Atrophy and Labour Day Baseball

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to wear
the hell out of my white slacks this weekend.”

He sent the message and turned on the game.
He opened a beer. She poured a drink.
He opened a third, he opened a seventh.
Only then did he notice the sexual tension
in the catcher/umpire relationship.

The second inning deteriorated into the third.
He asked, “How would you kill me?”
She readily answered, “Oh, with a paring knife,
in Tulsa, in October, after watching The Last Waltz
in a motel with no room numbers or ice machine.”

He loved her commitment to detail, but feared
her commitment to detail, and late inning ties.
In the bottom of the fourth, he considered
extracting atropine from their nightshade
to top up her gin and gin and gin and soda.

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NaPoMo: 30 New Poems in 30 Days

National Poetry Month was started in 1987 by NHL journeyman defenceman Michel Petit as a way of distracting his Vancouver teammates from another dismal Canuck season dressed like November jack-o-lanterns. Slowly, the fete spread across hockey and around the world. Today NaPoMo is celebrated in 130 countries, and the extent of the celebration varies. Belize gives its citizens, with the exception of red heads, the entire month off. In Kyrgyzstan, each day beings with a recitation of the “Epic of Manas” followed by a feast of pheasant eggs and molasses. In Suriname, the citizenry begins the month with a community reading of “The Wachtendonck Psalms” and then daily sacrifices of experimental poets by replicas of the sword sheath of Bergakker. In Tuscon, Arizona, life continues as per usual. Russians, interestingly, don’t celebrate NaPoMo due to the fact that they are an angry angry people.

In Canada, celebrations and observations are planned from coast to coast, most involving Margaret Atwood. Often NaPoMo is lost in a thick haze of playoff hockey and eating ham with family in celebration of Jesus. This year, with all but two Canadian NHL franchises missing the playoffs, a ham shortage, and my perpetual underemployment, I thought it would be a good opportunity to actively participate in National Poetry Month. I’m going to join in on the 30 in 30 deal, and write and post one new poem a day for all thirty days of April. I will warn you, there is a chance there could be a lot of suck. But, I will promise no poems about prairie wheat or cheating with haikus. Unless it’s a really good haiku. About prairie wheat.

(Update:  All of the poems can be found here.)

I know what you’re thinking, that you couldn’t care less. I get that. So, apropos of nothing here’s some Willard Grant Consiracy:

Entitlement

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” – Hunter S. Thompson

“Labor was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things.” – Adam Smith

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” – Robert Benchley

I awoke early and noticing it was a beautiful spring-like morning, I decided to take a day off from underemployment and spend it walking about town. Leaving my apartment, I ran into my landlord, who reminded me that I was late on my rent. I told him I wasn’t going to pay February rent, but that I really loved the apartment, the general conceit of its aesthetic, and the narrative flow of its layout, and that I was totally blogging about it all the time, which was good business for us both. He seemed unimpressed, but I told him “what are your options? You expect everyone just to hand over rent every month, just arbitrarily on the first?” How presumptuous. I mean, I was living there, isn’t that half the work? And, plus, as soon as my novel got big, he could, like, turn it into a museum like Dostoevsky’s place. Who the fuck expects to be paid regularly, and in a timely fashion, for providing goods or services? Like, what world is this guy living in, right? Like, some utopian paradise or whatever where effort was compensated?

I hit up my local Starbucks for a coffee, ordering my usual venti Pike Place. When the pretty barista with the weird perm who always played Tom Waits told me it cost $2.57, I told her that I wasn’t going to pay but I would tell everyone I know how much I enjoyed the coffee, and that I always mentioned it on my blog, and that Tom Waits is the best, and wasn’t my enjoyment and celebration of the coffee enough for the both of us, and then I complimented her hair. She was aces about it.

My coffee was warm, the sun was shining, and I had some new shoes on that I needed to break in. The shoes were custom made for me by this great little cobbler around the corner from my place. I didn’t pay him for the shoes, but I’m sure to make note of his location when asked about them, and of course it’s up on the blog. I took a long meandering walk from one neighbourhood to another, and decided to grab some lunch at a little café that had just opened that a friend had told me about. I had a phenomenal sandwich: grilled mahi mahi on fresh sourdough, with a cilantro jalapeno pesto aioli and grilled peppers. On my way out, I complimented the chef on an outstanding effort, and noted that while I did not intend on paying I would totally blog about it later, and it would reflect well upon him that I had eaten there, and that one day, if he continued to work really hard, he would eventually be paid for his food.

