Friday, December 28, 2012

Pure Irie: Pelican Bar

I've been searching far and wide for a bamboo bar perched above tropical waters and I finally found it with the help of a trusty guide, Kanute. It lies just off the southern coast of Jamaica between Black River and Treasure Beach. Floyde, a local fisherman, dreamed up the idea about twelve years ago and then had to rebuild in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan wiped out the original. Thank Jah he did.

Pelican Bar stands on a shallow sandbank about half a kilometer from shore and gets its name from the great flocks of pelicans that hang out there. Kanute, an Abbott and Costello fan, ferried us in his skiff, "Why You Ask," from Billy's Bay in Treasure Beach about forty-five minutes away.

Along the way we passed a pod of dolphins lazily breaking the surface like floppy tires under the blazing sun. Once at the bar we tucked in for a plate of delicious curried lobster and a couple of Red Stripe stubbies. Pure irie was achieved by all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Design To Kill: Guns

Guns kill. Pencils write. No imbecile could use a gun to write a letter and if he tried to kill someone with a pencil, he might inflict a slow demise by lead poisoning. As any designer knows, the way something is made will determine its use. I can't eat breakfast with a pencil and a gun won't mow my lawn. The gun is a tool specifically designed to kill. That this seems obvious is all the more painful in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, yet the old ruse, "people kill, not guns," continues to obfuscate. As George Orwell wrote, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."
("The Knotted Gun" - Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, United Nations, NYC)
Is the U.S. capable of opening its eyes wide enough to tackle gun violence? Or will the N.R.A. continue to hold it hostage with dreamtime fantasies?   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Celebration Rock: 12 From 2012

This has been a great year for music. Yuko and I drove to Coachella in April to experience Radiohead and Tupac's hologram; we saw Lucinda Williams at the Bowery Ballroom in New York and the Knights at the historic Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, then Public Enemy in Brooklyn's Wingate Park...back to Edmonton for The Tallest Man on Earth with the phenomenal Strand of Oaks supporting; then Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney....and we're ending the year on a high note in Jamaica following some crazy riddims. Here are 12 of my fave tunes from the year:

1. Japandroids: "The House That Heaven Built"

2. First Aid Kit: "Emmylou"

3. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: "Only In My Dreams"

4. Alabama Shakes: "Hold On"

5. Grizzly Bear: "Yet Again"

6. A.C. Newman: "I'm Not Talking"

7. Kishi Bashi: "Manchester"

8. Rufus Wainwright: "Montauk"

9. Grimes: "Genesis"

10. Low Cut Connie: "Boozophilia"

11. Leonard Cohen: "Going Home"

12: Himanshu: "Womyn"


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beneath The Surface: A Telling Silence

Minus twenty degrees in creaky-cold Edmonton...another reason to look back to the West Coast. Here's one of mine from a few years ago that was published in The Antigonish Review:
Beneath The Surface

Shadows rub against the surface
of the lake like ghosts at a window.
They move towards me on the
shore - tangles of orange, black, flashes
of red. A rubbery mouth yawns from
the depths groping for a mayfly or the soft
belly of wet bread. A frog pops from the
mud; dragonflies veer left and right.
The wind is silent in its telling.

I close my eyes and feel
a breeze through my veins stretching
into a gale. I remember days blind
as a Vancouver weather
forecast, English Bay, slow
coffee - faces at a window.
(photo by Yewco)

Friday, December 07, 2012

K-Tel: Tinsel And Trash

This is the time of year when I get nostalgic for the tinsel and trash of my childhood holidays. Christmas was when the K-Tel schmaltz factory would infiltrate my cartoon afternoons with commercials hawking the "hits" from the likes of Mac Davis, Mouth & MacNeal and Donny Osmond...

But for my seventh Yuletide I caught the buzz from another K-Tel classic compilation: Superstars! The year was 1974. I was in grade two at HT Thrift in South Surrey and I was ready to rock to the sounds of BTO, Paper Lace and...The Three Degrees. I begged my parents for the album, declared that I was going to be a "rockstar," and on that magical morning when I ripped open the tinsel trash *voila!* Superstars awaited.      

