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Tuesday, 18 February 2020

great deep winter read about Tom Thomson

NORTHERN LIGHT:  The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him
Roy MacGregor
Vintage Canada, 2010
357 pages

It's a credit to our small Marmora Library that I've been able to read biographies of Canada's three foremost artists. A previous posting reviewed bios on Emily Carr and Norval Morrisseau, and this history of Tom Thomson completes the trilogy.

I found this to be the perfect deep winter read for many reasons. In effect it's really three different stories in several genres which are thoroughly intertwined. First it's MacGregor's thorough and life long investigation into the mysterious death of painter Tom Thomson. It's a detective novel, a real life whodunnit, about the murder of Thomson on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park a century ago. It's taken a century for improvements in forensics and changes in public attitude to make it possible for this story to be told and unravelled.

While telling the Tom Thomson story the reader also gets Roy MacGregor's own take on growing up in rural Ontario in the town of Huntsville. Those of us living in Marmora know only too well the  joys and pains of small town life - the immediacy of the beauty of nature, but also the inquisitive and sometimes too knowing nature of our fellow villagers. So when we read Northern Light we're also getting partial biographies of both the author, respected writer and journalist Roy MacGregor, and we're also getting his history lesson on rural Ontario.

Then there's the equally fascinating story of Winnie Trainor, the woman in the title. Who was she, and what role did she play in Tom Thomson's life and the mystery surrounding his death, and even his burial and current gravesite location? BTW, Winnie was a distant relative of the author, so there's a personal element in MacGregor's interest.

Living in Marmora, it's most likely you've also made the two hour drive to visit Algonquin Park. Even before I moved here three decades ago I'd twice paddled Canoe Lake and camped in the next portage, Joe Lake. I camped there many decades ago, paddling the length of Thomson's beloved lake and noting the memorial cairn in his honour. So it was a surprise to learn that the rough portage I'd made with a complaining big city girlfriend had once been a bustling rail spur community of 500 souls. I also learned a bit more Canadian art history - the fact that it was Tom Thomson who led his artist friends to Canoe Lake and Algonquin Park. His group of friends flourished after his death, becoming Canada's most famous school of artists, The Group of Seven.

This is a book to leisurely savour. It's long, but the content is so diffuse that it's never remotely boring. Relaxing. Thomson liked to visit Canoe Lake just before spring thaw when the ice would finally go out of his lake. I feel like that this crazy, yoyo of a winter. I too want the ice to go out and spring to arrive. Meanwhile, slowly reading Northern Light helped get me through several weeks of this winter of my discontent.

Friday, 7 February 2020

train blockade today Tyendinaga Territory protesting police raids in B.C.

email from Greenpeace yesterday:


The RCMP are currently raiding Wet’suwet’en camps and arresting land defenders.

This is a clear violation of fundamental human rights.

This is not okay.

The provincial and federal governments are using the RCMP to — once again — forcibly remove Indigenous leaders from their own land, to push through a fracked gas pipeline, Coastal GasLink.

Coastal GasLink is a $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline that would go right through the heart of Wet’suwet’en territory. The pipeline would feed into a massive LNG (liquid natural gas) expansion proposed in Kitimat, BC on the west coast. All five Clans of the Wet’suwet’en have said no to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project. This proposed pipeline does not have free, prior, and informed consent from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership.

Will you stand with the Wet’suwet’en?

Here are urgent actions you can take right now.

Call Justin Trudeau’s office (613-995-4211) and Premier John Horgan (250-387-1715) and ask them to immediately end the RCMP’s incursion on Wet’suwet’en territory. You can also ask them to resume talks with the hereditary leadership and find a peaceful solution to this conflict.

Find a solidarity rally near you.

Greenpeace is condemning the violation of human rights underway as you read these lines, against the Wet'suwet'en camps and people. They are the rightful title holders over their lands and waters. They are peacefully exercising their right to resist the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as they lead our country towards climate solutions.

Please help us do the same and stand with the Wet’suwet’en.

In solidarity,

Mike Hudema
Climate & Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada

Thursday, 6 February 2020

my thread in Haiku Canada (and in English language haiku)

Former President of Haiku Canada Terry Ann Carter is in the process of writing and publishing a history of Haiku Canada. Over the years I've sent her a number of chapbooks from the early days, and also replied to her questions as best I can. Following is a recent email I sent her to try to clarify my role in and perspective on some history of Haiku Canada (as well as on English language haiku in general).

