Anodyne
Saturday, January 08, 2005
 

Michelina, Monkey, and the Two-Dimensional Knights. Painting by my friend Jamie Tolagson, from our collaborative children's book, Michelina, With Pictures.

"Having descended the tree, the creature presented a strange sight. He was as tall as a man, and neatly dressed in pleated cotton trousers and a brightly colored leather jerkin, but his features were not a man’s, but a monkey’s. Sad intelligent dark eyes peered from a face covered in thick, cinnamon-colored fur, and a long furry tail protruded from the back of his trousers. A polished wooden staff was hung from a wide leather strap slung casually over one of his shoulders, and a long enamelled sword case was carefully tucked into the knotted rope belt that girdled his waist.

'Are you a spirit?', asked the knights. 'One of the undead?'

The strange creature shook his head. 'I am Monkey,' he said. He reached inside his jerkin and withdrew a polished black laquer locket. Inside it was a photograph of a solemn-looking man dressed in warrior’s clothes. Even though the man and Monkey did not look like one another, Michelina, Lady Genevra and the knights instantly saw that the man and Monkey were one and the same.

'I was once a samurai,' said Monkey proudly, 'a warrior sworn to defend his lord. No man could match my skill with a sword or a staff, for since childhood I have trained in the secret arts, so that I can move silently as a mouse across a carpet of leaves, and fall from a roof without injury, and shatter bricks and beams with my hands.'"Posted by Hello


Friday, January 07, 2005
 

A rejected Brunetti try-out for the syndicate's relaunch of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Lots funnier if you've previously perused the "comic strips" section of Brunetti's site -- preferably not at work -- and a pretty accurate modern recreation of Bushmiller's placid Zen-like mix of conceptual brilliance and stupidity. Posted by Hello
 
Ivan Brunetti -- long interview with the talented Mr. B. in this month's Comics Journal. Buy and read his Schizo #3 & #4 (Fantagraphics Books), won't you?

 
Also @ PennSound: Jack Spicer Live, including a reading of "Imaginary Elegies," first poem of his I ever read, and still a favorite.

 
Kevin Davies Live -- excerpts from a work-in-progress. Note his quotation of Australian hard science fiction writer Greg Egan's great novel Distress.

 
Freezing cold at Main & Broadway, the wet sidewalks turning now to ice.

One of those rare tranquil days in the shop where people only arrive with saleable material and customers you've never ever seen before repeatedly ask to look at the expensive stuff in the showcase.

Just finished: Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars

Received in the mail: David Thomson, In Nevada, a signed 1st to replace the copy I water-damaged and then misplaced while actually in Nevada. (A symptom of the upside-down world of used bookselling, presently a buyer's market, and liable to remain that way for the forseeable future: that signed 1st, plus Brodart, plus postage from California to Vancouver, plus $CDN --> $US conversion premium was less than it cost me to purchase a new, unsigned copy at a 30% employee discount from my old job at the new bookstore).

And a new purple tie.

Thursday, January 06, 2005
 
What I Learned From the Telemarketers Upstairs

• I am wearing a suit and tie at all times!

• I am asking questions to help myself become successful!

• I am on the phone to reach my daily goal!

• I am at work on time each day to reach my weekly goal!

• I am a business person that wants the money!

(Verbatim. Copied down for posterity on the back of a shiny gold "Pleasureville Entertainment National Referral Service" business card)

 
Book Hunting with Google, or Yet Another New Hobby, or Cyberstalking 101, or
Ithaca House Unearth'd

September 2004: Pete Culley posts a review of his new collection, Hammertown, on his blog. The review, by John Latta, a poet from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is far more insightful and detailed than any local appraisal of Pete's work, tho' inexplicably written in faux-1800s English. Shades of Mason & Dixon! A few days' worth of reading Latta's blog convinces me th' odd spellings & eccentric syntax are deliberate stylistic choices, not gimmick'ry.

October 2004: Latta blog-publishes some poems. They're uniformly excellent. I google him in search of more, and discover a few dozen contributions to online publications. His brief bibliography also lists two collections, Rubbing Torsos (Ithaca House, late 70s) and Breeze (2003).

November 2oo4: "John who?" (Duthie Books, Chapters, Elliott Bay Book Company, University of Washington Bookstore, Borders, Henderson's, Michael's, Magus, Macleod's, Hermit, Tanglewood, Chroma)

December 2004: No Latta on the U. Mich English department faculty list at Ann Arbor. Further research reveals Mr. L. actually works in the university library system, which pleases me to no end (primarily due to my own five thankless years in the stacks at UBC, post-B.A.(Hons), but also because of the cache that comes from being simultaneously in and outside of academia).

December 2004: Email to Mr. L.

December 2004: Money order to Mr. L.

December 2004: Signed books from Mr. L! Both handsome, but Rubbing Torsos especially so. Rough uncoated wraps, and letterpress. Boxing Day evening spent with Unibroue and poetry.

