Sunday, September 25, 2011

Word on the Very Wet Street

Tenacious readers and writers clung to their little patches of pavement as the rain tried to wipe out the Word on the Street Festival. There were writers reading excerpts, publishers hawking books, zine artists talking with sci-fi writers reading cook books discussing the occult with vegan diarists.

Standouts included the zine and graphic novel cave in the Alice MacKay Room, Wade Compton's reading from a piece published in Event Magazine, and Barbara Stewart's reading from her creative nonfiction novel Campie.

Even the pigeons liked it! At first they were like, "What the...?" But soon they were like, "Aw, yeah!"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vogon Poetry Slam a Putrescent Miasma of Filth

As promised, this year's Vogon Poetry Slam was revolting, putrescent, and snotterifically awful. In the end, a poem about bodily excretions narrowly edged one about a boy who drank the contents of a spittoon. Come out next year to be truly horrified by more Vogon poetry.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Series Volume 4: A Sentence on Truth

A Sentence on Truth

It’s not in the Bible ‘cause I’ve read that book through, and it never fell out or peeked out or hinted at much beyond who begat who, and it's not in new babies who are purported by some to know the secrets of the universe before they speak a word and then lose it somehow when that first word tumbles out, maybe flies up and disappears and we’re left running after it for the rest of our lives, everywhere anywhere crawling on our bellies through the stages of life, first through the birth canal looking for it in mother’s milk then at the playground where time stands still and we don’t get a day older for a hundred years, but it’s not there and we don’t find it in first love either although we think we do because she is so perfect, she is such a perfect angel that we make ourselves believe that she has it and we hold on to her tightly and try to squeeze it out of her, maybe kiss it out of her, love it out of her, but soon we leave because we realize that she’s not it, she was never it, and we move on and look at art, art that's a blotch of white paint on a white canvas or maybe sperm and bile on a shag carpet and then in words like picaresque and inviolate and procrustean and capitalist hegemony but it’s not there, so we try looking at naked bodies, naked bodies writhing and squirming on top of us like giant eels with arms and legs, spurting bodily fluids on us and in us and yes yes Yes YES, but no, we don't find it there, so we start to think that maybe it’s in anger, that maybe if we just raise our voice loud enough and say fuck enough that it will materialize somewhere and we can bend over and pick it up and put it in our pocket and not worry about living the rest of our lives because life has now and suddenly been rendered moot because we’ve found what we were looking for all those years in mother’s milk and our Grand-Popsicle’s beer and beard and in art and eels, but it's not in anger either, no, it’s not in those angry people, all those angry people who seem unbalanced or off-kilter like a crooked painting of a tempest or a hurricane and we think ‘why can’t you just go for a walk or visit a petting zoo or smell a flower or a skunk or snort something that makes you dizzy’ so we give up being angry and we grow up a bit and we get married because after all we’ve looked everywhere else and besides, we love her and we know that if we go away to Algeria to make a film or to Japan to love a Japanese girl who teaches us Japanese through the time-tested method of pillow talk, that she will slip away, and besides, she might have it, maybe her laughter comes close to it, maybe her love is profound enough to plumb those roiling depths that hold the secrets that babies speak, the secrets that fly away at first utterance, so we get married and have a baby and we love her and we love what she has given us, we love the baby, that brilliant baby who we’ve spoken to in the womb, who can surely do calculus already, at least algebra, oh God, if only she could speak because that twinkle in her eye means something, I know it, but when she does speak we realize that she’s just a beautiful little girl, our beautiful girl, and that she doesn’t have the secret, so we kiss her on the forehead and she skips away giggling and that’s about the time we say 'fuck' to ourselves and think, ‘it’s not even here in my perfect little girl so where is it’ and our sweaty brow furrows and that hole in our soul rings the doorbell of our consciousness, loudly, and we look through the peep hole and it peeps back and laughs a great roaring laugh, and then blasts the door down, wind and black rush in, infinity, the empty universe rushes at us, screams so loud that we hit the back wall, screams those words that we always knew were true, but wanted so much to disbelieve or to misapprehend but that this time we cannot but hear: TRUTH IS A LIE!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Series Volume 3: The Olympus of LIttle Things

