Valley of the Bras

After reading Stephen Rebello’s Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! I was keen to see the movie, again, & had planned watch it on my own on a rainy day but after seeing the excellent ‘Hitch’ which was based on Rebello’s ‘Alfred Hitchcock & the Making of Psycho’ my partner read ‘Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!’ also wanted to see it again. So we dug out the 2 disc ‘Special Edition’ – loaded with great extras. I had reread the novel earlier this year so I was eager to rewatch the film.

Where to start? The movie pales in comparison to the novel & I understand why fans were disappointed in the adaptation that removed 3/4 of the book. The characters are reduced to stick figures – gone is the fact they women live together for a time – in the film there isn’t one scene of the three of them together. Gone is Anne’s friendship with Helen Lawson – in fact Helen is almost excised from the script – Hayward’s performance jump starts the movie whenever she appears.

Don’t get me started the those songs – we get a glimpse of the Lawson’s Broadway show number ‘I’ll Plant My Own Tree’ & it is clear that no one involved in the film every saw, or was involved with a Broadway show. The song is clunky & staged with all the Broadway stage reality of a Busby Berkeley number but absolutely no sparkle. Hayward lip syncs it well enough. No Broadway set designer would ever ever use a mobile that covered the star’s face constantly.

Patty was not pleased to be dubbed & as result released the lp Patty Duke ‘Sings Songs from the Valley of the Dolls.. Yes, I have it thanks to iTunes & it fits perfectly with the music misfire of the movie. It did nothing to enhance her reputation as a singer 🙂 Nor did the film do much to enhance her reputation as an actress. In fact none of the cast’s career potential was increased by the film. Such is the harsh reality of life in the valley of the dolls.

I felt for Barbra Parkins when I saw those beige ‘office’ costumes when they matched the beige every wall she stood in front of. I laughed at the fab cosmetics commercial montage – a product supposed for any woman while she looks like an alien. But as she climbs the ladder to success her costumes do improve even as they remain impractical. 

Patty Duke bravely & brazenly barrels though Neely without taking a breath. Her few scenes with Hayward are rich – Duke noisily claws the scenery, Hayward demolishes it by simply putting on a scarf. Yes, this movie needed more Lawson. Sharon Tate is nearly invisible as her story line is gutted by the screenplay. 

How these actresses where treated by the industry is worse than how the characters they play are treated by the industry. I really think the guys who made Feud should consider this Making of Valleys as their next project. Oh yes my title ‘Valleys of the Bras.’ There is nothing lurid in the film but Parkins, Duke & Tate, at different points in the film, spend an inordinate amount of time emoting in bra & half-slip. 

Ready

it turns into a trade

this is what I want

this is what it’ll cost

is that the price I’m willing to pay

is the sacrifice worth the result

<>

why can’t I have it my way

is that too much to ask

I’m willing to compromise some

but when is enough enough

can I say no 

to losing more of myself 

to gain something I expect to get

by saying yes to

what I want to say no to

<>

can I say yes and no 

at the same time

how will you do

when I say yes I want what you offer

but not with the conditions you offer it with

do I want to give up

the comfort of abstractions

for the sake of superficiality of the concrete

if I’m ready for my close up

do I want to stand in front of the camera

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Pandemic Poetry Project

I have two pieces in the Pandemic Poetry Project ed. David Bateman published by Buddies In Bad Times. I’m is good company as the anthology includes work by Patricia Wilson, Kathleen Whelan, Robert Standish, Neta Rose,Charlie Petch, Stedmond Pardy, Dianne Moore, Ashok Mathur, Merle Matheson, David Marshall, Marcy Rogers, Sri M., Peter Lynch, Amy Lester, Steve Keil, Brock Hessel, Sky Gilbert, SK Dyment, Judith Chandler, Philip Cairns, Ashley Bomberry, Marusya Bociurkiw, bill bissett, Paul Bellini, & David Bateman. A superb sampling of lgbtqia writers.