I wanted to share the day so I figured I’d get ahold of my buddy, who would certainly be in on celebrating a day of underemployment. Unfortunately, my phone was out of minutes so I dropped by the Bell Store. I let them know that I didn’t have the cash on me to pay for additional minutes, but as soon as I got some grant money I was expecting that I would probably send them a bit. And, I would totally tell everyone I know that they were better than Rogers, and that if people saw me using Bell, then it would be good business for Bell. And plus, I used to volunteer my time at this poetry journal so why did I have to pay for my phone, am I right?

They reluctantly gave in, because my argument got louder and more self-righteous the more I repeated it. I texted my buddy, and he met up with me down by the university where we both got our MFAs. Suddenly, it started to rain, so we decided to catch a matinee at the varsity cinema. My buddy didn’t have any money either, but we explained to the usher that we were both artists, and that we could identify with all the work and artistic sacrifice that went in to making the film, and there was no one else in the theatre so what did it matter if we snuck in, and even if we didn’t like it we would totally say nice things about it on our respective blogs, and in our Huffington Post columns.

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O to Copa: Home and the Local

I miss a lot from my former lives. I’ve spent time living in Ottawa, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Montreal, and now Toronto, and with each move, each shift of life, I’ve left something special behind: a girl I loved, a friend I cherished, an apartment I felt right in, a diner that burned my grilled cheese just right, a quiet street I liked to stumble home, a spot on the beach to celebrate the eventide, a girl I loved. I like moving. I enjoy that sense of displacement. The rush of adrenalin born of fear of solitude and loneliness. The way a new place smells. The way it tastes. Of walking unfamiliar streets completely alone. And what I like best of a new place, a new temporary home, is discovering a local, a pub or tavern to call my own. And on a recent visit back to Montreal, I stopped by a former local to find it turned inside out, contemporized, changed. And I realized, much to my disappointment, that I haven’t had a local in some time, that I’m without a true home.

Many more intelligent folks than I have considered what we “need.” Virginia Woolf claimed that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Why this only applies to women and fiction is beyond my two degrees in English, but it didn’t turn out all that well for Ginny did it? Neil Young claimed a “man needs a maid” but Neil is notoriously messy, and that all turned pretty bad for Carrie Snodgress. Hunter S. Thompson told us “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” which some of us have tried to varying degrees of success, Thompson himself on the low end of that measurement. For me, a man needs a home, and that home is a local, a bar to call his own, a place where you can drop in at 11am without judgment for a cold 50 and read the paper. A place where a stool is always empty, where you can have both conversation and silence, where a hockey game plays on a TV quietly in the distance, where a friend will drop by, or not. And where it doesn’t matter.

My first local was an Irish pub in Ottawa called Gentle Annie’s. My friends and I went there because, well, it was close to our homes and they’d serve us even though we were sixteen. The owner, Des, whose nose had burst so many blood vessels it looked like an irrigation chart, and his staff very much knew how old we were, mostly because we would drunkenly admit it in the wee hours. We were peach-fuzzed little drunkards, but we could hold our liquor and we tipped well. We knew all the words to all the Irish songs, and we belted them out as best we could. The only problem with being so close to our homes, was that from time to time a friend’s parents or one of our high school teachers would come in. We’d all pretend not to see each other, except for on one occasion when a rather inebriated algebra teacher struggled to his feet to declare he was taking attendance, and proceeded to call on the five of us by surname over and over until someone settled him down.

On one of my last visits to Gentle Annie’s, I accidently broke my buddy Joe’s front tooth with the end of my pool cue. Opinion on how it happened differs, as Joe claims I hit him and I maintain that he face planted into my cue as he bent over for his pint.  Joe, suffering from too many drinks and a bit of vanity, naturally called 911 from the bar payphone. We were a little surprised when two cop cars, a fire engine, and an ambulance showed up upon hearing of a broken tooth at a local not averse to the occasional scuffle. The cops laughed at us, the fire engine quickly departed, and after the ambulance attendant explained to Joe that he would be charged a $95 fee for the ride, he thought it best to just go home and sleep it off. To this day his cap doesn’t quite match his teeth, and his mother holds me responsible for his now slightly less than perfect smile. He’s still very pretty, though.

