SCAR TISSUE sources

Thank you for visiting this page. Below you will find all nine parts of the poem “Scar Tissue”. The words of other poets are in another colour. In each section, the colour of the quote will correspond to the author’s name and the poem the words come from.

SCAR TISSUE

A suite for The Gryphon Trio

1. Unity

This body and its grace of being—

I sing gratitude full of feeling

for telomeres and collagen. Our

 

world is the dream we’re having while we

live these lives on earth. So this is who

I am, this body. Hallellujah!

 

Don’t be bothered by death. Unity

is only for the here and now. We

must mourn, come night, so let’s celebrate.

 

William Wordsworth, “One’s-Self I Sing”

Sharon Olds, “This”

John Donne, “Elegy Twelve: His Parting From Her”

 

2. Change

 

In the present, it only feels

like things are staying still. The green

fuse burns and sparks life. Your body

 

will change by the end of this song.

It’s hard to live by wits alone.

 

You still need nature on your side.

Today, the rain: Plip plip then (crack!)

it’s boiling everywhere now.

 

Dylan Thomas, “The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower”

Margaret Avison, “Cloudburst”

 

3. Growth

 

A star probably still has light,

don’t doubt that herald, flying

 

at its own speed to glow here

on you. Starblown energy

charged with fire.  Change is the

 

nursery of music, joy,

life and eternity.  Sing it.

 

Paul Celan, “The Straightening”

John Donne, “Elegy 3: Change”

 

4. Disturbance

 

And now good morrow to

our waking souls. Pain has

 

an element of blank —

 

it cannot recollect

 

when it began, nor re-

call its first disturbance.

 

John Donne, “The Good Morrow”

Emily Dickenson, “The Mystery of Pain”

 

 

5. Wound

 

A breach opens. In

becomes out. Stunning

 

din of a sob. Hold on!

 

Your scarred skin boatin-

 

conceivable now.

 

Mary Ruefle, “Furtherness”

Michael Ondaatje, “[Kissing the Stomach]”

Margaret Avison, “Patience”

 

6. Debris

 

For when         I look at you,

even a moment,           no

 

speaking is left in me.

 

I’m never alone now.

 

My God, how we all               swiftly

swiftly unwrap our lives.

 

Anne Carson/Sappho, Fragment #31

Don Coles, “How We All Swiftly”

 

7. Relict

 

The savage pianist

annually growing hands

 

to salvage music from notes.

The lost arpeggio ends

in fatty acids drowned

 

in so many singing mouths.

Just press my hand if you know.

 

Don McKay, 

Don McKay, “?”

Don Coles, “Landslides”

 

8. Recovery

 

Phosphatidylinositol,

is central to metabolic

 

processes. It’s like a music

 

that plays under everything, and

no one knows it. It wounds without

 

the pleasure of a scar. I am

 

carried in my shadow like a

violin in its black case.

 

Paraphrased from Wikipedia

Michael Ondaatje, “The Cinnamon Peeler”

Tomas Tranströmer, “April and Silence”

 

9. Renewal

 

The maidens sang a holy song and

straight up the air went amazing sound!

A small child says, ‘I love you’  and lilies

 

in the yard throw open the doors of

the heart.  Accept Lord Mother/Father

the briefness of this life you’ve granted.

 

As proof of my love, I offer this.

Pity my voice burning in your mouth:

Eros comes nowhere near this bliss.

 

Anne Carson/Sappho, Fragment #44

Don Coles, “Abrupt Daylight Sadness”

Mary Ruefle, “Nothing Like the Earth”

bpnichol, “Continental Trance”

John Donne, adapted from “Witchcraft by a Picture”

Anne Carson/Sappho, Fragment 44Aa

Red Hand

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Last week, I read part of a short story at a reading held at the Magpie Taproom in Toronto, for the University of Guelph MFA in Creative Writing. The story was too long to read in its entirety and I thought people might want to find out how it ends.

You can read the story right off this blog by clicking on the cover image above, but the formatting sucks. If you want to download a digital version for your e-reader, you can get it at Amazon. The e-version costs 99¢. You can get that file here.

