Thursday, February 26, 2009

Canuck Book 7 - Selected Poems by Alden Nowlan

I thought I'd never read another poetry book all the way through, cover to cover, in order.

This one was a little bit easier than the last (Al Purdy's Selected). I still can't say I greatly enjoy reading a poetry book from cover to cover but I had an easier time getting through this one. It's just hard not to fall back on old habits and start to jump around from poem to poem chasing whatever caught my eye.

I first started to look at Alden Nowlan after hearing NQ Arbuckle's "Part Of A Poem By Alden Nowlan called Ypres: 1915" on the Zombie's website ( last Remembrance Day. I'm sure I read some of his stuff back in university but I never really got into it.

Reading his Selected Poems, I wonder what I missed back then. His poems are beautiful, haunting, honest and alive in all the best ways. While Nowlan was a self-taught poet like Al Purdy, his poems are darker, simpler affairs. There is a clarity and an honesty to these poems that had me scribbling notes in the margins and jamming pieces of paper into the spine to mark each new revelation. I almost drove my sister crazy one drive up north stopping the music to highlight another gem I'd found in this book.

Nowlan came from a poor family in Nova Scotia and this background informs all of his poetry. He doesn't suffer fools. He can be harsh when dealing with hypocrisy, especially the hypocrisy of attitudes towards the poor. Every aspiring social worker should have to memorize his "The Social Worker's Poem" before going out to work with people.

There is a lot of tenderness and even humour to be found here, as well. Overall, there is a great sense of humanity in this book, warts and all. Through Nowlan's poems, you see a world that is harsh and beautiful, cruel and joyful and you feel better for experiencing it.

In reality, you have to read his whole poems to get understand how great his work is. His poems spool out like stories and deserve to be read as such. That said, I can't resist offering up a few choice lines:

"The worst way to die / is as a prisoner, at the hands / of a pitiless human enemy. / Next to the worst / is death of natural causes. / There are no pacifists / in the cancer ward."

- For Yukio Mishima

"My family was poor. / Not disadvantaged - curse / that word of the sniffling / middle classes, suggesting / as it does that there's / nothing worse than / not being like them."

- What Colour Is Manitoba?

And one of his shorter poems:

An Exchange of Gifts

As long as you read this poem
I will be writing it.
I am writing it here and now
before your eyes,
although you can't see me.
Perhaps you'll dismiss this
as a verbal trick,
the joke is you're wrong;
the real trick
is your pretending
this is something
fixed and solid,
external to us both.
I tell you better:
I will keep on
writing this poem for you
even after I'm dead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Cleaning Day Diversion

I saw this band open for Hawksley Workman back in November. I love how they do this in one take:

A Stopgap Post (I've got chores to do)

Phew! The work week is finally done. I have a new review to write (here's a hint - go out and by Alden Nowlan's Selected Poems right now but right now I have some cleaning to do.

Tonight, I'm off to the Bloor to see Cadillac Records. I fell in love with early Chicago blues back in high school so I'm dying to see a movie based on that period. My house cleaning soundtrack today is going to be heavy on the Muddy, the Wolf, Sonny Boy and Little Walter.

Here's a taste of what's kept me hooked for almost two decades. I saw the harp player, James Cotton, at the Horseshoe a number of years ago. Even with a throat problem preventing him from doing much of the singing himself, it was an amazing moment. And his harp playing was superb.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making Oscar Look Even Duller

Imagine if they allowed thank-you speeches like this. People might actually want to stay up for the show (not me though, as I work at 4am). Oh yeah, the language does get a little blue. . .

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Millionaires and (Mis-) Calculations

What I've been up to this weekend (tomorrow's my Monday) -

Had my eyes checked - same prescription as last time. The eyedrops weren't bad, as long as you didn't want to read your watch or anything with your glasses on.

Changed cell phone companies after 12 years - in retrospect, I could have got the same deal and stayed at Bell. After 12 years, though, it was time for a change. Nice thing is I got to take my phone number with me (it changed over almost immediately).

