Category: Reading

Naming the affliction

I finally have a diagnosis for what ails me.

For years I’ve suffered from a sense of thwarted nostalgia or yearning melancholy. I’ve struggled putting into words exactly what I’ve been experiencing, this unshakeable conviction that I exist outside of time, not belonging to the present day, out of synch with the rest of the world.

The other day I came across a book titled Endangered Words (Simon Hertnon, Skyhorse Publishing) and while paging through it happened upon an entry for saudade.

Never heard of such an animal and when I checked the accompanying definition, the hair on the back of my neck rose with an audible crackle:

saudade (SAH-u-dah-deh)

Of Portuguese origin, saudade refers to “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness”. (A.F.G. Bell)

Silver-skinned rocketships and routine journeys to and from Mars, the outer planets.

A “golden age” of friendly, singing cowboys, camaraderie around the campfire, the home ranch across the next ridge.

I think that’s essentially why I became a writer: from an early age I could see reality wasn’t panning out the way I liked, so it was up to me to create my own private universe.

Come visit me sometime.

Just open one of my books or short stories and say “Hello”…

 

 

August, 2017: Update & Coming Attractions

You knew I had to be up to something and you were right.

A month between posts? C’mon, you know me better than that.

This summer has been my most productive, writing-wise, in several years. It’s like the taps were turned on again and I’ve been writing with all my focus and concentration, feeling the juices flowing again.

Two, count ’em, two long stories since June, quite a few poems, a short prose piece that’s one of the best things I’ve written in quite awhile…

And everything registering strongly on the aesthetic Richter Scale—nothing slight or inconsequential. Intelligent, literate efforts, not pandering to any school or taste.

I haven’t lost a fucking step.

Oh, and I’ve started work on a new novel. Well, not quite a new novel—I’m completely overhauling a 250-page manuscript I originally conceived around 2002. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m looking at 12-15 months worth of revisions, so you shouldn’t expect to see that one in print until, ballparking it, mid-2019. No teasers, except that it references a classic Victorian thriller and will be darker and more horror-related than some of my recent work.

But fear not, impatient readers, I shall be releasing not one but two full-length efforts in 2018: first, The Algebra of Inequality and Other Poems, a selection of verse culled from the past five years. The title is nicked from a line in a Don Barthelme short story that caught my eye. Ol’ Don had some zingers.

I know poetry is a hard sell to some folks but I believe it gives me the opportunity to address profound philosophical and spiritual and existential questions in the most spare, personal, unforgiving literary format. Poetry permits no artistic missteps—it really is like walking a tightrope.

And there will be (drumroll please) a new short story collection next year, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Original tales, all centered around everything magical and terrifying about cities, near and far, real and imagined. Killer stories, spanning just about every genre, guaranteed to amaze, disturb and warp your puny perceptions and sensibilities. Consensual reality? What the hell is that?

Both books will feature, as per the custom here at Black Dog Press, gorgeous cover art and will be professionally formatted and bound. There will be an e-book version of Electric Castles, still mulling it over re: the poetry. Poetry is so unique and personal and analog…does it really belong on a tablet or phone screen?

Lots of writing and revisions in the months ahead, some highs and lows, good days and days when, as they say, “the bear gets you”. All part of the creative process: painful and terrifying, but also exhilarating and inspiring. No doubt you’ll be reading something of my triumphs and travails here…and I hope it will serve to remind you that the writing life is not easy and requires a great deal of courage and fortitude. Perseverance and sheer guts get you a lot further in any profession than mere talent. Surely you know that by now.

Some mornings I can’t imagine facing that page again.

And yet I do.

That’s the difference between an author and a poser.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for real writers, girls and boys, every fucking month is “National Novel Writing Month”.

You heard it here…

Photos by Sherron Burns

The State of the Union (2017)

street1.JPG

Disorder in the Real

Something has gone wrong, somewhere along the way the polarities were switched or we missed a critical turn or…?

Power has devolved to self-interested, greedy individuals in the thrall of capital.

We have been passive observers, happy to cede control and responsibility to others as long as that means we’re free to pursue our frivolous entertainments and distractions.

But all of a sudden it’s like someone has decided the illusion need no longer be maintained. The elite have grown wary of even the tepid, paltry democracy we celebrate every four years.

There will no longer be elections, key positions will be appointed from a trained, compliant technocracy.

Not politicians, autocrats.

Graffiti

Aided by a permanent state of emergency, which helps rationalize the curbs to freedom, the removal of basic rights, judicial oversight, etc. When liberty, personal or collective, impedes commerce (they claim), the natural order is disrupted and economic stability threatened.

Rich, as a reward. Poor for a reason.

Alert for dissent, some budding Robespierre waiting in the wings (the creak and rumble of tumbrils still haunt their dreams). Discredit or kill potential opposition leaders (give ’em the “Assange treatment”). No quarter for class enemies. To the victors, the spoils.

Idolizing Lee Kuan Yew, while demonizing Marx.

Controlling the means of production and the dissemination of information.

Governing a cowed and stupid populace, relegated to low wages, uncertainty, fear; resigned to their diminished station.

Militarizing and privatizing the police, just in case harsher lessons are required.

Resorting to patriotism, should every other artifice fail.

Red Glare

Komatsu

Komatsu, the Destroyer

The monsters are tearing up 105th Street
devouring it in powerful maws;
the monsters are swallowing our street
rending it with their jaws.

