Total Pageviews

Friday, 30 September 2011

Revisiting a Milton Acorn bio: OUT OF THIS WORLD

A few nights ago I finished rereading Out of this World: The Natural History of Milton Acorn by Chris Gudgeon (1996, Arsenal Pulp Press, ISBN 1-55152-030-3).

I have to admit that although I was one of the interviewees for the book, and although the book is well written and researched, initially I was prejudiced against the book by jealousy. At the time of publication I felt that someone who knew Milt personally, preferably an old CLM (Canadian Liberation Movement) comrade, or even better, a fellow CLM poet, perhaps James (Jim) Deahl or Rob MacLeod, should have been hired to write Milt's bio - I know MacLeod has had an unpublished manuscript on Acorn stashed away for decades (several in my basement). And James Deahl did so much to promote Milt and his writing and publications in the years before his death, and who is perhaps the person who has since most kept alive Milt's legacy.

If you are a fan of Canadian poetry (CanPo as I call it), and if you aren't already acquainted with Milt's life story, then this brief book is a good start. There are only 160 pages of bio, then 8 pages of family album photographs, followed by over 50 pages of Acorn's key poetry, organized chronologically.

To his credit, Gudgeon has captured much of the essence of Milt. Reading a few chapters late every night, after lazy summer afternoons spent at ZenRiver Gardens, I again felt the presence of the man, boldly lurking in corners of my mind and the dim room. To know Milt was to know a friend, or an enemy. There wasn't a lot of middle ground with Milt and his passions.

Out of this World details Milt's evolution as a poet, and the various literary battles he fought with academics and especially with the American-inspired Tish movement in Vancouver. The book is a pretty fair crash course on the history of Canadian poetry since the 1940s, and of the major players. It is the opinion of many that Milt, and his close friend Al Purdy, were two of the most important figures in the development of the uniquely Canadian voice which is now heard around our global village.        

But Milt also battled constantly throughout his life on the political front. He was a true progressive, in a time when most academics were afraid to speak out, or spoke out on the wrong side on issues such as the Vietnam War. I attended the University of Guelph for 1 1/2 semesters in 1973, and Irving Layton was the writer-in-residence. At that time Layton was an advocate for the VN War. As a resister of that  imperialist horror story, I obviously felt no connection with or even interest in Layton. What could I possibly learn from someone so ignorant?

I soon dropped out of UniGoo to join the CLM, and then Milt came to town to do a reading for us. Here finally was a TRUE POET, a famous cultural icon, but more importantly, a comrade unafraid to speak the truth, in an accessible and yet beautifully poetic way. Milt was an ANTI-IMPERIALIST, and proud of it. Gudgeon doesn't seem to have fully grasped the importance of Milt's political beliefs and practice in the book, perhaps believing the literary battles were more significant than the political ones.

Another possible oversight is the lack of exploring the complexity and interplay in the bonding between Acorn and Purdy. Would either of those poets have achieved the literary successes both reached without the other? Of course not. The interplay between them, this genius friendship, was perhaps the most important crucible for both, and led to their eventual GGs.

I believe the closest we now enjoy to a living Canadian People's Poet in Milt and Al's tradition is bill bissett. But likely I'm behind the times. There may be another Milt out there, 'growing beyond us' as he wrote, and I just haven't met her/him yet.


Further reflections on Milt and the Canadian Liberation Movement led me to Google the CLM. I found the following very interesting and scholarly dissertation on Milt's role in the movement.

The piece also analyzes the other major "Maoist" organization of those times, the CPC-ML (Communist Party of Canada - Marxist-Leninist). Worth a read ...     :  )

  1. [PDF] 

    Maoist Performativities: Milton Acorn and the Canadian Liberation ...
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    by A Filewod - Related articles
    and the Canadian Liberation Movement. Alan Filewod. If we Canadians, following the programme advocated by many, but most clearly by the Canadian ..
    1. [PDF] 

Friday, 23 September 2011

my best poem: Five Minutes Ago They Dropped the Bomb/notes

Five Minutes Ago They Dropped the Bomb

After the bomb dropped
the homophobic cop
and the steambath patron he was handcuffing
melted into each other's arms
into infinity

