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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Mordecai Richler Letter Found on eBay

While this is hardly any signifcant news to report in itself, you can get anything on eBay. I was going to qualify this first sentence with 'almost anything' but I am sure if you wait long enough you will be successful in finding what you want. I have a saved search for "Mordecai Richler" among many other favourite saved searches. To use a banal phrase, I was pleasantly surprised to see a T.L.S. (Typed Letter Signed) by Richler himself up for auction. A brief four sentence paragraph, the letter encapsulates the curmudgeonly Richler persona we so frequently hear/read about. The second Richler related book by Michael Posner, "The Last Honest Man: Mordecai Richler: An Oral Biography" was published to great reviews recently. Additionally, Joel Yanofsky's humorous memoir/bio, "Mordecai & Me: An Appreciation of a Kind" came out last year. I enjoyed it immensely. Althought it has been only three short years since the death of Mr. Richler and there is definitely much continued interest in what he has left behind since his passing. The letter I found on eBay, I believe, is but a small piece of a large puzzle. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Dated December 19, 1967 [nine days after I was born!] the letter was sent from Richler's home in Hillcrest, Kingston Hill, Surrey, England at the time and written on a pre-stamped post office letter sheet. The 37 year old letter was written to an old friend who offered him honorary membership in a film industry organization. It reads: [comments in square brackets mine]

“Dear Dave [Bairstow] : Your Society of Film Makers letter of Sept 14 was on my desk when I got back to London. And so, let me say “as a prominent (?) film-maker of international reputation (?), I’d be honored to be an honorary member” of your Society. Though I hesitate to associate with any group that has awarded a prize to Maxine Samuels [Forest Rangers] A prize for what? Michael Sadlier.

According to the gentleman from whom I purchased the letter, he mentions that "The Society of Film Makers was a major film industry organization of film professionals from all disciplines, the only one where actors and directors and screenwriters and animators could all join. About twenty years after this letter was written the Society became the Academy of Canadian Film and Television Arts and Sciences."

I have to admit, I feel somewhat uneasy about the winning this auction and possessing a letter written by Richler, especially since it was a letter that has a jibe to it. Usually, I am interested in only collecting books of my favourite authors. This small item was just too good to pass up, however. I posted the letter on my web site to share with those who may be interested. Like all 'things' I am a just a temporary holder of items that will someday pass from my hands. Likely it will end up in the Richler fonds. Someday

After a cursory search of the Richler fonds, I was hoping to find the first part to this letter, i.e. the original letter that David Bairstow had sent to Richler to requesting his honorary membership. Alas, this letter, since it has not online it can be assumed to be destroyed or not archived making this a 'orphaned' letter, so to speak.

Sometimes a Great Notion


UPDATED AT 12:00 AM EDT Saturday, Apr. 24, 2004

Sometimes a Great Notion

By David Donnell

McClelland & Stewart,

94 pages, $16.99

Hello Serotonin

By Jon Paul Fiorentino

Coach House, 96 pages, $16.95

Throughout much of his work, Toronto writer David Donnell's poems thrive in a slow, contemplative drift, a kind of minimal prose. "I want you because I want you," he writes in the poem Cogito. In Sometimes a Great Notion, his ninth collection, Donnell writes about jazz and theology, philosophy and magazine covers, films and visual art, books, sports and Queen Street West, almost as notes on the physical and spiritual world around him. "And what am I doing/ with my great life/ besides writing, of course, & collecting some cheques?" (The Place of Music in a World of Pain).

Donnell's poems are absolutely lovely. His line breaks are some of the best I've seen, so natural and free, like breathing. "I think of that song/ can't remember who/ sings it I've got a little powder on my nose,/ & I don't care" (Powder).

