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Thursday, 31 December 2015

In This New Year: Katherine L. Gordon



No clear air of promise
nor snow-swept earth
but an absent sun, angry moon
with red-ringed omen,
swallowed stars in lightless clouds
drear limp bushes, soggy earth.
The prophesy of no more floods
did not preclude fire,
but still the people slip land-lost
beneath new rivers, while fires
flint-sparked by ravage of drought
burn  the once-comfort of loved verges.
The world once trusted to us recoils.
No  god or prophet can console
the once-proud owners of the planet.
This year we may re-write
the fading former stone inscriptions,
with a new prescription
or a truer prophesy of obliteration.


 
Katherine L. Gordon
Last day of 2015.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas 2015 (Errol Sharpe)/The New Year (Anna Yin)


Christmas – 2015
Errol Sharpe

 
As I sit down to write this poem

My mind it does begin to roam

It’s files I sit and seek to comb

There’s not so much up in the dome


I know that up there much is stowed

Can’t seem to find the password code

I guess to many roads I’ve hoed

Should I dump some of the load?


But as I think there’s lots to say

So many they have lost their way

Their feet so often made of clay

My friends for them we all must pray


Refugees they come from far

Have no money, have no car

Are they running from the czar?

As they seek to heal the scar


In Canada we dumped the man

But does the new one have a plan?

For as across the land I scan

I just see another clan


The left it sings a mournful song

Its weak, its weak, not very strong

And as it muddles all along

It’s them not us who tune the gong


So we must sing another tune

Not wait my dear for a blue moon

For if we do not do it soon

I think that all of us will swoon


So come now people, let’s be brave

Dig us all out from the cave

A new direction we must pave

For this old planet we must save


Now as we look to the New Year

A new road we can help to steer

My friends we all must tune our ear

To a new path, a path that’s clear.


               ~    ~    ~   ~    ~



The New Year


This is a New Year poem made by you and me.

On a 12 month-long canvas, with its significant marks,

the horse year has rolled over:

Floats of the season spread seeds for flowers and fruits;

the great green land breeds rich cultures and thriving lives.

Children sing and dance along their everyday routines;

parents work hard to provide pleasure and prosperity.


From rural area to urban center,

new buildings rise and broad roads extend.

Through community to community,

diversity spreads and dignity is shared.

We paint joy and praise peace.

We respect equity and agree to disagree.


From time to time,

somewhere in the world, the sky is falling;

we extend our hands and spirits for support.

Here and there,

our passages are clogged with chaos;

we work together to create great fortune.

New forces gather and signal changes.

Our city and country are leading with promise.


This is a New Year poem.

It has been made by you and me.

On a 365 daily calendar,

each of us makes a difference

so that we can share love and enjoy peace;

each of us kindly contributes

so that together we all can celebrate.


As 2016 arrives,

another New Year poem will form.

It will be made by us.

Here is our land; here is our opportunity.

Together we will guard this land,

together we will build our great fortune.


 


Anna Yin/ Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate


2015/12/06




                           .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .




On Sat, Dec 26, 2015 at 10:46 AM, Chris Faiers <zenriver@sympatico.ca> wrote:
Thanks Errol ;  )-
Sentiments so many Canadians share. At least the dark clouds of the Harpy decade have been lifted, altho the electorate flocked like sheep from one traditional party to another. At least they flocked. I honestly thought Harper would enforce some national emergency law to stay in power, he's such a neo-fascist. Wait, that was Justin's dad who enacted The War Measures Act. arrgggggh!  (but a hopeful arrggh nonetheless).

Anna, would you pls send Errol's poem back inside an email so I can post it on Riffs & Rips?  - many thanks

best wishes to all for 2016!
Chris ... & Chase wrffffzzzzzzzzzz

p.s. look what you've started, Pearl   ;  )-




                                       .    .    .    .

THANKS ANNA!
That was quick ;  )-   your poem is very powerful & heartfelt - truly the Canadian vision for the future. I'm going to post it with Errol's poem - hope this is OK?
thanks again!
Chris

 
On 2015-12-26, at 10:51 AM, anna yin wrote:

Here it is and also my new poem to read at our city's Mayor Levee on Jan 3.



Thursday, 24 December 2015

Twas the night before CanLit Christmas: Pearl Pirie


Twas the night before CanLit Christmas by Pearl Pirie




The night before Christmas, all through the nation
Not a poet was paid cash, not even at this station.
Poet stockings were hung over their sofas with hope,
For Nelson Ball or Ann Carson, not soap-on-a-rope.


Thammavongsa was lodged deep in her albums,
michael e casteels was musing vispo amalgams.
Catherine Owen was at a riverside photoshoot,
While Rita Wong was out foraging our national roots.


Some writers were staring, tense in their beds,
While metaphors of death pranced thru their heads.
Amber Dawn in her ‘tats, and Bök in his promo beret,
opened their books, and sipped pumpkin lattés.


Erin Mouré was translating more poems by Chus,
While Monty Reid rosined his strings, then his shoes.
Liz Howard stayed tight in her shaking tent.
Lorna Crozier was out of country, at an event.


What was that sound? Lynn Crosbie channeled dread.
Across the country Chase barked, Faiers tilted his head.
Dave O’Meara couldn’t hear it over a patron’s news
And Domanski was out in the bush chasing a muse.


