Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.
So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.
I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.
To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it). That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.
I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.
We shall see.
I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.
Not for everyone.
Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.
Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.
Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?
Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.
I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.
We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.
Music? The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.
Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.
All the best in 2014.
Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.
My volume of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) has been shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award.
Read about it here.
The ReLits celebrate the best books released from independent Canadian presses and I’m pleased to make the final roster and delighted to be in the company of some really fine writers.
My thanks to the administrators and sponsors and all involved.
The reviewer and I belong to the same LibraryThing group and she mentioned she was picking up a copy but, sheesh, I didn’t expect such a smart and, yes, glowing review.
It’s the first critique of any sort the poems have received. I get general rumblings of praise from the people who’ve read New & Selected Poems but folks seem reluctant to address the subject matter or prominent themes. I worried, in my Afterword, that the collection might be too personal, too intense and I think there might be something to that. If you watch the footage of the book launch, the poems are often received in what I would describe as strained silence. Sherron told me that at one point a woman near her was softly weeping.
What kind of strange zeitgeist has my verse tapped into?
Poems are a hard enough sell these days—apocalyptic, mind-bending excavations on the human spirit may not be what readers are looking for.
Cripes, look at the bestseller list.
Yup, once again, it appears I’ve missed the mark.
“Time to break with long-standing tradition. No room for humility, maintaining artistic ‘Purity’ and all that bullshit. Gotta get with the program, boy! Right now, you have the profile of a blind mole and you gotta do something about it, capiche? So, let’s hop to it…”
That’s the publisher part of my brain, giving me a good dressing down. Lately that impatient, cigar-chewing entity has been making his presence felt, insinuating his way close to my psyche, whispering his poisonous advice.
Unfortunately, it seems I’m starting to listen to him. I’m behaving very much out of character and as evidence I offer up the following:
First, I’ve entered a couple of my books for literary prizes.
I know. Spooky, isn’t it? I usually have zero interest in such things—couldn’t tell you who won the last Pulitzer or Booker or what have you. But my publisher got his way and I popped four copies of The Last Hunt off to the judges of the Western Writers of America’s “Spur” Awards and a similar number of my New & Selected Poems to the folks behind the Saskatchewan Book Awards. Rather dubious bids to draw attention to my work, I thought, but those misgivings were completely disregarded.
Second point: I’m submitting a tale to the annual “CBC Short Story Prize”.
Sherron sent me the guidelines for this year’s competition and my Muse, with uncharacteristic glee, supplied me with a 1450 word offering that I’ll be mailing later today (just ahead of the deadline). Weird. Not only am I sending them a tale, I’m also paying a $25.00 “administrative fee”, a practice I’ve always derided in the strongest terms. “Ripping off writers,” I snorted. “Isn’t it supposed to be editors paying authors, not the other way around?” Etc.
Something’s going on. The problem is, I’m an independent author and publisher. There are two sides of my personality to satisfy and right now they’re pretty much at war with each other. The writer in me has no interest in shilling his books, evincing a distaste for the kind of shmoozing some of his colleagues do, trying to curry favor with the Powers That Be. The publisher persona, however, insists these books we’re producing cost money and, besides, they’re good books, why not do what we can to get the word out? It’s not about greed, it’s about securing a decent readership for well-crafted stories of obvious literary merit…
Ah, he’s a clever bastard all right. And he’s been winning a few minor skirmishes of late, exploiting his new found sense of authority. He was delighted when I sat down at my desk and commenced a brand new tale for the aforementioned short story contest.
Until he read the final draft.
“It’s not…not…and too…there isn’t any…” Spluttering, unable to finish his sentences, incandescent with fury.
And the author in me rejoicing, enjoying the spectacle. Waving the printed sheets of paper teasingly, skipping away while his counterpart screams and gesticulates…
Another terrific short story in the can.
Too bad it doesn’t stand a fucking chance of winning.
…and, of course, you can place an order through your favorite bookstore. God bless the indies!
Finally, you can drop a money order my way and get a personally inscribed copy.
I want to remind everyone that this volume is only available as a “dead tree” edition—no Kindle or e-book versions envisioned at this time.
And if you could see and pick up and handle the book, you’d understand why. It’s beautiful and should be experienced as a tactile, physical object, a relic from another time.
I love this book…and hope you will too.
There have been…delays. It’s summertime, doncha know, and the pace of life slows down. One must be patient, not overly concerned with deadlines.
(Deep breaths, cue ambient bird chatter…)
But yesterday I finally received word that the proof is on the way and I anticipate (if there are no glitches, knock wood) going into production upon its receipt. Which means the end of next week. Only a month overdue.
But it will be worth the wait. Oh, yes. Last week I confessed to Sherron that the release of this collection, along with a “Best of…” compilation of prose poems that will follow in a few weeks, excites me more than any book since So Dark the Night.
The poems and prose works are a distillation of all of my major themes, obsessions…and fears. The most intimate, personal confessions, microscopic examinations of my soul, combined with cosmological and spiritual speculations, whole universes crammed into the space of a few simple sentences.
I’m delighted to have this material in print—some of it is from older editions, no longer available. It’s a pleasure to introduce it to a new generation of readers. Both volumes cover over twenty years’ worth of writing; I have to say it’s fascinating to examine the development and progression of my thoughts. Unsettling as hell too (as the Afterword to my New & Selected Poems attests).
Ordering information will be posted soon. And watch for more news on that companion volume, including a cover mockup and some sample pages.