Thanks to Catherine Bush and the other U of Guelphians at the Magpie last week.

Red Hand was written in 1998-99, and was cut from my story collection Fidelity by a queamish editor. It’s never been published, until now.  I hope you enjoy it.

The death knell of Canadian culture sounds again

I read this week of the shuttering of bicoastal Canadian publisher Douglas & MacIntyre with the sadness many other writers and readers did. But immediately afterward, and for not the first time in recent memory, parts of the media announced that the great and noble dream of a Canadian culture was dead. And of course, and with reason, some folks replied that such rumours were exagerrations. (To wit, a warm and well-written reply by Anansi’s Matt Williams to John Barber’s endtimes article in the Globe.)

When local or national cultural concerns go down, it does make you shake your head. But in some ways, it shouldn’t. I’m sad D&M will not, at least in its current incarnation, continue to find authors and make books in some form. But I have no illusions that their demise in any way is a sign of general rot or decline in my or anyone’s ability to read, write, or publish.

A lot of realities have contributed to what happened to D&M, but any one of them could have resulted in a failure to thrive: globalisation, the Internet, the state of international economies, a sea change in technology, the shifting nature of literacy, the corporatisation of publishing the world over. So it can’t come as a surprise that the tenderest shoots may die off or change. But while it’s happening, something else is happening as well, and to view the closure of a publishing house, no matter how dear, as a sign of the apocalypse is (I think) a mistake.

We’re in the midst of an evolutionary shift that is affecting not only how we create and consume culture, but even the materials of it. The terms “virtual” and “digital” only begin to contain the nature of the change. Remember how much hand-wringing there was over NAFTA? NAFTA was going to destroy culture. Doesn’t it seem quaint now compared to the Internet, though? The Internet has taken our borders away much more significantly than any free trade agreement could have. It’s convinced us we ought to talk about our feelings in public, with strangers. It’s convinced us to buy eyeglasses without trying them on. It’s turned us into readers and writers much more than books and magazines and newspapers ever could have. Just as significant as the gradual decline of books and book publishing is and will be, think about the push-and-pull of the Internet on literacy and the gradual outcomes of digitization, and imagine what that will mean for what gets read and how it gets read in the future. Then answer this: is the disappearance of publishers, the decline in physical book sales, and the difficulty of making a living as writer tragic or inevitable?

Already it seems clear to me that self-publishing is the most important advance the Internet offers, and making it possible for anyone to have a voice is its greatest contribution to cultural democracy. It’s been fun buying old comic books off of eBay, but the fact that almost anyone at any time can tell their story (and get readers) has already changed the game for good. Maybe some stories will only have three readers, but they will be readers all the same, seeking readerly pleasure: to hear a human voice, to be told a story, to have an emotion. Despite its coldness as a technology, the Internet was built for feeling and it is remarkably good at not just providing a forum for it, but for storing emotion as well.

One thing I find especially interesting is that flood of commerce on the Internet has had no meaningful effect on this layer of it, where all this storytelling is going on. In blogs, in the comments sections of gazoolions of websites, in forums, through Twitter (where the ancient art of aphorism has been reborn), and through ancillary avenues of expression, like Facebook and YouTube. Much of what you find is raw and rough, much is autobiographical or terse or truculent, but there are human voices out there in a quantity we have never known in the history of human society. And it is changing publishing, as much as it is changing what reading is, and what an author is. This change is not on the level of one technology displacing another. Books vs. Internet ≠ horse vs. car. It’s closer to lizard vs. bird. They are not the same in just about any way it matters, except one evolved into the other.

We see the closure of D&M and we wonder: what’s next? But we already know, even if those of us who depend on that infrastructure are afraid to say it out loud. We know that within fifteen years books and publishing books will be a boutique business. Someday awful soon, the people who really don’t want to give up books will be offered something almost identical to them, with pages that turn and all, but they’ll still upload text. Maybe you’ll buy different sizes to upload different kinds of things to. There’ll be a coffee-table book device, a pocketbook device, a comic book device, and so on. For those of us who like the feel of the analog reading experience—two carbon life forms curling up with each other—the virtual book will make your Kindle seem like a grandfather clock. But publishing houses? Sprawling bookstores? Um, I don’t think so.

