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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blog About Town Valentine Style

For those cultures which celebrate St. Valentine's Day, the exchange of gifts between spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends seems obligatory. The first gift - a book - I received from my girlfriend on St. Valentine's Day in 1995 was, Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise and Other Imponderables by David Feldman. Classified under Reference/Humour, the book answers questions like "why can't they make newspapers that don't smudge?" and "why hot dogs come ten to a package while hot dog buns come in eights?"

Given we had only been dating one month, a book was a safe, neutral gift. I recall giving her something more conventional like a dozen red roses and a box of Monsieur Felix and Mr. Norton chocolate cookies. Needless to say, my ulterior motive was to be able to share in the delight of the cookies. Looking at that book again, 11 years later, I see she inscribed it to me somewhat cautiously: "May this book provide you with moments of joy... xoxo". Moments of Joy?! Surely, I merited more than just x's and o's?

It got better, however. Three months later, the second book I received from her was A Poet to His Beloved: The Early Love Poems of W.B. Yeats. She brought two copies back with her as a memento of her recent trip to Dublin, Ireland. Only lately did she tell me that she bought one for me and one copy for herself in the event that our relationship ended prematurely. "Thinking of you in Dublin! Love, Julie" went the inscription. Finally, the word 'love' made it real, and it was printed in ink. Today all three books sit on the same shelf but the cookies and flowers are but a memory. We eventually married three years later and still carry on the tradition of gift exchange on St. Valentine's Day. I no longer get books, however, as I buy plenty of them myself already.

Speaking of gifts, I recently brought home another gift of sorts - a painting from the poet and artist bill bissett. The poet and publisher jwcurry invited bissett to Ottawa for a reading. His artwork, to me, seems reminiscent of a Keith Haring painting in that it has the short, intense blue brush strokes on a bold lemon-yellow background. It's brilliant. The small problem, like the above-mentioned hot dog conundrum, is that the painting is on a 9 x 12 inch canvas. You may or may not know that it is nearly impossible to find a suitable frame to fit this size of canvas. I did eventually find a limited choice of black, white, or metallic frames, but all were horrible-looking for this painting.

I was told by sales staff in several art stores that this canvas was a non-standard standard size.
"Good luck in finding a frame off the rack." "They're discontinuing this size frame" some even told me. I can have one custom made but it would, of course, cost extra. The oxymoronic description of the frame size aptly describes the poetry and art of bill bissett: a non-standard standard poet-artist. An online biography, or as bissett would have it, 'biographee', he writes "ium wanting 2 xtend th boundareez uv th langwage n th form." And he does it like no one else.

Those still searching for a different Valentine's gift this year and who are poetically inclined I suggest attending the upcoming Tree Reading Series on Tuesday, February 14th at 7:30pm. Rhonda Douglas, the new director of the reading series asks us, "In the throes of new love? Living the routines of old love? Wish you'd never heard of love?" If you answered 'yes, her reading series team are inviting Ottawa to bring your own work or your favourite poems from someone else. Love and anti-love poems will be the theme of the evening in this all open mike Tree event.
originally published in the Ottawa Citizen in a slightly different edit.


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