The Olympus of Little Things

by Paul Murat

They will be ploughing with our bones,

While the serenade of wounded clouds

Howling in our rusted eyes

They will be gliding

on our bones, while we are dying the stars

No one will come,

to the premiere of our hell

Other than gods of ancient roses and lonely dogs

No one

Will come

Here they are the beautiful tear drops of plain words,

“Once we all lived on the same cross,” says the farmer

And a rice grain

Remembers the colour of the rain

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Poems & Prose Volume 2: Love and Sickness

Love and Sickness anonymous

The summer of 1999 lasted forever, twisting and shimmering in space and time, a dream, a nightmare, sunny days stretching themselves into cool nights in which we swam naked under the stars, smoked clove cigarettes, played music by firelight. Camp Harvey in Gibsons BC: I was 19, the nutty lifeguard; Jane was the camp director, my boss, my lover; Kevin did sports, Lois crafts, John and Heather were assistant lifeguards. Days passed languidly. We got to know kids’ faces, laughs, some of their names, before they moved on and another batch of shiny new ones rolled in.

On the night of August 14, the day Alice died, Jane and I became lovers. After that day, I’d often run through the black or silver night, over dew-wet grass, tap on her window, crawl through it, into her bed, into her arms. She’d set the alarm for early morning, and I would bury myself in her warmth, afraid to be alone, shuddering; she would pull me close, whisper to me, wake me if she knew I was dreaming about it. If something came up in the night, as somethings often did at camp, I’d slip out the window, Zorro, and run back into the night.

After August 14, a spasm developed in my back and neck. It would hit me at any time, all the time; I would convulse and shiver, cold. It is far less frequent now, but it is there, under the surface, a scar.

On August 14, Alice was sucked into the propeller of a boat that her mother was driving. I have never fully come to terms with that day. I buried it inside myself, deep, as most people who live through horror do. After it happened, I called my mother and wept into the phone, unable to speak, each attempt to start over came out as a sob, my voice became raw, my body shuddered, tears dripped from the bottom of the phone. My mother cried too, although she didn’t know why. What, she asked, I cried, tell me, tell me, what, I cried, oh God. I hung up and concentrated on controlling my body, but I couldn’t.

I was conscious on two levels: on one, I cried for the horror of it, I cried for Alice, for the death I had witnessed, for her father who went mad before my eyes; on another, I watched, fascinated, as this body shook and heaved, as snot and spit and tears flowed out of control. I became embarrassed for myself, conscious of the nervous eyes that watched me from afar, conscious of my friends who told each other to give me time, and me, unable to do anything but cry. Alice was 11.

I was afraid to put my hands on my body in the shower that night. Maybe I had caught death. When I finally did, I scrubbed myself raw, I was obsessive compulsive, unable to rub hard enough, unable to wash it away. I cried in the shower, scrubbed harder, but she would not wash out.


The sun shone, and a new week was about to begin. Lois hummed in her craft hut; Kevin and Heather lay on the field; John and I sat on the stairs wearing sandals, talking about whatever we talked about before that day. New campers were arriving, some shy, some laughing, some I recognized: Erica! You’re back, Yeah, I’m going to be a counselor for the junior girls camp too, I know, Jane told me, is your sister coming to senior co-ed? No, she’s in Ontario at some gymnastics camp, Too bad

At about that time, when nothing but summertime was happening, Alice died. Her little sister screamed from a boat about a kilometer from shore. There were three tiny people on it, one jumping up and down screaming (Alice’s sister), one running from the back of the boat, to the front, and back again (her father) and another who might have been a statue or a mannequin (her mother).

Good, I thought. A broken arm. Maybe a non-swimmer. A test I thought. Maybe a hero. We jumped in our rescue boat and sped out to their boat. We rounded a corner and there she was, naked, horizontal, impaled on a bent propeller, one blade sticking through her belly, body open, her bathing suit and lifejacket torn off, wrapped around her body and the propeller’s shaft.

Her father, Michael, screamed at the sky, begged God, pleaded, swore, “I knew I would be punished! God is punishing me! Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, my little girl, Oh Jesus God, God is punishing me! I knew I would be punished, Oh Jesus, I knew you would punish me!” He bellowed, out of control, keening, weeping, insane. He ran the three paces from the bow to the stern over and over, screaming at God.

