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Ephemeris  March 2011

 

 

March 30-31, 2011: Thinking it a friendly gesture, I sent along  the Bow-wow Shop web site to a Toronto correspondent of mine. I was mistaken. He found this on-line literary rag 'so Brit, so so arch'. Alright, I have the paraphrasing out by a syllable, but I have the sense accurate to the nth degree—In any case, I have been often enough times stuck in the middle of these trans-Atlantic spats that I hardly find it worth remarking on, but there it is - I have remarked. (A rejoinder, no doubt, is in the offing, GMT time.) Though I myself am not strictly neutral, and though I suffer from no colonialist funk, I am somewhat divided in my predilections, let alone loyalties. It is perhaps what is left of the yankee-doodle in me. I do detest what is twee as it sets my teeth to grinding, and yet, when it comes to numbers, more numbers of Brits take me seriously as a poet than do Canadians. To whom am I to accord then the distinction of a greater savvy? And I do bristle at being condescended upon, and God knows, the Brits, apart from Parisians, do it best (though I am told the Chinese are no slouches in this regard), but I have met with a great deal more condescension in this supposedly egalitarian nation-state than I have ever come across anywhere else, so many earnest Canadians having long since aced what makes for awesome and stellar. So, you know, I just kind of do the math. Now, apropos of the above, there is an interesting bit of commentary on 'prize-culture' to be had here: Dooney's Cafe. (Top of the home page. I recommend it to young poets and critics north of the 49th - who may be unsure of their ethical cum literary moorings - as an important document when it comes to things Canadian. The old men and women of letters - well - perhaps the old figure they have nothing left to lose and may well not bother—) The writer, if I read him right, and I will be the first to know if I fail in this regard, has his reasons and wherefores as to why the national literature is on the verge of cultural suicide. But what if Chapters has nothing to do with it; what if the American media does not signify, so then, hell's bells, what about failure of nerve? What about the kind of timidity and provincialism that continually seeks out the alleged cutting-edge in search of cover rather than challenge? Yes, it is too nice an afternoon to carry on like this—Outside 'bratwurst', two-thirty in the afternoon, that is a spring sun in the sky getting around to the west. Which it will set over what used to be called Benny's Farm, or so I have understood over the years from various longtime NDGers. That sun is evident on account of the women in the street, what with their tilted faces, a fine legginess in their steps—The guitar in Jamal's speakers is distinctly flamenco-flavoured, and this a Persian place where now and then personages order brain on sandwich rolls. Cow brains, I expect, but I have been too faint of heart to ask. I was once taken with Huysmans the French novelist, his À rebours, about whom Eric Ormsby writes in Fine Incisions, Porcupine's Quill. Why Huysmans? Because to speak of a pessimist and acerbic wit who, in the due course of time, under duress of disease and age, ellipsed from Schopenhauer to the church, reaching in some sort of fashion for God, is damn near a revolutionary act - in this nation-state it can get you quarantined, as what you are claiming is that the reach is a legitimate expression of heart, mind, body, soul—And here comes an evilly-grinning skater of interdiction to board you hard into the boards. So yes, I watch the NCAA basketball tourney, inspecting young faces for signs that the coaching staff is promulgating muggings and worse on young souls. I watch hockey and relive the time I have spent in Canadian legion halls, knocking snooker balls around on smoky green cloth and know that spiritual niche whereby the Americans or the Brits have not the proper wherewithal but Albertans do and the odd cowgirl from Saskatoon—I watch AC Roma and know something else, reminded of how my father used to tear through the potato fields, Germany, in the Chevy, looking for the commaderie and the beer he always seemed to need, that he also got when he was in Brooklyn, Ebbets Field before the war—Complicated geography is what I've got. Lords of the harp, my songs, / Of what God, of what Hero, / Of what Man shall our music be? / Pisa belongs to Zeus, the Olympian feast / Herakles founded, the loot of war, / But of Theron let your voices ring, / For his victorious four-in-hand. / He is courteous and kind to guests, / the bulwark of Akragas; / In him his famous fathers / Flower, and the city stands—from Pindar's Olympian II, the Bowra translation, for Theron of Akragas, winner of the chariot-race—

***

As alluded to above I am forever stuck in the middle of quarrels, not because I am combative by nature (though I can be most combative when cornered), but because my sunny disposition is forever being gamed, and because I am always forgetting the simple fact that one's friends may very well, if brought together, loathe one another, and without reservation. And so, I am instructed, courtesy of a Brit- his Little Oxford Dictionary (Clarendon Press, 1930) having been consulted - that 'arch' signifies 'roguish', 'saucy', and the Bow-wow Shop on-line literary rag has renewed reason to be. So much so that this Brit, had he the wherewithal, would ship to Toronto a jeroboam of champagne in honour of a Torontonian's perspicacity in respect to literary matters anywhere. Myself, I may believe in capital L literature, but as for the rest of it, I can take it or leave it, depending on which side of the bed I emerge from in the morning, ready, willing and able.  (The Brit however does object to being characterized as 'Brit' as he is strictly a Yorkshireman)—Well, Ephemeris is a gossip vehicle slung low to the ground and so, I best get at it toute de suite— And I understand that Tara M at Biblioasis is on the warpath again, dreaming up questions, putting them to startled poets, questions like is there anything in your own poetry that you try to eradicate? It is not a bad question, as interview questions go. It is a good question, in fact, however much the imp in me is given pause: 'eradicate' conjures pestilence of one sort or another. And yet, by way of questions, something seems missing, and I cannot put my finger on what—What's a poet? How does that entitlement work again by which poets get to have their brains picked like this whereas mechanics and waitresses must make do with more prosaic issues - your drive-chain's f—ked - it's not on the menu. Presidents? They're saddled with Secret Signing Orders—Now Captain Kydde has gotten wind of Tara M, and she best be on her toes, that is, watch out, as that most acute of all his sensory apparatuses - his toes - are getting restive, he polymorphous perverse. My instinct is to keep this young woman a trade secret, she too good to waste on a mere matter of CanLit, but I am afraid it is an argument I am going to lose—Last evening in Nikas, a middle-aged couple, regulars, were at table. They often are - breakfast, lunch, dinner, you name it. She always reads aloud to her prince consort who is blind, who will sit there rocking back and forth as she reads - usually texts from the national literature. Trouble is, she reads with such a relentless monotone that it is always a wonder to me that the books do not just curl up and die, like any sensible book would had it sentience. Or how is it that the blind man has yet to erupt into paroxysms of rage from years of this sort of treatment? I would. The only explanation for it is that he is able to detect in the quality of her voice exotic wave-patterns that the dullish likes of me cannot detect. Or else, it is love, steadfast devotion. Or sheer madness. Her hair sports a new sheen - bright penny red - and my question is, can he see it? Or does he need to, his hair, as ever, cut for barracks life? Pillow talk? At the end of the reading session which can go on for an hour or two and even more, she rose to settle up the bill. He, with his stick, sidled over to the table at which Labrosse and I were sitting, hockey game in progress, Montreal going down for the count. He observed, and quite categorically at that, that the players do not like their coach, and that they are too small, besides, to play entirely in a defensive mode—Someone ought to hire this man - in time for the play-offs. Then E swung by as she had threatened to, having been downtown buying eye kohl, as she put it. Almost immediately she was on about 'felted ambiance'. What means this word 'felted'? Is there such a word? At which point Dave the trucker, AA man, sauntering over, crashed the party and consulted the electronic gizmo in his hand. Google was ambiguous in respect to 'felted', and what it coughed up were links to casinos, it seems, poker tables, craps tables, et cetera. But that 'felted' might connote whorehouses of a certain era - New Orleans, say. Parisian salons in which all the Debussys of the world plinked on the ivories. There was some other telling example, one mirth-inducing, in fact, but damn me, it has slipped my mind. At which point Dave, pressing his suit in respect to E, who was bearing up under this assault with her customary good cheer and charity, declared that he had had the recent honour and privilege of scarfing down the world's worst hamburger steak. Similes were spewed. Cow patty and the like—Shoe leather—The offending town - Joyceville, or so I seem to recall. But why? Why was the steak so horrendous? Was his hard-won sobriety to be consumed by this mystery? Faute de mieuxPindar's guiding and central theme is the part of experience in which human beings are exalted or illumined by a divine force—from Bowra's introduction to Pindar's The Odes. Furthermore, and also from the introduction, (Pindar) has few words of praise for other poets and sees himself as supremely endowed by nature and training for his special task—What a guy. Is GH's a similar arrogance? Well, why not. The west is sinking, getting gangrenous—At some point in the proceedings (and A had trundled in, her mood a rueful one, though I could not establish what it was she was ruing - her life, perhaps) I fell into a funk, one deep enough that neither A or E or Labrosse were of any help, Labrosse in possession of enough sense that he retired from the fray early - early for him. For all the spinny-ness of which our brains are capable, a few basic ideas govern each of us beyond matters of immediate survival, to wit: E wants to be bad for all that points of French and Latin grammar tend to dominate her intellectual exertions. A wants attention, the more physical the better as she is emotional and demonstrative. Labrosse? He is a sphinx. And myself? What did I expect? You leave one country, go to another, and somehow you rate the Order of Canada or some other dispensation? Torontonians are always circling the wagons—Literature is so zero-sum— And yet I have been charged with checking out a book entitled Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. ????? Syria may blow. Bob's yer uncle— I do hate all these quarrels—For some personages the task of civilization is a grim undertaking—

 

March 30, 2011: "Human stupidity is incurable." Thus spaketh London Lunar. And who am I to gainsay the natural authority at large in this remark? I treat it like I would any rattler - with a very long stick. We inaugurated terrasse season, last night, Labrosse, A, E and yours truly. The temperature most likely was sitting at 0 Celsius at roughly the eleven o'clock hour, Jamal having locked up 'bratwurst' and gone home with his 'beautiful bottle'. But the evening began earlier - in Nikas, Labrosse fairly talkative in between lengthy spates of eyeing the hockey action on the TV screen perched above our heads. He was on about globalization, he with his business class humanism. Well, the dream has died, has it not? The righting of the situation, however, will have to start in the States. The workers there will finally get around to pushing back so as to reclaim some of those lost jobs that have gone AWOL. This will force the one per centers into a grudging concession or two which, in turn, will allow government to recoup territory lost to corporatism. It'll happen, we'll see. And, pièce de résistance, Labrosse quote: "And maybe someone will burn down the Chicago School of Economics." Good golly, Miss Molly, someone's petticoats are showing - showing somewhat pink. In the meantime, as advertised, Atlanta was at Montreal, les Canadiens having gone the last three matches without a goal. The puck dropped, one could see that Labrosse's heroes were pressing too hard to score; were frustrating themselves—Now Labrosse wondered if he and I could cross the street and try our luck at panhandling at the SAQ, liquor outlet, and put business class humanism into play. Labrosse has been fascinated by the woman who has, for quite a while, set up shop there, she with her immense ovoid buttocks and non-stop patter. She even has union-type coffee breaks as she will trundle off to the near at hand Drunkin' Donuts every now and then for a take-out—Yes, could Labrosse and I do any better, we with our pretty arses—Voila! That is to say, Montreal at last scooped the puck in the proper net—Then Labrosse got on to the subject of the autobahn and no speed limit driving. Would the stats for autobahn fatalities reflect the pointlessness of speed limits on the highways? I could not say. I bit my tongue, squelching thereby a painful recollection, how, as a boy with two other boys in the backseat of a car on that same autobahn, our three chaperones blind drunk, and we were frightened silly, us boys, we just missed the scene of a decapitation, only we did see the head rolling toward us. And we watched it as it kept rolling on, speeding vehicles swerving—Our fright levels spiked, though our chaperones, ashen-faced each, seemed to sober up somewhat—We American barbarians in a foreign realm—Just past nine in the evening and the panhandler was still there, rocking back and forth, laying on the patter, a huge and amiable bird of prey. I mentioned to Labrosse that if P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, has a guilty pleasure, it must consist of shooting fish in a barrel, the fish being personages of the hard right, though Carpenter does detest the ideological left and considers it almost as moronic—I have begun to take pity on this ideological left; I even attempted to defend it somewhat from some of Carpenter's more poisonous barbs, and I am sure he has been sticking pins in a doll that resembles me to some extent—And here I had thought we were both men of honour—Technology such as glorifies social media permits great latitude for passive aggression and outright rudeness, and, on cue, A strode into the restaurant. She was in a daze. Here is why she was in a daze. She had just met Kirk Muller in a bar, and that would be Captain Kirk, former captain of les Canadiens. She was not exactly nonplussed by this chance meeting. I suspend my judgment on the question whether it is fate and unchangeable necessity or chance which governs the revolutions of human affairs—from Tacitus, the Annals. At any rate, A managed to lose her cell phone though not her virginity. She offered the man a piece of her grandmother's fudge. He inquired as to whether it contained marijuana. His paranoia was assuaged—Labrosse, apropos of none of the above, started in on Churchill Falls and Quebec power (energy) and New York City brown-outs. He explained to an impressively patient A how electricity is generated though it was she who came up on her own with some of the key words in a disquisition, a word like 'turbine' for example, this after Labrosse's 'water running down hill'—At which juncture Nick the waiter doused the lights and ushered us out, and it was off to 'bratwurst' to annoy Jamal and keep him up late; whereupon E put in her appearance, and it was: "Oh my God, Kirk Muller! Really? Him?" Beers all around, and we parked outside with them, Jamal, like I said, locking up and going home— We must have appeared demented to each and every passerby, A warning me somewhat primly about the perils of drinking and texting, all of us huddled together for warmth on some Canadian riviera—Bladder threatening, I went home. That afternoon, whilst inside 'bratwurst; I scribbled the following words: I am less interested in coming out best in a quarrel than I am in understanding something, anything, and what I understand is that discussion of a political nature, insofar as it might include items of an ethical or moral tilt, and why not a few principles or two, is futile. My blood had gotten up with Carpenter, whose back, no doubt, was ascending—A mother with girl child here. Something odd about them.  Cell phone is produced. Girl child is bidden to say hello to a distant father. In prison? Extracting resources in a distant land? Greetings exchanged, cell phone handed back to mom, girl child begins whirling about in a dance, but not as a spontaneous outbreak of pleasure; rather as if performing. 60ish gentleman joins the table. It gets more strange and I begin to wonder if mom is a hooker on the side. She is decked out - those high heeled granny shoes. Gentleman is wheedly. But no, I am wrong, dead wrong. She is married to a Lebanese fellow. Explains everything—This morning I woke from a dream in which the super of a building I happened to be in approached me with a bill of lading. He said that the delivery man refused to handle the goods to be delivered. The goods to be delivered had something to do with denim - from Egypt. Revolutionary cotton?

 

March 28-29, 2011: At 'bratwurst' to retrieve my gravitas. Left somewhere between Debussy's Prélude à l'apres-midi d'un faune and Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show. But Mendelssohn only a notary? Good golly, Miss Molly—And this after London Lunar's considerations in respect to recent verses of mine and the fact I had been downtown - in Old Montreal, to be precise - begging bowl in hand at Parnassian levels of the Conseil des arts et des lettres—You see, there it is: one ugly fact among so many others. But even best-selling authors, seemingly independent of such realities, are slaves of fashion and to what brung 'em there—In fact, I propose the existence of a relationship, however tenuous, between the standard of leadership in the American army (as per Conservative Colonel's reading of it at Sic Semper Tyrannis sic semper tyrannis, March 28, 2011) in which he compares the commanders of his fighting days to those in the field now, the former, for the most part, responsible while the latter he reckons are akin to Wal-Mart managers and executives all with an eye on post-combat perks. Not going to rock the boat. Similarly I view many litterateurs, that they are the equivalent of those officers who look the other way while rogue platoons have at whole villages - out of boredom or because they figure no one will raise a fuss over their murderous behaviour. (Even so, I have read reports of American officer conduct in Vietnam that do not quite square with the Colonel's recollections, not that I think he is dishonourable - far from it - and he does not suffer fools)—Two in the afternoon at 'bratwurst', and Jamal has got a cd going, plus the soccer on TV, four tables occupied out of a possible six, vases stuffed with fresh, store-bought blooms, cakes piled up on the counter—The words The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, San Franciscoslide through my mind as if through the eye of a needle, perhaps because I read, a few moments ago, courtesy of P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, that Current President has managed to alienate the extremes at either end of the political spectrum and so, has gotten something right. Well, that is one way of looking at it. What do you think - is being at the centre being willynilly always right? These are not times that favour ordinary physics, and besides, all the apples plopping free of their respective trees are already quite rotten before they hit the ground—MH, gentlest of people, has been short-tempered of late. Never-ending winter. The new-old Honda - it has a serious blind spot on the driver's side. Grievous design flaw. One thinks seven times before changing lanes, civility not something you will find on local express ways —The former owner of this hole in the wall eatery walks by. Black leather running shoes with bright yellow laces. He is a Pakistani-German who has taken to hoarding gold; who often goes to the corner store for a six-pack, which is why he happens to be in evidence just now; he used to smile more. He told me once (at least I think it was him - this a few years back) that his father died of having no great pleasure in life; that he had worn life down to such a point that life had no choice but to strike back and wear him down—I myself when suddenly in the company of humankind chirping away in euphoria run for the nearest available hills—The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco? It is, most likely, a liberal court, and I have no trouble with that, none at all, as I see nothing but rollback, rollback, what our fathers and theirs fathers built up and had rough and ready consensus about being dismantled bit by bit. But this is Canada, Norm—Yes, well, are you endeavouring to reassure me? Canada, then. Election soon. An important one, I think. I do not like any of them, the three understudies for the Three Amigos, those prime contenders for the brass ring north of the 49th, but I might be willing to put up with Iggy even if, on Charlie Rose, he was a shabby shill for the Iraq war, a liberal with testicles such as were oblivious, mayhaps, to the laws of gravity—

