I recently ordered a scenic Cape Breton 2023 calendar. (from: The Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop: https://bestofcbgiftshop.ca) I love the photos but I’m more into the ‘old times’ not the ‘today’ on the island – I doubt if these pictures will ever show their ‘age’ & could be for any of last 10 or next 10 years. I prefer vintage photo calendars like these promotional political calendars from 2000, 2009, 2010. My Dad sent me the first one, then my sister sent the others. Were they published in the between years? I don’t know.
But these were very smartly put together with excellent, fun archival photographs. Many photos of streets in Sydney. My favorite shots are the groups – high school hockey teams, well-dressed teens at a high-school prom, cadets in formation. Looking at them I think ones similar to these would be great fund-raisers. I would certainly buy one of, say, Sydney Academy class photos over the decades or one of local hockey teams over the decades, pee-wee baseball anyone?
On some of these are notes of things I was doing here in Toronto. The August 2000 reminds me that I went to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-lake to see a production of Lord of the Flies. The July 2009 reminded me I saw Chekov’s Three Sisters at the Stratford Festival that month. June 2010 – nothing noted so a quiet month, I guess.
But in July 2010 I attended the Writer’s Workshop that was a part of The Loyalist Summer Arts program in Bellville. This was all before I started the TOpoet blog so no links to these past events 😦 I only know I saw Lord of the Flies by checking the Shaw Festive web site to see what shows were in that season. Calendars – thanks for the memories 🙂
One of the FB groups I joined is a Wiccan group that posts information on each of the full moons & the various solstice rituals. One of the members offers a simple kit for each sabbat to performing one’s own ritual. With my strongly Welsh heritage I was drawn to see how this sort of philosophy would fit into my recovery spiritual path.
When I lived on the east coast I toyed with some of this without really becoming invested in anything beyond reading. It was more interesting to have Aleister Crowley’s books that it was to really read them. Over the years I ‘dabbled’ in various new age things like crystals, native teachings etc. Of course to know when Mercury is retrograde is always a good.
So I ordered one of the solstice kits, which does much of the work for me as it had a candle, incense cone, essential oil, herbs, crystal & booklet with incantations & affirmations. Each solstice/equinox kit is limited edition. I like the simplicity of it.
For Christmas I bought the Llewellyn calendar, datebook & almanac to add to my research. I discovered buried in my books two earlier Llewellyn almanacs that had been Yule gifts for 1993, 1998. I’ve also added their Sabbat Essentials – a series of 8 beautiful books each one devoted a specific sabbath. Excellently written & easy to read. Highly recommended if you are interested in exploring the Wheel of the Year. Though if you find gendered spirituality difficult these will present a challenge.
My own approach remains simple. I now have a greater awareness of the both the full & new moons. My observances are ‘rustic’ as opposed to complex rituals. Intentionality is more vital than having the right colour candle, or getting out a compass & protractor to make sure everything is laid out on the exact spot.
Some of this fits into my spiritual path but much like theories of recovery I take what I like & leave the rest – leave, not discard, as you never know when it will illuminate the next phase of the moon.
The dreaded, by many, fourth step in the recovery program calls on one to take a fearless moral inventory, which at first glance seems to be a list all the bad things we did. The lies, money we stole – if only it were that simple. Growing up queer I was confronted with things like ‘an abomination unto the face of the Lord.’ if one is an abomination to begin with what difference to those petty failing make?
I didn’t have any morals to begin with anyway. What I did have was a cultural encoded set of behaviours & expectations that were in place before I was even born. Men do this, women do this – not to conform was a no-no, to question those suppositions was also a no-no. If one was a bit of a girly-boy you got teased into manhood. To confront bullies was a step to manhood: violence = masculinity. Not to confront = cowardice.
In the lgbtqia world not to get married was to be a bad queer, to sleep around was to be a bad queer, not to fly the rainbow flag with the added trans chevron was to be transphobic. Assumptions & encoded expectations can’t be avoided – there is always a pressure to conform in the queer community or rather to ape heteronormative behaviours to be ‘acceptable’ – please no leather men at the pride parade, hide those drag queens, hide anyone over 60 (or it is 50 now) so we don’t scare the children or our corporate sponsors with the bare breasts of motorcycle dykes.
Getting back to my inventory, I eventually had to address deeper issues than a list of people I resented or who resented me for what I was. Some resentments are hard to get to the roots of, as my biggest abuser was/is the culture I grew up in & one in which I have to live. One result of doing this step several times over the past decades as guided me to confront those cultural encoded behaviours & realize that being the sort of non-conformist I am isn’t cowardice but bravery.