No pulse, no breathing, ghostly white little girl: an angel already.

It was a dream sequence with well-defined characters. We were “The Lifeguards.” “The Waterskiers” arrived before us and held her while she died. “The Doctor” pronounced her dead even before we lifted her off the propeller. “The Boats” circled like sharks, slowing down to look at the horror show. “The Counselors” helped us carry her into the sports hut where she lay alone for hours until “The Coroner’s Assistant” took her away.

She’s dead, said The Waterskier, cradling her, holding her head above the waves. He asked, are you a Christian? No, Well let’s pray for her, and he did. Alice’s empty eyes watched clouds pass as the Waterskier intoned prayers to a God that Michael had somehow betrayed.


After Alice died, the Id which resides in my belly, followed its forked tongue up through my chest, through my neck, and into my brain. It has taken up a new residence, unruly neighbor to my conscious mind. It spits and whispers insults and malformed ideas pulled dripping from the roiling, clotted soup of its being. Sometimes it convinces me that, in a century that smashed its way into history delivering death by starvation, greed, power-lust, war, and Holocaust, in a century that slaughtered its lambs by the million, I have no right to feel horror for the death of a girl I didn’t know.

It often accuses me of having let her die. She might have lived you know. You let her lie with the propeller for too long. What use is oxygen when there is no blood to carry it? You were too late.

Other times, it accuses me of indifference or of deriving some perverse pleasure at having seen Death. You didn’t feel horror, Id says. Remember, Id continues, how that very night, Id whispers mockingly, the very night that Alice died, you kissed someone, put your hands on a body, breathed in that smell, passed your hands over warm, living flesh, into shadows, Inside. And these words, Id continues, are too soft, too smooth, too forgiving. That night, Id accuses, your cock was hard, she was wet, you bit and sucked and tore at each other like animals because that is what you were, what you are.

The next day, maybe the next week, my Id has relaxed, has had time to think. It has had an epiphany, and it wakes me up in the middle of the night to whisper secrets to me. They’re related, Id whispers; Alice and Jane. I’ve been thinking about what you were dreaming about that flesh; the cold, white flesh that turned from pink to white four seconds after the propeller hit, blood flowing into the lake. And Jane, her warmth, her beating heart, her soft body, her love. You dream of them together sometimes, have you noticed?

You know, whispered Id, an aside, She’s still in that lake. The blood that was cut free of her veins flows somewhere now, one part per trillion, left in the lake, some evaporated, coalesced in a cloud, rained down on her mother’s face the day after. How much luckier than to be lost to the earth.

I am angry at my maudlin Id and accuse it of sentimentality: You were right before, I shout. I am an animal, I scream. Leave it at that. Let me get back to sleep.

You were delirious that night when you touched Jane, Id whispered. You were looking for something more than her body, but you didn’t know what. You were looking to bring Alice back at that first touch, when you felt the warmth of her arms around you. You kissed her cheek and forehead and lips and tears too many times, kissing Alice’s wounds closed, kissing her eyes open. At first I let you slip into this madness, like a warm acid bath, like her father had, but only for a moment. In the end I told you. Do you remember? “She’s dead” I said. And so you began kissing her goodbye, too many times, until the salt from her tears filled your nose and throat.

I remember, I said. What does it mean?

My Id smiled and said, This is my epiphany. In this horrible century, where so many have died like Alice, there has always been love. Have you not noticed? There is horror and love, and there will always be both, arm in arm, like you and me, one in the same, inseparable, antitheses, polar opposites, twins, enemies, lovers. You have to leave or take them both together. God, I’m glad you are deciding this and not me. You can leave them both, forget them, walk through life free of the albatross, but in darkness. Or you can open yourself, engage intelligently with the inevitable love and sickness in life, walk with Alice and Jane. The choice is yours. I wash my hands.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Poems & Prose Volume 1: j.a. Gingrich

railbridge in september (or day for night)

by j.a. Gingrich

If this were an American movie

the music would swell,

and we would lean

into each other for what might seem like


But here we are in Canada - dead centre -


forty feet above the water in St. Jacob’s

under a moon

so full

I wonder if soon this tiny river might swell

with salt water pulling in from either coast

(up here we know that everything bursts at the seams

under moons like this)