So whither publishing houses? Whither books? More of what is happening right now. Small, regional, expressly literary, risk-taking, or specialist publishers like Anansi, Coach House, Cormorant, Pedlar, Playwright’s Canada, Gaspereau, Brick, Wolsak & Wynn, Annick, Biblioasis, Cocteau, Dundurn, Raincoast, and so on are going to keep doing what they do: finding and publishing and trying to survive. Some will make the leap fully to virtual publishing. A few, or many, more will die. Amazon is going to be a part of it all whether you, Author Currently Published by a Non-Virtual Entity, like it or not. There will be more paroxyms. But even as we brace ourselves, we shouldn’t be waiting for the sky to fall. We need to brace ourselves the way Johannes Gutenberg’s countrymen—the ones who were decrying the end of the scroll—prepared themselves for what was to come.

Thank you D&M, because publishers like you carried on what was nothing less than a thankless, ongoing act of citizenship. Who could expect you to live forever? But no books have died, no ideas have died, and the new, in all its forms, is ceaselessly arriving. The only death knell is for yesterday.

A Banff Memoir

[Hey, if you click the titles of my posts, you can see them laid out in a more eye-pleasing form. Should that sort of thing appeal to you.]

I’m out in Banff, Alberta for two weeks, at the Banff Centre. I’ve been sitting in a studio in the woods, typing. Fourteen hour days with the music playing and the trees bending outside in the faint wind. I’ve somehow written 15,000 words in one week, which is shocking to me, but when the phone doesn’t ring and the elk leave you alone, you can get a lot done.

Banff is a mythical place to me, especially the centre. I first came here in 1984, when I was 18, to participate in the theatre program. I was in the “beginner” program; there were two levels. The “senior” program involved frightening older people who really knew how to emote. David Barnet, who still teaches at U of A, was the acting teacher that summer for our group. I don’t remember much except the last day, when David gave us our marks out loud, in a group setting. We were all given Bs, I think, owing to our efforts (these grades counted toward high school or university, if I’m remembering correctly), but the real appraisals were given live, in front of our peers. He talked about what each of our strengths and weaknesses were as actors. When he was done, he’d discussed everyone but me. There were protests from the rest of the class, and he finally admitted he’d skipped me. “I skipped you, Mr. Redhill,” he said, “because you’re not an actor. You don’t know what you’re doing. However, I’ve never seen anyone analyse a text the way you do. Your insight into character is quite fine. But, you can’t embody it.”

It was therefore his fault that I went to university for acting the following year. To prove him wrong. In Bloomington, Indiana. I lasted one year.

We also had to take “movement” class, which was some kind of dance class. We wore leotards and dance belts. All you need to know about a dance belt is that it’s a pair of thong underwear crossed with a boxing glove. It’s big, and it holds your nuts in a vice and goes straight up your bum. It’s supposed to make your grande chausees better I guess. It had no effect on mine. The teacher of the class was a 74-yr-old  man named Paul Draper. Paul was tall, with an incredibly erect bearing, and he had a tragic story. He was a tapper, and he’d been famous in the 30s and 40s. Hugely famous. Hollywood, Carnegie Hall, Broadway. He performed for ten years with Larry Adler. Then he came to the attention of Joseph McCarthy and his friends and he was blacklisted for life. He told us the only work he could get in the movies after that was doing shadow dancing, like behind a curtain, a sihouette.

He took dancing seriously. When he was showing us a routine, he’d move his feet through it, murmuring some kind of private language hup-a-hup-dup-dup-dohh and then we tried to do it. He was ferocious. Despite the fact that none of us had had any training in dance, he would be furious with us if we couldn’t get it. The highest mark he gave was a C+. He gave me, who moved like a spavinned ape, an F. He died at 86 years of age in 1996.

I fell in love for the first time that summer, too. First, some kind young woman kissed me on the lawn behind Donald Cameron during a costume party. I was dressed in civilian clothes, but I had a shirtboard Superman “S” taped to my t-shirt. Guess it worked. Then I met someone and eventually had a relationship with her! But in August of 1984, we were meeting for the first time.

