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Ephemeris  April 2011

 

 

April 30, 2011: Yes, there it is, on page 39 of Patrick O'Brian's The Yellow Admiral (a nautical novel that has nothing to do with the exploration of cowardice in a character, period piece set in Napoleonic times), the words in question being: The old ways had disadvantages, of course, but here - and I speak only of what I know - it was a human life, and the people knew its ways and customs through and through. These words were put in the mouth of Jack Aubrey, man of the sea and landholder, one of the novel's heroes. It followed a discussion of 'one man, one vote' and democracy, how everyone knows that on a large scale democracy is pernicious nonsense - a country or even a county cannot be run by a self-seeking parcel of tub-thumping politicians working on popular emotion, rousing the mob—And so forth and so on. But who gets to decide what is human and what is not? Does the novelist have a vote in the matter? In any case, I was working my way through this material with some misgivings while waiting for Labrosse to show, I at 'bratwurst' nursing a beer. Earlier I had sent P.M. Carpenter a despairing electronic missive. Despairing, I regret to say. Despairing - as in self-indulgent. To do with American madness. To do with American madness in comparison to that of the Athenians circa the time of their Syracuse fiasco and the death of Socrates—And had Socrates confined his critique to mere politics, perhaps the Athenians would have let him be, recognizing one of their own—As it was, he was attempting to teach Athenians to think when, one imagines, they already assumed they were proficient in the activity. Hence, the grave insult. The trial. The cup of hemlock. P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, had the goodness to respond, to wit: if you think things are bad from up there, you ought to try them from this side of the border—Labrosse did show. Raillery with Jamal. Whereupon Jamal drew a mug of beer and served the thing and Labrosse got his thoughts in order in respect to the NDP and its surge in the polls - the NDP being putatively centre-left - and the likelihood that it will soon form the official opposition, having come out of the wilderness. Much to the surprise of Labrosse, and he is a man who prides himself on his attention to political details, the surge has not proved a fluke. But then, almost non-sequitur, and he had a question for me concerning Lincoln: had Lincoln been a two-termer? And to my embarrassment, memory did not serve, though I rather thought he had been re-elected, and then Booth cut him down. No matter. It was on to Andrew Johnson and impeachment and how it is impeachment is always political—And why was all this cropping up, anyway, given that Labrosse was reading Tacitus, or Tacite, seeing as he is reading the dour historian in French? He was finding it a bit of a slog, anathema to my ears, but he had to give Tacite credit for his grasp of what is essentially political - internecine rivalries. And he considered that the Canadian equivalent to Tiberius Caesar, the Caesar who most exercised the mind of Tacite, was Duplessis; Duplessis who had 'married' Quebec and married no woman; Duplessis who played everybody - church and unions - and, just short of murder, always got his way—According to Labrosse. Also, Labrosse's riding - Shawinigan - always resisted Duplessis's blandishments—I went home. It had been good to see that Labrosse had remembered something of which he was proud. His father was a politician, one of the good guys—Still, I went home, and at some point in the evening, courtesy of one of those arty-farty TV channels, Toronto, I heard out a panel discussion of Citizen Kane which led to some expatiation on theatrical as opposed to naturalistic film-making. The consensus seemed to be that the former tends toward better cinema but that the latter pleases the crowds more—I was bemused to hear that London Lunar watched the royal wedding, after all, and approved, while the Guardian decidedly did not. Some chess fanatics twittered or tweeted - or whatever it is that imitates bird life - on the matter of a portion of Pippa's anatomy, Pippa being the sister of the new duchess, Pippa the upstager. I saw similar mention in the Daily Beast, the contributing journalist further remarking that he was endeavouring to live a blameless life in Ireland with his chickens and things. But if one writes for the Daily Beast, can blame be very far away? It is predictable, of course, that the leader of the NDP is now the object of a smear campaign to do with bawdyhouses, as if Canadians have never heard of such a thing, more smutty novels written here per capita than anywhere else on this earth. It is a weakness of your human nature to hate those whom you have wronged—Tacite. Valour is of no service, chance rules all, and the bravest often fall by the hands of cowards—Tacite, too, as if the quote immediately were not already enough—The squirrels have been breaking my ancient landlady's grass, so she complains, she who stepped out of a Chekhov play sometime in the 50s and took up life in The Best Days of Our Lives or some such. At the local Japanese grocer, you pays your money, you get a bow, a tilt of the head coming at you —It is not put on for tourists—

 

April 29, 2011: Yesterday afternoon in 'bratwurst', foregoing the last fifteen pages, I proceeded directly to the concluding paragraph. Exasperation with Robert Harris's Archangel, a 'literary thriller'. (It held my attention for a while, true enough, but the further I got into the thing, the less point I could see to any of it.) Whether or not it was fact or fiction, it was stagey to the point of absurdity, providing Stalin not only with a bastard son but with a son who would parody the qualities of the father, including that of feral cunning, and in this way, in this rather feeble literary way, 'scare' the reader into an epiphany concerning the true nature of Stalin's regime. But of course all regimes at their core are hollow and the hollowness suppurates violence and malaise—And yet, when Mr Harris observes that Stalin's capacity for silence made him lethal, his minions talkative, it suggests that the writer is, in fact, conversant enough with his subject matter to have hit upon an inspired guess as to the man's character. Or else he has been at the archives, a modern day Suetonius—For those of you unacquainted with these postings, 'bratwurst' is a hole-in-the-wall café with terrasse. We call it 'bratwurst' because it used to be a beer and sausage joint (before that it was hamburgers), and Jamal has kept the sausages on the menu. So yes, you can get wurst and Bitburger beer here, along with cow brains and Persian meatballs. The first serious spring squall has just passed over, dumping a gratifying amount of rain. I sit here comparing Mr Harris to Mr Le Carré in my mind, but then, who cares - eh? What has not been seen in a while, not since the snows, are those rain puddles on the pavement reflecting the trees soon to burst into leaf, and the sky—Again, the violet bows to the lily. / Again, the rose is tearing off her gown!—Rumi. Spring Giddiness. Across the street at Drunkin Donuts, locals are huddled over each their coffee mugs and have such an air of concentration about them, not unlike apprentices writing career-entry exams—In 'bratwurst' Persian TV is selling kitchens. Now a soap is in progress. Will Persian soap opera snuggle us closer to God as per some deconstructing morality play? Is it, this soap opera, or any other, for that matter, to be had on any other channel, the consequence of a demented reading of The Golden Bough? Anthropology on crystal meth? Jamal's gleaming Jaquar is dimpled with raindrops and it looks as poetic as any chariot—Montreal. Damn near a great city. The only great Canadian city, as Vancouver is a pretender and Toronto is all brave heart bravado. Then there is Winnipeg. Which I saw last in the midst of a tornado warning. Unassuming town. St John's? In any case, all of the above was yesterday. Now, with the best of intentions, I walk into Nikas. Eight o'clock morning hour, the commute underway. Larry the software entrepreneur who has preceded me rises from his booth and begins to ham it up, playacting a headwaiter for my benefit. At which moment, emanating from the TV, a bagpipe blooms. Ah, London and the royal wedding. Larry: "Do the pipes play for you everywhere you go?" Sibum: "You know, you frighten me." My heart sinks as I note that the rear of the restaurant is occupied. Irish harpy and retinue. Alexandra the waitress is somewhat girlishly pleased that someone somewhere is having a royal wedding. Irish harpy is manic, caustic one minute, cooing the next as she treads an uneasy path between her booth and the TV unavailable to the restaurant's nether region. I suppose I am indifferent, having no ax to grind with the monarchy, the evils of the military-industrial complex on a par at least with those of King George III. Everyone's in a kind of tizzy—So much so that Larry's toast arrives with an honour guard. Irish harpy: "She did have a beautiful dress—" Hubbie: "Well, I guess. But the one that Diana—" Son of Irish harpy: "Hmmmmf." Sibum: "I'm going to speak now of a royal pain - used to be a respectable establishment— " An excessive display of outward honour would seem to be the most uncertain attestation of the real affection of a people for any king or potentate. Such shows lose their whole credit as tokens of affection...when we reflect that they may equally proceed from fear—" I don't know, should Plutarch get the last word here?

 

April 28, 2011: The idea was to inaugurate our proposed I, Claudius party, last evening, the viewing of which we would stretch over the course of a few months or so. But circumstance conspired against the plan, even if it had been pencilled in on Labrosse's electronic agenda for the past while. That there was hockey. That there was E, she all principessa for whom the word commitment does not exist. What an old schoolmarm I have become—At least A at age 26 was going to get the whiff of a notion that there is such a thing as history, a notion that E is fairly confident she has grasped, given her immersion in Chaucer as well as the Roman classics. Then again she is just enough of a sophisticate to doubt that she ever did grapple with the Latin ablative case, that she might have dreamed all that—We did manage - Labrosse, A and I - to take in the first episode. We got as far as the poisoning of Marcellus by Livia's hand. "Man, what a b—tch she is," A was heard to observe of the empire's First Lady, either impressed or appalled. Labrosse was amused by the less than gallant gallantry of Tiberius in respect to Julia gone hysterical, now that her husband was inexplicably dead, it being in Livia's mind that her son (Tiberius - from her previous marriage) should divorce his Vipsania and take up the marital state with this Julia, Augustus Caesar's wench of a daughter, and Livia was of course Augustus Caesar's dearly beloved wife, ambitious, far-seeing, and would have Tiberius on the throne—Enough. I am pleased to report that real life kicked in - eventually; that we repaired to Nikas - Labrosse, A and I - in time for the second period of game 7, the deciding match: Montreal and Boston. It struck me then that the tables had turned - in this sense: in A's living room, I, Claudius in play, I had been living history, if only through artificial means - the BBC, as opposed to merely watching a 'production'. Now Labrosse and A were revelling in hockey while I somewhat indifferently looked on, however much I would have been happy had Montreal prevailed. It was not to be. E by now had joined us, she in some disarray, as she knew she was not in the best of our combined graces, was twisting in the wind, as it were, and what would she do with the remainder of her evening were we to have questions in regards to her claims on our affections? As I had loaned to A copies of La Strada, La Bête Humaine, and La Règle du Jeu, an obvious enough solution presented itself: A and E would go and have a girl's night in, cinema the pretext. And Labrosse would go home and nurse his wounded psyche. And I would head back to my digs and reflect on the infinite capacity for perversity that is a human relationship of any kind. I fell asleep. Dreamed. I woke with the words the importance of having friends flashing on and off in my brain like some demented bit of neon. Enough. It turns out that London Lunar, a monarchist, could care less about the upcoming royal wedding while his wife, a republican, is obsessed with the event, so much so she intends to bake a cake—The Canadians swore off handing over detainees to Afghan security whereupon the wretched would be summarily tortured. The Americans and the Brits in their superior wisdom? It was a mistake, I think, for Current President to cave and present the world with his birth certificate in the so-called birther kafuffle; he has only legitimized the idiots who could care less about his place of birth and true nationality as they have other mischief in mind, none of it savoury. A New York City poetaster who I had occasion to read this morning typifies American politics as a rabbit hole the occupants of which indulge 'aggressive superficiality' a la the Trumps. New York City poetaster is indignant. P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, continues to believe that the Republican Party is only rendering itself all the more dismissible for the 2012 election. P.M. Carpenter is a brave and noble soul. A book I am reading by a certain Robert Harris entitled Archangel (to do with geography, not heavenly hosts) through his hero allows himself to reflect on what he calls the 'trivial age'. His book is characterized as a 'literary thriller'. It is neither literary (in the best sense of literary) nor thrilling. So that the emptiness of the age that he would critique carries the day, his critique more hissy fit than noble rage. It must be said however that I did enjoy the man's period piece on the life of Cicero, that it was more to the point of our age—Be all that as it may, sometimes chance puts things in perspective, and yesterday there was Charles Laughton's sacred mug: his portrayal of a hunchback. I watched for a few minutes, devoutly watched as Laughton rather drolly remarked to the gypsy girl seeking sanctuary in the cathedral that he was not a beast, you know. It was, so it seemed to me, the only instance I had ever witnessed of an actor making himself sublimely beautiful through downright ugliness, his hump and facial features far from easy to gaze upon, his simple dignity almost farcical. So he goes and plays with the great church bells. He is demented with bliss. It is all too much for the gypsy girl's unacclimated ears—

 

April 27, 2011: From Rumi at random (the Coleman Barks translation): Something inside the moth / is made of fire—Politicians? Drunken sods? Tennis pros? Poet laureates? A Literary Thug of my acquaintance (and depending on my mood, I either employ the epithet quite happily or with inconsolable sadness, given that to employ it at all has long been necessary), sends me a link to a boxing 'blog'. I expect to provide the link soon on my links page, for the sake of novelty, and because one can never know from which left field culture might come a-calling and bite one on the arse—The only other boxing aficionado I have ever known is a student of the writings of Sartre and a fashion plate when it comes to clothes, such as he used to find at the Sally Ann. I suspect he still rummages. (He is the real item, not a poseur, which is why I forgive him the Sartre.) Otherwise - what? - the NDP? Ah, having numbers that are looking good. I quit on the NDP in  the 80s when the party began to get Tony Blair-ish, and if I cast my vote their way this time around I will do so with reservations. Which is to say that not every political party is meant to lead, for all that they are always meant to govern, and the old NDP, as the official opposition, would do this country far more good—But I have always been told I am a political know-nothing. Myopic as to the Big Picture. Unhelpful nihilist. In any case, it seems, as per the morning news, that business interests are now clawing back the moral ascendancy they lost to the NDP surge, pleading 'the recovery'. Must not jeopardize profits. Stop at Phoenician markets, / and purchase fine merchandise, / mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony, / and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds, / buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can; / visit hosts of Egyptian cities, / to learn and learn from those who have knowledge. //// Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind—from Cavafy's Ithaca, Rae Dalven translation. People who have a natural ability for administering public affairs should not hesitate to run for public office and take part in directing the government....Statesmen no less than philosophers (perhaps more so) should embody that quality of nobility and an indifference toward outward circumstances that I refer to so often—Cicero. Good golly, Miss Molly. But has Current President got this sort of stuff - good enough for the play-offs? London Lunar, despite all appearances, is much too sensible a man to go in for predictions, and when he has he has sometimes been caught out badly - Cassandra with two left shoes; even so, should the Syrian president fall and be replaced by something worse, it should come as no surprise—And I am, for some reason or another, put in mind of Plato's seventh letter to Dion the tyrant (some scholars consider this letter spurious): —To sum it all up in one word, natural intelligence and a good memory are equally powerless to aid the man who has not an inborn affinity with the subject. Without such endowments there is of course not the slightest possibility. Hence all who have no natural aptitude for and affinity with justice and all other noble ideals, though in the study of other matters they may be both intelligent and retentive - such will never any of them attain to an understanding of the most complete truth in regard to moral concepts—A petulance that is nonetheless a far cry then from Fox News. PBS, too. Whether or not a single lick of any the words above is true enough to come it high as a money quote—

