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Ephemeris  February 2011



February 27, 2011: I had occasion to be in Ottawa, that company town par excellence. Some substance or another was falling through the air, and I was told it was salt, possibly. How biblical the capitol got all of a sudden. An outbreak of Genesis bringing on metaphysical salt-lesions. I have friends who have lived and died in that town and then been resurrected as _____ you fill in the blank. In any case, I had further occasion to be at the Empire Theatre on Albert Street for a viewing of The King's Speech. A decently-made piece of work 'full of deep resonance for people who happen to have been there at the time'. I quote London Lunar who sees in me an insensitive brute for failing to get it; who sees about my person the barbarian incarnate. As it happens I quite recently took in the movie Biutiful to which, in comparison The King's Speech—But it is apples and oranges futility of mind, this comparing the one movie to the other—I fully grant the point: apples and oranges and a partridge in a pear tree. But verily, I truly am a blockhead, and worse, an effing yank which, translated, means I have the historical perspective of a gnat when it comes to anything qua historical significance. (Moreover, I am guilty of this: there is no reality but American reality—) Well, in fact, I was not insensible (as I sat there hunkered in my movie seat, the movie in one ear, the twittering of the two old biddies behind me who no doubt thought themselves mind-melded to royalty in the other ear) to the peril the Brits faced in regards to the Germans. Here, as it turns out, the king is flawed goods, being a hopeless stammerer who must overcome the fact of his having been bullied as a child so as to master his speech impediment so as to rally and unite a people in their hour of need. It did strike me, however that the historical significance aspect of the film was treated rather lightly; to which London Lunar, aghast, has it that only effing yank twits need to have everything underlined with a blue pencil. As for union-busting in Wisconsin? An infinitesimal burp in what has been eons of cosmic flatulence. The middle east? Let us not get silly. MH observed, as the credits began to roll at the movie's end, that we had just seen the sort of movie the yanks eat up; it will certainly comfort them now in their hour of weird and bizarro-world tribulations, their tawdry coming apart at the seams. Yes, says London Lunar, America has never faced anything remotely to be compared with what the Brits faced and et cetera. No Hannibals on elephant backs on their turf. On a certain level, true enough, I suppose. Yes, I am irritable. Trailers and coming attractions to the movie rendered me homicidal. How about that ad for Coca-Cola that had all the endearing qualities of Hitler Youth propaganda? All sunshine über-mensch smiles, some happy-faced boy-lout prating about his Coca-Cola truck-driving dad, the perverted corporatizing advert promised eternal happiness at no cost to the environment, should you partake of the elixir. I thought I was hallucinating as I watched, Goebbels smirking off-screen somewhere. More cheesy positivism was on tap in a bit about learning to play the piano and how learning to play the piano adds brain power to one's brain power, and if one adds brain power to one's brain power one will inevitably be sitting pretty as the CEO of a Fortune 500 venture—MH whispered into one of my available ears: "Clearly, this isn't Montreal." Meaning perhaps, there is no such thing as polite company there, and we were at that moment sitting in a viper's nest of polite company—Perhaps we should have taken in that other flick in Gatineau - the French one up for a best foreign film—But I have only been mewing like a kitten; now I really begin to cavil and carp and rail, the object of my ill-temper a pair of words drawn from another of those trailers rendered on the strength of environmentally-sensitive decibels, to wit: 'narrative' and 'story'. I pull a B Fawcett-like thuggish maneuver, a plebiscite, as it were, so as to suggest that use of these words be outlawed for the next ten years. As if every breath we draw is a narrative. As if every fart we let rip is a story. As if every arts council bureaucrat is one of those desperately-seeking whomevers looking for relevance, a ride on the next wave of cutting-edge—As if every closet-poet is terribly misguided and the thing to contemplate rather, should you be looking for your professionalism, is a career in celebrity-journalism. As for that, an article I happen to read this morning advises that, soon enough, all roads that have bended toward Cairo and Tripoli, will be leading toward Saudi Arabia - not as revolutionary roads necessarily but as roads along which the tragicomedy now underway may find its bad ending. But I have no idea—I can't say, being neither a gentleman nor a scholar nor a scribbler of history's first draft. The waitress now in Nikas lets me know that working on Sunday is not fun. But of course. A wife and mother, she is homesick for her homeland, even if some will see this as her ingratitude and selfishness—Canada for Canadians—(How many homesick waitresses have I not known?) MH and I, headed back to Montreal, talked up Canada a great deal, and the States and the right-ward trending world and badly educated youth who are born for Twitter moments, who ace those things, but who, in these parts, are perhaps not much for much else - it remains to be seen. MH is intensely curious to see how it will all pan out, she expressing her desire to live long enough to witness the results, to see which way the dragon's tail will twitch and the chess board be cleared of its pieces. I bit my tongue and did not suggest we ought to be careful for what we wish. "Canada," said MH, "is a good place to be, still, a very good place for us to be who are poor, benighted artists, and this despite Current PM and the bureaucrats who have this strange need to shove down our throats what acceptable art is." And so forth and so on. Kickbacks? Apropos of nothing, I said I had no quarrel with the monarchy, this as we crossed over into Quebec from Ontari-O. I had every quarrel with the American presidency that has not seemed capable of mustering a truly dignified moment since Kennedy was at the helm. In the sense of one moment of dignity is worth ten thousand press releases. Which, after all, is what The King's Speech is all about, or am I even now not getting it? And now that Irish harpy and her retinue have made their entrance here in Nikas and taken up their accustomed positions in proximity to my booth, and the knives are unsheathed, it is asked: where have I been? Ottawa, eh? Did you go skating on the Rideau? Why not? It being the only thing to do in Ottawa. The King's Speech? Any good? So-so? We thought so. Bloody Brits. Verily, the liberal pieties are skin-deep. Can hardly wait for that next economic götterdämmerung—Surely, there's a line from Rilke that's germane here, but damn me if I can recall one —I must confess it: I did turn on those two twittering old biddies in the end there in the movie thee-ater and hissed at them preemptively sort of, with a well-placed please, lest they really get carried away with the young Elizabeth's curls, hushing them, terrifying them—


February 25, 2011: I intimated in my last post that, currently, all roads are leading to Tripoli. I have said sillier things in my life by far; I do not in any way feel chastened as of this moment on account of some minor and possibly fatuous outburst on my part of legerdemain. I am, however, in something of a tizzy. MH dragged me to the movie house yesterday at noon, and it seemed to me as we were en route that we might as well be on camel-back; that there are certain periods in Montreal winters when it seems that sandstorms pass over the city, the streets begrimed and gritty and under one's skin, snow heaped in the little parks here and there, pigeons pecking away at sharp bits of gravel. Even in the pleasure palace where our cinematic experience was to be had, what with its tacky ambience of opulence on the cheap, it seemed we were traversing shifting dunes. The movie left me speechless, and I can assure you this is rare, this thing entitled 'Biutiful'. There is not much more I can say on the subject lest I spoil the movie for anyone who happens to be reading these words and who has plans to see it. Let us just say that I do not believe I have ever taken in a movie so deeply felt and yet, there is not a single iota of emotionalism in it, to it, around it anywhere, not in this solar system, at any rate. Afterwards MH and I got on the metro, exchanging self-conscious grins as we were still half speechless, we seemingly strangers in a strange land though it was only mid-afternoon Montreal before the commute, a great many faces wearing the aspect of the pleasantly pre-occupied, unless work or the classroom or the boyfriend had proved a drag. A bowl of soup then at Nikas that has the best of everything in town, so the running joke goes; and there we picked up Labrosse and continued on to 'bratwurst' for beers. Intense conversation bordering on tizzy—but why? Perhaps we were, the three of us, simply in the mood for thinking aloud, nothing less, nothing more. Conversation coalesced around the movie, of course, but then Libya, La Fontaine, old age, the Taliban, American fundamentalism, the tectonic shock of one culture on the rise and the other on the 'sink', the energy released as the one rubs against the other. We touched on corruption and its mucky, ankle-grabbing bogs. That is to say, corruption is just fine; it is one way among others to do business except in certain circumstances when it will tie one's hands and render one appallingly and sometimes tragically foolish, short-sighted. I ever so nonchalantly inserted the word 'karma' into the palaver and received the most quizzical of looks from my pair of interlocutors—"I can't believe it myself," I said, "it being a word I have disdained for nigh on four decades, a word (among so many others that have suffered a similar fate) that was trashed by wishful thinking only to be mugged in turn by reality—" I was losing them. We started in on the young, a convenient scapegoat for us (seeing as we are situated in our 60s), how robotic they appear; how tunelessly and wearily they seem to mouth what they think we want to hear while they pursue their own enthusiasms that seem nothing more than spiritual suicide, than waiting for the Godot-meister with every appearance of having committed to some X, Y or Z, at least in this part of the world. But enough. Shameless generalization. Clearly, I don't get out enough, and once out, I don't get sufficiently 'around'. Carbert was going to take me out to a blues bar where we would, no doubt, discuss Dostoyevski and Richard Ford. But the man is a husband and a father and has duties—Crumbs, I will have to make do with London Lunar—If I were more enamoured of the poetry of William Wordsworth I might find reason to discuss the deep disillusion that followed upon his initial enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and consider it a somewhat timely if wholly irrelevant discussion to recent events.