Donnell has been part of the Toronto literary landscape for decades, and his poems reflect that landscape. A mixture of strange collusions, these are the kinds of poems that, some days, I dream about. Consider this, from Proust was a Master of Sadness:

Proust was a master of sadness,

that is,

he accepted the fact of his own resignation

almost as a fact of history,

a subordinate region in the great land of the world,

he doesn't struggle

acceptance is the large word here

accept the loss of childhood accept

a flirtatious memory of adolescence

Donnell paints the existing world in floating sentences of spontaneous ease. In Kuniyoshi, he writes, "I am amazed that western painters like Manet & Renoir/ created much of a stir at all in Paris. They seem so flat// & bourgeois in comparison to the Japanese work, beautiful,/ for sure/ & full of a strange & almost liquid vitality// but they merely state the beautiful."

A poet of the senses, Donnell gives us numerous references to food, sex and drink, and stepping out of the shower. In Luce, he writes: "those almandine eyes/ I always thought almonds were white & come in chocolate cake/ but hers are dark dark brown with a very faint slant to them."

Winnipeg-Montreal writer Jon Paul Fiorentino's Hello Serotonin is part of a longer poetic work, along the lines of Robert Kroetsch's ongoing Field Notes and William Carlos Williams's Paterson. Fiorentino's third collection about his particular place in the world, after Resume Drowning (2002) and Transcona Fragments (2002), like all of his writing, feels part of a single, extended project, involving pharmaceuticals and the geography of Transcona, a Winnipeg rail suburb, wrapped together in sincere irony.

Referencing place and theme in titles such as This Poem is Andy Kaufman, Let's Burn Down Westmount and Let's Hear it for Hydroxytryptamine!, Fiorentino unabashedly rakes through all his nervous geographic energy, all his neurotic tics. From Tracking:

Tracks in the prairie snow:

here's a regional tic.

Follow them to a fence;

berate the demarcation.

Hello Serotonin exists in what Fiorentino calls "synaptic syntax," poetry that attempts to replicate the body's nervous system. As well, as the place Transcona slowly ceases to exist, it survives only in Fiorentino's text, as a ghost of itself, an equivalent of Williams's Paterson or Charles Olson's Gloucester.

The book is divided into three sections: Neurotransmissions, Hello Serotonin and Homecomings, each a separate step toward creating a myth of Transcona, including kids popping pills, an acute awareness of geography and history, and his own apologetic and unapologetic confessions of a love for the confessional lyric.

In language that feels like a synaptic twitch, Fiorentino treats the realities of Transcona not as romantic, but as something more or less real. "It's a prairie sky after all, with a pristine/ meaning," he writes in The Switching Yard Song, continuing, "The switching yard takes you to all of this/ and if you lived here you might even concede/ that it's almost lovely."

In this, as in so many other pieces, Fiorentino gives us the self-conscious voice, working and then reworking itself, as in This Poem is Andy Kaufman, into what Fiorentino once termed a "poetics of failure." He writes:

I'm sorry. I failed. I think you would have been proud.

. . .

I will

never write another poem. I will write only this one. One day, it

will be on television.

Your fraud,


Through his suggestions of ongoing failure, he is not only aware of his limits, but embraces them. My favourite of his self-referential swipes comes near the end of the collection, the coupling of two poems side by side, how he immediately follows Let's Burn Down Westmount, written from his new home in Montreal, with the short Let's Burn Down the Author: "letting the author's ember/ flicker us to sleep." With a book built of such small moments, Fiorentino is in the midst of something grand.

Rob McLennan's ninth poetry collection, what's left , is part two of a trilogy that began with paper hotel. He lives in Ottawa.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Isabel Huggan wins Charles Taylor Award

In an upset victory, personal memoir Belonging: Home Away from Home beat out Margaret MacMillan's much-acclaimed Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, a history of the Treaty of Versailles, for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. The $25,000 prize was awarded yesterday at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004 - Page R1 The Globe and Mail

Huggans' "Belonging" was one of my recommended readings in the fall of 2003.
Title: Belonging
Author: Isabel Huggan (2003)
Her stories in 'First Impressions' certainly made an impression on me and this memoir did not disappoint.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Kind Words to Share

I got up earlier than usual this morning to find an unexpected e-mail in response to my bio. The e-mail was so nice I thought I would share it with you. Initially I was taken aback with the change 'o life comments I almost considered the e-mail spam. [hehehe] I immediately e-mailed a response and asked for permission to reprint it here with my reply as you will read below.

