I don’t recall any real hero worship going up. I wasn’t a sports fan so there weren’t posters of hockey or baseball players on my walls. A few of pop stars but they weren’t really heroes, or even role models. I was quite fascinated by the astronauts though, I did repeatedly read a paperback I had that told their story.
More than anything this piece reflects my fascination for the macabre & the pleasure I take in pushing narrative in unexpected directions. The title leads you to expect a poem about a celebrity or some low-key humdrum person who is a role model but instead starts with this image of a body – is this the body of my hero? The language is matter-of-fact almost newswire in lack of emotional content.
Second verse still downplays emotion but with a hint of the sardonic in making the violence mundane. Then comes the the hero – the chalk man. ‘When I grow up’ indicates our narrator is a child, maybe an adolescent but one who is unaffected by the body but who sees the practicality of dealing with it in a detached way – ‘record the positions.’ Perhaps someone who has watched too many police procedurals on TV. In some ways it is a comment on how indifferent we become to violence.
More recently I’ve seen children’s chalk drawings all over the sidewalks since the pandemic lockdowns in Toronto, Multicoloured flowers, faces, words of encouragement, even a hopscotch with 100 squares! Recently one for the 215 bodies of children found at a Residence. Chalk plays a big role in children’s lives it allows for impermanent self-expression that can be immediate & freeing at the same time.
The last verse veers into poetics with an ending as unexpected as the actual fall. The finality of death. It moves from the childlike voice of ‘he’s my hero’ into the one of that ‘final dive.’ Again impermanence – an outline that will wash away in the rain. A hero who will always have a job.
Capturing the innocence of early sexual awareness was a challenge. Making it too explicit would turn it into child porn. I know many whose early sexual experiences were abuse. Mine weren’t as sweet as this, being fraught with my queer awareness without having words for that awareness.
I did do some of ‘the pants down in the garage’ play but not as depicted here. The naked behind down the street was not unusual either. In summer we played jumping around the garden sprinkler & squirting each other with the hose. Often some clothing would be discarded to the ‘shock’ of parents.
I like the way it conveys sexuality without being either coy or frank but in a matter-of-fact way. I also feel my poet’s fear here, keeping it heterosex focused because in 76 I was certainly more interested in men but hadn’t found a way to write about it that felt safe. This poem is mildly daring but totally safe too.
In my pants down show & tell play I was more interested in what the boys had to show. I don’t know if I felt shame but more the fear of being caught. It was fun being naughty but the fear lead to guilt. It wasn’t until decades later that I found out this sort of adolescent ‘sex’ play was normal. I’m grateful for not being caught which would have turned this into some sort of parental outrage trauma as opposed to a sweet recollection of an event that didn’t damage my sexual journey of discovery with lectures & shame for being a child.
This poem reflects my adoration of Yukio Mishima. His life, writing & death were inspirations to me. Over the years I have read nearly everything of his translated into English, as well as biographies & critical studies of his work. Through the piece are mentions of his works – Sun & Steel is his book about samurai culture & ritual. He saw suicide as an artist expression. He was also queer.
The opening & closing are like Japanese water colours with a few simple brushstrokes creating a vivid image in blank space. The in-between verses are like chrysanthemum – multi-petaled with repeated words, images, analogies that reflect, then vary as they move like a kaleidoscope to form then reform new pictures.
Words were carefully picked for sonics & meaning & poetic vibrancy. ‘feathered rhapsody’ ‘crescendo of invention’ are Dylan Thomas candy. I had some brightly coloured Java Temple finches at one time so I’m sure they were inspiration for all the bird imagery. I must have seen a documentary on bird feathers & bones & that relates to their ability to fly but it is possible I made that stuff up too.
hey learn to fly by being pushed out of the nest – it’s either spread your wings or die trying, discover their perfect landing or become part of the black curves. Poems have to pushed out the nest to fly into the lives people that the poet often never meets. We writers never know where our words will land once we set them free. The vision one has of oneself as a poet, as person, also has to leave a nest, though unlike birds we have more options to try as we learn to negotiate life & often never find that perfect landing.