In an hour or two

this railway bridge

will turn raft

shuddering dully

with the thump

of each passing fin

we will be still

or silent

mouthing the cycle of moonlight

to fin

to water

and only when the tide

has swallowed

every visible gap

will we sense its shift

and gape

as it aloofly trails the moon back home

beneath us

two forty foot walls

of water will leave

just as they came

one rushing east

the other slinking west

and we here

in our Canadian movie

will bend

and follow

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hitchhiking Part III: Jack and the lowing truck

Ben: Twelve hours into our adventure and we're stuck in a Sicamous truck stop. Who can say that? It's two in the morning, and Sylvia alternates between sitting at a concrete picnic table, warmed by an oversized Russian hat, and standing next to a rack of truckers' porn mags inside the doors of the convenience store. Meanwhile, I spend my time hunting that most elusive species of trucker: those who want company more than they're afraid of being stabbed. My abject pleading does not move the three most common types of trucker: "insurance won't allow me to take you", "get away from my truck", and "going west". Finally, just as we are considering pitching our tent amongst the rats and low-rumbling trucks, Jack pulls up in his beast of a truck, cattle trailer lowing and shuddering in tow. Like the virgin birth, or the feeding of the five thousand, a miracle happens: Jack agrees to take us to Calgary.

Jack is a titan of a man: 6'8", red, broad shoulders, broad belly. "Why would I go on a diet?" he quips as we roll along the moonlit Trans Canada Highway, warm at last. "I paid good money for this belly! It's taken me years to get this fat!" His truck is a boxy Kenworth—not aerodynamic like the assembly-line Volvo and Freightliner torpedoes that fly through the gun-barrel of the Canadian prairies and over the broken spines of the Rocky Mountains. Jack is proud that his truck was put together by hand in Iowa. He moves cows, bulls, calves and heifers back and forth across Western Canada. He sits like a king on a miniature throne, his low-slung seat lacking air suspension, marking him as a favoured son of the night highway—a cattle trucker. "Don't like air seats. Want to feel the road. Got to feel the cows." As if on cue, the truck shifts slightly to the right, and then back. It reminds me of a fish biting a line. "There you go," he says. “This truck goes straight. I don’t steer out of the way of nothing in this truck. Can’t while I’m hauling these cows. I ran over three deer a while back, just, bang! You betcha.”

Sylvia: Every time we hop into a new vehicle, it seems a miracle has taken place. Particularly so when Jack picks us up in his monstrous, living truck in the early hours of Friday night. I don't know why, but I feel Jack is safe right away, more so than the first trucker, though he was nice enough. Maybe Jack reminds me of someone. His accent is a bit like my friend Jay's. That and the accumulated tiredness means I'm out like a light on Jack's bed, a comfortable, warm, almost luxurious space at the back of the cab. I put my music on to help me sleep and leave poor Ben to take care of the expected conversation.

Waking up the next morning is something I will remember forever. Although the forecast was for rain, it was gloriously sunny outside as the morning fell over the Rockies. Jack and Ben were talking like old pals: we could have been three friends out on a roadtrip. And the landscape was breathtaking, green and imposing and alive. Crystalline lakes followed the road and the mountain tops were covered in light snow, as if I had stepped right into an idyllic piece of art hanging on someone's downtown living room. It was Ben's turn to sleep so I took the front seat next to Jack and tried to feel the happiness while it was still happening. So many times we realise that we were happy only retrospectively, when we look back wistfully from a different place.

Jack was as easygoing as I had somehow intuited in the two minute walk from the store to his truck, before I crashed exhausted on his bed. We stopped for coffee and chatted about his kids and his life of duality, with the road and his home of many thousands of acres as the two axes. I don't know what struck me most: the way he seemed so similar to us in some ways, or his 'differentness'. Jack raises cows, helps them give birth, shoots them when it's time. Ben and I write in coffeeshops, we print out leaflets and discuss Dawkins, plan writer workshops and sometimes host Martini parties. Still, that morning, as we rode towards a cowpen somewhere in Alberta, we all laughed together and talked about the minutiae of artificially inseminating cows, about 'lot lizards' and about being estranged from one's children for long periods as if we had known each other forever.