Friday, February 27, 2009

Palm Beach Signing of ZOO by Arleen Solomon Rotchin

Photo from the successful Palm Beach signing of ZOO at Tanya Pierce. Surrounded by assorted happy customers, the author is at the lower right with my fashionably multi-coloured sister-in-law Pascale in the centre sitting on her lap.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

One more offering

[This sonnet first appeared in 1999 to mark the 90th anniversary of Klein's birth. The central metaphor is a wedding, since Klein's poetic entreprise and his modus operandi was to marry two worlds; the traditional and the modern, English and French, Jewish and Gentile, the Holyland and the Diaspora, Jerusalem and Montreal.]


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

Offering at the altar

We went to see Endre Farkas's Haunted House, his biographical play about A.M. Klein. It's worth seeing. The set is particularly good and the actor playing Klein very strong. Pat Donnelly got it right in The Gazette. But there are a couple of important omissions, one inexplicable; Klein's two sons are shown, Sandor and Colman, but not his daughter who tragically committed suicide.

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

August 1950

“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.
God is.
And so
I am

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

Happy 100th A.M. Klein

Two milestones today. No, Valentine's Day is not one of them. Birthdays. First it's my father's 81st birthday. If, within the next twenty-four hours, you've somehow managed to learn how to surf the net and stumble upon my blog dad, let me wish you a very happy birthday. I'm sorry I can't be in Florida celebrating with you. Anyway, I'll be calling later on as usual.

Second, it's the birthday of someone I've always considered a literary grandfather, the late great Montreal poet and novelist Abraham Moses Klein. My friend and fellow Klein-disciple Harold Heft (who wrote his PhD dissertation on Klein) has written a nice commemorative piece in today's Gazette. Also, nice that Harold slipped in mention of the Klein tribute poetry anthology I co-edited with Seymour Mayne (pictured) on the occasion of the poet's 90th birthday. As Heft mentions, it may not have the PR of Robbie Burn's Day, but Klein's centenary is being commemorated, including this upcoming event organized by the University of Ottawa (as part of the Tree Reading Series) on February 24th, and the staging of Montreal poet Endre Farkas's play Haunted House based on Klein's life and works at The Segal Centre for the Performing Arts. So have some haggis, no make that some gefilte fish, in celebration of the day. Incidentally, of the portrait by Ernst Neumann which Klein did not like much, the subject wrote, "had its geography correct but its climate all wrong."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book signing for ZOO

In case you happen to be slumming it in Palm Beach in the next couple of weeks. You can read my blurb here:

You are invited to meet
Who will sign copies of
her debut novel

Thursday February 26, 2009
Tanya Pierce
219 Royal Poinciana Way
Via Testa #3
Palm Beach Florida 33480

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Closer to Home in Globe and Mail Web edition

Terrence Byrnes' wonderful book of author portraits, which I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, was featured in The Globe and Mail's web edition this weekend. My pic (above) is part of the slideshow which includes shots of Anne Carson, David McGimpsey, Rawi Hage, Heather O'Neill and Yann Martel among others. Terry was kind enough to make a blow-up print for me which now hangs framed in my study. I love it. It's an evocative shot and oddly, very personally revealing, with me standing amid a massive complicated spaghetti-tangle of heating pipes and pumps in the basement furnace room of 99 Chabanel, my stiff body and head appearing as part of the plumbing.