December 2004: Torsos is much-admired by my staff. "Like Black Sparrow!" Eg., whomever made this book knew what they were doing & took their time. The care shows.

January 2005: Browsing the stacks at William James, Bookseller, in Port Townsend, Washington, I happen across a book which at first I mistake for Rubbing Torsos. It's actually another Ithaca Press publication, a collection of lyric poetry by Christopher Buckley. George H.W. Bush's speechwriter? Fortunately no. A creative writing instructor at U. C. Riverside. Also letterpress, also lovely. Doubly signed and dedicated "to Scott Walker." A mystery!

Google: Ithaca House, 1969-1986. The creation of Cornell professor Baxter Hathaway.

The same Baxter Hathaway who once counselled a young undergraduate named Thomas Pynchon to just forget writer's block and hand in the damn story?

The same.

Scott Walker?

Longtime Port Townsend resident, and founder of Graywolf Press. An important association copy.

My collection of Ithaca House publications?

Rapidly expanding. If you drop in, ask to see them.

 
Snow!

said the cats, peering through the gaps of the blinds down into the street.

Low blowing grey & white, just enough accumulation to tamp down sound.

Gene's shovel scraping the sidewalk.

The pebbley texture of the salt and gravel residue on my shoes.

 

Union Wharf, Port Townsend, Washington State. Bright warm January sun. Baker looming up above the old brick buildings along the water. Decaf. 45 minutes and 45 pages of a new book on book collecting. Huge orange sun stars on the pier's knobby barnacled legs. Little white long haired terrier on a very long leash, barking at the birds under the planks and tying himself up in knots. Eelgrass conservation area down below. Shining silver schools darting amid weaving green. Cormorants ducking and diving. That rare sensation: happiness (photo credit: ptguide.com). Posted by Hello
 
P.A. Announcement, MV Tacoma, Bainbridge Island -- Seattle

"If you are from Delaware and driving a silver Mercedes, will you please come down to the car deck and turn off your car alarm. The ship's motion is not a threat. Thank you."

 

Bridge for sale. Gently used (16+ years). Currently located on the scenic Hood Canal, Washington State, but easily towed or barged to you. Nuclear sub sold seperately. Posted by Hello
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
 

The Stampeders -- evidence of really good or really bad musical taste, your call. Their Carry Me on the Value Village in-house sound system today, sparking nostalgic memories of pricing stacks of paperbacks after hours at Book & Comic Emporium in the early 1990s (10 o'clock at night, Oldies 650 CISL -- the only station the store radio reliably received -- crackling in the background, cats wandering around, furnace ticking down. Fingerless gloves against the cold!) Posted by Hello
 

Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project, Seattle, Washington. (Day off tomorrow!) Posted by Hello
 
Kim Stanley Robinson -- long detailed interview with one of my favorites

"Understand that 'capitalism' is not 'creation of capital,' which is usually a great thing, but the system of rules distributing and controlling that capital. And the system we live in now is wrong—unjust, unsustainable, against all religions and value systems. Its defenders (always privileged in the system) have to resort to bogus versions of nature 'red in tooth and claw,' or grossly distorted religious claims ('God meant us to be rich and you will be in heaven') to make it look OK, but it's guns ready for deployment that keep those lame justifications staggering along.

Say then that science is an attempt to move out of all that, a proto-politics or alternative politics in which ostensibly neutral values or methodologies are actually stabs at utopian spaces where justice rules. Rational inquiry into everything, in part to enable the reduction of suffering—it's a kind of ethics and so naturally capitalism is offended and tries to buy it, tries especially hard since science makes all the new toys. Maybe capitalism will buy science, maybe science will help the other justice movements to engineer capitalism into permaculture, as in some kind of institutional genetic engineering project (history). Anthropogenic mutation. We're in the middle of the story, part of it."
 

Just announced: April 2005, with a (long) essay excerpt from my Vancouver Review essay on the back! Posted by Hello

 

Only Apparently Real -- thrice-revised & reworked new review for Terminal City. Nothing's ever clear while composing, least of all to me, but I like this version the best of those I've posted here today. It's also the shortest, which is its own kind of lesson.

Spill 03: Paysages incertain
Isabelle Hayeur
Artspeak Gallery, through January 22nd, 2005
By Christopher Brayshaw

Montreal photographer Isabelle Hayeur’s panoramic landscapes deform time, slowing your viewing of them down to a crawl. This is not an experience traditionally associated with photography; most photographs -- even those whose scale implies that they are meant to be viewed as a kind of contemporary historical painting -- can be absorbed at a glance. Not so with Hayeur’s pictures. Part of this has to do with their size – six feet or longer, by only a foot high – but mostly it has to do with their content, which is fictitious. It is photography’s nature to depict things, and Hayeur’s images participate in this process up to a point. They are pictures of real things – milky overcast skies; wet highways; sand dunes; stream channels; trailer parks; shorelines; gravel pits; tract houses – but all these things have been altered by Hayeur, digitally clipped out of their original contexts and montaged into scenes which, while apparently real, have no independent ‘reality’ beyond the margins of the prints that present them to the viewer.