February 24, 2011: They are having decidedly too much fun in the kitchen of Nikas at the top of the day, the morning commute in progress. Eddie and Mike chortling in Albanian. Alexandra the waitress chews her gum reflectively, which is another way of saying that, for us poor buggers in our booths, it is better we do not know what the story is in that kitchen. Or, indeed: 'What would all our stage tragedies amount to if a literate insect could tell us of its (calamities)?' With these words Eric Ormsby, in his Fine Incisions, quotes Cioran the Romanian pessimist about whom London Lunar once warned me: "Read him at your own peril." I read him; it was a little light reading, the only author who ever caused me to come near jumping off a bridge being Doris Lessing, her relentless scenarios lacking light, breathable air. But back to Ormsby—He was on about La Fontaine the great French poet and 'animal fabulist'; how the man's verses testified to the fact that, in this world of ours, there are no happy endings and even less justice, or that justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It is pretty well the natural order. It would seem that so many of our social hypocrisies stem from the inordinate amount of energy we expend on pieties such as may spare us grim thoughts, let alone close and sustained examinations of our own natures. I'm all for escapism and easy-going farce. Paradise can only ever be artifice, as in : Once out of nature I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing, / But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enamelling—The words are Yeats's. But to say that life is nasty, brutal and short is no mandate to make of life something nasty, brutal and short. Armed bands of thugs in the streets is not a desirable state of muddling through. Might makes right is a world of jackasses on every corner. But even so it galls, this ideology that everyone is beautiful and unique when really, if we should care for one another at all we should care because we are all flawed goods, and in some way or another, physically or spiritually, wretches. Bullets are flying in Libya. Wretches claw at wretches. Martyrdom blooms. I can never watch The Misfits from beginning to end because, a creature of sentiment, I cannot handle the 'mustang-ing' scenes, as I had my own experience of those wild horses in the year from hell that was mine to live: Utah in my 15th year. And if Marilyn Monroe was, as reported, bratty and difficult throughout the filming of the flick, she was far from her usual role of sexy ditziness; she was beautiful, sometimes wise, fatally alive to the depth and breadth of pain in our lives; she was deeply cursed, no man she came across ever able to take her in stride, as one human being to another. It seemed they were all haunted for some reason other than what reasons the script provided - Monroe, Gable, Clift. (Old news to some you, sure, but sometimes, old news is new news.) Anyway, enter Irish harpy and retinue into Nikas, retinue consisting of mild-mannered husband and neutered son. To Irish harpy, tall, thin, bespectacled, everyone is a right effing Tantalus, and a part of her caustic being is due to the fact that, she, too, would like to abuse some guest-client relationship and get away with it, only she knows it is not in the cards, at least not for her, not for this turn of the wheel, at any rate; just that she cannot stand the fact that somewhere, someone is getting away with something, no question—All roads are leading to Tripoli—Enough—There will be nothing like deeply considered, focused thought, today, all of the above scribbled in haste—And now MH wants to drag me to the movie house for a noon viewing—


February 23, 2011: Cheap-shot satire was not going to cut it, even if cheap-shot satire has conquered all the networks, the skulls overfilling all available metaphysical space on this continent of those who have been laughed to death over the decades. But Colonel G was having himself a rave on Libyan state TV. How much carnage would the speech generate? The man was undeniably barkers, calling out the dogs, waxing death and destruction and nostalgia and overweening self-regard. Such a cocktail of mentality. Still, he was not even worthy of a stint in a Márquez fiction, Márquez a writer whose penchant for magic realism I do not trust. I had in mind also, just to show you I was getting near barkers myself, one of the worst of the bad movies ever made: Magnificent Obsession. From the 50s, it helped give the 50s a bad name to which the likes of a Kerouac were either a way out or a way in to something worse. It was a movie hamstrung by a most improbable plot. A musical score redolent with Chopin-esque piano and soughing angels. Poor Chopin. Poor cherubs. No point in remarking upon the acting. And what with this flick making the rounds again, the next Waco could only be just around the corner, more lethal cult. Once again I had need of 'bratwurst'. Once again I sidled there, one step ahead of cheap-shot satire. The place, hole-in-the-wall café frequented by Persians, was empty save for an old fellow sporting a trucker's cap the logo of which was some winged creature. Mazda? Ahura Mazda, Zoraster's god, one all good, unsullied by even a wisp of evil? In any case, he was now headed out the door, a look of some triumph on his face as if, what, all the forces of darkness had been routed and he could afford to go home and nap. I had, on an idle discovery mission, stumbled on the fact that the author of the book on which the movie Magnificent Obsession was based was a religious fellow, had preached in the midwest and California; and he had had a stretch of preaching in Montreal, St James, and it seemed too close for comfort, this; that is, if life and its butterfly effects and the synchronicitous and how things pan out are not in fact operations of the random. The words magnificent obsession should bespeak lovely things, a poetry of life at the very least, if you will cut me some slack and allow me a little spate of silliness as I tack toward philosophy—Or that in the hands of a poet like Cavafy a bit of irony might undercut the treacle inherent in life is a journey—Or, wherever there is Rome, Cleveland cannot be far away—The snow was receding somewhat from the terrasse outside. An epiphany of pigeon shit and whirligigs. Cigarette butts. The odd plastic utensil. My mug of beer arrived and I opened Frazer's Golden Bough at page 35 and read: Or the Ruthenian will make a flute out of a human leg-bone and play upon it— Apparently I have some Ruthenian in me from my mother's side of the gene pool branches of which simply seem to disappear in Latvia and Moldavia, or else my mother, in the telling of tales, was addicted to exoticism. I read further. And here, by way of paraphrase, I on purpose discombobulate a sentence, like so, preferring it to read: that the intention of ceremony is to mitigate against the fickleness of fortune. Which is why in some cultures newly-weds once sat out under the stars (perhaps they still do)so as to pay obeisance to the most constant of them. Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—Which it is Keats here referenced. I looked out the window and took in the building-complex across the street, one that houses the liquor store and bank and video outlet, and a Drunkin Donuts among other venues, and in the way one sometimes sees a thing for what it is, the building had not even the glory of the utilitarian; it was the barest excuse to squeeze a buck from rental space that I had even seen, though I have been seeing it for years, as when I used to weary my cabbie's eyes with endless mileage all strip mall. When did we first require fire for our food? Was that Promethean moment the beginning of the end of so-called eco-systems, as 'fire' slowly transmogrified into 'energy needs'? Is not democracy just simply a more polite way of getting palms greased?—Why are the tragedies (Greek) tragic? Ah, no wiggle room. No way to suddenly shift parameters as per capitalism and melodrama and gab one's way out of zero-sum. Improbable plot— Magnificent Obsession—Then yet another trucker - Mehdi - limped through the door and we talked a while; how I am a city boy, how he is not. 5 will get you 10 that if he were to park in my cabin out in the boonies for a year he would go nuts, despite the boxed sets of opera cd's on the cabin shelves. (I did not say as much to him, as he is a decent fellow, a lover of good music.) He was on his way to see a specialist for his leg after a month of getting the medical runaround. Well, it came to pass that we sat there silent, as neither of us suffers fools, though, for the sake of human society, I will play the fool just to keep a conversation going. For all that, I went home. And there parked on my computer screen was yet another essay with a Middleton-Cavafy theme. Or the poet as diaspora. Perhaps more on this later—