slowly pick up the pieces of my half-finished book
wash my hands
I often wash my hands
not thin tapers
with long artistic fingers but squarish
with solid grasping fingers
yes I paint
you’d never tell from my fingers
that I do anything
you’re never tell from my hands
that my fingers
savour the skin of knuckles
brick wall ground
grazed as they pound a head
the head that would never think
that of these hands
as they touch
the corners of your mouth
down the back stairs
playing on the pipes
playing at them with spoons
‘here it comes’
tapping at the airfoil
pumping on the surface
playing on the pipes
echoing up the stairs
‘here it comes’
then I dream
sorry sorry sorry
all so sorry
I didn’t stop to think
I rarely do
I think of myself
I only prime the repercussion
playing on the pipes
“pieces of flesh
and some hair
were found …”
is always clean
I like the feel
gripping at my hair
pulling it out
roots & all
looking for a hold
to keep me looking
as they slip away
as my eyes disbelieve
my act of turning a corner
without looking back
to see if I did
or if I glimpsed the doing
reflected by alley darkness
that’s how they found me
‘here it comes’
my knuckles raw
the spoon of blood
in my mouth
my perception clears
a book on my lap
spoons tapping on the pipes
something in the air
a taste of spring lamb
I want to kill
am too tired to clean
want to kill
I come back to my vision
a dream revelation
of the endless tease
within my grasp
without my control
This poem equates violence with masculinity in a very direct, in your face way propelled by a barely contained anger. I was compelled to write something that was aggressive, unflinching to get away from the emotional delicacy of the poetry I was force fed in high-school. There was lack of real physical interaction beyond the tenderness of a lover’s kiss. I wanted to write things that weren’t safe because my real life was confined by culturally imposed rules of gender behaviour.
I performed this piece a few times while I was still living in Sydney. ‘ taste of spring lamb’ was the name of a poetry reading I gave & I loved the dark energy of this piece. It was also a lesson to me that people see what you’ve written as you – that this was confessional as opposed to a character I was exploring. More than anything it revealed my desire to shock not to kill.
The language departs from my Dylan Thomas influence – no pretty pictures here but definitely some very clear & visceral descriptions. The narrative voice moves from that rage, to an almost tender self-awareness of both the speaker & he reader – the reach out to ‘touch the corners of your mouth.’ There is the dream logic word association that goes from ‘pipes’ to ‘some hair’ to ‘my hair.’
The title is a reference to both James Joyce’s & Dylan Thomas’ ‘Portrait of the Artist as a .…’ ‘nineteenth’ comes from The Rolling Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown. Writing poems like this is probably what spared me from actually killing some (or myself) & from having a nervous breakdown.
The title pretty much tells the reader what this piece is about – drinking, though it doesn’t get to the first sip right away. The first section is the opening of the bottle not of whiskey, but of the fear the propels the opening of the bottle in the first place. It also presents the idea of pulse as a protagonist.
At the time I didn’t connect my sense of resignation with alcohol. I didn’t realize it was a depressant – I saw it as a creative stimulant, as my escape from fears – particularly the fear of sexuality – getting drunk & acting out with other drunk men happened more than once. Opening a bottle with them was unzipping the pants.
There’s also some wordplay – ‘sleep in on all fours’ sleep instead of creep – ‘giving in without a struggle.’ This repurposing of cliches is a way to let readers be comfortable with seems familiar while letting them see it in a different way at the same time.
I wrote some of this while drunk in fact. Parts were in notebooks, some typed & the pieces assembled back in 1977. Some images were in the ‘original’ scribble – ‘sleep in on all fours, the feel of fall is colder in my bones’ – the sense of resignation, which I now see as melodrama, as opposed to real emotion, was more self-indulgence that anything else. Sections were made by sober reflections on what I had written.