I went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. Not only is it my favourite Danny Boyle film (remember he did 28 Days Later and Trainspotting, 2 movies that should make it onto everyone's all time favourites list), it's probably one of the best movies I've seen in a few years. Of course, watching the movie made me think it might be time to go back to India. It's been far too long since my last time over there.

Reading the Zombie's website, she mentioned road trip music. This got me to thinking about what my ultimate road trip list would be. I figured I'd come up with the list and then blog it. I'd even burn copies for anyone interested.


Uh. . . No. I love itunes for making lists as I just make a playlist and then drop in the tunes I think would work. After going through the collection, I open the playlist and go over it, removing tunes and rearranging until I have a good solid mix, ready to be burned.

I did the usual cull for this playlist and immediately noticed two things -

1. My ultimate list has a split personality. On the one side is all the blues, country and roots stuff that just goes so well with a road rolling by. On the other side is all the rock, pop and punk stuff I wouldn't want to miss out on.

2. My long list is way too long. 160 songs.

It's going to take a little longer than I thought. I'm going to have pull out the scalpel and dig in but I think, given the split personality, it will actually be 2 separate lists. Sadly, today is cleaning day so I might not get to it until this evening at least. If not, it will have to hold for a few days as I am going into the toughest stretch of the work schedule. Between tomorrow and Tuesday, I will work almost 66 hours. It's harsh, but the weekends are worth it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One more thing. . .

Uncle Donny and I at a family shindig. Any more than 3 chords and I would have been really screwed.

One last pic completely unrelated:

I took this one from a canoe outside of Tampa, Florida. I didn't really have much of a zoom lens, either - this was taken with an old 2mp digital point and shoot. It was like 50 bucks for my father and I got to spend a couple hours paddling down this river admiring the gators and birds and the lushness of it all. It was morning and the gator was still just sunning itself, waiting for the blood to warm. Still one of the coolest things I've ever done.

When number 3 met number 4. . .

My mother's mother's family were all musicians. Some were also great lumberjacks, but mostly they were musicians. Back in the 30's, they even recorded some 78's. Sadly, as the years passed, the number of musicians has dwindled to the point that the last one is my great-uncle Donny. Sadly, he is in such poor health that I don't think he'll be picking up a guitar again.

Anyways, I always wanted to have some way to record Donny playing so we could have some sort of record to pass on. Particularly, I wanted to have a record of him playing a song about the Drocourt rail disaster. Sadly, it never happened. Most of the options I looked at were either too costly or cumbersome to be practical. The best I have is a copy of the lyrics. Turns out, they're also on the internet.

Drocourt was a siding and station in Northern Ontario, one of countless stations and sidings that dotted this country in the first half of the century. At 3:58 in the morning on March 20, 1929, CN passenger trains number 3 and 4 collided just outside of Drocourt, killing 15. Apparently, number 3 failed to take the siding to let number 4 pass. Most of the deaths were caused by a coach that caught on fire with passengers trapped within. There is a monument in the Parry Sound cemetery dedicated to this disaster.

There's a great website with the newspaper reports of the accident -

I actually got to thinking about this because I was wandering around the web and wound up checking out some of the new portable digital recorders out there. Some of the basic ones aren't much more than a couple hundred bucks and they are surprisingly tiny. I may eventually pick one up. That's what got me thinking about Uncle Donny and the one song I'll likely never be able to record.

The song itself is a folksy affair. Like many folk songs, it shares its tune with many other songs.

by Mrs. Ida Quackenbush and her son George Quackenbush

Come all you good people and listen while I relate,
How two fast trains of the CNR met with an awful fate.
‘Twas on a Wednesday morning, the time was half past three
When No.4 from Winnipeg crashed into NO.3.
The engineer from Parry Sound, Alexander was his name
Climbed in beside his fireman to guide his speeding train.
They sped along quite merrily through Waubamick did go
And did not stop at Drocourt which proved their overthrow.