 

April 26, 2011: DW presented me with a copy of Rumi, the Coleman Barks translation, which at first blush looked halfways decent. Rain makes / every molecule pregnant with a mystery. Then there was an interlude of sorts, seeing as my interlocutor inadvertently tipped a pint's worth of Bitburger on my lap. I quit the field briefly to go for a change of wardrobe, reviewing, as I did so, all those old 60s notions of karma—But I returned to the fray, to the terrasse at 'bratwurst', Jamal the proprietor doing his best imitation of a salon-keeper in the manner of Casablanca Rick and so, we set-to, DW and I, the world and the condition its condition is in our oyster, vultures everywhere. First off, Stalin trivia. Which got us onto Prokofiev and The Love for Three Oranges, and the work was not, as DW suggested, written in Chicago, but it did premier there, 1921, French libretto, as the Americans would have found the Russian heavy-going for one reason or the other—Following upon this trivia there came various and sundry - the election campaigning underway here, the psychology of the early Christians - what was that psychological profile again? - do you have any druthers pertaining to that particular line of inquiry? - nope, nope and then some - but almost apropos: the current release of documents some six centuries after the fact regarding the Inquisition - and yes, why now? - and what shall the light of day make of it all? Do not know. But in Rwanda, after the genocide, there has come about an anxiety to create. DW's words. They almost come off marvellous, those words. It was fairly warm out. Thick sky. That is to say, it was cloudy, spring rain on the way. Perhaps it was a suitable sky under which two persons of halfways decent intentions might discuss the Weimar Republic - that it was a sensibility, n'est-ce pas? (Weimar Republic - a state of mind established in Germany, 1919, the liberal democratic impulse of which 'lapsed' in the early 30s, the Nazis and Hitler on the rise. It was saddled with hyperinflation and extremist politics.) That it was a philosophical-cultural wish to break with the dead weight of tradition, an exasperation that does come about now and then. Could be. Only I saw it somewhat differently - that it was the hapless desire to hang on to something - that it was this insane wish not to circle the drain in the sense of kissing one's humanity goodbye. No? Too dialectically soft? If so, it is perhaps why I keep seeing the Weimar Republic in the old U.S. of A., when I am not seeing Suetonius raiding the archives of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—In any case, DW was moved to speak of the 'new divide'. What is the 'new divide'? To hear him tell it, it is this: for instance, if one of the seven mercies is to bury the dead (a la The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, the flick) the undertaking of the act does not take a person out of his or her self or outside of life as it is being lived - it is all part and parcel of the recognizable and familiar and the necessary, no questions asked—Whereas, since the installation of this new divide circa the 80s, our relations to our immediate gratifications having gotten pretty tawdry, the carrying out of any one of the mercies is likely to come at a price disruptive to our routines; meanwhile, point by point we are losing our points of reference such as enable a person to interpret what is happening to a person and - well, making something like heads and tails of history. Making sense. History, indeed. And how clueless the young are, how nakedly clueless, how so without points of reference that they be, as education continues to fail them, perhaps deliberately on purpose. As much on purpose as that. It was a thought as we sat there at table on the terrasse, oblivious of everything, coddling our beers, holding out our heads for examination as if we were a couple of Ichabod Cranes having stumbled one on the other by blind chance—Blindsided by unknown forces—Ah then, Arab paranoia— And, to be sure, history is and ever is sticky—Turns out DW travelled in Algeria just before the great troubles there. Had stupendous, on-going rows with the gendarmes there—Why come to this s—thole of a country? But a further instance in how sticky history gets - those early Jesuits - they helped bring catastrophe to the Americas - brought to natives, as well, principles of self-determination when perhaps none had been needed, just that - those Incans - they were not necessarily angels - they did lord it over subject wretches. DW is eerily the spitting image of a poet I knew once. The physical resemblance is uncanny, so is the resemblance of the intellects one to the other, down to the gift of irony and mimickry; that DW has in him something of a Truffaldino, as had JF. Life is rather strange now and then; and one spouts words like these when one least expects to spout them, as they are evidence of lame, of gobsmacked thought. Around and around, and where she stops, nobody knows—I think we were performing for each other, DW and I, still in the courtship phase of knowledge-based sharing - terrible words, those - just that there were genuine moments of communication as when two individuals, veritable strangers, take the measure of a moral climate, and never mind that we are not necessarily innately moral creatures, and pronounce the measure benign or livable - or decidedly not. And if not, how badly not? A certain Mizz J in Damascus celebrated Easter this way with a male Arab friend: three eggs were hard-boiled and then decorated with nail polish as there was nothing else with which to paint them. Five candles were lit in front of an icon. Arabic Christian music was played via a laptop. Cheap perfume was applied to wrists. Wine was consumed; bits of flat bread munched. Solemn silence. This in light of the crackdown. Male friend an unbeliever, but an accommodating friend—For what it's worthAt the festivals of Adonis, which were held in Western Asia and in Greek lands, the death of the god was annually mourned, with a bitter wailing, chiefly by women; images of him, dressed to resemble corpses, were carried out as to burial and then thrown into the sea or into springs—Sir James G Frazier, The Golden Bough. London Lunar has reminisced about his time in Deraa—He was mistaken for St George—Walked on air—

 

April 25, 2011: I dreamed what would have been half the posting to follow had the 'dreamer', instructed to 'hold those thoughts' upon waking, honoured my command. Then again, perhaps it is no great loss. I do recall something about CanLit and George Bowering - not that I have any extravagant animus against either entity, just that in the dream the one extruded from the other, Zeus-like, by way of thigh or left temple—And there you have it - very miscellaneous electric displays of the brain in dream-sleep— Now, non-sequitur, a woman of my acquaintance yesterday inveighed against the maple leaf logos patched on the arm sleeves of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. "Why?" she asked. "Because they're a Canadian team?" I ventured to point out, answering one question with another, just in case she was in a mood. "Well," she said, "you don't see the American flag on the uniforms of the Rays (Tampa Bay) players, do you?" No, I did not, but they might have been there, lurking somewhere on their persons or in the silver-tongued patter of the sportscasters—In any case there is a link between Bowering and baseball as the former loves his baseball leggings and the latter, no doubt, likes the idea that he loves them. Public relations. And Mr Hedges is going to take a dim view of all this—Indeed, and on cue, Mr Hedges in his Monday morning Truthdig splenetic, declares the revolution stillborn, the bad guys won, the neo-liberals worse than the bad guys because they're supposed to know better; and there is nothing left for us but to live like bugs under some rug. So much for: A prince ought to have two fears, one from within, on account of his subjects, the other from without, on account of external powers—Machiavelli. It is of course futile of me to defend my cynicism as, no matter how corrupt the times, it is the one sin we commit that we will always overlook in ourselves. We don't do cynicism. It is what those other people not us indulge. And no matter that there are any number of people whom I love against all the odds, love does not always renew the world or necessarily bring about fresh perspectives, not when there is such a meat grinder at work having at our little, inconsequential lives. And each time I scribble an idle word or three into my various notebooks, I am not only willynilly defending my cynicism, I am flaunting it; and this the day after Easter, a day that even an unbeliever like myself might take seriously, as someone back then, be it Christ Himself, or Peter or Paul or whomever, underwent a lot of travail to take something seriously. Easy for us to yea or nay the consequences that have obtained for better or worse—Yesterday, someone on learned TV opined that Caravaggio had not been, after all, the predatory homosexual swacked on angel dust that he has been made out to be; that he was too serious a man for that who painted the Seven Mercies of Something or Another; in other words painted the most convincing religious paintings ever, except perhaps for Zurbarán who was the painter par excellence of 'belief'. I got these notions, yes, from yet another over the top Pole, an enthusiast of the Baroque. It was one of the lesser Caravaggio works that stopped me dead in my tracks, 1986, when I was climbing some stairs of the Museo Capitolino, and staring at me through a great blaze of light was the portrait of a boy, his face all grimace, sheer petulance; and I wondered straight away about a painter who had such consummate grasp of both the petty and the sublime—I was repelled by the countenance though I had seen it numberless times—It is the look that confronts the unfolding of history at every turn. It is the look by which history excuses itself— London Lunar wrote me, calling my attention to the movement of tanks in Syria. He was ahead of the news. A crazy Algerian of his acquaintance predicts that the U.S. will unravel as did the U.S.S.R., and in similar ways, and fairly soon. "Crackers," said London Lunar. Yes. Probably. I note that on this date in 1986, after a couple of weeks spent in Sicily chasing after Greek temples, I ran into the Risorgimento in Rome, everything closed; but that I did establish to my satisfaction that Italians do eat their spaghetti differently from the French and Germans—Which brings me to sticky buns oozing with nuts and caramel, fruit salads, cheese plates, pineapple spears, piles of strawberries and melons—A banquet has been prepared by my Vale Perkins correspondent in light of Easter, in light of grand kids; in light of the fact that two people dear to her have died this spring, Vale Perkins old-timers, the husband first, followed in short order by the wife.

 

April 24, 2011: One notices them sometimes, and for a moment or two, they intrigue as they are chockfull of passion, real passion; and passion - real or not - blinds. And yet they would see deep and see clearly and so, all the more passionate they are all the more blind. Tragicomic. It goes particularly hard on certain women who, for one reason or another, seem to have less time to sit around and chuckle at the absurdity of it all - unlike the boys traipsing off to Atlantic City to golf, euphemism for reverting back to a time when time was more kind. Ideological women are generally more unbending than ideological men, but then, perhaps I do not get around enough—In any case, Patricia the Romanian waitress is such a passionate creature, she who is not yet rich and famous. By the looks of it she is happily enough married to her giant of a husband - he is an athlete, she a tiny slip of a woman, doting mother to her youngster daughter. For all that, the look in her eyes is unmistakable: life is passing her by and she is not yet a somebody. Then again it could be I credit her with too much perspicacity in respect to this death-wish of needing to be a somebody—It is a frightening thing to be now and then so mistaken, as if we live in times in which we cannot assume that we are all of us all too human, and part and parcel of being all too human is to harbour secret reserves of ambition—He will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and...he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful—Machiavelli. Well, the elections are on, and the NDP is the talk of the town. For town, read any number of towns which have seen NDP gains in the polls. And something peculiar is going on in Michigan where in one burg at least some emergency-mandated budget czar has just suspended the entirety of the burg's elected officials, made them obsolete; and he looks to be another Republican attack dog, and it looks to be a template for the rest of the country. I walked into Nikas, this morning. The usual greetings. Except that, this time, I reciprocated with a did the Easter bunny come to your house? Oh whence this asinine juvenile sally? For how many years has it lain dormant in me, awaiting its moment to pounce, to matter in the clear light of day? Now I had no idea whether Alexandra the waitress would jerk her head in annoyance or grin, unaccountably amused. She was unaccountably amused. But why? Does she, yet another tragic creature, see deeply and clearly into manifestations of inexplicable behaviour? And why is London Lunar washing his windows, he who never opens an envelope that has windows - you know, bills? I have been quiet about Irish harpy of late, but already she is on about the filthy windows in the lobby of her apartment building. There is extra edge in her voice. Husband rolls with it, like a whale on his back treating with barnacles—What difference does it make whether women rule, or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same—Aristotle.

 

April 23, 2011: Surely to God it is a hoax, about which I shall read in coming days, knowing myself to have been a mark, falling for it; or that in Minnesota of the 10,000 lakes, the sky blue waters and all that, legislators are endeavouring to pass a law making it illegal for a 'poor' person  to have on their person cash in excess of $20. Even more incredible for one of the healthier states in the union, one that was apparently somewhat sane overall, the proposed bill is a diminished version of the original which stipulated that no 'poor' person could have on their person any monies, period. Now what has The Prairie Home Companion to say to this, that sentimental tear-jerk retrospective in family values and lost liberal ideals replete with sound gags? Worse, Mr Keillor, for all that he tries mightily, would not know a halfways decent poem if it came and licked his hairy nostrils—And that's all she wrote for the town of Misbegotten that is situated in the Republic of Lululand, that - strung between the mouldering brains of Eugene O'Neill and Al Capp - is now left to the tender mercies of needle-nosed Doonesburys, scavengers all who have got their mugs deep in political road kill—If your money is gone, you will really cry with genuine lamentation—Juvenal. Or: Neither a borrower nor a lender be—(Apparently some hoser named Shakespeare stuck those words on a cheapskate's tongue.) It is a day in between Good Friday and Easter. Morning. Nikas. I do not know if Alexandra the waitress is a good Catholic, or if she is one at all, however Mediterranean that she is, however motherly and wifey, she chewing a plug of chewing gum, she with the copper dark hair. It seems impolite to make inquiries. No doubt my memory plays me false, but it always seems extra gloomy this time of year, no matter that robins are skittering about and the lilacs are stippling green—London Lunar has had his bad cheesecake. You know it is finished and that carrying on is pointless when you can no longer get edible cheesecake. As for P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, the man who would descry others for the futility of reasoning is on this account himself hopelessly mired in the sludge-muck of Reason. Up to his chin in odiferous gunk—It's what makes him noble, accords him distinction, talking it up for the Chief Executive, that man's steely gaze resolute for the day when the Evil Spell shall lift, slink off and depart the land. I rest my case as has been belaboured ad nauseum in previous posts—

 