After the bomb fell
concrete angels in all the graveyards
took wing
Every bell in the world
gave one last high-pitched ring into oblivion

Five minutes ago
a tear or two slipped in the halls of karma
at the insignificant passing of
3rd. dimensional existence –
3rd. stone from the sun – reality factor
time factor irrelevant –
total dissolution of creatures
   IQ 100     EQ 35
evolutionary phase median ape to bodhisattva

The bodhisattvas wept
Buddha watched mountains raise their final crest –
burst into pulverized space/time

Basho's spirit watched every moment in nature
cruelly bloom into the final haiku moment of infinity

Five minutes ago
the Marxists got their final synthesis
the neo-nazis their final solution
the capitalists their last boom from the economy

Five minutes ago we kissed
said "Shit! They've done it …"
Armageddon - Apocalypse

Five minutes ago Time Must Have a Stop
five minutes ago we passed into borrowed time
five minutes multiplied 12 times by the hour
24 times by the day
365 times by the year
and 38 times since Hiroshima shimmered into oblivion

Five minutes ago we passed into borrowed time again
reality factor minus:
3 million
994 thousand
and sixty

five minutes ago

- Chris Faiers  (1984)

Author's note: this poem was multi-published in 1984 -
in the chapbook of the same title,
in "The Unfinished Anthology" (Unfinished Monument Press),
in "Anti-War Poems: an anthology" edited by Stehen Gill (Vesta Publications),
& I believe in "The Americas Review".
It was republished in "Crossing Lines" (Seraphim Editions, 2008).

War-era poets share experiences
Toronto Star review of "Crossing Lines" by Joe Fiorito

Flipping thru my 'ego-shelf' of anthologies and books which have included my poems, today I discovered several more credits for this poem.

Foot Through the Ceiling, 1986, Aya Press (now Mercury Press)  collection for which I received the inaugural Milton Acorn People's Poetry Medal in 1987

The Last blewointment Anthology, edited by bill bissett, 1985, Nightwood Editions

Keeper of the Conscience, edited by Ronadl Kurt and Mark McCawley, 1990, Greensleeve Publishing

Other Channels, edited by Shaunt Basmajian and jones, 1984

I'm in the middle of reading Chris Gudgeon's excellent biography of Milton Acorn, Out of This World. Reading another writer's interpretations of the how, why, where and when you wrote a particular poem, especially one seminal to your development as a poet, is making me realize the value of telling my own story, in my own words, while I have the chance.

This poem evolved into a plea for world peace, but its impetus was my very personal concern over the Cold War and the likelihood, in the early 1980s, that a catastrophic end to civilization was imminent. I kept imagining explosions of planet-destroying magnitude, and I have to reluctantly confess, it wasn't initially concern for my fellow beings as much as the selfish concern that I would never be able to complete the purchase and habitation of the termite infested little house I was in the process of purchasing in Toronto's east end.

The Cold War came to an end with the decade, and much of our collective paranoia. And I even got to share the little house with Milton for a short time after I moved there in April of 1985. Watching the greats of CanPo like Milt and Gwendolyn, Marian Engel, and even the Purdys in their jerry-built A-frame, had given me the desire to establish a base. By my mid-30s I realized full well that the profession of poet was neither going to feed nor clothe nor house me, and that I'd better act quickly.  

strange brew: Buddhism and Marxist activism:

I was able to include references in the poem to some deeply held spiritual insights, including the Buddhist concept of bodhisattva (wise beings who return to earth to aid in the enlightenment of all). I was somehow able to add Basho and haiku into the mix, and for the first time there was a comfortable merging of my Buddhist beliefs and neo-Marxist politikal activism in a poem. A hard thing to accomplish!     :  )

Another aspect of the poem was that I had learned to be more subtle and suggestive.  Haiku at this time was still considered ephemeral at best, dilettantism at worst, by the CanPo establishment. And my overtly politikal poems had often degenerated into cant and honest, but simplistic, outrage (a la early Acorn).

did poem invent "IQ/EQ" corollary?

Another key aspect of this poem was psychological. I come from a quirky, even negative for me, nuclear family. Likely both my father and brother have 'genius' IQs, and in my early years I felt intimidated by anyone who was overtly 'smart'. But as the years went by, I realized my father hadn't been very supportive of me, and I've since come to suspect he exhibited a high degree of narcissism (now labelled narcissistic personality disorder).

