Monday, December 28, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
With all this talk basically asserting that the literary novel is in a crisis I have come to the conclusion that what the form offers that few if any forms of art can is 'intimacy'. I have gravitated in recent years to books like Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy partly because, like the main character, I am a middle-aged man experiencing middle-age-manhood. But more because Ford is a master at creating a bubble of intimacy between writer and reader. Reading these books one has the sense that we have entered the protagonist's authentic world, the inner-sanctum of his selfhood. In a world in which the celebrity-driven media is all-intrusive, a world in which basic human interaction is so heavily mediated by technology, the screen, the phone, and so forth, the literary novel can exist as a counterbalance. It has to do with the quality of the medium and mode of consumption ('curling up with a good book') which may be characterized as 'quiet' and 'revealing' in nature. There are a lot of experiences that were once the purview of books that films can now, and will in the future, do as well if not better than books in the realm of bombast and spectacle; generate thrills, suspense and horror, carry us to distant or imagined lands, fabricate alternative realities etc. But because it is fundamentally a flattening medium, film does not (and will never) convey the subtle complexities and depth of what it means (in thought, feeling and spirit) to be another person. The question for the future of the novel will ultimately rest on how much we value achieving that level of genuine personal human connection.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
to public stares
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
until the word comes:
at a national cemetery in Gettysburg PA
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
And the virtual hammerlock that historical fiction seems to have on our country’s literary imagination is problematic to me, not so much because there’s anything wrong with historical fiction per se, but because of what the genre’s stranglehold on our literature implies about our present situation. The fact that so few stories are written about the way we live now suggests that there is nothing of value worth writing about in today’s society: no drama, no earth-shaking conflicts, no cultural upheavals or societal paradigm shifts that might provide worthy material for fiction.
I don't think the ascendency of historical fiction implies anything about the value of the here and now as subject matter. But it does say a lot more: About the 'professionalization' of creative writing, the displacement of experience by research, which is at the heart of academic training etc. About how conservative readers have become, and by extension publishers (who always look for safe/cost-effective bets.) Beattie hints at the 'perils' of getting the present wrong, which suggests a kind of cowardice on the part of our novelists too. He's on to something. But I would go a step further. There is a difference between re-telling a story already told, one that has been amply sifted through the filter of time and perspective, and creating one on the fly. It's the difference between following a script (allowing room for a certain amount of interpretation) and all out, no holds barred improv.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
The main, and more substantial narrative, is voiced by Daniel, an obsessive-compulsive engaged in a Marxist medical research project (you'll have to read the book to understand what that means) and whose cousin Sara's girlfriend has published a children's book about lesbian turtles that some groups are fighting to ban. Daniel is caught up in his own thoughts and anxieties, working in dead-end jobs, and ensconced in the dark basement of a university library perusing medical journals. A description of Daniel's job washing the floors of a car parkade yields a sampling of Demers's gift for apt, spicy description: "You might think that every oil stain or wad of discarded gum ground into molecular bond with the pavement through the pressures of time and the wheels of SUVs would bear its own unique imprint, each an urban snowflake in a postmodern, post-climate winterscape, say. No."
Only Sara's son Robeson, whom Daniel babysits, seems to bring him out of himself (his shell). The bond between Daniel, who lost his mother to illness when he was a child, and Robeson, who has an abundance of mothers, is a touching one. The choice to name a small white boy after Paul Robeson - a mountain of a black man, a man's man, an accomplished athlete, intellectual and artist, one of the last century's great renaissance figures - telegraphs Demers's desire to explore themes of racism, homophobia, the mind-body problem, art vs. politics and censorship among others. But it's the portrait he paints of Vancouver's rich ethnic cosmopolitanism that is memorable, as typified by Daniel's relationship with a 6'4" turban-wearing Sikh named Baljinder or 'Bo' with whom he smokes weed, goes to comedy clubs and stargazes.