But out in the CanLit scene there rose such a firecracker,
Quill & Quire turned their opera glasses to the matter.
Running from the window, John B Lee was The Flash.
Humming, beaulieu stencilled the dog, the shutters then did the sash.


Karen Solie looked up from her road, past tractor hill.
Jenna Butler paused planning where to plant and till.
NourbeSe Philip heard a suicide, but not that noise.
Ben Ladouceur was distracted by all the pretty boys.


While McGimpsey played his I love noodles card,
The cacophony grew louder and louder out in the yard.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But an access paycheck, pulled by nine clever reindeer.


With a magic carpet rider, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be… A.F. Moritz.
More rapid than submissions or applications they came,
And he whispered, and rumbled, and called them by name:


“Now Dempster! now, Christakos! now, Bowering and Mooney!
On, mclennan and Brossard! Howell, Dumont and Connelly!
To the top of the Parliament! To the top of the field!
Now’s holidays! Holidays!! But you’re all strong as steel!”


As Carter brandished scissors as haiku’s sentry
There began to build an interesting energy.
What it was, I wasn’t sure…but it had to be good
Like a Vancouver Conference in my very own hood.


As I drew out my phone, and was loading Instagram,
Through the window A.F. Moritz came with a…gall dang.
He was dressed all in wool, from his suit to his slippers,
And his clothes were all burnished with toner and glitter.


With photocopied chapbooks saddled on his hip
As an antlered Yann Martel one gave reading tips.
Poem broadsheets were falling like so much fresh snow.
It was Rudolph mclennan tossing them from the cargo.


Their eyes—how they twinkled! Their giggles, how merry!
Their cheeks were like so…cheeky, noses like… for expediency, let’s stick with “cherries”!
Stuck out of Moritz’s pocket was a PoetSeries bandana.
mclennan’s wry little mouth was drawn up like a Santa’s.


They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
And joined in the vowels of Wayde Compton, and blerrrrks
of Paul Dutton. Sandra Ridley slipped in as the fifth.
then McCaffrey and jw, McNair and Stephen Ross Smith.


The rest of the reindeer soon circled like a wreath
And learned new ways to vibrate their teeth.
Folks texted out, poets flooded in. Shauntay Grant,
Burdick, Wells, Priske, Brockwell and Di Brandt…


Stuart Ross added his aspirants to the chorus.
Soon sound itself became the great northern forest.
Chrisses Johnson and Turnbull mmmed. Gary Barwin whistled.
Sound poetry; CBC’s focus drifted like down from a thistle.


A wink from Fred Wah and a nod of his head,
Soon gave all to know we had nothing to fret;
As a group with passion attracts more of the same
Soon onlookers and curious joined in the the game.


Judith Copithorne clapped to the happy din.
Mia Morgan finger-snapped. The next improv kicked in.
Overtones crescendoed, a wall of sound was evaded.
The sounds swelled and softened and finally abated.


Even the angels took notes on how the sounds layered.
If you missed it, you missed it — you had to be there.
Leaping back to the carpet, (bought with OAC grants)
Moritz said we should do this each year, if we get a chance.


Turning down the idea, all agreed the one time was fun.
They drifted off in dribs and drabs, in bits of bodily hum.
They left not a book but as they disappeared from sight,
I heard someone call “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Pearl Pirie


A note from the author: “Twas the Night Before Christmas was previously believed to be authored by Clement Clarke Moore, I give thanks to Major Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828) who Don Foster traced the poem to in Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous.”



Photo credit: Brian Pirie        


                                                 ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

fun with can lit///hello from the rainforest...happy new year to all

raven
over Thetis Lake
winter in her wings

terry ann

Friday, 4 December 2015

Star article on Allan Gardens with pic of Milton Acorn

Your Toronto / Once Upon a City

Once Upon a City: Allan Gardens’ rich history of revolution

From the founding of the National Council of Women of Canada in 1893 to anti-Nazi riots of the ’60s to the G20 protests, Toronto’s Allan Gardens has been ground zero in the shaping of the city’s social fabric.

Beloved Canadian poet Milton Acorn recites poetry in Allan Gardens in July 1962 to protest a bylaw that prohibited speeches in all but three Toronto parks and led to much debate over freedom of expression.
View 10 photos

Toronto Star Archives

Beloved Canadian poet Milton Acorn recites poetry in Allan Gardens in July 1962 to protest a bylaw that prohibited speeches in all but three Toronto parks and led to much debate over freedom of expression.

Allan Gardens’ iconic glass-and-iron domed Palm House is a familiar landmark for Toronto residents and visitors alike, nurturing a permanent collection of exotic plants from distant climes inside its heritage walls. Yet the conservatory and its protected flora are only half the story of Allan Gardens. Designed by prolific city architect Robert McCallum and opened in 1910, the Palm House is the central pavilion of what is now a 16,000-square-foot conservatory, with five greenhouses added over half a century until the late 1950s.


