amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, January 03, 2016

An Apology

Thanks to the combination of my near-death experience and the ups and downs of my hormones from perimenoupause, I have become a hothead. I can react quickly and harshly concerning issues that are dear to my heart.

Recently on FaceBook, I wrote a belittling post in response to a Tumblr post that was being shared around by several friends. I called out those for sharing the piece for considering it worthy of a post and publicly shamed them, referring to their actions as stupid and daft (the latter thanks to my Yorkshire heritage). This is not acceptable.

About six months ago I wrote a Tumblr post about the importance of good Internet citizenship. My behaviour on Facebook has gone against the guidelines I set for myself, which appalls me.

In the past year, I have found that my interactions on FB have become increasingly heated. I become frustrated, particularly when it comes to articles and posts that seem to advocate censorship and the restriction of artistic freedom, including advocacy in favour of guarding language and suppression of expression. When I see articles shared on FB multiple times, it gives me the impression of what I like to term “bandwagonism,” the acceptance of something by a lot of people, often out of a need to have the approval of one’s peers. Such bandwagonism leads me to feel isolated and alienated.

It is in everyone’s best interests, including my own, that I limit my FB activity to the administration of fan pages. For some reason, I am quick to write a scathing post on FaceBook. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider many of the points I’ve made there to be important and relevant, but not the way I make them, which can be to insult others for their opinions, and wanting to shut down discourse that disagrees with my own opinions.

I am a flawed individual in many ways. I am sure I’ve alienated numerous people. I don’t want nor do I expect to be a popular person, nor will I ever temper my beliefs for the sake of approval of others, but I want to express myself in ways that are not hurtful.
In this case, a few people were good enough to call me on my actions. I appreciate that. I’ve written apologies to the parties that were offended by my insults.


I’m not an easy ride alas. It often takes me a few days or more to see reason. But when I eventually do, I usually apologize. 2016 has started in a blaze of scandal. Let’s hope the cold weather cools me down. If not, feel free to kick my ass.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Guest Blogger on Beyond Romance

Erotica author and editor extraordinaire, Lisabet Sarai, kindly features me on her blog today. I talk about 21st century literary reboots I'd like to read and my new novel, A World of Yes. There's a short sample included and the chance to win a free pdf copy if you comment on the post.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Critical Thinking Vs Manipulation or Art Vs. Pabulum

Consider this scenario. A university professor teaching a first-year course decides to give the students a lesson in critical thinking. As an example, the professor uses a popular film from the students' childhoods. 

The film is Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The professor establishes that the film is liked by the students. They discuss their memories of the film. The prof then screens the film for the students once again.  The students are then given a pamphlet on domestic abuse. The instructor goes on to reframe the film as an abuse-apologist narrative.

I have several problems with this pedagogical method. Let’s give the professor the benefit of the doubt and assume that they also plan to discuss other modes of interpretation in the class. That’s a possibility. But this is not an example of how to think critically. It is an example of an agenda-based interpretation. It is effective and it is manipulative. Why is it manipulative? The professor has pre-established an interpretation and only one interpretation by handing out leaflets regarding domestic abuse. The class itself has taken the subject of abuse as one of its primary focal points.

If one wishes to encourage students to think critically, a better method would be to provide the students with various interpretations, Marxist, Jungian, Feminist, etc. Is this reasonable in a first-year class? In my opinion it is. In my experience with first year classes, granted this goes back to the 80s, we were exposed to a wide variety of philosophies and we weren’t told ahead of time which one we should agree with.

Next I have a problem with the choice of the Disney film, “Beauty and the Beast.” The film changes the original fairy tale drastically. Instead of the original courtly Beast in “La Belle et la Bête”  by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, this Beast is wild and dangerous. The primary point of the tale, to reduce it to one single piece of moral instruction, is to not take things at face value, to not make superficial judgements about people, to find the good. The story is about Beauty’s journey and is not the tale of the Beast, who is ancillary to the story, not its focal point. Variations of fairy tales are par for the course. That is one of the wonderful things about them. There have been lots of versions of this tale, one of my favourite being “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” by Angela Carter in her Bloody Chamber collection or Marie-Claire Blais’ “La belle bête.” 

It is understandable that the professor chose to expose the students to a version of the tale that they would be familiar with, and perhaps later on they went on to study more variation.

My final problem with the framing of the narrative according to one particular agenda is how this kind of narrow thinking hampers creators of art.  If students learn that it is acceptable to view a piece of art, literature, theatre, opera, etc with such a narrow window, to interpret something literally, we have seen what happens. The work is banned. Censorship occurs. Is this a wild leap? No, it isn’t. Take a look at books that have been banned in schools, in libraries etc and the reasons for their being banned. Books are currently being banned for being anti-family, for homosexual content, for including subjects such as date rape and masturbation.

The French philosopher Voltaire fought against censorship in his time.

The professor, by enforcing one interpretation of a film and by predicating it with the kinds of conclusions they wanted the students to reach, is teaching students to focus myopically on a creative work, a work that wasn’t made to be interpreted in only one way.  Where can this lead if not to censorship? Censors throughout history look at art from one specific point of view in order to uncover obscenity or information that runs contrary to the State. Who decides what is contrary, what is against the State’s values or what is in the best interests of society? I say that the individual decides, not a censor, not the government, and not a professor.

If the professor's point in the lesson was to demonstrate how insidious rape is in our culture, so much so that is often weaved in to a narrative without a reader or viewer's conscious awareness, manipulation isn't the best way to make that point. The only point the professor makes is how susceptible the students are to manipulation. Now they will likely look at every film and every piece of writing through a single perspective. This is reductive and doesn't lead to an intelligent or critical exploration, but only to dogma.