The last verse was handwritten several times as I tried, at the time, to make my drunken handwriting legible. Looking back I think ‘the fear’ was not only of coming out but of the ‘sense of a special offering’ & how it would be fulfilled. Sadly I discarded all those original scribbles way back in 1977.
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.
This poem from 1972 is one of the oldest in the folder. The influence of Dylan Thomas is the first thing I saw as I was inputting this piece. His use of adjectives to enrich an image with more than colour – ‘infectious whips’ ‘diamond visible’ are a great examples of his influence. I can still feel that off-putting moment of walking into a spiderweb in the dark. Mildly alarming & icky.
The transition from the actual spiderweb to the ‘web of affections’ is fairly smooth & the analogy is effectively sustained through the piece. The verses have an image structure rather than a strict rhythm or even line count like a sonnet. The moon appears in each of them – slightly different each time – theme & variation.
The last verse weaves images & words from the first two moon, web, diamonds etc into a tangle that catches us. By the time we get to this point we are familiar with the concepts & are lured into the moment.
This use of language was very deliberate & somewhat successful if one forgives the youthful romantic ardour of the piece. It talks of an idealized, very non-sexual, type of love as well. I wasn’t out but was aware that I was queer. I suspect the ‘awkward’ of the last line comes from my fears of reaching out, of wanting to present myself as a poet & not as a horned up teenager 🙂 The blindness comes from the fact that there were no guides to coming out or picking up guys at that time. No role models, no support systems. Me groping in the dark for context.
For the summer Wednesdays will be devoted to the F Files – all poems written in the 70’s that I had been filed away in an accordion file folder = F Files. In the 2021 pandemic purge of my file cabinet I came across the folder & over the next couple of month input all of the pieces – just over 7800 words. Many I had forgotten, some I vaguely remembered writing. Some were drafts, some carbon copies.
They were on various types paper – some repurposed flyers, Famous Players daily box-office report forms. Yellow draft paper, good white paper. Some where handwritten on note pads, scribblers etc. Also various typewriters – my Dad’s office Remington, the theatre’s (the make of which I have forgotten), my old Royal, some with a rented electric typewriter.
I’ve picked ten of them to reflect on start end of June through July & August, ending in September. I’ve resisted major edits, but did some fixes for punctuation, spelling & typos. I did removed capital letters at the start of every line – one of those grammar rules that I eventually let go of. Same with the use of &. One thing that is ‘difficult’ with both Pages & WP is enjambments. With a typewriter I could just turn the rolled once & type right there.
I also have two ‘novels’ I wrote between 1969 & 1976 that may eventually get serialized here. Unlike the poetry’s which I find fairly good, the novels are clumsy & even more closeted. The first one reflects the influence of the writers I was most familiar with – Dixon & Appleton – not familiar with them? One wrote the Hardy Boys & the other was the brains behind Tom Swift 🙂
early 70’s – I was a fan of Gabor Szabo – one of my drinking buddies was a guitar playing guy whose last name was O’Neill
By Canadian flautist Moe Koffman I have as stand-alones: Plays Bach, The Four Seasons & Best Of. Best known for ‘Swinging Shepard Blues’ he has had an extensive career of jazz classical exploration. If you listen much to CBC radio his Bach pieces show up frequently as theme or ‘pause’ music. There is a jazz trend to interpret classical music, much like prog rock (i.e. ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition). Koffman does this with more of a pop than jazz approach. Great music. Sadly, as far as I can tell, his Four Seasons is out-of-print & not available in any form. Some of the cuts are included in the Best of cd.
Next K is am MP3 cd compilation of creepy soundtracks & more classical adaptations. By Krzysztof Komeda: Rosemary’s Baby; Jack the Ripper; by Paul Glass: Bunny Lake Is Missing; Essential Hitchcock: st music from Lifeboat, Spellbound, Psycho & others; Mondo Cane Soundtrack. And explorations of Satie by Joe Santos & by The Camarata Contemporary Chamber Orchestra. Velvet Gentleman.