A few months ago I watched a British series ‘ Stitch In Time’ in which the fashion historian host, with her team of specialists, replicates clothing worn in famous oil paintings – giving us a context for the painting & the fabrics used etc. Sometimes they went to an archive that had actual clothing made in the period in question. It led me to think of the oldest clothing I now owned.
My mother was a seamstress, making clothes for herself & my sisters most of the time. She wasn’t fond of the construction of collars or putting in button holes but I did get her to make me a few shirts. On my semi-regular trips from Sydney to Halifax I would buy albums & fabric. The stores in Sydney didn’t carry ‘fun’ prints & as far as I remember, there were stores dedicated to fabric just departments at Zellers etc. I found these at a sort of Fabricland in Halifax.
I had two of the movie star shirts. This one in blue with the brown insert & one in brown with blue insert – both in this sort of western style. I made sure it had the Frankenstein monster pocket. The fabric is a heavy cotton, almost denim. I loved wearing these because of the campiness of the print & because they echoed my job – I worked at the Famous Player theatres in Sydney. This one still fits me, if I don’t button it up, but the thread is ‘delicate’ with age.
The dashiki style with the racing cars still amazes me. I love this kids pj print, though it is cotton not flannel. I also had another with a cowboys & stallions print but has been lost to time. My mother liked this pattern because it had no collar or buttons to bother with. I’ve kept my eye open on visits to Fabricland or something similar without success. Truly vintage I guess. this one doesn’t fit & the fabric itself is now delicate with age.
The tie is made from another of my Halifax fabric finds. Another cotton print that I may might have had a dashiki made of too. I have worn this tie a few times to perform at poetry readings. My mother wasn’t too sure of the construction of ties so it lacks the interlining fabric that keeps the tie in shape so it never really knotted properly so it proved not to be practical for tying someone to the bed 😦
In Sydney at this time men weren’t wearing prints expect plaids. Shirts were nondescript in mild colours. Mine were attention getters. I see now how these print choices were a part of my coming out at the time with their tres gay sensibility.
I was introduced to Tchaikovsky through Fantasia without knowing who I was being introduced to. When I bought my first real stereo: turntable, speakers, receiver – from Radio Shack – the first album I played on it was a recording of his first piano concerto. It was a wow moment.
Since then my collection of his work has grown from box sets to cassettes & to cd box sets & mp3. buy Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian 1840 –1893) I have as stand-alones: Queen of Spades 3 cd, Nutcracker ballet, 1812 Overtures & other orchestral work, Complete Piano & orchestra 2cd, Complete String Quartets 2cd, Choral Work, Violin Concerto w: Beethoven: Violin Concerto 61.
On 3cds of mp3 I have the Complete Symphonies, Complete Solo Piano Music, Piano Concertos, Orchestral works: Capriccio Italien, Francesca da Rimini, Ballet Suites, Romeo & Juliet, Swan Lake, Nutcracker; Violin Concertos. Rounding out the cds are Dvorak: Four-Hand Piano; Prokofiev: The Buffoon ballet; Berloiz: Romeo & Juliet ballet; Stravinsky: Firebird.
Some duplicates but each version is a different interpretation. Melodic, lyrical, some radical at the time, romantic, over-the-top, melodramatic & sometimes saccharin & sentimental – what’s not to like? Some of the music barely contains his personal inner turmoil around his queerness – at time when it was a capital offence – actually in Russia I think it still is.
The ballet suites are a good introduction to his music. The whole ballets can be a bit much without dancers 🙂 The Queen of Spades opera is pleasant enough. His string quartets are sublime. If you want melodrama, melody & heartbreaking romance this is the composer for you.
Ending this look back with something humorous. I’d say funny but the ending is a bit too sardonic. I’ve written similar pieces in which I play with clichés in unpredictable ways. I enjoy the way this poem twists around language &, hopefully, takes the reader by surprise with the unexpected ending image.
The poem a bit didactic with the almost aphoristic opening about holding on to hope. How long will Trump hold on to his unsubstantiated conspiracy theory? Pride keeps some holding on rather than letting go & moving on. Slim hopes: like ‘this time it’ll be different,’ ‘he/she didn’t really mean it’ etc. We find it easier to continue to invest in hopeless causes than move on.
Lessons learned can be quickly forgotten or ignored with the promise of resurrection. Red flags ‘heavy footfall’ ‘tripping over a chair’ are ignored with that promise ‘I’ll change.’ Or we get caught in being the nice guy afraid that by establish & maintaining a boundary we won’t be liked. ‘If you love me you’ll forgive me.’ ‘Don’t you trust me.’