The surrounding park, bounded by Carlton, Sherbourne, Gerrard and Jarvis streets, boasts some 300 trees, many perhaps as old as the pavilion, and today features a brand-new playground and two fenced off-leash areas for dogs. The gardens began in 1858 with the gift of a five-acre plot to the Toronto Horticultural Society from George William Allan, president of the society and 11th mayor of Toronto, recently retired after a two-year term ending in 1856. Allan then entered national politics, representing York at the Legislative Council of Upper Canada from 1858 until becoming one of Canada’s first senators following Confederation in 1867.


Guided by its motto, Beautify Toronto, the horticultural society built a rustic pavilion for its exhibitions that would also serve as a venue for evening concerts and social events. The Horticultural Gardens opened Sept. 11, 1860, with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, planting a maple tree in front of the new pavilion using a silver spade; he opened Queen’s Park the same day, making them two of Toronto’s oldest parks.



In 1864, the city bought five additional acres from Allan for $11,500 and leased them to the horticultural society, which maintained stewardship of the expanded park on condition the conservatory be open to the public free of charge until 8 p.m., after which admission could be charged for private events.

“Shrieking ‘kill, kill, kill,’ a hate-filled, hysterical mob of 4,000 watched as eight suspected Nazis at Allan Gardens Sunday were beaten with fists, clubs and boots,” begins the Star’s top story from May 31, 1965.
Eddy Roworth/ Toronto Star Archives

“Shrieking ‘kill, kill, kill,’ a hate-filled, hysterical mob of 4,000 watched as eight suspected Nazis at Allan Gardens Sunday were beaten with fists, clubs and boots,” begins the Star’s top story from May 31, 1965.


In 1879, a glass Horticultural Pavilion replaced the original wooden structure, financed by the society with a $20,000 mortgage, where budding aesthete Oscar Wilde lectured in 1882, before writing his more famous literary works. Although the venue was popular, the horticultural society was unable to cover its debt with the revenues from evening programming, and sold the original plot and the pavilion to the city in 1888.


When George Allan died in 1901, the conservatory and grounds were renamed Allan Gardens in memory of his contributions. The following year, two things happened in the park: the Horticultural Pavilion burned, and the people’s poet of Allan’s ancestral Scotland was immortalized, the monument remaining to this day.


“Robert Burns had an unpleasant experience last night in the person of his statue now being erected in Allan Gardens,” the Toronto Daily Star reported on July 19, 1902. “Twice the scaffolding gave way, and the second time carried with it the pedestal and statue, to the dismay of a large crowd of spectators. However, neither pedestal nor statue were injured.”



Six weeks earlier, the news had been much worse. “Smoking ruins in Allan Gardens,” read a Star headline on June 6. “Splendid palms, some of them declared to be the finest in America, have been ruined, while the work of years is now withered and dying.”

The current Palm House was built in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, replacing the Horticultural Pavilion, which burned down in 1902.
Toronto Star Archives

The current Palm House was built in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, replacing the Horticultural Pavilion, which burned down in 1902.

With the recent opening of Massey Hall, the loss of a concert venue was scantly mourned, but the resurrection of a horticultural pavilion had the sustained support of several city officials, and the current Palm House was built at a cost of $50,000, following council’s rejection of two more costly proposals.


Outside the glass conservatory, another, civic garden was sprouting political tendrils.

Situated near the seats of provincial and municipal government, amidst industrial and various strata of residential neighbourhoods, the 10-acre park was a natural seedbed for ideals carried in by the city’s two-legged fauna, who began thronging the park to voice enthusiasm or outrage over social issues.



The Star was quick to reveal some rather blunt tools in the city’s garden shed. “Police smoke out meeting but crowd won’t disperse,” read the front-page headline on Aug. 16, 1933. “Charging mounted policemen, motorcycle exhausts belching oily fumes and scores of constables on foot put a stop to speech making, but failed to disperse thousands of persons in Allan Gardens last night, at a meeting announced by the Workers’ Ex-Servicemen’s League . . . to protest against treatment accorded war veterans.” Police intervened just as the rally began, enforcing a bylaw that prohibited speeches in all but three city parks. Thirty years later, the bylaw was revised, after it sparked much debate over freedom of expression, when challenged by a group of poets holding unauthorized readings in Allan Gardens.

The Horticultural Pavilion, shown here sometime in the 1890s, served as a venue for the Toronto Horticultural Society's exhibitions and also for evening concerts and social gatherings.
Toronto Public Library

The Horticultural Pavilion, shown here sometime in the 1890s, served as a venue for the Toronto Horticultural Society's exhibitions and also for evening concerts and social gatherings.



“First Milton Acorn, a 39-year-old former carpenter, started with the Song of Solomon,” the Star reported in July 1962, explaining, “the bylaw allows religious speakers.” Police scribbled in their notebooks as Acorn turned to his own material, proclaiming, “I shout love, love,” before addressing the back-row critics: “Listen, you money-plated b——. When I shout love, I mean your destruction.”

The Star observed that, ironically, “the poets couldn’t gather in their favourite position by the statue of Robert Burns because Frank Correnti, a religious speaker, got there first.”


Three years later, the free speech debate raged into a riot. “Shrieking ‘kill, kill, kill,’ a hate-filled, hysterical mob of 4,000 watched as eight suspected Nazis at Allan Gardens Sunday were beaten with fists, clubs and boots,” begins the Star’s top story from May 31, 1965. Angry citizens — and wary police — had gathered in anticipation of a scheduled Nazi Party rally. “Six of the victims were youths who happened to be wearing black jackets or shirts . . . They had come to Toronto looking for work,” the Star reported.