I'll take a few mins now to try to fill in a few gaps in my background and role in haiku for you, as you sound confused about Unfinished Monument Press and other activities about where and when I was active in the haiku community, and especially how my history may fit in with the greater picture you're trying to uncover. Of course what I'm writing will be a bit solipsistic, but that's the best I can do, and I have been active in writing and publishing haiku from 1967 onward (now over half a century!)

You've also given me a great excuse NOT to go on the planned bitterly cold evening walk on the towpath by the Crowe, and I've poured a glass of chiraz to keep me inspired.

I was born in Hamilton (1948), but only lived there for a few months when I first returned to Canada in 1972 after living in a commune in London, UK and traveling around Europe. This story is told in my memoir "Eel Pie Dharma", first self-published with my Unfinished Monument Press in 1990 (one of the earliest English language book length haibun), and then republished with Tai Grove's Hidden Brook Press in a professional edition in 2012.

I didn't meet the Hamilton haijin, or any other haiku poets in person, until that first founding gathering of what became Haiku Canada at Eric Amann's apartment in the late 1970s. This is where I connected with Margaret Saunders, and it was probably through her that I also connected with Herb and then Jeff.

college days,  anti-draft activism and intro to haiku and Eric:

My intro to haiku happened while sitting in the library at Miami-Dade Junior College in 1967 (now Miami-Dade College) and I found an ad in the Village Voice classifieds for "Haiku" magazine. I'd been writing short poems, and the editor of the M-D lit mag, "Southwind", told me they resembled haiku. So I wrote off for a copy of "Haiku", and this is how I connected with Eric. Eric was a med student or doing his early hospital residencies in NYC, and had discovered haiku as a lonely expat Canadian. (Have you read Eric's autobiography, "The House on Fountain Street" - Can't find my signed copy right now in the dark of my study)

"Haiku" duly arrived and I immediately identified with the haiku form. My family had moved back to Key Biscayne (island off Miami) after living in a suburb of Atlanta during my high school years. I'd mistakenly registered with the draft board in Atlanta, which cost me dearly when I became very active in opposing the Vietnam War. I organized a campus group to counsel against the draft, and also began applying for conscientious objector status. Jim Christy has a parallel background with opposing the war. As one of the highest profile anti-war activists in Miami, the draft board, way off in Atlanta, soon went after me.

I was extremely stressed in this period (circa 1967-69), and I began writing haiku as an outlet for the stress and began sending haiku to Eric. Eric rejected my first attempts, but soon started accepting them for publication in his influential mag. I also began practicing yoga and meditation at this time.

Eric's "Haiku" was a leader in the very small field of haiku practitioners and small mags and broadsheets. There were a handful of these, but Eric's mag was acknowledged to be at the forefront in developing a modern, English language version of haiku. In the 1960s almost all haiku were written in the rigid 5-7-5 form, but Eric bravely promoted a shorter, looser form.
He was my mentor, and I did my best to write haiku which fit into his forward thinking views. My haiku were published in all the small North American mags and broadsheets. But . . . in June 1969 the draft board caught  up with me and sent 3 induction notices in one week. It was time for me to leave the U.S. I was a permanent resident (green card holder) from age 7 or 8 until I left just weeks before my 21st birthday. As a foreign national they would have deported me rather than jailed me anyway I assume  : )

hippie street life in a commune and first 2 haiku collections in 1969:

Rather than return to Canada, my father thought I should go to England, which was a horrible idea. I stayed with my snotty older cousin and his doctor wife for a month or so, and then they unceremoniously threw me out into the street. I ended up living in the nearby Eel Pie Island Hotel hippie squat for the next 1 1/2 years. With the last of my small savings I self-published two chapbooks of haiku (I sent you one of these, "Cricket Formations") in the summer of 1969. The haiku in CF were all non-standard haiku, and most of them have stood the test of time and half a century later they are as publishable now as they were then considered cutting-edge in the small haiku community of the late 1960s. Michael McClintock, who remains a staunch haijin, published a selection of my haiku in one of the Amerikan haiku mags, with a very nice bio note and intro. This would have been circa 1970, and "Southwind", the Miami-Dade lit mag, also did a full page feature of my haiku. All of this didn't mean as much to me as it might have, as I was literally scrambling to find enough food to eat and a blanket to keep me warm in small room in the abandoned Eel Pie Island Hotel.