I will continue to fight against dogmatic thinking and I urge others who feel similarly to join me.  If this was the only example of the literalization of art and its repercussions on artistic freedom, I wouldn’t bother writing about it. 


Please consider liking my FB fan page for articles on this subject, news on my writing and publishing activities. Or visit my site. I wish you a happy and productive 2016.

[Image credit: Walter Crane - Beauty and the Beast. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1874.]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Patty Griffin – Servant of Love (Self Released, Thirty Tigers, 2015)

from the opening title track, Servant of Love, this album mesmerizes with Patty Griffin’s voice & the haunting piano, followed by the echo of a sax. “I want to live, I want to live, by an ocean…held by your silent words from the deep calling to me.”

I love the feisty guitar & matching brass wail of Gunpowder. the song is a kind of blend of country & jazz.

Good as Gone has an Eastern feel to it. Lots of strings, a dark pluck of the bass maybe...I wish I had a knack for figuring out instruments. All of the songs are very intense.

Hurt A Little While has a Chicago bluesy feel to it. Good howling blues & matching electric guitar fuzz. I’m amazed at the versatility of this album. No one song sounds the same. What they have in common is Griffin’s strong voice, which has a smoky sound.

250,000 Miles is my favourite song of the album, after Servant of Love, with its beautiful multi-layering of harmonies & instruments. it’s a haunting & melancholy song.  & midway through we get this Eastern sound.

Made of the Sun opens prettily with bright guitar & then Patty’s voice, honeyed & clear. The sounds are bright yellow for  me, the higher chords on the guitar, the higher notes sung.

Everything’s Changed has a mesmerizing, repetitive and insistent beat. The tone is darker than the previous song and the lyrics are sparse. The song comes across as a chant.

Rider of Days is a pretty ballad that reminds me of Irish folk tunes. It’s a song that reminds us to live in the moment, to celebrate it. The whole album is influenced by this theme. Sunny elaborate guitar work goes well with the smooth and strong tones of Patty’s voice. This song feels like a proclamation.

There Isn’t One Way is a more raucous and feisty song, evocative of Lucinda Williams or Bonnie Rait with a blues-rock feel from the electric guitar accompaniment and rhythm. Bass too & drums. Apparently the album was made with few instruments, but they have a lot of versatility & are used to create a lot of different styles of song.
Patty lets her voice get rougher for this song. Her throatiness here reminds me of Melissa Etheridge.

Noble Ground has an understated opening with Patty singing in a low and quiet voice. Its pacing is slow. Then the song opens up with some fancy piano work and a bit of trumpet. It’s a song of rebellion.

Snake Charmer is a fun & fast song, very playful. Apparently the cool high echoey sound on the song is an omnichord. I’m normally not a fan of album producers; they have been known to mask the strength of the music in fancy complexities, but in this case, the producers were Patty Griffin herself and Craig Ross. the production translates the music well.

You Never Asked Me begins quietly with the piano, is one of the sweetest and saddest songs of the album, about the end of a relationship. Gorgeous voice paired with piano intoning disaster. Lyrically it’s my favourite song of the album.

the album finishes up with Shine A Different Way which begins with bright guitar and Patty’s hopeful voice.

listen to this album when you’re sick of the dark, grey days and you’re curled up on the couch with a lover, looking for solace, comfort & fellow rebels. Patty Griffin’s voice alone, so exquisitely beautiful, makes this album an essential record for the close listener.


this is my favourite album of 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rampike - last issue still available & back issues available

In my introduction to Brick Books' Celebration of Canadian Visual / Concrete Poetry, I failed to mention that Rampike, although no longer producing new issues, still has plenty of life. 

Karl Jirgens informs me that the current issue (Rampike 24.1) is on newsstands across Canada and the USA, as well as 5 other continents and is for sale all over the Globe.

Previous issues including the last 36 years all feature visual poetics, and can be ordered by customers, via Canada Post.

Many rare and wonderful, current or back copies still available from publisher upon request, just send email order to: jirgens@uwindsor.ca.

My apologies to Karl.  I thank him for the correction.

More information is available on Rampike's site.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Heather O'Neill - Daydreams of Angels (Harper Collins, 2015)

i loved this short story collection. the author gives us fairy tales & fables which manage to convey grief, hope, loss, love. they are absurd, highly imaginative & humorous stories that complement her novels quite well. there are stories within stories told by parents and grandparents to children. there are talking bears, misbehaving angels, cloned ballet dancers, soldiers with clockwork hearts. they are both fanciful and at times political, but they are always entertaining. reading these stories was pure joy.

it's good to see contemporary writers taking on the fairy tale again. i'm thinking also of Helen Oyeyemi (Boy Snow Bird, Mr. Fox, etc), Barry Webster's the Lava in My Bones & in the last century, Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber.

i highly recommend this collection to all readers. they will remind you of the joy of reading you discovered as a child.

If Angela Carter & Kurt Vonnegut had a daughter, she would be Heather O'Neill.

[reposted from my Goodreads note]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Daniel Allen Cox - Mouthquake (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015)

[reposted from my Goodreads note]

another marvelous work by one of my favourite contemporary writers & a dear friend. elements of fairy tale, fable. a series of moments in the life of a boy who stutters & encounters various kindreds in Montreal. somehow evocative to me of Marie-Claire Blais' La Belle Bête. poetic. insightful. how language distorts, the difficulty of expression. provocative & sensual. delightfully humorous. a character with an on going story. i hope we see him again.

part of the ongoing narrative of dystopian Montreal from contemporary writers. heads up: i'm going to be writing about Heather O'Neill's Daydream of Angels soon.

this is also a good time to re-mention that my reading with Daniel, Marcus McCann & Billeh Nickerson at Venus Envy last September was a highlight of the year. 

more information about "Mouthquake" here & here