“It began like an avalanche, slowly . . . Someone yelled ‘they’re Nazis’ and the whole park came alive.” Allan Gardens remains a hotbed of political uprising, with demonstrations over homelessness, gender issues, abortion, environment and other concerns continuing to this day. In 2010, the first of the G20 protesters began their rally at the park; since 2013, the annual Dyke March has ended there in one of many colourful Toronto Pride celebrations. 

Children beat the sweltering heat at the Allan Gardens fountain on Aug. 26, 1948.
Toronto Star Archives
Children beat the sweltering heat at the Allan Gardens fountain on Aug. 26, 1948.


Back in 1893, in the shelter of the Horticultural Pavilion, 1,500 women shared a vision of equality with Lady Aberdeen, wife of the governor general, as she established the National Council of Women of Canada.

A glass ceiling was eventually broken in 2013, when a “century plant,” Agave americana, planted in the conservatory during the Second World War but dormant for 50 years, shot up suddenly, requiring a hole to be cut in the greenhouse roof so it could bring forth hundreds of tiny yellow blossoms.


“All these years, the succulent plant has been gathering energy to be marshalled into the buds, poetic in its one final flourish,” the Star wrote. According to Allan Gardens superintendent Curtis Evoy, the stalk would wither and die within six weeks. “But there is good news: offshoots, a new plant, is growing near the base.”


Radicals, you could call them.
Story idea?

Share your story suggestions at OnceUponACity@thestar.ca . To search more about this story or your story go to thestar.com/archives . To purchase or browse more photos go to starstore.ca, or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TorontoStarArchives or on Twitter: @StarHistoricPix.


Allan Gardens’ popular annual Christmas Flower Show opens the first Sunday in December and runs until mid January. Admission is free.


                                                  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Thanks to Peter Rowe for forwarding this - I somehow missed this article yesterday. My friend Sylvia and I have made annual visits to the conservatory a seasonal rite. The Christmas Flower Show is not to be missed!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

brokeass poet's financial advice

One of my retirement guilty pleasures is browsing the 'rants & raves' section of Craigslist. Last night I read the plight of a student in Toronto who dropped out of university and was very concerned about his financial future. I posted this dubious advice, and surprisingly received a couple of compliments on the posting. So herewith:

another 2 cents for 'dropped out of skool' (outta Hogtown)

There's some excellent advice in the other postings offering advice to this ex-student. My 2 cents worth is to GET THE HECK OUT OF TO and buy a cheap house in a place like Peterborough or Belleville. You can still buy nice houses there which are huge by TO's standards for well under $200K - maybe even under $150. Pool your money with your roomie and your girlfriend. Doesn't matter if you have to take shit menial jobs, you'll still be earning over $12 an hour, and you should have no probs financing a decent house among several of you. Jeez, even dare to be entrepreneurial & rent out some extra bedrooms to students at Trent U or Loyalist College.

Build some equity - stop making landlords rich & start looking after yourselves by securing a home base. I was in my early 30s, earning $12K a year, when I started studying how native Canadians manage to become middle class & secure. I read Garth Turner, who had a column in the TO Scum paper, & bought his book on investing. The dude is still giving free financial advice online in a blog I discovered tonight when I couldn't remember his first name ; )- I mortgaged myself to the hilt to buy a semi in a rough part of TO, took in a selection of roomies over the 4 years I lived there, fixed the shack up, & sold it in the boom of the late 1980s for triple what I'd paid.

Then I moved out of TO, which I loved & still miss but I do manage to visit time to time. I haven't had a mortgage in over a quarter century since. Not having a mortgage has freed me to follow my life's artistic passions (5 or 6 legit books published) and to also pursue careers and credentials in several varied & interesting occupations (chef's papers, real estate license, provincial library management certificate plus lots of free time to read, write & explore nature in rural Ontario).

Sadly, beautiful & multicultural as TO is, it can be a trap for younger people like you & your friends. Our Canadian tax system is structured so you don't pay tax on any profit made when you sell your primary residence. Buying an affordable house is by far the best investment you can make for your futures. Tough it out for a few years building your initial equity in a smaller center like Pborough or Bville (Hamilton is already too popular & publicized), & then sell to get the equity for your own houses. Or become an investor and buy multi residences like triplexes. A friend from a very poor family did this, & he now has a net worth in the multi millions.

Me, I'm happy to have lived rent & mortgage free for over 25 years, my little house has doubled rather than tripled like my lucky TO starter, but I figure I've saved spending at least $60 or $70K in rent or mortgage payments each decade by cashing out of the TO boom & buying a smaller (but far nicer house).

Good luck to you ; )- and consider buying and/or reading Garth Turner's financial advice


Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Call Will Come: Katherine L. Gordon




A screech-owl shredded
November clouds shadowing
the fields of night,
with her shiverous cry.
No glimmerous moon or spark of star
softened the darkness,
quiverous shapes, swallowed in dense blackness,
discerned only by screech-owl eye lantern.
She could wake the dead.
That veer of flight not mine to wield
but I sense her intention.
 