So I invented a corollary to IQ in this poem, "EQ", emotional quotient. as another benchmark for understanding human behaviour. A decade after I multi-published Five Minutes Ago They Dropped the Bomb I was browsing a bookstore in Belleville, Ontario. I came across a best seller titled something like EQ: EMOTIONAL QUOTIENT. Had some academic read my widely circulated poem and then appropriated my intellectual property? Unless some author comes forward and admits to this, I'll never know. But the chronology is suspicious.

peace & poetry power!
Chris Faiers
Marmora, Ontario
Sept. 23, 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

some correspondence re key Canuck role in modern haibun

Hi Cricket,
I see haiku and haibun as literary forms, with spirituality as an added layer which may or may not be present. I don't feel qualified to speak on spirituality, as I don't see myself as being spiritual. More like a materialistic transcendentalist. But Manuel says that I'm spiritual. Who knows.

I'm not sure that the WHR people regularly read Haiku Canada newsflashes. Perhaps they only send their notices to it?

Another dose of cheers!

PS -- Feel free to post my correspondence if you like.
----- Original Message -----

From: Chris Faiers

Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 4:02 PM
Subject: Re: HC Newsflash

Hi Snowflea,
Thanks for replying to the 'newsflash'. I wasn't sure how good an idea it was to send this out as a newsflash, & Marco, the editor, and I exchanged emails regarding this. So I re-thought sending it. as did Marco. And then after a week's deliberations he sent it out ... so it'll be interesting to see what response it garners, if any. At least it's stimulating a lot of visits to the blog - 27 by noon today, on the first day of the mailing, so this alone has some value  :  )

I really felt I couldn't let a Brit make the claim that another Brit is the seminal haibun creator in the English language. The more I reflect on it, the stronger the Canuck claim becomes. It was really Jack Kerouac who popularized haiku/haibun with his beatnik 'crazy wisdom' travelogues like ON THE ROAD and DHARMA BUMS etc. .

I had a chat with Dr. John (the other Dr. J) at noon today about art and spirituality. If I truly felt most haiku poets were spiritually motivated, and that haiku is more in the realm of a spiritual practice than as a literary notch in many poets' belts, then I might not have engaged in this contention. But I'd be thrilled if I learned 50% of haiku poets engage in any sort of Buddhist practice such as meditation. I'd probably be surprised if 10% of modern 'haijin' engage in meditation or any other traditional Buddhist practices such as yoga, etc. .

So if haiku/haibun is currently more of a literary form than a spiritual one in English, then I feel many of the usual literary standards apply.

I really like the World Haiku Association and their WORLD HAIKU REVIEW, esp. as they published Terry Ann Carter's glowing review of my haibun ZENRIVER POEMS & HAIBUN a couple of years ago. My expectation is the Haiku Canada newsflash will stimulate readership of  WORLD HAIKU REVIEW as well as that of my blog. Everyone benefits, and the literary history of haiku/haibun, for what it's worth and 'who really cares anyway?, will stand corrected.  

As the notice for the new issue of WHR was sent out as a Haiku Canada newsflash, I'm sure they'll read my piece and understand what I'm up to  :  )

peace & poetry power!
Chris/cricket and Chase ... wrffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff (just back from beaut. early fall walk to Sorrow Falls on the trans-Canada Trail)

p.s. hope you don't mind if I post our correspondence on my blog? it may help explain my motives ...

On 2011-09-14, at 3:32 PM, John Hamley wrote:

Hi Chris,

Good. But since you are a world-class haijin and your international reputation is at stake, I recommend that you also send a correction to the World Haiku Review.

Hoping that bad publicity will lead into good publicity ... Cheers!


Sunday, 11 September 2011

ZenRiver Vortex

I purchased the property which has become ZenRiver Gardens six years ago this month. It was a two-part neglected piece of land, a third of an acre on the south bank of the Upper Moira River, and a little over 2/3 of an acre on the north side. Apparently it was the original site of the Malone hamlet mill, and the huge original old millstone is now on display at O'Hara's Mills Conservation Area north of Madoc.