The recent novel this one most reminds me of is Andy Brown's The Mole Chronicles. I don't think it's coincidental that both Brown and Demers have Montreal-Vancouver pedigrees - the former is Vancouver-born and now lives in La Belle Province, while the latter is a Vancouverite who has his roots in Quebec. Nor is it happenstance that both their novels are published by Insomniac. Like many first novels The Prescription Errors suffers from being overly ambitious and dense. Firsttime novelists are typically in a major rush to say what they have to say, and they pile it all into too narrow a container. Demers doesn't quite manage to balance the Ty and Daniel sides of the narrative equation, and his multiple thematic strands are foreground when they should be background. Nevertheless, it's enjoyable to watch him try to pull it all together, like a young stand-up performer whose got great material, is rough around the edges when it come to overall execution, but who you know is destined to make his mark.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I'm a fan of David McGimpsey. Anyone who can make poetry out of Gillgan's Island and Hawaii Five-O is okay with me. I always said his cherubic punim belonged in the Canlit pantheon.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
For me a poem
is worked soil
turned and watered
a thousand times over
green profusions pruned
with blunt tools
strangling weeds uprooted
dug out stones cast aside
on a growing pile
sweaty body bending
as praying bodies must
that draw closer to their source
sifting pale fingers squirming
through black earth till
my stiff spine
refuses to straighten up again.
Amid the struggle questions occur:
Does the perfect poem radiate
like a garden in bloom
multi-coloured bands expanding
Or does it zero in
on a single symmetrical flower
a golden bull’s-eye word
the unpronounceable Name
as succinct, precise and encompassing
as the well-aimed arrow-point
embedded in silence?
And how can a tired man
awaken from his cramped cage of bones
to yawn and stretch
at the long, sun-circled day
as it reaches its perfect
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Impeccably crafted lines like this about his protagonist Frank Bascombe: And I can certainly imagine that a millennial standard-bearer might be worth having; a sort of generalisable, meditative, desk-top embodiment of our otherwise unapplauded selves - one who's not so accurately drawn as to cause discomfort, but still recognisable enough to make us feel a bit more visible to ourselves and possibly re-certify us as persuasive characters in our own daily dramas.
He certainly says it better than I did.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Prix d'excellence Louis Rosenberg en études canadiennes juives 2009
The Association for Canadian Jewish Studies is delighted to announce that Professor SEYMOUR MAYNE of Ottawa is the 2009 recipient of the Louis Rosenberg Canadian Jewish Studies Distinguished Service Award. The ACJS is proud to recognize Professor Mayne’s lifetime achievement in literary scholarship, poetry and translation as well as his central role in the founding and directing of the Vered Program in Canadian Jewish Studies at the University of Ottawa. Please see below for more information on Seymour Mayne’s achievements.
The Louis Rosenberg Award was established in 2001 to recognize an individual, group or institution, who has made significant contribution(s) to Canadian Jewish Studies in one or more fields. Professor Mayne joins a distinguished list of writers, scholars and community leaders who have received this award in the past. This list includes Miriam Waddington, Rabbi Gunther Plaut, Ruth Goldbloom, Abraham Arnold, Professor Gerald Tulchinsky, Professor Irving Abella, Cyril Leonoff and Seymour Levitan.
The executive of the ACJS wishes a hearty congratulations to Professor Mayne and looks forward to presenting this award to him on the evening of Sunday May 24, 2009 in Ottawa as part of our annual conference.
Dr. Randal F. SchnoorPresident, Association for Canadian Jewish Studies
Professor Seymour Mayne is one of Jewish Canada’s foremost poets and literary scholars. He has been active for close to four decades as a published poet, and has enjoyed a long and illustrious academic career in the University of Ottawa’s English Department. He is author, editor or translator of more than fifty books and monographs, and his poetry has been widely translated into French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish. Moreover, he has organized countless forums to promote Canadian letters in the Ottawa region, including reading groups, journals, anthologies, and literary events. Professor Mayne has also been instrumental in the promotion of Jewish Canadian Studies. After many years of rallying, he oversaw the establishment of the Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program in 2006. The Vered Program, which was created to promote an understanding of Jewish life, culture, language, literature, and history in a Canadian context, offers an array of interdisciplinary courses in both English and French, as well as a minor. Prof. Mayne continues to serve as the program’s director and most ardent promoter
Thursday, March 26, 2009
And then there's this one. No one's reading the stuff. But at least they're still writing it.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
“Jews at one point were the best boxers in America. Jews were the best mobsters in America. Jews lived in ghettos and were slaughtered because of their race. I dare anybody to separate that from the African American experience.”