 
Katherine L. Gordon
Ides of November,  2015.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

James Deahl book launch: back to his roots at Main Street Library


November 14, 2015





Dear Chris and Chase,



         Here is the info on my book
launch, including the PR done by
the Toronto Public Library (attac
hed).





November 14, 2015

Dear Chris and Chase,

         Here is the info on my book launch, including the PR done by the Toronto Public Library (attached).

         The reason for the Main Street Library is that 30 years ago you hosted the book launch of my No Cold Ash there. (And later that night the Canadian Poetry Association was founded.) With my new book I thought it would be fun to return to my roots.

         . . . James


The Toronto Public Library

Main Street Branch
137 Main Street 

presents the launch of:

Unbroken Lines: Collected Poetic Prose1990 - 2015
by James Deahl

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015  7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Free

Featuring James Deahl & special friends:

Norma West Linder

Michael Mirolla


Patrick Connors


for more info & directions:

416 – 393-7700



                                            ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Hi James,
Thanks for the info on your book launch this Thursday - I learned about it thru a phone chat with Terry a couple of nights ago. I immediately knew why you had chosen the good old Main Street Library - yep, somehow 3 decades have slipped by since I founded the poetry series there (Nov. 15, 1979!). After I got your email I started reminiscing, which led to opening the guest book for the series, which I kept from day one.

It seems like a dream now, esp. later that night (Jan. 16/85) when we stumbled down to the Beaches to celebrate at The Balmy Arms Pub. I remember slapping a fiver on the beer soaked table and announcing that the Canadian Poetry Association (R.I.P.) was officially founded, and you, Shaunt, Wayne Ray, Carol, Terry etc. slapping your bills down as well ... and ... well, we done did it, for whatever it was worth ;  )

Some other tidbits of historical interest from that night. Your co-reader was Doug Stewart, who was retiring as the head publicity person for Toronto Public Library. Marty Singleton was one of the 7 readers in the open set (the only other reader listed in the guest book whom I clearly remember was Dennis Chiasson).

Anyway, Congrats & best wishes for a successful launch, and altho it's unlikely, I hope a pint or two is hosted after the event at The Barmy Arms (if it's still there).

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrffffffffffffffffffffffffffff!

another memory ... I'm pretty sure I got you on the Canada Council readers list with this book launch. I also got Robert Priest, Bruce Hunter and a number of other poets I featured at Main Street on the Canada Cow list in the 1980s.

here's the blog posting on Riffs & Ripps (don't know why the large, bold type came up):


                                                    ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~


On 2015-11-19, at 1:55 PM, Henry Martinuk wrote:

Hi Chris,
I'm attaching several photos from James Deahl's book launch at the Main St. Library last night. The rain didn't keep people away and the branch librarian made us feel welcome with tea & timbits.
    In his intro, James talked about his time at Main St. & mentioned that it was 30 years since his last book launch at the branch. He spoke about the glory years when Chris Faiers was active in the community and organized the many readings that the branch was famous for.
    When the host librarian welcomed the audience, he mentioned that he wants to encourage author events in the branch. Great words to hear!
    James introduced his "friends" as they read, including Patrick Conners, Norma West Linder & Guernica Editions publisher Michael Mirolla. The audience responded warmly to the authors. James acknowledged that his three daughters and their significant others were at the book launch.
    A good way to spend a Wednesday evening!
cheers, Henry

p.s. give dear Chase a good pat from me! Thanks!

<2 Main Library Librarian intro DSC01531 .JPG><4 Patrick Connors DSC01536.JPG><5 Norma West Linder DSC01541.JPG><6 Michael Mirolla - Guernica publisher DSC01545.JPG><7 James Deahl Unbroken Lines DSC01546 .JPG><8 James Deahl UnbrokenLines DSC01550.JPG>




Friday, 30 October 2015

Library Book Sale



Glare of industrial lights
ill-reflected on grey floors
old white-washed walls
in rented warehouse
to host a sale of writers dreams,
boxes primly placed on plastic tables
securing ordered books
in alphabetical tether.
I look for a leap of turmoil
to light dull regimen,
find a writer who speaks outside the box,
who cannot be locked in dust.
Fingers trace assorted collections,
some answer to my touch, come to my attention
in voices that defy repression -
I choose them, carry them home
in embroidered bags.



Katherine L. Gordon

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Al Purdy - The Poet's Poet - essay by Honey Novick

                    

c. 2015 Honey Novick


I say the stanza ends, but it never does… Postscript, Al Purdy

 
If Milton Acorn is considered the People’s Poet then Al Purdy must be considered the Poet’s Poet because reading Al Purdy’s plainly-spoken, clearly-written, poetry is like going on a journey of suspended time and place.  It is like understanding the way an explorer goes into an unknown experience, gazes at the horizon, feels the spirit of adventure, knows this is daring life to reveal its mysteries, secrets, wisdom, gallantry and exploring its curiosity then wants to know more, more about how people live and express love and then goes and discovers all of that; documents it and then reports it for the rest of us.  This is what Al Purdy’s writing does for me.  I discovered my own relationship with the work of this great writer after he passed.  The importance of his gift, his legacy seems greater now as I can appreciate what he gave me.  Had I read Al Purdy in my formative years, I wouldn’t have appreciated the depth and insight of his writing.  Now, I value his thoughts, opinions and experiences even though I don’t always agree with what he sees.  I can also relate to him as one only child to another and hear that special language that only children have.  It is a language of silence, of supreme concentration, of recognition, of familiarity.  Only Children are often derided for being selfish, spoiled, high achievers.  We are all of that, possibly, but more and luckily for us, Purdy is able to delineate and then translate.  I think, also, that because he is the son of a certain wave of immigration, at a particular time in history, he witnessed a country, a nation that was slowly defining itself.