I came back to the centre in ’88 and ’89 for the writing programs. More my speed. In 1988, the writing program at Banff had as students Gil Adamson, Laura Lush, Terry Jordan, Rick Hillis, Gabrielle Gunther, Lesley-Anne Bourne, Jean Yoon, and others whose names I’m neglecting to recall. I shared a room with a man who, some years later, changed his name to Algo McNada, which he said meant Nothing From Nothing. He got married to another student who was here that year, too. W.O. Mitchell, huffing snuff, Alistair MacLeod, Richard Lemm, Lorna Crozier, Dale (now David) Zieroth and Holly Ballard Rubinsky were the teachers. All of them were wonderful. Holly and Bill are gone now. Bill was already getting a little old and forgetful. Holly would have to draw him away from the students, who he would have spent 12 hours a day talking to, and remind him to go eat.

That summer of ’84, we had a student from Calgary, a young woman whose father was a rigid, religious type and who disdained the arts, especially dance and theatre because it was too physical. Her mother had plotted with her in secret to get her here, and here she was, slight, pale, frightened, but talented. In the second week, her father found out she wasn’t in bible camp and told her to wait for him; he was coming to get her. That night, sitting in the third-floor lounge, a bunch of us saw her walk into the elevator in what looked for all the world like a wedding dress. She’d pushed the up button. We looked at each other silently and then made a run for the stairwell. We ran up three flights of stairs, to the top floor and began looking for her frantically. She was standing at the railing on the outdoor deck, looking down. Three of us grabbed her and held her. Her father came the next day and I’ve never heard of her since.

1989, I was here in the May Studio, working on poetry with Don Coles. I remember Don reading the whole manuscript of K in Love to us in his room. Laura and Lesley were there that year, too, as well as Steve Heighton, Karen Connolly and, again, faces without names. (Someone, I know, is going to write me an angry email—we were best friends in 1989! Forgive me, whoever you are.) I was working on the poems that would become Lake Nora Arms that year. That book wasn’t published until 1993, but my real beginnings as a writer are rooted in that month in 1989.

1989 was one of the years that Adele Wiseman, the late and lamented Adele Wiseman, was the head of the literary program at Banff. She was a fierce woman who took no prisoners, and she was political to her toenails. However, she was also one of the warmest human beings I’d ever known. In my early twenties, I was a frequent dinner guest in Adele’s house in Toronto, but this summer, I was meeting her for the first time.

She was driving me and two young women to the Banff Springs Hotel because the program was having its yearly visit to the gourmet trough that is Sunday Brunch at the Banff Springs. And one of the women in the car was talking about the movie Stand By Me, that film with River Phoenix, remember, based on that Stephen King story? This young woman was talking in dreamy tones about the boys in the movie and how sad the movie was, etc etc, and when we parked the car in the hotel parking lot, Adele turned around in her seat to her and said, “That movie is a garbagy piece of misogynistic bullshit.” And got out of the car. And then we got out of the car. Adele waited for us and when the young woman caught up to her, Adele said, “I’m very disappointed in your feminism.” Then she put her arm around her and a minute later they were laughing at something. Adele Wiseman was a force of nature and I was lucky to know her.

In 1991, I came to the Leighton Artists Colony for the first time. I wrote a terrible screenplay. The few people who read it died instantly of brain hemmorages. I was at York, in film school, by that point. I’m in the same studio I was in in 1991 right now: Hemingway. Perfectly round, with a high conical roof, and a balcony that looks out onto the woods.

In 2001, I was here as part of the Banff/Calgary Wordfest (running as I write this in fact) and met Nick Earls, who’s now an old friend. That was the year of my novel Martin Sloane and I recall experimenting, serially, with how much I could drink at book festivals. Finally, I was here in 2002, helping, with John Murrell, to dramaturge a multimedia piece that the Gryphon Trio was developing. The centre had changed some since 1991, but nothing like it’s changed beween 2002 and now. The quaint, Swiss-cottagey centerpiece of the whole campus is gone. Donald Cameron Hall, which used to house the administration, the cafeteria, a bar, a nice little shop, and other things is gone, replaced by this:

I accept that corporate citizenship leads to things like this, and support of culture from the private sector is very important, but when they block your view of the mountains and stomp on your memories, I don’t like it as much. They’ve done something similarly blocky and unfortunate with the Sally Borden, which used to house the rec centre and had a huge lounge for artists to gather in. It was built to mimic, in reverse, the peak of Mount Rundle, which is behind it. Now it’s a massive hunk of pleasantly designed, multi-purpose CorpoStructure. No lounge anymore. No fireplace. No pool table.