Return to Canada and poetry:

After 3 years of hippie street life and wandering about Europe (all detailed in "Eel Pie Island Dharma: a memoir/haibun) I desperately needed to  change my life at age 24. I decided to visit Canada. After all, Canada couldn't be any less impoverishing or squalid than my young life had become in England. I enrolled at university, but after years of smoking hash and dropping acid, the academic life didn't suit me. I ended up joining The Canadian Liberation Movement, a Maoist/Stalinist sect that was anti-imperialist as well as staunchly pro-Canadian culture. Too much happened to write about here, but in CLM I met one of Canada's leading poets, GG winner Milton Acorn. Friendship with Milton encouraged me to return to writing poetry, which I've continued to do ever since.

I did a variety of jobs to survive, including working as a steelworker/union organizer in Guelph and then a cook at the Univ. of Toronto. I even got chef's papers through George Brown College, but my calling continued to be poetry, including haiku.

I managed to get a few of my politikal poems published in leftwing papers and mags like "Alive" in Guelph and "the Red Menace" in Toronto. Around this time, 1976-77, I met Toronto poet Ted Plantos through a mutual friend, Tom Clement. Tom was working as manager with the remains of the publishing arm of the CLM after it disbanded circa 1975, and it was through Steel Rail Press publishing and meetingTed that I realized I could start my own small press, as Ted had done with his Old Nun Press.

Unfinished Monument Press and The Main Street Library Poetry Series:
Following Ted's example, I self-published a collection of my poetry, "Dominion Day in Jail", by founding Unfinished Monument Press in 1978. The monument referred to is a memorial to two of the martyrs in the 1838 Rebellion, a holdover from CLM days.

There was a burgeoning poetry scene in Toronto and other poets asked to share my Unfinished Monument imprint. Sometimes the poets did all the work themselves, and sometimes I did most of it. UMP published first collections by such prestigious poets as Robert Priest ("The Visible Man"), my friend Tom Clement ("Superman"), Jim Deahl's first work ("Real Poetry"), Margaret Saunder's first ((haiku "A Flock of Blackbirds"), Lynne Kositsky's first ("PCB Jam"), Bruce Hunter's first ("Selected Canadian Rifles") etc. etc. . UMP published quite a Who's Who of the Toronto poetry scene from its founding until I gave it to poet Jim Deahl in the early 1990s.

Ted Plantos had also coordinated a poetry series at a Cabbagetown branch of Toronto Libraries. He had recently folded the series, and as there was only one other ongoing poetry venue in Toronto at the time, The Axle-Tree Readings, I decided to again follow Ted's example and in 1979 I started the monthly Main Street Library Poetry Series at my local branch of Toronto Public Library (TPL).

By accident I had become a bit of an amateur impresario on the Toronto poetry scene, and I was able to first publish poets, or discover unpublished poets through the readings, and then feature them. I was also able to wrangle a job as a low paid desk clerk at the library through my volunteer work as the poetry series organizer. As the series was successful, I was further able to encourage many of my house poets by getting them onto the Canada Council list of sponsored readings (e.g. they could get paid to travel and do a few readings a year).

back to haiku

So it was during this creative period of publishing poetry with UMP and featuring poets at the readings that Dr. Eric Amann and George Swede decided to hold an informal meeting of other haiku writers. As the founder of both UMP and the reading series, I was able to give various haiku poets the ability to publish and to perform their work.

On Oct. 21, 1981 I featured George Swede and the Haiku Workshop. Reading the signed guest book under flashlight, I can find George's name, Keith Southward (he was the original editor of HC's mag/newsletter "Inkstone), Denise Coney (she and Keith were a 'power haiku' couple for a while), Irene Mcguire, Jan Dawson, Nancy Prasad, Shaunt Basmajian, and myself of course. Probably others whose names I can't read or remember.

Many other major and minor poets read at the series, and there would have been features of other haiku poets. The series ran for 6 years and 62 readings. The readings played an important role in introducing poets to each other, and among the featured poets at a glance I see Milton Acorn, jones, Herb Barrett, Jeff Seffinga, Margaret Saunders. In total over 100 poets, and much of the creativity, the plotting, building and destruction of poetic empires, occurred at various pubs after the readings.


Terry, I don't know if the above babble is going to help or confuse you!  Writing a history, even my own perhaps, will always have an element of revisionism. The complex intertwining of personal stories, serendipitous meetings, and a pint or two of lubrication makes the task of accurately documenting history, even as ephemeral a one as Haiku Canada's, an almost impossible task.





