Saturday, April 30, 2016

Authors for Indies at Audrey's in Edmonton

Today Audrey's Books on Jasper Avenue was one of many independent bookstores across Canada to participate in Authors for Indies book day. The store was abuzz with authors and readers, and everyone was talking about books.

People arriving were given a quiz with questions about the Edmonton authors who were in the store at some time during the day. These were many, and their works varied and interesting.

Within minutes of arriving, I was greeted by Richard van Camp, author, film-maker, and former script consultant for the CBC television program North of 60. I told him my plan, inspired by the work of former Ontario Lieutenant Governor James Bartleman, to send some new books by aboriginal writers to remote and book deprived communities in Northern Ontario. Richard showed me his graphic novels (both being made into films), and I added those to my book box. He then introduced me to mystery writer Wayne Arthurson. Through him, I met an ex-columnist for the Edmonton Journal: Todd Babiak has just finished the second of two novels set in France.

Roger Gunn told me of his books about Canadian WW|I flying aces, and then I met Jacqueline Baker, who explained what motivated her to write about HP Lovecraft. She also shared some impressions about growing up in the Palliser Triangle in a strict community of German Catholics.

By shamelessly quizzing browsing readers and bookstore employees as well as writers, I was able to fill out my author quiz. Taking a look around the store, I also saw Caroline Adderson's latest novel, Ellen in Pieces, and learned that the talented Helen Humphreys has another book out. I left with a happy feeling and a sack of books, many signed by the authors.

Thanks to Janie Chang for spreading the word on this delightful cross-Canada event, and for your help in making it happen. Hope you had a great Authors for Indies day in Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Primogeniture: heirs and spares

Prince George kisses sister Charlotte: Hello!

George is three and his sister is only 11 months, but Wills and Kate are going to have another baby. If  you're royal, you need not only heirs, but spares. Primogeniture means the eldest child of the reigning monarch is next in line for the throne. However, the system doesn't always work perfectly. When Edward VIII abdicated, the "reluctant king," had to step up. When George VI died, Elizabeth II became queen.

Obviously some children, even when raised and trained to take the mantle, may be unwilling or unable to handle the top royal role. And as attitudes toward monarchy continue to evolve, who knows whether George will one day be King? At the moment, he's just two steps away. Charles in next in line, and after him, George's father William.

It's possible that George won't want the job, even when his turn comes round. Perhaps, Charlotte, like her grandmother Elizabeth II, will one day reign as queen. But will the next British rulers also reign over Canada, even symbolically? I find it hard to imagine, yet even harder to imagine the political process that would be needed to make such a change.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Greeneland, Highsmith Country, and Papaville?

Image from amazon

Authors live and write in their own virtual countries, places of their imagination, but close enough to the real world to be terrifying, or hilarious, or both. The fictional territory created by the late Graham Greene in novels such as The Third Man, The Confidential Agent, and The Ministry of Fear became known to his readers as Greeneland.

Patricia Highsmith was known for chilling novels like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Probably the best known is Strangers on a Train, filmed as a thriller by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Joan Schenkar, Highsmith's recent biographer, reports that the Dark Lady of American Letters invented a name for her fictional territory: Highsmith Country. Recently, a movie of another Highsmith story been made, The Two Faces of January.

Last week I listened to a collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," told in his signature spare prose, conveyed me to the heart of the strange world of Papa Hemingway. In this story, a wealthy but joyless American finds a brief "happiness" on a hunting safari, when, with the help of his cold-eyed British guide, he kills a buffalo, at great risk to both their lives. In this as in so much of Hemingway's prose, the woman is predatory and sexually manipulative, while the men are yoked and hardened by the macho roles they cannot or will not throw off.

Perhaps the term Papaville could be applied to the world created by this third author, who, like the other two, wrote out of the great historic upheavals he witnessed, from the failed Spanish Civil War and the Great Depression through WWII, the end of colonialism, and the dystopic societal depression that followed.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Language rich and fresh as Jersey cream

Jersey calves from

What does Jersey mean?
a) a sweater
b) an island in the English Channel
c) a kind of milk
d) a chocolate bar
e) a kind of cow
f) a knitted fabric
g) all of the above

Yes, g) is right. All that and more.

Before I saw the musical Jersey Boys (in Toronto, not Las Vegas), I didn't know the title referred not to English boys from Jersey, but American rock stars from New Jersey. Not herders of Jersey cattle from an idyllic island farm, but Italian descendants from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge from New York.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dennis E. Bolen panel of poets at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Left: Bolen looks across at poets Elena Johnson, Jennifer Zilm and Timothy Shay.