There were a few places when I moved to Vancouver that I considered my local, but I never really felt at home in that city until I found The Fringe Café. The Fringe was like a house party with all your closest friends, every night, all night. I would imagine that the party is still going on, but I haven’t been there in twelve years. The Fringe was special, in that you could go in at any time and feel comfortable whether you were reading a book or hitting on the barmaid or doing shots of Jäger. The staff was more than friendly, and it was not uncommon to stay drinking right into morning, and greet the day staff as they came in for their early shift. On two separate occasions I put my ball cap down on a candle, nearly setting fire to the table, and perhaps the bar. Another time I left the bar not by walking out the front door, but by somersaulting the length of the room and out the back. I remember once refusing to leave the patio, and being carried, pint in hand, by Karen the bartender to an indoor seat. I remember great music. I remember feeling light. I remember good people. I remember being three thousand kilometres from home, and not at all.

Eventually, the sane man sobers up and leaves Vancouver. And in the years that followed I was without a local. There were a few weeks in Ottawa where the Alibi Room was close, but it was too small and dark to find any real comfort. It was, however, the place that supplied my roommate and I with toilet paper, as we were broke and he was handy with opening the locked dispenser in the men’s washroom with his Swiss Army knife. But then one night a girl I was seeing decided to pour an entire litre bottle of water over my head in the middle of the bar, and after that it wasn’t really a place I wanted to go back to.

In Montezuma, on the Peninsula de Nicoya in Costa Rica, there were a couple of little hotel bars I liked, where eventually the staff acknowledged me as a pseudo-regular. If I was a true regular anywhere there, it was the breakfast place that would whip up my eggs and café con leche as they spotted me coming down the beach, or the groceteria that had cheapest pilsners and discounted guaro. But down there, we were always happiest to drink on the beach, and no one is in Costa Rica on any permanent basis. No one is home.

It wasn’t until I got back to Canada, and moved to Montreal that I found a local again. The Cock n’ Bull was one of the first bars I had been to in my youthful visits to Montreal, so it seemed natural to return. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I liked going there alone in the afternoons for pitchers of 50 and to read the paper, maybe try and do some writing. There were always these sad old men at the bar, Bukowksi’s without pens or poetry, drinking draught beer from white wine glasses, contently awaiting some kind end. I kind of admired them, their comfort in solitude, their confident quiet. It was here that I wrote most of my first book, where I could look into the future of my speakers as they sat at the bar next to me. As I found a community, when we called each other, we didn’t even need to say which bar to meet at, just when. The Cock n’ Bull became a home. Many nights would start at a large table, pitcher upon pitch being devoured, and inevitably end up with just myself and Nick McArthur as 3am rolled around, doing shots of Southern Comfort, wondering where everyone went, talking about how one day we’d be writers.

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A Chronicling of my Harlotry

I have to admit that I’ve been cheating on you, and with multiple partners, in multiple cities. I’m not proud of my philandering. I always thought I was better than that. But I’m weak, weak to the temptations of flesh and fortune—the cockteasing of happiness. But it’s a cruel way of being happy, an exercise in vanity. I’m here to apologize to you. Here is a chronicling of my adultery, my writing for multiple publications and other self-indulgent acts of the past week or so:

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A Christmas Sestina

Nana, that horrible old bitch, is drowned in scotch number four,
smoking two cigarettes and telling me how it is. Crazy bird.
She exhales, billows of smoke filter through her moustache,
up through her snow-white hair. She’s Christmas drunk, railing
against Jesus. “Nothing but a hippie nailed to a cross,” she says.
I wonder if I can stuff her ninety-eight pound frame into the fire.

The cat slowly urinates into a bowl of chestnuts by the fire.
She’s been surly and suffocating since 1984,
just like Nana. Each time a gift is opened, some uncle says
“It’s a puppy,” to carols of groans. An aunt is having a bird
because my brother’s banging my cousins head into the railing.
After a few hours, oh how that kid’s head must ache.