Waubamick was their passing place but NO.4 was late
So No.3 got orders at Drocourt to wait;
At Waubamick, Alexander always met No.4
But for an instant he forgot and sped on as before.
The engineer on No.4 sped on thru sleet and snow,
All innocent of danger till he saw the lights aglow;
And in that awful moment, what could his feelings be
When he to his fireman gasped “My God, there’s No.3.”

There was an awful crash when those two big engines met
And all on board who still survive, I’m sure will ne’er forget.
For two cars caught afire as they lay there in the snow
How many perished in the flames, perhaps no one will know.
So let this be a warning to people old and young,
And get right with your Maker, for your time soon may come,
When you’ll be called in a moments time like those who’ve gone before
On two trains of the CNR, the numbers three and four.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Merge Radio

Last night, I placed an order with Merge Records. This label must win the award for best indie label website. Not only is it really easy to deal with, it has the best set up for browsing that I can think of.

A while ago, I bought a bunch of Will Oldham albums from Drag City. While the service was great, the website was more a place to go to if you know what you're looking for. It was functional but not much more. There was really no way of knowing what you're buying - no sound clips, minimal info.

With Merge, pretty much everything has a sound clip attached to it. Even better, they all seem to be the whole songs. It really gives you a chance to sample the wares and find new or overlooked artists. Better than that, they offer a merge radio stream that plays a random playlist from their catalog. What a great way to find new sounds.

As for my order, I went looking for the new M. Ward and maybe some old Magnetic Fields. I got the M. Ward, but I wound up with some discs by Camera Obscura instead, solely on the basis of being able to take a good listen first.

My Canuck Oxford

Is going to get a lot more use. When I'm at the computer and looking for the exact meaning of a word, I usually just pull up Merriam-Webster's website and find it that way.

Today, I looked up dilletante and got bounced to a page saying that word was only available in their unabridged dictionary, which requires a fee. Now, it doesn't happen for every word. Most of the ones I've gone looking for are still available for free but one wonders how long that will last.

I'm not bothered by it. I understand that these resources need to make a profit somehow and their fee (4.95/month or 29.95/year) is actually quite reasonable, especially when compared to the OED (29.95/month, 295/year). Of course, that's a bit of an apples and oranges argument but still, 300 bucks a year is a bit much. Do that for 3 years and you could have just bought the full 20 volume set.

However, I do have a perfectly good Canuck Oxford holding a place of honour amongst a row of reference books (Audobon guides, Sibley's guide to Birds, Oxford Companion to Music) on my bookshelf. I think from now on, I'll be making the trek to the bedroom to look up words.

I just looked up 'idiot string' on merriam-webster and it offered up nothing. Score one for the Canuck Oxford.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

If Brian Wilson had been forced out of his bed. . .

. . . and onto the Letterman show:

There's a part of me that was cringing through this thing. What a freaking waste of great talent. On the other hand, there were some funny bits. And then there was the chewing gum bit and that was just childish.

The most telling line - "I mean it's. . . I'm sure something happened. . . "

Uh. . . Yeah.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

So wrong, it's. . .

. . . still very wrong. But funny.

(the url says it all, oddly enough)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

If you aren't addicted to Seen Reading yet (, perhaps this video will draw you in. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I long to be "seen" one day. Alas, I know I will likely be seen on that day that I decide to read a trashy fantasy novel (something Dragonlance, for instance) in a misguided attempt to reconnect with my early teenage self.

(Yup, I put in my time as an RPG geek. I was only saved by a good roll on a 20 sided die.)

Okay. . . That's enough with the full disclosure for now.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sticking to what I'm good at. . .

My niece is having a 6th birthday shindig at my parents place this weekend. It has the potential to be quite the event. For instance, I can't wait to see my grandfather playing musical chairs. Who needs tv when you've got family, eh?

Anyways, my niece has been adamant about not asking for anything for her birthday. Why? Because it will ruin the surprise.

The one exception, it seems, is me. As she told my sister, "I know one thing I'm getting. I know uncle Remi will be getting me a book."

Even with my deathly allergy to cutesy exclamations like "Ahhhhhhh. . . ", I can't help myself.


Did I mention I'm a 10 minute walk from Mable's Fables (Toronto's best children's bookstore)?