April 22, 2011: The girls in London have discovered frocks. So reports London Lunar who came away from the Miró exhibit, his feelings mixed. (Well, he does not consider Miró a surrealist.) London Lunar is of course privy to the mind, to the far-ranging thoughts of Marius Kociejowski, author of one of the best poems of our times - Dinu Lipatti Plays Chopin's Sonata in B Minor from Music's Bride, Anvil Press, 1999. Says: God the plumber comes, / A pair of oily cloth gloves, asks her what the problem is. / Answers she, the ghosts banging in the pipes, saying come, / Our heaven's a Magyar village. / Ah yes, God replies, those Chinese again—And there is not a slam-dunk moment in the thing. It is too cold still for frocks in Montreal-NDG. Even so, I hear tell that in Vale Perkins the birds are about. Meaning finches, chickadees, but junkoes? Ah, juncos or grey sparrows. And then, there are the wrens. Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! / Bird thou never wert—Shelley. Lalande, or whoever it was, who searched the heavens with his telescope and could find no God, would not have found the human mind if he had searched the brain with a microscope. Santayana, Life of Reason. (No, the Santayana quote does not follow naturally upon the Shelley remark, but no matter—) Last night, game four of the quarterfinals between Montreal and Boston underway on the sports screen, Labrosse at the controls of the wine cow, Nikas was busy, Nick the waiter up for it, however. He does not fluster easily. Unusually though, some entity at a nearby table was flustering Labrosse, and Labrosse prides himself on his capacity to socialize with anyone, even me. So I checked the source of the irritation out and saw a middle-aged man of much girth and with a voice that carries all before it. He wore some sort of pull-over shirt with a sporting logo. He was given up to front porch philosophy, his company of Mexicans politely enthralled. He would have been a good company man in that old flick The Ship of Fools. Even so, I could not for the life of me ascertain what it was about him that had gotten under the skin of Labrosse, only that, perhaps, they were kissing cousins in the spiritual sense. My attention drifted out the window whereupon, in the darkening twilight, I spied the 'gold man' headed back to his digs with the obligatory six pack he had purchased at the corner store, all the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he is neither political nor literary. Labrosse rapped on the window to get the man's attention. I said, "Forget it. Ever since gold topped $1500 an ounce, we're beneath Dave's notice." "You got that right," Labrosse answered, something unexpectedly crude in him over-riding his standard Gallic reserve and delicacy in his handling of the English language. The NDP was surging in Quebec. What ho! But Montreal would eventually lose to Boston in overtime. It had been snowing. American drones have been observed scouting the Quebec-Vermont border from the air. They were spotted by a few rustics of my acquaintance who, having walked out of the plays of Shakespeare, have been nonetheless nonplussed to find themselves drinking Laurentide and watching American Idol on TV. I have written in my novel somewhere - it is an idle comment, admittedly - that the liberal believes he has conquered fear and the conservative knows it is so much hoo haw. I might have added that the rustic knows not what the hell I am talking about and could care less, so have I got a light? Now and then I am tempted to write an enormous screed against - you fill in the blanks - I hardly know where to begin - oh, with the plutocrats, surely, the arms dealers, the Wall Streeters, the media barons—P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, would have me give the politicians a break, as politicians can no more help what they are than giraffes can help having long necks. It is all about the nature of how one grazes—In any case, how boring - to pen yet another screed such as one might find in the thousands on the internet - stale, uninspired, hackneyed, mind-numbing dreck such as gives the liberal cause a bad name. So one considers silence, the silence that is not so much the cessation of sound but the absence of noise - sacred silence, and one's sacred duty not to pile on with yet more noise. Then something more powerful than one's sacred duty rebels - or the vanity, perhaps, of making a difference. Me, I am a chatterbox, the fact of which does not necessarily make me vain - though it probably does, just that I would not know what sacred silence is if it bit my arse, not having a spiritual, let alone a religious, bone in my body. In other words, nine times out of ten, I would fail to recognize the Awful Office of Silence and its authority to assail my cheek and tongue with censure. Naturally enough, Mr Carpenter is endeavouring to keep Current President in his office, in his 'imperium', as it were, as he is the only sane option to be had from a field of lunatics and—And so far as that goes Mr Carpenter has all the logic of the situation on his side, and he is indubitably noble; and he thinks me an unhelpful nihilist, as I believe that, in any case, the jig is up. Now the inspissated juice of aconite may or may help with digestion and headaches and anxiety—London Lunar thinks I have been out of sorts. By chance yesterday, I found myself watching Fellini's La Strada, one of my favourite bits of cinema. Gelsomina and Zampanó. And the Fool, of course. We are all of us at bottom brutes or wallflowers unless we are teachers of sociology, in which case, we are beyond help.

 

April 21, 2011: Every actual animal is somewhat dull and somewhat mad. He will at times miss his signals and stare vacantly when he might well act, while at other times he will run off into convulsions and raise a dust in his own brain to no purpose—Santayana, Life of Reason. And from the same gloss: —Thus the best human intelligence is still decidedly barbarous; it fights in heavy armour and keeps a fool at court. Indeed, convenient segue: London Lunar has had his fete. Polish novelist-feminist was duly wined and dined, and in turn, she, in an entertaining fashion, took a dim view of the poet species, guffawed, chortled, slapped her thigh. She however was mortified to discover that her host is himself a poet. Well, she would not hold that against him. Even cowboys get the blues. We all of us, through no fault of our own, must allege ourselves to be something or another; we are wired to do as much. And yet, every so often, London Lunar does throw these end of civilization banquets at which one does not hear lamentation and teeth-gnashing so much as belly laughter. Oh the claims that are made in behalf of this literary notable or that actress or neuro-science specialist, claims that, in a more clear-minded age, would not stand up longer than a nanosecond's worth of button, button, who's got the button? Enough. Morning in Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur is riffing at me while I would commit to the page thoughts that might do Nietzsche proud or else double-down on his anxiety attacks, just that - well, too late now. Because Larry flew in from Chicago overnight. Man, are his arms tired. Seems his daughter would extort twenty bucks CDN from her mother. "Why can't you be good for nothing - like your father?" The end of civilization? Larry is contemplating his upcoming junket to Atlantic City. It is a matter of aesthetics to him that he would much rather go there than languish in Las Vegas with closet Mormons. Had I been to Las Vegas? No, but I had been to Reno, played football there, lived my own version of The Misfits, was Gable and Clift and Wallach all rolled into one, and at the precocious age of thirteen. Larry and his buddies will gamble and golf and smoke cigars and maybe get up to other stuff. Yes, he has seen The King of Marvin Gardens. It scares him, how much trivia he knows - he ought to be on Jeopardy. Just now he has the look of a depressive talk-show host. But the end of civilization? What end? Which end? "Here," says Larry, "write this up in that there thing you write. How I keep getting double-billed all the time for services I don't actually receive. How companies with which I'm having to do business are always wasting money - theirs and mine - in the name of efficiency. Efficiency? Now there's a piss poor joke—" "Yes," I say, not to be outdone in the Slagging Department, "it's called systems-management. I frequently allude to the item. Systems-management has replaced human intelligence. Systems-management is turning America into something even Mussolini would have had contempt for—" A certain glint in Larry's eye tells me he has reached his limit and I can ease off the throttle. I left the Public Gardens with its rows / Of neatly mattocked beds, I, a poet, one of those / Virtuosos of the nerves—from Eric Ormsby. From an Eric Ormsby poem, in fact. The title of which is The Public Gardens, reprinted in his new selected The Baboons of Hada, Carcanet, 2011. Do you think Ormsby was being wry? Might he, too, like Burt Lancaster, portray an aging mobster? The snow falling outside just now is more sturm und drang than precip—April is not necessarily the cruellest month but it is a great kidder. The Egyptian Vulture is the least / discriminating of the scavengers. / He sucks up eyeball juice of wildebeest / as though it were iced BollingerI don't know - sounds kind of Ormsbyian to me

 

April 20, 2011: More dreams masquerading as grand prose—(The nightcap with peanuts at 'bratwurst'?) The recurring dream-trope might be characterized thus: time lived at leisure. And I found myself checking around these dreams for an overabundance of Maseratis and slave quarters and kitchen staff and smoking parlours. One can never be too careful—Last night at Nikas, Labrosse was in an expansive mood. That is to say, he was cooperative. So much so he explained to me what was up with the forthcoming harmonized sales tax, as it was an occasion for him to hold forth how it is Ottawa works in relation to the provinces, and then there is Quebec. It was not unlike the politics of a school cafeteria, to hear him tell it, in which there is always someone acting up, food a weapon. No, just joshing you—Labrosse went on to say that before, during and just after the Quiet Revolution, the editors of Le Devoir had been the heart, soul, and one imagines, the minds of La Belle Province; and he had known some of these men - intellectuals who worked for a pittance, as intellectuals should; and he spoke with pride of their commitment. It is good now and then to hear a man speak with a pride in things that is not a self-congratulatory pride —It reminds an ebullient pessimist like myself that the life of the mind is not all futility—Labrosse spoke of a street in his home town of Shawinigan, of a boulevard, actually, a four-laner that seems to follow the course of the river and winds up in a park, along which one might cruise and find chip stands - summer time action. He skirted the edges of nostalgia as he invoked, the reason for which nostalgia will become apparent soon. You see, I believe I will add to my special niche, in a long list of movie, flick and cinema favourites that stretch from Andrei Rublev to Zorba the Greek, the flick Fat City (1972). Directed by John Huston, featuring Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges, the movie would go well in that 'special niche' with The Hustler (1961, directed by Robert Rossen). Neo-realism with a shot of noir. In which a pool hall hustler learns the hard way about good and evil and being human. In Fat City, a middling boxer (the Jeff Bridges character) will learn to distinguish between dreaming the impossible dream and reality and he will have some life left over to live in the process. There is one briefly comic scene set in a car in which Bridges and his girlfriend (one assumes they have been necking) drift into conversation, and Bridges hits on a hifalutin word with which to attend to his girlfriend's state of mind. "You're unfulfilled. I know." But no, the girl friend protests: "I'm fulfeeled. I'm not mad—" She just wants the hoser to marry her. (I might mention that Susan Tyrrell's portrayal of the other woman in the movie, a barfly, was seriously impressive. It got her a sniff at the Oscar's.) At the beginning and at the conclusion of the film there is the lily pad croaking of Kris Kristofferson singing the lyrics to his own song: help me make it through the night—The fact that the movie helps one to stomach the wheedling gameness of the song is an achievement of sorts. In any case the movie puts me in mind of my 1st and Pike days, Seattle, and the great market there (before the yuppies ruined it and made it safe for yuppies), and the bars and the dives and the low life, including the poets who hung about and street theatre was just the 'street'. I was sixteen and the market was my university, my first lesson in true civics, and it made of me a small d democrat. But enough. I wrote on this years ago in a now lost essay for some rag or another - The Vancouver Review. You see, I had to allow Labrosse his moment of nostalgia before I could indulge mine with something like a clear conscience. And well, it would seem that oil had something to do with the war, after all, and that Mr Wheezy, or Mr Blair, is a rank ferret, but that Putin and Chirac turned up their noses at the dear lad's (Bush) offer of petrol-crumbs. I hear that London Lunar intends to fete at his digs a noted Polish novelist-feminist. He intends to have her to dinner. I have been alerted: "Watch this space for reportage. HOST EATEN ALIVE. THEN STRANGLED WITH DREADLOCKS." London Lunar is now and then known to chortle at self. A joined Labrosse and I at the Nikas closing hour, whereupon we slid up to 'bratwurst', Jamal almost happy to see us, heavy on the almost—A does not chortle at self - it would only confuse her, but she on occasion rues self and suspects she has much yet to learn.

 

April 19, 2011: Lamentable is how London Lunar characterizes my remarks in respect to Geoffrey Hill in the previous post. Yes, but why throw over a barbarian schtick that has served me fairly well over the course of the years? In truth, I have no quarrel with Mr Hill when it comes to verse-making. I am happy enough to take him seriously, just as I am happy enough to take Robin Blaser seriously though I am no 'fan' as such of his work. Fan. Speaking of lamentable, now there is a lamentable word - that word fan - when applied to poetry. Was Mr Blaser an entertainer? He did have a great reading-aloud voice, perhaps the best I was ever privileged to hear, doing my back-row-as-close-to-the-exit-door-as-possible barbarian routine should someone yell "Fire!" at some point in his delivery. I was a terribly serious lad back then; I did not clown around, no, not like I do now. For—wait for it—If we had no faults we should not find so much enjoyment in seeing faults in others—La Rochefoucauld, from his Maxims. Or, from the same source: The flaws of the mind intensify with age, like those of the face. Or, and I cannot resist: Hope may be a lying jade, but she does at any rate lead us to the end of our lives along a pleasant path. In any case, I have been going over the latest set of proofs for my little memoir of William Hoffer, once the most loathed man in Canadian literature, especially among those who believed that poetry ought to be on constant intravenous drip. On the back cover of Glenn Woodsworth's Cheap Sons of Bitches, An Informal Bibliography of the Publications of  William Hoffer, Bookseller, 1998, Hoffer is quoted as saying: "Kenneth Rexroth once said that people who say they like poetry, but won't pay for it are cheap sons of bitches, and I agree with him....Booksellers aren't supposed to take positions, and they are generally unwise to publish books; I have committed these two heresies only because the silence is so deafening in Canada. The proof of civilization rests much more powerfully in the number of bookshops a country has than in the number of writers it can boast." Well, the quote has gotten slightly musty with the passage of a number of decades, but the sense of it is still au courant, and the silence, for all the frenetic literary activity, is just as deafening as ever, if not more so. And the bookshops are disappearing, one by one. (The fact that they may be re-emerging in the virtual world does not much sustain love of culture, as I understand culture. How does one smell a book in the virtual world?) I have nothing intelligent one way or another to add to these debates that pertain to grants, that speak to books as real-time objects as opposed to virtual menaces. For a literature to take root and flourish in some healthy way or another, the money has to come from somewhere; literature does not just materialize out of thin air. Trouble is, arts funding creates politics that fosters cliques and power enclaves such as would manage a national literature along mafioso lines which redound to some manifestations of PC as being more PC than other PC that leads, in time, to censorship and self-censorship, servility, to the predictable mouthings and predictable products of party members - a vicious cycle. Damnably hard to break. I recall an arts-funding apparatchik ripping my head off once, years ago, he saying that if one good writer out of a thousand were a consequence of arts spending, it were a good consequence. I suppose. I had no idea then what was truly meant by those odds, and I am not sure that I know now, but it seems a bleak enough picture, one that perhaps looks about a bit more desperately for its justification—Enough. My Vale Perkins correspondent speaks to me of duelling geese in the swamp just over the road from her dwelling. She makes mention of diptheria. Belgian workshorses. The first cream separators. Not to worry - bucolia is not in me, but my correspondent is writing up a little history of Potton County where MH and I have our cabin. Nearby it, up the creek a short ways, is the site of the only archaeological dig I have ever been privy to; and on a certain afternoon, some years ago, the archaeologist (affectionately code named 'Goldilocks') and I turned up a few rusty 1930s soup tins though we were in the hunt for Vikings and Celts. A petroglyph, also nearby, is, according to the archaeologist in question, proof of the presence of the Ogam alphabet in this part of the world—

 