Recently, my friend Harold Heft, a Montreal writer living in Toronto, headed down to Manhatten to interview the Jewish-African American novelist Walter Mosley. Gazette readers were treated to a fascinating piece. I hope Harold manages to spin it off and we can read more soon from this encounter with a truly fascinating person of mixed heritage.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
You gave the children cameras
when you saw they had lost
the trail of breadcrumbs in the street
and crumbs were just the world
forever crumbling. You wanted them to know
that a composite of moments
could be shaped by longing into
belonging, and a photograph is a talisman
of light and love.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
A lovely poem, beautiful sentiment for a beloved, missed husband - or is it? Look closely. Now read the story. I guess the last laugh was on John.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
North of the former Yiddish theatre, gate
and railing perform; mimic, pirouette, soar -
black twists of wrought-iron do Hasid horas
to storied heights, they serif-stretch, punctuate
the urban sprawl like ketubbah-script, ornate;
Obscured through white veil of snow, the bridled doors
and porches seem like rows of peddler horses.
The Main is dowry, or else bequeathed estate
immemorial. Here, Abraham Moses
was wedded to his past, imbibed lush doses
from an heirloom kiddush-cup. Ever the proud
bridegroom, and linguistically well-endowed,
he vowed his eternal soul true and loyal
under raised cross-peaked chuppah of Mount-Royal.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The piece below was originally published in September of 2002 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of A.M. Klein's death. It was, in fact, my first attempt at fiction, written in the imagined voice of Klein moments after he completed the manuscript of his novel The Second Scroll (published in 1951) - which would prove to be his last published work before a prolonged silence ending in his death in August 1972. I reproduce the piece as an offering on his centenary. I was quite amazed to see how Farkas in his play picked up many of the themes I touch on in my piece. A testament to how the figure of the poet, his words, and ultimate silence still resonate.
Unwriting Myself: From the Imagined Journal of A.M. Klein
“To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee
And not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever.”
What more is there to say, and where exactly have I arrived? To praise God, is that the only thing to do? Then what of this scroll unrolled, come to an end, a stop, a period – truth be told – an emptiness, a silence. Worse still, a question: Either God is or is not. And not another praise, nor curse, nor word, nor punctuation will suffice to conjure His presence.
Bessie is in the living room typing the last of it. Her tac-tac-tacking behind the wall insults the quiet. It intrudes as a Morse Code of desperation and helplessness, fills the cold night air along Querbes Avenue with the insistent SOSing of a sinking ship. Faces appear out of the bookshelf. I hear the quickly fading cries of ice-filled lungs, tongues swollen stiff. God, when will You arrive to save us? How shall we open our blue lips to sing Your praise?
What praise will do? I brought you music and poetry. Danced before you like King David turning shame to honour in Your name. Debased myself in some eyes, feeling lifted aloft on wings of Divine egolessness. As I write this Jerusalem quakes and the Ark of Your new-old State totters, as it always has. I will not try to right it. Refuse to repeat well-known mistakes. How can I go on stumbling toward Your dream like a biblical ox?
I did Your bidding. Cursed the community its golden calves. Now I am weary, my mind is shattered like Your famous Ten Words. My hiding place has always been the rock, a craggy formation of words. I have seen You pass, the back of Your head. But it is not enough right now. O God reveal Yourself. Show Yourself, full-faced, panim el-panim, let me know the secrets behind the words. Those secrets for which Akiva was martyred, stripped of his skin, layer from layer, his insides become outsides, the outer his inner-being, and he was indistinguishable from meaning itself, from Torah, from pure spirit. His torture was his liberation. You revealed Yourself to my predecessor, that master of letters, and now I ask the same for me. Even as we speak I can feel the parchment of myself peeling away, unscrolling, twisting to the floor.
I must admit that the glory I sought all along was not Yours but mine. The song was for myself, my own edification. The beauty I pursued was an investment on which I expected a respectable return. To see my words make a difference, to hear the hosannahs of my peers, my community. Thus was Your name made profane.
Words are false, even the choicest, sweetest ones, mere illusions, constructions of how we want to appear, the mark we want to leave. But these can not matter. Only You are eternal. You stunned Job into silent awe contrasting the narrow boundaries of his mortal existence with the limitlessness of Creation. Suddenly he realized that the indivisible, unfathomable laws which govern the movements of nature are also sovereign over the individual. Reality is not the content of tiny personal claims. It is a sweeping continuum, undeniable as it is unchangeable, fluid and shifting as tidal consciousness. What are we? Long extinguished stars that appear as luminous traces of our own deaths. The ghost writer is ghost. The poet is landscape.