In the spring of 2006 I spent hours wandering among the small sumacs on the north bank, searching for the perfect location for a small cabin. My friend Morley, with help from me as his 'gofer', built the shaman shack in six days.

The feng shui search for the location paid off, as the shack's location fits the desired description for a Buddhist retreat, albeit a very modest one in the case of ZenRiver: it's built on an elevation, with a hill behind (rather than a mountain), facing south towards the river which flows east to west.

Both Morley, Dr. John and I have experienced the same phenomenon many times sitting on the shack's deck - prayer flags are hung on both the west and east sides, as well as along the front, and often the flags on both sides are blowing in opposite directions. The shack seems to be situated in some sort of wind vortex:

ZenRiver vortex
flags flap prayers
east and west

I experienced this qirkiness again this afternoon on a perfect late summer day, more August heat wave than early fall weather. While the flags gently flapped this way and that:

mother mink feeds
aware - unaware
of human eyes

Watching her feeding on grass, diving then reappearing 20 feet closer, my attention was distracted:

across the river
bluejay drinks
and preens

tiny flock
of tiny birds
fall migration?

neighbour fishing
on our bridge:
time for chat

It was a perfect day, and the cold beer and the vibrancy of my companions had placed me in a state of prolonged satori. I'm reminded of Anna Yin's great title, "My Day Goes By Like Haiku". The natural world and I were in perfect sync, and everywhere I glanced became another haiku. Almost too perfect to even bother writing down, but I managed to scrawl these few memories on an old envelope. I went to the back of the shack to pee:

bright red berries
challenge visitors
from the thorn tree

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Fire (9/11 poem) & a decade of aftermath

The fire has come down from the mountain

The fire has come down from the mountain
napalm has returned home from the jungles and plains
King Kong, Hollywood's great ape of the 3rd world
has screamed his rage astride New York's tallest towers

The fire has come down from the mountain
Kong has crossed the waters at last
The happy hour mantra of Washington pols
"what goes around comes around" rings true
and the fire has come down from the mountain
napalm is home from the jungle and plains

- Chris Faiers  (September 11, 2001)

"The Fire" appeared in the anthology "Crossing Lines -
Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era"
(Seraphim Editions, 2008)

War-era poets share experiences
Toronto Star review of "Crossing Lines" by Joe Fiorito

"The Fire" also appeared in The Political Issue - The Pedestal Magazine


I wrote this poem the day after September 11, 2001, and my webmaster, Weed, posted it on his site within a day or so of the tragedy.

I immediately knew we were experiencing one of modern history's transformative events, and I understood that most of the changes would not be for the expansion of planetary goodwill and peace. As someone who opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, and who left that country in protest in 1969, I intuited there was some karmic connection with that empire's legacy of horrific destruction and the murdering of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people, most humble peasants.
For once Hollywood didn't flinch and captured the essence of the brutality of that immoral, imperialist war in movies like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon.

It was surprising then for all of us to watch the story unfold, and to learn the names bin Laden and Al Quaeda. The close connections between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family and the fact that most of the hijackers were Saudis added to the stew.    

Of course a crazy terrorist like bin Laden deserved to be immediately hunted down and dealt with. But delays and ineptitude gave the impression that nobody really wanted to capture bin Laden - that having a cave-living renegade offered the American military industrial complex (Pres. Eisenhower's description) a chance to again pursue the founding U.S. mantra of manifest destiny.

Once again, hundreds of thousands of innocents, Iraqis and Afghanis this time, paid the hungry empire with their lives. Empires never seem to learn, and the empire racked up millions more souls in their karmic debt.
If I liked Billy Joel's music, I'd queue his song "We Didn't Start the Fire" at this point.


On the petty personal level, I almost immediately realized  the paranoia and jingoism fanned by 9/11 would likely mean I'd never visit the U.S. again. And I haven't. Think Maher Arar. My mother is now 88 years old, and I haven't seen her in a decade, and I'll probably never see her alive again. She will be buried in Canada, though, in St. John's Anglican Cemetery in her native Ancaster, Ontario.
Fires and empires be damned!