Truth to tell, in respect to the above, I have little to say for poets in a state of disapora, partly because I fear a stuffy lecture coming on, and who wants a stuffy lecture? So I will keep to the sense of the word diaspora as a movement of people brought about by duress. That I know a handful of Canadian poets who have elected to live and write outside of Canada as they are antipathic to Canadian literary culture in general and desire automony from it does not a diaspora describe. And within Canada the notion that certain poets may have at times gone 'rogue' strikes me as ludicrous, though it is not outside the realm of possibility, should we bring in the troops and start talking up and fixating on language, culture, gender, ethnicity, but only as an after-thought what one's attitudes toward grant-programs and jurying happen to be. At this particular moment I am in Nikas, its Albanian-Greekness incidental to NDG Waspness and French-speaking plumbers and pedagogues. The Romanian waitress is still not rich and famous, or so she regrets to say; she who, this morning, told me that everyone knows that Moldavians wanted their independence from Romania but now want to be known as Romanians—I am thinking that Colonel G has been and is a right bastard, but he is also one of Cavafy's wild cards in the sense that, as a barbarian, he has been a solution for the west, the west that is compromised by its dealings with the man. The foreign ministers of Britain and Italy et al may pretend that, for once, rhetoric and interests coincide, and what a little holiday it is from the drudgery of realpolitik though things can get really nasty yet and probably will. I suppose, after a fashion, rhetoric and interests have coincided, which may explain why I have been watching events unfold on TV while not incurring undue amounts of whiplash—


February 22, 2011: After P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, seemed to have coined a word in one of his recent offerings - 'boobeoisie' (see my links page, and when you have raised his site, scroll down to February 21 and Funny Thing); and whether or not this coinage on his part was an instance of playful abandon or an expression of contempt in respect to some portion of the American electorate, I sighed, and was suddenly in the mood for a cold beer on a chilly and bright winter afternoon in Montreal-NDG. (And no, the caps NDG do not stand in for No Damned Good; rather they bespeak a humble and unprepossessing Montreal district: Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, one short stretch of which - Monkland Avenue - does evince airs.) I took myself to 'bratwurst' just up the street, boobeoisie in my thoughts, an essay in my hand, one written by a friend and slated for the Chicago Review. To do with a poetics of the Levant, or so I gathered; of transformation; of the curious but unintentional parallels between T.S. Eliot's Wasteland, say, and certain pre-Islamic poems. Poems of descent, of ascent. A poetics a la Herman Melville of what sometimes in the transformative goes woefully wrong and one winds up spiritually gutted. I entered 'bratwurst' - hole-in-the-wall café - in a spirit perhaps not dissimilar to that of Enkidu about to trek down into the 'netherworld', chasing after an errant ball. I took a table, my back to the wall, and opposite me was a table of seven young males, Persians, ball caps set in reverse, all looking the rich man's version of ghetto fashion, their BMWs parked out front. The pop video on the overhead TV screen was going full-bore with gesticulating blondes and grinning studs. Jamal the proprietor, nonplussed, poured over some flyer in the hunt for bargains. A pragmatist. Soon enough I was licking beer froth and reading through the essay. A satisfyingly complete essay. It troubled me, however. It troubled me for its being a literary effort, and I have had it in mind that too much of the literary has stifled literature; and though this should put me in some kinship, as it did once upon a halcyon time before the Critique commandeered everything, with Beats and Black Mountaineers, it had, in fact, done nothing of the sort and so, to the extent that I have any literary heroes, they have been the likes of a Leopardi or a Baudelaire. (As I have been revisiting Cavafy of late, I add him to my roster of literary rogues.) In any case, the essay seemed to be looking for a way out of an impasse, and this was all to the good. I sat there, happily. I pretended to myself that as far as my own practice goes, I just write. I do not much think about it, about the whys and hows and wherefores. Leave the fancy thinking to those who get the big bucks for it, all those shadowing academe and such. Of course, it is a pretence on my part, and yet, the fact remains that in my 20s, I got fed up with 'poetics', lost patience, as it were, with what was all the rage in certain literary circles with which I had some familiarity; and I elected Mark Twain as my hero; he, so I imagined, just got on with it, writing what he thought he had to write, nothing less, nothing more. Since then the only poetics I take seriously is that of Christopher Middleton (mention of which you can peruse in my November postings), he about the only hombre I know (he is an octogenarian Brit who, long ago, chose to work and habitate in Austin, Texas) who has poeticized and mused and has not surrendered his wits in doing so. But how make something cohere again? By not dreaming up new excuse to fail? Seven Persian youths deep in testosterone and girlish giggles, regaling one another with accounts of the previous night's exploits—So I read, courtesy of the learned essay, of katabasis and fahkr, of poets trying to talk their poems into poetry, as I often find myself doing—I thoroughly relished the beer and looked out the window, past a flanking maneuver of hoohkas and enormous champagne flutes, and regarded the street. I speculated on 'boobeoisie', on a probable pronunciation of the word to which Mr Carpenter, on request, might supply a pronunciation guide. He, I think, was making a circumspect reference to events in Wisconsin while others have been breathlessly hailing the fact that 'the battle has at last been joined' presumably between progressives and Tea-Partyers, all this while the uprisings continue to spread in the Middle East, people being brave. But boobeoisie? Meaning what? Those susceptible to intimidation by hectoring? The Great Dumbed-Down? Some other chapter of a confederacy of dunces? I will make inquiries—


Note: Mr Carpenter declines responsibility for 'boobeoisie'. He informs me that it was originally Mencken's verbal currency. He means of course H L Mencken, the American journalist and cultural critic. The sharp-tongued one. The Sage of Baltimore. I now seem to recall having come across the word before many years ago in something Mencken wrote. Would I have had a clue?


February 20, 2011: A man of indeterminate age, shot through with hostility, dressed much too lightly for the chilly temperature, applied his hammer-headed cane to a discarded item of furniture on the street. He whacked it a good one. He proceeded into Nikas. This alarmed me, as I was right behind him, Nikas my destination, as well. Once inside the café, X struck a chummy note with the waitress who is not generally in the best of humours at the start of her morning shift, his bonhomie patently false, and she tolerated it with evident distaste. Soon enough, predictably, he was yelling at her and letting her know how slow she was in attending to his wants. She did get around to him, it must be said. So now there he was without an excuse to sound off. He saw fit to migrate my way at the rear where I was occupying my habitual booth. He saw me scribbling away at something or another, and then, chummily, asked, pray tell, on what it was I was at work on? 'Well, I am, in fact, working," I found myself responding with no undue hauteur that I could ascertain in my tone; just that any dolt should understand that, at that moment, I did not wish to be disturbed. "Ah," he said. It was an instance in which a single syllable angled just so could convey a great deal more than anyone might have thought possible; in particular there was the disdain of one for one like myself who was afflicted with an exaggerated sense of self-importance all out of keeping with one's literary worth. He, a worldly, much travelled fellow who has seen much of this malaise, has been forced to accept it as an incurable condition. In more ideal circumstances, I might have concurred. In a circumstance in which the possibilities of universal brotherhood were already shot to hell, I looked into his eyes - always a mistake, and I saw that X's mouth inhabited one world but the eyes were somewhere else, in an unattached dimension. They were concentrations of hatred pure and simple, and the hate was not fussy: any object or person would suffice to draw it out. Be that as it may, he moved on like some stymied agent provocateur, evincing a pro's appreciation of the fact that he was not going to get mileage out of me. At the immediate front of the restaurant he began scraping chairs across the parquet in an annoying fashion, and he did manage to burden the finely-tuned antennae of the waitress. But then it seems he decided he could be generous. Cavalierly he relented, and he approached the bar on which the cash-machine sits with the intention of settling his bill. By then other customers had arrived and the waitress was gathering their orders - to the exclusion of his express purpose. He cavilled. She resisted. She answered that he might wait his turn; other people were important, too. "Oh no," he said, "not so. One of these days you will realize that not everyone is important; that, in fact, a great many people are expendable." Well, one could not accuse the man of liberal piety. He did have a sense of how the world works in some instances. In any case, he left, the waitress suggesting to his back that it not bother to return, ever. Almost immediately I reproached myself - holdover liberal guilt? - for having missed my opportunity. I might have engaged X in conservation, and in so doing, spared an unsuspecting soul in another restaurant down the line the full fury of X's charms. You see, I was a cabbie for many years. Encountering people like X of all genders was routine, and often, I had only a split-second in which to assess the person and consider my own safety should I accept the fare. Last word on the subject: something in the man's eyes told me he was beyond loneliness. That is to say, any person he happened to encounter would be nothing more than a prop on one of his many stage-sets. He was about 28, I figured, bald; had the looks of one of those aggressive health-nut wannabe team-players, just that he smoked and lacked sufficient philosophy for whatever lot had befallen him. And now, for something a bit less harrowing— Miss J out in the vale (Eastern Townships) recently lent a copy of my Girls and Handsome Dogs to a friend of hers who duly reported back to her; how the verse had unaccountably transported him back to the 50s in the bohemian Montreal of his childhood. It was a world in which his Scots parents had linked up with struggling Polish artists in Hochelaga. Parties to which Irving Layton came. Louis Dudek. Europa. And so forth and so on. I had no idea my verse was capable of that much 'retro'. Then again, last night, as I caught by chance Rear Window on TV, and I have seen the movie plenty of times before, I found myself watching it with renewed pleasure, wondering why. That each of its frames might have been put together by Edward Hopper the painter, or so it seemed. By accident or design? As well, there is the initial entrance of Grace Kelly into the action as she comes upon a dozing James Stewart and the shadow of her face falls across his as she bends to kiss him in his chair. Seduction in tandem with the wit that ensued - very much the 50s, very much a lost art. Enough said. None of this has anything to do with Cavafy or the Napoleonic wars, or the playoff chances of les Canadiens, or something's happening in Wisconsin and still is, and it's spreading, but—