If life is form then death is content. Could this be Your secret? The one exposed with the great Akiva’s final revelation, his body opening like a many-petaled flower for the morning sun? Every creative act is simultaneously a death sentence. The artist seeks but one thing, the perfect unison of form and content. Enraptured by the sounds, smells, tastes and visions of the world, he delights in his corporeal being. He thinks corporeality equivalent to reality, ultimate being, and thereby idolizes the material. But no incarnation of the material can fuse form with content in an unending embrace of humankind and Divinity. Only in the denial of the material, of materiality and corporeality, can essence surface like a submerged bathescope. Only in the liquid buoyancy of transparent selflessness can the pure self rise to You in wholeness.
And so every word I write and ever wrote is leaden, sinking – an ombrous stain, every letter, a shadow footprint on a snowy page. I have espoused, opined, editorialized, rhapsodized, mused, debated and analyzed with only one goal in mind; to shape a self, a Somebody. But arguments are a wardrobe for fools. To think that one can create oneself from the costumes of idea and utterance. At their best, words are amusements, avoidances, diversions from the singular truth. These repulsive skins I have grown must go, must be shed. These disguises of selfhood I’ve spent a lifetime concocting and justifying with cleverness and craft must be effaced. There is only one question, one formulation, one equation:
Either God is
or is not.
I am not God.
The bureau is swept clean. Two erasers sit on the corner like pebbles on a hardly visited headstone. There is also a tea cup and saucer. Below the cup’s rim, a thin golden line, like a horizon. Fingers reach for the handle's seraphic curl, a letter flourish, an ear’s outer curve. The hand and cup do not meet. They are held in time and space between being and not being. And this is where God sees fit to leave them. Suspended in grace.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
You are invited to meet
ARLEEN SOLOMON ROTCHIN
Who will sign copies of
Thursday February 26, 2009
219 Royal Poinciana Way
Via Testa #3
Palm Beach Florida 33480
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Sample: There is something deeply trivial about golf that is unseemly for Jews, who have traditionally been accustomed to taking themselves seriously. Whacking away at a little ball, hoping, at the end of four hours' effort, to arrive at the finish a stroke or two fewer than the previous time one wasted a morning at this game—no, no, no, I'm sorry, but this is all wrong for Jews. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers didn't undergo pogroms and the struggle to evade conscription in the tsar's army to come to America for their descendants to put on peach-colored pants, spiked Nike shoes and chemises Lacoste to appear on the first tee promptly at 8 a.m. A Jew should be studying, arguing, thinking, working, making money, contemplating why God has put him through so many trials. A phrase like "dogleg to the left" should never pass his lips. If Madoff's depredations will bring a few Jews in off the links, perhaps that is not entirely a bad thing.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Some pictures recently discovered of the legendary Israeli rock band Churchills (also known as 'The Churchills'). They are of interest (to me and my kin at least) because the cute guy in the middle with longish hair is my uncle Stan Solomon, who's recently come back 'home' to Montreal after spending most of his life Stateside. Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies I remember receiving records (vinyl) in the mail from Israel that had been either performed, written and/or produced by Uncle Stan. Of course, the significance of these recordings completely escaped me at the time. What did I know from Israel, or music for that matter, I was six or seven. Uncle Stan's stint with Churchills (and Israel) were shortlived, though even as he went on to illustrious careers in the shmatta business and then as an art dealer in Florida, he maintained producing, recording and musical management activities on the side with aspiring young bands. For years, the old Churchills records gathered dust in a cardboard box. I only became aware of the gold I was harbouring when, in 1990 I was in Israel and wandered into a Tel-Aviv record store called HaOzen HaShlishi (The Third Ear). I was greeted by huge posters of my uncle and his bandmates wallpapering the inside featuring a photo from the Churchills debut album in which my uncle flatteringly appears in his underwear. I asked the manager why the display? He answered that the eponymous album had just been 'rediscovered' as a lost classic and one of Israel's most important albums. It had just been re-issued in CD format. Of course I bought a half dozen copies to bring home and distribute among family. When I told the store manager that Stan was my uncle and I had an original copy of the album he offered me twenty-five CDs in exchange. Turns out that the vinyl is a much sought-after rarity fetching significant sums among collectors. Now, the news from Israel via two of uncle Stan's former bandmates (Florida-based Rob Huxley who also played with the legendary British band The Tornadoes, and Israeli Miki Gavrielov, who went on to a major solo career, Churchills guitarist and bassist respectively,) that a small reunion tour scheduled for the fall 2009 is set. Uncle Stan is already warming up his vocal chords. He'll need to work hard. Besides the three decade hiatus, warming up anything this week when Montreal is expecting temps of -25 will be tough.