***

Joe Bageant died yesterday in his 64th year. He is worth remarking on. He is a good example of one of those exceptions that prove a necessary rule. He was a writer I came to admire even if his style grated on my sensibilities. (Deer Hunting with Jesus his best known book—) I suspect he hung around too much with the likes of Hunter Thompson and others, but despite his complaisance when it came to his use of language - lead-footed on the jargon - his wit and his analysis of things American - with particular reference to his own redneck origins - were lethally accurate, and, in the end, his writing - how else can I say it? - did 'move' me. It was perhaps tragicomic how, in his disgust, he tried to walk away from America by sojourning in places like Belize and in small Mexican towns amidst the wretched but seemed to always come sneaking back to his homeland just to catch one more final view of the smoking ruins of the middle-to-lower classes that he understood inside-out, he always aghast. It mirrored my own love-hate relations with a colossus though, truth to tell, the America I remember has not existed for many years. Progressive circles claim the man as one of theirs, but I think he and his work are bigger and better than that especially as his was not some polite attachment to a few ideological niceties but an affection for a people (those rednecks for whom incorrigible is much too decorous a word) whom he might as easily take to task for being such idiots as talk up for qualities peculiar to their kind—Which brings to mind, pure non sequitur, the British novelist Malcolm Lowry and how, in the 70s, the Canadians tried to claim him as one of their own just because he used to drink and hang out and purportedly scribble in Dollarton, B.C., a few minutes drive over the The Second Narrows Bridge,  Vancouver. Ludicrous—Otherwise—Otherwise, from Robert Harris's Imperium: If reason cannot rule in politics, what hope is there for it in any other sphere? Beats me, the upshot being that politics is emotion as is much else in life. Through half-shut eyes I watched some PBS documentary on Dolly Madison, last evening, her lovely temperament extolled. I recognized her silhouette from grade school in another age, but I did not know just how consummate she was as a First Lady married to James Madison, president the 4th, political-philosopher heavyweight. She was, so the pundits declared one after the other in a dizzying array of historical killer-knowledge, a power behind the throne, perhaps a warmer hearted Livia without the vials of poison at the ready—In fact, I had in mind as I watched, and how long was a Roman mile? - ah, some 1500 meters - a spectacle of crucifixes stretching along 350 or so of those Roman miles originating somewhere in the hinterland and heading toward Rome, the remnants of Spartacus's rebel slaves whom Crassus put to the cross, no Amnesty International anywhere to be had. And then, well, America, and early on, a problem: how properly signify power without coming it high a la European royalty, pomp, circumstance and oppressive pecking orders, and how, therefore, treat with European diplomats come to the colonies to do business? How dress up a vocabulary of power? How embody the dignity of the republic without resorting to the somber dignitas of mile after mile of crucified wretches? Well, it was hit upon - the solution, to wit: matched horses, bathroom slippers, and pearls instead of diamonds—American exceptionalism? Those words may, once upon a time, have been broached in all innocence; they are innocent no longer. But one might speak of unique qualities without rolling one's eyes. Some good unique qualities. Some bad, if not downright reprehensible. Too many fatal—And then MH, gentlest of women, addicted to detective fiction and gore, speaks to me of circling the drain, euphemism for the latest hoser in the throes of death—It tickles her no end. I am told that GH , paramount poet in the language, has a horror of cyber-space and will not allow himself to be published there. I have a horror, too, of the very same, but am otherwise not so squeamish—I will be in the hunt for a pretext to quote from the man's verses even so - out of sheer perversity - no other excuse, none whatsoever—And I may ease back on throttle somewhat with these postings of mine so as to get my house in order, poetry-wise—

 

 

March 28, 2011: These facts have to be borne in mind if we are to avoid giving metaphysical importance to mere accidents of our own speech—from Bertrand Russell's Analysis of Mind. And no, I have not read the book, at least not in its entirety, as I believe I once skimmed it with rapid eye movements in a bookshop once in another age; but yes, I lifted this partial quote from another source as it seems to fit my mood of the moment and what I have to say, the bad news being this: London Lunar has just, without leaving me much wiggle room, dissed the poetry I have written over the past couple of annums. Oh well, he tells himself, this has been going on for years. The good news, if it is good news as such, and to judge by the reception I have been getting for Ephemeris, is that I might have made a living as a gossip columnist. Hell's bells, Hedda effing Hopper. Only in lieu of noodling about celebs I might noodle on about poets and prophets of doom and Montreal-NDG low-life. (So far as I know, Westmount - the next district over - does not permit doom or low-life on its high street and routinely lifts the passports of all suspicious characters as they cross Decarie, heading east, in search of moral collapse and intellectual diminution, the Britneys and Justins—) I have been asked why 'blogs' (as if I have any expertise in the matter; so here let us spell blog 'blogg' or pronounce it 'blawg' or some such) seem to permit a certain kind of writing as opposed to other kinds. Apart from the fact that most of the blogg-writing I have seen is pitiful stuff, I respond that, bloggs-schmoggs, writing is writing, and I am not aware that I have had special powers conferred upon my person and I am now able to leap buildings at a single bound and slam-dunk by virtue of blawging; that the writing I do here stems rather naturally from the journals I have kept over the years, or rather from the habit of journal-writing, as the journals themselves are nothing remarkable. Also, so as to decompress from the novel I managed to toss off, the writing of which was very intense and very concentrated over a period of roughly three years, I put on the page a couple of prose-works which bear a suspicious resemblance to this here Ephemeris, the difference being that in the former I was muttering to myself, and in the latter I have been startled by the fact that a number of people appear to be listening in. For all that, I am a poet first above any other kind of writer and so, it rankles, London Lunar's verdict, and either it will be pistols at dawn or I will resign myself to the probable accuracy of the assessment, and - back to the drawing board, in tatters. Old age may allow for the illusion of respectability and venerability and wisdom and experience and competence of a kind - as with architecture and whores - but the humiliations are no less thorough-going. If anything they are worse because, you'd think, one is supposed to know better by now. Morning. Nikas. The commute whizzes by. For many years I used to be a prime part of that commute, if in a different city, ferrying worldly-wise secretaries about in my taxicab, secretaries in the loop and almost always somewhat harried and winging it on the fly—There would be those personages of all genders that I would call the Fifth Dimensioners on account of their jumbo-jetting from one corporate office to the next without, it seems, touching down anywhere on any recognizable portion of this fair earth. Which brings to mind that I am exceedingly conscious of how confused I am by the reportage of late, and the sensation of this confusion is an alarums signifying that something is amiss, and I am not necessarily the thing amiss. I am also, as I am on most Monday mornings, reeling from the sense of the Chris Hedges trumpetings in Truthdig, and once again, I do not know whether to offer the man a bracing shot of something as per alcohol or go and slit my wrists. Just that the man generally does have a point or two, for all that his trumpetings come off like those of a mortally-wounded and very indignant elephant. (Perhaps the poke Aristophanes took at Socrates's expense I shall take vis a vis Hedges—) And for all Hedges's scorn of Current President, later in the day I shall be reminded by Mr Carpenter, Another Prominent Political Commentator, that Current President is all we have between ourselves and all those imbroglios beyond our control to mitigate, not even were we to exchange one brand of environmentally-friendly light bulb for another brand of environmentally-friendly light bulb, so forget about the barricades, just vote the proper ticket. Now enter Irish harpy and retinue. Here is a whole other order of reality - pettiness that has not yet been armed unlike what is, no doubt, transpiring in Libya and did transpire in the Balkans not so long ago, for example, or in Africa even as we speak. But, you see, I cannot offer up in these sentences anything like learned disquisition on the effects of globalization having been one of the great dodges of all time, only that we may be approaching a time when we might say we would have been better off under the Caesars who more or less reserved their ill-will for their own kind, their own social strata—Which is perhaps a distinct possibility, as soon enough, the poor will have run out of shekels to cough up, and the rich will have to settle for robbing the rich—I have begun reading Robert Harris's Imperium. He uses the word imperium to signify 'office' as opposed to my notion of the word, which is, loosely speaking, empire. The book is a best-seller. I generally avoid best-sellers, though the fact of my avoidance of such items has little to do with my thought patterns here. Just saying it, though. Just thought I'd mention it—The writing in the book is so-so adequate; at best it seems a very conspicuous effort to avoid literariness which, normally, I would applaud. The prose of a gifted and well-read mechanic as opposed to the prose of a ponce—Just that the book's subject matter, or Cicero, invites the treatment of literary prose rather than - a mouthful coming - formulaic pre-screen screen treatment. And literary prose, when done right, is still the best prose going—oh, I give up. Literary prose or everything from Mark Twain to Proust and all that is in between - even Steinbeck—In any case, by the time I finish reading the book in question I may well do a complete turnabout and judge it brilliant and peerless. And there is early on a wonderful little scene or description, rather, of a gathering of senators in the senaculum or senate house, a motley crew of mediocrities seeking leverage, fairly ordinary men, the republic's backbone - subject to the droppings of pigeons, the birds up on the rafters above—And now London Lunar relents somewhat—Now he's saying not as bad as all that, just that he expects better, the hint being, and here a little wiggle room opens up, that I've done better before, and he's been spoiled by it—What's called thinking on his feet—Which it is a bit of a side-shuffle, indeed—

 

March 27, 2011: Even Al Jazeera has the curse of it - a word, that word - 'Artscape' - programming that uses up thirty minutes of air time, on weekends, presumably. Another one of those art words that trivializes the spirit of art and so, trivializes the human spirit, as well - if there is such a thing, if there is such a crittur truly worthy of a photo op. And though we have no need of the officious and the pompous when it comes to getting all cosily ceremonious in respect to 'art', we need not muck about all the time in the cloacal lanes of art this and art that, as if all the world is gentrifiable. Will we ever again have the courage to let art simply speak for itself? Or will poetry forever muddle on by way of intravenous drips? Now a young poet from across the water, a young poet who seems to bear a genuine love for poetry without needing to get showy with said love, reminds me that, vis a vis my crack in the previous post concerning poets and Water Boards - well - Cavafy, he said; Cavafy worked for the Water Board in Alexandria (Egypt) or worked for something very much like it and so, the point being - the point being that not all poets are incompetent backbiters consigned to some remote circle of academic hell where the damage they may wreak is contained somewhat - only that those young young tender minds sniffing their fingertips at something like gunpoint—There was Eliot in banking, Stevens in insurance, Sibum at Yellow Cab Dispatch. Yes, you're right, enough of this nonsense—A Japan correspondent informs me that where he resides - in the southwest - Osaza - life is pretty routine despite the earthquake, tsunami, meltdown trifecta, just that the cherry blossoms are late and toilet paper seems to have disappeared from store shelves—And here I had intentions of going on about Libya and Iraq but I take it all back—I would all too easily become such a bore—But apparently I am subject to a new malaise for which a new word has been coined by a fresh wave of sociological opportunism, the word signifying 'agnotology' which, besides being a malaise in and of itself, is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. Apparently. I fail to understand what is new in this, having been contaminated the instant I popped from the womb with culture wars a la the Truman Doctrine—And before I say Iraq was the last straw in me but that Libya is another kettle of fish, let me say that Tara M at Biblioasis is not responsible for the lines the poet is the nightingale who sits in darkness—She might have thought it, though, just as any one of us might have thought it at various times (as I have done - I confess it), as we stared out rural windows at dirt roads lined up each for their vanishing point, Canadian bucolic, and Bob's yer uncle—And then CBC drops by with ceremonial cameras blazing—It struck me yesterday, and perhaps you remember these things, how the 20th century saw spectacular instances of mass slaughter; that somehow, in theory at least, these sorts of occurrences are no longer possible, no, not in the 21st; just that by the time one starts totting up the tally at some break in the action of each occurrence of the nickle-and-diming that is a military kinetic operation, shall we note much of a difference in head counts? I was also struck by a sentence I came across in a recent best-seller, Roman period piece to do with the life of Cicero, the sentence containing the words humiliated by his own vanity—The words ring bells for me. How about you? And then there was this instance of a wonderful word signifying dire stuff, or carnifex, the meaning of which still has legs and is most applicable to our own reality. I watched an old P Sturges flick with Claudette Colbert in it, and she is always agreeable, a good sport, so much so, it hurts. But as I watched I recalled a certain LD, last of the old broads, who got me to take notice of P Sturges films, this in my last year in Vancouver. LD had been around, having married in succession a goodly number of journalists. The last world capitol she terrorized was Manhattan where she operated an art gallery. Which is what she was doing in Vancouver when I met her, her gallery practically kitty corner to my apartment. She had a bit part in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, one notable for her recitation of a sex ditty and her attempted seduction of Marcello—She claimed she got on well with Federico—I was once lost in hopeless admiration of her as she stood off a gang of bicycled activists yelling abuse at her, calling her a fascist as she had the temerity to sponge away their ugly broadbills from the local lamppost and her walls - she deemed them unsightly. They were popping eyeballs, they were so livid, further goaded by the fact she was 75 years of age, if mini-skirted, and they could not very well - you know - come it with violence. And besides I had by then joined the fray, my jaw dropped to the street by the extent of their apoplectic rage. Cheerily enough, she said to them: "You don't even live around here—" To which they had no answer. Slummers in upscale bike gear—She did not stoop to the expedient of informing them that each of her husbands had been committed anti-fascists and great lovers and drinkers, besides—After bidding Claudette C a good night, I went down to sit a while with Labrosse in Nikas, his mind on the hockey game - Montreal-Washington - the recent parliamentary ruckus receded to some other region of his brain. Behind him at their table was seated a very familial looking family, and the two middle-aged women opposite each other were clearly sisters. Green eye shadow. Brunettes with blonde highlights. Glasses perched on top of their pates. In the loop. They had the look of the well-heeled who have not yet entirely lost their moral bearings. I do not wish to make light of these people because we all know what lies beneath all appearances of family, and it is not pretty, just that I was in a mood. It suddenly seemed to me, as I got wind of bits of their conversation such as redounded to pot roast and wine and some cousin's spiritual rehabilitation that either we all of us comprise a spiritual bit part in some immense spiritual totality or else it can be said that we live and die to no spiritual consequence whatsoever. Who dwells on the weed one plucks or the bug one squashes? One may as well have been a spate of wind that of a sudden abates—Absolute cessation of—Living and breathing - sound and fury signifying zip, and then, you know, it's finished, and anything that occupied your brain beyond that of immediate concerns of survival was just so much silliness, like poetry, and then there's celebrity—That poor woman, the sight of whose back prompted these thoughts in me, the lilac cottony look of the top she wore somehow awfully frowsily middle-class - that poor woman had no idea to what grim thought she had inadvertently been the means to—Even so, who wants to be surrounded by miserable sods all the time; in other words, though it will be difficult for me, I will endeavour to learn to love the vaguely yuppyish consumers of goods various and sundry even if the likes of a Stalin would have snapped his fingers and they would be disappeared very nearly in a flash—

 

March 26, 2011: Crumbs, but the cut and paste function of my brain misfired yet again: yesterday I inserted Ariel into the wrong bit of street theatre. Prospero in The Tempest had his 'dainty' slave-assistant, one named Ariel, but Lear - he only had the fool, one perhaps less house-trained and apparently without moniker. (Tara M at Biblioasis, a press howling in the wilderness, set me straight me on this, as she has done on a number of other points, and I will get to them, later.) In any case, I cannot afford to have such entities in my employ frowsing about the household; I must be my own built-in comic relief in a comedy of terrors, and yet, I cannot afford to pay myself wages for the task or engage in barter with my ingenium in respect to the services of a larking conscience as was Shakespeare's fool—And I am all for poetic rogues and renegades, and I consider myself among that number, but neo-Georgian? Is this possible? In the absence of suggestive cues, clues and hard data-clusters as to what might constitute a neo-Georgian personage, I picture such as all straw hat and linen suit and pocket calculator - for those pesky, ungovernable metrics, plus a butterfly net with which to grab hold of errant rhymes—Alright then, cheap shot, but I have been putting up with cheap shots for so long I can no longer distinguish between a stick and a stone and a pat of butter, let alone sly digs - all one blurry, endlessly roiling provenance—My years on the west coast taught me one thing, if nothing else: a coterie of poets fairly well-appointed in academe and in trendy bars that characterizes itself as marginalized, as a bevy of outsiders, as lacking clout the so-called mainstream enjoys - mainstream? - what mainstream? - is perhaps not to be trusted. Yes, one might enjoy the company of the wittier among them, but trust? And Young Master as the enfant terrible of the Canadian literary pond? He is this and that, is many things, among them the author of some good poems and others that evince promise to come, but Rimbaud-ish, Baudelarian, or just some poetic lout with middle finger set high - no, from what I have seen of the man's ways and means do not commend themselves to the role of the ill-tempered enfant exasperated beyond measure by the polite hypocrisies and the smug pat-downs of a literary scene —In respect to the above, in case you are wondering and befuddled - my fault - what I have in mind here is a Mr Haldane who in his literary rag The Dark Horse has penned or keyboarded a response to the new Modern Canadian Poets, an anthology, Carcanet Press, the UK. A fairly quick perusal of this response tell me that while the man seems to have a few sensible things to say about Canadian poetry in general he is suspiciously fussy, sniffy and harrumpful in respect to some of the particulars. Perhaps what rankles more is that I, though unalluded to, have apparently been lumped in an greasy mess of backward-looking (backward-sounding might be more to the point) poetasters, one modernist bridge too far, it seems, and this then is Mr Haldane's exasperation with the publication. Meanwhile Tara M assailed me with a couple of electronic missives in which, paraphrased to some extent, are the following bits: the poet is the nightingale who sits in darkness. There is some truth in this, allowing for the preciousness-factor of 'nightingale' and 'darkness', the imp in me wishing to substitute squats for sits. Poetry needs defending. It is not a democratic thing. Never has been. Unacknowledged because unelected. (Thank Christ. Can you imagine poets running the Water Board?) The fight is hard because it's not about encouraging people to read poetry so much as it is encouraging them to become. Become? Become what? Ah, poet-like. (And yet, if the sentence means what I think it means it is not such a sentimentalist production as all that - she has a point—And a further point, an advisory rather, is that her words are not to be taken for considered thought but as rapid response in the give and take of a casual and ostensibly private conversation—) Otherwise, Labrosse having a late lunch at Nikas was beside himself with the news: Parliament was holding the government in contempt. Uncharted waters. And it was a bit unsettling, those parliamentary countenances so clearly set in glee mode casting votes while the TV camera panned them—Later, at 'bratwurst', someone dear to me told me she has been feeling down. A too long winter. Too much crazy wild news, and ominous news at that. The kind of news that lets one know one has no possibility of affecting or controlling anything—The kind of news that only control freaks misconstrue and deep down love—And that art perhaps is not the sacramental thing it is cracked up to be, not even for two or three days out of a quota of 365 units of time consecrated to profit margins, and yet, what else is there? Google Analytics? No fly-zones? Flash fiction? And then MH speaks to me of trunk music which is, apparently, what stuffing stiffs in the boots of automobiles happens to be, and hearing this, and from one as gentle as she, and it is Rome again - brazier smoke, cheap wine, cheap take-out, fecal matter, the happy crime and nonchalant chaos of an ancient metropolis. Perhaps for a shabby boulevardier like myself it is my fall-back position as I do not know what L.A. streets smell like, and in Montreal-NDG, what one smells just now is rotted snow.

