Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sudden book launch

And no, that doesn't mean this was an unplanned launch. It refers to the title of Elizabeth Bachinsky's new book, Home of Sudden Service (Nightwood Editions). This meant a new page for the poetry series at Maple Ridge's ACT, as usually it's Liz who's doing the hosting, not the reading.

Among the poems she read was the beautiful, "Pack" with its opening stanzas:

We learned to sell ourselves early in life. Got badges
for good sales and how to sew. The deft among us praised
for the perfect square knot, we chanted, feverishly
fumbling, Right over left, left over right and under . . .

Polite, our socks yanked tight up under our knees,
we made vows to the Queen. We really meant them.
Our secret hand signals, our hierarchy,
we were like the Freemasons, only smaller.

I love the simple, naive honesty of a line like 'We really meant them.'

Bachinsky is a terrific reader, serious enough about performing her poems that she's taken vocal instruction. It shows. When she dropped her voice into the chant, 'Right over left...' you could almost see the furrowed brow of an earnest nine-year-old.

But she writes about more than the world of nine-year-olds. She's got either a heck of a memory or an even better imagination, because man, she's got the teen angst thing down perfectly, complete with hormones. Consider this, describing her lustful plans for boys:

(from "At Fifteen")
. . . They are so polished
beneath their shirts and jeans.
They are so lean, penises
rearing, eager, impatient as ponies.

This poem, dedicated to Irving Layton, makes me think Layton must must be hovering somewhere nearby, chortling lecherously at these lines.

The night was rounded out by an opening performance from the always-entertaining Lyle Neff. The Vancouver poet, who's always seemed to want to be thought of as a bit of a bad boy, has mellowed with fatherhood. For one thing, it's made him look at death differently.

He riffed his way through a batch of poems from his latest collection, Bizarre Winery Tragedy (Anvil Press). When he came to the close of a piece called "Think of Teeth," he offered this bit of self-criticism "a bit precious at the end." To which I say, "No, Lyle. The words simply complete the piece."

And to close this piece, I offer an uncharacteristic portrait of Neff -- on his knees. I'm not sure if he was begging Liz for an autograph, or was simply in ready-set position for the long race back to the city.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Today is supposed to be a birthday party

But it's not. Today's the day my friend Pattie should be celebrating. A number she'd probably just refer to as being 'older than dirt.'

Only she isn't having a party. Still, I remember her. Here's a poem I wrote for her. It was in a beautiful chapbook called Chickweed, produced at St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan in October of 1999. Holly of Four Corner Books might even still have a copy or two. Here's the poem:

"Wind Chime Woman"
(for Pattie Cropas)

the wind chimes remind me
of you on lonesome nights

how many did we spend together
banishing demons or men for each other

laughing or crying on my porch or yours
mostly over cheques that bounced or never arrived

so why didn't you phone instead of going to that hotel
then sitting it out alone for three more tormented days

and how did you ever get yourself so many pills so many colours
you knew they'd wait til afternoon to open the door and find you

that they'd do your room last let you sleep in as long as you could
how they maids all loved you worried you tipped more than you should

I need to kid myself pretend you were wearing your soft turquoise robe
that your hair was arranged just how you wanted it to look

and for once I hear no pounding nails or cutting lawns or
too fast trucks driving down this narrow street of ours

just the storm blowing strong
through the wind chimes

And I can't help remembering the bill collector who phoned a couple of weeks after she was gone. I told the person that no, Pattie wouldn't be making a payment, even though there was an amount that was overdue. I told the person that someone I'd known and loved had eaten all those pills because she knew she couldn't pay her bills.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Weird dates

Here it is again, March 19th. Three years since George Dubya decided to play his dirty little games in Iraq. I should have been able to call the date when this would begin, based on dates significant in my dad's life.

Joe (or JB as we called him) was born on a day that seemed innocent enough, December 7th. Only then in 1941, that day took on a new significance: the raid on Pearl Harbor. And of course, that meant one thing to the Americans -- the time had come for them to enter the war.

Later on, once he was home from flying big bombers over Africa and Italy, I came along and he married my mom. What day would that have been? September 11th. No further explanation required.

So in 2003, when GWB was tossing around his WMD crapola, I figured he'd start his attack on February 28th. Why? Because that's the date my dad died. It seemed to go along with all the other weird significant dates in his life.

So when that date came and passed, I almost thought all those peace prayers and marches had worked. That maybe it wouldn't happen after all.

But as we all know, that hope disappeared. And wouldn't you know it, whose feast day is celebrated today? Who else, but JB's namesake, St. Joseph.

Maybe by next year February 28th will take on a new significance. I'd like to think it could be the day when there's a declaration of peace. That would somehow close this odd little circle of weird dates for me. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Is 'Lost' losin' it?

When Lost first crashed its way onto Wednesday night TV, it felt a lot like Survivor -- but with a great script.

