George Bowering - The Poet In Danger Of Extinction
Saturday, November 03, 2007
"What brings you to La Plata? Don't tell me you've come to study?"
"I've come to take photographs of the city. I'm a photographer."
The Adventures of a Photographer In La Plata
, Adolfo Bioy Casares 1985
When I went to La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires Province in 1966 I had no idea who Adolfo Bioy Casares was. My sailor friend Felipe Occhiuzzi and I had obtained a weekend leave so we had decided to take a bus to La Plata and visit the La Plata Museum
, famous for its dinosaur finds.
We managed to find a pretty girl to snap our picture in front of it with my Pentacon F camera.
This Tuesday during a break of my class, The Contemporary Portrait Nude, at Focal Point
I went for a coffee at Bean Around the World which is next door on 10th Avenue. There in one corner I spotted my friend Brian Nation
(a photographer, poet, writer, web designer, etc) and Canada's first ex (2002) poet laureate, George Bowering
. Both smiled and I never got to sit down as Bowering said, "Alex, I am going to Buenos Aires. My favorite Argentine writer is Bioy Casares. Do you know where he lived in Buenos Aires?" I did not know but I mentioned a book Casares had written about La Plata and Bowering knew all about it. I felt that somehow I had to take a picture. But all I had was my very large Mamiya RB in a small bag. I took it out and measured the light with my Minolta meter. The exposure was was f-5.6 at 1/8 second. That was iffy but I slapped on the Polaroid back and took this picture that you see here. I gave it to Brian Nation who posted it the very next day in his blog
. I downloaded it to here.
Some years ago I had to photograph Bowering for Books in Canada
. I took Bowering to Nat Bailey Stadium to take some baseball shots.
One of the pleasures I used to have when Duthie Books on Robson existed was to visit the store and sometimes buy a book which I would then peruse in the Murchie's store on the other side of the street. Both are gone. But I fondly remember going up to Thea, (Bowering's daughter) who worked in Duthies and I would ask, "I am looking for a book called The Poet In Danger of Extinction
." At first she was extremely serious in telling me that no such book existed. Then, when she caught on, she would just smile. Her smile was just as infectious as was Bowering's when I told him this story on Tuesday.
In Mexican poet/novelist Homero Aridjis's Eyes to See Otherwise - Ojos de otro Mirar Selected Poems.
published in 2001 and edited by Homero Aridjis's wife and George McWhirter
(born in Belfast) who happens to be our 2007 Vancouver Poet Laureate there is this poem:
The Poet In Danger Of Extinction
- The poet is in danger of extinction -
said the man with the moustache.
- The poet is someone from another age
who wonders through the day saying things
nobody understands - said the woman.
- While your bricklayer falls of a building,
the poet calls to us in the dead
language of mankind - said the shopkeeper.
- The poet writes books nobody
wants to read or sell or publish -
said the Professor.
- We ought to form a society
to protect these poets
in danger of extinction - said the woman.
- Baudelaire never was that popular -
said the man with the moustache.
- Dante, after seven hundred years
hardly anybody reads him - said the woman.
- Gongora - after the revival and reappraisal
is ignored all over again - said the Professor.
- What can we do so the public gets to know
poets better? - asked the shopkeeper.
- Nothing, absolutely nothing - said the poet.
- Didn't they say this was the type of person
who was already in danger of extinction? -
asked the man with the moustache.
The poet said:
through the smoggy streets;
in the world of communication
reach out through the dead languages;
in a marketplace of goods
that are smelled, pawed over, eaten
or shelved for a thousand years,
touch the body of a woman who never was.
See, in front of my bedroom window
the poet, my double, dodge between the cars,
lika an animal in danger of extinction.
Of George Bowering's favourite Argentine writer, this is what Jorge Luis Borges wrote:
We met in 1930 or 1931, when he was 17 and I was barely past 30. In these cases it is always supposed that the older becomes the master and the younger his pupil. This perhaps happened in the beginning, but years after, when we began to work together, Bioy was in reality, while secretely, the master.