 

March 25, 2011: She has got me thinking on it. Not throughout all my waking hours, no, but she has assailed my pessimism rather roundly and gotten me to come up for air, if briefly. This dynamo at Biblioasis that is a literary press howling in the wilderness—Or that National Poetry Month is upon us, and in light of the fact I am inescapably experiencing the same sort of sensation I used to weather when forced to ponder the prospect of going back to school—Or that one cannot, unless one is malevolent dark energy, market the spirit of poetry and cause every man, woman and child out there to rush to the nearest vendor to buy the thing—True enough, one might market a book, and by all means, but unless said book is imbued, is somehow, unaccountably, graced with poetry's spirit, it matters not whether the items had its usual press run of 400 all told and been distributed; matters not that 286 of that number will return to the publisher in his garage; that 50 others were review copies in the first instance; that perhaps the remainder were actually purchased at the point of a gun; that of that number a portion were truly read; and of that portion perhaps a handful were well and truly read; and that it is well-known that book reviewers generally do not read the books they review, so that, but enough—Market poetry as such by all means but if the poetry ain't got that swing, a 1000 readers, darlings all, may go through the motions even though it don't mean a thing—As with rituals, as it was with ancient Roman ritual, aspects of ritual might long survive their irrelevance and words get pronounced the meaning of which has long since been forgotten, is so much mumbo-jumbo—And here I quote Biblioasis Dynamo because it is a worthwhile distinction she makes: "Poetic self-puffery is a trope as old as antiquity." She meant to nip in the bud my usual lack of charity. But trope? Perhaps she has read the openers to Juvenal's first satire. So then, Tara M, are you familiar with its drift? If so, this in itself commends you highly. She speaks of poetry's enforced obscurity, and yet I am not sure what it is meant here by the word enforced. Obscurity, yes, but enforced?—That there are powers out there who actively seek to discredit the exercise and to purge society of the poetry habit? There is no money in poetry. Or have I been doubly labouring under a delusion all these years, everyone else laughing all the way to the bank? What multi-corporate Moloch would bother with it let alone co-opt it unless it could sell Suburus? Unless one is dealing in song lyrics and sex-heavy presentations, perhaps—The problems that beset poetry lie mostly with poets themselves (and I have personally known poets whose only aim in poetry was to sabotage it, behead it, for God knows what reasons of theory), and unless that is said and the meaning absorbed, there is no point in discussing anything further in regards to the above—I must say that Biblioasis Dynamo, force of nature, sounds too good to be true but the odds appear to be that she is for real; so then she is not to wasted or abused, her sort of energy being precious, hence my show here of cranky bravura - to scare her off wrong-headedness—She speaks of book promotion as something that might be committed with élan and grace, as if we are talking here of one of the deadly sins. The spirit of poetry? What is this entity? Poetry as Ariel? As Ruby Rhod, talk show host, a grotesque (as per the sci-fi flick The Fifth Element)? The Ariel who waits for Lear to return to his senses? The Ruby Rhod who entreats the Homeric warrior to come save his sorry arse? Poets as unacknowledged legislators of the race? There was that notion once upon a time. It was a fine thing that was said back then, and Percy Bysshe Shelley said the thing, if memory serves, perhaps in an unguarded moment; just that it was not then and is not now and is not likely ever to be true—It is true that there are poets who believe this guff and they tend to recommend themselves to the collective as its conscience by means not so fair and very much foul—Or that - again, if memory serves - Fawcett is on record as having said, in another age, that it were better he urinate at a street corner than write another effing poem—He did not, it would seem, have poetry in him as an incurable condition as when one is going to write the stuff no matter what, and is one going to go about marketing this incurable condition? Here, have a whiff of this. Beats gym socks and ecstasy. Otherwise, moving on— There is an elderly gentleman in the neighbourhood  who has about his person the aspect of Father Time, just that he is an astrologer and has a passing acquaintance with the study of history, and Princeton University backs him up on this (or perhaps it does not). Other than this, I know nothing of the man; I see him around and at the odd poetry reading, as he seems to be a 'friend of poetry' and he is, to judge by appearances, a man of 'definite ideas'. Save for the odd prejudice or two that I harbour in an apparently tolerant age, or that 'performance poetry' is a misnomer, given that poetry written or recited is willynilly performance, my ideas are not necessarily written in stone, no matter how it seems. Had I been born in the Italian Renaissance, and were I burdened with the temperament that burdens me now, I would have drifted into the neo-platonist camp under which intellectual cover I might have endeavoured to situate the findings of the Hubble telescope as well as the verses of Z Herbert—Ah, dark energy— Dark matter—Byronic cherubs playing it the spoilers —Yes, and as science is everything, what sort of man in this Nova-centric hour throws himself body, mind and soul into something as nebulous and jejune as astrology? The fact that he might does not trouble me so much as it does horrify others, the zealously scientific, for instance ( I do not imagine there are any Virgilians in astrophysics), but the mind in its workings is pretty much the same dynamic whether it is sonneteering or doing complex equations or tracking the course of the moon in all its available houses—Which brings me jarringly to this: which of the following has the greater trumping-rights over the other? Process? Product? I have been wanting to say this for such a long time - that I am unable to say whether the discovery of the fact that the universe is expanding to some as yet unknown end is of more interest than that the astrologer might pick his nose as he interprets his celestial data. On the other hand, when it comes to poetry, all I care about is product, and you may shoot me should you perceive me pleading 'process' as an excuse to legitimize a bad poem. I have been sitting in 'bratwurst' of an afternoon, scribbling these words in haste. Sex goddesses on the TV. They are briefly compelling, but only briefly, as it gets farcical soon enough. Eroticism is always about possibility, never routine likelihood. Even in Montreal-NDG, not one of the world's more charming neighbourhoods, but not entirely devoid of the spirit of poetry, terrasse season not much more than a month away, thanks be to some agency or another. Later this evening I will be sitting in this same place - with Labrosse and A and E. Labrosse and E will argue French grammar. I will attempt to photograph the proceedings with a cell phone camera. Just that I may as well have a lump of clay in my hands, as I am no photographer and a cell phone is no camera. It being late, Flora and Jamal will chase us out and we will repair to the terrasse outside and finish our beers in the cold dark while they wend their way homeward in Jamal's beloved black Cadillac. I will attempt to snap a photograph of the round Bitburger sign that glows like some sort of pale green rose in the night, one affixed to the hole in the wall café. No go. But what will go? Biblioasis Dynamo, I wish you all the best

 

March 24, 2011: Alright then, I myself ought to know better, trading sallies with a personage whose main aim in life is to prevail in political argument. That he would suggest to me that in these postings of mine I have been describing the joys of uncertainty—Low blow. Quite beneath him. Socrates: If a man knew the way to Larisa, or anywhere else,  and went to the place and led others hither, would he not be a right and good guide? From Plato's Meno. The Athenian demos aside and its toxic politicking, it is reasonable to suppose that Socrates never had to contend with a mental construct quite as obstreperous as Fox News, let alone a post-modern world in which Fox News is a major enabler of Mad-Hattering of all sorts, against which reason and the everyday pursuit of logic are so much synaptic discharge, like circuits shorting out. (The personage to whom I refer is Mr Carpenter, a Prominent Political Commentator south of here, for those of you who do not follow these postings; and though I suspect the man of being a closet-Stendhalian, he is, otherwise, honourable and on the up and up - even if, on this score, I have been taken in before. True, he has been patient with me, professional that he is.) Yesterday, and in a very civil, quite decorous fashion, Labrosse and I hoisted a glass of Bitburger each to the memory of Elizabeth Taylor, though Labrosse would have to remark that, to Taylor, he preferred Natalie Wood. Goodness me. This is what is known as knowing one's mind—I know little about Taylor's life beyond the gossip that has been available to us all to ingest, but because I do admire her in a few of her film roles and because I admire Burton likewise, and because the two of them were an off and on item and did the only sensible thing one could do in a relationship, or eat, drink and be merry, I have always held the pair as a cut above your average, overpaid, overly hyped, drunken wretches. I have difficulty swallowing, when I come across it, the I'm just folks, guys schtick of the celebs on Letterman and Leno and the like. Like, yeah. He who likes least courting favour, ought also least to think of resenting neglect—Plutarch - on Alcibiades and Coriolanus. Whatever it is, whether art or nature, that imprints in us this disposition to live with reference to others, it does us so much more harm than goodVerily, Monsieur Montaigne, but what would you have us do? We can't all live like hermits with or without cable access— At any rate, after complimenting a fine, March day, its very pale, blue sky, Labrosse endeavoured to get serious. To his way of thinking, the American position in respect to the Saudis was changing; that, for sure, someone somewhere, in the Pentagon presumably, had on the table invasion plans for the Saudi oil state; that incursion was coming, slowly but surely—And yet, is anyone capable of strategic thought at two in the afternoon, a cold mug of beer in hand, the world obligingly enough in a fit of a keening for a starlet it has long since lost authentic interest in, as she was a bawdy wench in an uptight world, and this is a loosy-goosy world in which control freaks are mightily favoured?—What else explains Bush and Rumsfeld and Gwynneth Paltrow? One sees it in a great deal of the poetry being produced now, neo-classical tour de forces, but then, don't get me started on this, but compared to the cold spit and polish of the neo-classical the classical is all beer breath and shamble and a three-day beard, and at least it's human, if unsavoury. Now is it possible to whisper stealthily in an ear? Someday I will explain. Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress has a new head of hair, meaning her lovely abundance of hair sports a blinding new, brassy henna sheen. I let her know I have noticed and she is pleased. Enter Irish harpy and retinue. Husband and noodle of a son. And we're off

 

March 23, 2011: I read Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks in my mid-teens. It is a novel about German bourgeoise society on the down slope. One of the great novels. And then, last night, after I had been kicking the can around with Labrosse in Nikas, I watched again Brideshead Revisited, the movie version. The fact of the book that I read in my teens has little to do with the fact of the movie that I have now watched twice in my 63rd year, and yet—I will have something terrible to say, but later. Even so, I might venture to say that the war destroyed my mother's Berlin bourgeoisie childhood, but that her father was, I think, one of those opportunists who capitalized on the downfall of the kind of people the Buddenbrooks novel depicted, my mother's mother strictly old school, however, landed gentry, Prussian, ineradicable. Earlier yesterday, I found myself writing a quasi-open letter to P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator to the south of us. I would commend his intelligence and lively writing and the good political service his commentaries provide and so forth and so on; but I would point out that not all persons left of centre critical of or dismayed by the seeming policies of Current President are 1): ideological hyenas or 2): racists or 3): double-agents or 4): Republican assassins in drag or 5): but I give up - what's left to say? Sometimes it is impolite to suggest that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and there is nothing to be gained by scoring debating points in regards to such happenstance. Or that on the David Letterman Show, they have run out of ideas: what to do with human pettiness but to keep packaging it in little bundles of cuteness, care packages for the anxious lumpenwhomevers out there. I have to say that Labrosse kept throwing profound notions at me, and this got underway at the beginning of the second period, Montreal and Buffalo having a hockey match. Labrosse the semi-retired business class humanist, keeper of the wine cow, neighbourhood gallant, and now purveyor of Roman history as dramatized by HBO. I will have him reading Tacitus yet—"Credit portfolio," he said. "Bad loan rate." "Vetting risk - well, that leads to sub prime and how to place money—" Or that "Management objectives, when they get to be a squeezed lemon, eh voila and after a while and—" And here I interrupted, "And then it isn't capitalism anymore - it isn't the capitalism of our fathers—" "Yes, true enough, but—" As always with Labrosse, things evolve, things change, and that's all there is on it—No sense of a world falling apart at the seams—Because, what world would be that be? And yet, as the comedy of terrors compounds the compounding of errors, Labrosse does magnanimously grant me that I just might have an iota of perspicacity on a matter of tailspins and other centrifugal forces besetting us—That terrible thing I was going to say at the outset of this posting: how it is the idiots are always with us, life to life, generation after generation after generation. It was an idle thought I had as I watched Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited seek his level, out of his league - at least in terms of class there in England between the wars - but that the true basis of his attraction to the Flyte spawn Julia and Sebastien, sex beside the point or nothing more than entrée into the family bosom, was place and like-mindedness. With what and with whom might he weather a storm, or at least prevail in a game he could not possibly win? By idiots I mean only those people who are educated just enough to know better but who do not, for one reason or another, know better; who make such a hash of things on just about any front you might care to mention. Civilization is the hope that one might find a modus vivendi with such busy-ness often well-intentioned, or else civilization is the hope of sanctuary from all that. And if there be no modus vivendi or sanctuary? The gods - find their pleasure in turning back from Death the rogues and tricksters, but the just and the good they are always sending out of the world. From Sophocles. Sounds like Philoctetes, whose speech this is, was in a right royal funk - funky grapes— This morning I read in the confessions of a man who was treating with his adolescent and teen years that the parents of So-and-So were dull and stupid parents. How those words leaped out at me. How they brought back to me every suburbia I have ever known—And it is damn near heartache for a time long gone, one that was doomed in the sense that all times are doomed, the 50s then, and how the 60s were meant to be better, and we thought they were better, immensely so, having abolished guilt - we thought so for a while—

 

March 22, 2011: London Lunar despises Bob Hope. There it is: a fact. Well, it is one fact among numberless others. A great many people swear up and down that facts will prove the salvation of this world in which we have at all the villainy that aims to do it in. I very much doubt it. But in those old 'road movies' one sees the crackpot beginnings of American 'exceptionalism', and even I see it, as thick as two boards as I am, and yet I have to say I am dashed now that I know Dorothy Lamour had it off with J Edgar Hoover. There is no accounting for taste when it comes to sex. Otherwise, I succumbed to a plate of poutine, last night, Labrosse at the controls of the wine cow. Nikas. But for us two, it was an empty restaurant, mausoleum-like, a winter wonderland in progress outside, what with the thick wet March snow and the soft twilight. The question of the hour was Libya: another Iraq in the making? As if Labrosse and I could possibly answer, somewhere in each our rearview mirrors an imperialist gang that has trouble shooting straight—Trouble is, I would have found it difficult to stomach had that imperialist gang not intervened when Colonel G's merry crew in rolling tanks were advancing on Benghazi—Either one makes it a rule never to interfere, period, ever, or one always comes between a mad man and a great many potential victims, or one resigns oneself to forever muck about a bog-land of mushy principle connecting two contending poles—Is Current President the good man of decent character that P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, says he is? Or is he the idiot who hired on those Wall Street types to go and impart to the national ponzi scheme more shelf-life? Is it truly a crime to seek a little clarity on these matters? Later, Labrosse and I repaired to my digs and a viewing of a couple of episodes from the HBO Rome series, Season Two. Octavian has been laying the groundwork for his eventual dominion over all things Roman. M Antony, who is going to come out the loser in the end, is not in my view the lout that Cicero sees him as, but then Cicero had his reasons—Atia has Servillia flogged. This animus between women (upper crust) - a source of fascination for the male - why? - feminists, no doubt, have an answer - it is permitted - men too thick to do animus properly - Moral creatures? Perhaps yes, perhaps no - just that we are at times ideological constructs—Endless flux—In which the intellect is always a puny, puny, puny thing—You see, this morning I read that Thomas Paine had it that ordinary man is more than adequate to treat with his destiny. Supply him with a little common sense, a few plain facts, all rendered up in plain talk and—The opposite point of view is equally compelling and has had a rather long run of it in the historical record, though, yes, it can be riposted that history as such is a construct monopolized by control freaks—I am made nervous by people who start cheerleading for revolution. (They are generally unreliable in the trenches—) I was moved by those people in Tahrir Square just a few weeks ago now—London Lunar has a point about the Designer-God now currently favoured in a great many circles, the god that one outfits for oneself so as to suit one's comfort level. It is perhaps not what Luther had in mind when he promulgated a Personal God as opposed to the god of the Catholic Church, though it seems to me what stuck in Luther's craw was not that god so much as the pope and the papal corruptions—Spirituality is easy, religion is hard—I also read somewhere recently that individualism, whatever is meant by the word - modernism's calling card? - is the slippery slope to narcissism. The asseveration was part critique, part encomium for modernism in general, only - look - look where we have gotten ourselves. Ain't it a hoot? This 'somewhere' boots on boggy ground beyond post-modernism that has been itself an abomination—(To continue in this vein, however, requires more fire power than I am able or willing to muster)—I am one of those individualists in whom archival footage of Nazis, Fascists and Stalinists having their go at sorting out life's big questions has bred a lifelong distrust of collectivities of all sorts—Narcissism—I recall how, years ago, a Vancouver Oracle informed me that there was no such thing, and even if there were what was the harm in people loving themselves? Well, I was a bench warmer in those days, if that, gawk-eyed duffer in camp for a try-out, and then I gave up organized sports. Narcissists? You mean those blushing darlings I have known of all genders? Enter Irish harpy and retinue for morning coffee in Nikas. Narcissists beware, Irish harpy a flaming angel of wrath. My cue to depart the scene and let her sort the carnage, as I am in her eyes strictly amateur. Even so, a Certain Entity promises me that 2012 is the year that will see the publication of my novel subversive of - what? - just about everything—Good golly, Miss Molly. Unless the Quebec Civil Code intervenes. Or the world ends. How pathetic I am.