Similarly, I found it touching that another person, Julie Johnston, recently found a blog entry below regarding her parents. Confounded by this post, she looked at my bio to find a link as to why there was this post. Finding out that I worked with Grant she e-mailed me and I was glad to pass on some words to her. My former co-worker Grant and his wife, Elizabeth perished in a car accident last month just west of Ottawa. See below: "Crash kills 'warm and loving' couple" (Thursday, March 11, 2004)

Just a quick note John,
It was 5:30am this morning, Sunday April 18th and a menopausal hot flash
had woken me up. I had to get out of bed to cool off so decided to
check my email. My 22 year old daughter in Vancouver (who is coming
back home to Montreal for good in 2 weeks and to resume her Concordia
Commerce studies) had written me that she was going to teach her
boyfriend's mother to drive today. I thought to myself what a useful
side line teaching driving could be. So I went on Google to find out
what it takes to become a driving instructor in Quebec and somehow that
brought me to your bio. Your writing style was so engaging and amusing
that I ended up reading the whole thing. Interesting to see a life
unfolding. You have a lighthearted, flowing style and you sound
pleasant. So thank you for the interesting read. All the places you
described I have been to since I have lived in NDG and on the West
Island now and have children just a little younger than you who go to
Cheers etc... Ever consider writing? Good luck to you, John.

John W. MacDonald wrote:

Oddly enough I was up at the same time. My wife opened up the bedroom window before we retired last night. Mistake! The birds woke us up around 5:30am with their incessant chirping. Julie got up to close the window and we were afforded another hour or two of shut-eye. Then...Then I got up an read this e-mail. Cool! A response to my bio! Thanks for reading. It was fun writing it a few months ago. It never ceases to amaze me that "if you build it people will come" so to speak. I was inspired by the saying that an unexamined life is not worth living etc. etc..

NDG. (sigh) I've always said that the nicest people on earth are those who lived or live in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Thanks for your kind words. Do you mind if I publish your e-mail (sans your e-mail address) on my blog page? I would love to share your words.

Yes, the birds got to me too. Funny there's one that sounds just like a watch alarm...listen for it. No problem printing my email..rather strange with the hot flash reference mind you. ;-) You should seriously consider have a real talent.
All the best to you and Julie.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Gastronomic Dystopia

The ultra short story 'We Ate the Children Last' by Yann 'Booker' Martel appeared in the March 2004 volume of "Grain Magazine". Read it? It is either a re-issue of one his older short stories or a new story depending on who you listen to. In any case, it will be published yet again in the UK in September 2004 if you want to read it then. This brief morality tale is two and half pages of human clinical trials gone bad. Very bad. Skilfully, Martel's premise of taking the subject of taking animal organs and transplanting them into humans is at first a great clinical success but somehow this success is foisted on the undesireable underclass (read: poor) as a social remedy. Mistake! With a clear French undertone for some reason: "Liberté! Liberté!", the didactic story is a obviously a warning--one of course we do not heed. The ending is typical of such a short story. This edition of Grain Magazine is one of the best volumes to date, even without Martel's contribution. Too bad my subscription runs out with this issue. :-(

Friday, April 16, 2004

Celebrate Canada Book Day with Margaret Atwood

Celebrate Canada Book Day with Margaret Atwood Friday April 23, 2004 @ 12:30 pm (FREE)
Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St.

Join Margaret Atwood, one of Canada's most celebrated authors and winner of the Booker Prize, for a reading followed by an audience Q&A. (Seating is limited - first come, first served).