Buddies glitter washroom floor

I was asked by David to submit a couple of pieces last year. I sifted through some recent writing & sent in the two that appear. At the time I was unaware that it was a ‘Pandemic’ project or I might have sent pieces with a lockdown subtext. It is a handsome little book the size of a cd case with 150 pages of insightful, silly, spiritual, sexy, political writing.

It can be bought for $19.95 , in person, at Buddies In Bad Times on Alexander St. Glad Day Bookshop also has it on the shelf or you can order it, but there will be shipping costs.

Buddiehttps://gladdaybookshop.com/item/kUIAuTpWhPwIbxRv1yQZuA

ISBN: 978-1-7775101-2-1

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Reconnect

tangled plots

Met up with Lizzie Violet, an actual f2f visit, with someone outside of my bubble for the time since the initial pandemic lockdown. I haven’t spent time with Lizzie since the unexpected demise of her Cabaret Noir a few years ago. We’ve had a few coffee dates with a group of writers but this was a one-on-one without distractions. The day proved to be hot, for me, to sit on a shady patio, so we enjoyed the a/c cool of my dining-room for a couple of hours. (http://lizzieviolet.com)

story building blocks

She writing a novel set during the 30’s set in Toronto & one of the characters is from the east coast. I was a natural resource seeing as my novel, Coal Dusters, is set near that time – there was little change in Cape Breton due to the depression after its own disastrous labour struggles with the coal/steel industries. They were already a hard-scrabble people making the most of what resources they had. But I digress, slightly.

some plot steps lead nowhere

I do get to talk ‘writing’ with one of my Loyalist crew every month or so but was great to do so with with an almost new face 🙂 I also got to share some of the books I picked up in my Cape Breton research & some of the things I discovered for other sources – things like the black miners imported from the Caribbean with promises of company houses etc only to arrive totally unprepared in the middle of a blizzard with no real place to live. There’s a book that needs to be written.

I also shared how I read novels written in the 20s/30s to get sense of the language used, I also read some boys adventures written at that time too. In Dusters I wanted my characters talk like 20’s people not like the over-articulate people of today. In rewatching the The Tudors recently I was dismayed at the over use of the word fuck – I know it existed at the time – but as a word of mocking not vulgarity. 

too many diversions?

Hopefully there’ll be opportunity to reconnect f2f with more of my writing/poetry community before the the lockdown rolls back to protect us from people who feel their personal rights supersede their responsibility to others. 

from August 2008

Dreaming Of Me

you tell me 

you’ve been dreaming about me

you think about me all the time

you think such talk is flattering

but because 

we’ve only been together 

three times

to me these are warnings

things too much too soon

from someone I don’t dream about

about whom my only thought is

how do I break this to you gently

<>

you really are quite sweet

but being attracted to me

isn’t enough anymore

not that I think I’m so hot

that I can pick and choose

it’s just that I’m no longer

driven by opportunity

the way I once was

<>

the longer you dream

the longer it will take

for you to wake up to the fact

that you aren’t in my dreams

I don’t fantasize about you 

I don’t long for your call

I’m not hungry for your kiss

I didn’t want to say no thanks

too quickly

opportunities like this

don’t come often in my life

the last time it did

I was eager like you

for more of that mouthful of wonder feeling

but this time

I’m more inclined to keep my mouth shut

let someone else do the talking

then I’ll do the walking

<>

I’m out of here

once I figure out how to tell you that

after all we’ve only been together

what three times now

not long enough 

for me to consider it an investment

more of an investigation

a chance for both of us 

to check out the goods

and as much as I’m pleased 

with what lies beneath the sheets

I’m not drawn back for more of it

even when you tell me

you dream of me

that you waited all week for my call

the fact that I waited a week to call

should have told you something

if I was that into you

nothing would’ve held me back

<>

I wish you sweet dreams though

feel a little flattered 

some of them are of me

but I’m not selling 

myself for a dream 

anymore

cabaret noir march 2015
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My Five Year (Dead Friends)

With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.

One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.

It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.

Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.

I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer. 

I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂

This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.

