Review of André Alexis's novel Pastoral (Coach House Press)
S'True coolness, at least in Northern Ontario, MexiCanAmerica (a.k.a. BIG MAC). If Vancouver poet, novelist, essayist, exemplary hair-raising hubsand (a.k.a. Mr. Jeanius Baird), lit-lifer, and dear friend George Bowering don't stop snagging a swig of swagga-bragga-dociotica offa me, I am gonna haul off and hug him or something stoopid. "You got daffodils over there yet?" (February jab, the sneaky deke, so to speak.) March? Bowering's e-smirk-sneerkering: "Ontario still there under all that snow? I'd rescue you but I dnt think even my supersnowshoes would make it through that mountain." (Oh, Lard. He thinks I will take that cheap-chirp cheek?)
"What's the story, MorningGlory? Yeppers. Bit rainy today. Basement flooded frm runoff. Spring ritual here, eh? Lilac next in the dryrd bloom. Glad U agree with me concerning the 'specially' in Winnie's 'Musée,' the way it matters in JNLove's 'Concerning Stars, Flowers, Love, Etc.' 'Course, it ain't unusual, once you see it, Son. You dinnit notice it till I told you. 'Fess up! You R using weather to shield yourself from admitting it is all. S'Okay, you can tell me. I know what you did for Al Purdy, eh?
(Final score: 4-4. There ain't no shootouts in poetry . . . yet. Gawd knows, someone prolly will come up with a duel-to-the-dithyrambic death somewhere. Poetry? Don't think so. Score: Dithyrambo goose eggs.)
So much for National Poetry Month, then. So little, actually; but, that's another story, one I quit telling when I read the lines between the lines of the writing on the wall, the brick one, that one you hit licketty-splat despite every affirmation to the contrary laughing all the way to the brink.
Someone explain to me why poetry needs or deserves a special month, specially because we don' celebrate National Fiction Month nor National Creative-Non-Fiction Month nor . . . you get the idea. I don't. I can't see it. Never could. Never understood why literature co-opted the star-maker machinery of the music-bizth industry.
Anyway, I gave up National Poetry Month for Lent. I'm good.
'Sides, the real poetry happening on this continent? The playoffs. I did not see the opening playoffer; but, Carey Baby brought one home for CanMomma. MY HABS blanked BROON GOONS. 'Nuff bled. The Smurfs rise again. I was right about The Chirpster Subban. Nyah-nyah. Heritage Minister of Kutli-Pax, Inc. — Forget the guy's name — Didn't he finger another team for Our Glorious Leader's HarperLand?
Well, looks who's scary, now. If Canada possesses a national hockey team, one deserving that incredibly offensive designation, I'd put my moolah on The Make BeLeafs. Even the owner of the Washington Caps said something along the lines of, Well, of course, Toronto. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS! That's the Vatican of HockeyLand. (I, a HABSIGAL, genuflect and concede the point. Small wonder Leaf Nation flourishes.)
So much poetry, all of it imagined in my head till now because? For the first time since January '95 when I retired from Trawnna, ON (a.k.a. The Big Choke), that megalopolis with one too many peep-squeakers where I got borned, I got to watch a holy game in the fresh on Butch's TV, a little colour number pulling in the myth-match of the regular season, the off-topper non-pareil:
Two O-Sixers, Carey Baby versus The Reiminister, MY HABS versus HIS LAFFS.
"Leafs," stresses he. "If you call the Leafs any names during your maiden visit to the ButchRanch, you have to walk home even though we got here in your truck. I have the keys. Also, if I get a call from one of my girls, you can't come over, either. Don't get too excited. If I can, I am gonna watch the game with a dame more interested in me than hockey. Also, you bring dinner annnnd . . ."
Televisual hockey! Whoa. Fast. Bring the redline back ipso-quicko. The rink surface area? Way too small for the speed of the game. Soften the upper-body armour. Make zero-tolerance the hard fast Rule 48 . . . And, who the hell are those clowns "calling" the game, the play-by-play, wantonly flaunting Danny Gallivaunting it? (Man, they clearly need to attend the Foster Hewitt School of Righteous Indignation and Christly Exultation. Yesterdead.)
Riiiight. What was I thinking, dragging you through my tiny puny life, not e-tapping out literary mash notes to this or that National Poet comme une journo real?
Jones. David Jones. That's what or rather, I ought to keystroke, who. The greatest High-Modernist of 'em all. I am up way past my bled-time writing to dreadline wondering why April ain't National Hockey Month. That makes sense to me. I can handle it.
So could King David. Fought in WWI. Never got laid in his lifetime. Wrote the true masterpiece of the twentieth century. You'll see. Halfway through composing it, shaping and making it, what did he do with the manuscript? He broke it in half to make The Anathemata whole. Christ. The Holy Host. The ritualistic Eucharistic blissness (not bizthness).