Monday, 5 September 2011

contesting "acknowledged initiator of haibun in English" claim in new "World Haiku Review"

The new issue of World Haiku Review has an intriguing article on haibun and Basho - Basho's Journey: a Rumination" (Part One)
by Jamie Edgecombe

The announcement for this issue, forwarded as a Haiku Canada newsflash, follows my screed.

This is an interesting article on Basho, and of interest regarding the overwhelming modern adoption of this ancient form by English language poets. But I beg to pick a bone or two with the author and his quote that David Cobb's haibun, Spring Voyage, published in 1997, is the "acknowledged initiator of haibun in modern English".

Please visit my blog posting of May 15, 2011, and refer to my article:
haibun as memoir, historical document, and sacred biography" (Eel Pie Dharma)

Several Canadian haijin, including myself, lay much earlier claims to being the "acknowledged initiators of haibun in modern English". My own haibun/memoir, Eel Pie Dharma, was published by Unfinished Monument Press in 1990, seven year's before David Cobb's work.

My blog post describes two even earlier haibun by Canadian haijin, including Paris, by Jack Cain in the 1960s (!) and Ribs of Dragonfly, by Rod Willmot in 1984. By comparison with Canadian haijin, Cobb comes across as a Johnny-come-lately to the creation of English language haibun.

I suspect Edgecombe is a Brit, and as such, he wishes to steal the thunder of petty Canadian colonial haijin and lay claim to the honour for his fellow countrymen  :  )

But this is BS. My webmaster, Weed, published Eel Pie Dharma online a decade ago, where it has been read by tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of readers. Is it petty for poets to claim first rights - to assert our creativity over later, lesser poets who mine the claims we have already staked?  Of course haibun is first and foremost a highly spiritual literary form, so should we really care who wrote what first and led to haibuns widespread popularity (some might accurately now say it's grossly over popularization)?

But I'm still pissed off at this literary usurpation. Using pseudo-academic terms and references doesn't  justify literary claim jumping. Get your facts straight, man! 

peace and poetry power!
Chris Faiers/cricket
Canadian haijin since 1968

visit the following site for a list of haibun & publication dates:


Begin forwarded message:

From: Haiku Canada Newsletter <>
Date: September 3, 2011 8:36:21 AM EDT
Subject: HC Newsflash

31 August 2011

Re: New Issue of World Haiku Review is now online: August 2011 Issue

The World Haiku Club is pleased to announce that the August 2011 Issue of World Haiku Review is now online. Click on:

Rohini, our Technical Editor, is continuing her noble and arduous task of retrieving and rescuing poems, articles, treatises, reports, contributions etc. of the past World Haiku Review issues 2001 - 2007, which got tragically lost in mysterious circumstances. Her first effort is focused on saving, recovering and rescuing only. She will then gradually sort them out and give them shape. If you happen to come across any of these invaluable items of the past WHR issues, by all means let us know.

We start a new feature which is to introduce some works by our own editors under the title: From the Desk of the WHR Editors. This is designed to provide a two-way sharing of works between our readers and ourselves, a very common practice in Japanese haiku magazines.

The following poets, please take a look at this new issue to find your poems:
Riitta Rossilahti, Bruce Ross, Felice Vinci, Natsumi kosuge, André Surridge, Priscilla Lignori, Marie Shimane, Alan S. Bridges, shanna moore, Victor P. Gendrano, Kai Falkman, Dawn Bruce, GILLENA COX, Steve Addiss, Winona Baker, Minal Sarosh, Dawn Bruce, Owen Bullock, Howard Lee Kilby, Surendra Munshi, William Hart, Claire Gardien, Carolanne Reynolds


We do hope that you will enjoy this issue of World Haiku Review.


Susumu Takiguchi

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Prayer/meditation circle held at ZenRiver/haibun

Last Tuesday, Aug. 30, Janice Chrysler of Mindful Journey brought her area prayer circle to ZenRiver Gardens for their weekly evening session.

Dr. John and I prepared a bonfire by the Jimi Hendrix tree stand to welcome the group, and their small cavalcade arrived on schedule at 7 pm. I threw some dry juniper branches onto the fire, which shot flames many feet into the air to welcome our visitors.