Alcoholics often continue to drunk, well aware of the consequences – often there is no event, consequence or loss painful enough to get them to stop. In fact that pain becomes an excuse to keep on drinking, the promise of forgetting. Doing the same thing over & over expecting a different result.
This version of Our Lady is from 1976. It went through several revisions before this one was considered done, the writing of it may go back to 1974. The one change I made in 2021, beside proof reading, was to move one section to improve flow. It did come to me as a whole piece starting with that title, which is a sardonic play on Catholic reverence – ‘Our Lady’ almost being the same as Saint. There’s also an echo of The Lady of the Lake. Here Striptease is elevated to a sacred art form.
Here, too, is my structural reliance on numbered sections, a lesson learned from T.S. Elliot. I thought it made my poetry look more serious on the page. Section 3 features my interest in sound poetry ‘kaboom kaboom’ as I give Our Lady a drummer for her number. In other pieces I explore this use of sound even further. I don’t think I’ve ever performed this one so I don’t know how the sounds sound 🙂
There is almost a story line as Our Lady prepares, then goes on stage, performs, then relaxes after & goes to bed. We are the audience for this show & the tip-toe observer literally turns the reader from audience into a secret voyeur. The point of view shifts subtly through out the poem from the ‘I’ to the omniscient poet’s eye that decides her toys are lurching. Finally to the figure spying.
Striptease is essentially a heterosexual male pleasure that invites lust with distance, without real investment in the object other than the surface. Writing about it was a way of establishing my masculinity as a poet. I wasn’t really out at the time, unless getting drunk & having sex with a drunk buddy counts. I was okay being bi but I kept my poetry focus on women.
It’s also about unrequited sex. Our Lady offers it to men who can’t have her, she goes home alone. Our peeper also goes home alone satisfied with his glimpse of the off stage Lady. Both of them caught in a culture in which the observed surface replaces real connection.
Although music has always played a big part in my life – at time when an lp, cassette, cd, mp3 would start up within minutes after I woke up – I rarely wrote without it, but seldom actually wrote about it. This piece is partially inspired by two pieces for solo flute: Syrinx by Claude Debussy & Density 21.5 by Edgar Varese. I had an lp with both of these by Severino Gazzelloni. Both pieces were merely over as opposed to having a definite conclusion, they ended without resolution.
The poem also uses images, variations on those images – like melodies repeated with slight harmonic changes. The breeze moving me, the shades of cold, frost echoes grey. Haunted resonated with the emptiness of the room, the hollowness of the flute. I move formless, like frosted breath, like clouds that seem to have shape until you get close, they become fog around out, you breath them in.
This was written in 1975 – what was waiting for resolution in my life? I was living in a grey area of sexual anxiety knowing I was gay & being careful about how out I could be. Gay panic was an acceptable for murder, for assault. I had an English Lit prof tell me that writing about queer sexuality would not serve my writing well (or something to that effect). Sex was drunken fumbling with other drunk guys. Sex was a fussy furtive opportunity.
My writing ‘career’ was also unresolved. I had no real mentors. I was stumbling through the writing of fiction as best I could. I have a couple of novels that I wrote between 1970 – 77. Some short stories too, even a play. All full of emotional pretence & the striving to find a voice. A striving haunted by cultural shaming. I was waiting for resolution.
Another of the stumble-drunk poems. This one about those drinking pals I look forward to so much simply so I didn’t have to drink alone. I recall one booze buddy who said I was the best pal he ever had – sound familiar – years later I heard that line in a song about drinking. Years later, I don’t remember which booze hound said that about me. I’m sure it was after buying a round drinks.
‘you treat me like shit’ is an actual line said to me, more than once. As a drunk I was emotionally overwrought while being detached at the same time. I was sardonic, even cruel, when not feeling much sympathy for the travails of others. Partially because I thought that a nasty streak made me appear more intelligent, witty, intellectual. It was also a way to keep people from getting to close. I’d rather they thought I was nasty than gay.
Things did get broken 🙂 The drunken confessions weren’t mine, though I may have felt some of those things. I wasn’t afraid of death – after all being a drunk is a slow death. I had suicidal thoughts & imagined drinking myself to death like my hero Dylan Thomas or doing some theatrical gesture like another of my heroes, Yukio Mishima.
My conceit wasn’t in thinking I was not as bad as my drinking buddy but thinking only I recognized that I was probably worse than him & he was humouring me so he could get another drink. Neither us were looking for change unless it was to try a different mix for our drinks.
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.