February 18, 2011: Labrosse was at the wine cow, last night, in Nikas, his Canadiens about to lose to the Oilers, his daughter having celebrated her 42nd birthday, the fact of which was giving him some pause for purely existential reasons. Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with 'Crow', his words to me these: "—Mais oui, the revolution came first, then the coup d'état. It was quite brutal, taking more life than the tsar had managed to take in the previous nine years. Later, when a sizeable portion of the populace was facing famine, Lenin said, fine, let them starve. Fewer petit bourgeoisie types hanging about, clogging up the system—" Words to this effect. And while I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy in Crow's paraphrasing of a book he happened to be reading, the conversation would not have come about in the first place had I not asked Crow for his view of things unfolding in Egypt. Something's going on in Wisconsin. Which is to say that a couple of billionaires, via the agency of the governorship, are attempting to eradicate collective bargaining from the face of the American earth. But back to Labrosse—He is, as I have written before in Ephemeris and other writings, a retired man of the business world, his specialty that of counselling failing business ventures; and on occasion advising the odd person here and there of political ambitions on how best present themselves to the unsuspecting hustings. He was also, more to the point, a devoted sidekick to MacFarlane, diminutive Brit-Scot now deceased who used to terrorize the neighbourhood with his cane and spontaneous irruptions into verse-declamations, his memory for verses both sublime and filthy prodigious - to the dismay of many an innocent diner-outer in Nikas and the 'bratwurst' terrasse. In any case, Labrosse was topping up my glass while getting on my case in respect to my web site. He considered it had a certain unique value that had yet to find its proper market niche. In order to achieve this El Dorado, this ne plus ultra of maximized possibility, I would have to put to myself certain questions and answer truthfully, questions like what am I about? what's the site about? what are my intentions? what do I want out of the exercise? and et cetera. Labrosse suspects that most artists and not a few poets are empty-headed when it comes to the real world and how it works and I had certainly not proved myself to be any exception to his general rule. I replied that well, I was not about selling toothpaste. He got playful, quite playful, indeed, countering with: "Why not?" I have roistered about with the devil on more than one mount here and there and survived, but this?—He went on to suggest that a few extra readers could not hurt; would not necessarily entail unwarranted inroads into my time and energy, so then, extra readers, one two three four what are we fighting for?—And, well, he was not about to wax ecstatic about the quality of my prose but that it was better than some to be had on the internet, so why, a la Lucy, present the football and then snatch it away? Still, in order to acquire a few extra readers I would have to allow what he called a 'mechanic' to upgrade my site and enhance its profile in the web world. Or else I would have to learn how to do this for myself. Already, I was getting spooked. E was on shift, making eyes of a sort; that is to say she wished to call our attention to the fact that she was doing quite well in her French studies, her voice burbling with pleasure as she considered her performance; just that, deep deep sigh, her grasp of the grammar still left something to be desired. Oh dear. Could she rectify the situation? Labrosse demanded to know. Rectify? Total mastery might do the trick. Well then, mastery, mastery. Mastify. A francophone's guffaw. At which point, Labrosse, once again applying leverage to the wine cow and his grasp of foreign affairs and the domestic scenes of two nation-states - the U.S. and Canada, not to mention Haiti, sloshed more wine into my glass, and my thoughts began to drift. As they drifted they encountered Divine Justice. To be sure, there is no such thing to encounter, at least, not in this space-time continuum, then again—There was always Abraham pleading cases with Yahweh on Moriah and in the plains of Mamre. And this yesterday, in a Cavafy poem (Athena's Vote) as translated by Rae Dalven in which it is suggested that sometimes things come to such a pass, human reason incapable of sorting things out, that the gods are forced to intervene. The matter at hand: Orestes on trial before the Areopagus, at stake blood justice (as in blood feud) as opposed to legal justice obtained through the deliberations of law. Athena the goddess did the civilized thing—Interested parties can read about it in Aeschylus's play The Eumenides. I took leave of Labrosse and E, returned home where MH was at a loss to understand why I would even bother troubling myself with the notion that I was in want of a few extra readers. But if I wished to truly sell toothpaste, then by all means—


February 17, 2011: I intended to expend a few words on Sir James G Frazer's The Golden Bough, the first few pages of which always put me in some sort of spiritual tizzy and my hairs stand on end, and I have no idea why; that business at Nemi and its surrounding woods of the ritual murder of priests, a practice from out of pre-history that seems to have obtained as late as Caligula's time. All my life I have had a thing about trees - and, well - mercifully, here I am spared following up on this bit about trees by the panicked intercession of Captain Kydde lest I do a I think I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a tree—Captain Kydde is a poet-critic I know, one mystically inclined toward yellow bow ties. He sidetracked me with a few remarks he made in a writing of his in regards to prosody, the American version of it in particular, how flatline so much of it has been, how unadorned, how grievously fallen short of inspiring and inspiriting. And to my surprise, as I do not object to lush poesy per se, to verbal acoustics and all the rest of it, I find myself having to say that some poets of my acquaintance, at any rate, whose instinct is to go spare and un-lushed derives from principle and not from any instance of lack of talent. Here I can picture Captain Kydde getting restive, trigger finger reaching for—even so I aim to get this tiny mutiny off my chest. In my late teens, my thinking on poetry, inasmuch as I was capable of thought, was heavily influenced by a man whose mentations on poetry and poetics owed much to Robert Graves. But whether or not Robert Graves had anything to do with the thinking that immediately follows - memory fails me - Murphy and I used to sit around a small town coffeehouse in Washington State after the public went home and the folkies had long since packed up their guitars and dragged the women off into their cave-like hearses parked out back (rating a drive-by look-see from the local gendarmes), and we would 'talk' poetry. Or rather I would listen, and I was told that poetry was divisible into roughly two camps of poets - the court poets and the 'wild men' on the fringes, the Esaus, perforce. Sure enough, as if by a new wrinkle in sympathetic magic at work over large distances, the Esaus started showing up at the coffeehouse, hailing from Idaho or San Francisco, as it happened, and debate ensued. Was Theodore Roethke just a performing monkey? Was Robert Duncan a god? The court poets got the worst of it, no matter how nobly Murphy persisted against that incoming tide in his defense of Graves; and in retrospect perhaps Graves's notion  of the 'white goddess' was what did him in, was what rendered him co-optable, as his theory as to poetry's ultimate well-spring suited not a few flakes, but anyway—The only aim, it seemed, with which court poets could justify their existences was artifice at the expense of truth. Well, poetry is inescapably artifice, and here I can see a weary grin breaking out across the sea-weathered mug of Captain Kydde as he has been many years at sea. Inescapably artifice. Imagine that. And there is in me a closet aesthete of a kind despite my barbarian pose, who nonetheless finds that Shakespeare's language means business for all that J & J Q Public may find it flowery and impenetrable, and ditto for Donne or the Earl of Rochester. For sheer verve of expression that has nothing purple in it, my nod goes to an inaugural passage or two at the beginning of Browning's The Ring and The Book which serve no other purpose, really (remove them and you would still have a poem, and quite a long one, at that, intact) than to enthuse about the physical world as he happens to find it at that very moment, to wit, a bookstall in Florence; yes, for no other reason than the sheer hell of it, never mind aesthetics, never mind moral imperatives. And while in my own practice I would be leery of piling on a poem a heap of non-essentials, those lines of Browning that the world is large enough (or used to be) to accommodate the bravura keep me honest and open to the possibilities. In any case, Captain Kydde, he wants to accentuate the positive, if by positive it is meant that oftentimes verbal acoustics make the poem just as some might might say (and they do say at the guitar shop down the street) that the reverbs make the blues riff—I'll get around to ceasing and desisting—blues riff—what next? As much as I am loathe to admit it, because I am committed to the pleasure principle, and I do write and read poetry for the pleasure it affords, I am a bit of a Puritan in regards to the thing; moreover, though I do not have anything like a robust faith in the notion that we are, willynilly, intrinsically moral creatures, I have not yet succeeded in my 63rd year in separating poetry as 'art' from poetry as a 'moral act' however futile. What most gives me pleasure in Shakespeare or Dante or Browning, for that matter, is not the rhyming as pleasing as it often proves, or the blank verse, or any of the Xs, Ys and Zs of prosodic strategies, but the compression of thought married to sound that, as a wedded whole, moves at the speed of light, no matter how leisurely paced the cadence. This is one thing a poem can effect that makes of prose a ham handed affair, at best. Then again, and after few years passed and I was in Canada, it struck me that the wild men of poesy that I knew were succumbing to indulgences peculiar to them that no Roethke would ever countenance, every line a doting gloss on something of Pound, for instance, or Olson, and it had all gotten pretty flaccid, and I was going to have to go my own way, however afflicted I was with apprehension, as I was hobnobbing with god-like sorts who in turn were used to hobnobbing with even godlier sorts—Otherwise I read this morning  that within a generation or two immortality shall have come to humankind - genetic engineering the culprit, and, think of it, all those arseholes one could never abide are going to live forever, forever sullying the horizons. Just ducky, that. —In antiquity, this sylvan landscape was the scene of a strange and recurring tragedy. On the northern shore of the lake, right under the precipitous cliffs on which the modern village of Nemi is perches, stood the sacred grove and sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of the Wood—From 'The Golden Bough' Chapter I, paragraph 2. I also had it in mind to toss off a few observations on the reading of history and where it has gotten me, and it seems I know less the more I read as to why individuals and collectives behave the way they do; and I am inclined to shout: "Perversity, you fools! It's perversity, pure and simple—" Or that the U.S. is in Afghanistan for no other reason that they do not happen to be, as of this moment, in, say, Libya. But then I suppose serious students of human affairs will not let me get away with this line of un-reason, and a swarm of yellow bow ties might be loosed to set upon me—