April 18, 2011: One may as well take one's pleasures with gusto, as every age is corrupt, some more than others; and now and then one comes along that is positively bleak—I am unable to attribute the above quote to any source, but I did hear myself yesterday mouth like words with a remarkably similar point. A ball game I happened to be watching on TV occasioned the words. The patter of broadcasters with military haircuts was relieved with a cutting away for ads or patter of another sort. It all struck me, such was my mood of disenchantment (and baseball is a game I love, so much so I will tolerate a lot of bs for the sake of that love) as so much fascism availing itself of the slipstream of 'Have a nice day'. The two broadcasters with military haircuts were marking on-air time with some Edmontonian (Alberta), some idiot who thought himself a cross between Adonis and Richard Gere and the world's nastiest hockey defenceman, as the man apparently does play-by-play for the Phoenix Coyotes, perhaps when he can clear his sinuses of cocaine—And no bit of preachiness on my part, no measure of 'message-writing' would be complete without me adding that yuppiedom and its overweening obsession with lifestyle has midwifed so much of the geist that addles us, a large portion of the geist being the fact that the America worker is apparently three times more productive than ever but with a serious drop in wages, and the plutocrats are purring in their box seats—. She was a handful of gimme, a mouthful of much obliged—(Another mysterious spate of words arising from seemingly nowhere)—Years ago in Vancouver, at a party, an enthusiast grabbed hold of me and had me listen to a recording of Geoffrey Hill reading his verse. Mr Hill was not yet then accorded the distinction of being the premier poet in the language, but then I could be mistaken. Once again, it might have been my mood or, more likely, my yankee ear - to which language tends to be more a matter of pulse than metric units - but I found Mr Hill difficult to stomach. Stuffy, pompous, pretentious—These were all words that came to mind looking for traction. Am I not famous for my snap judgments? But of course. And I am all too often, as London Lunar always lets me know, ludicrously wrong in my judgments. For instance, in respect to Mr Hill with whose work I remain insufficiently acquainted, I have been told more than once that the man is not in fact stuffy, pompous, pretentious, twitty as a person, let alone as a poet; he is, if anything, severe, as he does not suffer fools, and blithering idiots like myself simply disappear in his inner wood-chipper. The point I wish to belabour, however, in light of what will follow, is this: if I have no natural sympathy with what is stuffy, pompous, pretentious, I have been at times unnaturally tempted to defend stuffy, pompous, pretentious against the onslaught of so much mindless dreck eating up our culture—Consider that to self-elect oneself as a poet, these days, to that vaguest of vague pantheons - any pantheon of poets - is to willynilly incur the charge of stuffy, pompous, pretentious. As I keep saying, and for no other reason but to roil the waters before the Red Sea parts, doing its thing, poets have no evolutionary value. It is unclear what they actually contribute to society but role-models for the somewhat more bizarre manifestations of narcissism everywhere around us. Poetry is, in fact, disappearing from our world. There is a great outcry in respect to this development that no number of festivals can reverse. But who in fact is killing poetry apart from systems-management consciousness (oxymoron?) but poets trying to force poetry down the public throat as if it were a bitter pill the public must swallow if the planet is to be saved? I had all this in mind as yet another notice of yet another festival yet again appeared on my computer screen, something to do with zing-zow POW Godknowzwhat. And I thought for a minute that perhaps somebody had prisoners of war on his hands, that they had popped down from the sky alien-like into his backyard, and it was an excuse to party. And this on Canadian soil, the Quebec part of which Mr Harper is at the moment attempting to render up as the bogeyman in his quest for his parliamentary majority, this same Mr Harper who, in his Augean Stables mode, would expunge and has cut arts-funding, and so forth and so on - it is all so tedious, as is the poetry end of it. For yes, my weak wits at last twigged that what was on my computer screen had to do with poetry and not with a war that I was the last to know had been declared. But if had to do with poetry it was not poetry as such I could recognize, as it - capital P poetry - was here, was in this instance, allowing itself to be infantilized. Lightness of touch and wit, if briefly acerbic, fail me just now; but that poets who go about characterizing poetry as something tantamount to bubblelicious abjectly surrender to all that makes us stupid, vacuous, and pliable; so many more stooges in the great game of profit-taking; and one of the great errors of the left-of-centres, if it is not downright sin, has been this equation of self-congratulatory celebrations of culture with standing up to the way right of centre lunatic philistines here, there and everywhere wish to eliminate from life what renders life worth living. And yes, they are very much with us and very real, and they want standing up to, but not by way of spiritual suicide. So then in the trenches I would rather have the likes of a Mr Hill at my side then some asinine Pied Piper for Poesy who assumes, who assumes, mind you, that he or she is automatically on the side of the angels—I give up. That, whatever my reasons for writing these words, the fact that I find myself writing them at all signifies the battle has long since been lost, and the prospects of the war are, well, really quite dim. As we speak, a certain Mr Hedges out there in media-land, and in the heartland of something or other to the south of here, is calling for a revolution, and I cannot entirely dismiss him as a flake though he is a journalist. I am sure he will find himself with a great many flakes on his hands before he is done with it - this a matter not entirely unconnected with the above—Over the past couple of days I have been hard on London Lunar. He seems to think I have been having unwarranted fun at his expense—

 

April 17, 2011: Surely, that little gin rummy scene as played by Broderick Crawford and Judy Halliday in Born Yesterday is one of moviedom's immortal passages, all that is male and female for good or ill in it, all that is predictable, all that is possibly transcendent. I did not know that Judy Halliday was a certifiable genius, but there you go, apparently she was, and it only makes her portrayal of a dizzy blonde who gradually attains something like independence of mind and spirit all the more delicious, she getting out from under the thumb of Crawford's loutish, corrupt character. I suppose that today's feminists will find the Halliday character quaint and very old hat, but what is perhaps more quaint and very old hat is the movie's vision of government for and by the people as being in constant jeopardy from those who would buy politicians so as to get their bidding done—A pleasant fiction - that government for and by the people—A pleasant fiction that once had something like a toe-hold in reality—In Ball of Fire there is another little scene, one in which Gene Krupa lays down a boogie beat with safety matches and a match box, Barbara Stanwyck egging him on—In a way this cabaret scene contains within it so much more plausibility than anything in Born Yesterday - this little universal: how it is people will amuse themselves while the world around them circles the drain—Otherwise, the movie with its Billy Wilder script, struck me as somewhat flat. London Lunar confesses that he cannot see the point to Carnivale and he curses my memory: that I got him to waste an inordinate amount of time on the thing. It is one of those HBO lollapaloozas, and I liked it. London Lunar is a poltroon and tone-deaf, besides. The story it tells is an allegory, and what else is an allegory but a treatment of good and evil, however many critics there are snuffling away in their various bogs that there are no such items in the cosmos as 'good' and 'evil', and that, in the human world, as in nature, there is only what 'works' and there is dysfunction. And even in nature there is no dysfunction as such; there is only 'adjustment'. Be that as it may, I for one argue that every once in a while it is worthwhile to dramatize those notions of good and evil if only for the sake of a clarification session, boyo, along the lines, for example, of a medieval morality play, only that in Carnivale, what you get is a Steinbeck with high-tech resources and a penchant for the supernatural. London Lunar redeems himself somewhat, though, when he asserts that the Syrian president, now that the man would have the fifty year old emergency law lifted, has put himself in a dangerous position vis a vis his state's security apparatus as it, perhaps, represents other vested interests—Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress is gathering up last night's empty wine cows, chewing gum as she does so. Why is it that yesteryear's slang seems so much more poetic than the jargon of the hour that only jars and assaults and lacks verbal spark? In a certain bark of the dog the horse knows there is anger; at a certain other sound of his he is not frightened—Montaigne.

 

April 15-16, 2011: I like my little low-tech barbershop. You are not going to get great hairstyling there. But a heavy-built Russian woman will snip and clip and tease what remains of your head of hair into some sort of manageability while her husband? her brother? her whomever - kissing cousin? equally heavy of build, hangs about, converses with her on the strength of those big, sloppy Russian syllables. (Is Turgenev being taken to task? The Moscow Logic Circle?) For all that, I have yet to see him lift a helpful finger in the place, all the while some dreary reality TV imparts hyper-activity to the TV screen, philodendrons and other plant life lost to each their slow-moving dreams— In any case, she snipped, clipped and teased and emphatically combed and then it was done. And I was bidden to view the result in the mirror. I was stunned. The man in the mirror was none other than my father, what with the way the barberess had combed back my hair. I should have known, I suppose, that it was going to happen sooner or later - or that one cannot forever and ever shake off the ghost of one's progenitor—Barberess charged me 16 bucks for this little bit of street theatre and I tipped her a toonie

   ***

London Lunar, a Syria hand of sorts, reports that the president there likes to see himself as a liberal surrounded by besetting reactionaries. Then he (London Lunar) suggests that it is he himself who has been flooding my computer with notices of the readings of a certain Canadian poetess for whom I have no great regard. He stoops very low, coming it this high. Idle hands. Idle minds. It is one of those mornings in Nikas that has nothing to recommend, even if the comely daughter of Alexandra the waitress, occupying a booth in the forefront of the restaurant, just sits there aglow, radiating the fact that one of these days she too will be a mother. She requires no other justification for her existence than to fill the space that she fills and just simply be, and she knows it. She may, just now, rattle on about silly boys, but it matters not. She may rattle on about the injustices done to women by the male of the species, but it matters not, the look on her countenance unmistakable. I am nature's plan. Through me runs the life-force. Or some such. She is the be-all and end-all, and man, does she ever know it. Fawcett used to careen about Vancouver exulting in his perfect ego but he was deluded; no other ego can possibly be as perfect as the ego of this young woman - at least, for the next little while; and it requires no effort on her part, no thought - she need only breathe. At the moment she is given up to some fit of Mediterranean pique, no matter that in her mind she is most likely as vacuous as a pop video, her mother's commiseration as commodious as a luxurious quilt—It is grey and chilly and blah outside. Years ago I read an account by of one of the Sackville-Wests - I have no idea now which one - of Montreal's formidable climate round about August time and how ill-suited for civilized activity that it is. Everything human, of course, poured out of Africa in dribs and drabs over millennia, human groups related to one another by language requiring a period of ten thousand years of separation or so before winding up unintelligible to one another - kissing cousins, at best. (Look, it is what I read earlier this morning, but that the two magpies in the restaurant continue rattling on—) Love is but a prelude to life, an overture in which the theme of the impending work is exquisitely hinted at, but which remains nevertheless only a symbol and a promise—Santayana, Life of Reason. The magpies chatter still. A syllabub is an old time English confection: cream, sugar, wine. Negus is wine and hot water and spice and sugar. Syllabub and negus are words the meanings of which always escape me, and I have no idea why. But Temminck's pangolin is now seared on my brain always, that scaly crittur related to the armadillo—P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, supposes that, of course, politicians play political games. What other games would they play? Suffering succotash, Shirl, but cut the effers a little slack. Still, I sit here in Nikas and confront myself with a vision of the expanding universe, its parts getting farther and farther away from each other and at increasing velocity; yesterday's whisper today's shout drowning in immeasurable silence.So much for politics and the life of reason and all the rest of it—

 

April 15, 2011: Last night in Nikas, Labrosse gave me the gears. My views concerning politicians were ill-formed, immature. "Why," he said, "some of them are as smart you." Knock me over with a feather— E, who was at table with us, just in from her stay in Toronto, hmmmmed. She had her doubts as to the quality of my intellects. Even so, I told Labrosse that I could not help it - I had been spoiled. The likes of a Trudeau or a Lévesque or a Broadbent had done the spoiling. I did not see why I had to apologize for my 'views' then in regards to the actors of the moment. Ignatieff might have an armload of degrees but I did not believe that in essence he had a more profound grasp of the human condition than I, not that the human condition has any bearing on tax cuts. Then again, broach those words - human condition - and a lot of people, including Labrosse, get glassy-eyed: there is no way to speak scientifically of the thing, let alone rationally—Which is why the shabby business is left to the poets. It is how they justify their sorry existences—It was still unclear to me whether Current President was playing the cards dealt him as astutely as he could or whether he had blown one of electoral history's most impressive mandates—Here, even Labrosse could see that it was a justifiable question on my part, but still—In fact - in respect to Current President - here was a prime example of 'political intelligence' firing away on all twelve cylinders - as easy as kiss my hand; and it was simply not true that men and women in office or men and women seeking office were 24/7 in the clutches of their handlers and packagers; they had minds and impulses of their own. In the face of this onslaught, I demurred. I was already beating myself up enough, seeing as I have been going on about capital S Science in a less than gentlemanly way; not that science is not wonderful - it is wonderful - and I have no reason to quarrel with its great achievements, and least of all with the fact of evolution; just that science is also so effing lethal, is such a Jekyll and Hyde head case; has helped us to convince ourselves that we have an ascendancy over nature that we do not have; that we have an overblown measure of our innate capacities - dream the impossible dream or some such mental putrescence and et cetera. A set of glassy eyes begged for mercy and I called off hostilities. But then, N - ex-ambulance driver, lonely hockey groupie who was also at table - once again nearly knocked Labrosse from his chair in her excitement over an almost-goal. If she is a pure soul, she is one of the stranger manifestations of pure soul that I have ever come across. At any rate, while Labrosse and N sorted out things out between themselves, I asked E how Toronto had been—"Toronto? Hmmm. Toronto's alright." I doubt that E will be working for any tourist bureau any time soon. This month there are poetry festivals everywhere. An endless stream of notices on my computer screen testify to this derring-do. I ought perhaps to get into the swing of things as I am, allegedly, a poet, and poetry is a good, is it not? "Tell me, E, am I poet?" "Well, some say - hmmmm - but yes, poetry is a good. It's definitely a good." Labrosse was chomping at the bit to get in his two cents worth, just that N distracted him as she was taking her leave and looking very lonely, indeed, as she pulled on her coat and very audibly assailed Boston Bruin villainy on the TV. I will asseverate that poetry festivals do not, in and of themselves, amount to a moral force, to a turning of the tide; is not humankind at its most human or even at its best; is no excuse for self-congratulations; and yet, so as to honour the laws of chance, surely some darling at some festival somewhere, perhaps in all innocence, perhaps by hook or crook, will manage to raise the neck hairs of some other darling momentarily less than mindful of their hard-backed, hard-seat chair, and it may be said that, sometimes, poetry festivals are better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick—The 50s, don't you think, was a rich crop of perversions that brown rice and granola swept aside for a while? Otherwise the enemy of the sublime is the ridiculous. A sense of the ridiculous is mandatory to our sanity. But what has happened is that an overweening, profit-taking trading in the ridiculous has rendered us puerile and inane and starved for oxygen—In light of which I have returned to the nautical world of Patrick O'Brian. It is a very finely calibrated measure of the sublime and the ridiculous and the horrific. A quote from The Commodore: "Brother," said Stephen [Maturin to Jack Aubrey], "you can give a woman a great wounding kick in the bottom and then answer you never slapped her face—" Does this not resemble some nation-state's foreign policy? Repeated frequently throughout the twenty volume series is what has become my favourite euphemism, and I repeat it here: it was as easy as kiss my hand. I do not know that Patrick O'Brian's prose is the prose of great literature, but odds are it is the next best thing. It is prose that has superlative and amiable command of the world it inhabits - that world all period piece - the Napoleonic era. And it does not flinch, for example, from the fact and the realities of the slave trade. But it is, to some extent, an apology for the empire. There is no sugaring that one. And there it is - what confounds and exasperates the idealist. A pure, over-arching rejection of all that is base, if not downright evil? Is it possible? Some days I wake up and we are not moral creatures, we are whims. Other days and—My Vale Perkins correspondent has just repeated her assertion that Iggy acquitted himself in the debates much better in French, there having been some over-night sea change in his presentation of his case that Harper was a Dubya clone; that Duceppe was a prisoner of an old song sheet, but doing his best, and that—We wound up at 'bratwurst' for a nightcap, Labrosse, E and I. I forget now what we discussed. E's sentimental education—The place was cheery. Animated tables. Students having at it. Their A-minus smiles in contradistinction to our C-plus grins—Silly, simpering pop videos somewhat Persian— Ah, they were made in L.A.—You see, I understand nothing.