Sears, A Corfam Shoe & Ale's First Bra
Friday, November 02, 2007
Sears and I have had a fond relationship since 1957. In 1957 I bought my mother a Kenmore beater in Austin, Texas and it worked until a couple of years ago when the motor finally burned out. The shoe you see here (the left one is in my closet) looks like a normal dark brown wingtip. But it isn't. I bought it in the Mexican branch of Sears, Sears Roebuck de Mexico SA de CV.
The joke at the time(1968) in Mexico was that it was modified to be pronounced Sears Roba A Mexico
or Sears Robs Mexico. I bought the pair of shoes in 1968 in their brand new store on Avenida de Ejercito Nacional Mexicano about four blocks from my Tía Fermina Miranda's
house in Colonia Irrigación. What is special about these shoes is that they are not made of leather. They are made of Dupont Corfam. This was supposed to be a plastic that could breathe. Perhaps they didn't breathe enough for most people as Dupont's venture into shoe material was a failure. To make them shine a wet paper towel was all I ever needed. I rarely wear these shoes because I no longer have brown Harris Tweed jackets or cream coloured slacks. But they are in excellent shape.
When Ale (38) was 14 we were living in Burnaby. I noticed that she was growing up. So I said, Ale, let's go to Sears. In Sears I found a venerable looking matron salesperson and I said to her, "This is my daughter Ale, can you fit her with a bra?" Since then going to Sears has meant going to buy one's first bra in our family.
Sometime in 1985 we bought a washer/dryer combo at Sears. They are still working like new in our present basement. Sears Craftsman lawnmoers have not been as hardy. In 1986 when we moved to our present house on Athlone I was obsessed with the perfect lawn. I bought a re-conditioned Craftsman reel mower. I retired it when I came to appreciate the wonders of mulching lawnmowers. We are into our third Craftsman. I presently go to Sears to buy my boxer shorts. The Sears brand fits me just right.
I wonder if Hilary will tell Rebecca, "Let's go to Sears," when the time comes.
My studio is blessed with light that comes from the building across the street. It happens to be Sears
The Glass Menagerie On A (very silent) Halloween Night
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I hate halloween.
It wasn't until my waning last years in Mexico City in the early 70s, when American culture was moving south, enexorably, as Mexicans were moving north, that I became aware of the phenomenon called halloween. Street urchins would come up to me and stick their hand out and plead, "Jefe, dame mi halloween."
Mexicans had become aware of the festivity perhaps thanks to the American style drugstore chain called Sanborns. Mexico had its own holiday. November 1 is celebrated as All Saints Day, and November 2(All Souls Day)is Dia de los Muertos
. Recently local and federal Mexican governments have been trying to stamp out the custom of having picnics in cemeteries on the day of the dead. Families will spend the day on top of their departed loved ones'graves. Bakeries make a brisk business selling sweet bread with the shape of bones on top and personalized sugars skulls (the name of your sweetheart on the forehead and dazzling sequins in the eye sockets. The cheap tabloids have a feast day writing up the most grizzly murders of the day.
I have never been prepared for numerous and unceasing knocks and doorbell ringing.I hate halloween.
But I remember those halloweens in Burnaby in the middle 70s and early 80s when my two daughters were young girls. It often rained and they would come home cold and wet. I felt sorry for them. They ignored me as they emptied their large black garbage bags of sweet booty. I ignored their protests when I helped myself to the chocolate covered peanuts. I tried to disappear on those nights to punk rock concerts the Japanese Hall or the Odd Fellows Hall. And until now I hardly ever made myself answer the door on halloween. Rosemary has had that chore all along.
But yesterday we finally had the perfect excuse not to be home. We went to the opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of The Glass Menagerie. On the way to the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage we stopped to snap a few pictures of Rebecca
and Lauren all dressed up and ready to go for their loot. I looked at Hilary (34) and fondly remembered the picture I had taken outside our Burnaby townhouse some 30 years ago.
The Tennessee Williams play has an excellent cast. Gabrielle Rose
with a suffocatingly good Southern accent is the perfect has-been genteel mother, Amanda. Her shy daughter, Laura is played by Cherise Clarke in a performance that reminded me of a wonderful Mare Winningham that I photographed so many years ago. Both Winningham and Clarke had a silent presence. During last night's play it seemed as the less Clark said the more Rose said. This was fascinating as I could even see a physical family resemblance between them. Craig Erickson played the overachieving Jim with convincing aplomb but it was Robert Moloney who played Tom (Laura's brother and Amanda's son) that I felt drawn to the most. His hair would stand up in such a way that I thought of an even more serious and tragic Stan Laurel.