At the start of this essay, I quoted Al’s words from a book edited by Sam Solecki called “Starting from Ameliasburgh”.   The words startled me - as the two words, “stanza ends” is a two-word poem in itself - they say so much.  They succinctly evoke philosophy, poetry and finality, and then without letting go of this thought, offer a “hook” of provocation “but it never does”, and then re-iterates the thought, as a theme, saying, at another time and place, “like building a house that was never finished…”   This is a common thread throughout his works.  It is an optimistic hope, a way of allowing the reader to join in the poem and finish it for themselves, or not.

In the 1970s, I worked as a coat check girl at George Luscombe’s Toronto Workshop Productions Theatre where Milton Acorn came frequently to see the shows.  Milt and Al were friends.  I vaguely remember Al attending, but I knew he was there because his name was whispered, fluttering like a carrier pigeon throughout the front of house.  It always happened when great artists appeared in the audience. His name I remembered because this was the man who wrote “Poems for All The Annettes”.  To me Annette was a mouseketeer, a pop culture creation and aspiration for my undeveloped ambitions.  It was easy for me, a teenager, to dismiss any further thoughts of a man I came to consider the Poet’s Poet.

In time I would honour him in a spoken word piece published by Hidden Brook Press titled, “A NERDY PURDY RAP”.  (poem at the end of this article).    

By the time I took writing seriously, I had met and been mentored by some of Canada’s and the U.S.A.’s top poets and writers (Irving Layton, Allen Ginsburg, Duke Redbird, James Deahl, James Seffinga, bill bissett, Chris Faiers, I.B. Iskov to name a few).  Through associating with these scribes, I was invited and attended Purdyfest, an annual celebration of Al’s legacy in Marmora, Ontario.  I also attended the unveiling of Purdy’s statue in Toronto’s Queen’s Park.  By then, I knew Al had done something genuinely, literarily, precious.  One time, while travelling to the Petroglyphs, near Peterborough, Ontario, with writer Joan Sutcliffe, we decided to find Al’s home in Ameliasburgh.  Gingerly we approached the little building, definitely not trespassing, expecting nothing and no one and breathlessly felt like we were on a sacred pilgrimage up to the gate, even though I think Al would have hated that thought of a visit to him being compared to a sacred pilgrimage.

In his book, “Rooms For Rent In The Outer Planets” – (Selected Poems l962-1996), the title alone caught my attention as I am familiar with bill bissett’s illuminations on his home planet of Lunaria.  With Purdy’s work, the title itself is a poem I have to think about and question: whether life outside of this earth exists. This is where perception comes into play.  People can stand still and be in many different worlds at the same time.  We can see into the future, remember the past and feel the present moment.  Al’s poetry does this time and again.  His writings took me to the stark wilderness I call Ontario and made me feel a coldness I don’t often feel.  By the end of one journey with Al, however, I felt something missing.  He, himself, says that the people don’t dance in the streets.  I disagree.  We do a dance when we shop or woo, when we attend sporting events; and especially when we remember that once and still, there are people and people’s spirits who danced in a circle, who whooped and cawed and did an eagle dance or a jingle dance or a dance for rain or a dance to help them get through the hard days.  Why couldn’t you see this Al?   You saw Cuba and Che and Fidel.  You wrote “Hombre” to honour Che.  You knew the groundswelling hope of the people after the Cuban Revolution.  You were there in 1964 when the dream was just sprouting.  You questioned the authenticity of Che’s dream because he was executed.  We didn’t execute him, fear and ignorance did!  Che lived, acted for the people, and died because of the lazy stupidity of others but he lives in you and me and on T-shirts and logos.  I wonder if perhaps your mother’s strict Presbyterian beliefs and your upbringing had more of a hold on your starkness than you could fathom.

I reference 6 poems out of the collection “Rooms to Rent…” for this essay.  These 6 touched me and confirmed things I believe.  What people share in common strengthens bonds of friendship; helps define oneself and constructs a society.  People are society. You and I have a lot in common, Al, yet we don’t.  Yes, your knowledge of music and love, your respect for time and space, earth, death and life and dying are our source of the familiar, our commonality.  I think about those things as well.  In the 1960s, weren’t you listening to Bob Dylan, John Lennon or the myriad others who were the pulse of my generation? You loved Irving Layton and his fierce brilliance but hardly ever mention Leonard Cohen, whose writings and music reached global proportions.  You panned “Beautiful Losers”!!!  Did the need to address women’s empowerment, racism, the three poisons of fear, greed and stupidity not inspire you?  Were you exploring worlds I could only encounter many years in the future?  I feel a need to address those issues, using poetry and song, in order to feel that being a non-traditional female is so valid that not only my identity but my very survival depends on that awareness.  I know socialism and history and family and labour issues play a huge role in how you view the world.  Sometimes I wonder if perhaps happiness and the pursuit of value in being alive are the only pursuits of a poet.  I believe they are the reasons for living.  Someone once said to me, “having a husband won’t necessarily make you happy”.  Being sad and suffering is only one conclusion I came to about my life’s philosophy.  The other is that people are multi-faceted, like a sparkling diamond and navigating through both suffering and sparkling is the wisdom awarded to those who dare to explore.
                                                        
