Wednesday, September 30, 2009

39 and counting

And no, except in my sister’s case, that hasn’t got anything to do with a birthday.

That’s how many dollars I haven’t spent since I quit buying B.C. lottery tickets at the end of August.

I keep thinking about part of a letter to the editor which ran in The Vancouver Sun earlier this month (September 15th). Although attorney Phil Rankin was addressing the government’s failed promises regarding legal aid, he raised a valid parallel about the way our government has diverted lottery monies from cultural venues and charities -- the very places we were led to believe would be the beneficiaries of those funds. Rankin wrote:

Remember the seven-per-cent legal services tax, which was supposed to be spent on legal aid but was instead taken — by both the Liberals and the NDP — for general revenues? It’s very much like Social Development Minister Rich Coleman’s announcement that charities aren’t entitled to lottery revenue. What hypocrisy. First they take bingo nights away from churches and food banks, promising them lottery revenue; then they deny the charities lottery revenues after addicting the population to gambling to solve their revenue problems.

When even James Moore, the federal Minister of Heritage calls B.C.’s arts cuts “devastating”, you have to know that something is very rotten out here in the West.

Since my earlier posting, a friend and I have started a group on FaceBook – STOP buying BC Lottery Tickets. It's an open group, so you don't even need an invitation to join.

I understand that some artists are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking out against the gaming cuts (especially when they’re involved in groups who were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of those three-year grants the government decided they couldn’t back out of).

However, I can’t help but think we have social responsibilities. I look back to history, and specifically to events in the southern U.S. during the early ’60s.

It was a time when people who weren’t white were blocked from attending many public schools and universities, couldn’t drink out of the same drinking fountains as whites, had to ride in the back of the bus.

Still, many whites believed that such ill-treatment was wrong. Even though they themselves were allowed to attend school wherever they wished, could apply for any job they wanted, experienced no impediments to voting, etc., there were many courageous whites who travelled to the south and stood up to say that segregation laws were wrong. Some of them even died for their beliefs.

Just because we might not be the ones who are suffering (yet) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a stand on behalf of our colleagues whose funding has been cut.

So far, I’ve saved $39 – not enough to change the world, not enough to make a dint in anyone’s disappeared budget. Just ask folks at the Helen Pitt Gallery how much they've had cut from the operating budget of their 35-year-old art space.

But maybe if a bunch of us pooled what we save by not buying lottery tickets, we could assemble an amount that might make a difference.

I'm still trying to figure out ways to fight these dreadful cutbacks. As always, thoughtful comments/suggestions are appreciated.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Must be something in the air...

September is traditionally the month for getting back to work, whether that means school or just plain more thoughtful pursuits. This month has been no exception.

The last week has been filled with events pointing us in the direction of thinking and creating. Specifically, for me, this has meant lots of poetry.

Last week was another event promoting a new collection from Mother Tongue Press, 4 Poets. As one might suspect, the book celebrates the work of four writers, in this case "New BC Poets" -- and it does so in a way that stimulates a deep understanding of their work.

Mona Fertig, editor and conceiver of the series, has given us a book that contains more than just poems. Each author makes a statement on his or her Poetics, provides an interview, lays out draft versions of poems, and even offers a poem in translation.

The event I attended at VPL saw only two of the poets in attendance. And though I regretted not having heard Peter Morin or Al Rempel at earlier events, Daniela Elza and Onjana Yawnghwe gave readings that kept us listening intently.

Daniela, who's doing graduate work in education at SFU, brought along a collaborator for part of her presentation -- a dancer! Su-Lin's performance worked wonderfully with Daniela's words; I can only think of one other time I've seen these two arts mixed so successfully.

But if that event wasn't enough, there was Thursday's reading by four local authors, followed on Sunday by one of Vancouver's most vibrant literary events, Word on the Street.

I was lucky enough to serve as host for an event that featured Evelyn Lau, Russell Thornton, Colin Browne and Vancouver's current Poet Laureate, Brad Cran. The little Poetry Tent was full, with an overflow crowd spilling out onto Library Square. It was great to see such enthusiasm for this genre too many people choose to ignore.

