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

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating you

Ah, the grand adventures we’ve had.

Last year’s trip to Europe will be pretty hard to top but I’m convinced we’ll manage.

Thirty-plus years together and every single day is still fun, the hours in your company a treasure beyond assaying.

We’re essentially very silly people. We laugh a lot. Two irrepressible clowns. Our humor definitely veering toward the strange and bizarre. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, the Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, “Team America”, and the bookstore gals in “Portlandia”. The sharper the satire, the more expertly the scalpel wielded, the more we like it.

Because if you start taking life too seriously, you quickly figure out, to paraphrase David Thomson, the world doesn’t really want to be saved. And that, as they say, is a mighty hard row to hoe.

Better to experience existence with a healthy sense of the absurd, gales of incredulous laughter, rather than tears of self-pity.

More than three decades of shared joy, passion, a long history of creative collaborations (including two terrific sons). Always seeking to inspire one another, egg each other on, pushing the envelope, aesthetically and spiritually and experientially.

We’re the damnedest couple. I’ve never met a pair like us, with so much obvious affinity and chemistry and yet two totally different, independent, strong-willed individuals.  We’re nothing like clones, our differences can be quite profound. We’ve had some heated arguments and they haven’t always been resolved. Some are on-going and irreconcilable. Like your insistence that Justin Trudeau isn’t an airhead and humans are fundamentally good, wisdom and faith will prevail, offering a bright, shining future for our species…

What I most appreciate is your ferocious loyalty, the way you’ve supported me, my life’s work, from the moment we officially became a “couple”, recognizing and acknowledging the importance of literature to me, to my very essence. Never a flicker of doubt, despite some tough, trying times. We’ve had to sacrifice quite a bit, struggled financially to maintain my status as a full-time author and not once have you expressed any resentment or criticism.

There’s a line I sometimes quote from an otherwise forgettable Jack Nicholson movie, “As Good As It Gets”. At one point he says wistfully to Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better person”.

That’s it. That what you do, not just for me, but for everyone who comes into contact with you.

Thank you, Sherron. For all that we’ve shared, for everything still to come.

“Forever and ever…”

 

Manchester

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.50.20 AM

23/05/2017

The morning after the Manchester bombing
an old grey tomcat sleeps under a white maple
in our backyard, oblivious to human affairs,
indifferent to the harm we inflict on one another.

I wish I had his equanimity, then I wouldn’t feel
so bewildered by a universe that seems to condone
random violence, so disappointed in a species that has
forgotten the simple joy of napping beneath a shady tree.

Automatic writing

Yesterday, after spending most of the afternoon cleaning and re-arranging our garage (onerous task), I settled myself on the back deck with a glass of scotch, a small cigar, my notebook and a volume of The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert.

Herbert was a Polish writer who, despite growing up in an authoritarian environment, managed to compose magnificent, soul-rending verse.

As I was reading poems like “Mama” and “Chord”, I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it wold be like to live as an artist in a society where personal and aesthetic freedoms are strictly curtailed, the regime relentless in its pursuit of any kind of opposition, the smallest display of rebellion.

Censor

It was someone’s job to
scrutinize every syllable,
search each metaphor
and allusion for
significance, a deeper
meaning that might
subvert the apparatus,
throw a monkey
wrench into the works,
or cast the slightest
aspersion against the
omnipotence of the
ruling elite.

…but artists like Herbert and Vasily Grossman and Andrei Tarkovsky managed, somehow, to frustrate their ideological masters, producing works of lasting genius. What was it that made them so strong, so immune to the powers of the state, when so many of their colleagues caved in to pressure, conformed, compromised their visions? Was it some form of faith? Pride? Strength of will?

My God, the courage it would take to stand your ground, refuse to dilute or skew your art. Would I be that strong under similar circumstances? Could I resist the blandishments and threats? Choose exile and disgrace over safety and security?

Which somehow led me around to:

Punch Line

I cannot see the
radiance of
ordinary things.

My faith is
not so simple,
so profound.

I ask for proofs
and the universe
responds with
spasms of hilarity.

God is laughing
but I, stubborn
and unmoved,
fail to crack
a smile.

© 2017  Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

New poem

A few days ago I was sitting in my favourite pub in Saskatoon, having a pint of Guinness (and to hell with the Celiac nonsense), with a chaser of Tallisker, occasionally glancing outside at passersby—

—and then suddenly I was scrabbling for my notebook as the following came to me:

See World

window people
framed for a moment
like aquarium fish
exotically drifting

Photo: Sherron Burns

 

Self-publishing: just for losers?

We all know that the only reason books are self-published is because they’re amateurish and inept, their authors barely capable of stringing two words together.

Except…wasn’t Virginia Woolf a “self-publisher”? After all, she released her work through Hogarth Press, which she co-owned along with her husband, Leonard. It was a going family concern—Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell designed some of the book covers.

And I know for a fact Ezra Pound wasn’t averse to paying out of pocket, if it meant seeing his erudite, obscure poems get into print.

Robert Browning, ditto.

If I’m not mistaken, James Joyce put up part of the publication cost of his first collection, The Dubliners (regardless, his nervous publisher held the presses for years, wary of violating Ireland’s stiff obscenity laws).

I guess I’m saying that historically self-publishing, the vanity press, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t always the province of the hack and the wannabe. And I think the same is true today. There is a lot of shit out there, don’t get me wrong, but there are also a few genuinely talented, innovative authors in amongst the dross.

Don’t give up on us.

Keep looking…

Quote of the day: Ray Bradbury

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

― Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451