Janice had her circle enter thru the cedar twig entranceway, draped in prayer flags. About 11 women from our greater area attended, with guests from Marmora and township, Campbellford, Havelock, and Madoc. After introductions Janice smudged everyone who wished to participate.

every head bows
below the low-hanging
prayer flags

Dr. John and I had also lit tea candles and placed them on the sacred rock face, so everyone enjoyed their flickerings while admiring the natural rock clefts and man-made paintings on our small version of the nearby First Nations Petroglyphs.

old Malibu Buddha
broken sunglasses reflecting
tiny flames

Janice is a natural leader, or perhaps more accurately, a master facilitator. She intuitively understood that the visitors would wish to explore the gardens, so after a brief prayer, she asked me to lead a tour.

We followed the meandering trails thru the sumac labyrinth, and I also showed everyone the shaman shack with its mandala and sacred paintings. I did my usual jokey tour of the 10 X 10 foot shack, describing in detail the various 'rooms' - the kitchen, the bedroom, the study, and the altar.

Everyone then wandered me thru the labyrinth. The sumacs have begun reddening for fall, and I've let them grow much higher in the past several years, so they now tower over our heads. I pointed out the trail thru the sacred cedar grove to the flat rocks and the upriver pond, and several of the ladies found their way there. The late afternoon sun glinted on the mineral veins twisting amid the ground-down layer of what geologists have explained are the very roots of an ancient mountain range, once as high as the Himalayas.

Janice had given everyone 'free range' time to explore and meditate. Some visitors practiced moving meditation on the sumac trails, while others found personal power spots and sat quietly meditating or reflecting by the Upper Moira River and on the shaman shack deck. It's interesting how people gravitate to the same power spots at ZenRiver.

visitor sitting
by the blue heron's
fishing hole 

Eventually Janice began gently beating her drum, the call to gather at the picnic tables on the west lawn of the shaman shack. Janice gave a nice introductory prayer for our group meditation, and then she led  us thru a beautifully poetic prelude to group meditation. First were the grounding instructions, imagining our feet growing roots down to a beautiful huge ruby at the center of our planet.

One by one Janice changed the crystals and their colours to match the progress of our kundalini climb up the chakras of our spine, from the base to the crowns of our heads. Her descriptively poetic journey was helpful and unuobtrusive, and soon everyone was in a very relaxed, spiritual and meditative state.

People began drumming gently, following their personal heartbeats and breathing rhythms. It was a powerful experience to be sitting at dusk in this circle of empowered people, safe, united in a common spiritual bond experiencing and sharing spiritual energy with the beings on our planet.  

Mohawk Warrior flag
unfurls in the wind 

Time lost all meaning, until eventually I heard Janice's voice gently saying my name. Janice then led a group discussion of recent spiritual experiences. She told how a friend had fallen and hit his head while walking his dog, and that the injury had become life threatening. Janice said she went into a deep meditation while her friend was being operated on, and that she encountered his spirit on the astral plane (these are my terms, not necessarily Janice's). Her friend was in limbo between life and death in this realm, and having a hard time deciding whether to live or die. Janice told him this crucial choice was his of course, and that if he chose to live, that he should make every effort to recognize his wife when he came out of the medically-induced coma. As the brain injury had worsened, eventually he hadn't been able to recognize the people closest to him. When he came out of the operation, his wife was holding his hand,  he looked up at her, and winked!

Another woman commented that she felt a powerful presence of the Elemental realm at ZenRiver. I explained that positive elementals are both encouraged to visit and reside at ZRG. Last year our neighbour, Warren Fraser, accidentally captured in a photograph a brazen little leprechaun strolling amidst the sumacs!

beneath our feet
the crystal toes
of the Shield

After sharing our spiritual anecdotes, Janice led the group in several chants and songs. Then she had us form a circle and hold hands. Janice is a reiki master, and everone could sense the energizing power coursing thru our prayer circle, hand to hand, person to person, spirit to spirit. People spoke the names of friends and family and acquaintances in need of healing, and the group focused its energy on these people.

By now it was pitch dark, and a hatching of late summer mosquitoes hurried everyone on their way home. The evening had been magickal and communally spiritual. Dr. John and I again hovered by the waning bonfire, casting on the last of the dry junipers, shooting brilliant light towards the heavens as a farewell to our guests.

dried juniper branches
shoot flames of welcome
and goodnight