 

April 14, 2011: Mourning Becomes Electra, the 1947 movie (based on the play that premiered in 1931 and is rarely performed), is long, flawed and quite compelling at times in a chilling sort of way. The poetry of the inexorable. Or that, once certain forces are unleashed in a human setting, certain outcomes are inevitable - however much our fears and stupidities, our pleasures, and even our happinesses blind us to them until it is too late. The words above may strike any reader born after the 70s as exotic at best and irrelevant at worst, given that contemporary reality does not admit to consequence, except in office politics. The women in O'Neill's play - a trilogy, actually - are all forces of nature or, in other words, 'strong', 'commanding', 'irrefutable', as they are in Aeschylus whose Oresteia O'Neill used as his model; and the men are all Hamlets with intermittent Oedipal hot flashes—Yes, yes, pathetic little attempt at a little levity—O'Neill's play is - how shall we characterize it? - rife with Freud, the fact of which should have put me off and it did not; Freud being what is left of a human setting once capitalism, or capitalism of a certain kind, strips away all the point there was in directing one's prayers to Zeus, as per Clytemnestra. And when justice is done, whose justice is it? Whose justice is it ever? —From high good fortune in the blood blossoms the quenchless agony—Aeschylus, Agamemnon. In any case, there is something in the work of Eugene O'Neill that always leaves me unsatisfied, unlike as it is with Shakespeare, for example, or the Greeks; and I have yet to figure out why. I suspect it has something to do with O'Neill's use of language, a war of words if not a war of sensibilities between prose and poetry in the course of the drama, if that makes any sense. No? The words 'spiritual malaise' appeared in a dream of mine, last night - a mene, mene, tekel, upharsin moment, no doubt - but no definition of the words was offered. So much for language as a precision instrument. I do not believe that, in Montreal-NDG, there is anything remotely resembling a House of Atreus, let alone a curse that has plagued it throughout the generations, then again—And in Massachusetts? The year was 1995, I believe, when I drove through the state on the way back from Florida, and it was my first exposure to the place, and it seemed to me something very familiar and not necessarily pleasantly so; perhaps because, starting in my teens and throughout my 20s, I had read Hawthorne and Irving and Brooks Adams along with a smattering of Santayana, plus Dickinson and Henry James—And me a west coaster—I was informed by Labrosse, last evening, that he was going to subject himself to the French language round of the debate, and I more or less replied that he was a better man than I. A correspondent of mine in Vale Perkins informed me that, in fact, everyone came off better in French - those Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on their circus ponies. I was settling down to some indifferent cinematic material when a Literary Thug phoned me up and invited me out to play. We met up at 'bratwurst' whereupon I began chatting up the short story he had sent me to peruse, one set in a small Ontario town, horror show, and how I thought that, despite its problems, it had within it the germ, the kernel, the something, at any rate, of a grander design. I made mention of the fact that I, for one, had still to read a quintessential Canadian novel worth any fuss that was not, at bottom, cheerleading for its nation-state; that perhaps it had yet to be written, and why should he not apply himself? He was young, in health, and evidently not polluted with PC and literary theory. Was able to write a sentence. Knew a thing or two. And that going out of one's way to be subversive in respect to CanLit was a sure fire way of ensnaring oneself all the more in all that literary flypaper—Just write, damn it, just write. And so a couple of beers were consumed in this fashion. The state of education in Ontar-I-O— I made mention of a writer (Brian Fawcett - all gibe and knuckles and abiding curiosity about things) with whom I have had many, many philosophic disagreements over a long spate of years when it comes to literature but who has recently written something worthy in my estimation, a family memoir of sorts (quintessentially Canadian) that he entitles Human Happiness, to be published in the fall with Thomas Allen; that Literary Thug ought to read it - just to see that it can be done. And that one day, when CanLit grows up and becomes capable of true generosity and not some feckless quid pro quo, an enemy might extend to an enemy his or her due acknowledgment. (But I am not holding my breath.) Now were I unaccountably able to say what I mean by 'spiritual malaise' I might well wind up killing the spirit in spiritual. Words distance things as often as they bring the same more sharply into focus. The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful—Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Bingo, you see. Spiritual is easy; religion is hard. And I do not know any more than you whether or not we ought to drive a stake through the heart of religion once and for all or go back to the drawing board and think again. Because the New-Agey and Science (subsuming everything in its path) and Oprah - it ain't working out so well, not by a long shot, though shills for this and that will tell you otherwise.

 

April 13, 2011: It is the yearly transition between winter funks and spring devotions. Spring devotions may consist of any number of activities. Putting up the eaves troughs out at the cabin is one such activity. Any moment now in the back lane, and my landlord will wheel his Harley out of the garage and begin fiddling with the thing while he carries on a conversation with any number of spectral entities that only he can see. There is the fact of summer tires, should one be driving something on four wheels. Daffodils. Groundskeeping. Cigarettes and seminars in the park—Yesterday, I had occasion to take the #105 to the Vendôme metro stop, and from there the metro to Plamondon. Inter-city travel is often dispiriting - especially when the winter funk is strong and passengers seem to be no more than adjuncts to whichever electronic devices are nested on their persons, but even so, it is an opportunity to study people. Yes, and I studied away. And if one can seldom come to anything like a definitive conclusion about people while in the throes of one's observations, accentuating the positive, one might indulge the illusion that one is communing with one's fellow inmates— In this is to be found the dirty roots of spiritual hairs—However, this time around, no one stood out - not in the bus, not in the station, not on the metro train. No one commanded my attention, not even a tart with venal wants. Perhaps I was insufficiently attentive; perhaps my powers are waning, and I had been shoulder to shoulder with the next Beethoven and not felt it somehow—(Yes, this line of thought is getting silly.) But there was not even the shared wisp of a smile as happens sometimes between rueful strangers and with which moviedom likes to treat, as moviedom imagines it has the inside track on all the secrets of the human soul—(Need romance always be so ambitious?) Perhaps, simple explanation, it is a boring section of line - Vendôme to Plamondon, and there is more action elsewhere. But then, on the return leg of my little jaunt, and now I was back on the #105 headed for my digs, there was this grotesque. He was squiring a clearly incapacitated boy to some appointment or another. He was 50-ish, bald, tattooed. Black jeans, black t-shirt. Paler than pale. He was jiving in the aisle, wires attached to his head. I had no doubt that his drug intake was prodigious and that he was utterly convinced of the fact that he was on the side of the angels, come what may. That he was kind to the boy is perhaps all that matters, the boy having trouble keeping his tongue in his mouth. The man was some kind of therianthrope - part reptile, part male nurse, part punk-deSade. Even as I was repulsed it struck me that I might applaud those two who were somehow more to the point of things than the passengers around them; that those two knew that life guarantees nothing, not even misery. Man is simply the most formidable of all the beasts of prey—William James. I had dinner with Labrosse later on - in Nikas. By then - around six or so, the cloud cover thin and unwintry - the day had a decidedly washed-out aspect. The heavy-hipped panhandler at her post by the liquor outlet was a drama coach for off-Broadway fluff, a power to be reckoned with. Starlings were pulling up worms from the grassy patch next to the restaurant, the worms so many strands of spaghetti. Labrosse had hijacked the TV remote and, eh voila! the election debate. Harper, Ignatieff, Layton, Duceppe. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - on circus ponies. It did not take them long to establish the parameters for a pretty depressing spectacle. Ham-handed wonk and wit, if wonk and wit it was. One could hear the grinding of teeth of their drama coaches in the background. This grinding of teeth speaks to the reality of our times; that it is the only reality - this reality that spawns itself as it goes along. Larry the software entrepreneur, come to dine with his wife, called out to me from the booth he occupied. Had I, along with Labrosse, lost my senses? Might we not change the channel and opt for - oh, full contact badminton? I shrugged. Labrosse was adamantly going to persevere with it, and I was doing less than my civic duty by sitting there, getting restive. Wine did not help. I too wondered what a quarrel over tax cuts had to do with the spiritual malaise that we all of us routinely suck up on a daily basis. Of course, those men want office and will say anything and do anything to get their imperium as per Cicero and his long quest for the Roman consulship. So then is a politician to be judged on the strength of his or her desire? Is he or she to be rated on the basis of the one thing he or she will not do in the name of politicking? Does character have anything to do with governance? Does character have anything to do with poets and the excellence or not of poems? I have often thought so, but then I have met enough prime asses and outright pr—ks who have tossed off the odd decent poem or two to be in some doubt on the matter. Someone has sent me an article which tells us that Oprah is now in on the poetry game, affixing it to the fashion game. Can the local writer's union compete? Am I finally exposed as a snob, what with this suspect juxtaposition of Oprah and high culture? A Literary Thug has sent me his new poem, and it is of interest. To say that a poem is interesting is to damn it, to be sure. But in this case—The thing has got some swing, but the swing is manic, out of control—How teach an aspiring poet music?—I recently read the prose thoughts of a New York City poet that caused me to giggle. Americans might do funk but pessimism - never; pessimism is for Europeans. This poet is awakening to the horrors of pessimism, as if he has spent way too much time on Whitman at the expense of Schopenhauer - who was not a poet, incidentally, and perhaps would not have allowed himself to be caught dead being one. I quote Andrew Bacevich, an American military type, quoting Mencken: When I hear a man applauded by the mob, I always feel a pang of pity for him. All he has to do to be hissed is to live long enough. Current President has now lived long enough. He may wind up hoisting himself on his own military petard in respect to things Middle East. It strikes me that, in respect to those old battles between the gods - between the Titans, for example and the Olympians - that what one might have heard by way of the sounds of war was the sound of square pegs being pounded into round holes—Spiritual malaise. One of these days I shall have to be somewhat more precise about what it is meant by those words spiritual malaise. Otherwise, I head that London Lunar has taken up pantomime.But no, that isn't it exactly. For according to Foulard, London Lunar started out in life with pantomime, just that everything that has followed has been a falling off—

 

 

April 12, 2011: From Robert Harris's Imperium which I have finished reading: The ability to listen to bores requires stamina, and such stamina is the essence of politics. Oh, and of a number of other endeavours, besides. But we won't be getting shrill now, will we? My view of Harris's prose remains unaltered: it is workmanlike. It is as though a journalist discovered creative writing workshops. However, 1): he knows his Cicero, and 2): everyone once in a while something genuinely poetic creeps into the writing, hangs around for a tiny bit and then departs the stage, as if having the good grace to know that the stage is reserved for more important actors than itself. In any case, yesterday I was in a mood and I scribbled the following: to 'bratwurst'. Yes, to that hole in the wall café so as recover my sweet, my sunny disposition. And it would seem that that fellow who, earlier in the day, enjoined me to go and take liberties with myself, was only being jocular. Fancy that. And one of the two Literary Thugs cum educators of my acquaintance has sent me a short story he wrote that has a high school for a setting - in a small Ontario town. A vision of horror. A whiff of Solzhenitsyn. Uncanny, that. Ought I to call the man's attention to this possibly bedevilling fact? And while he is generally in accord with Mr Hedges's view of education to the south of here - that it is circling the drain - he would also assign to the unions a measurable portion of the blame, something which Mr Hedges will not do, it seems. I caught the news at noon. None of it computed as it I found myself remote and detached from the immediate goings-on. Libya, Japan, Belarus. Meanwhile P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, nobly and with much valour, continues to defend Current President as being the only intelligent adult in a certain geopolitical construct; that all the rest of the putative adults treading water there are either demented or rabid ideologues or shabby liberals or still swathed in pubescent fat— However, Mr Carpenter does not persuade me, no, not entirely, though I respect his effort. Alas, Mr Current President is not about to ring me up and suggest, "Why don't you pop down and we get acquainted and you can put some of your concerns to rest—" Jamal's Jaguar, parked out front, gleams; it is almost a rebuke to the pallor of Montreal-NDG, May's christening foliage not yet upon us. And so much for what I scribbled yesterday—Now I believe I heard a robin, this morning. The robins hang about a while and then press on - to the south of here—Where, as per Chalmers Johnson, there is to be a reckoning. I will get to that reckoning in a minute. But because I just happened to see quite by chance a couple of her movies recently (Home Before Dark being one of them), I am become a Jean Simmons fan. A starlet with a starlet's looks and yet, she still managed something like honesty before the camera. A look, at any rate, that comes across so much more fresh than the 'routine honesty' that is our fare now. For all the truly execrable movies that are now made, in general, our 'dramas' tend to be 'more workmanlike' and perhaps better directed or rendered more plausible (if realism is your schtick) than the old Hollywood lollapaloozas, just that when those old movies really do fire on all cylinders they are peerless. Paltrow is no Simmons. DeNiro is no Cagney. Enough. My mood has been what it is because I have been disenchanted with my verse of late, or with the verse I have been writing over the past couple of years. I mentioned as much to London Lunar, and he ignores this mention. And yet, he is forever handing me his head and complaining that he is finished and I am forever reattaching his head to his carcass with the twine and glue of commiseration—I watched bits of "Birth of a Nation", last night, a very strange film (1915) indeed, that, off the top of my head, were I to characterize it, strikes me as a confluence of Livy and John Dos Passos. The film has passages of real splendour and it is deeply racist and venal—For all that I go on about things Roman, I am not entirely insensible to our era or any other. The centuries that, for one reason or another, I have most difficulty grasping are those that connect the Carolingians to the early Renaissance Florentines. My brain balks at itemizing Frankish kings much as your brain might balk at grocery lists—As I was put in mind, this morning, of Chalmers Johnson, the fact of him put me in mind of a poet I knew in my sixteenth year. The old days, Seattle. Like Johnson, he had been a language specialist for the American military. Chinese. Japanese. Vietnam turned his head, and his head turned, he resorted to poetry, and his thought and his example influenced me for a while until, one fatal evening at an informal gathering of poets, he read from a new poem and I heard intoned: Rise up, O my C—ted Ones! Whatever he meant to say, however much he was undeniably a genius, I could never take him seriously after that. Johnson believed that Japanese militarism made Mao possible, driving Chinese nationalists into his orbit. As explanations go, it is probably this simple and that complicated, and Japan still contends with the simple fact that it has no resources of its own. Chalmers also believed that the Americans have arrived at the point whereby they have over-extended themselves and they will pay the piper - sooner rather than later. Chalmers has died and so, he is not around now to either refine or rescind his judgment—Morning. Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur does not yet know it, but as apolitical as he claims to be, he is a walking conduit of politics - a running sore, so to speak - what with his disgust and his skin-deep infatuation with yankee right wing cant. He is an instance of the sailor who, having succumbed to the Siren's song, flirts with becoming the song. What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Pascal, from his Pensées. My sentiments exactly—