Sherron, mind your flower beds
count your perennials one, two, three;
the monsters are eating 105th Street
heedless of leaf, root or tree.

 

Copyright, 2017 (All Rights Reserved)

Komatsu

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God, the concept

SophiaGolgotha

If there is a God, that
Supreme Being would
have to endure every
unkindness, every injury,
the abuse and mistreatment
of innocents, the unspeakable
acts we inflict on each
other, pain and torment from
time immemorial.

God would bleed and die
and scream and whimper
and plead for one more
breath of life, while expert
torturers worked their wiles,
wringing false confessions,
betrayals, a crown of thorns
carefully arranged just prior
to execution.

 

(All Rights Reserved)

Cypress Hills (An Idyll)

Just returned from a weekend at Cypress Hills, a park in the southern region of the province.

Accompanied by my pal Laird, I attended a “stag party” for our mutual friend Tom. Ten guys in the semi-wilderness, celebrating the betrothal of one of their own. And a good time was had by all.

While I was there, I wrote three short pieces, inspired by the environment or conversations around the fire.

* * * *

Meteorology

The weather is strange these days
overcast with a chance of melancholy;
on the weekend, the sun never shines
and the grass smells of tears.

The Elements (An Introduction)

There is a tendency to
envy fire for its clear conscience
or over-praise the transparent,
placid gaze of water.

Yet no one spoils the
earth with lavish gifts
and we frequently embarrass
the air with our coughing.

Religion, summarized

Might as well fear the clouds
or prostrate yourself
before a 1000-year old
yew tree

Jesus, put away your cross
Buddha, no thanks

I’m investing my faith
in some special place
worshipping where there
are no altars

 

 

July, 2017  (All Rights Reserved)

June, 2017: Update

Another grey morning outside my office window but that’s not going to wreck my day, nossir.

Because later this afternoon my youngest son and I will be driving in to the City (Saskatoon) in order to see Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” on the big screen. I’ve been a fan of the Tark’s for ages and to have the opportunity to view his work on something other than a 32″ television is a temptation too good to pass up.

A few announcements to get out of the way, some housekeeping to tend to:

This Saturday, June 17th, as part of the W.I.P. Dance Series at the Free Flow Dance Centre in Saskatoon (224 25th St. W.), Jackie Latendresse’s group will be performing several new works-in-progress, utilizing some of my ambient music. Doors open at 7:30 and the performances start at 8:00. Interested in modern, creative dance? Drop in for a look…and a listen. For more info, see here.

If you’d like to experience some of my odd, spacey music, check it out either here or on BandCamp.

Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing recently published a poem of mine (now there’s a rare occurrence). You’ll find “Covenant” on page 67 of their latest issue, read it here.

* * * *

I don’t have a lot of friends.

My social network is pretty limited, the time I can devote to cultivating friendships—phone calls, writing letters and e-mails—almost nonexistent. What can I tell you? I’m a pretty driven fellow and creating things (novels, stories, paintings, short films, music) is the central, defining focus of my life.

Those few pals I do have are acquaintances of long standing, people who have proven they can put up with my temperament and endure my frequent and lengthy silences. If you’re looking for a high maintenance relationship, you’re scratching at the wrong door (my wife will confirm as much).

I got to know Gord Ames in the early 1990s.

I think we were still living in Iqaluit at the time and came back to Regina during the summer to visit family. I’d heard about the new bookstore on 13th Avenue and, of course, the bibliomaniac in me was dying to see it.

I wandered into Buzzword Books, casting a glance at the fellow behind the counter, who gave me a nod. No ebullient welcome, no attempt to strike up a conversation, no friendly banter.

Then I realized why.

The books said it all. The longer I spent in the store, the more I loved it. It wasn’t a big space but the selection was absolutely wondrous. No commercial crap or braindead best-sellers.

Real writers: Alexander Trocchi, Richard Ford, James Crumley, DeLillo, Pynchon, Harry Crews, etc. etc. etc.

Once I’d taken the store’s measure, I approached the counter with two or three books and raved at the bookseller on the quality of his stock. He offered some droll, funny response, and a friendship was born.

Sadly, the bookstore is no more and Gord and his wife Caroline have moved to the West Coast (might as well be Mars, sigh). But they’re still an important presence in my life, two unique spirits and true blue, dyed-in-the-wool characters.

It’s Gord’s birthday today and this morning I want to pay tribute to a man who is a friend, mentor and a valued confidante. The breadth of his knowledge, the sharpness of his wit, never cease surprising and astonishing me. His taste is exceptional, his editorial eye (and ear) peerless. He’s turned me on to so many brilliant authors, musicians, film-makers over the years, drawing my attention to obscure, forgotten talents I would have otherwise overlooked. How would I have managed without him?

That rare combination of intelligence, erudition and caustic, irreverent humor—you just don’t find that in too many people these days. My friend is a pearl of exceeding value and uniqueness; a one-off, a mutant, a genius.

Happy birthday to a man who is a daily reminder that the world is not as foolish, arbitrary and ugly as it seems. There are still men and women whose very existence serves to reassure us: though we may have descendants among lower order animals, we still possess minds and virtues that can defeat our humble origins…and carry us to the stars.

Gord Ames is my friend.

And for that, I will never, ever cease being grateful.

Cheers, buddy.

You’re one in a trillion.

“True friendship resists time, distance and silence.”

Isabel Allende