As Jack triaged his way through the chaos of the beach, he established himself as a leader. And the combination of the rest of the characters clicked right into place. Kate's strength, Sayid's technical skills, even Sawyer's smarmy survivalist charm. There was poor, strung-out Charlie. And craggy-faced John Locke, who got up from a wheelchair and turned into Wilderness-Knowledge-Man. Heck, there was even Claire, close-to-busting pregnant.

Flashbacks gave us back-stories, fleshing out the players, filling us in on who they'd been in their pre-island lives. These helped us understand what was going on. Helped us see why Michael and Walt were so strained with each other. Showed us who Jin-Soo had been. Explained things we needed to know. Even Hurley (as if he needed fleshing out) had his secrets.

Each week drew me in further. Radio distress calls, the out-of-place Ethan, a set of mysterious numbers, the French woman with her jungle hideout. More and more, the show was taking on elements of X-Files.

And every week, like some tropical buffet, the show set out more surprises. The one that caught me out most was Sun-Kwon's revelation. Still, the basic story seemed one of survival and hope for rescue, right down to building a raft.

So what's been its undoing? The underground chamber, though an element that's drastically altered the islanders' world, seems to have also been its Pandora's box.

Since its opening, things have been in decline -- and not just in the predicament of the characters.

This season has been a hodgepodge of repeats and reruns, frustrating for someone who's watched it from the start. I guess it's all part of network pandering to lure a new set of viewers. Just last month, instead of a new show, they played the 2-hour pilot. This trying to 'catch up' a new audience feels insulting to those of us who've been loyal.

Six Feet Under started out with a small but loyal following. But they didn't flip-flop back and forth, trying to please everybody. They called it Season One and then went on.

The only new show that's aired these last few weeks (and yes, I know, there was competition from that audience-grabber, the Olympics) was one that focused on Claire. And her flashbacks didn't even go back pre-island.

But that's no excuse for last night's show being yet another repeat. These days, there's even a comic strip that seems cheesed over Lost. Ever-nerdy Monty has been stumbling around on the island, and looking very lost.

It's time for the show to get back on track with some new episodes (there is one scheduled for next week, so fingers crossed). That, or bring in the rescue boats. Just please, do something soon.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Celebrating Freedom to Read Week

Last week was Freedom to Read Week.

On Saturday, I was part of a group of readers celebrating this event. Besides making me think about the freedom to read, I couldn't help thinking about the freedom to write. So here I go, writing about our event. By the way, that's Liz Bachinsky and her partner, Blake Smith. The people up at the top are Bob, Kasey, and Janet. There's more about all of them as you scroll down. Go ahead and exercise your freedom to read on!

Our celebration offered snippets from books that had been banned or challenged. It also featured "outrageously priced and outrageously sweet" Danishes. And no, these weren't cartoons. These were the real thing, complete with cherries and blueberries.

Author Marion Quednau, who organized the evening, read from the recently-challenged Three Wishes. Written by the well-respected Canadian author, Deborah Ellis, this book presents remarks from Palestinian and Israeli children. They offer their views on how the ongoing conflict has affected their lives. Yet the York (Ontario) District School Board has decided this book is 'inappropriate' reading.

Quednau also read work by the Hungarian writer, George Faludy. His poem, 'Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine' reminds us how fragile freedom can be.

Hearing the Faludy poem reminded me of the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam. His wife, Nadezhda, went so far as to memorize his poems, as she feared his work might become 'disappeared.' Imagine, keeping someone's work safe by storing it in your mind.

Poet Liz Bachinsky read a poem by bill bissett. He's the poet who drew the wrath of Les Wedman, then Member of Parliament. Wedman railed against bissett's writing and tried to make a case against the Canada Council. After all, it uses taxpayers' money to support the arts.

Liz later read (along with Kasey Kieler) from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Kasey also read from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, as did poet Bob Martens. Janet Vickers, yet another poet, read from D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. She also read a poem by Pablo Neruda.

Because I used to work in the Surrey School District, I read from two picture books that were deemed unsuitable by that school board. The two I read from were Asha's Mums and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads. It probably sounds crazy to think of picture books as any kind of threat, especially as the books seem to do a good job of promoting tolerance of differences -- an attitude that is among the goals of the province's primary curriculum.

But apparently in Surrey, tolerance of differences doesn't always apply, especially if 'different' happens to mean gay. The Board has spent a million dollars trying to keep three little books away from children's eyes.

Other artists whose works were read included J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Munsch. All of them have had work challenged or banned.

It was more than twenty years ago that George Faludy spent time in British Columbia. During that visit, Alan Twigg of BC Bookworld talked with him. Faludy's closing words are as powerful now as they were then: "Poetry, freedom. It is like air. You know you must have it only when it is taken away from you." You're even free to read the whole interview here.