But of all these inspiring events, the sight that meant the most to me was one I saw yesterday -- and naturally, it was one of those times I didn't have my camera. It put the phrase 'word on the street' into action, literally.

A girl was walking down the sidewalk, steadily moving forward, but with her head bent to an open book. Now, that's being engrossed by the power of the written word!

Friday, September 25, 2009

An evening of short readings

Our Community Arts Council reading series kicked off its new season with an evening of short readings by four local authors.

When I introduced Vaughan Chapman, I teased her a bit, as she almost always wins the door prize at these events -- thus, she 'won the prize' and got to read first (and wasn't allowed to enter the draw). The poems she read were memory-based, placed in the context of family. Geographically, the poems were very much of the prairies. One of the images I loved was from her 'Pea Poem' -- "...fruit hard as teeth coming through."

Vaughan was followed by Virginia Gillespie, who read poems based in the Four Corners area of the U.S. (the juncture of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah). She transported us, not only with her words, but with her lovely and clear singing voice. She also supplied me with a line I'd like to adopt as my new mantra, "Free me from this erratic pace." Oh, yes!

Following these two poets, we switched gears and moved on to Ian Lauder who read from his post-Arthurian novel, Elfindale. The book follows Lauder's take on the apprenticeship of Morgan LeFay to Merlin. Lauder extolled us to reach for a state he calls 'lightness of being' and suggested that to attain it we "...develop our androgynous psyche."

The evening closed with Cristy Watson, who usually serves as bookseller at our series, reading poems old and new. One of the chapbooks she read from, DNA, was fresh off the presses that afternoon! Watson, a survivor of breast cancer, has a series of no-nonsense poems about her experience. Most enthralling (to me, at least) was a piece about Icarus, only with the focus on his flight instead of his crash. "Who wouldn't seek to climb the moon?"

Watson's poem goes on with the line, "The sheer magnitude of futures sprawled before him..." and so, I suspect, does the future for these writers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wake-up Call

Even though today isn't quite the first day of autumn, it felt like a day of moving forward. That feeling might have something to do with today's Global Wake-up Call to Climate Change.

I've been reading a pretty chillling book, Forty Signs of Rain. It's the first in a trilogy called Science in the Capital, a series that's been called 'hard science' fiction because it relies on (and utilizes) so much current research. The author, Kim Stanley Robinson, speaks knowledgably about the climate crisis. Here's an interview if you'd like to hear some of what he has to say.

I was part of a group who met in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. It was a beautiful day, and while it was great to see friends (and strangers), the part that made me happiest was the fact that our local event had been organized by Caitlyn, a local young person -- not one of the usual middlin'-to-older sorts who generally take on such projects.

Yes, Virginia, there is hope for the world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terrible symmetry

1 - 3 - 1.

One hundred and thirty-one.

That’s 20 more dead soldiers since the last time I wrote about the rising toll in Afghanistan.

And now it’s reported that the most recent victim, Pte. Jonathan Couturier, apparently considered the mission ‘a bit useless’.

It’s seeming that more people are finally questioning Canada’s actions in Afghanistan. Recent statements from Senator Colin Kenny compare the mission’s futility to the war in Vietnam. Robert Fowler, the Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped earlier this year, has also expressed doubts.

The promised date for withdrawal, 2011, seems just too far away.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Celebrating the Arts with The Grapes of Wrath

Even though our government doesn’t seem to value the arts, I still do. Saturday night saw a group of us heading over to our local Legion hall for a concert by the most recent incarnation of that great Canadian band, The Grapes of Wrath.

For a band made up of only two guys these days, Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane made a helluva sound and a whole lot of terrific music.

I’d gone to the event expecting good harmonies, but hadn’t realized just how well these two voices work together. Live concerts sometimes prove the power of the studio mix, but not with these guys. Sure they were singing their two parts, but there were songs where I was hearing at least three-point-five harmony. Besides learning harmonies from Simon and Garfunkel, a duo they admitted listening to, I wondered who else their early influences were – The Turtles? Seals and Crofts?