Pop by for further details in the coming days…
Why, it’s the cover art for the next release from Black Dog Press, my New & Selected Poems. Our pal Chris Kent concocted it in a fit of creativity that would’ve made Chip Kidd swoon. I was quite vague in my directions to Chris this time around. I wanted a minimalist cover, two blocks of color, no blurbs, no jacket copy beyond the title and author’s name. The colors couldn’t be garish but nothing neutral either (that must have been a head-scratcher). I supplied him with a photo taken in one of my jaunts and asked if it could somehow be incorporated.
Chris managed to decipher my thoroughly unhelpful suggestions and produce a cover that is dignified, restrained and gorgeous.
Another winner from the big man. Did he do a killer job or what?
I’ll have the interior (text) files off to my pal Daniel at Scribe Freelance in the next twenty-four hours…so I think it’s safe to say that New & Selected Poems will make its appearance somewhere around mid-July.
I have decided that, at least for the time being, my poetry collection will be offered in print form only. You heard right: no Kindle or e-book. To me, my book is an artifact, a throwback to another time when, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “the chief glory of every people arose from its authors”, an epoch when the printed word wasn’t used as a sanitary napkin by the likes of E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer.
If authors are no longer held in high esteem, then poets have fallen even farther. A great art form reduced to doggerel, greeting card sentiments and self-indulgent incontinence. Poetry used to be the conscience of civilization; now it is nothing more than tuneless Muzak.
My poetry comes from a special place and demands a lot from me, taking a personal toll while pushing me to my limits as a writer, insisting on exactly the right word, a certain, precise cadence. There’s no room for error in verse, each and every beat must be accounted for and a tin ear is quickly exposed. Courage is mandatory, a willingness to work without a net. It has a special status in my heart and soul and deserves special treatment.
There are something like 100 poems in this volume—that’s drawn from over 25 years of work. My selection process has been ruthless and, as a result, I think New & Selected Poems features my very best work, a roster of poems that are personal, shrapnel sharp and utterly merciless.
Make sure you browse the sample on my Scribd page…and if you like what you see, you’ll be able to order your personal copy next month. Watch for updates.
It will be available through this site (if you’re looking for signed copies), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s…all the usual suspects.
Coming soon…and I’m as excited as an expectant father can be. Pacing ruts in the carpet, eying the clock, constantly patting my breast pocket, making sure the cigars are still there…
A flurry of activity around here, finishing projects and scheming new ones and, meanwhile, trying not to over-do it on the work front. That means maintaining a regular regimen of stretching, getting out of the house at least once every day for a walkabout, even if it’s only to the library and back. That also means reading more and trying to familiarize myself with this notion of “relaxing”. Re-lax?
I’ve been devouring lots of memoirs of late, a genre I usually wouldn’t touch with a fully charged cattle prod. But I’m not talking about the recent crop o’ crap—whining, self-indulgent wankfests—I’m referring to stellar efforts by Bernard Cooper and Frederick Exley. Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is an amazingly accomplished and courageous book. Two titles by Daniel Pinchbeck have also impressed, Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. I find his ideas and conjectures far more lucid and comprehensible than the late Terence McKenna’s; I predict Monsieur Pinchbeck is gonna be a star. He’ll alter more than a few consciousnesses before he’s through…
I’ve been bringing in lots of hard to find books via interlibrary loans…but, unfortunately, I’ve acquired a rather formidable stack, all of which must be read within a finite, prescribed time limit. No pissing about. Brilliant stuff like Graham Robb’s Parisians, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, The Great War and Modern Memory (Paul Fussell), The Good Soldier Svejk (Jaroslav Hasek) and an anthology of modern German poetry edited by Michael Hamburger. And more on the way…
Ah, but don’t think I’ve been devoting myself entirely to leisure. Surely you know me better than that.
I have not one but two major projects nearing completion. You heard right.
It’s always bothered me that much of my early work (pre-1997) is out of print. There were a number of limited edition chapbooks produced during that interval (That First, Wound-Bearing Layer and Genuinely Inspired Primitive), poetry (violins in the void)…and none of it is available any more. Sold out. A cursory check on-line tells me that a few enterprising souls are offering these hard-to-find editions at a pretty steep price.
So I’ve spent the last couple of months assembling, culling and editing two short volumes, clocking in at around 115 pages each.
The first, which should be out in mid-July, is New & Selected Poems (1984-2011). Over 25 years of my best verse brought together in one nice, compact tome. These poems are personal and revealing, condensed almost to the point of combustion…I love them but they scare me. I think the short Afterword I’ve provided at the end of the book explains why.
The other volume is a compilation of my short prose pieces and monologues. I’m calling it Stromata and the material it covers dates back to 1992. Stromata will be available the end of August.
The two books are intended to be companion volumes and their design will reflect that. You’ll see what I mean—I’ll upload the covers once our pal Chris Kent has put something together.
Both books will retail around $12 and, no, before you ask, no advance orders. Nothing until I have the first shipment from Lightning Source sitting in my front hallway.
Looking forward to an exciting summer…although I wish this mix of sun and rain we’ve had so far would be replaced by two weeks of hot, dry weather. A real Saskatchewan summer. Ah, well, it’s still early days. Other than the horrendous mosquitoes, last summer was just about perfect. Here’s hoping for lots sun, fun and reading in the months ahead.
See you at the lake.
Remember to bring a good book.