In no particular order, I want to bring the reader’s attention to “The Others” (1)…
 
…..We are not alone in this world
       our brothers the animals
                         our sisters the birds…
 

Purdy spent a lot of thought on death and dying and how that intersects and interacts with life.  It is through observing other species like animals and birds that people begin to get a sense of the interaction of life and death, time and space.  Through recognition of the families of all things living (visible and invisible) the poet learns the language of a universal rhythm of life and that humans are a whole species unto ourselves.  He also expands on this theme in On The Flood Plain -4th stanza
 
…..Whatever I have not discovered and enjoyed
is still waiting for me
and there will be time
but now are these floating stars on the freezing lake
and music fills the darkness
holds me there listening
--it’s a matter of separating these instants from others
that have no significance
so that they keep reflecting each other
a way to live and contain eternity
in which the moment is altered and expanded
my consciousness hung like a great silver metronome
suspended between stars
on the dark lake
and time pours itself into my cupped hands shimmering….
 

I am a musician, a vocalist and immediately connect to someone who understands the metaphor of “a great silver metronome”.  Time can be mechanical, ticking away till it ticks no more or expects to be rewound, like the metronome.  I found reading this stanza gave clarity to someone pondering these big issues of life, death, are we alone, loneliness, is time elastic or fixed?  When he says “time pours itself into my cupped hands shimmering”, it was proof that even destiny can be held in our palmed hands and what we do with our destiny, really, lies with our self-determination.  Time, as destiny, is in the palms of our hands.  I also like to think that when those cupped hands are placed palm to palm, it is a gesture of supreme respect.

In “Moonspell”, Purdy writes
 

I have forgotten English
in order to talk to pelicans…
 

Once again my breath caught in my throat as I understand this language.  Often I travel through Toronto’s very busy traffic to my destination on the shore of a lake on the Land of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nations, to speak with the swans.  I, too, forget English.  We speak “Swan”.  Not the honking sounds of what people hear when swans communicate but the language of swans travelling alone, or in families, or quickly or just floating on relaxed waters as the waters lap the shore.  The swans talk to me of weather or the threats of humans’ encroachment on swans’ reverie.  They talk to me of families and hunger or being overly fed human food causing them to eat more and more, like other species with an eating disorder. I have been warned that the swans are dangerous and will bite.  I take heed of this warning but so far, they and me, can sit by the water and not feel threatened by one another.  Yes, Al, I understand talking with other species and I speak swan.

In “Preschool”, I am once again reminded of the way Only Children look at the world.
 

Black was first of all
the place I came from
frightened because I couldn’t remember
where I’d been or was going to
But when I did find yellow
in buttercup and dandelion
in the meadowlands and hill country
discover them in my mind
as if they had always been there….
 

That’s exactly what the early world of a child looks like.  Black.  No reference to anything else, just the sensation of black.  Void of colour, bereft of feeling, desolate, lonely, not yet independently standing alone, social. And then suddenly yellow or in my case green, the green of grass, of a lawn and that lawn giving me tulips and sunflowers and bees and ants and wondrous approachable worlds.  It was heavenly.  Discovering the dandelion, the buttercup, and recognizing new friends.

For me, the friendship extended to the immigrant, “Lilacs”.  Once I smelled this aphrodisiac, there was nothing like it.  I would make an annual early June/late May pilgrimage to the Burlington Royal Botanical Gardens, or stop in a laneway where wild lilacs grew and pray a kindly gardener would let me have a branch, sprig or twig.
In Al’s poem, “May 23, 1980”, he writes
 

                    I’d been driving all day
arrived home around 6 p.m.
got something to eat and slept an hour
then I went outside
and you know
----the whole world smells of lilacs
the whole damn world
….

And then Al goes on to complain about growing old and making lists, about a girl and finally winds up redeeming his complaint with…
“…there will come one May night
of every year that she’s alive
when the whole world smells of lilacs…”
 
and I close my eyes in the middle of a winter weary freezing February and remember that in May the whole damn world will smell of lilacs and I am calmly, lilac-y relieved.                                             
                      

As Only Children, Al and I are rebels.  Rebellion helps one socialize and surmount the enormity of the loneliness of the non-sibling kid.  We can take the time to question, be curious, create, learn, accept, tolerate or none of the above.  It takes courage to be a rebel.

I love the relationship Al had with the writing of Charles Bukowski.  In Bukowski’s “The Life of Borodin”, Al lets us know how he feels about poetry and says, “It hits hard, and what else can you ask from a poem?  It’s one of those pieces impossible to quote from, which are nothing except in entirety.”  He then tells us, “…I dislike the strong implication that to employ natural speech idioms is the best or only way to write poetry.  There seem to me to be a million ways to write a poem.  To exclude any of them is to make academic strictures on what poems are and should be.”

