Saturday, January 31, 2009

A murder of crows?

I've always disliked that particular collective noun. But then, that might be because I like crows. For one thing, they're smart. For another, they're always so nice and shiny.

I've been trying to think of a better name for a group of them. When I see crows near a garbage bin, I think a plunder might suit them. But then, hearing a huge number of them, as in the video below (shades of The Birds), I consider the word cacophony. A cacophony of crows -- it even sounds cacophonous. But since crows aren't always loud, that might be nearly as unfair as murder. How about a riddle of crows?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I don't think they get it

And by 'it' I mean poverty or even living on the edge. By 'they' I mean Canada's Conservative Party.

I listened to Jim Flaherty's presentation of the budget. It covered a number of issues the Conservatives don't always seem to address -- employment insurance, social housing, and even plans for tax relief on home renovations. I also heard them talk about developing high-speed Internet access as an aspect of building infrastructure.

So what were some of their ideas that seemed like their heads were in the clouds?

I think they're naive in thinking that very many first-time home buyers will be helped by being allowed to withdraw $25,000 from their RRSP funds rather than the current $20,000 permitted. Heck, I'm a home-owner and I don't even have (nor never did have) as much as $20k in my RRSP. If you're poor (and I'm not any more), both of those numbers are an impossible amount.

When they talked about tax-relief on home renovations, they had to throw in the idea of building 'a deck' -- not quite the same thing as replacing a furnace that doesn't work any more. Or even better, renovating 'the cottage'. Nice, if you're one of those families who have a cottage. But I'd like to know just what percentage of Canadians that really means. I'm certainly not a part of that bunch -- and of all my many friends, I only know two who qualify.

But the thing I found most interesting was the changes on income tax for the lowest-paid earners. It sounds as if the base amounts will be raised and that basic exemptions will be increased. While I wholeheartedly support these actions, the ineffective part is the fact that these changes will go into effect retroactive only to January 1, 2009.

If they were serious about stimulating the economy now, when it really needs a push-start, they'd make these initiatives take effect January 1, 2008. This would put a bit of extra money in people's pockets almost immediately. To me at least, that's an idea that would make a lot of dollars and sense.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New beginnings

Today feels like a day of new beginnings. It's the first day of the Lunar New Year. This, the Year of the Ox carries the promise of living up to the famous Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Interesting too is the fact that Barack Obama's sign on the Chinese zodiac is Ox. Feels auspicious!

It's also the day our Canadian government gets back down to business, after the too-long hiatus brought about by the proroguing of Parliament.

And on the other side of the world, it's Australia Day That day not only marks the country's birthday, it's the traditional end of summmer. Once the fireworks are over and the pavlovas are eaten, it will be the start of the school year.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prose Poem Workshop

To some, the idea of a 'prose poem' might sound oxymoronic. To those of us who attended Jen Currin's workshop today, we're feeling a lot more convinced of the genre's legitimacy.

Currin led us through a condensed history of the form and offered many fine examples of a range of these works. She also gave several excellent exercises, all of which reinforced concepts she'd helped us discuss.

Participants praised Currin's presentation, with comments on how informative the session with remarks such as 'Awesome!' -- and the one I thought summed up the day the best, 'Much learning happened here.'

As you can see from the photo, besides learning a lot, we had a great time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jen Currin reads in WR

Vancouver poet Jen Currin was the Community Arts Council's first reader for its 2009 series of literary readings.

Besides reading from her two books, The Sleep of Four Cities (Anvil Press) and Hagiography (Coach House), she read a number of works in progress. These pieces, called 'Chronicles' really engaged her listeners.