Looking at Hayeur’s work is a contemplative, drawn-out, and vaguely disturbing process. You begin at the edge of one – say Dunes (2003). A car is traveling along a wet East Coast highway under a pearl-grey sky. Beside the highway, a pullout is littered with wet gravel. Beyond the pullout, a grassy slope descends into a wasteland of shrub-studded sand dunes. Maybe it is more accurate to say that part of the slope descends, because another portion of it doesn’t, but curves back out toward you. In the far right hand corner of the picture another, lower road leads along the bank of a shallow stream, past a trailer park, and back out into the dunes. Now problems of composition and perspective begin to multiply. The road that goes past the trailers seems to emerge from nowhere, shooting out of the grassy foreground slope. Hot sunlight hits the trailers’ metal roofs, on the far right hand edge of the picture, but the sky at the picture’s left hand edge threatens rain. And the contours of the dunes in the center of the photograph seem to pulse and bubble and run off at odd angles, like the flickering brushstrokes in a Cezanne painting.

It’s as if the virtual world inside the photograph has been stretched across the surface of an enormous sphere, distorting it, then brought up flush with the gallery wall. And yet you have to look closely to take the full measure of Hayeur’s distortions and alterations. Her pictures’ wet grey light helps cut down on the number of conflicting shadows that would give her game away too easily, and there are whole linear feet of some photographs where no distortions occur, and the “reality” of her subjects is not called into question.

Hayeur’s methodology is not totally original; many artists are now working in the genre of what, for lack of a better phrase, I have begun calling “constructed landscape.” Matilda Azlizadeh’s video projection Sunday, shown in 2002 at Artspeak, is a thematic relative of Hayeur’s photographs; so too are the photographs by Evan Lee and Kevin Schmidt recently shown at Presentation House. What all three of these artists share is a skepticism regarding photography’s ability to seamlessly mirror the world. The camera has often been thought of as rationalism’s friend, a technological device designed to parse the world more and more finely, pursuing things beyond the bounds of human sight (Think of Walter Benjamin’s amazement at Karl Blossfeldt’s close-up botanical studies, or images of distant galaxies captured by radio telescopes). Artists like Hayeur imply that rationalism and photography are not as good friends as history might initially suggest. Photography is a vessel, nothing more, one that can equally well depict rationalism’s clear light of day, or Hayeur’s dreamy grey skies.

I admire the hallucinatory quality of Hayeur’s best pictures, the ones in which her digital manipulations are almost subliminal, and you need to search the image surface closely for evidence of them. These cool, stately pictures put me in mind of dreams I sometimes wake from – dreams in which, pursued, I flee from one geographically disconnected landscape into another: White Rock morphs into Horseshoe Bay, or Bellingham dissolves into Garibaldi Park. Though they are undeniably fantasies, I have never questioned the symbolic logic of these dreams; similarly, I do not question the power and accuracy of Hayeur’s fine disturbing pictures.
 
You'd think that any man hunting designer ties at thrift stores would actually know how to tie them, wouldn't you?

Monday, January 03, 2005
 
Ahmad Jamal's Poinciana in my head today, those soft, almost Latin tom-tom beats and big, echoing spaces around each bundle of notes from the piano.

AJ laying back a lot of the time, just listening.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars accompanying me today to the Fraser Valley, in search of designer shirts and ties.

Crisp blue -4C sunlight, distant peaks brought forward and etched against the sky.

Sunday, January 02, 2005
 
A ridge of high pressure built overnight over Vancouver Island. Clear and cold this morning, the Coast Mountains sharp enough to see Mount Bishop from Granville Street. In low gear these last few days due to residual exhaustion from working straight through December. And things don't get simpler any time soon! Lean & hungry competitors, big estate collection in Unnamed Western North American City (how to pay for it? how to get it home?), pocketbook drawers to design and build, the writing assignments that were ignored all December long, and the increasingly less friendly reminder calls from the editors who commissioned them. To say nothing of the 500+ books a day which, now that it's the new year, and people are receiving their Christmas Visa and Mastercard bills, will start pouring in the door any day now, and not let up until June.

Pluses? Too busy for depression. Terrific staff (6 of them!). Healthy. My newly-minted non-adversarial relationship with the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency. The trips I'll take to various North American cities, and the amazing books undoubtedly waiting there. The snow that'll melt, revealing mountain trails. SGB (healthy! internationally exhibiting!) and the Incredible Talking Cats. Red Rock Canyon's textured sandstone cliffs. Winter sunlight on the pink mountains south of Reno.

& etc.


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