 

March 21, 2011: I am afraid what follows is ragged, pitiful stuff—Just that when I woke this morning I was already in a mood, and despite my habitual pessimism, I do generally wake up an enthusiast—That the world is a game which claims from one one's appropriate skill-set and so, be you raking in the dosh on Wall Street, be you in high-end gear on the slopes of back country alpine, be you doodling a text-poem, be you laying down covering fire in a war zone, it would seem you recreate, as in 'play', playing as opposed to 'making', 'building', or doing that godly thing - 'creating'. And if the financial whirlwind that took the world in the 80s a hundred years ago touched everything and left no stone unturned, should one continue to believe that literature was left unscathed, as if some heritage site? I pretty much assume that accountants have more to say about what gets published than editors—This morning, quite apropos of nothing, I read reportage of a woman marine whose job it was to bag body parts in Iraq, sexual harassment the least of her problems. Stuffing meat in bags. Somebody had to do it. Somebody had to figure they were being helpful—Because the American public—Recreating—You see, no endeavour is innocent. I woke in the mood I did because, by chance, just before I shuffled off into sleep, I happened to catch an interview on the weather report with a fellow - one of those hairless, life is a fitness operation, backpack stuffed with energy food semi-fascists doing his part to draw curtains on pristine nature as might not ever recover from the weight of his cheesy shadow on—Nope, we just can't leave the bitch alone. Or so one might holler from a West Virginia mountain topThe doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance—again apropos of nothing, from Plato's Laws. And there's a reason why I live in a city as, in the country, someone like myself wouldn't be doing nature any favours—I have been asked about 'blogging' - dreadful word, and how blogs, when not strictly of the political variety, tend toward self-indulgence and outright narcissism, and, well, how avoid this? I suppose that one might answer: foreswear blogging. Or that, I, for one, have no effing idea, but that writing is writing, and there is no reason why one should not take as much care with a blog as with a poem, an essay, a short-story or War and Peace, for that matter. Me, I am interested in the theatre of ideas as I see them manifested in the lives of people I encounter; my own life as lived in a sub-sector of Montreal-NDG, west of Decarie - that meridian of the psyche - is one prop among others in this theatre of ideas and so, I apologize to those of you out there who may think I go on a bit too much about myself, and if I were you I would suspect myself, too - however - that I am a prop allows me to approach the various 'characters' who appear in these postings, some of whom were characters already in the novel I wrote as bespeaks one of my other great lapses in judgment; and if someone wishes to point out that it would seem I am blurring fact and fiction in one oleaginous web page mess, feel free to do so, and congratulations on your critical faculties—Writing is writing; I am merely writing, so far as writing goes, as best as I know how. I have been asked from another quarter if I have any manifestoes kicking about. 'My oeuvre,' I responded, 'is my manifesto, but I seem to recall a delicious instance of exasperation as was committed to the page by one Milton Acorn, a long time ago in a distant galaxy for the august sway of the Tamarack Review in one of what must have been its final issues. No, Milton Acorn was not the greatest poet, but for Canadian literature he was a necessary poet, only it would seem he was deemed by those in a position to draw such distinctions as mostly unnecessary, forgettable, irrelevant, as the world is a game which demands from one one's appropriate skill-set, and the one thing Acorn decidedly could not handle was a fork—I will have to have words with London Lunar over a sentence he wrote me in which John Fahey and ilk are in too close propinquity the one to the other—

 

March 20, 2011: I was summoned to Nikas at 1905 hrs, last evening, to marshal wherewithal for a contemplated 'action', Operation Odyssey Dawn underway over Libya. How lush Americans get with language. But we would go in search of the moon, Labrosse and I, like Sancho Panza and Mr Quixote, only I knew I would be dragging my feet, lacking, as it were, sufficient wherewithal. Labrosse was at our summer table, the one immediately adjacent to the street by the sliding window - bistro section, the sun freshly departed, leaving in its wake a dark metallic blue sky. Or else it was the tint of the glass that occasioned the colour, and I recalled, as I joined Labrosse, MH the painter telling me that there is no 'absolute' blue; but that, in any case, whatever the mix of colours that make up the 'blue', it's life anyway, life you're living—Earlier in the day, along with A who was in an uncharacteristically pensive state, Labrosse and I trekked down to the Claremont; made our 'devotions' to MacFarlane's mug a photo of which is on the wall just inside the door; had a Guinness each plus a bowl of fried sweet potatoes; watched us some indifferent college basketball; exchanged words with a pleasant but suitably caustic barmaid - I like pleasant but suitably caustic barmaids. When we had had our fill of these things we each of us retired to our respective lairs, A by way of a large detour that is no one's business but her own. Even so, at roughly 1945 hrs there in Nikas, Labrosse having  had his coffee and honey cake, he somewhat chuffed that I had demurred at the prospect of more squeezings from the wine cow; Labrosse having tugged his black tuque down around his ears and having lit his cigarette, we initiated our advance down Sherbrooke, got as far as Hampton - but a few steps; then, hard right and a few more steps in, and we raised the moon that was white and fairly luminous on the horizon, contiguous to a row of townhouses, framed by the bare branches and twigs of a maple. It was as good as it was going to get unless we wished to stand around for a couple of hours and freeze as the moon rose, or else hoof it for some twenty blocks or so for a better prospect. So much for the moon. In the meantime, or so I imagine it, Ryal in Japan was working up his latest 'posting'. (See the links page, and Nishigawakobo.) In it, apropos of his reference to me, I come off a blithering idiot, which probably is not so far off the mark as all that, as I had been going on about national and state literatures (see the March 17-18 post below), always an adventure fraught with risk. However Ryal has his own cross to bear, that of 'Canadian identity', that abiding mystery, that ever-shifting goal post akin to something like a quark in the cosmic underpinnings of the national psyche, and it is something I have never comprehended in spite of all my years hereabouts. Perhaps the fact that my formative years were marked by American schooling spares me this particular identity-curse, as I was made hopelessly and incurably American for the entirety of my sentient existence, never mind what else was lurking in the gene pool that engineered me, my parents both German and marked by the baggage that WWII put upon them, baggage that was off-loaded onto me - with love. But Ryal's prose is excellent enough and so, blithering idiot that I be, I am not neither irked nor intimidated by either Ryal's prairie realism or his 'inner' Brit, his gambit of last resort should his Japan idyll ever backfire. Now there is in Labrosse a state of being in Canada that has always fascinated me. He is, and I mean this in no cheesy CBC production sense, a proud Quebecker that invites no unsavoury appanages to hop aboard and sponge off the main template; he is not aggressive about language rights and culture; he is a federalist; but he is a Montrealer with little interest - nothing personal - in Firenze, for instance, or Kuala Lumpur. And yet, he along with Casablanca Rick and myself, via the agencies of the wine cow, is a citizen of the world. Trouble is, having said as much, it is a disappearing institution - this business of being a citizen of the world, inasmuch as globalization seems to have supplanted it - meta-nationalism with, paradoxically enough, a more intensive straitjacket. I suppose it has all to do with how one goes about acquiring and spending one's money—So that when certain globetrotting business persons with whom I now and then cross paths go on, when in their cups, about being citizens of the world, it is just so much sentimentalizing mush in my view—For all that I have three new poems going, one-pagers each. A bit of a miracle, that, as I generally fly in the face of less is better, countering with more is nothing to sneeze at. It was quiet, last night, in Nikas. Rooftop moon parties? Thermoses of java and booze? The lovely Romanian and the lovely Albanian - they were bored to tears waitresses, their eyes distracted, thoughts in the far-off distance not the moon, homesick. A sizeable portion of the populace north of the 49th is 24/7 homesick - this much I have established in my long sojourn here. No conclusions need necessarily be drawn from this fact, and I have met plenty enough persons who are quite happy to have rid themselves of Rwanda or Bulgaria or some other star-crossed geo-polity. Neither am I an apologist for the national literature or a detractor from the same, as a national literature is inevitable and perhaps in some respects desirable. Just that, good golly, Miss Molly, how smug it sometimes gets, how cosy, bragging rights so cheaply acquired—

 

March 19, 2011: Magnolia aka LE, a poet on the sly, one of the world's great hosts - are his talents wasted in Toronto? - did a great thing, sending me as he did a cd of John Fahey's The Yellow Princess. I do not know what has become of Fahey's reputation over the years, his standing among folk-blues guitarists, not to mention composers who work with folk and blues idioms, but surely Fahey remains a legend in some circles. His music once meant a great deal to me. For most of my 20s I looked to make the equivalent in poetry of Sunflower River Blues, of When the Catfish Is in Bloom. You might say I had decidedly mixed success. And then, for some reason or another, I fell away, as it were, from his music. However, yesterday, and the cd arrived. I listened. The sluice gates to memory opened. Emotions burbled up. It was not a pretty sight. I understand that Fahey once characterized the 60s folk scene as cosmic sentimentalism, his a caustic shot. He was something of a philosopher, having studied it at Berkeley. He spent his last years living in cheap motels. This bespeaks failure, perhaps, his philosophy no good to him, or there is another possibility - that he was doing something right and paying the requisite price. Otherwise, and it is evidence perhaps of a moral breakdown in me, but in the course of the day I acquired a cell phone - hated gizmo. The enemy. And as to the use of it I quickly enough found I was clueless and had need of Labrosse's expertise and business class humanism. Which required some time spread over a visit to 'bratwurst' and dinner at Nikas, Flora at 'bratwurst' giving me that mildly censorious 'oh dear' look of hers whereas smiling E at Nikas welcomed me to the 21st century and stamped my ticket. Later Labrosse and I went up to my digs to view the last two episodes of the HBO Rome series, Season One. And just before the knives came out in the senate and J Caesar was about to go down, A buzzed up after an evening out with her fellow employees, and then the three of us in an utterly solemn silence caught the dénouement, as when Brutus finally gets hold of his nerve and delivers the life-severing coup de grâce, and with his dying breath Caesar effects modesty, drawing the hem of his bloodied toga over his face. One of the great gestures ever recorded for the camera. And Labrosse knew it, as he had nothing to say but: well, this certainly sets up things for the next season. I do not believe A had anything to say one way or the other, the young sometimes leery of the enthusiasms of their elders. Without further ado, I fired up the ghetto blaster and put on the Fahey. I commenced to wallowing in the music, and Labrosse and A politely listened, all the while finessing an opportunity to take their leave. In truth, A at various points, did manage a 'beautiful', a 'brilliant', an understated 'wow'.

 

March 17-18, 2011: A young Canadian poet of my acquaintance who resides outside the homeland in which he was spawned tells me that, in respect to Daryl Hine the poet-scholar-translator and his neglected work (see the March 16-17 post below), there is a simple explanation that cuts through all the fog of war my mentations scared up. Though himself Canadian-born, Hine lived and worked abroad, the fact of which did not recommend him to editors of anthologies. Also, Hine is gay, a reality which may or may not have rendered certain executive decisions real, anthology editors in a position to disburse entitlements like so many alms. Otherwise, what follows here merely echoes what has come down the centuries: humankind is hardly a perfectible lot. It is a cardinal point in conservative thinking, in Augustinian thought, as well, and I am pretty much in accord with the claim even if my sympathies tend to align more with liberal notions of governance. In any case, who cares, liberal notions of governance fleeing crime scenes everywhere? Of late, I have been going on about Canadian poets and touching on the 'literary scene' a little, resurrecting, thereby, old quarrels that I would just as soon forget; only that I believe there have been times in the past when I might have mouthed off to some good effect and did not. And if we ought not underestimate the power of George W Bush to continue to haunt us, we ought not underestimate the power of the expiatory, either. Last night, yet another young poet (what's with all the young poets of late?) put it to me that the notion of a national literature is a pernicious notion; that there was not, at any rate, a national literature as such; and if there were one as recognizable to the wary eye in Winnipeg as in Halifax it would be an artificial, sickly crittur hardly worth the bother of mention. He meant well but I countered, mindful of headland and currents and wind direction, thusly: of course there is a national literature, be it good, bad or indifferent, in the sense that most countries have a national literature that, in superficial respects, at least, reflect easily identifiable characteristics of a 'national temperament'. So long as there is more than one poet within a certain set of borders with which to screw a light bulb, there will be a national literature - it cannot be helped. But that when a 'state' literature subsumes a national literature and masquerades as such, then, yes, to be sure, Houston has got a problem. And at times it has seemed to me that we here in this nation-state get uncomfortably close to settling for a 'state' literature and we will regret it. In truth, neither I nor the young poet were able to muster a reasoned and sustained argument as we were half swacked. Besides we were at risk of boring the rest of the company in the room. But the fact that the discussion arose of its own volition, unbidden, unscripted, is not insignifcant. For all that, I am not about to muster a reasoned and sustained argument here as, like I keep saying throughout these posts, I am basically peddling gossip and ghostly mentations, and, horrors, the theatre of ideas interests me more than the ideas themselves. For instance: as the young poet of Polish antecedents held forth - in an admirable fashion, I might say - he was simultaneously stripping a medium-sized pizza of its olives. He explained that he always orders pizzas with olives as it affords him great pleasure to pick the little buggers off while he eats—I did not press him on this matter, not wishing to encourage it—So much for sound and sense and imagery, all the grand stuff of verse—I believe I then recited on a whim something from Fagles' translation of The Odyssey but I am probably mistaken—

***

We used to call them gunners back when I was a gym rat at the nether end of my adolescence, those guys that hogged the basketball and never thought to pass the thing and give anyone else a 'touch'. I would like to think it was in self-defence that I became a gunner, too. Or I would much prefer to think that I developed into that phenomenon known as the 'pure shooter'; yes, that thought goes some distance, indeed, in gratifying a romantic overview of my grotty self. I was having a view, last evening, of the NCAA tourney, looking for the poem I have always contemplated writing, the one that never seems to materialize. The closest I have gotten is a few lines I wrote a few years ago, a recollection of a cracker box school gym, Utah, I flying down the sidelines, the girls in the bleachers whipping out their lipstick and marking me up as I flew past. Their hooting, territorial countenances. My bewilderment. A briefly experienced spate of stark fear, 1962, all those Penthesileas—I was flabbergasted, too, last evening, to hear that the UN Security Council had made a decision, be it right or wrong. An authentic decision, be it right or wrong in respect to Libya and a 'no-fly zone'. The American ambassador to the august body seemed beside herself, living, as she was, in a heady moment, expressing her decretal, Colonel G a kind of popinjay to be prised from his crate—This morning I read prose by a certain Mr Fish whose cartoons in Harper's I admire, whose prose I dislike as it is derivative and pop-heavy, but that he offered up a thought that rings bells with me: human values are arbitrary. We are not willynilly inherently moral creatures. Mr Fish's musings appear now and then on the pages of the Truthdig site, and if you are feeling restive—Well, a young poet who cannot be expected to know better assures me that while I may be a crank, sour grapes has nothing to do with it; and of Outram the poet he further observes that he was somewhat 'hemmed in', wedged as he was between bpNichols and Al Purdy, and what was an honest guy going to do but develop elaborate, if baroque stratagems in response and preserve his self-respect. Mr Outram, however, is no longer around to answer for himself, as, out of his grief at the death of his wife, he allowed himself to freeze in a Toronto winter—I sat a short while with Labrosse in Nikas after I had had enough of basketball and the news, and we discussed the news and Trotter, a poet, youngish, and E who was ebulliently on shift; and in a further sign of my disintegrating moral facade, we kicked around the idea that I should avail myself of a cell phone, that much despised gizmo such as contributes so much polluting sound to public air, just that the texting application is, at least, silent. Why this sudden hankering on my part to be part of the loop? What loop? Whose loop? Is there a loop? Or is it a noose? I rationalized that I would give cell phone use a couple of months and determine if there is anything to this notion of enhancement of life-quality, or if it is just another boondoggle, one of those arbitrarily assigned human values—Warmish outside. Moody wind. Filthy snow. Signs of spring in Montreal-NDG.

 

March 16-17, 2011: I have said as much before and it bears repeating: there were a number of poets, Canadian poets, if you must know, of whom I never once heard mention out on the coast between the years 1968 to 1994. (And there was only one coast - the west coast. What east? East of where?) It was most likely coincidental that I did not get so much as a whiff of a poet like Charles Bruce, or Solway, for that matter, gone rogue. Or it was a conspiracy. Or the country is too big, is too much ghetto-ized between its cities, like any number of critics have long since remarked. Or else I simply moved in the wrong circles in which one might hear the names of Nowlan and Acorn tossed around, but rarely in a generous light. Tennyson? Are you kidding? No doubt I omit here a goodly number of names, good names all, but there were three poets about whom I would not have minded hearing more: George Johnston, Richard Outram, Daryl Hine. (Hine actually managed to get himself born in that Shangri-La of New Westminster out there in Lotus Land. How come then no mention of him? Ah, because—but I feel something unchivalric of me coming on.) I was fortunate enough to meet Mr Johnston not too long before his passing, and I liked him immensely, though liking a man has nothing to do with the quality of his verses. I suspect the west coasters I knew regarded the verses of Mr Johnston, if they knew of them, as dullish, fuddyduddy stuff; and of course these west coasters were cutting edge and thrilling.You bet. Be that as it may, the verses of Mr Johnston that are well-made are well-made, indeed, and certainly a great deal better than the verses of your average poet-bear north of the 49th. Outram? Along with a friend of mine whose opinion I respect in these matters I find Outram at times baroque for my taste, and I am nothing if not chiaroscuro. Even so, he is a considerable poet, one who may have led, so I am beginning to understand, a few protégés and protégées out of the poetic wilderness and into something resembling light. It really does seem to me that the fact of him was kept under wraps lest his talent threaten too many vested interests. And I could be wrong about this, to be sure, and I will get an earful of no such thing is possible in this country, this being kept under wraps lest 'dullish' and 'fuddyduddy' astonish the world. Now, are you considering poetry as a career option? Prepare yourself for a life of infinite regret. Or else, 1): never write anything that rocks the boat, any boat; but always give the appearance of one who is rocking the boat, any boat, and collect your kudos. The Moral Ascendancy Game modified to literary objectives. And 2): Keep your talent down to a dull roar lest a more robust din startle and scare hell out of your writerly comrades and they contemplate throwing in the towel. Hence, be a team player. And 3): Oh, that's quite enough. Getting querulous. Mr Hine? It is criminal that this man has been neglected this long in this country. And it is going to be difficult to knock me off the position that the neglect has been intentional, but you are free to try. A Toronto correspondent of mine tells me that if I am going to rage, I should 'concentrate my rage on all those f—ks who sat on their hands—' Trouble is I am unsure as to which f—ks he means and why, though I think I understand the spirit of his proposal and I will take it under advisement.