Blackout

1

the fear

aware of the light

shapes the unseen

the fear

<>

is being awakened

at the wrong trembling moment

to your own pulse

2

I gave in today

without a fight 

without a second thought

gave in to nothing

being nothing

doing nothing

going nowhere

<>

I gave up

my dreams & hopes

plans of a great future

that’ll never come true

all that’s left for me

is to relax into resignation

without bitterness

to keep on giving in

without a struggle

<>

the plan now

is to sleep in

on all fours

to a snug shadow

of calm reserve

a smug disinterest 

about the things

I once had to become

3

I’m getting old 

the feel of fall

is colder in my bones

every year

<>

I find it easier to drink

to forget old unfinished fears

than to make new motions

toward an altered shape

I find it easier

every time I empty another bottle

the next seems more welcome

more of a proffered hope

than a fleeting solace

leading to remorse for old hurts

4

resignation

is a futile gesture

it is an admission 

to pretentions

I once had a vision 

a true sense of a special offering

a vision proved to be

am insecure self-indulgence 

a vision

that kept me so in awe

I could never confront

even my basic mortality 

<>

the vision of immortality 

before more than I could bear

no one is fooled but me

there is no dream revelation

just the dream

just the dream

to black out the image

of the self-pitying 

aging

drunken

unfulfilled visionary 

with no shape

no broken heart

just his fear

<>

the fear

last feeling of fall

has no vision

5

the unseen

is the futility of resignation

the inability to admit

that even as these words are

I intend to deny their meaning

<>

this is not defeat

I have nothing to lose

this is not resignation

I have nothing to concede

<>

the dream

will never change

that it may never come true

is the heart of the plan

<>

the fear

pulse of the plan

has no end

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No Room

No Room 

I’ve lived with the same man

for over forty years

I don’t use poppers or party and play

so I’m not gay enough for the room

<>

I did hiv home care 

buried friends 

stepped away from the front lines

so I’m not queer enough for the room

<>

I sleep around

sometime have unprotected sex

so I’m not a good example

for anyone in the room

<>

I don’t like Celine Dion or Babs

which is enough to get my

gay card denied

so I don’t have the credentials for the room

<>

I’m over several hills

hills only survivors 

know how daunting they can be

such as shame for not being young enough

to be in the room 

<>

the web sells us

face lifts work out routines 

websites for grandpa devotees

to keep them away from the room

<>

being acceptable in heteronormative 

assimilationist terms

was too conditional

I was amused 

abused

by the need

for the conformity

to be gay enough to be in the room

<>

I’m not sure 

if I ever was in that room

if I was

I wasn’t long for the room

I was tempted to call this No Room At The Inn but the religious connotations were inappropriate. The piece is clearly about assimilationist attitudes that try to rule the queer community. Attitudes that said it was fine for trans men & woman to fight for our rights but then tried to hide them so as not to cast a bad light on all those good, unassuming queers who didn’t want to scare the horses.

I’m not that I am preoccupied with the ways I may or may not fit into various categories I can’t ignore the ways my ‘not fit’ is made clear to me by others, directly or indirectly. PRIDE is clearly focused on a very specific ‘market’ defined by age, appearance, substance of choice, & body type. The one marked improvement in PRIDE over the years has been its greater awareness of race/nationality inclusivity – but honey if you don’t look good in heels, or leather chaps, or jeans you really aren’t that welcome regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

Many years ago I was invited to be part of a PRIDE reading by those of us over a certain age. Cool, I thought, we’re given some recognition. The event was unpaid, we were to be so grateful to be included we would perform for free (a standard PRIDE stance for many performers), the location was as far from the Church street core as possible – I was surprised they didn’t stick us down in Fort York. Only us performers & our friends could find the room.

One of the fallacies of inclusivity is that everyone has equal  footing – there is nearly always someone deciding who is the best example of what is to be included. The decision gauge is often unpredictable even when that someone deigns to use it on you. You could be let into the room but please stay in that corner there. 

Time to clean my room 🙂


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Pride Slugfest

One of the sure signs of summer has become the appearance of rainbow flags in corporate settings. How long before McD’s markets the Inclusive Burger to compete with the Gay Uncle Burger? Ooh look multicoloured sprinkles on the unicorn donut! I feel so seen. Where are the transvegan breakfast wraps? So many new markets to cater to.

