Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Celebrating young writers & artists in Montreal tonight

Tonight at the Jewish Public Library several hundred Montreal-area young writers, musicians and artists (grades 7-12) will be fêted at the 25th annual publication of the Firstfruits anthology. Firstfruits is an incredible program, encouraging creativity in high-school kids (and hopefully getting them away from the tv and computer screen, except of course, to write poetry, essays or stories.) I've enjoyed an almost twenty year association with this program which was founded by visionary (and National Post editorialist) Barbara Kay. Tonight, I have the privilege of acting as MC as the kids are called up to accept prizes and read from their works. I'm especially excited to hear the evening's guest speakers Nancy Marelli and Simon Dardick, co-publisher's of Véhicule Press, one of the best independent publishers in Canada. It's been a particularly good week for Véhicule whose books have won a couple of prestigious awards.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kind words for A Dream of Birds

From Bywords

A Dream of Birds by Seymour Mayne and B. Glen Rotchin, illustrated by Sharon Katz.

Reviewed by Megan McGrath.

So agile in their expressions of birds, Seymour Mayne and B. Glen Rotchin pluck the most beautiful words to associate with our feathered friends. A Dream of Birds is a collection of word sonnets so lyrical and humorous, poignant and elegant, thoughtful and sad. Mayne and Rotchin's word sonnets play off each other in easy dialogue, comparing birds to musical notes, speech, angels, and women. In "Fire," Rotchin proclaims the birth of a cardinal from a log's flame. Mayne inserts a quaint "Canadian-ness" in his mention of birds perched on maples in "Day Off." In the title poem, Rotchin stretches beyond birds but the connection remains. A truly beautiful collection, these word sonnets are the perfect conversation between two gifted poets, illustrated boldly by Sharon Katz.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Maxwell Bodenheim

Memorial Day in the States seems like a good day to draw your attention to the forgotten American bohemian poet and novelist Maxwell Bodenheim on his birthday. With thanks to The Writer's Almanac.
Milton Klonsky once recalled being in a bar in Greenwich Village in the early 1950s and suddenly hearing the owner and many of the drinkers shouting and jeering at someone. When Klonsky turned to see what was happening he noticed "a tall, glum, scraggly, hawknosed, long-haired, itchy-looking, no doubt pickled, fuming and oozing, Bowery-type specimen" standing near the door. People were calling to him to read a poem or even make up one on the spot. The man turned and glared at them and wrapped his "old dung-coloured horse blanket of a patched overcoat" around him in a way that reminded Klonsky of Marc Antony drawing his toga to him as he faced the Roman mob. And then he said "Pimps! Patriots ! Racetrack touts !" in a contemptuous voice, and swept out of the bar. It was, as Klonsky said, the kind of exit that stays in the mind, and it gave the victim of the sneers of the crowd a kind of nobility.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Testing my blog PH balance

Well, if you are one of the dozen folks who regularly reads this blog you may have figured out that the last entry was strictly a test. I couldn't care less about Paris Hilton. A colleague in my office who fancies himself a maven on all things computer and internet said that if I mentioned PH it would send visits through the roof. I told him he was full of crap but decided to test out his theory for 24 hours as a lark. He was wrong. The number of visits have reversed. The mention of PH has begun to suck interest out of my blog like the black hole that she is. So for those of you who may have abandoned me because I posted on PH, I didn't mean it, please come back!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paris burger

Is there any difference between Paris Hilton and a cheap rubber sex doll?

No wonder I was always so bad in math

In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.

Inability to focus. Attraction to other things. Mind-wandering. Love of the world. The desire to drink it all in. It's all the same to me. Well, I may be pushing it. But this NYTimes piece raises some interesting questions, not just about the aging brain, but the nature of wisdom and the way it's been so completely undervalued in our day and age. We live in an information age. Which means that the ability to assemble and parse data, categorize, sift, mathematicize and monetize has gain ascendency over more ephemeral, intangible and experiential forms of information. We have devalued and undervalued wisdom. Shunted aside our elders. Taken the short view over the long. Either ditched the repositories of human experience completely -the sacred texts and ancient myths and traditions that make up our civilizations - or chosen to fiercely embrace them in superficial (read: literal) and dangerously fundamentalist ways. It's a perilsome and, in fact, dehumanizing enterprise. Yes, religious fundamentalism is a product of our technocratic, information age.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

If you happen to be in Ottawa tonight... (sixth in a series)

If you missed us on Ottawa radio, catch us live and in person! I'll be reading with Clayton Bailey and Glen Dresser at Collected Works bookstore at 7:30 pm, 1242 Wellington St. (at Holland). Come for the thrills, the entertainment, the intellectual stimulation, and if not, apparently they make a mean cup of java.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Things so good on Chabanel product is being tossed from windows

Reports of the demise of the garment industry on Chabanel are vastly exaggerated. Garmentos aren't throwing themselves out of windows. But if you were at the annual end-of-season Matt & Nat sale at 225 Chabanel you would have seen purses and handbags being launched from the building and being 'saved' (and fought over) by the crowd of gawkers below. I don't know much about Matt & Nat except that my wife and daughters instantly begin a Pavlovian drool at the mere mention of their product.

