie Bay
Wife Lake Mom Lake Missus Lake
For more Geist maps and to purchase the Geist Atlas of Canada, visit geist.com. Page 88 • GEIST 82 • Fall 2011
be sure to catch the companion geist map, “guy thing: the canadian map of men,” in geist 83 (winter 2011-12).
GEIST Fact & Fiction Made In Canada
Margaret Atwood Michael Ondaatje Anaïs Nin Eleanor Wachtel bill bissett Daphne Marlatt Milton Acorn
Carol Bergé Al Purdy Patricia Young Michael Turner David Albahari D.M. Fraser Marcello Di Cintio
ISSUE 82 FALL 2011 $6.95
FACT & FICTION u
MADE IN CANADA FALL 2011 GEIST.COM
Signs of Literary Life Laundry Day with Bukowski • Third World Canada • Strange Men at Bus Stops La Femme du Monde • LSD and Motherhood • Legacy Lit • The Other Norman Mailer 3 Billion Definitions of Freedom • Banana Smoke-In • A Good Night for Tramping The Canadian Map of Women [The Entire Orchestra, Conductor Included, Danced the Calypso in Unison]