So many rainbows to choose from – the classic, the trans flag, the combo, the maple leaf between rainbows, the blm, the (fill in your niche) flag. Clearly if you don’t have them all in your store window you aren’t an ally. If you don’t recognize the latest variation you are phobic. If you stick to the classic you are hiding your head in the glitter. With so many splinter groups clamouring for recognition if you support the wrong ones you are suspect. 

I was recently invited to contribute some pro-Pride remarks to a company as part of their lgbtqia+ inclusively week. If I am queer positive I’ll help them show their support as they sell more garments to increase their market share. If I don’t do it, for free, I’m clearly homophobic, if I expect $ I’m just an entitled slug. I declined. I’ve had enough exposure thank you. I’m not interested in another slugfest 🙂

Here in Ontario people are lamenting the pandemic restrictions that, like last year, have curtailed Pride public celebrations. Personally I’m indifferent. The parade has become a march of commercial sponsors interspersed grass-root splinter groups staking claim to their few minutes is the spotlight. 

(photos of an east end Toronto sidewalk)

The Days of the Week

control 

out of control

so hard to choose

which will give the better result

too hard to let go of

those expectations 

drives 

dreams 

goals

result of out of control

such a freedom

can someone with control issues

get out of control

with the need to control

hold on too tight

or drop everything too suddenly

relax into a puddle

even a puddle is controlled by gravity

free fall isn’t free

free form still has form

is the goal to be shapeless 

is uncontainable anarchy

aimless directionless

still has points of reference

that pull to the norm

can the norm be out of control

who can impose that structure

who gets to be the responsible one

while the rest

are wild and free 

is there actual energy in being out of control

doing nothing takes no energy

relax float down stream

the stream has control

the surrender is to another’s control

ven when out of control

someone is deciding

what out is

what control is

who the object is of these definitions

light need dark to exist

no one controls the days

just gives them names

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Not All Rainbows Are On Flags

Rainbows are showing up all around east end Toronto. These are pictures from the area bounded by Broadview, O’Connor, Main & Dundas E.

proud tree in Browning/Logan area
tight knit?

Craven Rd. fence
across from pape subway station

inclusive in the Mortimore/Coxwell area

mural Danforth/Patricia area
close up of mural
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Hollywood Poems

In September 2020 Philip Cairns asked me to write an introduction to Hollywood Poems – a collection of his writing. He sent me an advance reading copy & here is what I wrote:

“Philip’s Disney sweetheart was Annette Funicello, mine was Haley Mills. He exalts in Anita Ekbert, I was enthralled by Brigette Bardot. You might ask – what’s with gay guys & obscure female film stars? In his Hollywood Poems Philip explores that question in a series of tender odes which reveal as much about him as it does about the objects of his fandom. The Bedbug Blues pieces are funny & bitingly true.

The poems are like quilts stitched together with contrasting swatches of the fabric of his life, patterns get repeated, images emerge & a person appears. They are like meeting up with a chatty friend who tells charming stories with tangents that sometimes connect to each other but always connect to life. The style is Frank O’Hara meets Walt Whitman – amiable, comfortable, inviting & emotionally resonant.”

1990

I met Philip way back in 1990 when he was cast in Bushwack Theatre’s production of T-Shirts. One of his lines, that I still remember, was ‘I was never a cute kid.’ Which really summed up the way many gay men felt about themselves. He delivered it with sincerity. He became a valuable member of the Bushwack company of performers, & was featured in many of its productions over the nine years that the company lasted. 

After Bushwack ended we sort of lost touch for several years. I retuned to full force to my own writing & became involved in the Toronto spoken-word world, in which the out gay male perspective was seriously under-represented. I encouraged Philip to hit some of the many open stages. He found them somewhat homophobic but persisted.

Eventually he, along with myself, Lizzie Violet & others formed The Beautiful and Damned collective which ran a monthly performance series for two years at various venues. We rotated hosting, lined up features & musicians. It was great fun while it lasted.