Some illegitimate offspring is enthralled by Nana’s moustache,
pulling at it as she doses. I offer him some matches, hoping fire
will give him devious thoughts. My brother leaves his railing
duties to help and they’re able to singe a bit of lip hair before
she awakens. “Put on White Christmas,” yells the old bird.
Papa chases his eggnog. “Bing Crosby is an asshole,” he says.

Mum appears from the kitchen. “Dinner in ten,” she says,
Her nose asks: “What’s that odour?” “It’s burning moustache
Mum,” I whisper, as I go to the oven to have a peek at our bird.
While she loudly punishes potatoes I go for more firewood,
interrupting Dad and his brother’s wife on the deck fornicating.
A hot toddy and mistletoe in hand, she falls over the railing,

a fat angel in the snow. My cousin’s been out in his truck railing
coke and fixing his hair. “If it ain’t a fuckin’ Ford,” he says
“you might as well drive a sled. Shit, I bet Santa got a Ford
these days. Big F-350.” I tell him there’s snow in his moustache.
He picks at the flakes and rubs them into his gums, their fire
numbing his little remaining sense. “Let’s kill that bird,”

he exclaims, and I hope he means Nana. But no, ‘tis the bird
Mum’s been sharing chardonnay with, halfway off the rails,
swearing next year we’re going to Florida. The Christmas fire
has withered. “Not nearly enough to burn a body,” my Dad says
knowingly, as he licks his festive fingers and parts his moustache.
“Better be good.” Mum throws the electric knife at him. Fore.

The moustachioed attack the bird. It takes me
four tries to free the cousin from the railing guillotine.
My brother says nothing as he tosses our presents into the fire.

from the poetry collection JACK (Snare Books), which incidentally makes a wonderful last-minute Christmas present. 

Grad Students are the Worst

Grad students are the worst. I know this, because I was a grad student for many, many years. I spent enough years in post-secondary institutions to be a doctor. A real doctor. Not a PhD. So long in fact that I should be able to write prescriptions, but every time I go to a pharmacy with ‘20 x Vicodin’ written on a Post-It, I get arrested. Or detained, anyway. No convictions. My lawyer is aces. And most people hate lawyers, but not me. I hate grad students. Because grad students are the worst.

Grad students aren’t bad people, per se. Some of my closest friends are grad students. I know this, because my Facebook feed is filled with status updates about late nights writing essays on Northrop Frye, the merits of coffee mixed with Monster Energy Drinks, and the endless task of grading Composition papers. Hell, I was married to a grad student for much of the early part of 2008, and besides a still missing cat, a scar above my left eye, and bit of infidelity, it ended amicably. I imagine some grad students are good people, and have gone on to write really, really great SSHRC applications. And, in all seriousness, someone has to teach/date undergrads, right?

I can’t speak for all disciplines. I have no idea what History or Economics grad students are like, but I would assume that they are the worst. But in my many years as an English grad student, I came to loathe both myself and my classmates. Not as people, because many of them have lent me money, but rather as proponents of grad student speak and their tendency to surgically remove beauty and soul from literature. My MA years were filled with classmates making declarations of variations of the following statements:

  1. “Well, I hate to bring Foucault into the conversation so early, but…”
  2. “Pardox, paradox, derivative, pedagogy, pedagogical.”
  3. “So-and-so said this, which I am now also saying, but with slightly different adjectives, making it my own thought.”

I hated nearly every lit class I took as a grad student, not because of the subject matter (though it seemed tired), or the profs (though they seemed tired), but rather the general attitude of the discussions. The grad students thought as one, hated undergrads, and reduced all forms of literature to such a scientific and sterile level, that it was hard to believe that they actually liked books. I tried to loosen things up in the discussions, delivering papers with titles like “Joy Kogawa: An Insult to Trees” and “The Dude Blamed the Chick, I Heard the Chick Blamed the Snake, I Heard They Were Naked When They Got Busted, I Heard Things Ain’t Been the Same Since: Genesis in the Works of Leonard Cohen” but my wit was frowned upon. And that’s the other thing. Grad students are humourless, believing any literature with elements of humour is childish, beneath them, second rate. I even had one prof who would preface my contributions by stating: “Now remember, Mike’s not an academic,” which I took as a compliment, but was apparently a slight. Not from the prof, but rather my peers. Grad students are the worst.