(The day after) Very good reading overall and well organized. The reading was in the cafe room at the back of the lobby and was crammed full of people. The organizer was going to move the entire crowd into the auditorium if more people arrived for the noon reading. That would have been a mistake and there was grumbling in the audience when he said that. She read from a few books including the new edition Survival and Oryx and Crake. A major symposium on her works is this weekend at the University of Ottawa ($10.00). As usual there were hundreds lined up for the signing of her books. Luckily she was signing more than one book per person.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The University of Ottawa Press is celebrating World Book Day by hosting an Open House and Great Toonie Book Sale

Friday, April 23rd
The University of Ottawa Press is celebrating World Book Day by hosting an Open House and Great Toonie Book Sale. A wide variety of books will be for sale at only $2 each. The editor-in-chief, Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr,invites the public to learn about the Press and about publishing in general in the newly restructured archival library. The publishing house has undergone several metamorphoses since its inception in 1936 and visitors to the open house will get acquainted with 68 years of publishing history in the newly restructured archival library.
electronic mail:
telephone: 562-5246

Friday, April 09, 2004

Montreal drives me insane!

I was born and raised in Montreal. It was a great city to grow up in. It is an exciting cosmopolitain city of people and restaurants. You can hang out at the corner of Peel and St. Catherine--the center of the universe-- and you will undoubtedly meet someone you know within 15 minutes. But I absolutely just hate going back to Montreal. St. John's Blvd. is a virtual parking lot with 100 unsynchronized traffic lights every 100 feet. All the major roads and bridges are chronically under repair; parking is a nightmare; on Ste. Catherine there are rivulets of piss in different phases of freshness and length and multi-coloured vomit splashes are artistically sprinkled on the sidewalks; pornographic ads and garbage are everywhere on the street swirling in dynamic vortexes--and this is on Good Friday.

My parents are still there, my friends still live there and I do not know how they live in this city with all its infrastructure faults and social ills. I came back home from a brief visit with my parents, a meeting with Gordon Sheppard and the Cabaret Vehicule poetry reading and a quick 2am pizza with a close friend. On my way home from the downtown core I took the 720 leading to Decarie hoping to take the TCH 40 West to Ottawa... there were no signs. I got on to traffic. Good. I get to the appropriate exit to hit 40 west.... bloody Trans Canada Highway was closed! The whole highway was bloody closed! What the hell?! Montreal is like a bloody black hole. You can easily get there but try to leave...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Poets, Poets, Poets

I will be attending the Véhicule Poets get together in Montreal Thursday evening April 8th, 2004.

April 8
8:00 p.m.
Cabaret Véhicule: Revisit the Véhicule Poets
Musée d'art contemporain
Cinquieme Salle
Place des Arts
For more info, call (514) 847-6226

Endre Farkas, Artie Gold, Tom Konyves, Claudia Lapp, John McAuley, Stephen Morrissey and Ken Norris were seven young poets in Montreal in the 70s who wrote, read, sang, performed, danced, sculpted and chanted their poems individually and collectively. Cabaret Véhicule is a showcase of their work adapted for the evening, and will include a launch of Véhicule Poets Now as well as readings by the Véhicule Poets.

BOOKS & BRUNCH: Michael Posner, Ted Barris and George Bowering

Here's an event I probably will attend. See you there!

BOOKS & BRUNCH: Michael Posner, Ted Barris and George Bowering
SUNDAY APRIL 25 from 10:00 am to Noon
562-2665 OR

MICHAEL POSNER author of "The Last Honest Man: MORDECAI RICHLER, An oral biography." Michael Posner offers an intimate view of the public and private lives of Canada's beloved Mordecai Richler through the words of his family and friends, colleagues and rivals. Also of interest is that the book's font is set in "Richler"--an easy to read font.

TED BARRIS author of "JUNO: Canadians at D-Day June 6, 1944." This year marks the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Nearly 15,000 Canadians were involved by sea and air. Barris recounts the invasion using hundreds of interviews with veterans who give voice to the triumphs and tragedies .

GEORGE BOWERING author of "STANDING ON RICHARDS" Canada's first Poet Laureate and the first writer to win both fiction and poetry Governor General's awards. An engaging, appealing collection of short stories from one of our best-loved writers.