My partner had the lp of Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack, which I enjoyed. I eventually I replaced it with a clearer sound & its was paired with another of his soundtracks. Komeda, a Polish jazz musician, did soundtrack for other Polanski films. The music is suspenseful & moody. Komeda died at 36, so is mostly forgotten.
The Mondo soundtrack covers various styles & moods & got an 1963 Oscar nom for the song More. Paul Glass’s Bunny Lake Is Missing is another moody work. I had the lp which I bought solely for the tracks by the Zombies – this was time when British films makers had to include a scene with a live rock band. I was & still am a Zombies fan.
The Essential Hitchcock: st music from Lifeboat, Spellbound, Psycho & others. Moody, impressionistic stuff with the Psycho music being classic stuff. Those shower strings pulsate with terror. Elsewhere in my collection I have the complete Psycho soundtrack – well worth searching out.
Finally more classical – this time of explorations of Satie by Joe Santos & by The Camarata Contemporary Chamber Orchestra’s The Velvet Gentleman & The Electronic Spirit of Satie. Santos is in the Tomita electronica realm but not as lush. Camarata is stunning. These were two must have lps at one time. Real musicians & moog combined to perfection. The lps cover more than the Gymnopedies. I love the spoken introductions on Electronic Spirit. Well worth tracking down for your collection.
scrap of a story from late 90’s found in an old notebook
The New House
The back fence was about twenty yards from the kitchen window. Kit could barely see the rag he had nailed to the post. It was one of the few intact fence posts. A few pickets angles away from it.
In front was a sturdy post for the mailbox. He’d painted it earlier in the week. His first claim to possession – the stamp of ownership. A new mailbox was all he could afford at short notice.
The sky blue of the box stood out against the green of the cedar hedge. When he found the time he’d add his name to the box. Moe too his efforts so far had been in the garden.
Untended for many years he had his work cut out for him. The ramshackle garden was the deciding factor in the decision to buy this house.
The red clay soil was a challenge he felt up to. He knew a year of two of mulch would bring rewards. A game of seeds was next to see what would suit in the mean time.
He’d seen several shows on TV about how some plants helped the acid balance of the soil.
“What’s up?” Jim, his boyfriend, stepped on the veranda with him.
“Jim! I didn’t expect you up this early in the day.”
“I expect danger pay for barring those early birds.” He did a little dance like bird pecking around Kit’s head. “Actually I’m up because Carol called.”
“Carol?” Kit knew that could only mean one thin. “Time for Bix’s seasonal check up? Seems he just had one.”
“About this time last spring.”
“Well, we don’t want the stress we get when we skip them.”
“Right and we’ll get to see if the change in climate has been as good for him as it has been for our relationship.”
That’s it 🙂 I have a scattering of such fragments were I’m experimenting with just making people talk. No outline or idea of where etchings are going, or who is going be there as the words bring them into the story.
Nashville Teens’ Tobacco Road kicks off an mp3 collection of the finest, if a bit kitsch, psychedelic pop from. the sixties & seventies. The Teens were a bluesy more garage-band version of the Dave Clark 5. This is a compilation of their hits, singles & album tracks. Some originals plus lots of covers like All Along The Watchtower, How Deep Is The Ocean. Tobacco Road was their big hit. Members of the band ended up in Dantalion’s Chariot, The New Animals.
Reading a reference to Dantalion’s Chariot in a book about the Animals lead me to an iTunes search for some of their music. I find it hard to resist 60’s obscurity. It lead me to a completion called Psychedelic 60’s: Rare Tracks. The 80+ collection included a track by Chariot as well recordings by the like of Danny McCulloch, Keith Reif & the like. An excellent sampling of radio hits that bubbled under the top twenty & vanished. Many clearly inspired by Pink Floyd, Yardbirds & The Beatles.
Another Chariot track turned up on a compilation called Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers. Thanks to George Harrison the sitar became the ‘flavour’ of choice, much the wha-wha did for awhile, & every band had at least one track with a sitar solo. This batch includes Canada’s Ugly Duckings! The Lemon Pipers & Kuni Kawachi. I eventually download Kuni’s lp (not on this CD) & it is excellent.