***

I suppose London Lunar has it right: it is pretty horrid when people our age are asked about the 60s. Does it suggest that the young'uns have nothing much going for themselves? My goodness, did I really play the authenticity card, last night? How very shabby. You see, a ragtag team of specialists had dropped by, last evening - a critic and two poets still tender in years of whom the one poet was cheerful and the other brooding but trying his best to put up an effort at informed civility—And, so, what about poetry? Are we going to recover our art just long enough to report on its demise? (In light of which, have a look at this little essay by Chris Ryal on the music of Aldo Clementi—Chris Ryal.) I will not go on about the 60s to the evident relief of a not a few people, and I will probably refrain from writing that memoir, my experience of that time in no way remarkable. Yet there were a couple of years there when I lived and worked in a coffeehouse in Olympia, Washington and was subjected to a great deal of Robert Graves and the New American poetics, Appalachian ballads and blues and serious politics on a local scale - high octane mix. And I can see in retrospect that it has had a lot to do with what I write and why and how I write it. It is a pity that Kris Robinson the red-haired Canadian who had committed to memory some 300 ballads never recorded, her voice easily putting the voice of the young Baez in the shade. There were a number of such musicians who never recorded, blues and ragtime guitarists as gifted as a Dave van Ronk, for instance, and perhaps surpassing his skills; and yet, that they did not record is somehow in keeping with that 'period' - an evanescent one, if you will. It may not have happened except that it did—(And drugs, no doubt, had a lot to do with the apparent lack of ambition in Barefoot John, to name one blues-wanderer, who was a banker's son—) Labrosse had made mention the other night of J Caesar's right hand man in the HBO Rome series, the Greek slave, and I remarked that now and then in the course of the empire Greek slaves virtually ran the thing. Which put Labrosse in mind of Desrocher, Bourassa's chief of staff—All this absolutely apropos of nothing. MS apologizes for his no-show, last night. He met a girl. When the sun shines on a dog's arse, he comments, the dog does well enough to take advantage of the rare opportunity

 

March 16, 2011: Yesterday was, well, so yesterday, it having been the Ides of March. About which Ovid had this to say in his Fasti: On the Ides is the merry feast of Anna Perenna / Not far from your banks, alien Tiber. / The plebs arrive  and scatter over the green grass / Drinking, and all recline  beside their mates—A black figurine of Anna Perenna, 'many-breasted', gave me the willies in Rome, 2004, when I came across it: it had been recently dug up from a site quite close to where I was staying. Anna P, obscure deity, but friendly to the 'plebs'. It was soon apparent, last night in Nikas, Montreal-NDG, that A, who has been shedding her blonde tints (if it can be said that one sheds hair colouring) and reverting to her old status quo as a brunette, had no idea what Labrosse and I were on about. The Ides of March? J Caesar? What, were they bands? My question to her was: is there still an alternate culture? Well, knock me over with a feather—Labrosse was much exercised by his viewing of the HBO Rome series, his first foray into 'classical' history, and much to his surprise he was liking it. The series does take a few liberties here and there with the record, but overall, it is faithful to the tenor of what transpired during the rise of J Caesar, the fall of Pompey, the coming on of Octavian, the train wreck that was M Antony, my favourite personage in the series, even if he was an amoral lout or what, in the old Vancouver days, we used to call a hoser. He was not given to bombast and pretension—But no, A did not believe she had anything to reproach herself for; history, as such, meant nothing to her and she could safely leave it to a couple of old farts like Labrosse and myself, and besides, Washington was handing Montreal its arse in that there hockey game on the TV situated just above our glorious pates. We got quite swacked. We repaired to 'bratwurst' where we were not handed each a gold fish, it being either the Persian New Year or somewhere thereabouts, close enough, at any rate, that the place was packed with ebullient Persians much bemused by the fact we were lit and life was good, however bewildering, at times. I was feeling somewhat tender on account of my rupture with Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator. All my fault, no question, as sometimes, I have all the finesse, in my correspondences, of a charging rhino. But I am not ideological, ideology one of Carpenter's bugbears, and yet it does not follow that, eschewing ideology, one ought to eschew principles, as well, in the name of pragmatism. Hell's bells, we are all pragmatic to some extent or another, and even the right of centre loons who have hijacked the political process in yankydum, seemingly, have some passing acquaintance with pragmatic practice—Oh, I give up. Which is precisely what I said to Carpenter whom I suspect of being a closet-Stendhalian. Then Labrosse saw fit to make mention of the fact that this here 'blog', as it were, would not quite be on the up and up if I failed to note that I had abandoned the 'left' - oh, at some point in the 80s when the left grabbed hold of lifestyle in earnest - but was beating a belated path back to the thing - to the 'left' or to—I have no effing idea what to call it; and that I am beating a path to anything might well constitute a mirage. Well might Labrosse have his little chuckle, he who has not wavered a milli-inch in his fealty to business-class humanism and the Liberal Party. I was also feeling somewhat tenderized by this following bit of happenstance: a Certain Literary Critic and Political Commentator to boot had advised a Certain Poet in a review that the poet ought to leave novel-writing alone and stick, one assumes, to verse. That he was a fine enough poet, et cetera, et cetera. Fine poet? Something of a stretch. This Certain Poet, after he got his GG and then was stroked as some sort of Noble Canadian Primitive by Bostonians and the like, announced to me that he was closing the door after him, meaning, I hazarded to guess at the time, that no one would be riding his coattails to glory. He was bitter. There was something of a chip on his shoulder as he was a small-town pleb in cowboy boots who liked to hang out in pool halls (I, too, liked hanging out in pool halls, and yes, his verse did have promise) and not exactly CBC kosher or Toronto. I was a maverick of sorts, quite innocent, quite clueless, still thinking that all poets, no matter who, were saints, but once I heard the aforementioned door clanging shut and the electronic alarms being installed, instantly I became a committed maverick, the literary game as rotten a game as any other on Wall Street. And it was yet again demonstrated to me by virtue of what the critic wrote that, in the end, like will circle the wagons with like against all encroachments, no matter that like can barely stand the presence of like, let alone the verses. Here then, MS, is your first true object lesson in literary politics. Hearken up. (Certain Literary Critic and Political Commentator is alright, actually: he has his obligations.) Morning. Nikas. Irish harpy in the booth behind me is grinding on with her numberless complaints that treat with frickin' this and that, and her husband is humble and devoted, and the hairs hurt and I have not the spiritual wherewithal—Those Bostonians? I continue to submit that civilization in yankydum has been in decline since the 1790s—

 

March 15, 2011: I funked it, pure and simple. It is part of the dynamics of desire that, on occasion, when one wants something too much the wanting will blow up in your face. If my own sense of amour propre, all appearances to the contrary, is fairly lax, I forget it is not necessarily so in others. From Mr Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, I had been looking for an 'unscripted' remark or two in respect to how things currently stand in yankydum. If I wanted an 'unprofessional' opinion I was roundly told, I ought to give Fox News a whirl. Game, set, match. It gets worse. I had been to a local bookstore the other day, one mostly vending cheap paperback thrillers and Harlequins, but having items of interest on its shelves. Thus, I picked up old videocassettes of Parsifal and Eugene Onegin, operas by Wagner and Tchaikovsky, respectively, the booty somewhat overpriced. (If I did not expect Grade A quality, I did not anticipate disasters, either.) It was only on my second go-round with the Parsifal, I increasingly bewildered as I watched, that I realized the singers were not songstering, no, not at all, they were lip-synching. So many deer in pale robes stunned by klieg lights—No wonder the spectacle on view seemed way beyond artifice—And Baudelaire and Proust would have had nothing to fear from me in regards to art criticism and cultural commentary. On the one hand you have an imagined, blighted realm depicted by the opera in question, and on the other hand you have the blight in which you happen to reside - or capitalism under serious stress, and what is the go-between between the two? Why, as ever, farce. London Lunar tells me that while on his constitutional yesterday, he came across a murdered swan by the Thames. (This bird, of course, refers us back to Parsifal.) The wings had been ripped from the body. Probable culprit? A fox. Lunar suspects, however, the dark machinations of a thwarted poet—Cygnicide. I went down to Nikas at half past nine, last night, to see if I could scare up any company. No Labrosse. But E was hanging about, come to collect her pay cheque and spread her good cheer. "Oh," she said to me, "I went to see Biutful. It was so sad. But, you know, it wasn't all that heavy. No, I don't think so." A bird in her throat burbled those words. I believe I blinked at receipt of this information, as if I were in league with an alien. She was in any case deep in it with one of the regulars, amiable trucker, proud member in good standing of AAA, the restaurant a way station between his redemption and his demons. The cruel belly, can you hide its ache? From Homer's The Odyssey. Now the power of innocence to effect change goes mostly unchallenged in this our geist. But I ask: how is it that so many persons that comprise a fair per centage of the electorate in yankydum as well as in Canada, ostensibly progressively-minded persons, assume they have anything like 'innocence' in them, let alone the capacity to recognize it when it bites one on the arse? But they will effect change, you can bet on it— No wonder Yeats went on about the passionate intensity of the shabby—Yesterday afternoon, I sat in 'bratwurst' and scribbled the following: Bright afternoon. Montreal-NDG. At the table opposite, her back to the wall, this woman looks as if she has just been handed terrible news, her countenance waxing bitter. For, yes, something eats away at the extent to which we take our comforts for granted. The aging process, perhaps. Earthquakes, tsunamis. Plutocracy. Everyone else in the place, if not euphoric, have every appearance of being reasonably content with their lot. Worldly Persians. Bemused by my naive, if not wholly innocent view of the Big Picture. The snow recedes, though we are still two months shy of terrasse season (unless April proves warm enough) and getting crocked as the buds open and leaves form and thicken and maples begin to sail—Which brings Patrick O'Brian to mind and his nautical novels. I am near finished with the twenty volume series that I have read with pleasure but with some unease—Sometimes it seems that, in the writing, the nastier aspects of empire (the British empire), while not actively suppressed or ignored, are still exonerated in the sense that empires are mixed bags of good and ill consequences, the mix assumed, so why bother talking about it? But here, here's an instance of authorly compassion—Well, just so you know, compassion for human frailty as evinced in the books is genuine enough and observes no quota system, the author civilized, a good fellow—Is a time fast approaching when one will have to answer for having been a good fellow? In the not too distant past one often heard it argued as to whether Rome had been a good or a bad idea. I no longer hear such talk, at least, not at 3 a.m. in a diner, the university nearby. In any case, empire? Passé. Pass the salt—Bright day. That smell of snow rotting. Decidedly March. Indeed, I think I just had a glimpse of a March hare in the corner of my eye, hand outstretched for alms, bits of straw protruding from a ratty tuque—After Parsifal, I gave The Rocky Horror Picture Show a whirl after a hiatus of a decade or two. I scribbled a bunch of other things, such as this tag from Onegin: love comes first in dreams. This explains much. Over and out.

 

March 14, 2011: She was faculty somewhere - in the Midlands, perhaps. With lots of hair, she was middle-aged and could boast a handsome countenance, one a bit ruddy. She liked her libations and may have still liked sex. She flashed a gold tooth. But the fact of me had irked her, and there was nothing I could say to settle her down on that score. She simply did not believe me, sputtering that I could not survive in the workaday world of London intellects unless I had had me the full panoply of academic training, could alternate at will between Latin and Greek in a Piccadilly gift shop, for instance. I must have had some 'sizening' to be a fully sentient adult. (She meant to say 'seasoning'. You see what a cockamamie affair it is - the human mind.) She continued sputtering, getting increasingly worked up. And by now, some of you are guessing it: she was a dream figure, and she was dinning my ear with her snarls of disbelief as I woke, this morning, the crows silent on account of DST and the fact that the clocks have advanced its banal workaday hour—Otherwise, what? Should I begin to entertain the thought that I actually have anything to say on X, Y and Z might suggest the end of my utility as a writer good, bad or indifferent - a variation on what I call the Castro Syndrome. As when heads of revolutions begin to adjudge themselves indispensable to the pepple—In yankydum, however, products continue to be tagged, pitched and vended with accompanying mini-sit-com smiles that bespeak cuddlesome Americans who can be forgiven their slaves, their Indians, their Mexicans and an endless stream of Las Vegas crooners; it is all those other people out there beyond the oceans who are loons and psychopaths—Or can you picture Burt Bacharach singing the croonying equivalent of "You have a head and a heart? Reveal only one of them, I say; if you reveal both at once, doubly they'll damn you for both"—Hölderlin. Or can you stand J Lennon managing to transcend being Lennonesque (he accountable for the world's worst and most insufferable song) so as to sing: "When I was a boy a god often rescued me from the shouts and rods of men, and I played—" Ah, Hölderlin, too. And whether or not it is hard case fact, and, to be sure, I have not a whiff of deep background with which to buttress the thought, there is every appearance that a feckless Current President is mimicking a Pontius Pilate in respect to Libyan rebels and in respect to Manning the leaker, the President assured by the Pentagon that all treatment of this prisoner awaiting trial for his outrageous indiscretion is on the up and up, and within the appropriate specs. Would anyone lie to the President? Now this Manning fellow may or may not be a dupe of J Assange - that other character central to the Wikileaks business, and there is some appearance, at any rate, that Assange is a trifle unhinged. And then the snitch who snitched out Manning - who has been duping him? The Justice Department? But then the greatest dupe of them all - ta-ta - the yankydum public. What keeps it in its perpetual slap-happy state, every man, woman and child and household pet a potpourri of various combinations of Larry, Curly and Moe? Kaknuckleheads, by way of action-thrillers, spoon fed the heady fantasy that they are in control of their lives and no longer subject to the whims of sadists such as their bosses, that's what. Which, as a concept, as segue, does not promise much, even if we have, O glory days, arrived at a pass whereby we might make measurement, if we so desire, of a millionth of a second on the other side of which, no doubt, is eternity of paradise. MH greeted me, this morning, with news of the fact that multi-nationals are gearing up to co-opt Canadian book publishing, and for all my quarrels with many of its wretched products, would I wish to see true independence of spirit and mind (can a state literature boast true independence of mind and spirit?) disappear beneath the tectonic plate of a behemoth whose only concern is shekels? In a word, no, of course not. Do I have much faith in the ability of true independence of mind and spirit in these parts to prevail? Must I answer? (I await response from a certain entity in a position to know as to the reliability of the aforementioned report. But I have most likely insulted said entity in recent days and so—It is to be hoped that MH misread her account, an instance of bad news simply piling on atop a spate of the stuff—) In light of which I watched a portion of Parsifal, last evening. The opera (a swan with an arrow stuck in it seemingly its most 'resonating' symbol) treats with a blighted, star-crossed realm set to the music of Wagner. After an hour or so the cheesy production values and film quality did me in, though the singing was fine enough. In the far distance, hooting - London Lunar reminding me of my dislike of all things Wagner—But now for what I have been wanting to say - that something I read quite recently resurrects in me an old discussion, to do with the Romantic poets as per the Brits - Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Blake in particular—What about the Byronic personality in contradistinction to the Promethean Shelley, the melodizing Keats, the pedagogical Wordsworth, the jabberwocking Blake? This thing that I read, an excerpt from a series of notebooks kept, it seems over a period of some decades from the late 50s on, was written by a man who himself was in possession of the real deal - the Byronic personality such as I have never before encountered live - anywhere in anyone. Irreverent spirits are common enough, but the Byronic is something else again. Now I have always loved Keats for his sensibility but quite often find his verses, with some compelling exceptions, unreadable. And apart from the kudos due them for their intellects and poetic achievements that are quite real, I have never been able to warm to the others. If Byron does not always win my head, he wins my heart - because Byron the neurotic wiseacre had in him a deep and abiding respect for that which rates deep and abiding respect, a genuine, unpretentious sense of the sacred. It complicates things. Easy to always come it the wiseacre. Byron was not wholly a good person. (I have read some not very wholesome biographical material on a not very wholesome Byron, and it is as if the biographers in question were indulging their own dark sides at the expense of Byron's reputation—Malraux comes to mind—) But Byron, at the very least, was probably the proverbial bad influence on the high-minded who nonetheless earned the love of his friends. Enough. This threatens to want a full and proper essay, one incurring the risk of literariness. Suddenly here is Basil Bunting, not the poet so much as the pasha, and his daughters are serving his becushioned and plumaged self some wine—It is ceremony that I envy. Trouble is, I am too much used to carrying my own bags—

 

March 12-13, 2011: We are nearing, Labrosse and I, the first anniversary of Eggy's death. Eggy aka the real life Peter MacFarlane aka the grand octogenarian swain Arthur Eglinton in my novel The Traymore Rooms as yet unpublished. Who, along with Moonface and Dubois, cut such figures in my mythical NDG, Montreal purgatory, and without aid of 'text-dating'. That the novel is as yet unpublished may constitute a crime of sorts, but then, criminality is relative, is it not? Still, a certain entity with a sound system at his command was heard to swear on his life to a bar packed to the gunnels with literary suppliants that he would indeed publish the thing. Yes, but one ought to recall that he was drunk, very drunk, indeed, when he made the fatal declaration of intent. You may find a snapshot of the rotter - no, not that certain entity but Eggy the rotter - on the Traymore site. (See 'Selected Sibum' on the home page and look for the squinty gaze.) So then, what will Labrosse and I do to commemorate this anniversary? 'Bratwurst' recommends itself as the obvious choice, Eggy having frequently taken his libations there in hailing distance of Flora the proprietress. There is also the Claremont in the next district over where Eggy often took his various intendeds for drinks and dinner before lowering the boom on them. And the boom was not the suggestion that Eggy and lass sidle off to bed, though he wished; rather the boom very often was some expatiation on his part to do with Picot-Sykes, for instance, or the mythical KitKat Club in the Beirut of his mythical youth when he was a Royal Navy man. It is conjectured that MacFarlane died of excessive drink, and it is a reasonable enough supposition, but oh, so prosaic. His old carcass just gave out, so I prefer to think, turned obstinate on his mulish bent (one could not ever herd Eggy), and he died in the saddle, as it were, after terrorizing the neighbourhood with his thunder and cane and diminutive frame. In any case, staff at the Claremont promised to affix a plaque to the back of a bar stool in Eggy's honour, and I would not mind coming around to see if the promise was ever acted on. I, for one, owe Eggy. Owe him lots, lots more than I can possibly quantify. He was a difficult man, but that is nothing new for me: most of my friends are, shall we say, challenging. I owe Eggy because in him, in his person, so many loose ends in my thinking and writerly inclinations came together when I had long despaired that they would ever do so. What was the long poem but the attempt to commit all those loose ends to a stable enough form? I am then forever in Eggy's spiritual debt for the simple reason that I could not repay it, at least, not while he was alive. He was one of those very ordinary men who, in their way, have a certain genius. His genius lay partly in the fact that he had a deep and abiding curiosity about people and the world, and partly in the fact of his social skills which were considerable. Few men, unless they were flashing weaponry, intimidated him. Now and then a woman of better than average intelligence would turn his banter around and have it come right back at his air of having been innocently smutty, and he be flustered until a dangerous grin broke out in his countenance, limerick sure to follow. Moreover, he had a prodigious memory for verses vulgar and sublime, and he was not shy about indulging these riches, and he got away with it, even in Canada amongst the rubes. In the end, despite his braggadocio to the contrary, I believe he led a fairly chaste life, damn it all, anyway—