Saturday, 1 February 2020

a most unusual winter day

when arctic trumpeter swans started wintering over they were our local harbingers of climate change
for Stuart Ross

I swung open my living room curtains
an ice floe was jammed against my old maple
a polar bear was lounging on it
slurping coffee I waded to the floe
nice morning the bear growled
can you please help me get this thing moving again
I grabbed my walking stick
and helped the bear shove off
I jumped on board having nothing better to do
and we floated down the Crowe

I'm kinda restless after the trip
any she bears around?
The only local shebears I knew were at
the  OPP station up highway 7 at Madoc
but I realized he meant she bares
Yeah, Spanky must have a playmate honey
or two at his playground at Callaghan's Rapids
(I figured bear dudes didn't say "chicks")
Lotsa great caves there
me and Doug were poking around them a month ago
and almost got eaten

the Crowe's current was flowing fast
and soon we were passing Sewage Bay
and well on our way to visiting Spanky

the black and white bears hit it off
so when they wandered away looking for honeys
I squeezed into an old condo nesting tree
respectful of the sleeping porkies in the bole
climbed up to a huge old owl's nest
in the crest and snoozed

a screeching awoke me just as I reached
for John Hamley's scrawny neck
Mike the CBC weatherman's scratchy voice
was announcing "it's another most unusual winter day"
I hit the snooze button
and fell back asleep

*thanks to good neighbour Barry for explaining about "shebears"   ;  )-

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

RIP Dr. John (Burke)

the following is from The Canadian Music Centre website:

John Burke
1951 -
Region: Ontario
John Burke

John Burke was born in Toronto in 1951 where his musical journey began with an intensive involvement with chant and sacred choral music at an early age. He studied composition at McGill University, privately in France, and at the University of Michigan where he earned a doctorate in composition. He has taught at McGill University, McMaster University, and the University of Victoria. He has received many important commissions and performances, from such organizations as La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, Les Événements du neuf, New Music Concerts, Vancouver New Music, the Esprit Orchestra, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. His many awards and prizes include the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music which he won in 1995 for his String Quartet (1994).

By 1995 Burke had begun to sense that the radical musical energies initiated by the works of Schoenberg and Stravinsky at the beginning of the 20th century had in essence played themselves out, and that with the new millennium a new role for serious music was beginning to emerge. His experience as a cathedral chorister, through which he had internalized a function for music as the facilitation of a spiritual process and not solely as an aesthetic expression, was undoubtedly a factor in this realization. In 1996 he attended the yearlong The Power of Sound program in Los Angeles led by Don G. Campbell, author of the The Mozart Effect. This proved a turning point, and with it a new world of sound, music, healing, and consciousness began to open up as a potential field of inquiry that could be informed and intensified by the sophisticated musical resources developed by the contemporary music avant-garde. A subsequent important influence was the work and teaching of Fabien Maman, French musician, acupuncturist, and bioenergetician, whose extraordinary researches included a study of the effects of particular pitches and sequences of pitches on cancer cells in vitro, and whose workshops Burke has sponsored in Vancouver. Burke pursued his explorations into the relationship of sound and states of consciousness at the Monroe Institute in Virginia, and with numerous shamanic teachers including Michael Harner.

In 1997 he received a commission from Vancouver New Music and responded with Remember Your Power for piano and chamber ensemble, which was his first music to reflect the influence of these new ideas, including those inspired by his collaboration with Vancouver music therapist Lennie Tan. The powerful and even unsettling effect the work had at its premiere during VNM's Spring Festival in 1998 was confirmation that a qualitatively new transmission had been established with an audience, that was as much energetic as it was aesthetic. A successful application to the Millennium Arts Fund for the commissioning of a concert event for the year 2000 saw the expansion of Remember Your Power into an hour-long work whose three movements modeled the three phases of the archetype of personal transformation that mythologist Joseph Campbell called The Hero's Journey. Burke‚s interest in the transformative power of myth and ritual deepened through his subsequent work with Jean Houston, one of the pioneers of the human potential movement. Through Ms. Houston and her student Dr. Lauren Artress, founder of the World-Wide Labyrinth Project at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, he explored the possibility of engaging the listener at a far deeper level of awareness than the conventional concert hall dynamic could offer, through the contemplative practice of walking the labyrinth, in particular, the pattern found at Chartres cathedral in France.