 

April 10-11, 2011: I suppose I am all l'sprit de l'escalier as Diderot put it. Staircase push-back. Hence, Ephemeris. So I will start small, settle for quoting Conservative Colonel to the effect that there will be more Chinese in Riyadh, Current President about to catch major blame for just about everything going wrong, even that fraying of relations between the yanks and the Saudis. He may as well resign himself— Otherwise a book of poems entitled Ooga-Booga has been brought to my attention. It is authored by one Frederick Seidel about whom I know nothing. To judge by the author photo that comprises the book's front jacket cover, he is absolutely crazed, perhaps even interesting. I open it at random. I read: Mother Nature walked from Kenya. / Going faster is Italian. / Going fast got you nowhere. /Madagascar is impatiens. I suppose there is a moral lurking in the above, and slyly at that. Don't get me wrong: not dissing the poem, just sampling its rather languid charms, like those of Bette Davis in Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte. You know - languidge. We did kick off terrasse season, yesterday - Labrosse, A, DW and myself. DW is a schoolteacher who has knocked about the world, a left of centre fellow much thwarted by the prevailing sensibilities of the hour of the dumbed-down sort. A French woman was his mother, an American his father. Father went militia-minded. A Boston grandmother apparently steeped DW in Persian verse. He got off a good one in the flow of conversation - choque and awe - but damn me if I can now remember the context.We had been discussing Reich and the orgone box. We had been discussing that old time religion, or sexual repression in the U.S. of A. And in this the other colony, too. And then Jamal served us more beer, and because he loves his car, he went and wiped down his Jaguar parked right there in front of 'bratwurst'. No ifs, buts or bones about it. Happiest of materialists—Western civilization may be circling the drain, but his is another perspective—

***

Adrift between sleep and wakefulness I asked myself what it is that people live for. Daylight, and I was hearing plumbing in the apartment - neighbours bestirring themselves for their day jobs. Alright then, they seem to live for their jobs and a little downtime - when they can get it. It is nothing terribly complicated. They are remarkably like those old Roman plebs become legendary to me through my reading—Me, I have lived, wait for it, for art. Bad hours. Poor wages. Self-respect? Intermittent. Now the boyfriend of someone I have written about, by way of an electronic missive, enjoins me to go and f—k myself. In light of what I am unable say. Last night, Martha - in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - said by way of a challenge, "I don't bray." "Yes, you do," responded George ever so mildly, "yes, you do." Or if George did not say it, he looked it, and if George did not say it or look it, Richard Burton said it and looked it, as he was Liz's husband at the time. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Genesis. And it is not law speaking so much here as it is the Inexorable, determinism of a kind, gravity —Brayyyy—And all our hunger for God and meaning and true well-being and purpose and the whole nine yards is mocked by that word, what with its inherent capacity for caustic zero-sums. A lot of brayyyy—Literary Thugs 1&2 whom I call friends both teach. The one is rather depressed on account of what his profession has become. Which it is a business run along the lines of the latest business model bent on producing like-minded systems-managers for the collective; not yes-men and yes-women so much perhaps, but personages who will not call the basic paradigm into question - or that minds, come what may, can be rendered smoothly cog-like. Mr Hedges is on about this in today's Truthdig, corroborating to some extent Literary Thugs 1&2. London Lunar suggests that he and I are become good for nothing but the butt of jokes as cracked by a younger generation of poetasters whose relationship to the craft, and Yeats did call it a craft, after all, is infected somewhat with 'marketing' and much of what goes with it - or product-light, heavy on the brand. No kamikaze pilots, these guys. What a dumpppp! The other day, Labrosse pointed out to me that my local MP is an astronaut. In light of which witticisms began to course through my brain and all things were thereby explained - in respect to Ottawa and this particular riding. But then, I lost heart and could not manage to achieve sufficient levels of wise-acre standard. "He has independence of mind," said Labrosse. I was skeptical. "He's his own thinker," Labrosse continued, and well, we are all of us our own thinkers after a fashion. "But he plays by the rules," Labrosse added on. I slumped deeper in my Nikas chair. Yes, it could be the fellow is entirely honourable. Could be he is just another less than reflective bit of mind-set in some elaboration of systems-management folderol. No, it would be a sorry mess if we were all of us running around as anarchists. On the other hand, need we rub our noses in it? Must our mugs be forever stuck in manuals to the pittering of polite applause? From Ooga-Booga which it is a book of verse, chosen at random, page 64: The precious thing is that they voted. Ooga-booga! And there we were—

 

April 9, 2011: You bring the hot dogs; I'll bring the buns—from an American song the name of which is unknown to this author. Even so, a Poet Laureate, no less, of one of this nation-state's fair burgs, wrote to tell me that as part of the festivities for the city's 125th anniversary, he is having its ten most important books raised up from their resting places in the deeps of one sort or another and reprinted, including Jon Furberg's book of poems - Anhaga. Now Jon Furberg was a friend of mine, and he died too young. He was one of Vancouver's braver souls inasmuch as he stood his ground in the face of various combined assaults - the Americans, for one (their move on Vancouver kind of like the Ionians muscling in on Athens), and I was one of those yankees; and the femmes with their gender-neutral verbiage, not to mention the yearly seasonal influx of prairie migrants come for the warm coast winters; and the Chinese round about the time that Hong Kong slipped back to its China orbit, and the Siliconites - though I believe Furberg, by passing away, was spared the China crisis and the techies, colonizers who perhaps changed the nature of the city more than any other force. What was once an overgrown village metamorphosed into some cosmetic parody of world-class must-be places. In other words, for better or worse, for good or ill, to effect or to none at all, Furberg stayed his own poet (as did John Newlove, by the way), irrespective of the prevailing blows, the fashions, the cockamamie theorizings, and he paid a price for it. The man taught me something about poetry, perhaps more so than others had, and I was one of those feckless sods who had no shortage of mentors. There used to be a house in Vancouver called the Blue House (between Cambie and Main on 10th Avenue, if I recall it right) to which I would gravitate now and then. It was a house of committed drinkers that hosted an annual viewing of A Christmas Carol, (1951, Alistair Sims), towels supplied. It was not considered indecent should one find oneself blubbering by movie's end, and Furberg, in any case, would encourage such histrionics—It was campaign headquarters, apart from a few bars, for the early Pulp Press wonks, before that press perhaps got rather carried away with itself on account of the success of a number of literary boondoggles it perpetrated on the unsuspecting. Hoffer resided there, William Hoffer, Public Enemy Number One, if the public is nothing more than a CanLit sandbox, as Hoffer was a bookseller who had in a warehouse the world's largest collection of CanLit and he was also its most acerbic critic. Tensions developed between Hoffer and Furberg as they did between Hoffer and Fawcett and Hoffer and just about everybody, and I was caught up in all these riptides, and it was a life of sorts, some of which was regrettable, some of which - in hindsight - was necessary and not without its positive effects. If nothing else, I was cured of a kind of literary romanticism; and it was a cure that cannot be had from perusing the latest seminal critique of this or that, the Adornos notwithstanding. The initial poseuring on my part would not be leading to any other manifestation of the same. Hoffer, like some caustic troll, lived on the floor below Furberg's suite, and Hoffer was often heard to mutter as Furberg was often heard to ravish his sweetheart, and I believe Hoffer - to whose bedroom there was steady traffic - nonetheless had his priggish side. But another story - another time. I am pleased to see that Furberg, at least, is having his sorry carcass remembered and feted, he with his Bert Lahr schtick and his likening of poetry to a sparrow in the rafters of a mead hall. Morning. Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur, keen to upgrade my literary skills, informs me that 'pop' is Ontarioan for brew or brewski or suds or indeed beer. He has seemed troubled in mind of late, but - impolite to ask. He has just reminisced to me about certain areas of the Townships, one of this continent's little secrets—Summer time cottage land—Clearly, he is due for a spiritual tune-up. London Lunar tells me that he has just had words with a famous BBC correspondent who has told him that Colonel G is going to prevail in Libya. Easily. Seems BBC correspondent has bought a copy of London Lunar's Syria book on the sly and now wishes to have it inscribed, London Lunar gobsmacked by this turn of events. As shocking as it might seem, I had been losing interest in Libya and related matters, just that Syria is hotting up, and that is a big deal—A further shocking development - I been thinking of copping a break from 'posting'— Had asked MH to shut me up—

 

April 8, 2011: I was explaining to someone in a dream that I am an idiot—I woke, rolling my eyes. Perhaps I ought to be troubled by the fact that it seemed a familiar scenario. Be all that as it may, I have no desire, really, to slag this nation-state's flagship newspaper, just that it has never done me any favours; its prime reviewers tend to hold their noses and pinch hard when confronted by the fact of my books. Ew. It is a newspaper, naturally enough, that seeks to represent the interests of the business class and the toney arts crowd and those who simply will read a rag for news or have the crossword puzzle more in mind. I do on occasion read it myself just to see what's doing, as when I am at the barbershop. What I now and then get in return I here coyly designate as social democratic pieties shilling for safe sin and safer profit-taking—But you know, in the late 60s and the early 70s when Trudeau was running around, and there was Broadbent and there was Barrett and some others in the fray, Canada was a revelation to me - and this after Nixon, and one could take pride in the politicians - they appeared to have intellects and a principle or two—Well, a dangerous sensation—In the due course of time the sensation passed, to be sure, the main business of politicians as well as newspapers being to do the bidding of their masters; and if this state of affairs is not quite as outrageous as it is in the U.S. and elsewhere, Canada is not so exempt as all that from the ignominy of the palm that greases the palm. In any case, I do not trouble myself too often with the pages of the Globe and Mail unless someone sticks some must-read in front of my nose, and yesterday this transpired. It was a review offering up wisdom to do with Modern Canadian Poets, an anthology recently published by Carcanet in England. The reviewer started off by saying that all anthologies are political - this is the reality, folks, read 'em and weep. How could a thumbs down not be in the offing, seeing as a thumbs down had just been telegraphed? In the end I really do not care what the reviewer wrote, what he said, what he thought he had to say because he did not manage to make me care - perhaps through no fault of his own. Reviews are hardly to the point of anything anymore. He seems to conclude that the anthology in which a poem of mine has somewhat of a startled appearance is impossible to dismiss but is slight and dishonest. Good golly, Miss Molly, allow me to count the ways. To count all the ways in which we can have it— An inordinately prominent photograph accompanied the review which I took to represent a crime scene - that of the reviewer himself. Who else could it have been - that pensive and tousled look of a young poetaster who seems to have had his head up—triple em-dash here—and for a while. I was mistaken. Photograph seems to be that of one of the anthology's editors. Oh dear. Even so, when the reviewer enjoined about some aesthetic or another, I doubted very much that he knew what an aesthetic is, let alone a reactionary one, which is how he managed to have Daryl Hine slighted and 'dishonested'. Never a passing, idle thought as to why any other anthology that has come down to us from on  high would not also qualify as a sham on some level, if not thorough-going disgrace. It goes hard on newspapers and literature to sit alongside a colossi while still somewhat in the slipstream of the Brits, in other words, while still being the colonies, no matter what Trudeau pulled off, and proving it by this endless thumping on one's silverback gorilla chest that one is hip, cutting-edge, with it, in the loop, cool, groovy, and impossible to dismiss, and these words only indicate how old I am as I am sure other words to a similar effect have superceded them. It is not that good writing has not occurred in this country; of course good writing has occurred in this country, but sometimes you would never know it for all the din—One, I think, is entitled to wonder which of our gilded poets did a Crassus and put the bugger up to the job. Or did this soul volunteer? A quiet evening, last night - I watched an old flick of mixed artistic success, parts of which did touch me. Jean Simmons did, she portraying a beautiful cynic. Suzanne Pleshette did, she portraying an aspiring actress who wants it all - her art, her love, her family, her truth, her honour, including that of her husband's. Katherine Ross was most fetching as a young woman first coming into the experience of love—Angela Lansbury was the perfect Frowse, putting out still, but disabused of romance. James Garner was perhaps forgettable, but even he had a scene in which he offers up to the all gods, to the Buddha too, a prayer for happiness in love. He struck just the right note. He really did mean the words but he was not holding his breath—

 