At least Lloyd Hall is the same. The main dorm. I walked in there a week ago and smelled its slightly yeasty carpets, the vaguely pleasant pong of human beings living and sleeping all together and it shot me back to 1984.

I’ve been here a week in the Leighton Colony. It’s been wonderful to be here again, to have the mountains and the trees and the animals (I’ve even seen one of these!):

A pine marten. Latin name: Oo-cutie-pa-pootie-num-num

My life as a writer would have been different without The Banff Centre. I was lucky to discover it, and so many writers in this country have passed through here and been glad they did. And thank goodness they haven’t touched the Leighton Colony. DON’T TOUCH THE COLONY, BANFF CENTRE! It’s such a wonderful place to work.

Both the centre and the town have changed a great deal in twenty years. In the town, there are more souvenir shops. A Gap. A Keg. But it still has the charm I remember when I was eighteen, galloping downhill with a girl I’d just met to the Magpie and Stump, probably the worst Mexican food in Canada.

In other news:

I’m going to be on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers this Monday at 1pm EST. I’m talking about Inger, me, and writing in general. I think it went pretty well, hope you’ll listen in. The wonderful Christine Pountney is on the show, too, talking about her novel, Sweet Jesus. If you miss the show and want to listen to the podcast, click here.

Dear Rob, you unite us. Please don’t go.

This is an open letter to Mayor Robert Ford, from a concerned citizen. First off, I didn’t vote for you, but I’m glad you’re the mayor. You’re actually quite good for Toronto. But these are hard times for you. You must be feeling cornered. The press has united against you, you have very few allies left on council, your support has plummetted. The walls are closing in. You’re feeling it now.

It would be understandable if you were worried that one day people are going to say your mayoralty was a failure. But they won’t, Mr. Mayor. No, they are going to call it magnificent. Because just now, in your darkest hour, you are going to resist the urge that is growing in you, the urge to wash your hands of it all. As in: fuck ‘em, they don’t deserve me. Fuck all of them.

But don’t do it.

Sure, if you resign, you’ll be replaced, maybe even by a sock puppet, and the new mayor will do a very professional job. You’re not doing a very professional job, but duh, how could you? You weren’t cut out for this. Someone told you you had to be more “important” to be worth something. And you had lots of pressure from biglittle brother and who knows who else and lots of people put the thoughts into your head that you have in your head. That wasn’t very nice of them, and probably you shouldn’t have listened.

And really and truly, a lot of people really like you, and they are just as mad at the people you’re mad it. The ones who have tried to make you look dumb. The ones who have split hairs. The ones who have sought any technicality to discredit you. The fucking haters, man! It must be awful! But listen, Batman had enemies. And what happened to Batman’s enemies? These are thoughts you need to start having.

Anyway, I guess you could resign. It’s viable, and there is an upside. You could have someone write you the most charming, incredible resignation speech that’s ever been written (look me up) and then you give the speech with grace and a cheering soupçon of your personality—it’s all for the good of the city, the city has to have confidence in its mayor, despite my best efforts, my first love is football, etc etc—and ten years from now, you have a statue of yourself in Etobicoke. Guaranteed. Resignation could be a good outcome for everyone because the city would get back to business and you could get your tuchis out of the fire and de-stress and get your health back. Those are all plusses, obviously. Your health is of serious concern to all Torontonians, it really is. No one wants you to be unwell!

So there are certainly some arguments for walking away from it all, and you can get help taking the high road for sure. But let me tell you why you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t quit because although you are a lousy mayor, you are a great artist. You are one of the most magificent clowns we have ever known. And not a clown in the way the people in the hemp underwear spit that word at you, but well and truly, like Pagliacci, like Emmet Kelly, the greatest clown ever, who would try, and fail, to sweep up a pool of light. People wept for joy.