Canada Reads... and now so does English Montreal!

Organized by the venerable QWF (Quebec Writers Federation), they're calling it Schmoozapalooza for some reason. Looks like fun and even if you can't make it to hear these writers championing the works of other writers, visit the website to read the works in question. They're all worth your time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On radio

If you happen to be in Ottawa or want to stream Ottawa radio, my Vehicule Press stablemate Clayton Bailey and I are scheduled to be on the "Literary Landscape" show with host Jane Crosier at 6:30 pm. this evening, tune in to CKCU 93.1 FM.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Preoccupied With My Father

A little book by Toronto lawyer and self-taught painter Simon Schneiderman. It's a tribute to his father Yoel who survived several personal and global tragedies in his ninety plus years, including unimagineable family losses. The format is unusual and lovely, hardcover and compact with beautifully reproduced paintings. The art is colourfully textured in the naive-style, sometimes reminiscent of Chagall's dreamy shtetl paintings, at other times suggestive of the savage characterist George Grosz. Each page of the book features an image from Yoel's life opposite a page of only a few words. It's a book that can be read in ten minutes or savoured and read over and over again. My interest in the book was initially less literary than personal. I knew Yoel Schneiderman. I was a 24 year old working at the Jewish Public Library organizing lectures and readings. Mr. Schneiderman was my most stalwart patron. An angular man with high cheek bones and thin expressive eyes (Simon's portrait is remarkable) he would attend, without fail, virtual all of the library's programs, whether they were lectures by esteemed university professors or open mic poetry readings, whether they were in French, English, Yiddish, or Russian, whether the weather was clear and sunny or minus 20 and the streets were blanketed in two inches of ice. I knew nothing about him, save his name (he called me Mister Rothchild and spoke to me with a certain respect that, given my youth and his age, I considered comical). If there were two people in an audience (which happened more than I'd like to admit) one would be Mr. Schneiderman, and when he was missing, it had to be serious (As it turned out one time it was, he was mugged in the street.) This book is a loving, moving tribute but even more it's a testament to one ordinary, unassuming man's quiet courage and the enduring power of the human spirit.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beaufort, the film

This is my first post in May. It's been a busy month, what can I say. And actually I haven't been that inspired to post and never wanted to post for the sake of posting like some people, going on and on about nothing... wait a second... I think that's exactly what I'm doing, dammit.
Anyway, I will report on one thing, the film Beaufort which my wife and I saw last night as part of Montreal's Israeli filmfest. It was nominated for the best foreign language Academy Award this year. We'd both really liked the novel by Ron Leshem (he also co-wrote the screenplay). We both agreed that the film was disappointing. It may have something to do with that old standby about films not matching up to the books on which they're based. At least the film doesn't completely suffer from Israelo-cinemitis, a disease of Israeli films which renders them universally second-rate with symptoms including earnestness, cliches, a certain technical amateurishness and the need to always make a political statement. This movie escapes most of those flaws, I say 'most' because the politics are unavoidably there - it's a story about the final days of the occupation of Southern Lebanon, after all - and there are some cliches. But perhaps the film's greatest break with the past of Israeli cinema are the technical achievements. The cinematography, choice of camera-angles are superb and the soundtrack/soundscape is absolutely hyptonic. Most of this would have been lost if the movie'd been experienced on DVD (unless you have state of the art home theatre equipment at home, which we don't.) The cinematographer succeeded in making the Crusader castle where the story is set feel unbearably claustrophobic, with an ominous ambient hum echoing through the tunnels of the fortress. Beaufort felt like the derelict spaceship aimlessly floating through space in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien and the young soldiers enduring regular Hezbollah surprise attacks seemed analogous to the crew being stalked by a lethal, unseen and unkillable extraterrestial enemy. It's a pretty neat analogy that's pulled off quite well. But it's also the film's downfall because it's formulaic and made the film (unlike the novel) feel somewhat one dimensional. As the suspense fomula goes, you sit on the edge of your seat for ninety minutes waiting for each person to meet their untimely demise in increasingly gruesome and surprising fashion. Another problem with the film, unlike the book, is that there isn't enough character development to let you care for the soldiers, and in particular the protagonist, the young commander Liraz Liberti. I'm not sure if the problem here was the script or the acting, but I'm tending toward blaming the acting. There simply wasn't enough depth to the performance of Oshri Cohen. The young Israeli star Ohad Knoller who plays bomb-dismantler Ziv commands every scene he's in unlike Cohen. Too bad he only appears in the first third of the film. You can guess what happens to him. If Knoller had played Liraz I think it would have been a richer, more rewarding experience.