February 16, 2011: Every day is Ovid for me. And with these words I outclass myself in a cute outlay of verbiage. I will eventually explain what I intend to mean. But, crumbs, the roses in their giant champagne flutes of which I spoke recently (see the post below) are not roses at all but heart-shaped ornaments affixed to reeds of some kind, or so I was distressed to see on a following visit to 'bratwurst', a tiny café I frequent, a hole in the wall just up the street from my digs. Perhaps they were even brightly wrapped candies of some kind. I was going to ask Jamal the proprietor about them when Mehdi limped in, distracting me—(I'd been right there looking at them the day before, deliberately eyeballing the suckers, only that, in a brief span of time, recollection of the objects got transmogrified in short-term memory, and when the occasion arose to say what was stuffed in the glassware, my brain opted, as it were, for the next archaeological layer of debris that has accumulated in past years - hence flowers or 'roses', et cetera. And perhaps this explains my obsessive need to write—the need to shore up memory function—Ovidian? More like Homeric - in the way the mind actually works, his epics straddling near geologic time with 'stock' imagery)—But Mehdi—He was limping and in much pain because he had taken a bad fall on a set of stairs somewhere, thereby aggravating a previous injury. Apparently he has some sort of rod in his hip, something like that, and the fall had caused it to shift. For a month he has been getting a run around from the doctors fobbing him off with painkillers and such. But Tahrir Square, Egypt? Oh, he had been there, he said, but in Iran and so, he was playing his realist card. On the other hand, as his father was a composer in both Persian and western classical traditions (he was broken in the mullahs' jails), and, as music is Mehdi's great love, he directed me to more music that he believes I ought to absorb, and we sat there, he awkwardly, what with his hip, I grateful to him for his musicology as I wiped beer froth from my sodden moustache. Then I went home and caught up with a bit of incidental reading. And I read that we all of us ought to live more like artists. I caught myself mouthing off: "Give me a break." The proponent of the notion explained that art is not the special preserve of a 'special breed of people', and, think of the problems we could ameliorate thereby, think of the ecological savings. Well, but of course. On the other hand, only a person who was not really an artist would write up tomfool words like his, as if art will save the world, and art, most assuredly, will not. Art is not a crusade—But to complicate things just a tad here, Marius Kociejowski, interviewed by Evan Jones for PNR (PN Review, Manchester, UK), declared that since art has become a profession rather than an avocation, it has degenerated, hostage to 'celebrity' and 'entertainment'. So what is meant by living more like artists? What was that old William Carlos Williams tag? I've become the happy genius of my household—(The interview should be available to faithful readers of the PNR sometime between now and kingdom come.) Well, as the writer who set me off is a withering critic of American policies foreign and domestic, is a lover of opera and apparently a serious reader of poetry, I am prepared to forgive him his momentary lapse of judgment when it comes to what a life of living like an artist actually entails. Also, from what I can gather, he is poor and physically unwell, lives alone from hand to mouth, and is, from the looks of it, near heroic, more heroic than most 'artists'. In fact, he lives more like an artist than a great many artists I know (who frequently double as academics), he bohemian from necessity. He is not, I take it, Donald Rumsfeld's alter ego, one of the great architects of the fatal Bushian grip on the unsuspecting world. (Which superceded in its effects Agamemnon's whimsical grasping at Troy.) But most people I know do not have the luxury of wallowing in humiliation and failure such as 'art' will put you through if you have consciousness; and even if the realities of the global economy could spare them lives of wage-drudgery, let alone the perpetual stress of profit-maximization should they come at getting by by way of being 'business-persons' and lobbyists, they still would not be able to indulge the luxury, there not being sufficient time to spare from the daily orders of 'living' unless they were prepared to sacrifice everything for their 'art'. Because that is pretty much what is required. Now where was I? Every day is Ovid to me. I will leave it to you who Ovid was. Suffice it to say he was exiled from his cosy Rome to the barbaric extremes of some Black Sea shore (Tomis), to a life of privation which occasioned in him a deterioration of health and spirit, all of which his last poems reflect, including his piteous whining to Roman VIPs over the possibility of his reinstatement in Roman society, that they move the Caesars off their obdurate disregard of the poet. It is a safe assumption to make that the two Caesars in question - Augustus and Tiberius - probably cracked jokes to their retainers about Ovid, something to the effect that here, now Ovid was really going to know about 'art' and 'living' it, not to mention experiencing real longing, real yearning, not this amorist stuff he was writing of playing footsies with married wives under the banquet table. If he couldn't take a joke, having jibed at the powers that be all those years, well then, more's the pity—Years ago, in Vancouver, a Toronto correspondent of mine declared that we all us, artistically-inclined or not, live in a condition of exile. In the broadest possible sense, he spoke truly. However I might quibble with the statement in its particulars - in the sense of easy for him to say, he's got cushion—Ovid had been separated from what most mattered to him which, included, among other things - like his wife, his family, his friends - the idea of Rome as the centre of civilized living, not a negligible quantity to the aesthete and charming gadabout that he was, genteel prefiguring of Baudelaire. If I am not awash in conspicuous wealth, if to me all the world is Tomis, what with the cold winds that swirl about the outpost, I live happily enough and cannot complain, just that, as each day goes by, I sense, I detect, I feel, I know just a little bit more of what truly matters to a sentient, examined life not entirely bereft of the pleasures is disappearing through some crack or another in the fabric of existence, squeezed through it by the sentimentalities as well as the cruelties we can all dream up such as displace all that is inconvenient to the program of wholesale gentrification of the mind, not to come back, not ever—


