I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?
As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.
My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.
PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.
And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.
Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.
As my Introduction to the book warns:
“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”
The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.
I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.
Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.
I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.
We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.
Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.
It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.
- Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…
Alec Guinness called it the “greatest theater in the world” and ol’ Alec likely knew a thing or two about such matters.
I took along a handheld digital recorder to capture snippets of sound along the way and decided that a live reading at Epidaurus was just too fantastic an opportunity to miss.
I selected a few of my recent poems, ran through them a few times, then had Sherron hold the recorder while I did my thing. I was reluctant to place myself anywhere near stage centre, where the uncanny acoustics would carry every single syllable up to the cheap seats. Instead I stood at the very front, right against the first row of seats.
We were lucky enough that most of the tourists had left by then, chased away by the scorching sun. But you can still hear a few morons, clapping to confirm that, yes, indeed, the acoustics are phenomenal, as the last person demonstrated…and the person before that. Everyone lining up to take their turn.
During this trip I learned to really loathe tourists. There’ll likely be a post on that later.
For now, join me at Epidaurus, right around noon, this past July, the temperature hovering in the mid-30s.
Get the picture?
Great…now click on the MP3, sit back, close your eyes and listen…
At long last it’s done.
My son Sam completed final edits on the film he shot of my reading back in October, 2012. The official launch of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) and Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).
It was a huge file and he had to combine footage from a couple of cameras, synch sound, touch-up glitches and try to make an author reading as visually interesting as possible. No mean feat. But he’s done a fantastic job. The kid has an amazing eye and even if you don’t think much of the prose (or performer), I think you’ll agree that this effort is striking to look at, cut and trimmed and shaped with precision. All credit to my son, Sam Burns.
Here’s the reading, in its entirety.
Sit back and hit that play button…
A memorable evening last night: we launched my two new collections, New & Selected Poems and Stromata to an enthusiastic audience and, I add (much to my relief), there were no glitches or screwups on my part. I read for just over 35 minutes and then took questions from those in attendance. Great questions too, folks seeking clarification on my status as an independent author and also asking me about the changes in my writing over the past 25 years, among other things.
I’ll post some pictures ASAP but we also had two cameras running so in the next couple of weeks we’ll be uploading the entire reading on to YouTube where people can tune in and see me in action.
Without a trace of humbleness, I can tell you that there aren’t too many authors in this country who perform their work as well as I do. I take my responsibilities as an entertainer very seriously; I have been to too many readings where the authors have forgotten that they must also be performers. When I hit that podium, it’s my intention to blow people away, destroy their preconceptions, make it a night they won’t soon forget. And usually I succeed.
Thanks to everyone who came out on a chilly autumn night and an especially big THANK YOU to my production crew—Sherron, Sam, Sean, Micah—for their hard work.
Watch for the finished film, I really believe it captured one of the best readings I’ve ever done.
Man, was I hot…
I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute. I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story. Takes me back to the days when I—
Well, never mind.
I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before. Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):
This is a car crash. It’s happening right now. A collision in progress. Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats. And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max. You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it. Something else. A heaviness. In the region of your chest. A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be. A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born. From the backseat. Ten A.U.’s behind you. Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations. Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying. On the threshold of an instant. The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.
November is bleeding,
leached of color, vitality,
the land losing its life’s blood
in dark, spreading gouts.
Anemic, cancerous, brittle,
tiny bones crackling underfoot:
this is the graveyard of summer.
Brightening it with festive lights,
disguising it with tinsel, false cheer
but unable to defeat the oppression,
looming like a storm front.
Hibernation is a state between life and death,
a sleep from which some animals never wake–
another hard winter descends from the mountains,
the sun creeping back to make way.
“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch. I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)
I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch
Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight
like the lilies of the field
like the trees and stones,
or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt
Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars
Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk
Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”
“My health was endangered. Terror assailed me.”
Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations
Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”. Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood. Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned. His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.
Words created us and words sustain us:
“The technical language of religion is
symbolism, with storytelling one of its
most important varieties.”
(so sayeth Huston Smith)
Ideas become words become action. The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.
A return to nullity. From whence we came.
Be mindful and compassionate. Practice right thought, right speech. Do not call the worst into being. Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith. Use the ancient words of praise. The ones handed down through the ages. Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done…
When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.
Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.
Thanks to all the participants and audience members. See you at my book launch on Wednesday!
(Photo by Zach Den Adel)
This happens to be blog post #100 and, if that isn’t enough, later on this week this site will receive its 50,000th visit.
Wow. That’s an overwhelming number of people coming to a blog devoted to a Canuck writer who has eschewed the big time, stubbornly maintained his singular vision with an orneriness not often seen in writing circles.
God bless you, folks. You’re all the proof that I need to reassure myself that the indie path is the one for me and I shall continue to produce work that fits no niches or stereotypes or genres, confident that smart, discerning readers will find me…and help spread the word.
To mark this auspicious occasion I’ve recorded three of my favorite short-short stories, adding music and sound effects to enhance the experience. Once again, Sherron lent a helping hand, pulling the whole mess together. The final result surprised and delighted me to the extent that I think it’s safe to say there will be more such efforts in the near future.
Ah, heck, enough of my jabbering. Have a listen to these pieces and, as always, I encourage you to leave a comment, letting me know what you think…