***

I hear tell of a young woman reaching for her scotch and Sibum. Immensely gratifying to hear, to be sure. Otherwise, the news. And it is too terrifying to discuss, so I am told, and, as the Italians would have it (who have been playing a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a wayward Berlusconi of late), the man who told me it has a lot of ragione on his side. Japan and its triple-whammy: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear nightmare. Scenario stolen from comic book scenarios. But I read that Atlantis has, at last, been located, or that something has been found, at any rate, under marshy ground inland near Cadiz, Plato's tsunami scenario newly credible. Notice of the fact gives me the willies as, in addition to French symbolist poetry, I have a weakness for Atlantis theories. Nothing - not even old gardens mirrored by eyes / Can restrain this heart that drenches itself in the sea—Mallarmé. For many years, I have regarded Plato as a kind of governess-ogress who, nonetheless, harbours a secret cache of humour which, on occasion, is trotted out to keep sundry personages honest. All the literalists, of course, that I have ever known are Aristotelians down to the core and the purity of their fingernails, and I am well aware I am on the wrong side of an argument, but no matter. We did find out, once and for all, that parts of the Mediterranean were indeed Homeric. And now we may also discover that parts of it were, as Plato claimed, despite animadversions to the contrary, Atlantaean. No beast is more savage than man when possessed with power answerable to his rage—Plutarch. Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress of the classically Greek profile sorts change, and the coins plunk into the cash box as so many heralds announcing heigh ho it's off to work we go. It snows. Vapid music in the speakers. Some drivelling idiot keeps chorusing dy-no-mite. It is tantamount to someone applying a plank of wood to my skull. Whack whack-a-whack— Late last evening, I looked for Labrosse, thinking to find him in Nikas keeping company with A, E on shift. The restaurant was empty, E going through all her shut-down procedures, floor mop leaning against a table while she cleared away the mess from another. I realized just then I did not have the requisite spiritual resources with which to invite her to an after-shift beer at 'bratwurst' and maintain as well a yeoman's portion of the conversation: she is not yet a committed conversationalist, despite her aspirations. Besides, Saturday night, and tiny 'bratwurst' would be packed with Persians, no seating available for us. Crumbs, but I would have to finish watching CIS basketball by way of the tourney underway in Halifax, the quality of the hoop not quite NCAA standard but not all that terribly dreadful, either. It happens like this, sometimes, and one is at odds with the unfolding of the universe, occupying shifting turf. Or one has an ego but that one, even so, briefly sees how lethally circumscribed we are by our egos and their appetites. One sees, for instance, how E is in a rush to get clear of work so that she can go and play with her playmates at Honey Martin's, and one such as myself is the last thing on her mind, is absolutely the last thing on her mind: self and the loose ends pertaining to self simply do not signify in her alpha patterns. Decently enough, I withdrew from the scene, went and fell asleep on my couch. A hermit's sleep. Now Irish harpy enters with retinue. She is whistling. She is whistling a happy tune. Clearly there is no news that is too terrible for her to contemplate. A gallows' whistling. What a mensch she is, that one. Not a bad sort, really, but—

 

March 12, 2011: I suppose one man's annus horribilis is another man's blesséd season. Puerility still extant in me is sorely tempted to misspell a portion of the above Latin. No doubt, you can easily enough pinpoint the word I have in mind. Ah yes, just so. And there are certain years from hell that stand out in my mind, not because I lived them but because, through reading, they have become fixtures in what I am pleased to call my mind. 69 A.D. is one of those years, that year of the four emperors that was Rome. The following year saw the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Watershed occurrence, it scored Josephus's soul, and he would write his history whilst looked after by the players who wreaked the havoc, Tacitus perhaps getting an early inkling of what he might come to write by way of a history—The year 1527 brought the sack of Rome by the imperial troops of Charles V. It comprises a stitch or two of tapestry that is all backdrop to my catch-as-catch-can grasp of the record, and only because there is in Cellini's autobiography a fairly graphic account of the part he played in the affair: he claims to have killed Charles III the Bourbon duke who commanded that restive mélange of German and Spanish troops. They were a grim lot, especially as they were not properly victualled, hence were in a vicious mood when they showed up in the streets—Who was Cellini? He was an Italian of much braggadocio, made silver salt cellars when he was not buggering boys senseless. How about the siege of Leningrad that was 900 days worth of annus horribilis? 1968 - the year I came to Canada? The year then in which Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot within two months of one another. I continue to believe that was the year of which one might say it was finished, the last hope for respectable politics to achieve anything worthwhile. (I have omitted mention of all manner of reigns of terror, not to mention instances of Mother Nature on one of her rampages—) I read conflicting reports regarding Colonel G, one of those straw bosses for whom the powers that be in the west always seem to find need of. He is going to hang on. Time is running out for him and his regime. Or that America is trending fascist. Or that, not so, it is only the right of centre fooling around, kicking up a few heels, breaking out the party favours; or that it is a pox, as it were, on the surface only, internal organs unaffected. I have been wondering for a while just how much longer the trending can last without it becoming normative, as familiar to us as actors falling apart at the mental seams—I have been foolish enough to suggest in the presence of the wine cow that the flirtation with fascism as such will eventually consummate intention—Or that those who critique Current President for fecklessness in respect to an odd core principle or two never seem to mention that that sizeable portion of the electorate that as is like-minded to the man, and I have the white, liberal vote in mind, is more than likely also feckless in respect to much. Whatever their SUVs can't outrun. The year 2011. In which I might find myself tapping out W E I M A R on the table, as if I were at some séance. But then I have said as much for a number of other years in the recent past, which makes of me fidgety fussbudget, a goose—My North Hatley correspondent, and is not that burg out in the Eastern Townships as cosmopolite as London or Paris, what with the retirees who call it home, is presently preparing my William Hoffer memoir for private publication. William Hoffer, sometime Canadian bookseller. Who was most persona non grata in some circles. The annus horribilis of not a few people. Blesséd season for no one, really, save for the woman he came to marry in Moscow who, unaccountably, loved him, deeply so. Hoffer's death nearly did the Amazon in. Hoffer who when he was right was terribly right, and when he was wrong it was spectacular, and you did not want to be anywhere near the upshot, the fall-out. Endlessly rippling consequence. Arts funding, anyone? Morning. Nikas. Irish harpy and her retinue. Her entry was preceded by a white-haired couple the male of which, in response to a query from Alexandra the waitress, replied that he was still alive. His tone of voice unmistakably suggested that he has just passed through some health crisis but that it was closely run. Just that he never had any doubts, bring on the coffee—

 

March 10-11, 2011: Twice in one week, and I am less than pleased with one of my posted jottings, some themes too big to just breeze through the arena with an airy disregard for any number of particularities, and for all that came before by way of deeply pondered scribblings - on moral feeling, for example. I just might have to write a proper essay a la Locke or Hume or Mr Johnson, for that matter, to bruit about a few names. Trouble is, I am lazy, and essays are arduous and require an intellectual sufficiency that I lack, being a frivolous poet joined at the hip to his pleasure principle. Every essay I have attempted I simply freeze up before the first paragraph hits the ground, whereas I think nothing of grinding out a 30 page poem over a course of months, revising it constantly on a twice-daily basis. Would have to read the entirety of Plato and Aristotle so as to primp and fluff and otherwise shape this essay that will never see itself past the drawing board in any case; would have to read Plotinus and Augustine and Maimonides and Aquinas and Kant and Nietzsche. Would have to rummage and rubbish about in some of the more recent moderns like Heidegger and Wittgenstein, the Bubers, Tillichs, Bonhoeffers and Weil; oh, and there is Chardin and I passed over Pascal and Montaigne—The post-moderns I leave to you. Would have to read 25 or so novels, the odd poem, Keats's letters, and, excising the wax from my ears, give Beethoven's Last Quartets a thorough-going listening-to some 20 years or so since I last gave them a listening-to. And so, in lieu of such committed application, allow me to pass you on to P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, Pragmatist Extraordinaire, though I suspect him of being a closet-Stendhalian. (See my links page for his offerings.) I take issue with his writings here and there, nothing terribly serious. But there is, however, a kind of chicken and egg question that puts us in the shadows of opposing goalposts as to what comes first - the horse or the cart? In any case, Mr Carpenter, shaking his head no doubt as he whaled on his keyboard, today made mention of those Wisconsin Dems who counted their eggs prematurely and thereby lost not only the eggs but the basket as well, as those nasty and thug-like Republicans, playing for keeps, punched back, and to considerable effect, as if it were not a fight for keeps, a knife fight, and perhaps even a season for the long knives, lots of billionaire monies slushing and coursing through the sewers, primed to bash the unions and rub out social-democratic patterns of behaviour when those monies surface. So now, will there be a general strike as suggests serious purpose, the kind of strike not seen since when - since the 30s, and before that, Seattle, 1919, if I have the year right?Indeed, what is the buzz going the rounds, these days, which wants pushback? Friendly fascism? Or does the notion of friendly fascism simply circumnavigate yet another circle, round and round we go, for a three-ring debacle, one that invites yet more wrong-headedness by way of hyperbole, as in Caspar the friendly ghost? Or are things even worse than stated? I tend to think things are as bad as that, and not love, far from it, but lifestyle is going to conquer us all, and at the expense of those already made wretched, if not born such in the first place. Hell's bells, and I am only an indifferent social democrat at best as I take a dim view of state-sponsored literature; which might make of me a libertarian of a kind, only that most libertarians I have met are rather mushy-minded and curiously effeminate. Well, people are perverse. They are perverse enough to look for pragmatic solutions to intractable problems. Still, one might hazard the supposition that, had a first principle or two been adhered to in the first instance, one might not have needed recourse to 'pragmatism', of winging it on the fly.

***

What immediately follows are a couple of items that have jumped their natural orbit and crossed over into my 'air space', as it were, as so much debris. From Double Indemnity, 1944, classic film noir featuring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G Robinson. "He'll hang you just as sure as 10 dimes will buy you a dollar." And this: "I couldn't hear my own footsteps." The latter bit of dialogue, as soon as the mortally-wounded MacMurray spoke it into the dictaphone for the benefit of posterity - he was fessing up to a crime - I found eerie and compelling for this reason: just prior to viewing the flick, MH and I had been discussing the internet and its effects good and bad, as if the data was not already all in, the conclusions long since published. Or that, in spite of the so-called 'connectedness' to the world the technology permits, I, for one, sense no contiguity whatsoever between myself and that mystical and mystifying world out there as I bash on the keyboard and see the words form on the screen and then push a button and those words flow like some effluent out into a realm, a sphere, a conditionality of a sort for which the word 'virtual' strikes me as fuzzy and inadequate and misleading, as a word that bespeaks no consequence. Perhaps I lack imagination appropriate to the taking stock of digital experience. Or, eh voila, and I am of a sudden my own opera's phantom. Now there's consequence. Were it not for the fact that generally I write everything out in longhand in my local café, subject to distractions and intrusions of all kinds, before I park myself in front of the ubiquitous machine, I would regard myself and the act of writing as disembodied, remote, abstracted, antiseptic, and strangely self-indulgent. Besides this effing computer, the only other toy-tool for which I have any familiarity is the effing ax with which I chop wood out in Vale-land where the cabin sits, and splitting wood has always been a pleasure akin to a sport and a manifestation of prowess. Perhaps I would have to take to writing computer code to understand what all the fuss has been about, to have the penny drop as to what true genius is, to ken the orgasmic pleasures which one sees depicted in sci-fi advertisements for the geist. It gets worse. I had meant to repeat myself in today's 'posting' and continue going on about the phantasmagorias that our brains house - that they are so many excuses for literariness, strictly house of cards material, including the agonies that certain mental processes induce as well as age-old obsessions with God and after-life and life's meaning, if any, and love and lust and the psychology of power; that all that matters in our lives is that we feed ourselves and contribute to extending the life of family and tribe, even if some of us live, and not dishonourably, for art, and sometimes love, and cannot bear being within a thousand miles of the tribe, let alone the family—I meant to expatiate somewhat on the above but you are spared as I got distracted by the earthquake in Japan. A good friend of mine resides there whom I have not seen in years; who fled Canada and stuck to it, eking out an existence as a translator, the computer that which has floated his boat and made his expatriate life possible. It has been a fait accompli, this computer thing, perhaps the most pervasive of all technological fait accomplis, and I tend to resent fait accomplis and I certainly distrust them. I recall an engineer, a Budapester who wound up in Vancouver who eschewed the use of nails and thought Canadians barbaric for not eschewing them, how he warned about machines into which everything, especially everything that matters to intellectual life, might go only to disappear some day, irretrievably so. I cannot recall his exact words but the warning made a great impression on me - one basket and all those eggs. Still, a part of me thought him one of those fussy, poncy Europeans, an aesthete cum fascist one came across now and then who had a cushy job working for the city, his wife an artist and very refined. Worse yet: Last night, on a news broadcast, I caught a clip of a now in session Congressional hearing purporting to investigate 'radical' Muslims. The chairman was defending the exercise from its critics by suggesting that those critics suffer from the malaise of political correctness. Dearie me, a much loaded notion exclusive to no particular part of the political spectrum right, left or centre or anywhere else, and such a convenient stick with which to beat off one's tut-tutting irritants—A notion consisting of a pair of words, a doublet, if you will, that through much egregious abuse, has lost its proper meaning and true sense. As happens all too frequently in our language, one that is itself teetering on the edge of an abyss, and we will not be able to think anything through much less speak of our circumstances, should it keep teetering as it has—Japan, then Earthquake. Nature always trumps. Even so, Colonel G just might hang on, and then, cold-blooded reprisals, that's what will trump, the civilized world such as it is hissing like an indignant cat—He'll hang you just as sure as 10 dimes will buy you a dollar—

 

March 10, 2011: It is an on-going conversation, this going on about 'art' and 'character', yes, as if nothing much has changed since Hesiod went on about the muses favouring him so that he could go on about farming and character, life nasty, brutal, short, no matter what the price of tea be in Singapore. I conduct this conversation between me and myself, partly because I have come across no other takers, not in the immediate environs, and partly because it is habitual or that I seek a kind of consolation in the fact that science, in its supplanting of religion, philosophy and even art, has not entirely eroded the landscape psychic and otherwise. But science says this and it is irrefutable: cause a few lesions to occur in the brain, mess with the wiring one way or another, and a saint - inside of 0 to 60 - is now a sexual psychopath or a drooling idiot or worse, so much for art, so much for character and your average dime a dozen ethicist. One may as well say but for the grace of God, as the saying so is not so much removed from the lottery that is the gene pool, from the operations of chance, from the implacableness of what I have always read as the determinisms. God love a duck, and despite the pleasure-principle to which I adhere, I am a Calvinist, after all, in a nation-state that used to favour progressive rectitude and now pretends to hip decadence a la CBC. Or that the game is rigged and definitely weighted in the favour of the few 'elected' over the many, and one need not even resort to the sticks and stones of plutocratic hanky panky or the farce of fascism so as to explicate the reality. One can safely forego Arendt's discussion of the banality of evil. All you need to know is that stuff happens. And some people are going to see their hundredth year no matter what, barring accidents or counter-revolution, but most people will not, made of clay or built-in systemic collapse. Whither intellect? Whither reason? Conscience? What do we hear for conscience? Anything? True, it is a bit worn at the edges but have a look at its noble origins—Is not science trying to have it all ways, ennobling the beautiful predator on nature shows while playing at Peace Corps with the wretched of the world while intimating that conscience is nothing more than an evolutionary ruse—? The origin of action - its efficient, not its final cause - is choice, and that of choice is desire and reasoning with a view to an end—Aristotle. Well, don't know. Now, in recent days, I have been advised that the Roy Rogers Museum has shut down, shuttered its existence, what with the Bonneville, the autographed baseballs, Trigger's saddle, Roy's shirts, chandeliers, even; and that this is a truly signifying pass, the illusion that there was anything remotely chivalric in the American social fabric now departed the scene, to many huzzahs, no doubt, and here and there the odd tear. Sometimes illusions matter, or certain of them, at any rate, the illusion, for example, that love conquers all. And, as one of my London correspondents so cruelly remarks, the person who put me to the wise in regards to the museum is probably quite cut up that he could not bid on the stuffed carcass of Trigger, the noblest crittur who ever drew breath, next to Bucephalus. Last night, I threw in an old videocassette of A Farewell to Arms, the 1932 version with Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, Adolphe Menjou, and I was surprised how much I liked it. Even so, it was problematic viewing: the less than pristine quality of the film, the one too many melodramatic flourishes that got in the way of the acting and fine cinematography, that rendered some parts of the dialogue shabby. But it was a real enough love story, and I found myself remarking to myself that, what do you know, but people used to fall in love like this - on the turn of a dime - head over heels - and it might've been crazy but it wasn't desperate - frank acknowledgment that one had met one's intended - best get on with it - aren't getting any younger - be there a good outcome or a sorry end. Well, perhaps it was never like this, and this is just another instance of hankering after some past that is preferable to some present hour. It is an odd but poetic film, irrespective of the fact that, for one reason or another, Hemingway novels never made the transition from the page to the film with anything like artistic success, this movie being the best of the lot. But where am I? Ah, cowboy chivalry. Of courtesies. Of high attempts. Furioso with spurs and chaps. Alas, Gary Cooper, hardcore Republican, testified against pinkos—Or that, by chance, MH had a look at an antique episode of The Lone Ranger and said: my long lost childhood, there it is. And I still have reason to believe that she honours the chaste kisses of Zane Grey's heroes with inward thumbs' up—Just that I was ruined for all that by reading Proust and Tacitus. Which is to say that human behaviour is all about gratifying some itch or another and allaying fear, not much else. How does one transcend the itch to transcend? Citizen or stranger, this bank treats all alike. / Deposit and withdraw, the books will balance right. / Another may demur, but Caicus when you like / transacts funny business for you day or night—Theocritus, translated by Daryl Hine. Morning. Nikas. Fat, wet snowflakes. Eddie the cook is on about an actor whose recent spate of sleaze-mongering in the media is apparently filling his coffers with booty. "Eddie, the guy's an idiot." Eddie: "I know, but he's a rich idiot." And now a bubbly woman at the nether end of middle-age, a regular, declares for winter, how much she adores it, Alexandra the waitress pining all the while for Greece. Alexandra is aghast to hear these effusions about weenter. Bubbly woman, sporting a plush, black beret with a pert stem on top, has, I think, a stay-at-home-son. He has to be hitting 40 by now, his the look of one much used to coddling. Wisconsin. General strike - whether or no 'character' as such has anything to do with it, with righting a wrong. Some prominent financier, so I am told, is apparently getting out of the bond market, signalling, perhaps, the beginning of a notable decline in the American dollar—

 

