Thursday, November 30, 2006


No, I haven’t been pulling dandelions. There’s way too much snow. All month, I’ve been sorting my office, trying to make it back into a good writing space instead of a storage catch-all. Part of that has meant sorting books and trying to get rid of some.

In cases where I’ve found doubles, this has been easier, though I admit to still having more than one copy of some of my faves. Why is this? Maybe so I can read with both hands, or in case I want to read in tandem with somebody, aloud? Probably all it means it that I'm some kind of survivalist packrat.

I’m anal enough that most of my books are alpha organized. The authors whose books I have the most of are Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut. Atwood takes up a goodly space too, though her books are distributed over several areas: fiction, poetry, books about books – she even shows up in biography, as I have Rosemary Sullivan’s The Red Shoes. She really is a lot like that story by Mark Jarman, where Atwood is absolutely everywhere.

I’ve discovered that I have more books by people named Moore than with any other surname. There’s Christopher, John, Lisa, Maureen, Michael. Wright takes second place, with L.R. (Bunny), Richard B., Ronald, and Jane Barker.

Do other people have hotspots in their book collections? Inexplicable relationships blooming on the shelf? I love the fact that Eileen Kernaghan is nestled up to Jack Kerouac. She’s always struck me as some kind of secret beatnik.

Stuck beside him as she is, I wonder whether Audrey Thomas would have had terrible arguments with James Thurber. And there’s Grant Buday, leaning up against Jimmy Buffett. What kind of party might it turn into if both of them showed up?

Eden Robinson could come to the party too; she’d be leading Tom Robbins around. Ivan E. Coyote gets to bring Douglas Coupland. Brian Fawcett drives up with Will Ferguson beside him –how would you ever get a word in edgewise? Henry Rollins and Leon Rooke? Who knows, you might want to duck.

Maybe you don’t need to weed or dust to be reminded who’s residing on your shelves. If you spot any interesting combos on yours, let me know.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Less than half a sun

Saturday morning saw the most blazing sun we’d seen in weeks. But since it’s November in the Lower Mainland, it didn’t last for long. Even with the sun obscured by clouds, it was the perfect day for cleaning up all the tree droppings the cedars had left behind after the recent winds.

It felt great to finish off all those final preparations for winter – putting away the hose, spraying the little fruit trees with a dose of dormant spray.

Good thing it all got done, as today the world has changed from autumn to full-blown winter. I'm just glad I don’t have to go anywhere!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Half in the Sun

Thursday evening saw the official launch of this anthology of Mennonite writing. The only disappointing part was that weren’t any ‘squares’ to snack on. My outsider’s view of Mennonites had led me to expect a table full of home-baked goods, even at a reading.

Here’s Elsie, with well-known Vancouver poet, Jeff Derksen, one of the writers who seemed to dig a little for his connections to being Mennonite. Other established authors who read were Andreas Schroeder and Barbara Nickel.

One of highlights for me had to Joe Wiebe, just freshly graduated from UBC’s MFA program (congrats!). Even though he read only a section of his story, I had to go home and read the rest, as I’d been hooked by its taut interplay among old friends. One of the lines I fell in love with was this, a description of a fine Argentine Shiraz: . . . he wants to hold it in his mouth and never swallow.

There’s enough in here to ‘hold in your mouth’ and keep you reading for some long while, even if, like me, you’re no particular kind of believer. Despite their shared background, quite a few of these characters don’t seem too dedicated to religion either. I leave you with this from Deborah Campbell’s, “I Shall Not Want”: He [Grandfather] wants to know if I’ve found a good church and I tell him I have. I don’t tell him it’s the Church of Sleeping in on Sundays, because I don’t want him to stay awake nights, worrying about the fate of my soul.

To this, I can only add, Great – tomorrow’s Sunday.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

'Tis the season

I never thought I’d be one to complain about there being too many readings. And really, I’m not complaining about that – more bemoaning the fact that I can’t get to all of them. Still, here are a few highlights (ones I made it to, and even a couple I missed) from all that’s been going on out here on the very wet coast.

Living as I do in South Surrey, the trip into Vancouver often seems a bit daunting, especially in my poor old Hondie, she of the sometimes-slippery tires. Even though it’s about the same distance, the trip out to the valley always seems easier. Luckily, that’s where bill bissett was reading on the 1st – at UCFV in Abbotsford. During his presentation (with lots of give-and-take conversation with the audience) the position of Poet Laureate came up. The announcement of Canada’s next one should be coming any day now, seeing as Pauline Michel’s posting to that role expired on November 16th.

But if bill isn't appointed as the next Parliamentary Laureate, there’s another similar position coming up, the newly created position of Poet Laureate for Vancouver. Considering bill’s long-time association with Vancouver (as well as the fact that his books are published by Vancouver’s Talonbooks), he seems a natural candidate. I may have to address this further in another entry.

UCFV’s English Department needs congrats for their job of hosting. They even had a ‘hospitality suite’ with refreshments after the reading. Of course, his billness was in attendance there, signing books and CDs, answering questions with his classic bissettian patience.

Monday, November 6th meant that another lower-case speller, rob mclennan, was in town, reading at the Robson Square Bookstore. Sadly, this was an event I couldn't get into town for. You can read about Rob's western tour on his almost-constantly-updated blog.

On Sunday, the 12th, despite the near monsoon rains, a group of happy listeners gathered at the aptly named Monsoon East West Brasserie, where Grant Buday read from his latest novel, Rootbound.
Hyped as a book about growing pot, it's about much more than a misunderstood substance. As with much of Buday's writing, its main focus is a cast of misunderstood characters -- that and of course, his always delicious writing. The book is a romp of a read.