April 7, 2011: Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo—St Augustine. Indeed, that bit - give me chastity and continence but, hell's bells, not yet. Animal House Table was in formal session, last night, at Nikas. You may wonder: Animal House Table? Poor imitation of frat-rat vulgarity? We might have done with a better title, a few years back, when we decided to 'society' up. In any case, we gathered together so as to celebrate the first anniversary of the passing of Peter MacFarlane aka Eggy. We were three days too late - Labrosse, A, Literary Thugs 1&2, myself, and a Person Who Prefers To Be Unnamed, Eggy no doubt incensed with our belatedness. E was a notable absence and she will be dealt with. Against a general backdrop of class warfare and ad hoc foreign policy and not a little hypocrisy on any front you care to name, and the fact that we were abusing our privileges, bringing a bag of salt-lite chips into the place, elephants arose as our subject of conversation. Elephant memory. Some truly poignant manifestations of the fact of this memory. And one instance of delicious farce, as follows: A man loads himself and his kids into a red VW, and off they go to the CNE, Toronto, to do whatever one does at the CNE, Toronto. Car is parked. A pleasant day of it ensues. At the end of which the party returns to the parking lot and the car and finds it sort of crushed. Questions abound. Along comes an attendant to explain. Attendant explains: well, it seems an elephant was being led from one part of the grounds to another via the lot. Seems this elephant is trained to sit on red circus chairs. Elephant twigs. Elephant magisterially backs up against the cute little red vehicle and squats. Alright? Clear enough for you? Perhaps the friggin' elephant has a rather sly sense of humour—But somehow the car is rendered operational again. Kids are loaded into it and the father or chaperone or whoever the gentleman is gets behind the wheel, and home beckons. Which it is Mississauga. So, proceeding. And along the QEW somewhere, now there is an accident scene. As if all of life is not an accident scene. It is however no business of ours, so we press on - with all dispatch. Soon enough - it is predictable - the gendarmes are in pursuit of us. With full theatrical effect, one might add. We are put upon. We are informed that one does not leave the scene of an accident. As if this was ever possible, but anyway—But we attempt to reason—We are not leaving the scene of an accident. How then do we account for the state of the car, its every appearance of being somewhat dishevelled? We account for the state of the car thus: sir, an elephant sat on it. There is some doubt on this score. So then we are impounded, as is the car. Hours go by. In the course of which someone thinks to make phone calls and so—All's well that ends well—'Bratwurst' for the nightcap. An argument breaks out in respect to religion. In the meantime, somewhere, a new particle, a new force of nature is about to come on the scene courtesy of one of those atom-smashers, identification and verification for the existence of said particle in progress as we speak. Howsomeever, in response to something that has been nagging at him most of the evening, poet gets uppity. Poet decides to deliver a poet's speech. Which it is a very rare occurrence, not often witnessed in nature. That, elephant memory aside, as beautiful as it is, talk about God or Un-God or No-God is all beside the point, but that rationalism - that empty, sterile, puerile posturing of the likes of systems-managers and intellected nose-pickers and liberals who come off suspiciously like Goldwaterites used to come off - it eats up way too much oxygen and spoils the fun. Jaws drop. Does anyone know what he's on about? Poet decides to withdraw before he disgraces himself. Home. On the David Letterman Show every instance of spiritual suicide is applauded, and with gusto, it must be said. "You want to come into money," so observed one of the Literary Thugs, "so f—k a cash register." It was an odd note to strike when it had been struck midway in the evening. Viciously vulgar. Gauche. Ah, but the deadpan delivery— And this after I had read aloud a 4-liner from the works of Walter Savage Landor so as to honour Eggy and his prodigious memory for verses, and that Landor, along with Wordsworth, had been Eggy's favourite poet, Eggy of the old school—Past ruined Ilion Helen lives, / Alcestis rises from the shades; / Verse calls them forth; 'tis verse that gives / Immortal youth to mortal maids—A Literary Thug then rendered this up from Leopardi, the Stubbs translation: —And when I hear / The wind come blustering among the trees / I set that voice against this infinite silence—I suppose that should do it. The Nikas waitress had not been impressed with our lot, and she charged me double for a slice of honey cake. She outright cheated me, and she knew that I knew that she knew. It was vengeance on her part for our literary pretensions and that bag of chips—

 

April 6, 2011: America? Military tribunals? I am not a political thinker, but it strikes me that the one is alien to the other, and to resort to the use of these tribunals brings the country one step closer to something hideous— It will be regretted. However much certain people, Europeans for example, find 'American exceptionalism' irksome, and it is that, it is sometimes forgotten how, in theory, at least, a citizen in America had his or her life to live according to his or her lights, that the matter of what he or she might do with a life was not necessarily settled once and for all at birth. The reality of course was somewhat otherwise if you were black or if you were a woman born before suffrage or an Indian on the rez—Have I left anyone out? In all governments, there is a perpetual intestine struggle, open or secret, between Authority and Liberty; and neither of them can ever absolutely prevail in the contest—from Hume's Of the Origin of Government. It is a game of sorts, is it not, one that a certain  type of a person - a Cicero - immensely enjoys playing? Last night I watched an old flick (1931), Norma Shearer in it: Strangers May Kiss. Indeed, they might. I was struck by the dialogue and Shearer's obvious intelligence and charm. I found a biographical snippet on the internet and read - to my surprise - that she was a Montrealer before going to New York in the early 20s to get a leg up in the movie world, and that she laboured long and hard to effect that aura of charm and poise and natural authority and how best appear to advantage before a camera (she had what was called a 'cast' eye). She apparently remarked at one point in her career that she had earned the right to look good— In any case she married Irving Thalberg, one of Hollywood's big wheels of the time, and she had what seems to have been a conventional marriage in contradistinction to the sophisticates she portrayed for whom marriage was best avoided—It is morning in Nikas. Patricia the waitress. Here is a young Romanian woman of some fire and charm. Here she is wielding a mop, fire and charm to some extent wasted on this dullish object. Here is Larry the software entrepreneur with his bonhomie, just that he is in somewhat of a mood, reflecting aloud that he is not productive enough - euphemism for the fact he is not making sufficient wads of money. Canadian politics? Now there's a boring subject, he puts it to me. Bush however was much maligned. Oh really? How so? Well, compared to the masses he was quite bright. Compared to previous holders of the executive reins he—No, I am not going to put up with this, but I have no heart to argue, either. Enter Irish harpy and retinue—She is a good sort, no, really she is, just that—London Lunar considers that what happened November 3rd, 1964, LBJ versus Goldwater, is worthy not of a Tennessee Williams so much as an Albee—What's he on about?

 

April 5, 2011: So, was Catullus the cruellest poet? What about Ted Hughes? Like two scorpions circling each other—The above words refer to Crassus and Pompey in Robert Harris's Imperium, each man vying for the supreme command of Rome, Mediterranean pirates the pretext. Sort of like how homeland security works in our day— And Cicero the patriot, the man most ardently smitten with the 'spirit of the republic' was Pompey's enabler—And what follows, also from Imperium, is an observation that may or may not apply to our current crop of one per centers, that: it is not consistent meanness which makes them rich (as many vulgarly assume), but rather the capacity, when necessary, to be unexpectedly, even extravagantly generous—These words refer to Crassus's attempt to buy Cicero off with an offer to back him for Rome's premier office, or the consulship, Cicero the paramount political broker in Rome at that time, kingmaker—Just that Pompey would do as much for the senator and Cicero could still feel that he had a hold of his own personal virtue, if not his tellywhacker—Cicero's principle belief, as per Harris, and I have known men like this, and women, too, was that without words there is nothing; that nothing can be done without them, and everything can be undone with them and putatively set right, everything—Everything. Last evening, in Nikas, I was treated to the spectacle of Labrosse, a native son of Shawinigan, attempting to explain to Nick the waiter, unabashed Albanian, the most subtle of the ins and outs of the game of baseball. For instance, any runner who happens to be on base will have to tag up after a fly ball—Really? I myself went on to inform Nick the waiter of the games within the game within the game and so forth and so on—The paradox, of course, in light of those leaking nuclear reactors in Japan, is that we are such control freaks and yet what gambles we take - in the name of the paths of least resistance as well as profit—Gambles being the only solutions to insoluble snafus—So it seems. Labrosse believes that the fact of corn as a staple of the North American diet explains the fact of the NBA and its seven foot high giants; that the gene pool alone cannot account for those slam-dunkers of lethal elbows—The evening was by then fairly well coursing along when A showed - with the whisky cow. What followed was sacred - a viewing of Gladiator—Screen dialogue as sacred text—Am I not merciful? Yes, yes. Quite Enough. But I still say that J Phoenix should have gotten an Oscar for his portrayal of the sleazy and vicious Commodus—But then, Hollywood—As with so much of what passes for culture, cinematic, literary and otherwise—Head up its—

 

April 4, 2011: I dreamed once that a London friend took me to meet a friend of his - an American residing somewhere near Hammersmith. This American was a man who, in real life, suffered from a deteriorating spine, and he lived in squalor, in a semi-vegetative state. There was nothing wrong with his mental faculties, however, and he was a deep reader of the classics and the history of the ancient world. A woman, so I understand, kept him well-supplied with books from one of those libraries on wheels—This dream-meeting was so convincing that, at times, I was vehemently positive it had actually occurred, that is, until this friend of mine, equally vehement, insisted it had not, I must've dreamt it. Well, as it turned out, indeed I had. Even so, I can still see my friend warming up a tin of soup for his long-time buddy on the hot-plate while the bed-ridden fellow recites Virgil from memory and for our edification—It seems this dream figure had a real life mother who wrote 'Harlequin-type' romances for filthy lucre; who believed her son was a homosexual; that he ejaculated blood; that the father beat him, most likely at the bidding of the mother—The son then goes on to have problematic relations with women, and then, just to cap it all off, the squalor of his London existence, what with the wonky spine—Now in the collective mind of the New York Times, an entity of the fourth estate for which I have long since been losing even an iota of respect, everything is a narrative. And when everything is not a narrative it is at least a headline that will unfurl like some disturbed, writhing worm amongst other equally disturbed, writhing worms - I do not mean National Enquirer type of headlines - such as will impart the sense that deep background is about to pertain, even if all you will read is how best bring off décor in your boudoir—In any case, I have gotten somewhat contemptuous of the word narrative. That the word - it used to be a respectable and useful word - has become increasingly unreal as a certain class of literati separate it from its sense in the name of rewarding themselves with employment and other reasons to be—And we're off—I do not know how my dream-figure would relate to the following, but, even so, here goes: Destry (Jimmy Stewart) to Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich): "Women always look their best following the storms of violence—" (No, I am not sure if I have the quote exact, but there it is - an implied narrative of sorts.) Marlene Dietrich smiles up at Jimmy Stewart as she is charmed, amused, and her eyes are very droll. I did not catch the flick in its entirety but I did see that its peroration was a kind of Lysistrata orchestration - townswomen interposing their bodies between two sides engaged in armed conflict. The dream-figure would have known his Aristophanes—Around midnight, some early experimental cinema unfolding before my eyes allowed me to briefly entertain the notion of a world without narrative - but only briefly. An endless succession of images and discordant music amounts to sensory deprivation in the end—I read this morning that the Americans and the Saudis cut a deal whereby the Americans would get their no-fly zone over Libya and the Saudis a free hand in Bahrein—I don't know - I only read it—But I was introduced to the notion of 'globocop', denatured language striking again—From which, in the course of the night, I must have sought refuge. Trouble is, most dreams are anything but refuge— I dreamed I was making my way through a forest. The ground was strewn with golden apples. Yes, apple trees amidst giant conifers—The apples soon enough gave way to limpets and such, to sea-crawlies, predatory birds - including spectacular owls flying about - various cuddly and unsuspecting creatures about to be devoured. The poetry of it all then gave way to the prose of the fact that I was headed for an airport, and I am a very bad flyer, hating it, my destination Ireland. Ireland? I seem to be one of the few who is not enchanted with Celtic Twilight—fascism with prune-fed voices and décolletage—Golden apples, however? Paris and Aphrodite? Perhaps there was mention of apples in the Pindar I have been reading. We may or may not be inherently moral beings but there are times, yes, when what is truly moral (as opposed to just stuffy, uptight, prim) departs the human scene and a lot of jingoistic noise rushes in to fill the vacuum; just that in Pindar one has not so much a moral view of how life ought to go, at least not one we would recognize, but that there is an argument for - for what? - morning, Nikas - thought and word just failed me - Alexandra the waitress heavy-footing about, her eyes though evincing good humour - for some measure of self-control or know thyself, some understanding that while one need not go about sheep-like with the herd and its mentality, one is not necessarily situated at the centre of the universe, owed unstinting fealty—It is the rare European who truly comprehends the American psyche, but it is the rare American who ever breaks free of what has been called American exceptionalism or that America enjoys a special destiny in a roll call of nations—In those parts of Europe - Italian, mostly - that I have adored I was in a condition of time, there being no space as such. In those parts of the North American continent that take my breath away on account of the beauty and grandeur of the landscape there is only space - time has no meaning - and the fact of it drove not a few colonialists mad. But if I were comparing Venice to the Hindu Kush— Australia, then—Australia and all that interior space, no worries, mate—Enter Irish harpy and retinue, son and hubbie in good working order—She is on about some injustice or another—Hers is most definitely a morally charged corner of the universe—

 