March 9, 2011: I am not happy with yesterday's post. I did not make my case, if there was any case to make; just that 'art' is one of those words; it is tossed around much too cavalierly, so much so that it is become a nil referring to nothing. In any case, the hairs hurt mightily. I was at it, you see, with Labrosse, last evening, and then a pair of minxes joined us and applied the coup de grâce to whatever sentience of which I was capable. A few days back, Labrosse invited A to a viewing of Biutiful, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that A was very much taken with the film even if she had been exhausted at the time (water polo), and however much she squirmed in her seat on account of the more difficult scenes. Labrosse, too, was impressed with the film, who, as a matter of form, is not easily impressed, his Jesuitical self, his argumentative side, his contrarian persona silenced temporarily by this foray into cinematic art, he subsequently reflective. Therefore, conversation devoted to the subject was inaugurated at Nikas, Montreal taking on Boston in a testy game of hockey, and then we repaired to 'bratwurst' when Nick the waiter got his mop out and began to douse down the parquet. At 'bratwurst' there was a table of young Persian males and females, students most likely, who were in earnest and virtuous discussion about something or another. A polite but intense exchange of words, not a sloucher in their midst, unlike the reality of our table where we were beginning to launch into a much generalized roundtable in respect to love and sex and the price of tea in Singapore. It has seemed that A could do without the love of a good man for a while, but damn if she could get herself any decent sex of which to speak from even a complete rotter or a-hole, only that it now seems there has been some turnabout and she is revisiting the matter of love. "Well, love," I said, in an expansive mood, and as if I knew a thing or two. "This is going to be good," noted Labrosse. The effer. Be that as it may, I believe I made mention of the fact that love keeps one going but that there is a time in one's life when sex is the main thing, no matter if nothing good comes of it but a whole lot of trouble and heartache; and then one comes to realize that it is over-rated as are contemporary notions of self-esteem which is just another excuse for made-in-yuppie-land self-preening. Narcissism, if you will. Or so I jested, attempting to take the measure of A's 26 years. At which point E joined the table, come literally in from out of the cold, her cheeks red, her eyes wary, her demeanor cheerful. She is, among other things, much exercised about having flawless skin but she is capable now and then of thought in respect to matters of high culture. Labrosse at age 67 was of a sudden driving a GTO somewhere in a bountiful expanse of his mind, the wind rifling through what remains of his hair. He was immensely pleased with the evening as it had so far transpired, with the breadth and depth of the palaverous set-to, as when he ventured to say that one of the very few faults of Biutiful was its beginning, and that the beginning, as such, could have been put off until the end - if that makes any sense. No, I suppose it does not make much sense, though he did have some glimmer of the fact that he had just made a very baroque joke of a kind—The evening in question has come around morning, and I sit in Nikas, the Romanian girl on shift. Just that, as young as she is, she is a wife to a Romanian basketball star and the mother of an adorable daughter, and she is deeply worried for the future of her charges. She used to work in a beauty salon in the old country where she came to resent the filthy rich of the female gender. The government steals, she says, from the poor and gives to those rich personages some of whom are always having their hair done. She wants to be rich and famous—It has become our little joke, as when I enter the restaurant and ask: "Well, are you rich and famous yet?" Larry the software entrepreneur who has been away for a while (incarcerated?) is back among us; and either he is wining and dining a client over bacon and eggs, or else that fellow opposite him is a business partner, and they are taking on the world. London Lunar tells me that he intends to have words with GH soon. As  I do not wish it to appear that I am name-dropping I will only note that the initials bespeak an entity who is widely regarded as the preeminent poet in the English language for the nonce, who is also a bit crusty temperament-wise. To wit, he considers Bob Dylan a capable melodist but that when it comes to lyrics he is a skimmer. London Lunar objects to this judgment, and as he is in a position to have words with GH, and few people are in a position to have anything like words with the man, he will correct the errant attitude. He goes on to further note that Dylan, either because of or despite the excessive adulation he has had to bear up under, emasculated an entire generation of males. At any rate I sit here, testicles intact, Patricia letting me know that what happens on the outskirts of Bucharest is a crime, the rich buying up all the land for their condo-building. It strikes me that E, who is quite good at pulling off the appearance of being forever waif-like, was looking quite waif-like, indeed, at around midnight, a bit out of the loop, perhaps, as she had not seen the movie over which we were enthusing, and for other reasons, no doubt. In fact she looked spiritually abandoned, if you will, by all those who were supposed to have been charged with her upbringing and education and instruction in the ways of the world. And here I am reminded how Labrosse, last summer, remarked that he was already the father of a pair of daughters; he did not require any more daughters to supervise. And so, perhaps, he pretends that A and E are smart and grown up and independent and savvy and nimble on their feet, even when they decidedly are not; but that it is sometimes the only tack to take when confronted with a disaster of a construction site—

 

March 8, 2011: Many people admire what is bad, but no one condemns what is good—Quintilian spoke these words once upon a time. Who was Quintilian? A Roman educator and unofficial arbiter of taste who managed to survive a few emperors, including Nero and Domitian. He had decided views about the practice of rhetoric, rhetoric a big deal in those days. The point is, however, that while Quintilian's remark may have obtained in his time, it certainly does not obtain in ours. For instance, should a truly great and magnificent film grab all the prizes, and it become habitual that truly great and magnificent films grab the prizes, Hollywood, as such, would go out of business. I have often suspected that the same observation applies to the literary world, but then, one ought not get shrill. Yet what follows here has long been a bugbear of mine, if you will permit the rather poncy word bugbear. Or that it is arguable whether Cavafy ever had 'great ideas for the planet in mind' when he set about his forlorn verses, many of which are nothing more than erotic trifles, hapless reminiscing. And even when he jotted down his less evanescent and heftier period pieces like The God Forsakes Antony or Nero's Term it does not follow that he had breakthroughs on the brain when it comes to social justice. In the one poem he advises Antony not to resort to the cowardice of saying it was all an illusion - the beautiful life with Cleopatra that he was going to lose in Alexandria; and in the other poem, he points out that while the young Nero sits pretty as the crown of a beautiful lifestyle a la Versailles in Rome, the very much decrepit and aged Galba is gathering an army in the shadows—Now revolutionary struggle as such does not own the market on 'human dignity'. If it did, Hollywood would be raking it in on the back of the item. But when crusaders like Michael Moore the documentary film maker go on about (as in his recent Madison, Wisconsin speech) the great swindle by which a few perps from one class siphon off the wealth of the majority of another class by way of this or that ruse, including the gambit of an apparent budget crisis (and in general I do not dispute Moore's contentions that the budget crisis is nothing more than excuse to break the backs of what unions survive), I wish sometimes that 'art' or 'awt' were left out of the discussion. Since when has art ever come to the rescue of the world? When Moore accords lip service to art, it shows that he is genuinely the dufus without a clue he claims to be and knows next to nothing about the thing, just that, apparently, it is something one should have around, some standard issue, sentimentalized landscape that was nailed to grandma's wall. Plato and Strelnikov (the idealist-cum-Bolshevik-cum ruthless Red Army general in Pasternaks' novel) had it right, and I am thinking poets here, that poets are either mad and untrustworthy or they are useless parasites, good only for target practice— But then it is precisely why I love the poets that I love, the ones, at least, who did not and do not gad about misrepresenting poetry and the office of the poet as just one career option among others that comes with cruise control and the built-in aura of humanistic heroism. There are degrees of the thing for why we are such useless sots, us poetasters. On the one hand you have Aeschylus plowing deep, getting at what is absolutely at stake should you actually dare make mention of the human condition and really mean it, and the struggle then to comprehend what a 'human condition' consists of; on the other hand you have a Cavafy, a seeming light-weight in comparison to the Greek tragedian, who may be on to nothing more than how the evening light strikes the street on which he is ambling, en route to a tryst or just to a place where he will sit and, oh the self-indulgence, recollect a tryst he had enjoyed 20 years previous—It would be something of a stretch to suggest that, at that moment, he had on his mind the gutting of an entire social class; and if he had it on his mind, he was not saying—Ah well, you will observe I am venting here in a spirit of pettiness. True enough. But while I am venting I may as well confess that I am finding it increasingly difficult  not to conclude that everything I behold in this life has turned to s—t, even this table on which the coffee cup perches, not to mention the cahier avec spirale in which I furiously scribble; even that latest humongous dump of snow out there, the plows and snow removal trucks in battle formation on the noble boulevard; even the air I breathe. All because any notion of a first principle in respect to anything bearing the slightest resemblance to a thought has long since departed this 'planet' as surely as the dodo has and the east coast cougar. When my friend Labrosse at the controls of the wine cow, he a non-literary player, thank heaven, ventures to say that nothing, really, falls apart - things simply evolve, change from one state to another - that is fine, as things go, a fine enough remark, one ostensibly true; just that the point of view overlooks a notion of 'integrity', and here I am not thinking an optimum human character trait as such but 'structure', or why a building might continue to stand as opposed to capitulating and caving in. Integrity, then, has something to say for quality of life. I wince when I recall some of the programmatic verses of the 60s that more or less said let's hear it for justice and brotherhood and the like, all together now. But I find I prefer it as baldly put as that to the much more sophisticated programmatics of the moment that tell worse lies than the money-grubbing corporate enemy tells, PC being one weapon of mass destruction among others. And from where did the enemy derive his use of the weapon? As for art, I hesitate to say what art is lest its spirit flee the premises. Art, at the very least, is the business of creating an effect, and let us leave it at that—But art, I am sorry to say, is also a refuge of sorts even as I distrust aesthetes, the purely aesthetic over and above considerations of content, especially that content that tends to blow away sanctuaries. There it is, however - the refuge it has gotten to be. Not, willynilly, an ideal development—Then again, it has been this way a while, and of a sudden I have in mind Vivaldi and his whores and Degas and his ballerinas. Or Ahkmatova, for that matter, and the Pushkin she daydreamed—Alright then, since Horace took aim at the pretentious from the safety of his country retreat—It has been this way a while, and by all means, let Mr Moore make his speeches - they are words that need to be spoken - but let us not in a condescending fashion ennoble art for no other reason than to fill out the dance card or—

 

March 6-7, 2011: Might I run past you one more reason why I am loathe to live in the real world, and you hear me out or otherwise occupy your time as you see fit? That it, this world, is apparently permeated with meaning-systems. Yes, the fellow piling on what I guess were his power point visuals in the lecture hall, he was too lazy to make mention of Catholicism or calculus or Aesop's Fables or Plato's Symposium or Eliot's Wasteland or Beethoven's Ninth or pigeon tracks in the snow or the dancing honeybee dancing for love and glory or just for the sake of it, no meaning, perhaps, intended—But then no animal or, for that matter insect, wastes motion, whereas we, even as we would maximize efficiency in our exertions, we waste away; we heap absurdity upon absurdity and erect vast mountains of detritus in the name of our rationality— Meaning-systems. It means we are eminently reducible to some frigid lump of mental wherewithal, lacking even the grandeur of being god-addled. Oh well. A is hung over. Labrosse is nursemaiding her - there in the rear of Nikas during the Sunday brunch crush, the church crowd looking peckish and suspiciously unedified. A is in rough shape. She is in rough shape because, yesterday, having battled with distinction in two water polo matches, she then proceeded to get pissed - her choice of epithet, not mine. In the course of the evening, under the sway of the wine cow, she put the old and much experienced Labrosse under the table where he perhaps belongs, then proceeded with E at the end of her Nikas shift to Honey Martin's for a couple of pints each, the path to wisdom a slog, indeed, especially if one has to put up with bad music at excruciating decibels. In any case, now Labrosse has the intention of escorting A to the movie house for a viewing of Biutiful, an exhausting flick that A is probably in no condition to weather—In fact, he begs me to stick around as he might need a hand in moving her body from Y to Z in an operation of their moveable agape, A's a hefty physique. I answer that, no, he is on his own, he and she a couple of martyrs to the cause of drink for drink's sake, a subversive activity, the devil in the details, a pox on meaning-systems and all their dull as death field agents and hot-eyed revanchists and mild suppliants—

***

Sighted: my ancient enemy the basketball coach. For March Madness is about to break out on the TV screens of a small but sizeable portion of this continent's populace. The NCAA tourney that would determine the top collegiate team in the realm from a field of 64 eligibles, all hoopla in play. Basketball, you see, was once my passion, and in this regard, basketball coaches were my bane, those crew cut quasi-intellectuals of stratagem and drill and beingness, of fetishes peculiar to them. And I resisted them from sheer foolishness, no question. No virtue in my lonely rebellion couched as it was in failure, in a pungent reek of smelly sweat socks and rancid sneakers—No best angels to be on the side of—But I did manage to contribute to the numbers of grey hairs of which a coach's pate might boast, as I was not without talent, talent those coaches sought to utilize in four different high schools. It is what they got paid the big bucks for. Team player? I was a spectacularly dismal cock-up in that regard. I had my own ideas about the state of 'play', and I was poor support for Wal-Mart type sensibility. Years later, on Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, and I took up my old passion again, hanging around with blacks up from the States, a mixed crew ranging from lawyers and students and affable drifters, some of whom were running whores and playing high-stakes poker in Westend apartment towers. And 'team play', ad hoc as it was on the breezy beach, was still team play, but that, in that environment, it came quite naturally and without fuss and resentment, and without diagrams and speechifying and character-building, and at no expense to my skills and whatever wherewithal I still had in the showcasing of them. But enough of this. The knees went south and softball seemed a more genteel form of masochism, volleyball definitely a game for sadists. So a certain London correspondent of mine wonders what is up in Tripoli basements, seeing as people, young people in particular, are 'disappearing', presumably in them. An article I read first thing this morning was no less than the hot and foetid breath of terminal stage dysfunction worldwide. Chris Hedges and his diet of honey and locusts, and he a prize-winning journalist. Much ado about the Mayans and Easter Island. About empires that slide into the ethics-bereft ooze of denial as problems mount and grow more intractable by the day, and it is always the lower echelons of society that pay most dearly for the funny business engendered by those at the top. Well, I do not doubt the scenario of doom and gloom as painted; I only doubt that raised consciousness of the fact alters behaviour. I sit here of a morning in Nikas, slack-jawed at the spectacle of the snow storm doing its thing outside, listening to the sounds one takes for granted - the ventilator's hum, the clatter of coins dropping into the cash box one by one as Alexandra the waitress sorts out her change. And now the radio and now the hype which suggests our immortality on the strength of maximal profitization of any given moment—

 

March 6, 2011: Happiness? You mean this sort of thing, as per Plotinus? We cannot ask to be happy when our actions have not earned us happiness—Or, as Shakespeare puts it in the mouth of Orlando in As You Like it: O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes! Ain't that the truth—Otherwise, it strikes me as I chuff toward my 64th year that I might suggest the following: happiness is a possible outcome of a certain amount of prudence and a great deal of luck. (Just now I had this rather unsettling sensation: that the ghost of the poet Horace just channelled me so as to strike back at the empire, and when we say empire, we do not mean the Roman one.) I am not, contrary to the apparent tenor of my writings, an unhappy person, and yet, prudence has never been my strong suit. So then I do not know what to plead in defense of myself. Would I even be writing these words in this manner had I not read me some Montaigne a while back and then unaccountably concluded that, well, if he could noodle about this and that, so can I, and et cetera, full steam ahead? How American this marks me as I am not impetuous so much as arguably insensible to content as well as form and protocol and reasonable amounts of the reverential. Perhaps this universe in which we draw breath is a partially moral construct, after all, the lineaments of which we ignore at peril, America, being exceptional according to its own hype, history's peerless renegade. The other night, a poet whose talent I have a high regard for, rang me by mistake and rang off without identifying herself. Later, she sent me an electronic missive confessing to this gaffe on her part when there was, really, no need for it as I had no idea she had been the ringer-upper, my feathers unperturbed. "But ah," I said to myself as I mulled her words, "hard to figure, but anyway, here is someone who has just made a gesture, has looked for a moral way out of a moment's worth of lapse. For all that, it had been either a simple mistake and categorical imperatives need not apply or else, I had been on her mind all along. Oh. Alright then. No such luck. But does it mean that she is essentially an honest creature? Is her life thereby cursed?" Yes, a person such as herself strains my conviction that we are not inherently moral beings, that we sort of have to make up it up as we go along. I will not blow the woman's cover so as to spare her mortification on any number of counts, not the least of which is that I am grubby and long in the tooth and she is the shining future of Canadian verse. But what a snobby bit of business it is - CanLit - the catch-as-catch-can quilt of abrasive cliques and continually erupting lesions—And what to make of the man who consequentially finds refuge in the sound of his own voice? It is one thing to prefer one's own company, but what of the insufferable sociopath who actively seeks it? For all that, and even though I do not get out much, being pretty much a hermit keeping to well-worn ruts in Montreal, NDG sector, I am an intensely social creature, and I suspect it is this intensity which causes some people, at least, to view me with suspicion—It is going to snow all day, so they say, and it is snowing quite hard just now; and here in Nikas Alexandra the waitress has increased the radio's decibels so as to mitigate the thundering of the falling snow on her delicate receptors and the humming of ventilators and coolers and other devices, and the unhappiness in her mind—Sunday morning. How she hates working Sunday mornings, the Sunday church-going crowd, post-service, a demanding crowd, waspy—Anyway, North American snow. Myself, I was conceived in European snow, my father, it seems, having forgot himself, foisting his person on my mother in a handy snowbank, and one imagines she was agreeable to a romantic interlude in what had been a long run of misery for her - Berlin, the bombing, the chaos, the evil - knowledge of which she suppressed her whole life. In the interests of her happiness? If so, it was not an entirely successful operation. Through the backdoor, as it were, these chatty words of mine hint at realities with which I chose not to treat in my poetry as WWII had become a literary industry in my view to which I had no desire to contribute gist. Also, something else: or that, even as poetry is infinite and does not in fact require human sentience for its being there in the cosmos, I am having to face the possibility that in me poetry is quite finite; I may have run my string of poetical words. And this is either due to the built-in finitude to which I just alluded or to a breaking down, through wear and tear, of grace, if we take 'grace' to mean one's relation to the cosmos. That I am superstitious enough to believe that one is allowed to write poetry; poetry is not an act of conscious will; it is not a matter of - uh, think I'll write me some verse, today. Here's one for the Gipper— That one will, in time, overstay one's welcome in the cold eyes of the muse. And even then, one might brazenly and petulantly persist in any case, and make of will a federal case, either from out of love of the doing or from considerations of overweening self-regard—

 