Rosemary who is always so critical said of the one hour long first act, "That was short," to my amazement. I had an excellent time. I never had to open the door to screaming children, not even once.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
This is another guest blogging contribution by John Lekich.
In the mid-nineties, The Georgia Straight
was still making room for extended profiles of worthy local actors. (Unlike rival Vancouver publications who stubbornly refused to consider the possibility of locally nurtured stars in favour of gushing blurbs on visiting Hollywood muscle men.) These deliberately thoughtful ruminations would often include a stunning portrait by Alex. Such was the case when we combined our efforts to reveal the consummate elegance of actor Gabrielle Rose. A devoted Vancouverite who was garnering much critical acclaim at the time thanks to her riveting performance in Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.
Ms. Rose has the distinction of being one of only two actresses whose sheer presence made me blush in the course of an interview. (The other was the great Claire Bloom who Ms. Rose resembles in several ways.) As I recall, she was doing nothing more alluring than eating a slightly undercooked omelet. Still, she managed to prove that refinement, modesty and an unabashed passion for her craft are deeply attractive – if increasingly underrated - qualities. Currently Gabrielle Rose is appearing in the Arts Club production of The Glass Menagerie
. Watch as she single-handedly destroys the notion that Vancouver has no stars.
John Lekich, VancouverJohn Lekich Guest Blogger
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Esa ráfaga, el tango, esa diablura,
Los atareados años desafía;
Hecho de polvo y tiempo, el hombre dura
Menos que la liviana melodía,
El Tango, Jorge Luís Borges, 1964
That I was born in Argentina has never been an advantage in learning to dance the tango. I don't think that tango or football (of the soccer variety) come with the blood. You have to first have the talent. After five years of learning to dance the tango (the Argentine version not the sappy ballroom variety) I realized that all I could say for myself was that I was a competent and efficient tango dancer. In most cases I tried to dance with beautiful dancers so I would not be noticed. That was the case of Indiana
who was almost 6 ft tall. She wore long and slinky black dresses with a slit in the right place. Since I am not all that tall I danced comfortably resting my head on her chest. Nobody ever noticed me! All eyes were on Indiana.
That I dance efficiently does not mean that I cannot recognize virtuosity. When I first saw Colin and Iris dance I pictured him as an Austrian violinist in the VSO who moonlighted as a tango dancer. That was not the case. He moonlighted as a nightwatchman and was not Austrian. Iris had these Irish bedroom eyes (well, she had bedroom eyes and happened to be Irish). When these two danced I felt they were dancing in another dimension, but I was given the privilege of looking in. I asked them to come into the studio for some photos. This one was my favourite.
I miss dancing the tango. I miss dancing with Indiana who is a busy mother these days. But I also miss dancing with Iris. There were quite a few men who did not like to dance with her. I soon figured out why. A good female tango dancer has to dance a few microseconds behind the male. She must be in a state of controlled disiquilibrium, ready to follow the male lead in any direction. For me that amounts to driving a car with American-style power steering. You don't get a feel for the road. Iris presented me with a slight resistance (sort of like my Arca Swiss ball/head tripod head). It forced me to slow down. And dancing the tango slowly is what dancing the tango is all about.
When I danced with Iris I felt just a bit over-the-efficient category.
Aunt Dorothy, Danielle Steel & Clare Richards
Monday, October 29, 2007
I find that of all the seasons, fall is the one I spend most thinking about. I think about pruning, I think about moving plants, I think about re-arranging flower beds and I think mostly about the growing season being over and wondering if I will be around to enjoy another one. This has nothing to do with me being that old or having some incurable and deadly disease (I am not in that situation that I know of). It has all to do with the acceptance that all good things must end and that includes one's life. At about this time I think of many from my family who are not around or euphemistically, will not see another spring. I think of my aunt, Dorothy Rowstron. And I think of someone whom Aunt Dorothy should have met. Her name is Clare Richards.