And with those words I sigh, let my shoulders relax and feel confident that I can open the door to a world known as poetry and cross the threshold to discover the palette waiting to colour the canvas.

I wanted to honour my encounter with the writings of Al Purdy by using the rhythm of contemporary “rap” or “hip hop style” meant to be spoken out loud.  It is musical and whimsical and respectful.
 
A Nerdy, Purdy Rap
                                                                                                                                                                                   
this is a nerdy, Purdy rap                                 
something to honour Al
an icon, a venerable pal

Al knew about people
and places extraordinaire
because to this man’s poetry
none can compare
he wrote for all the Annettes
spoke beyond beggar’s banquets
rode the rails coast to coast
so to him we give a toast

in an A-frame home he did dwell
and none could quell
that his thoughts, a profound reservoir
was knowledge beyond a sacred saloon room bar

Al lived long and hard and true
paving the poetic way for me and you
my favourite thing about this man, is
his value of humour, that’s why
I’m his fan

Al and my mentor Irving, they were friends
ideas spewing forth, intellect none could pretend
didn’t influence a Canada, we call
our home, with a
history, mystery of empirical
sensibility

so dear, Al, I salute you
in words and rhythm and grace
you carved an endearing place
in a plethora of books, thoughts we embrace
as we remember what you did for
Literature,
emboldening hearts
of pure unadulterated love
 

 


Reference Materials

1.rooms for rent in the outer planets, al purdy selected poems 1962-1996
     harbour publishing 1996
2.starting from ameliasburgh, edited by sam solecki
     harbour publishing 1995
3.yours, al starring Gordon Pinsent DVD
     reel to reel productions 2006






                             
                                                  ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~


On 2015-10-27, at 5:50 PM, Ron Dart wrote:

Chris,
You might be interested to know Doug Beardsley & I spent part of the
afternoon with Purdy's wife a few weeks ago---a splendid few hours at their
home and the restaurant where Doug and Al met regularly to do
their books on Donne, Lawrence and, as Purdy was dying, Epic of Gilgamesh.
RSD

                                                        .    .    .    .

Hi Ron,
Nice to hear from you. I had a long chat with Terry a few days ago - think it was over 2 1/2 hours - we dissected the election three ways to Sunday  ;  ) I feel we're starting to again live in the Canada we used to enjoy, not the neo-fascist wasteland Sauron was creating, omnibus bill by bill. When Harper descended to snitch lines and race baiting during the campaign, even the most uninformed Canuck voters finally took note and turfed him  and his Frankenstein party out! In hindsight it's quite amazing that Eurithe, Jean Baird and all the A-frame volunteers were able to accomplish the creation of Ontario's first writers-in-residence under such a regime. Next time Terry & I chat I'll tell him I heard from you.

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase wrfffffffffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz   (still snoozing on this drizzly day - it's the tail end rains of a hurricane)
                                                 
                                                         ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

  
On 2015-10-28, at 1:00 PM, Lindi Pierce wrote:

Hi Chris
Thanks for this; I'm printing it out and will get a copy to Eurithe when I see her Sunday.
Michele and I often wonder about you, and hope you are Chase are doing okay.
hugs, Lindi 

                                                         .    .    .    .

Hi Lindi,
I just got a note from Ron Dart in BC, & he & Doug Beardsley also had lunch with Eurithe recently. I added his email as a footnote to Honey's essay - think I'll add yours too, hope this is OK?

Chase is a verrrry ancient 17 years now, which is close to 120 in human bean terms! So we really can't travel, altho I do sneak off for the occasional afternoon trek without him. He still has a fair quality of life, & we usually manage 2 slow walks a day by the Crowe River.

I sold my ZenRiver Gardens retreat at the end of August. I owned it for exactly a decade, & I'd accomplished all of my vision. The new owner is a good steward, & she has the same intentions for its usage - I believe she lives in the Pickering area, & she drives up on weekends to hang out with her 3 dogs & the various resident spirits ;  )-

Hope you & your 'biker' hubby are doing well, & best to Michele. I think of A-burgh often, altho didn't manage a visit this summer. Oh, last year (2014) was the last of the Marmora PurdyFests. They were a lot of fun, but at age 67 I've run out of the energy (& some enthusiasm) for organizing major poetry stuff - did more than my lifetime share so far, with 6 years coordinating a series in TO from 1979 - 1985, & then 8 years of PFesting. Riffs & Ripps is my main poetry project these days, & the only other major thing on my literary horizon is a vague plan to do a collected/selected at age 70 with Hidden Brook Press.

Congrats on the success of the A-frame. In my reply to Ron I mentioned the unlikely success of establishing the first Ontario writer-in-res (which really is a res) during the reign of Sauron, the evil one. I feel sunnier days are here again (thanks for the cliche, Justin), & that the arts will flourish in a more nurturing politikal atmosphere. Damn, the NDP under Mulc sure screwed up, tho.

peace, love & poetry & pumpkin power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrffffffffffffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz    (hasn't moved off the livingroom floor during this drizzly day)

p.s. Honey will be THRILLED  that her essay will reach Eurithe!