April 3, 2011: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is one of the best little movies of recent times. I have no trouble whatsoever with this declaration, having had another one of those chance meetings, last evening - I had intended to read but went and checked the movie listing for one of those arty-farty Toronto stations, the time-slot in question hosted by an infinitely smug isn't life wonderful kind of idiot such as I loathe, but I figured I might survive him, anyway. When I saw what was being offered up, I put Pindar's Pythian XII aside - I pray you, lover of splendour, fairest of mortal cities, / Persephona's home - and lay there in the dark on the couch, riveted my orbs of vision and saw the the face of the universe. Which it is some parts quixotic and some parts a rictus grin stoned on anti-freeze. Directed by Tommy Lee Jones (and he also plays the part of Pete the cowhand who befriends the Mexican who will wind up getting shot) the movie is a morality tale. No, I take that back - it is simply an extended caution about not respecting the dead. The Mexican has been inadvertently killed by a member of the Border Patrol. The incident, the fact of his body, and all related issues have been dealt with summarily and indifferently by small town officialdom, just that Pete the cowhand gets it into his head (once he finds out who shot his friend) to disinter the body of said friend and haul it off on horseback into Mexico for a proper burial in its proper place. Not only that he kidnaps the guilty party, press-ganging him, and has him do all the grunt work, and he puts up with all the captive's squeals of pain and outrage—Enough said. Full-blown movie reviews are not strictly my line. But perhaps it was Pete the cowhand's original intention, perhaps not, that after a passel of trials and misadventures, the Border Patrol guy - rat-faced, porn-crazed little f—k of a guy - winds up working off his spiritual debt to the dead Estrada and to Pete, as well. I do not know what it is about Tommy Lee Jones - he has role-played in so many cheesy flicks - and yet, in a number of films he is almost tantamount to a sublime rebuttal of so much that ails North American life, let alone west Texas. Please, don't tell me it's just another clever ploy cooked up in Hollywood to rope suckers like me in—I might mention a couple of brief scenes in the film that I found compelling for no especial reason. 1): That bit where Norton (the Border Patrol man) is digging up the Mexican's grave at gunpoint, and in the near distance there is a high school football game in progress under the lights—The band, the cheers, the tinny sissboombah - I know it, having breathed it through my pores in the arid boonies of the west. Clearly, Mr Jones the director knew it, too—2): The cantina in the Mexican outback - the girl playing Chopin on the out of tune piano - the ancient TV - the strings of pointillist lights - Pete the cowhand on his strange mission pissed out of his gourd feeling a little lonely and hard done by, perhaps—It is one of those scenes that now and then will transcend the plot-line of this or that flick, as in Fellini's La Dolce Vita where, in a cabaret act, a clown playing a plaintive trumpet serenades a roomful of balloons which follow him out, one by one, at the conclusion of the performance—Beats slam-dunk poetry every time—Oh, and the women in the Tommy Lee Jones flick—They hardly qualify for sainthood, but apart from Pete the cowhand pursuing his honour, the waitress and the hapless young wife of the rat-faced - you know, that person - they are about all there is in that unforgiving bleakness that might befriend a little truth, a little beauty, a little pleasure, a little bit of love of life—But to give credit where credit is due, the Mexican now buried with all due respect in his proper place, and the Border Patrol fellow, he is blubbering away now, contrition real, redemption no phoney parlour act, and, what do you know, but one can almost stand the sight of his rat-faced countenance - a testament, perhaps, to the directing and the acting—Oh, and I might mention, as well, that, at the movie's end and the credits have rolled by, and here comes the host, simpering idiot - that one, to congratulate the viewers for having hung in there, and that, see, even death is life-affirming - so much so, evidently, I found myself reaching for an imaginary weapon—Morning. Nikas. Enter Larry the software entrepreneur who has progeny. He announces his wife has kicked him out of the house again so he has come to abuse Alexandra the waitress. "She ought to charge you double," I artlessly quip. He sidles over to my table to abuse me back, and I tell him about the movie I had seen the night before, and, required viewing, he, his wife and his children ought to see it, and his wheels begin to spin, making a mental note of my recommendation. Not all communications among humankind are futile. I do not know, however, about his bleached khaki-coloured baseball cap - it seems a little dodgy—(Did it just turn pink - protective camouflage?) Labrosse sent me an electronic clipping from this nation-state's most venerable fourth estate presence - something to do with failed nation-building in Nunavit. Nunavit is to the north of Montreal-NDG. It is definitely to the north of Biloxi where I, too, once drank whisky in the backseat of a convertible - blue Cadillac - the gulf breeze in my face. I had been perhaps in the hunt for Zukovsky the poet - for no particular reason. No, I lie. Didn't understand the poetry - just liked the name—I did not even catch a whiff of Bukowski as that operator was the last thing on my mind. What I had on my mind was sex and Garcia Lorca. Caught wonderful rain squalls from a balcony on Bourbon Street—There has been a pornographic element to watching live war footage on TV - Libya - the very real possibility that what I am told is going on has little to do with anything that is actually going on - And there are some who conceive of themselves as political witnesses who suggest that Current President is no better than Previous Current President, that he is but a poster boy for the plutocrats and his enablers - the financiers, the generals, the lobbyists, the covert operations spooks, and a few soccer moms - humanitarian intervention one euphemism among others ready to hand—"Arrrgh!" one says. Why does one need to know anything? Why this obsession with a true accounting of what's what? Sheer perversity. Perversity alone explains it as 'truth' as such - it just does not last long in the kind of air we breathe—Too delicate for street theatre—

 

April 2, 2011: A chance meeting with Orson Welles's Macbeth sparked a thought or two. I will get around to it, later. Just that, but of course, one might characterize the production values of this cinema as 'expressionistic', as if every item of expressionism that has thus far rolled down the turnpike is a cross between something or another and The Bride of Frankenstein. Also, it seems that the cameraman who worked for Mr Welles also hired on with A. Hitchcock's Psycho. Screw your courage to the sticking place—Yesterday I trundled into the Persian mart just up the street; filled my basket with my needs; proceeded to the cashier; observed that she was supremely bored; heard that no, she was not supremely bored, she was terribly worried. Such a queer look of coy anguish disturbed her young countenance—I was at a loss, and I told her that I hoped things were not as bad as all that. To which she said: "I always go for coffee, but, you see, I'm not going for coffee, things are so bad— " What sense could I derive from this but that the eschatological was not likely to come to her rescue anytime soon? "Oh dear," I said, and edged away. Then P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, was on my mind as I walked back to my digs. He was on my mind partly because of a guilty conscience - I had taken issue with one of his commentaries and been a little - histrionic, perhaps, in the doing, and because his views on Mr Obama and Libya were at extreme variance with those of Conservative Colonel whose commentaries on things military and special ops I take seriously—Neither man is a fool and neither suffers fools, but between the two of them, in the mind of this fool, they were stretching negative capability to the breaking point— The one man says that Mr Obama is fifteen moves ahead of everyone on the chess board; the other man suggests otherwise: that Mr Obama is busily engaged in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory - that tired old retort. I did a Pontius Pilate and threw up my hands, then sidestepped a woman out walking her mutt, the dog brain dumbed down from too many episodes of Oprah—Double, double, toil and trouble—I see that in my little pocket notebook in which I am forever jotting I have scribbled the words 'Pindar' and 'baseball', each circumscribed with bristling arrows pointing in every which direction, for reasons that have escaped me. Does Pindar have anything to do with my old love of baseball, a love which has wavered over the years, been bent but not broken? My friends, I have been in confusion / At the crossroads where the ways divide / though I went on a straight path before. / Has a gale thrown me—Pindar, The Odes, Pythian XI, the Bowra translation. Or it strikes me sometimes that we have had residence a while in a universe in which morality as such, the moral thing to do, has been a boondoggle, a lot of sound and fury and all that; that an old word - areté - re-occurs to me, a word that would have figured in the thinking of an Achilles or a Hector - an expression of excellence cum honour by which no one would wish to undercut themselves with cheap, facile, glib, meretricious behaviour of any degree - be the best you can be - except that reality TV pretty well pulverizes that concept and buries the remains in some black hole of a ditch - irretrievable - get my drift? - no? - well, there is no help for it. Then along came Stoicism and imparted to the air that both the great unwashed and the optimates breathed swatches of moralism, and it was not an insignificant moralism as, now and then, it was the only opposition there was to the Caesars, and in the midst of all this, Christianity sprouted with its other-worldly athletic antics. It made sense for a serious duration of time and perhaps still does - I am not going to resort to cheap shots here. But if one were going to object to this religion, I for one would put aside, as being tedious, all the claptrap as to whether or not there is a God or Intelligent Design or some other manifestation of street theatre - aggressive atheists as onerous as Koran-burning bible thumpers - I would ask why should God get the rap for everything? Why do all those fundamentalists cum narcissist Tinkerbelles cum there ain't no God, you silly twits always have a get out of jail free pass every time things get parlous? I myself am not a believer, but even so, even if I am responsible for the words I write, I am not about to deny that there is something like a divine spark in each of us, words seeming to come from nowhere, a nowhere that is not La-La-Land. Baldly put, but there it is. Now unbroken success dulls the wits, makes for dullish dinner conversation in which constant mention of long defunct laurels tend to dominate the proceedings, or so Robert Harris has it in Imperium, a life of Cicero, and wit was Cicero's chief charm. It was the beginning of the end for him, however, when in his capacity as a lawyer, he took on a client he knew to be guilty of crimes - all for political expedience. It cost not a little respect from a few true blue loyal to the great man, defender of the Roman republican spirit. Yes well, such expedience is, in fact, one of civilization's more crucial handmaidens, as Mr Harris seems to have been at pains to point out. Speaking of which - handmaidens - E let me know that the Dance of the Seven Veils in Strauss's Salomé had knocked her out, had had her cooing as opposed to weeping or giggling or frowning or, for that matter, scowling, foaming with rage; only I was too frightened to inquire whether the prospect of receiving the head of John the Baptist had somehow eroticized the experience for her—Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it, he died. As one that had been studied in his death—from out of MacBeth. And E was on shift when I went down to Nikas to sit a while with Labrosse, he at the levers of the wine cow. I put it to him that words are more than just words - they are connected somehow to spirit - perhaps through the agency of reason, though reason as Plato conceived it, not reason as mere logic—Too trite to make mention of? Labrosse gave me that look which says you've got the ball, run with it—Well, pre-structuralist, structuralist, post-structuralist goalposts, when it comes to literariness, are forever shifted all over the place—It is a ploy of academe - academe has so many ploys—But yes, spirit? What is spirit? Yes but, thought - what is thought? And the word? You don't mean all this folderol of in the beginning there was the word? But sometimes when words are most alive, most apt, most telling is when something like spirit has either made them or fused them or somehow informed them by way of one agency or another—Labrosse did not know. But he knew that Abe Lincoln had more going for him than ambition, and this extra thing he had going was a desire on his part to outpace the ravages of the humiliations. E did not know, but she knew she had somehow been ravished and perhaps wished to do some ravishing herself— George, one of the Nikas owners, did not know, but he knew that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player, perhaps the best - because he played with imagination; just that, you see, George's grasp of the language minimal - he a Greek-Albanian - 'imagination' is a big word for him to be throwing around - but it was good to hear, as George is no creature of literariness—An hour before midnight, and the place suddenly got packed - an AA party drifted in, each redemptive clad in sweats and headbands and baseball caps and the like, all of them somewhat sombre in mood and unsure as to why they should be in this particular joint as opposed to another. And Labrosse and E and I would now have to forego 'bratwurst' and a nightcap as E would have her hands full until the wee hours—

 

April 1, 2011: Around five in the morning I woke from a dream in which a baby bird, featherless, one capable of mobility, materialized before me on a window sill, gasped with what looked like its dying breath, and keeled over. As it happens in dreams and so, by way of some sort of dream agency, I produced water from my forefinger with which to revive the creature, and I told my little sister who happened to be at my side to go and fetch real water from the kitchen - and to hurry, or else we would lose the poor thing. She panicked. She made a hash of drawing water—At which point the dream mercifully ended - I could not have stomached the death of this bird. Even so, I was still able to observe, just before I woke, that this particular sister of mine, in real life, became a terror in her adulthood, overcompensating for her somewhat ungainly adolescence—C'est la vie—Sleep now unavailable to me, I turned on the TV. News. Libya. Now there's a bird with gaping beak, or so I idly remarked—It is April Fool's Day, is it not? I considered posting something outrageous; I considered not posting at all. I consider not posting every day, truth to tell, and I assume my vanity is such that it is continually swept along on a torrent of words, some dam having been breached at a distant point upstream. In point of which a Certain Entity tells me I am dour, and I may sue, ebullient pessimism more my madness. Beauty who creates / All sweet delights for men, / Brings honour at will and makes the false seem true / Time and again: but the wisest witness of all / Are the days to come. From Pindar's Odes, Olympian I, the Bowra translation. Now and then I have wondered if such a one as Pindar the poet is possible in this time of ours, this aristocrat's aristocrat, every breath drawn a matter of honour and excellence. But in respect to Pindar I can never rid of my thoughts of Charlton Heston - Pindar's perfect parody, though it must be said that in some Shakespeare film production I saw - and I cannot recall which one - Branagh's? - Heston was not half bad—And I have wondered this, too, of myself, especially at times when I am most disenchanted with our reality, whether I could withdraw from the world and live like some sort of 'savage' sans electricity and books and still find contentment in existence— I expect not. I expect I am for the most part ruined—Morning. Nikas. The commute in progress. Alexandra the waitress, a moody woman, is not particularly happy or particularly sad just now and yet, she is never neutral about anything. Eddie in the kitchen  - he is forever no problemmo - always can-do - even if he now owns half the restaurant, having bought out Alexandra's husband. These things matter - it's life's stuffThen Job answered the Lord and said, Behold, I am vile—Or - Philosophy has been defined as 'an unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly'—Bertrand Russell. And philosophy as such matters, too, however much it is hanging on by its fingernails in a world that keeps addictively second-guessing itself so that it is a miracle any part of it works—Alexandra is one of those fierce Mediterranean women whose ferocity compels my infinite respect even if I do not wish any part of it. She would hold all things together against all odds no matter how rotten the constituents - cheating husband, ungrateful spawn, bickering in-laws—She would make my life hell as I am not familial, and family values, when over-frequently espoused, are generally evidence of misdirection, Republicans the main culprits, but liberals equally culpable, especially when in the hunt for the brass ring. Alexandra's passion beats any poem I might write, hands down—Enter Irish harpy and retinue, speaking of family. Her conviction is unshakeable that when it comes to any area of life I am all amateur, her son a eunuch, husband the mildest of the mild. The Harpies were originally the goddesses of the sweeping storm, symbolic of the sudden and total disappearance of men—from a Dictionary of Classical Antiquities 1899. (As I cannot make heads or tails of the indexing system in Graves's The Greek Myths, regrettably, I cannot here toute de suite extend a survey of male paranoia.) Yesterday I scribbled the following: It is not the greatest writing but I am reading it and enjoying it - Robert Harris's Imperium, a life of Cicero as related by a hundred year old slave. I have put Patrick O'Brian aside for the nonce as I am also having a renewed go at Pindar in two translations - Bowra's and Lattimore's. And though Cicero (as depicted by Harris), in his capacity as an advocate and a senator, is bringing one of history's most infamous scoundrels to trial - Verres, O'Brian's is the deeper measure of human perfidy. Still, Harris is a good quick sketch artist, and when Cicero finally turns the Roman spectators (trials were a chief source of entertainment in those days) into full-throated outrage over Verre's murderous villainy against all decency, not to mention fundamental notions of law - or that every Roman citizen irrespective of standing had a right to a hearing - the cry that justice must be done becomes a force of nature. A terrible thing - that sort of baying for blood. Three in the afternoon. 'Bratwurst'. Jamal has swept the terrasse clear of winter's debris. Soon then. Yes but, what makes for a Cicero? Ambition, above all things. And in this sense, justice is always a by-product of some other endeavour—Cicero's old double-grip sincere routine—Politics is a profession—Not the pursuit of justice, hardly—Cicero, having successfully prosecuted Verres, was either entitled to his social rank or to that of his defender - I am not sure which. But in any case, Cicero thereafter got to sit elsewhere in the senate house, anywhere where no junior senators polluted the immediate vicinity—Bad Persian TV. Titillations - is this what undoes the mullahs?—

 

 

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