February 15, 2011: Portland, Oregon takes me to task. Or rather an 'activist' who dwells there would have me confront this fact: I am 'quietist'. Yes, and now that I make mention of it, I can hear friends of mine in league with their private lives putting it to me: "Why do you trouble yourself with this disagreeable person?" I can hear the unpalatable responding in kind: "Why do you subject yourself to those denialists?" God only knows. Perhaps because of the flaws in my character there is one among them that takes Keats's notion of negative capability to ludicrous lengths. But the 'activist' - I will designate the entity as R - did declare a thing that accords well with me; as when, mayhaps, with a scented glove, he cuffed the snide cad of postmodernism about, perhaps to confuse me with a carrot after the stick. This will be to some of you very old news, but it has been pernicious, all that postmodernist stuff. It has been intellectual cowardice of a truly base sort. It abrogates responsibility for anything when - subject matter? How trop outré. Text, man, it's text. And so languidge has devoured language; and without language, as flawed a means as there is for talking about what it's all about, pussycat, we have had nothing but some strain of might makes right, and, if it signifies, pass the salt. Otherwise, mid-afternoon yesterday, I amused myself with a foray to 'bratwurst', a hole-in-the-wall half a block from my digs. Generally, five hookahs are parked on the window sill as well as two enormous champagne flutes stuffed with artificial roses. A pretty picture against the snow. The pop video featured an impossibly beautiful girl. I could only conclude she could not be real. There were in my mind (perhaps because I had just read page 124 of Patrick O'Brian's The Wine Dark Sea) the names of various currencies of the Napoleonic age kicking about: guineas, louis d'or, bezants, Portuguese Joes, ducats and the like - silver and gold; and they beat by way of suggestibility the prosaic euro; and there was, too, as adjunct, Browning's likening of gold to shit; the thing being, however, that every once in a while, the world at its most crassly materialist is sometimes inexpressibly poetic. Outside it was snowing, and 'snapping' after a thaw. I was thinking it does not take much - the force of poetry on prose - to prise prose from its rationalist mission, my little world of the moment, one sculpted by snow (the furniture on the terrasse so many snow dunes), a brief if intensely registered paradise. So sayeth the quietist, fresh from having been abjured by the latest incarnation of Pasternak's Strelnikov. R, if you're reading this, don't take it personal, though you're free to do so, if you wish. Just that everything's up in the air, and all bets are off, and your guess is as good as mine, except when it comes to the poetry of Mr Ginsburg, however community-minded he was and however 'wonderful' you think his output to be. He doesn't have a patch on Mandelstam. Otherwise, peace, brother.


February 14, 2011: And yesterday, Labrosse, ever the realist, said something to me in Nikas along the following lines: "Done? What have they done? They had a fine moment. They had quite a party. I was jealous of them, mais oui. But - done? All that remains to be seen." He was having a late breakfast, eating crepes. Heavy on the syrup. (Whereas Miss J out in the 'vale' - the boonies of the Townships, had spoken to me in quite an opposite vein, spoke of a seed planted, of germination that might go global. Heady stuff.) Me, I managed to speak of some sort of tectonic action, as when two masses, moving in opposite directions, still rub one against the other. America. Egypt. And where each their history is taking them. Whatever. For speaking is not the same as knowing. You see, I spoke, too, of Altman's Nashville as having been a prophetic movie. I followed these words up with a question in the form of a caveat: "But then, was there ever a prophetic flick as such?" Nashville was on my mind because P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, non-ideologue, arch-pragmatist, had written of the CPAC doings (go to my links page, click on his name) in what was for him ungentlemanly terms, suggesting that some of the participants were no less than brownshirts. Meanwhile, one of my London correspondents suggested that I did not know whereof I spoke; that Nashville, if a masterpiece, was not all that much of a masterpiece. It just wasn't that good. Ah, according to his memory. However he did walk down the street to his local thee-ater, paid his money down, had a go at True Grit that is getting all the reviews, and pronounced it tedious and full of itself, even if he is fond of Jeff Bridges. It is what I suspected: yet another instance of the overly-hyped. Be that as it may, London Correspondent then spoke favourably of his return to Frank O'Hara's poetry and its weird connection to pre-Islamic odes - you got me. How would I know what he's on about, his mind imitating nature, or that there are in it no straight lines. But still, and however dizzying the pace, we moved on to Beethoven's Last Quartets. Or that which, on T.S. Eliot's say so, is the sort of sublimity that ought to follow prolonged periods of immense tribulation. Which, in however bizarre and unseemly a fashion, ties this blurb-ette to its beginning, or Egypt.


February 12, 2011: Yesterday afternoon, I went to 'bratwurst' to see what, if anything, a few misplaced Persians might be thinking in regards to the events unfolding in Egypt, but there was no one around in the tiny café, a pop video going full-bore on the TV screen, Jamal reading a flyer of some sort, seemingly unaffected by 'history'. I ordered a beer, in any case, broke open Ormsby's Fine Incisions, and, at random, read of his pursuit of some elusive poet in Rabat who, I take it, was on the run from history by way of alcoholism. Even so, I did manage to scribble a few words in my pocket notebook, one of those Clairefontaine jobs of recycled paper, no doubt; and, as I scribbled, it did occur to me that perhaps I had no right to the words I was beginning to scribble - at first, as a couple of Alexandrine lines, then, the presumption worn off, as prose. As follows: In my mind, if nowhere else, the shadow of George W Bush has been shrunk somewhat by the events in Egypt, by the fact of the overthrow of an autocrat, for all that Bush rattled on about democracy and meant something else, for all that the western states will now patronize and nanny the new prodigy, and a prodigy it is; for all that shabby souls will ride herd on their envy and lie about their capacity for wisdom—Well, you get the idea. My little fit having run its course, I squirrelled the notebook away; I read some more Ormsby; I tongued the beer off my moustache; I ate peanuts. Watched people getting about in the snow, having a direct view of the traffic going in and out of liquor store across the street, as well as the bank and the video store and the donut outlet. Worried people unconcerned. Just another day in some pop song.


February 10, 2011: I argued and held forth, last evening, in the company of two minxes plus Labrosse, the latter entity comptroller of the wine cow. That is, until E took over and produced from her rucksack another cow and was mischievous with it, she in combative form, she asseverating that she was entirely mindful of what was afoot in Egypt. A, I suppose, was in a somewhat more humble frame of mind, and no, she did not need back her copy of Donne's poesy which would only sit on her shelf, anyway, and look silly, collecting dust. And just who is this Labrosse? Well, I do not always rightly know. Hard to say, at times, he one of those semi-retired gents, poker-faced, cards held close to the chest sort of hombres whose views regarding Egypt boil down to the fact that the opposition is good at knowing what they do not want, but as for knowing what they want - different story. He was also worried that hostile economic players from beyond our borders were putting the squeeze on nativist financial enterprises, and et cetera. So then, Egypt, Virgil and les Canadiens were fodder for converse, a wild and quite a wooly game of hockey transpiring on the TV screen in Nikas, and Labrosse saying that, well, he has been exceedingly patient, but that the goalie should come out and indulge fisticuffs - it was getting to be a bit much. A sacred institution marred. A, I think, loved it - for reasons that would be impolite of me to broach. E was waving her arms about, on a roll of some kind, I just can't remember which roll and for which reasons. Perhaps it was the table on the other side of the restaurant, a party of ten having at a Tantalid repast, the matriarch of which was enormously huge, the patriarch no beanpole who was mild and dutiful and probably utterly mercenary and cut-throat in his business-dealings. Nikas, if I have not said so before, is a semi-mythical, faux Greek eatery owned and operated by Greek-Albanians or Albanian-Greeks one of whom is conversant with the novels of Kadare (I am not, I am ashamed to say) and who, on a whim, as it is not on the menu, served up some grilled zucchini for Labrosse's delectation, to go along with the spuds and sole. I like a restaurant that now and then breaks the mold. Anyway, there we were in our Montreal-NDG purgatory. And we could not decide if that aforementioned party of ten were American vigilantes or if it, as a party, hailed from the south of Ontario, just that it was flashy with the trash talk and was akin to the vulgarly rich and vulgarly metaphysical of a host of outstanding novels of the past three centuries, as when all of existence is reducible to a Tim Horton's donut, whether or no said item is life-sustaining, let alone edible. As I write these words I am informed that a certain correspondent of mine has been invited to participate in a poetry reading in Basra, Iraq, and should he go?. Are you sure it isn't Basra, Ohio? Or so I jested. Am I not ever the cheek? He should go, I figure, and a few of us here and there of a spotty literary map shall, in the meanwhile, honour and preserve his memory in some fashion or another.