Beatles fan that I will always be, I especially loved their George Harrison tributes, their own composition as well as their cover of Here Comes the Sun. The strumming was right, the plucking of individual notes – even the right foot raised in that slow-kick clunky dance step George did. Sigh.

I bought their CD and am glad that I did. So, not only do I celebrate the arts, I support ’em. Hope you’re doing the same.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A grey day in Vancouver

People who don't live in the Lower Mainland of B.C. might laugh at that subject header and ask, "Isn't it always?"

But today was grey in ways that went well beyond the weather.

A noontime protest outside the Vancouver Art Gallery saw artists and friends of the arts gather to protest the deep cuts our government has made to this culturally important sector. As part of the action, we all tried to wear grey -- to portray the drabness of a world without art.

We stood in the misty drizzle and listened to speakers explain the depth of the cuts. They also urged us to promise solidarity as we look to convince our government to stop the cuts to arts funding.

The actions the B.C. Liberals have taken are unprecedented and not all in keeping with what other provinces are doing. The rest of the country seems to understand the importance of the arts -- not only for their cultural contributions, but for the financial returns they bring to the economy.

The trek home meant a ride on the recently opened Canada Line, a new step in the area's transit infrastructure. Because so much of the route is underground, even this leg of the trip home was the uniform grey of concrete tunnels. Oddly, even the stations where the train stops are blandly grey (though I suppose they are referred to as 'taupe'), as if we're all practising for a world that really will be the grey shades of a world without art.

More to come on this, you can be sure.

Monday, September 07, 2009

End-of-summer traditions

Besides the tradition of going to the PNE, going out for an end-of-summer lunch date is another. The day's been coolish, so big bowls of Udon soup were the order of the day.

After that, an end-of-summer stroll on the beach. With the tide out, it felt quietly private, even though there were plenty of kite-flyers, skimboarders, dog-walkers and puddle-waders.

No sadness over the season changing -- besides, I know it really won't happen for another two weeks.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A much better than fair day at the fair

The fair in question, the PNE, would stand up to the test of anyone's notion of a state fair. it's an event with its roots in the traditional agricultural fair, only it's grown far beyond farm displays. Still, there are plenty of critters as well as displays of mushrooms and honey and other B.C. produce.

We spent most of the day there, starting with a big band performance by Dal Richards and his group. Dal's looking and sounding pretty great, especially for a guy who's going on 92.

Besides the big band experience, we took in a group of performers who go by the slightly pretentious title, Celtic Legends. This overly broad name makes them difficult to track down, still the building was packed and I wasn't the only one who seemed enthralled by their presentation. The musicians were top-notch, and I have to admit the sound of that fiddle stirs something in my blood. I wonder if my Irish grandfather has anything to do with that. And the dancers were maybe even more impressive -- with their straight backs and free-as-marionette legs, their stomping was really quite the thrill.

I'll admit I still miss the car show that was such a long-standing tradition, the demo derby. This year's replacement, 'On the Edge' was completely lame. To make matters worse, 'climax' points in the show were punctuated by the eruption of huge flames. These not only emitted a huge blast of heat, the stench from whatever fuel was used was horrid -- and strong enough that many very little children were instinctively reacting by covering their noses and mouths. So much for the fair's 'green' brags.

Much more fun, and in keeping with our traditions here in B.C. was the revived (albeit on a smaller scale) lumberman's show. Log-rolling, axe-throwing, speed-sawing and more. This is a tradition I really hope they'll decide to retain. In fact, it might be an excellent installation in the B.C. pavilion apparently still being planned for February's Olympic extravaganza.

Eating, of course, was one of the reasons we went to the fair. There's so much to choose from, you can't try even the tiniest portion of what's available. The soft ice cream (intentionally soft) might have been the highlight for me. Not something I know how to whip up at home, especially not with that curly swirl!

Of course, there's so much to see just wandering around the midway, considering the merits of various rides, and just plain people-watching.

The evening's free concert was the Gipsy Kings, and there must have been thousands crowded into the viewing areas. Big screen video made it easier for those of us in the back to see. Great sounds to round out a memorable day.