March 5, 2011: Someone I know is not best pleased. The universe is most decidedly not unfolding as it should. Among other things that seem to have upset the entity whereof I speak is the prospect of M Atwood headlining World Book Day in London, advance notice of which has already thinned out the pigeon population in Trafalgar Square, or so it has been reported. (Caveat: this site is not given to cheap shots, but never say die —) No, said entity is not keen on a certain literary figure as the just now named figure may be a bastion of something or another in progressive circles, fine, well and dandy, but is, well, you fill in the blank. Or do we care? I intended to suggest to P M Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator south of the border that Rufus T Firefly be handed the Controls of Everything; just that Mr Carpenter would round on me for the sin of despair. A photograph of Carpenter that I have come across reveals deeply sardonic humours affixed to his countenance, and I figure there is something of the Prussian ironist in him as well as the luck of the Irish. He of late has been rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of the Republican debacle coming due in 2012; but then, of a sudden, all bets are off as the intelligence of the collective in his neck of the woods seems to deteriorate by the hour, and it may well elect Parody to the highest office in the land and we live happily ever after. In any case, either Mr Firefly will drive the train off the tracks or bring it whistling and chuffing into Glory—For all that, Mr Carpenter was spared my whimsy, asinine as you may deem it. I got distracted. I met up with Labrosse in Nikas, he at the controls of the wine cow, E on shift. I told Labrosse that Crow in North Hatley had recently read in a French newspaper, presumably Le Monde, that the financier Warren Buffet allowed that, of course, class warfare was much in evidence, open your eyes: his class was winning. Labrosse and I kicked that can around while E brightly read aloud from the menu to various booths of the as yet uninitiated. You want food? We got good food. The spanakopita to die for. I can also recite sections of Virgil's Eclogues, if you like, in Latin, too. Cur non, Mopse, boni quoniam conuenimus ambo, tu calamos inflare leuis, ego dicere uersus, hic corylis mixtas inter consedimus ulmos? Well, it's sort of about two guys who are going to make some poetry and some music—Pizza then? Excellent. I could see that something truly compelling was turning over in the Labrosse mind. "Out with it," I said. He outed it, and I paraphrase, the thought-process in question somewhat parlous, however: but that the Wall Street of the 80s and 90s and of the now is really the product of the children of those who put the market together - lacunae here - cynical children who saw their progenitors putting together a market 'game board' - a stock market - more lacunae - but that this spawn figured they could improve on the model, go one step further if not three, and really score, hence hedge funds and derivatives and the whole nine yards—And the banks still have this mess on their books for which there is insufficient capitalization and should things get hairy again—At which point in Labrosse's disquisition I reminded myself that I was not an economist but I would jot a few notes, anyway, in my notebook, just in case I was engaged in research; just that Labrosse, in his corporate life, had had some first-hand purview—Where is any of this going? Darling, I have no idea. I had had it in mind to write A Short History of Hip as so much of what I have seen and experienced in life seems to have been counterpoint to a brief moment in the 60s when the winds were blowing fresh. Mind you, they only blew fresh for a very short while, Wall Street as much a part of the backlash and a paid-up member of the Culture Wars as any other agency of vested interests. Greed is good. Greed is de rigueur, day rigger, if you are a serious player. I am cynic enough to understand how it came to pass, the 60s fairly hollow, after all is said and done, so much sound and fury; only that that brief moment to which I allude brought about genuine achievement. Consider civil rights legislation to be one of them, that is, if they are not insensibly rolled back in some near future or rendered beside the point. And how hollow the greed is good hoopla now comes across as, for all that its achievement was to make the one per centers even richer and so much more obnoxious. It is supposed that obnoxious is desirable. Meanwhile, the ship of state founders somewhat, the stores in the hold having shifted on account of an economic sea-change. Choppy waters. Hard to manage. Or something like that. I am no sailor except in a strictly metaphysical sense so I ought, if I had any decency at all, to forego nautical metaphors. But you get the idea. The transfer of wealth from one class to another upsets trim. Captain Rufus T Firefly, anyone? Well, I took my leave, Labrosse and E to drop up, later. Only E showed. And she proceeded to communicate her excitement vis a vis her upcoming junket to London and Paris, her first such junket about which she has dreamed since she was a little girl. What was the itinerary? What would she clap her eyes to? Would she get as far as Chartres? Eat Moroccan? I suggested the Assyrian reliefs in the British Museum, one of my pilgrimage haunts. It is stern stuff. But would such a junket change her life, she asked. She had, after all, been to Bolivia and Argentina, and look—She was a bit taken aback when I rather emphatically suggested that, yes, it would change her life. How so? Good gracious, girl, but you'll have a better idea of what was what and where things come from; you'll experience time as opposed to place; you'll—I was getting avuncular. A few idle comments on Egypt and Libya and she was shown the door, and off into that good night with Godspeed she went, headed for Honey Martin's, no doubt, to catch the last set of a last pretender and make a statement—

 

March 4, 2011: It has always astounded me that right bastards and pricks and out and out bitches and cold fishes of all genders, not to mention sadists of every degree are quite capable of good, if not stellar works of art, belying the fact that, at some level, 'character' and art-making are inseparable one from the other; that there is more to art than talent and technical prowess and accidents of social circumstance. There is an argument out there between those who consider that our lives are products of nothing more than randomness and those who believe that there is no such thing as an accident - everything comes about by way of design. Push come to shove, I lean more toward the random and tend to think we are not innately moral; but that, if I had my druthers, I would prefer to live in a universe that has some inkling of a moral order; and that, in some senses art and religion are a yearning after such an order, however much this may strike not a few persons as an invitation to fascism and worse. Of course, religion as such, in the hands of the state, has always been a way of controlling populations; just that this shallow bit of analysis ignores too much of what really goes on in hearts and minds beyond feeding one's gut and getting gratified. Here I might begin to cite  all sorts of things I have read over the years in support of my contention that there can be no great art without 'character' on the part of the artist, and I could trot out Shakespeare, for instance, or Tolstoy or Santayana or Youcenar (theorizing on Hadrian), Plato, Aristotle, Horace et al, but no, I will put a sock on it, if it pleases you, as these 'postings' of mine are not essays so much as they are self-indulgences and I am merely venting. But for all that I obsessively scribble for no good earthly or even honourable reason, it has been my intention for a long while to work against 'literariness', literariness being that which reduces literature to a fetish and strips it of its power to speak directly to any number of people on any number of themes. It was a problem, so I recall, in the 60s to which the Beats were supposedly the antidote; then along came the 'New American Poetics' and you heard it on the grapevine; then this shell game called post-modernism and more particularly a kind of glee club inhabited by 'deconstructionists', the point being that none of it was an answer and all of it only rendered a can of worms more capacious and besetting. Alright then, what is character? Character, cravenly googled in haste, gives me the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing, and I am spectacularly underwhelmed. But from, for example, Exodus 23:1, and: Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness—And, eh voila! now character is an act, not a lump of something or another with no more sex appeal than a bowl of jello. Cynicism? You want cynicism? Plutarch quoting Solon: Men keep their promises when neither side can get anything by the breaking of them. Well, perhaps realism is more like it—In any case - character. Does it have anything to do with moral feeling? With trying to do good against all odds? With the attempt to identify the bad? None of the above? The ability to resist self-destructive behaviour on as grand a level as Oedipus, on as petty a level as breaking a bad habit? It is not worth the mention but I mention it: that I have not smoked a cigarette in eight months and I have had my 'character' complimented on this score, when it has nothing to do with my character, nothing whatsoever; just that I decided I no longer wished to smoke even when smoking was always a pleasure, and I am a great believer in the pleasure principle whether or not 'pleasure' and 'character' or the twain of the two ever meet in any arena moral or otherwise. I can say with some confidence that I am not the sort of person who would throw his grandmother under a bus for the sake of a pleasure, and she was no great shakes as a warm and attractive personality, far from it. Lack of imagination then on my part? No chutzpah? Can't quite cut a figure as could Milton's fallen angel? Last evening, I watched Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, fending off all the while a deeply pervading onslaught of claustrophobia that seemed to be ingesting the very premises in which my body was situated. It was the dialogue. Serially committed false notes one after the other as a series of rotters of all genders continually rationalized their shallow behaviour vis a vis one another, as per Allen's artistic intentions, no doubt, but what if there were no such intentions? How ghastly, eh, kemo sabe? No wonder I have no desire whatsoever to live in the real world. One wonders if the early Christians of early imperial Rome were also looking for fresh air to breathe, the social and political hypocrisies of the time as stunning as our glittering accomplishments —Just now, as I scribble in Nikas, the morning commute in full swing, I am told there will be a dramatic swing in temperatures and, as cold as it is now, tomorrow will see a balmy 8 Celsius. To which fillip of information I respond that I will most certainly bring out my beachware, to which Eddie the cook, in his best Greek-Albanian signature guffaw, chortles his approval. Hey, life is simple. Cheap levity. The cheapest around. But that well, the point is that one might pursue gravitas even as one indulges the utterly flip, but not to give the morally and intellectually smug any more air time than they deserve—Best not to push this business of character too much. Someone might get the mistaken idea that if they begin to honour the Ten Commandments and love their neighbours they will start writing immortal verse. On the other hand there is more to art than the accumulated secretions of various glands. Believe me, this sort of thing has been posited often enough, Beethoven's Last Quartets nothing more that what he ate for breakfast. Plotinus then: We ourselves possess beauty when we are true to our own being; our ugliness is in going over to another order; our self-knowledge, that is to say, is our beauty; in self-ignorance we are ugly. And human monsters being true to their natures—a terrible beauty—Rilke on lithium? Had I not been brought to the States by a war bride and her ludicrously optimistic husband; had I been raised as a European as my grandfather intended me to be raised, my life might well have been some Café Slavia mode of existence where I would sit around and nurse absinthe and despise communist apparatchiks just as I now sit around cafés on this continent and detest what capitalism has become. These words arise because 1) I have recently been reading Eric Ormsby's Letters from Prague to be delected in his book of essays Fine Incisions, and 2) because, some years ago, I had two months in Prague in which to acquaint myself with the aforementioned chophouse all Art Deco and the goulash there of impressive dumplings, and 3) because, who effing knows? - words will arise, bidden or not. Yesterday while at 'bratwurst' having a beer, I scribbled words on the nature of intellectual and moral tailspins and was quite content to do so, as if I were thoroughly happy but otherwise demented; and then some too bright students of fresh-looking countenance wandered in, wanting to experiment with exotic ambience but who were, in the end, quite defeated by the prospect of Persian meatballs—Thankfully they soon departed as their agonizing over whether to partake or not was loud and off-putting—Later still, I went looking for Labrosse in Nikas but he was a no-show, sequestered perhaps in his digs by one of his exotic headaches, the kind that splits his brain in two. E was on shift, wearing lipstick, apparently pleased to be so doing, her thin but smiling lips rather a welcome sight in the evening winter murk, the usual dull Greek pop music loop grinding away in the speakers, an elderly Jewish gentleman musing outloud about hospitals, the sick in mind, and loneliness—

 

March 3, 2010: What a thing to read right off the bat, early morning; one's own mind dull and feckless: that it would still worry at this late date the matter of whether or not the computer screen bespeaks boon or bane, a leap forward, a hamstringing bog. This fellow I happened to be reading, he was enthusing over the fact of our evolution, how it demonstrates more innate creativity on our part than if our 'progress' and very survival has been directed by the benign hand of some deity. But of course. I do not quarrel with evolution as a fact; I cannot remember ever succumbing to the temptation to do so, not even when I was fussily theological at the age of twelve, arguing 'God' with my best buddy in the twilight of an outdoor basketball court, American army base, occupied Germany. I do not count myself amongst the believers, the Sunday school God to which I had been even earlier subjected striking me soon enough as fatuous. But the above remark, that of our 'innate creativity', strikes me as perniciously fatuous as well, as when humankind celebrates humankind, and it is as if everything is simply a matter of heigh ho heigh it's off to work I go and isn't everything just ducky? I, too, struggle with the I that is me and myself so as to perfect the illusion that my own thought-processes are credible, if only to my own ability to perceive a thought-process. But when I come across someone reeking of carbonized synapses because this someone would rather strenuously position himself on the right side of history-in-an-evolving-state (as it looks so damnably socially awkward to even incur the appearance of having mispositioned oneself) I tend to think that not much is truly at stake in said thought-process save for considerations of ego and so, I am also sniffing at a great deal of intellectual and moral smugness. Moreover, science, capital S science, not the science of the field and the laboratory, but the science that has an eye on its social standing, tells a great many little white lies. As when at some conclave or another of leading lights, and here is the priest and here is the poet and the novelist and the prize-winning journalist and the CEO cum humanist and throw in a few other ists and a few kindly-disposed infidels and a star hockey player or two, and here is science saying isn't it wonderful, just groovy-like how there's enough room in this world of ours for all this brain power and bonding, when in fact it is science with its eye on the shareholder and the boardroom that has tied all those firecrackers to the tail-end of 'poetry' and lit them, driving poetry out of the world so as to give us more high-definition TV. As paranoid as I may be, but as a poet I know the unmistakable savour of my long-standing, on-going irrelevance to the 'community', and it has nothing to do with what I happen to write, much less think. It has everything to do with the 'role' of the poet, and with my willingness or not to play a game of false representation, of making the poet look respectable in the eyes of the unsuspecting public at large, justifying grant-monies. Well, as the anarchist in chains in Dr Zhivago intimates, I hork and generally expectorate on all that dumbshow; I cough impolitely in my white glove. Not even Lucretius, so I submit, were he with us, could straddle the yawning abyss between true creativity and spiritual suicide. Well, this is as good a spot as any for a quote. Here I quote -sort of - London Lunar who, writing on the art of MH, in turn quotes Cecil Collins (The Vision of the Fool): —A society that has lost is reverence for poetic imagination has in reality lost its creative pride in life—mechanical pleasures of an incredible stupidity—complete disillusionment—final decay and death—or the birth of a faith—London Lunar has certainly been active for all that he plays at being moribund. He jumped on something I posted in my last post; how a remark accorded to C evinces a certain shallowness of thought in respect to the early Christians. In defense of C, I think what he had in mind when he uttered his remark were the hours, days, weeks, months and so forth immediately following upon the so-called crucifixion of Christ be it historical or not; and, in defense of Lunar, what he has in mind are the gospels and their attestations of faith and willingness to die for a belief; just that if Luke was the earliest of the gospels, it is still assigned a date of 55 AD or thereabouts for its inception—To cut to the chase, to London Lunar C's utterance is casual verging on bad taste, and he can only wonder if C's fascination with the early Christian is all that genuine. And now that I have possibly engineered, without meaning to, a feud between two strangers—Yesterday afternoon, I had a beer at 'bratwurst' while waiting for Mehdi to show with some music he said he was preparing, cd's of 'Persian oldies' and Ney Nava and Farid Farjad. I sat there with a book and the mug of cold Bitburger while my eye wandered. It wandered, for instance, from the presence of daedal on a page of Patrick O'Brian's The Wine Dark Sea, nautical tale of the Napoleonic era, to a wall poster adverting for BitBurger, to wit, Le Meilleur de l'Allemagne to an unframed print just beside it of a bearded old Persian-looking fellow smoking a long-stemmed pipe, he at table with a teapot and a goblet of sugar cubes. All of this was apropos of nothing, as was the fact that as I read and as my eye wandered I was also wondering what had become of the descendants of the Incas. And would the squirrel immediately outside the window of the tiny hole-in-the-wall come across a peanut on the terrasse thrown there from some late autumn night before, one I myself might have tossed, the snow receding? Later that evening I took in an 80s Italian flick (Ettore Scola the director) of some charm featuring Vittorio Gassman called La Famiglia. It is a film depicting bourgeoisie pleasures and pains and the passing, one imagines, of bourgeoisie time; and the movie must have opened a pore or two of my begrimed bohemian psyche, as I wound up dreaming at some point in the night a house to which, in succession, the sons of a family would return so as to hunt for clues - to what? to each their identity? I cannot say. Dreams only cooperate with one up to a certain point, and beyond, all bets being off— Some of the music Mehdi had prepared for me was distinctly cabaret in feel of an olden time, and I liked it.

 

March 2, 2011: I have been occupied and to some extent talked-out. However, I am told that Colonel G will not be so easily deposed as previously assumed. A field of diplomacy in which bouncing, leaping, twisting wabbits all wook for twaction and weverage—I had best stop right here. A visitation, last evening, of the corporeal sort got me thinking yet again on the early Christians and what they may or may not have been thinking. Said C: "Surely, those guys didn't believe that that guy rose from the dead." "It isn't a mystery religion for nothing," I said. But at some point in the exchange I broached something that struck even me as curiously semi-sublime. I suggested that a great deal of what we live in life, even if experience common to most people of all genders, is inexpressible. So then we are obliged to trust one another on this score of the inexpressibles. That a great deal of our humanity is bound up with these inexpressibles about which we often reach similar conclusions however much words will fail us in the exercise of our reason. Well, words as such are slippery, this morning, as I am a touch hung over. Sentences? Logic? Must I? Patricia the waitress here in Nikas is buttering someone's toast without much enthusiasm. She would be rich and famous and would study marketing to that end. I have yet to inquire if she is homesick for Romania; or if I have asked I have forgotten that I did so, and if I did so, why? I gather that certain American movie producers want to clean up the language in The King's Speech in regards to one scene in particular. It is the scene in which the hapless king resorts to profanity so as to overcome a fit of stammering. Given what is at crisis level in this world of ours this is neither here nor there. Yet, though I happen to believe that over-use of the f word and other salutary expletives in literature and screen dialogue have greatly dulled the efficacy of a thorough-going cussing up a blue streak when it would be most to the point, cleaning up the movie would constitute an aesthetic crime, with implications of a moral nature, to boot. Patricia the waitress is a slip of a woman with a gymnast's posture. Long lashes. She intrigues me because it is quite clear she is hungry for something that is in all likelihood vague to her and would be vague to anyone in whom she might confide, and I worry she is looking at serious disappointment. (I am persuaded, perhaps optimistically, that she is not one of these passive-aggressive spirits who scheme and manipulate their way through existence—) I wish her the best. I wish most people the best, save for the odd scoundrel here and there in their thousands whose aim in life is to present the common lot of us with obstacles and more obstacles to negotiate, the more so as will shore up the proliferating plutocratic bastions. Class warfare? The words are perhaps too convenient for the formulation of a concept. 'Wealth-transfer', on the other hand, if technically apt, is clinical; moreover, as a description of an activity, the words conveniently obscure facts of intent and consequence and the suffering that ensues in man and beast alike, even if 'wealth-transfer' appears to be as endemic in nature as photosynthesis or pollination—I am not an economist, he says to himself, alleged poet in the eyes of a few—

 

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