His recent work involves the development of a repertoire of chamber music specially designed to accompany this form of walking meditation. He was composer and project manager for a major labyrinth installation at the Sacred World Music Festival at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver in November 2002, and unveiled a major part of the labyrinth repertoire in collaboration with Vancouver New Music in the fall of 2003. Burke has begun sharing his insights into the new thought related to sound, music, and consciousness with those outside the concert music mainstream, and has given papers and presentations to such groups as the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and the Association for Music and Imagery.


Click here to listen to all works by John Burke

Dr. John in the south of France 2018
Frank Zeigler photo

Mass for Dr. John at Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Marmora, Ontario
Jan. 24, 2020

The morning mass today went very well. Dr. John would  have approved with his Buddhist/ritual influenced sensibility: held in a limestone church built in 1904, with beautiful stained glass windows. Candles and incense and the priest swung the incense censor (?) over the small draped urn holding his ashes.

I'd passed the long bio blurb about John (as posted on my blog) to the priest beforehand, and he did an excellent job of extolling John's contribution to music from a strong spiritual perspective. I felt very comfortable and comforted by the service, and altho I haven't attended a Christian service in many decades, I have to admit I was teared up for much of the service.

I'd anticipated there would only be a handful of people at the service, due in part to the suddenness and unexpectedness of John's death, but there must have been about fifty parishioners present. It's a well knit congregation and obviously heartfelt.   

Afterwards the Catholic Women's League held a nice tea in the seniors room in the public library building. This was more important than it initially appears, as it gave Val, the cleaning lady who has been shepherding Cam through all this, and myself, a couple of hours to informally explain Cam's situation to her niece and nephew and their spouses. I made sure we all exchanged contact information for the future as well. Val is taking Cam to visit the local retirement home, Caressant Care (think it's part of a chain) next Friday.

No word on the coroner's report yet. It doesn't really matter how he died - he's gone from this realm and my usual explanation to casual enquiries is that 'he died in his sleep'.

(from an email to a close friend of Dr, John's)

                                                      ~    ~    ~    ~

a dam prayer for Dr. John:

Of course he is in my too brief daily prayers at my home altar, as is Cam. Re ceremony, I never got the chance to tell you both one of my anecdotes about Dr. John (I always called him Dr. John, as a ref to the jazz musician, but also as a genuine honorific - it's more than rare to have a real doc in The Marm). Almost daily I walk the towpath to the Marmora Dam and spend a few minutes remembering him and wishing him well on his new journey. When John first returned to The Marm he was very broke, as his retirement pensions hadn't kicked in. One lonely day he was standing above the rushing floodgates at the dam, breathing in the oxygenated air, and wishing for a bottle of wine to celebrate the view. Looking down he spied a pile of change on one of the concrete runoff pylons below, and hurrying down, he found a fisherman had spilled exactly enough pocket change for him to buy a bottle of vino. For Dr. John, a positive omen, and whenever I visit the dam now I reflect on this early happy day overlooking the Crowe. 

(from another email to a close friend of Dr. John's)

                                                       ~    ~    ~    ~

Toronto Star obit for Dr. John Feb. 6, 2020

Canadian composer John Burke, known for his ‘labyrinth events,’ is dead at 68

By Debra Yeo Toronto Star
Thu., Feb. 6, 2020timer1 min. read

Canadian composer John Burke has died.

Toronto-born Burke died in his sleep Jan. 18 at his home in Marmora, Ont. He was 68.

His interest in music, particularly chant and sacred choral music, began at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. He went on to study composition at McGill University, as well as privately in France and at the University of Michigan, where he received a doctorate. He taught at McGill University, McMaster University and the University of Victoria.

His music was commissioned and performed by Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Vancouver New Music, Société de musique contemporaine du Québec and other organizations, his friend, pianist Catherine Wilson, said in a news release.

He received the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1995.

Wilson, artistic director of the chamber music group Ensemble Vivant, described Burke as “an erudite, supremely intelligent, highly spiritual, generous man with a quick wit and a wonderful sense of humour.”

According to a Canadian Music Centre biography, Burke became interested in “engaging the listener at a far deeper level of awareness than the conventional concert hall dynamic could offer,” something he explored by walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.

His recent work had involved developing chamber music to accompany such “walking meditations.” He produced a “labyrinth event” at Harbourfront Centre in 2010.

The last live music event Burke attended was at Hugh’s Room Live in Toronto in December, where Ensemble Vivant played his art tango “La Despedida,” the “Farewell” in Spanish, which he had gifted to Wilson.

A tribute concert, “John Burke: A Celebration of His Musical Life,” is being organized for later in the year.

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