It wasn't until years later, after my double album and my collection of 8-tracks had disappeared, that I learned K-Tel was a Canadian company founded by Philip Kives, a native of Saskatchewan. K-Tel got started in the late 60s with blockbusters like Twenty-five Polka Greats, which, according to their website, "sold a million and a half in Canada and [sic] USA."

Those were much simpler times, indeed.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eden Robinson: Nuyem

The Haisla concept of nuyem, or the handing down of protocols, suggests a universal pursuit common to all centers of cultural production. In the case of Eden Robinson, it refers to the customs of the Haisla from the Kitamaat territory of B.C.'s northern coast. Nearby Kitimat also happens to be the area where the Enbridge Pipeline Project wants to set up shop.

Protocols can take on many different forms and lurk beneath the most innocuous of intentions. Enbridge and the Harper government suggest the pipeline will be a boon to the economy and transform Canada for the better. The so-called benefits will create a legacy that will sustain future generations. As for any local protocols, however, only the strong can survive. In The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols and Modern Storytelling, Robinson provides a response:
“As clear and complete as we want this discussion of our nuyem to be, it is important to recognize that the Old People realized that some things cannot be shared. This was and remains a way of preserving our culture. In times past, it was recognized that whatever the missionaries knew about our culture, they tried to suppress. The less they knew, the safer our traditions remained. Nowadays, we simply realize that there are aspects of our traditional perspective and values that non-Haislas would never be able to understand.”
(Roy Henry Vickers)
This strategy of exclusion, one limited to the Haisla community and those close to it, is seen as essential for their survival. Any "Canadian" protocols, such as those advocated by Harper or Enbridge, are simply neoliberal economic assumptions - other forms of cultural imperialism - masquerading as national virtues. For me, someone sympathetic to the Haisla nuyem but outside their community, I wonder how any strategy that concludes the "other" is beyond understanding is sustainable in the long run. As Robinson realizes after taking her mother on a trip to Graceland:
“You should not go to Graceland without an Elvis fan. It’s like Christmas without kids – you lose that sense of wonder...In each story was everything she valued and loved and wanted me to remember and carry with me. This is nusa."
This "nusa," this way of teaching, is a conversation I want to be a part of, yet I know that history stands in the way. Can it be undone?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

High Life: Macca In Edmonton

"Let's go, let's go
Down to Junior's Farm where I wanna lay low
Low life, high life, oh let's go!" ~ Junior's Farm
I knew we were in for a good night the moment Sir Paul hit the stage dressed in an iconic collarless suit with red-piping while clutching his 1963 Höfner bass in his left hand.  No Beatle boots, alas - just a pair of sneakers. Times change.

As the woman in front of us leapt to her feet waiving her neon-yellow sign exclaiming, "I've Waited 50 Years To Meet You!" the band kicked into "Magical Mystery Tour." The temperature may have been an icy -16°C outside, but inside it was just right.

Highlights included jubilant romps through "All My Loving," "Band on the Run," "Back in the USSR," as well as tributes to Jimi Hendrix (a "Foxy Lady" jam), John Lennon ("A Day In The Life/Give Peace a Chance") and George Harrison ("Something" on ukelele).

(Back in the USSR)
The first Beatles album I owned was Let It Be and to this day George's blistering solo on the title track still feels like pure euphoria and guitarist Rusty Anderson nailed it. The pyrotechnics on "Live and Let Die" were so intense we felt the heat in our seats and when the Edmonton Police Pipe Band joined Macca for "Mull of Kintyre" I didn't know if I should weep or wail.

For the first encore Paul invited a fan onstage to grant her her wish - an autograph on her torso for "the only tattoo her father would allow" before the band launched into "Day Tripper" and "Get Back."

The evening finally finshed over three hours later with Paul, Rusty and Brian Ray trading riffs on the classic medley from Abbey Road: "Golden Slumbers/ Carry That Weight / The End":
"And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make"
Not too bad for a 70-year-old Beatle in suspenders.