The poems of Elena Johnson, veteran Writer in Residence at a biologists' camp in the Yukon, evoked the remote land above the tree line, where plugging in the electric "bear fence" before retiring to one's tent is a necessary preventive against nocturnal visits by grizzlies. Published by Gaspereau Press, her delightful volume of poetry is decorated with her own northern photo and images of caribou.

Right, Timothy Shay listens as Jennifer Zilm reads.

Describing herself as a "direct descendant of a Civil War veteran," Zilm says her title, The Waiting Room, refers to Dante's time in Purgatory, and hers in therapy: her "only insight after years" is that "waiting is part of the therapy." She had mordant comments about the decor of her doctor's office. Turning away from an inappropriately depressing picture, she found herself facing a TV screen. Wherever we go, she said, there must be "a newsfeed, to keep people traumatized."

Her lines are fresh and often funny: "Trigger warning: we're all going to die. Directive: follow this poem. Hashtag: Carepoint Clinic. Anti-social media."

Below, panel host Dennis E. Bolen chats with Johnson about the importance of place in poetry. Her collection Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra, she says, is all about place.

Timothy Shay is a veteran of the poetry scene. He knows poetic giants Patrick Lane and Tom Wayman personally, and once drank with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. His new collection, The Dirty Knees of Prayer, evokes the crow, "in his dark uniform," and says that poetry can be used as a "phony excuse," or even a "weapon."

As we chatted later, Tim shared his poetic practice. He begins with a neutral word like if or and to access unconscious preoccupations, and writes daily, whether or not he feels like it.

Then he puts each piece away for a month before deciding whether to carry on. "Consciousness," he says, "is like a butler, who packages everything for social acceptability." But it's the unconscious mind we need to contact in order to create poetry.

Overall, it was a delightful evening. I don't remember when I've seen an audience more engaged.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Button Blanket and Mask: Dorothy Grant and Robert Davidson

This button blanket, currently on display at the Audain Museum in Whistler, was created by two BC artists. World renowned Haida fabric designer Dorothy Grant received the Order of Canada last year. Robert Davidson, of Haida and Tlingit descent, has earned worldwide renown for his sculpture, painting, jewelry, drums and masks. "Blind Justice," seen below, is one of many Davidson masks now on view.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ironic paintings by Shawn Hunt

The work of award winning aboriginal artist Shawn Hunt displays humour and irony. In paintings currently on display at the Audain Museum in Whistler, he plays with aboriginal mythology.

The painting on the left, "Supermarket Eagle," shows a bird with  a tin of salmon in its talons.

Below, "Raven steals my light," visually puns on an aboriginal myth shared by west coast nations. It also refers to a book by fellow artist Bill Reid and poet Robert Bringhurst.

Hunt's bird displays its stolen prize: a red plastic lighter dangles from its talons.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Audain Museum in Whistler showcases Mexican Modernist art

The Audain Museum occupies a delightful building filled with natural light. Designed by Patkau Architects of Vancouver, the spacious premises are still being landscaped.

The permanent collection encompasses a fine collection of aboriginal masks and a variety of Canadian work by Robert Davidson, Emily Carr, EJ Hughes, Shawn Hunt, and others.

Until May 23, Audain showcases work by noted Mexican Modernists David Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Improved perspective: eyes on the sky

My daughter called from Edmonton while I was walking in Van Dusen, and I paused when I saw a shady bench.

Something told me to stretch out and look up. That's what I did, and this is what I saw.

Both at night and in the day, we should look at the sky more often, I thought. It improves perspective.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tulips in the Fraser Valley

For years I've driven by and seen them from the road, but this year I got into the fields. The weather couldn't have been better for visiting the Abbotsford Tulip Festival.

My friend Pat and I met some other friends who were taking selfies in the fields to send to their daughter who lives in the Netherlands.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The simple joys of sky and earth

Cherry blossoms in a spring sky

This afternoon I waited in the car while my husband was buying paint. The store was busy and I passed the time  looking at the blossoming cherry trees in the parking lot.

When we got home, he got on with his painting and I decided to do some weeding in the front garden. During the recent warm spring days, what was once a neatly mulched bed of peonies, hydrangeas and rhododendrons had become a veritable hayfield of young horsetails.

In the late afternoon sunshine, I felt the joy of digging in the ground, along with the satisfaction of pulling up the weeds by their roots. It was like being a kid again, gazing in wonder at the spring sky and the red tulips as I delved into the earth with bare hands to receive its loving energy.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gamelan performs at VCC Spring Music Celebration

Gamelan (Indonesian orchestra) uses ancient Javanese instruments to play new music.

Last night, the VCC Music Department showcased a wide range of music and song.

A three stage concert held in the Atrium presented work by the Brass Ensemble, and jazz groups including Latin, Pre-bop, and Classic. Electric and New Music were also on offer. The Willan Choir I'm privileged to be part of sang, as did VCC's Madrigal singers.