February 9, 2011: In the HBO Rome series a conversation ensues between Cicero and Brutus shortly after Julius Caesar is granted his dictatorial spurs. In this exchange it is noted with rue that neither man - Cicero and Brutus - can be said to be conducting life with honour, that honour going to Cato, for instance, inasmuch as the hapless goof took his life rather than knuckle under to the 'tyrant'. That a conversation along these lines might actually have taken place strikes me as highly probable. Moreover, there is something of Hamlet in all persons of a reflective nature who, nonetheless, commit themselves to 'action' and who then get tangled up in their motives and machinations, not to mention their feet; in other words, there is ample occasion for rue. Another conversation occurs later in the series that is perhaps less likely to have ensued; and we have Brutus and J Caesar playing at a board game. It gets a little testy when, between moves, Caesar offers Brutus the governorship of Macedonia, and Brutus rightly perceives that he is being removed from the scene as a political rival to Caesar, and Brutus, somewhat wroth, suggests to Caesar that if Caesar is no tyrant he has nothing to fear from Brutus, a dear, dear friend. Caesar, despite his sophistication and judgment and ability to size up a person, fails to see the agonizing Hamlet in his moody pal (whose anger partly stems from a guilty conscience and partly from republican idealism) and irked, dismisses Brutus, no doubt thinking what a petulant ass he has gotten to be. And finally, and my memory is hazy on this (and I refuse to go to 'google' every second of my life when knowledge is in abeyance) - but in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar I believe there is a Brutus-soliloquy in which he, now that he recognizes that Caesar really does have monarchial designs, attempts to rationalize an attempt on Caesar's life, characterizing the man as a 'serpent's egg', a tyrant in the making. Time to pre-empt. Let's get him now. There is a point of view which has it that we are all of us such, always something dubious and always in the making. I have all this on my mind in light of events transpiring in Egypt. I do not know the true nature of the people in Tahrir Square. I can certainly claim no knowledge when it comes to what is actually happening and why, and I am at the mercy of the TV screen. A couple of remarks by persons I know have been made to me along these lines, that 1, who would want to be a leader of that crowd, given how complicated the game is and how high the stakes, and 2, the farther east one goes the more complex reality is. Generalities, perhaps, but with some bearing on the situation? Do we not recognize however when we are being shown up? So then, are we not grateful that things, after all is said and done, are fairly cosy in our neck of the woods, and we are not chafing under anyone's thumb; are not going to rot in some regimen whereby fewer and fewer people benefit for all that those fewer people are benefiting all the more, and so outrageously? Way back when, when friends and acquaintances of mine would go on endlessly about Nicaragua, exasperated I would tell them to grab a rifle and get on down there and put their money where their mouths were. Well, had I become enamoured of Ronald Reagan? In point of fact, I had not. But at this moment in time I happen to be irritating a few friends with the same sort of thing as used to irritate me and so, life is strange, and you just never know. I will not expropriate 'Egypt' for my 'redemption', just that I find it difficult to ignore that something big is happening there; and if the words 'success' or 'failure' will not really signify in the real world, especially one that still bears the shadowy thumbprint of the likes of a Kissinger, some outcome, whatever it turns out to be, will prove deeply consequential to the world at large. Now is Canlit corrupt? (Finally, the curve ball I threw up begins to bite.) Canlit corrupt? Nah. Can't be. Come on, Sibum, smarten up. Baseball's corrupt, too, but we love the game, anyhow. Or else something on the order of 5000 poets - or however many rhymesters there are in this nation-state, including myself - are compromised and lack honour, even if 'honour' as such is one of those words that the geist of recent decades has trashed, as honour is plumage of right wing dictators, a discredit in anyone's behaviour. Of course it is true, ineluctably true that the condition of political and social and economic life is such that considerations of what is corrupt and what is honour and what are the XYZs of protocol between oneself and an oligarchic arrangement are never clear-cut, that is, not until one begins to rock the boat, one's aptitude for truth-telling, for clearing the air, dependent on one's relationship to a client-system and its catalogue of perks. Military-industrial complex, anyone? Who is paying the piper so as to call the tune? To be sure, I only demonstrate here how disconnected I am from reality; that Canlit, for instance, as a kind of corporate entity, is not corrupt; it is only something that muddles along like any other entity in life; and when one of its bureaucrats claims that we're doing our best et cetera, the words are not, in any untoward sense, untruthful. Much of trafficking with any socio-cultural-political-economic tutti frutti nexus is pretty well a feckless business - speaking of complicity. Which brings us to a further consideration - whether little lies are different in essence from big lies, it being understood that big lies tend to a greater lethality and body-count. In any case, as I keep saying, but only when asked - and I am rarely asked, the writing of bad poetry is not a crime; it is, in fact, to be applauded in the sense that it is generally the product of someone attempting to write a good poem, a someone who might eventually pull it off. It's the faux stuff that gets me, that false tinny ring of a false culture with its hand held out for the high-fives and—enough. I have had my fun here, my day's worth of fooling around. A serious book by a serious writer has just arrived courtesy of the postman who always rings twice. A book of Eric Ormsby essays. It looks at first blush formidable. Fine Incisions. Essays on Poetry and Place. The Porcupine's Quill.


February 7, 2011: "History makes fools of us all." If I could tell you who first dreamed those words up, I would. I believe they are intended to mean we can never be sure how things will turn out, predicting the future a mug's game. I would refer you to Tacitus who in turn would tell you that one need not even bother with entrails and crystal balls; when it comes to living history (or not living it) one is a fool, willynilly, no matter how gifted one is with insight; no matter how cursed with clarity into the meaning of events one just happens to be. I suppose that for every 100 FoggyBottom-ites there are running about doing cheap imitations of Rumsfeld (who has now written his meemwars), and, hennypenny, the sky is falling, there has to be one single soul who saw Mubarak's endgame coming all along. I have been distracted of late from my 'postings' by the writing of a long poem that refuses to cohere; just that in the meantime my conviction has been intensifying that the people in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, will be sold out in due course. It is not carved in stone that such an outcome will transpire but oil and Israel make for a hell of a lot of carving. And then shabby theatre, third-rate mummery continue in me as I play a game of weighing in the balance the utterances of a Mr Carpenter and a Mr Hedges, two Prominent Political Commentators of the American scene; the one arguing for pragmatism, pragmatism over and against the folly of the ideological be it right or left of centre; the latter savant strongly suggesting that the jig is up; that the language of power (of which pragmatism has a part) has only one aim - to keep one distracted and productive; and this language has been trending hard in the U.S. of A. from what was once a soft but pleasing texture, one to the effect that the 'empire' floats all boats to a common good. Written hastily. More later.


Continuing: A correspondent of mine in Toronto the Good, and he lives a good life there, wrote me yesterday. I loosely paraphrase: that we have to come to terms with the fact that we are ruled by oligarchies of one sort or another, always have been; and we may as well figure out what constitutes an arrangement most acceptable to us. Presumably this exercise would not entail taking arrangements so far that we saddle ourselves with a police state in this time of surveillance states. When Bush Jr was foisted on us in what seems another lifetime, it was perhaps not quite the same iniquity as Mubarak hoping to foist his fils on Egypt and so, keep the country in the family firm; but in essence it is certainly the same species of chicanery. Egyptians rioted, or a goodly number of them have. Americans did not riot back in the year 2000, perhaps because they are better behaved or dead to life or otherwise besotted. Now, closer to home, when Mr Solway, Montrealer, a poet of quite some notoriety, goes on about Sarah Palin in a piece of his, and enlists Schopenhauer in doing so, he can say what he likes about Sarah Palin and how she keeps getting the short end of the stick and deserves better, but please to leave Schopenhauer out of it; as the man is one of the few heroes I have, so much so I relentlessly tease him in what remains of my intellects, what with his Kantian punctiliousness and his weakness for sausages and beer; in other words I will not have him abused by anyone but me. And finally, ah yes (as a beer at 'bratwurst' beckons for me in an hour and fifteen minute's time), the one thought of the thoughts that keep circling a quarry in my head like so many peckish wolves - that once the language of power is unmasked for what it is, an imperative, no ifs ands or buts about it, the whole cycle just starts up again after something like an hiatus probably come at a high price in which it is hoped that the universality of human rights will obtain. It is rather like that old and now defunct metaphor of the wheel of life and death. (Literariness and a lot of science blasted it to smithereens.) The endless revolving of the wheel with always the same, immutable consequence. Then there was Christ and the so-called Christian promise which was to break up the monotony. Then, as per a Walla Walla poet of my acquaintance, there is strictly the zoological, never mind quaint metaphors, in which humankind is just one weed among other weeds. Well, so be it. I am not even sure that the 'language of power' is anything more than a theory language-fetishists have dreamed up, however real the fist of the state when it wants to throw its weight around. Power. Pushback. Dissolution. Death. Born again. Words. Notions. They stir a pot.