It was McCartney's first time in Edmonton and the city rolled out the red carpet with Mayor Stephen Mandel making an official proclamation in honour of his visit. The "On The Run" tour wraps up in Edmonton with its second show Thursday.

Set List

Magical Mystery Tour
Junior's Farm
All My Loving
Got to Get You Into My Life
Sing The Changes
The Night Before
Let Me Roll It / Foxy Lady
Paperback Writer
The Long & Winding Road
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
My Valentine
Maybe I'm Amazed
I've Just Seen A Face
And I Love Her
Here Today (For John)
Dance Tonight
Mrs. Vandebilt
Eleanor Rigby
Something (For George)
Band on the Run
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Back in the USSR
I've Got A Feeling
A Day In The Life / Give Peace a Chance
Let It Be
Live & Let Die
Hey Jude


Lady Madonna
Day Tripper (Paul signs a woman's torso for her future tattoo)
Get Back

Encore 2

Mull of Kintyre (w/ Edmonton Police Pipe Band)
Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End

Friday, November 23, 2012

W.B. Yeats: Lapis Lazuli

Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. ~ "The Circus Animals' Desertion"
What can be said for art in a world of market values? Why pursue the muse when she's courting Wall Street? Yeats would have called me hysterical for even contemplating such questions. There's no worth in the while; time or money buy nothing in the rag and bone shop of the heart. When all clamoring and climbing is cast aside, life finds itself in the act of creation. Only those gripped by the mundane panic of routine fail to notice the transfiguring power of art, the supreme vitality of song to heal the wounds of a blast.

(Olivier De Sagazan, Transfiguration 8)
Yeats wrote "Lapis Lazuli" as the Nazis were pursuing the black arithmetic of a "Final Solution" and Europe was courting destruction. In the crucible between depression and war, when everyone weighs the purpose of a poem against the force of a rocket launcher, Yeats answered the critics and uncovered a piece of eternity in a carved stone of lapis lazuli.  

             Lapis Lazuli (1938)

I HAVE heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.

All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop-scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stages,
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
On their own feet they came, or On shipboard,
Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilisations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus,
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again,
And those that build them again are gay.

Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.

Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,                                 
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Golden Voice: Leonard Cohen In Edmonton

"I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice" ~ Tower of Song
Leonard Cohen knows how to celebrate the sacred and profane - with elegance and style. Last night he gave it all, including three encores. I've never seen the man live before, but after his gorgeous 3.5 hour performance at Edmonton's Rexall Place I've renewed my membership in the "Broken Church of Leonard" with a profound sense of gratitude and fulfillment.

Throughout the evening Leonard bowed, kneeled and often doffed his fedora after one of his bandmates executed yet another soulful solo. He thanked the crowd at least three times, expressed his gratitude for being back in his homeland (Canada!), and literally came skipping back to stage for the encores. Not bad for a 78-year-old "lazy bastard living in a suit."

"Sisters of Mercy" was especially poignant as he explained it was written here "in a hotel next to the North Saskatchewan" in 1966. His band was smooth and supple, modulating gracefully with the different mood each song required, and the crowd, made up of mostly balding, greyheads - we were among the youngest - lapped it up.

First Set

Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
Who by Fire Darkness
Ain't No Cure for Love
Come Healing
In My Secret Life
A Thousand Kisses Deep (Recitation)

Second Set

Tower of Song
Sisters of Mercy
Waiting for the Miracle
Heart with No Companion
If It Be Your Will (performed by the Webb Sisters)
Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson)
I'm Your Man
Take This Waltz

Encore 1

So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

Encore 2

Famous Blue Raincoat
Going Home
Closing Time

Encore 3

I Tried to Leave You
Save the Last Dance for Me

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Masquerade Of Universality: Rousseau

“I perceive God everywhere in His works. I sense Him in me; I see Him all around me.” ~ from Émile
Jean-Jacques Rousseau makes it all sound so decent and reasonable. His advocacy for a social contract that emphasizes a "common good" based on mutually recognizing a "common self" in others sounds ideal. It's essentially the golden rule - love your neighbor. Yet there remains an insidious paradox at the bleeding heart of this version of liberalism. It leaves little or no room for differentiation, for disagreement or particularity. Any form of dissent - any attempt to recognize difference - is heresy. As Charles Taylor has written, Rousseau conjures a particularism masquerading as a universal.