And then there was the much-anticipated event at Pacific Cinémathèque, Heather Haley hosting the annual presentation of videopoetics, See the Voice: Visible Verse. Despite the impressive line-up of 33 videos from Canada, the US, Great Britain, France and Australia, this was another night when the city was just too far away. Really, I have to do better.

Since tonight's the official launch of Ronsdale's anthology of Mennonite writings, Half in the Sun, I reckon this might just be a good night to redeem myself. Hodson Manor at 7pm. Be there and be square.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


On this day last year, I was in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. This is a photo I took outside the arena where the service was held.

A few days ago, I was at the local mall. I was watching a man standing in front of the Remembrance Day display of soldier’s gear. He seemed to be staring at a brown leather jacket. Next to it hung a leather flying helmet with goggles. The jacket, with its sheepskin lining, looked softened up by wear. I approached the man and asked him whether he’d ever had one like it. Yes, he said, I was a pilot.

Oh, I said to him, so was my dad.

Going on quietly, he added, But I was on the other side.

What does ‘side’ come down to after all these years? What does ‘side’ ever really mean? Isn’t war mostly some generals sitting in offices that are far away from danger, while they play with young men’s lives as if they were gambling chips?

We talked a little longer – Afghanistan, Iraq. Wondered whether anyone really knows what’s going on there.

And when we shook hands to go our separate ways, the man and I both said to each other, Have a nice day. And for once, the words sounded so true.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Elliptical circuits

Among the more interesting items in this morning's paper was the announcement of the 'transit of Mercury'. From what I understand, this is essentially an eclipse. From what I know of astrology, a transit of Mercury suggests change.

Then in my emails I found a message from my friend, Jean. She offered a reminder that today is the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I found some odd irony in that fact, especially in light of today’s announcement that Donald Rumsfeld, one of the primary architects of the war in Iraq, has resigned. It felt like maybe it would be a day for change.

Later today I wrote my annual birthday letter to Kurt Vonnegut, a tradition I’ve followed for probably close to twenty years. His b’day, if you can believe it, is Remembrance Day, although I think they call it something else in that country where he lives. Still, it is all about remembering – and commemorating the end of a war they once called the War to End All Wars. Right. If only.

Tonight, I went to a wonderful play at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. A piece by Tim Carlson, called “Diplomacy”. Set in Ottawa (where else, with a title like that?), it reveals the disintegration of a man and his beliefs. Roy, the focal character, is a Vietnam draft dodger who came to Canada in the mid-’60s. Over the course of his career, he’s written a book about Lester Pearson, and distinguished himself as a tenured professor who believes in and teaches peace. Set in the present, it raises questions we need to be asking about what we’re doing in Afghanistan – as well as what’s going on in Iraq or Lebanon or pretty well anyplace else in the Middle East.

Central to the story is remembering. Whether that’s remembering another war that was based in lies (are they all?), or remembering the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves (or for that matter, Norman Morrison, a Quaker who did the same thing).

Carlson’s script leads us from one revelation to the next, and never hits us over the head, even though some of his characters do exactly that. I loved the fact that at the end of the show, people were asking each other, “So, was he a terrorist?” Unresolved was the only ending such a play could have had.

And then, during the long ride home, there was the calming voice of Eleanor Wachtel on the radio. She was talking with the just-announced winner of the Giller Prize, Vincent Lam. He spoke a bit about his background (his parents grew up in Saigon, came to Canada separately during the Vietnam War). He mentioned how as immigrants, his parents had worked at just about every kind of job – short order cook, you know the drill. Only now, how his father is a Canadian diplomat.

A diplomat, a play called “Diplomacy” – sometimes it all just seems to go in such a circle. Remembering the past and, hopefully, learning from it.

The play runs through Remembrance Day, so there's still time to see it. The planet Mercury eclipsed the sun today. Maybe there really is some kind of change on the wind.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Launches and signings and bears, oh my!

Yikes, but it’s time for an update. So many events in the last couple of weeks, but lots of good reading as a result. Consider the following sampler something like a wine-tasting. The great thing is, when you finish, you’ll still be able to drive!

Saturday, October 21st saw the glorious White Rock Library hosting another event – this time two poets, Catherine Greenwood and Steve Noyes.
Both are Brick authors and just happen to be married to each other. They made an interesting combo, as Catherine’s book, The Pearl King, is based in things Japanese, while Steve’s Ghost Country is rooted in China. Here’s Catherine, signing copies for the library’s collection.

On Monday the 23rd, Steve and I took a rather circuitous route (okay, we got lost) to his reading with Wayde Compton at the ACT in Maple Ridge. Here’s Steve with Liz Bachinsky, one of the BC finalists for this year’s Governor General’s Awards.

Someplace in there was Catherine Owen’s launch of Cusp/Detritus: an experiment in alleyways, from Anvil Press. The poems in the book are complemented by black-and-white compositions by photographer, Karen Moe. As part of the launch, Karen performed songs from her CD, Stoic Pharmacy. Her photos lined the walls of the gallery and contributed to the very cool atmosphere.That's the elegant Catherine Owen, with one of her mentors, Joe Rosenblatt, in the foreground.

The month rounded out with a double-header book launch: Jenn Farrell’s Sugarbush & Other Stories and Tanya Chapman’s King. The team of them made for a super-fun event.
Tanya’s story featured plenty of beer drinking; Jenn’s characters’ drug of choice seemed to be pot.

So that’s the month’s round-up of launches and signings, but now you’re wondering, where are the bears? For that, you need to visit Jenn Farrell’s recent contribution to The Tyee. It’s worth the click. And heck, the comments aren’t bad either (hint, hint).