See? What bothers me? People say hockey ain't culture. Opera and poetry? Check. Theatre and classical music? Check. Les bleu, blanc, et rouge? SCORED TWICE :), Mate!
If hockey ain't part of our cultural-fabric DNA, then novels, plays, performances, et so forthia? Ain't either. Jones wrote, in "Use & Sign," something along the lines of the difference between culture and civilisation. The former, gratuitous (read: the use-less), balances the latter (the use-ful, that which keeps the turns stiling and them registers ka-chinging). Utterly useless art and culture keep the human in humanity. We need and crave both.
It would be supremely disingenuous to suggest commerce and the economy don't matter. Of course, they do; but, they feed the mind and body, not that something extra we all cherish because it allows for express transport out of this world way too much with us, specially now, specially this morning with the sun hovering above the treeline and the world, never various, beautiful nor new, disappears for that wild peculiarly joyous instant when time stands still, space takes a powder, and you know the difference between real and true.
Hockey, despite the NHL — Gary Buttman, Come-on get-gone, NOW — plus the NHLPA Fehr-Factoring PTB's best attempts to commodify and glamorise our game out of existence, still sparkles in its pristine purity, still provides comfort, solace and, most importantly, engagement. You cannot put a dollar value on its ability to communicate the heart and soul of truth and beauty. It's gratuitous, glorious and, when MY HABS win, magnificent. That makes it an art, a sacred one. The NHL makes money; the players make magic. Simple as that.
Which brings me back to Bowering, to thinking about his very first appearance in print, his first published poem, the one he granted our home blog, " In Other Words" exclusive rights to reprint here last year. What a coup! Best argument for our culture yet.
Think about it: Canada's first official poet laureate, George Bowering, made his big-league début in The Hockey Digest. You see? You can connect the dots from that point forward. (Just ask The Rocket.) Al Purdy, not to be outdone, wrote one of his greatest poems ever, "Hockey Players," because GeoBoi beat him to the puck. That's a trufax. Al told me so the time I visited Purdytion at Roblin's Mills. Now, Geo Mon Amio knows he was the real muse for that poem. (Happy Hockey Month, Bro'.)
Never mind. I gave up NPM for Lent because I believe poetry intransigently denies up-tartification and defies commodification by definition. Poetry owes nuthin' to nobody nor should she. You can "invent" a flavour of the month; but, inevitably, said poet du jour gets swallowed up wholly and fully by Arnold's sea of faith.
Egawds. Jes' returned from ogling Canada Reads Poetry. Ick.
Ick? Pure ick-schtick. Why? Canada does NOT — nor, IMO, should any citizen of Human Nation be forced to so do — generally read poetry. Mostly, MexiCanAmericans all wrapped up on this ball of worms for the duration, forever intertwingled, do not read poetry. What's news, there, really? At the height of their stellarosity, even Byron, Keats, Shelley, et.ilk. depended on "other income" to do the one thing they could not but do. Make and shape poetry. It shows. Exquisitely. Priceless for all eternity.
Dithyrambic duels diminish the highest art to a rapid vapid package that can be signed, sealed, delivered, and dismissed. Poetry will outlast us all, the same way true legends on ice (and paper or pixels do). Come 21 April, let us celebrate the life and afterlife of Alfred Wellington Purdy, OC (30 December 1918-21 April 2000).
Now, I return you to your regularly skedded miracles (since duty beckons above and beyond the call of beauty); and, what a gift granted yours truly, all these truly outstanding poems from Human Nation. Hallelujah and Praise Make BeLeafs [Butch & George's team]).
p.s. GO HABS GO!!1!™
Judith Fitzgerald — poet, editor, and cultural commentarian with 30 works (including poetry, biography, anthologies, and children's books) to her credit — tappy-tips on poetry for The Globe and Mail's "In Other Words" and is a contributing reviewer for that newspaper, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer's Books Pages, and a Poetry Fellow of the Chalmers Arts Foundation. Short-listed for — or recipient of — several major honours including the Fiona Mee Literary-Journalism, Trillium, Governor-General's Poetry and Writers' Choice Awards (among others), her last collection, the four-part Adagios Quartet (ten years in the making), appeared 11 November 2007 (Oberon). She rests on it. The ex-Torontonian, freshly minted Official Poet Laureate of The Toronto Star's "A Leaf Fan's Blog" headed up by SuperScribe Vinay Menon, now calls Northern Ontario's Almaguin Highlands home. Visit her WriteSite on the CyberRange here.
Review of André Alexis's novel Pastoral (Coach House Press)
III. Delinquency and Writing
The final in a series of three excerpts from a talk presented to the Atwater Library in Montreal, March 6, 2014.
Where is the line between the person that I am IRL (in real life) and the image of myself that I have curated on the Internet? How am I going to pay my bills?
LL: You have been writing about the culture shock experienced by immigrants from India in the United States for 40 years or more. Do you see yourself as being a pioneer in this exploration of the immigrant experience?M
BM: My short and emphatic answer: Yes.