I encountered this inanity while living in Hong Kong. Despite the banal fact that foreigners differ in many ways from local Hong Kong citizens, any attempt at accommodation (ie: decrees or laws prohibiting racism) was seen as an unfair advantage bestowed upon a minority. If everyone is equal there can't be room for difference; racism doesn't really exist when Rousseau's quaint illusion of universality is to be maintained.

To be fair, "citizen" for Rousseau was fundamentally different than "human." A contract was a necessary evil needed to regulate citizens governed in a society of laws. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, the problem with Rousseau is that society is made up of a plurality of humans and not a singular human collective. Rousseau made the mistake of suggesting that the plural can be substituted with the singular. The notion of "common good" is therefore nothing more than a particular viewpoint imposed on a plurality by a powerful elite. It's no wonder David Hume concluded Rousseau was "plainly mad, after having long been maddish."    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winter Or A River: Edmonton, Sometimes

Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river. ~ Pablo Neruda
These are days when breath rises from beneath the snow. Life has gone underground. The rabbit tracks in the front yard confirm the transition. I relish the morning chill curled in our sheets, while the sky unloads another blanket.

Adjusting for the weather, I take on my surroundings the way a snow leopard mirrors the elements. There's a bridge and my shoulder blades arch up; a path and my fingers curl into paws. When a yellowy light foams across the horizon, my bones crack into branches. 

I can't promise more than what the day brings. Edmonton is like that, sometimes.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Defeat Trumps Victory: The Death Of A Con

Since the election on Tuesday, I've been celebrating the defeat of Willard Mitt Romney. I can't bring myself to celebrate Obama's victory. Sure, I can appreciate the difference his reelection will make in the lives of millions with regards to basic healthcare, pay equity, marriage equality and choice. I can also feel smug he was reelected by a majority that resembled the diversity of my own country. But the overwhelming pleasure has been witnessing Romney, Rove, Adelson, Trump, Ailes, and all the other cretins of angry, whitefogeyAmerica get a swift kick in the teeth. That they're still reeling is an absolute delight.

Now reports are emerging that the Romney campaign was getting so high on its own supply that it began to believe its own con, even going so far as publishing a "transition" website (see above) on election day. Whoops. The bubble the Republicans have been inhabiting is a ghoulish wonderland, full of phantasms and hookah-smoking specters who vaporize any semblance of truth.

It's always a great day when the dark side succumbs. But it's especially sweet when a turd blossom like Karl Rove gets stomped despite his billion dollar pie.

So for me, defeat trumps victory. I celebrate the revenge of the 47++ percent - Lord Vader and his cretins have been vanquished by the "help."

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Obama: The Best Of The Worst

Four years ago today, I was convinced that Barack Obama had to win the US presidency and was ecstatic when he did. As a Canadian, my main concerns were US foreign policy and international law. Obama had pledged to shut Guantanamo, seek dialogue with old adversaries, roll back the perpetual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and address climate change. His victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago was the culminating moment of a long struggle to reclaim the American project back from the dark forces represented by that two-headed hellpanda, McCain/Palin.

New possibilities and new intensities were being revealed that evening. It was a celebration of Kant's "true enthusiasm...directed exclusively towards the ideal, particularly towards that which is purely moral." Out of Obama's victory emerged a preview of what was to come during the Arab Spring and Occupy movements and what Alain Badiou refers to in The Rebirth of History as the "inexistent of the world":
"The inexistent has risen. That is why we refer to uprising: people were lying down, submissive; they are getting up, picking themselves up, rising up. This rising is the rising of existence itself: the poor have not become rich; people who were unarmed are not now armed, and so forth. Basically, nothing has changed. What has occurred is restitution of the existence of the inexistent, conditional upon what I call an event."
Such events open up new possibilities and contain elements of "prescriptive universalities" in which the entire world can recognize itself.