Currin was gracious enough to answer all the questions posed by the audience and signed many autographs, leaving this Friday night crowd very satisfied.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saved by Obama

At the beginning of his term, Barack Obama has announced that the dreaded prison at Guantanamo will shut down. One of the ramifications of this announcement is that the military tribunal for Omar Khadr will be suspended.
A few things to consider: How many years has Omar Khadr been kept in Guantanamo? He's 22 now, and he's been there since he was 15. He remains the only citizen of a Western country still there. Australia and the U.K. got their nationals out years ago. But not not our Steve Harper.
That landscape we usually see from our beach is Washington state. Often, the fact that border's so close makes me nervous. Today, shrouded in fog, it looks much too far away.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yet another irony

This is supposed to be the day when Hope takes over after too many years of letting ourselves be ruled by Fear. Even this rock down on the beach looks to be in agreement.

Yet today, when so many people are celebrating the cause of freedom and new beginnings, our Canadian government plans to start deporting a number of American soldiers who sought refuge in our midst. These are people who stood up for their principles, who didn't want to do battle in a war they couldn't believe in. Only this Canada of 2009 is sending them back to the U.S.

This despite the fact that Parliament dealt with a motion last June (yes, more than half a year ago) that would allow objectors and resisters to stay here.

Anyone on Facebook might be interested in seeking out the group called 'War Resister Action: Let Them Stay Week'. They've outlined a number of measures we can participate in to show our distaste for this current stance. Truly, I am embarrassed over this lapse in understanding who we are and what Canada has always stood for -- right back to the days of the Underground Railway.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A book for Obama

Today I received a notice listing Barack Obama's favourite books. It was quite a mix, and included a John Steinbeck I'd never even heard of, In Dubious Battle. Also mentioned was the poetry of Derek Walcott, but happiest of all, I think, is the fact that he's read all seven Harry Potter books.

I've got a book I think he would like. It's called 47 and it's all about the meaning of freedom. It's a first-person account of being a slave, but it moves well beyond historical fiction.
That's even the age Obama is, 47.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What were they thinking?

Yesterday’s Vancouver Sun contained a tiny report from the U.K.

“Three retired military officials” were discussing the use of nuclear weapons and, in particular, Britain’s Trident defence system. According to the report, they called the system “… ‘completely useless’ against modern threats.” They were quoted as going on to say that “…it was ‘unthinkable’ that Britain would launch nuclear weapons…” And to that, I thought, ‘Hurrah!’

Unfortunately, their statement didn’t end after the word weapons. It went on to include the rider “…without the support of the U.S.”

Really, how is it that anyone is still even considering the use of nuclear weapons – under any circumstances?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The film, that is. Although yes, there's much that could be said about the concept of doubt itself: the ultimate underminer of self.

Although there were a few glitches (aren't there always) in this version, the portrayal of the nuns felt chillingly accurate. Just as Meryl Streep 's character (Sister Aloysius) does, too many nuns in my life seemed to do their best to make almost everything sinful, especially if it was easy or fun.

Really, they must have stayed up late, collectively working up new sins to dump on our heads, giving us more to lie awake and worry about going to hell over. I remember a few who would have loved Sister Aloysius's aversion to ballpoint pens. I'm sure they'd have backed her up by extolling the obscenity of their in-and-out action. See, they've still got me!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hosers Down Under

Another trip to Australia keeps coming up as food for conversation. And now Tourism Queensland has created a job that sounds like exactly the way to go -- working as caretaker on Hamilton Island on the Barrier Reef. Already, there are thousands of applicants, but that won't stop us from dreaming -- or applying.

Wow, I can see it now...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hungry for spring

It's been bugging me since the new year began -- I'm ready for spring. I can't remember ever being quite so antsy for it. Maybe it's just all that snow we had.

It probably didn't help looking through old photos from Hornby after Billy Little died. Some of them were of springtime there -- buds bursting open on trees, the ground practically tearing itself apart with all the shoots coming up.

So what have I done, but bought myself a few little $1.99 bits of wonder: a hyacinth (with triple blossom no less!), a primula in cheeriest pink, and some magical mini-irises. A little bit of spring in the house on a day that's really still winter.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Jian Jun An

Thursday evening was the Community Arts Council Gallery's opening for January's featured artist, Jian Jun An. That's him below, standing in front of his painting.