A cover of 8 Miles High by The Folkwsingers lead me to their excellent, trippy lp Raga Rock. There has always a niche market for instrumental versions of pop music – try the Vitamin String Quartet’s Lady Gaga works. Though the sixties there were countless jazz takes – try Wes Montgomery’s astounding Day In The Life. Many of them were banal, some took fads & incorporated them – so you get lps of moog, fuzz guitar, surf versions of top ten. Sitar had its day too. The Folkswingers are better than average & worth hunting down. Groovy.
Someone needs to start a group called ‘Psychedelic Sitar Teens’
flash fiction from mid70’s
“There are something I quite firmly refuse to believer in,” Josh said pouring himself another Scotch. “Mortality just happens to be one of them.” This drink was a bit thicker than the last, the next would be thicker again until he couldn’t see through the bottom of a bottle even if it was empty.
“I suppose,” I replied, “there is something to be said for making plans to break them for fun but …” I paused to match him, drink for drink, “One of these days you’ll find yourself actually living up to a promise. Just think of the precedent you’ll have set yourself. “
“Bullshit,” he swayed to his feet. “You know damned well there’s no hope of that.”
“Let’s talk about something else. We’ve drank our way through to the end of this morality, I mean, mort-totality, conversation before.”
“Ah, yes. Another dangerous precedent we set & will never approach again. They meet our death on the way to an icy top.”
“Lost in the clouds, as it were.”
We laugh that boozy guffaw that falls so frantically after an inane comment falls after another inane comment. The circular laugh of frustration. The caged lion’s snicker of hopelessness at seeing how afraid people are of him, yet he is powerless to inflict more than awe in their un-paw-able faces.
“You’re doing it again.” Josh snarled, pushing me gruffly. “Slipping into the logic of lines. Hopelessness is as hopelessness thinks it does. Drink up. The moon is full.”
“Cheers,” I raise my glass. “To motherhood.”
“To death,” Josh drank & dropped this glass to the floor. A carpeted thud. “Christ.”
“Yes, let’s bitch about Christ for awhile.”
“Let’s talk about fucking nothing for awhile” He replied with a foggy look that blocked response. “Give me a real drink. Then let’s go for a walk.”
“Let’s finish this off first.” I held up the last fluid ounces of the forty. “Can’t be much left here. Might as well go all the way.”
Pouring the remains evenly between the two glasses on the table, I looked up. A reflection in the window, a cat of reflected light slipping across the curtains up one wall then down the other. The slip was the stream, a suddenly dizzy reptile.
“I think I’m going blind.” I said.
“Well, that should resolve a lot of things for you. Oh yes. What a tragedy! The blind poet.”
“No. No. The blind pianist.”
“The blind penis?”
“Oh, fuck off. Here!” I slopped his drink in his direction. “I’m hallucinating cats.”
“Really? How odd.”
“Terrible, small cats. Miniature lions growling & prowling across motion pictures. You see?”
“Right. Right. I saw it last week. The Late Snow on Channel 5. The Cat People. Peter Lorre & …” snapping his fingers. “Oh shit! What’s her name with one eye & vamp walk.”
“This is hopeless.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just too early in the day for anything else. I know how important this seems to you but even importance fades with education.”
“Something along those lines without those rocket thruster fins.”
“Snow what Josh.”
“It’s starting,” gesturing to the window with my drink. “To snow cats.”
“No. No. Pers-pity-ative.”
“Oh, very good.” Josh slurs over the end of his readily tilting glass. “I must remember that for the girls at the office. They like a good laugh every now & then.”
Giving him my ‘aren’t-you-enough’ look, I toss back the burning embers of my drink. “Any more of this fine foreword play?”
“Do eggs have heartbeats?”
The first laugh climax of the evening. One of those red-face-sputtering choking-on-a-swallow laughs.