Then change turned rancid. Obama took his mandate and elided it with what had come before. He not only reneged on the core pledges I care about, he forged a bipartisan normalization and legitimization on issues related to war and national security. The long list involves prosecuting whistle-blowers, criminalizing WikiLeaks, extending the Patriot Act and conducting an illegal war in Libya and very likely Yemen. Obama's victory also silenced the critics that had been vociferous under Bush-Cheney. As Matt Stoller argues in "The Progressive Case Against Obama":
"Under Obama, because there is now no one making the anti-torture argument, Americans have become more tolerant of torture, drones, war and authoritarianism in general. The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama. As a candidate, Obama promised a whole slew of civil liberties protections, lying the whole time. Obama has successfully organized the left part of the Democratic Party into a force that had rhetorically opposed war and civil liberties violations, but now cheerleads a weakened America too frightened to put Osama bin Laden on trial. We must fight this thuggish political culture Bush popularized, and Obama solidified in place."
If that's the best US democracy can deliver, then something has to change. The best of the worst still stinks.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ondaatje, Carson & Nietzsche: Ressentiment

("Friedrich Nietzsche" by Edvard Munch, 1906)
Both Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Anne Carson’s "The Glass Essay" push poetry into new articulations in order to liberate content from old conventions. It's possible to read these works as expressions of what Friedrich Nietzsche refers to On the Genealogy of Morality as “ressentiment.” This is essentially an active or kinetic reaction to a repressive paradigm, or in this case, expectations about what constitutes “poem” or “poetry.” As Nietzsche writes:
The beginning of the slaves’ revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who, being denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge.
Ondaatje and Carson’s poems embody the aesthetics of a slave revolt, or a rejection of the status quo. But rather than turn inwards and dwell on “imaginary revenge,” they harness the imagination to create new alternatives. Both long poems can be read as an assault on the conventions of orthodox verse, a ressentiment against any suffocating paradigms that prevent new forms from emerging.

Ondaatje does something truly remarkable – he allows the reader to inhabit Billy's skin and see the world through this wild outlaw’s eyes. The mental and physical worlds of William “Billy the Kid” Bonney pierce the consciousness like a knife into flesh. Here's Billy observing a lover in his room:
traces the thin bones on me
turns toppling slow back to the pillow
Bonney Bonney

I am very still
I take in all the angles of the room
Throughout the poem Billy is imbued with an animal grace. Ondaatje has him sniffing around like a dog, acting on instinct, and seeing/hearing things others can't. These convergences blur the boundaries between species and raise questions about humanity. It's this decentering of the “human” and the emergence of the “animal” that provides the impetus for a ressentiment to reconfigure past orthodoxies.

Anne Carson’s "The Glass Essay" is an extremely personal work that lives up to its name. Like glass, Carson disappears and becomes transparent in the telling of the tale. Nothing is too intimate to be revealed. Here's the narrator describing her desperation for her lover’s affection:
…I found myself

thrusting my little burning red backside like a baboon
at a man who no longer cherished me.
 One of the compelling qualities of "The Glass Essay" is its bold approach to structure and its unique form. It embodies all the essential attributes of narrative prose fiction, non-fiction and poetry. While it looks like poetry and addresses a personal or subjective topic, it's called an “essay” and includes many of the qualities associated with one. It has a thesis, a methodology; it cites other critics and quotes directly from primary sources. The language resembles prose, but it's also infused with flashes of lyrical symbolism and metaphor. By blurring these genres together, Carson demonstrates the power and prolific malleability of poetry/prose. The poem is a prime example of ressentiment striving for new values to articulate an alternate vision of reality that old forms fail to provide.