Your performance, Mr. Mayor, has gladdened the people of Toronto. Like Oliver Hardy, like W.C. Fields, like Ed Koch, your face is the truth. Your inner self is expressed through it as if through a magical foghorn. You speak without guile; your grand comedy is offered gallantly with a straight face and your choices—the sum of every great artist—are astonishing and fill us with delight.

There have been unintended consequences, but you have made love bloom in Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford, and especially in the old city of Toronto, where sleepy citizens, used to business as usual—are you noticing how World Class we are?—have awoken to actually be in the city. You did that! That is awesome! You’ve made a whole city look at itself and people here are talking about how they feel about Toronto, and what they want out of their own city. They never really did that before. They’re out a lot, wandering around. Your marketing people should change the ad campaign from “We’re expecting you,” to “We can fit you in.” It’s electric out there. You’re presiding over an important moment in civic history, and you’re adding soul-cleansing laughter to it.

Unfortunately, the people who elected you are going to get mad because you were supposed to solve transit and you haven’t, and you’ve let the lefty lawyers in, and you have appeared, at times, intemperate, and then there’s all that stuff about supposedly manipulating and rushing staff over public board appointments. I’m not sure I get that bit, but you’re the comic genius, not me. But the suburbanites didn’t even get the ferris wheel joke, and that’s too bad because it means you lost them early. And in the old city of Toronto, we don’t have enough votes to bring you back for four more years! The thought of an epoch of you in office makes me jellylike with pleasure.

So it won’t happen. In all likelihood, you won’t be back. And you’re basically powerless now, so you’re really just going to have to choose. You could resign, which really would be tragic, OR … you could just let it go! You could let your shoulders down and go coo-coo. Have fun. Make some incredible pronouncements. What the fuck, make a reality show out of it. Why couldn’t you do that? Do what you’re doing on the radio on television. (First episode: the Mayor rallies to push the Toronto Islands back up against the mainland in order to build the largest haunted boat ride in the world. Right on our NEW waterfront …)

If you take this route, you can just go to council when you’ve got time and you feel like it. Just do it right in the open. Answer phones. Everyone will eventually get the idea. Council will do some councilly stuff if you’re not there, big whup. (Have you read the stuff they gotta read? I just read the Ombudsman’s report and that’s forty-five pages to say you lit a fire under staff’s collective bottom and they couldn’t handle the heat! Why does there have to be so much work before the work gets started? Get people on boards, get the boards to work. They want it to look like the UN, and you don’t care, just get it done. There are a lot of capable people standing right outside the door. And some people are complaining about the optics, but like I say, it’s brilliant. It’s like watching a whole troop of clowns pile into the backseat of 1982 El Dorado with you, waving a baton.)

I am being honest when I say I have no idea what you’re going to do next, but I’ll tell you, I am glued to my set and my eyes are wide with wonder. So don’t go. Unless you really think it would be better. But don’t. If you give us two more years, we’ll try to be worthy of you. In the meantime, Mr. Mayor, bravo.

Two new poems

At Selkirk

Digging out the widow’s basement

they broke through the roof

of a Victorian river. Ben said

the water was writing things as it flowed down the curb,

like get back, both of you, and  do you have that in a larger size?

I went up to get a look in the afternoon, it was

muttering along. If you are nature’s gift, you don’t need

to say much. Still, it would have been nice

to have an uplifting miracle. Later

people started tossing leaves in it and someone

closed its Twitter account. This all happened

in the early fall, then people forgot about it.

But in the winter the ice thickened on the sidewalk there

and you could see a line or two. I had to get the scraper from the car

and scuff out It wasn’t me.

 

 

Dog of my middle age

Black and white and isolate

his feeling dumbplay convinces me

there are soullike things in creatures.

In birds and slugs and politicians,

in fathers and largemouth bass.

Grey furze along the jaw of his inhuman face

stares up warily from the kitchen floor.

All his fears inhabit him. The twitch in his leg

of readiness. I touch him and his face falls along its bone.

Animal, his eyes say, you are one of me.