February 3, 2011: The cynic in me is transcendent. It leapfrogs in exuberant bounds all the constraints, all the decencies, as when it might be asked: "What qualifies it to speak on the matter?" The cynic in me requires no press card, no press clearance, and it certainly has no need of a degree in situational ethics. Just that they will be sold out - in due course, those anti-Mubarak souls in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. That the vested interests arrayed against them are, well, too vested; too large, too compelling, too big to be let to fail. The evolutionists say we are wired to keep to the paths of least resistance; the poet rejoins that we are perverse, and perverse, messy; and we are creatures in whom more than one system of logic at any given time compete one against the other, looking for ascendancy in some kind of blind panic that masquerades as considered behaviour and so, the 'protestors' will honour their futility even if only for the hell of it; the regime will push back as, indeed, it already has in insidious fashion; and other agents, other interests will endeavour to steer developments to their own ends. Who is Mr O, Current President? Has he in him nostalgia for the revolutionary firebrands of the American past, hence sympathy for the crowds who are chanting "Enough!" Is he a wary-eyed keeper of the status quo? Is he an opportunist positioning himself so as to catch a proper breeze. Is he an inept, vainglorious fool spilling his wind while the other actors in a cascade of scenarios trip the light fantastic around his best moves? That I cannot say one way or the other perhaps indicates I am not yet completely lost to cynicism. As of this morning, and for the time being, it looks like the 'pro-democracy' people, whatever pro-democracy actually means, have held their ground, after all, even in the face of bullets and homemade bombs. They may even have managed to win themselves some concessions, so to speak, but fundamental change? What was it I read somewhere? You are a western nation-state - you have political prisoners or terrorists on your hands - you want answers from them - you pack them off to Jordan. For more emphatic handling, Syria. To disappear them, Egypt. That's pretty fundamental. Wrote Miss J the other day regarding Cairo, in words verging on purple prose: 'seething, roiling magma of discontent.' Some CNN operative might have envied her those words. Another correspondent of mine wrote: 'geography is the biggest obstacle to change'. Was he talking the Camp David Accords? All through the evening and into the early hours I watched as it seemed the people in Tahrir Square, under siege, were going to be pinched off and starved of necessary oxygen by the pro-regime faction or thugs-for-a day there where tributary streets debouch into the square. I then succumbed to sleep. I woke, expecting the worst. The worst does not seem to have yet come to pass. I am somewhat at a loss to explain the thinking of people I know closer to home who see nothing momentous transpiring over there; who are nonplussed by the doings in Cairo. History? A word gotten too fat, overloaded with trumped up significance. People? How about counters in a board game? How about penny ante? That there is no history as such unless it resides in the score, i.e. in a little matter of who wins. And so forth and so on. In the meantime a pair of literary thugs I know have been writing me thuggishly. What to do about that 'dark-future-kind-of-feeling' they inquire? Jeepers, creepers, why is the question being put to me, my view of things bleak, so much so, I am outdone in this arena only by specialists? The positer of the question takes on his own question: to make a case for what's truly worthy. I am unable to say if this answer answers. So then, as I often do, I appeal to pages randomly selected in a book. I read : Darke texts needs notes. Or: Why brook'st thou, ignorant horse, subjection? Because, as Donne seemed to intimate, as the 'prodigal elements' supply us with food and life, we become the celebrities of our own reality—Our drama trumps every other. There is no other way it is ever going to be unless we wish to volunteer away our consciousness in exchange for some drugged oblivion and we just wander about, slouched and kind of nomadic. Not post-apocalyptic so much as petty spawn, inheritors of a million and a half years of drift. When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go? / Straight down the Mississippi river, to the Gulf Of Mexico—


February 2, 2011: "Quartets! What joy! That is living in the very heart of music." The sentence just quoted, from Patrick O'Brian's The Wine Dark Sea, stripped here of context but spoken by a prisoner on board a privateer in Napoleonic times, can have little meaning to anyone; even so I like the preposterous, damn near Victorian, upbeat bravado inherent in the words that seems to sit so oddly athwart our current-day sensibility, one that is some immeasurable measure of mindlessness coupled with the inexhaustible sentimentalism of corporate advertising. (The prisoner was remarking on the cello-violin duets of the ship's captain and medico, and how there just might be enough talent on the ship to support a foursome.) Things seem to be turning nasty in Egypt. Last evening, I was in the fine company of two literary thugs and a karaoke diva in Nikas, one way-station of the soul among others in purgatorial Montreal-NDG. The one thug had presented me with the revised draft of an initial catastrophe - a poem, that is, and I was pleased to tell him that the poem was vastly improved. The other thug was off to Cuba soon where he intends to 'make notes' with a view toward ascertaining, the horrors of Castro's jails notwithstanding, whether there is something to be said for life in Cuba. Labrosse at table then gave us all a bit of a look, which is to say he has been one of those savvy businessmen of the world, and he adjudged us now as muddled and dreamy-eyed for even thinking that true happiness might be obtained in that wreck of an island state, one fit only for decadent tourists. Had we not learned, paid any attention to what history has unfolded before our eyes over our lifetimes? Ebullient pessimist that I am, I did not much care about being cast just then as an idiot; I could spiritually afford it for an evening, at any rate, and besides there is such a thing as a long view, American capitalists not only dying of stress but enslaved by the remedies to the malaise. Worse perhaps in the eyes of Labrosse was the discussion we were also having of the ancient world and its belief in the after-life, and how in various cultures, among Aztecs especially, it led to willing sacrificial human victims in the placating of the gods. Was he going to have to listen to this stuff? Pleading old age, he would take himself off to his lair where he keeps to some cenobitic routine reading Le Devoir and biographies of Canadian political personalities as well as weighty books by the likes of a Robert Fisk, for instance, on the Middle East. Earlier in the evening, Labrosse seemed to be thinking that there was not anything especially unusual transpiring in Egypt, and this avowal of his had threatened to set us on course to a right spat. He trudged off into the snow, looking a little like he had the weight of the world on him, and what remained of our little band of brothers and one sister repaired to her nearby flat, whereupon two of our number began whumping and thumping somewhat sketchy, impromptu blues on the guitars she has lying around. I even managed a tutorial in the arcane mysteries of fingerpicking for a thug getting more civilized by the minute. There followed verse recitations from the works of John Donne and Johnny Wilmot that also just happened to be lying around. Donne: Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear, / That the eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. / Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime / Tells me from you that now 'tis your bed time. Et cetera, then: License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below. / O my America! my new-found-land, / My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned, / My mine of precious stones, my empery—And from Wilmont: With arms, legs, lips close clinging to embrace, / She clips me to her breast, and sucks me to her face—It is this Johnny Wilmont, 'the Earl of Rochester' who observed that the poet who endeavours to please everyone will 'fall'. (In what is perhaps the only intelligent portrayal of a poet ever submitted to cinema, Johnny Depp played Wilmot in The Libertine.) And what chance, by the way, did a literary thug have against his or her more polite and respectable peers in what is touted as an art's community? Not much unless you will endeavour to observe the pertinent proprieties such as flatters their industry. Said a thug: "One can't concern oneself with what anyone thinks of one's work. Period." "Too true," I answered, 'but one isn't isn't always equal to the task of self-critique; a trustworthy source of disinterested opinion is always to be welcomed." Well, whatever. In the morning I was greeted with these thuggish words on my computer screen:


As always, a fine evening spent in stimulating discussion. I must say, though, I always come away from our lamentations about the terminally dire state of Canlit with a sense of sobering hopelessness, a staring-down-a-dark-future kind of feeling. Norm's comment about being yoked to our own egos and the inevitable lifelong suffering it induces has been in my thoughts since we parted. I really want to believe that the satisfaction of committing one's life to one's work, the sense of integrity born therein, can ultimately tame the habit of coveting respect and admiration. But I'm skeptical, given the evidence of 2500+ years of literature written on the topic.

Until next time—

So yes, the beat goes on. And yes, as of this moment, nasty in Egypt, to go by what is on TV.




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