Because both of these images depict birds, you might think his paintings are all focused on nature. But in fact, the work is quite diverse in both subject and style; these just happened to be two of my favourites.

Even though there aren't any people in the painting, the piece above makes me think of Andrew Wyeth. Something about the same rolling line of the fields...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Orthodox Christmas

Today is the day when part of the world celebrates Christmas. If you read the article embedded in 'Christmas' you'll see that the Orthodox calendar has other interesting elements to it.

I like their belief that the new year begins on the first of September. That date always feels like a new start somehow. And wouldn't New Year's Eve be much more fun on the warm and still-light evening of August 31st?

So, how will I observe this second chance at Christmas? Probably by taking down the last of the decorations and putting them away for another year, even the little angel who looks as though she's being blinded by the sun.

Thankfully, the snow is finally melting, but here's a link to a poem called 'Snow' -- a cooperative effort, based on contributions from many poets (including me), compiled by Ursula Vaire and the women who run Leaf Press.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Billy Little, 1943-2009

If I'd been able to be on Hornby Island today, I would have been attending a memorial for Billy Little, a one-of-a-kind poet.

No one can deny it -- he lived an eccentric life, one guided by the Muse. He was opposed to war and other military actions and spoke against them with great conviction.

Although he published numerous chapbooks, the only book I know he left us is St. Ink: Selected Poems, published by Capilano University Editions.

Whenever I was on Hornby, I'd run into Billy somewhere -- sometimes at the bookstore, often at the recycling depot, but most usually in amongst folks gathered at the outdoor market. Sadly, like Billy, the market no longer exists, though this photo of it does.

As my friend Lesley reminded me, Billy wore wonderful hats. One of her favourites was a hat that looked like a toucan. Who else but Billy could get away with such gear!

He lived as a poet, down to the final crossed T. And I can only say good on him for outlasting all the medical system's predictions and making it to 2009.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

49 Songs for Obama

Monday the CBC is starting an all-Canadian music search. They're looking for 49 songs representing those of us who live north of the 49th Parallel. The 'winners' will go into a playlist for Obama that will supposedly be presented to him on January 20th, the day he's inaugurated as President of the U.S.

I've got a few ideas for songs I think he'd like, or maybe just ones he should listen to. Some are likely obvious, others maybe not so much.

Neil Young 's "Rockin' in the Free World".

Almost anybody's version of Leonard Cohen's beautiful anthem, "Hallelujah", but preferably Lenny's own or k.d. lang's.

And you couldn't skip the Tragically Hip. Lots of candidates for songs here, but I have to nominate my fave, "Ahead by a Century".

From here on the West Coast, I nominate Wyckham Porteous for "Deep into the Water" -- a place that Obama's certainly stepping.

For fun, the compilation should include Leslie Feist singing "1234".

Think the new Mr. Prez could use a shot of humility? He could try the Barenaked Ladies' "Celebrity". Or for that matter, if he wants to offer a recipe for the economy, how about their "Shopping" song? Or even better, "If I had a million dollars".

If you want to know more -- or better yet, you want to get a vote in, here's a link to the CBC's 49 Songs site.
And if Barack is going to understand Canada better, which songs do you suggest for him?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Polar Bears in White Rock

Yesterday we strolled down the beach to watch the noonday Polar Bear Swim, an annual New Year's Day tradition. Crazy as ever, they made quite a splash!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome to the MMIX, aka twenty-oh-nine

Here we've arrived at the last of the single digit add-ons to the twenty-first century and we still don't seem sure what we're calling this decade.

The 'two-oughts' seems awkward. Nobody says 'ought' anymore. The 'two-ohs' doesn't do it either -- sounds more like something from Roman times. More like CCIX than MMIX.

My vote's for calling this decade the twenty-ohs. And it won't be long (365 days) until we begin the twenty-tens.

But until it's time for wishing a happy new decade, I'll stick with plain old Happy New Year.