I heard many of the pieces in Hollywood Poems when they were first performed at various readings, when of course, one could go to readings. You can get the book on Amazon. Check out his web page. 

HOLLYWOOD POEMS , www.philipcairns.com 

For more about him, The Beautiful and Damned, & Lizzie Violet take a search stroll through the TOpoet archives.

from may 2008

Ready

the ignored alarm

the heeded bladder

the rotation of cereals

kiwi a radical change

strawberries 

blueberries grapes bananas

different yet consistent

rotation from what is there 

to what is there now

the ritual with water 

the seasonal changes of view

but still the same view

the email check 

the rotation of  shoes undies

the clack of spoons

ring of phones

expected voices

expected scatter of opportunities

land in the same places

different days

yet the same days

this on the first Friday

this on the second Monday

a trusted structure

to give balance to the routine

never identical 

but always the same

does it need variation

can the little books be left out one day

consistency and variation

brief departures

make routine so welcome

enjoy more and more

what doesn’t happen every day

if it did 

pleasure would be gone

opportunity isn’t the aphrodisiac

or  is it

time memory fluctuations 

flow

picture of the innocent lie

the flavour of oranges

the melt of chocolate

the squirm of recognition

the long to muss hair

how can the hands keep reaching

each morning out of the bed

follow the slopes of the day

that rolls back to the same bed

to the same sleeping moments

dreams lost to bladder

secure consistent 

ready to ignore the alarm

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Disco Chips

May 19, 2021 marks 43 years since I stepped off a plane to arrive here in Toronto on May 19, 1978. I’ve lived briefly on Wellesley St E, Sherborne for about year, briefly in Thorncliffe, Bright Street for a year, Oakdene for some 40 years. I’ve had a ‘real’ job for the first year then nothing ‘real’ since then. I have cleaned apartments, ran a theatre company for about 10 years, became a lab rat for pharmaceutical drug studies.

On the east coast I was working for Famous Players & had asked them for a transfer & ended up being sent to Toronto. The year or so before I left Sydney I subscribed to the Body Politic so I knew there was a gay world larger than the rumoured gay path in the park. I wanted a land of opportunity. 

I remember my first few months here. Discovering the bars, dancing, getting sober. I was a blackout drinker & was afraid of backing out at the Quest & heading for home – which probably would have been Sydney – a very long walk. I learned my way around the subway system going to AA meetings. 

I left Famous when I discovered I had an allergy to money! My job there consisted of counting box off take. often thousands of dollars of paper more & coins that had to counted & rolled & recounted any hand in airless windowless rooms. Money is filthy & we had no gloves or masks or sanitizers. I got rashes on my hands, arms & severe red-eye. None of which worked on the dance floor 🙂

here’s a piece I wrote my first summer in Toronto

Disco Chips

<>

1

<>

electronics

chip away

at the solid state of me

disco chips

chip away chip away 

dance away

till only sweat remains

<>

slip away

escape for a time

a time of being

suck away fuck away

disco chips

chip away chip away

take your time

take my time

take my pace

leave my body

thumping 

jumping 

energy frenzy

fits the pattern

fumbles the patter

<>

then

up your nose 

up your ass

in your mouth

out of your grasp

cuts your palm

across the life line

the pulse line

pumping thumping

flopping

dancing fists

disco chips

chip away chip away

at the solid of me

<>

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains

<>

2

<>

I used to laugh

when I was warned

of the lure the scent the heat

of the pleasure palaces

laughed at the phrase

the symbol

till I realized

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat 

even when I saw

no real pleasure

no surreal palace

only a whispering wall

a muttering stuttering

wall of eyes

<>

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat

<>

3

<>

disco hits

below the belt

disco chips

away the surface reveal 

my fear my futility

disco chips

disco hips & disco dicks

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco slips

into the ear

then into the blood

<>

no alternative 

no escape

no please

tango prisoners

music fists

pounding me down

driving my pulse

popper clones

danger zones

disco chips

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco hips & disco dicks

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains.

<>

jn78

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