I remember one particular incident with a Canadian Literature prof quite fondly. This merry gent believed that Canada ended at federation, and thought very little of my own writing and that of my peers (writer peers, not grad student peers. Grad students are the worst.) I was called into his office a few weeks after I had handed in an essay entitled “I Killed Thomas D’Arcy McGee: Getting Beyond the Suck in CanLit”. He asked me what I thought of my grade, to which I replied (honestly) that I had yet to check. He considered my aloof indifference to academia as he topped up his double-double with maple syrup that he had pulled from his desk drawer. “I gave you an A,” he told me, “but you’ll never be able to present that paper at a conference.” I tried to explain to him that I was in the creative writing stream, and that I had no plans to ever speak at or attend a conference, and so my grade was of no matter to me. He nearly choked on his Timbits, and I left before he could scold me further on my failures as a grad student.

And therein lies a bigger question: If grad students are the worst, and grad students become PhD students, and PhD students become profs, are profs then, by extension, the worst as well? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is no, with a but. And then, what can we say about creative writing profs, most of whom have just an MA or MFA. Does that make them grad students in perpetuity, and as such the worst in perpetuity? Fortunately, no, as from what I can gather, something happens to grad students during their PhDs or after publishing one or two poorly received novellas which makes them human again, because I liked most of my profs, except for those who I’m currently suing for defamation of character. (If you’re reading this ma’am, I refer you to the above statement that my lawyer is aces.)

Is this just bitterness? a self-loathing that has evolved into something sad? Probably, but I’m an unsuccessful writer, and sad bitterness has been my bread-and-butter. All joking aside, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I came to believe that grad students were the worst. I was in the early stages of my MA, and spending a spring morning as I spend most spring mornings: drinking gin and Tropicana, and checking Facebook. An acquaintance had posted as their status that they had finally finished writing a good draft of their novel and that it was not genius, or beautiful, or a highlight of their young writing career, but rather that the work was “tenure worthy”. Tenure worthy. Like that was the benchmark, the goal, the dream.

I was so offended I couldn’t finish my gin and OJ. I spent the rest of the morning considering what had upset me so, and I began to realize that this was a problem not just with grad students, but with a lot of the writing had been exposed to at the time, both in school and out. It wasn’t written for joy, but rather it had been written for other grad students. It was thick with obscure literary references, humourless, and sterile. The writing had become academic. It seemed like I was too stupid for everything I was reading, and when I would mention this to my peers they would tell me that I just hadn’t been exposed to enough writing of the same ilk to understand it. They said as I read more during grad school, then I would come to appreciate the work that to me was boring, scientific, and soulless. Man, grad students are the worst.

So where did this all come from? Why, years removed from those classes and that writing, am I making note of how grad students are the worst? Well, this afternoon I was sampling bourbon with my 3-year-old niece and looking for freelancing gigs online. Craigslist was down, and so she opened up a Word doc, and started writing. She said she was writing a poem, and after a couple of minutes, she said that she was finished, and I asked her what the title was. “The Mobile to the Rescue” she declared without hesitation. Good title, I thought, and while I read it over, questioning her use of enjambment and alliteration, all I could think was that this was exactly like one of those experimental poems of yesteryear that I didn’t understand. I could clearly picture some pompous first-year MA student, with aspirations for the PhD program at Upper Iowa State at De Moines and an affection for progressive indie math-rock, telling me fifteen different theorists I needed to read before I would understand my niece’s efforts. “The poem exists in what isn’t written,” he would tell me. “Try and see what isn’t there. The absence is the poem.” “Have you never read the Latin translation of Eunoia backwards, using Žižek’s writings on metaphysics as a filter?” Grad students are the worst.

But my niece is the best. So, here is her first published poem, beating out both me and Bukowski by thirty years. An essay on its use of irregular grammar and punctuation in order to reflect the writer’s naïveté contrasted with a unified commentary on the theory of literary criticism to follow.

The Mobile to the Rescue
by Piper Jean Spry Weissenberger

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