Aunt Dorothy, 88, sat in her Sutherland Drive Toronto brick house, beautiful with her Hayward family ( a sister of my father who had four including Dorothy) wavy silver white hair. In her Queen ’s English mixed with Buenos Aires porteño Spanish she said to me, “Alexander, estoy vieja (I’m old) I am in pain all the time. Che, I don’t want to go on.” I was speechless. This came from the person who consumed every Danielle Steel I would bring for her on my yearly trips to Toronto to see magazine art directors. The high point of those trips was the afternoon "té completo
” at Aunt Dorothy’s. She insisted that the lemon cake she served me was out of a box and apologized that her tea wasn’t as strong as I liked it. It was all delicious.
Aunt Dorothy’s comment caught me by surprise. I could say nothing. As I waited at the St Clare station for the subway back to town and my Chelsea Hotel I was depressed even though I was on my way to Columbus, Ohio to attend my first hosta convention.
Surrounded by elderly botanical ladies, at a get acquainted dinner at the Columbus Holiday Inn, I was particularly bothered when the two remaining seats were occupied by an old couple. The man who asked me if the seats were taken said, “You are really going to like Robert and Claire Richards, I went to their 50th wedding anniversary last year.” I groaned inwardly. Robert, in his 89s was dressed in one of those multi coloured seer sucker jackets that traveling Americans seem to favour. Clare, 82, very small, looking at me over her glasses, said, in a wonderful Bostonian accent that brought to mind Kennedy’s “Cubar and the missiles” TV speech, “I’m 82 and 4 ft 11 and still shrinking. I have osteoporosis.” I was charmed. For a week we explored hosta gardens. She told me of her garden in Groveland, Massachusetts, and how she had done all the gardening when Robert had gone to war in 1942. She described the statue of St Fiacre in her garden. I was unaware that he was the patron saint of gardening. Clare even managed to give me some pointers on flower arranging. She was renowned for it in Boston. On the last day of the hosta convention I lifted her into her van and kissed her goodby. “Come to Boston one day, my love, and sit in the gazebo (she pronounced it gazaibo) for tea,” she said to me.
In Toronto on my way to Vancouver (too short a layover to see Aunt Dorothy) I bought a Mountie in scarlet postcard and sent it to Clare. Two months later there was no answer from Clare.
A mile out of Columbus, minutes after I had bid them goodbye, Robert and Clare Richards were involved in a head on collision. Both were hospitalized and Clare was in critical condition. I found out because I finally called her.
“Alex," she said,"Today I walked for the first time. They didn’t give me much of a chance. I was in hospital for two months. But I had to get up and walk. I couldn’t allow Robert to do all the weeding. I had to get back to my flower arranging classes. I want to see my Columbus bought plants come up in spring."
I am now 65 years old and it is almost winter. Mortality is often in my thoughts but I think differently thanks to Clare. When she died some five years later after I last received a letter from her I began to discover good reasons for a continued existence. It has to be one spring at a time. As my perennials die back and the garden is put to bed I live in the expectation for what it will do this coming spring. After that it’s not important.
A few months before Aunt Dorothy died; she was 96, I called her up. “Her first question was, “Alexander, there is a new Danielle Steel out. When are you coming to Toronto?”
When she was dead I received a letter from her son-in-law Ivor who told me, “Alex, Aunt Dorothy was a sophisticated reader and she never had the heart to tell you that she never read Danielle Steel. I think you ought to know that.”
Rebecca Prepares For Halloween
Sunday, October 28, 2007
"Moths, and all sorts of ugly creatures," replied Estella, with a glance towards him, "hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle help it?"
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
This is a Polaroid that I took of Rebecca yesterday in the afternooon in our fall garden. She is holding a couple of dried Cynara cardunculus
flowers. She was wearing part of her halloween costume. We began with an ugly black wig and Rebecca posed as some sort of sorcerer. I convinced her to remove the wig and we tried some more pictures. Whe we finished she said, "This has been my favourite shoot ever." I would have corrected her that anytime I can get to photograph her it is my favourite shoot ever.
W.H. Hudson's Little Girls