Sunday, March 29, 2015

Aside; a lesson in endurance

Where does a habit form? I reckon somewhere in the subconscious, where tendencies become compulsive over a sneaky spectrum and we don’t recognize a new routine until we're in the grips of one. For me and comic book collecting, the habit was well underway by 1992. Of the few hundred comics I’ve unearthed on this snowy February afternoon, at least half were released in 93 or 94, which means I was front-and-centre for Spiderman’s Maximum Carnage series, Batman’s Knightfall series, Image and Valiant Comics’ worlds-collide inspired DeathMate, plus the ho-hum death of Superman (replete with his clones and heavy-metal, resurrection do). 

While cutting the lawn on searing July afternoons, I’d finalize which comic my five-dollar pay-week would bring home. Having a friend and fellow comic enthusiast named Adam live just two houses over made that anticipation all the more strategic. My Dad (a former collector himself) would drive us to Len’s Odds and Ends on St Paul Street in St. Catharines and poke around while Adam and I picked up new issues of Wild C.A.T.S, Shadowhawk, Detective Comics or whatever title Wizard Magazine claimed was hot that month. 

I don't have firm memories of buying any of these but, by surveying piles of comics on the floor, I can pinpoint where my habit started. In short, my eye is drawn to the occasional beat-up issue, unprotected by a plastic sleeve or cardboard backing. Oh, the late 80s:

But it would be disingenuous of me to pretend these comics resurfaced on account of nostalgia. In truth, I was searching whether Batman Adventures (based off of the still wonderful Animated Series) was worth anything, since I own the original 36-issue run. As you might imagine, the series has almost lost its original cover value — I say “almost” because the twelfth issue is going for a hot sum. Why? Because Batman Adventures #12 features Joker’s side-kick Harley Quinn for the first time ever and apparently she’s the Boba Fett of the Batman universe these days. A hot commodity with a feature film in the works. Issues of Batman Adventures were guilty pleasures for a kid approaching his teens — breezy and compact tales that felt child-like in comparison to X-Men’s sophisticated narratives. But it just goes to show: there’s no telling what’ll become a collector's item.

Anyway it strikes me now, leafing through illustrations that feel so familiar despite a 20-year absence, that comic books symbolize creative discipline better than most modern media. The team of writers, editors and illustrators creates a universe which expands or contracts around certain characters but, on a monthly deadline, has to thrive. Unlike feature films or even television series, the comic world has no end. Sagas close but the lives and relationships attached must continue to develop into another compelling story. The premise itself is immortal. Sometimes, in an effort to revive readership interest, a comic will even force an end — usually involving the demise of its protagonist — before spending several months creatively back-peddling to a status quo. Only the modern soap opera can compare with that level of commitment — the constant workload and cautious advances of a self-contained universe that, ideally, will not resolve. 

As such, it’s easy to be critical when looking at a particular comic book over a long enough timeline because, realistically, creativity peaks and valleys. Plots waver when established writers move on and newbies get their big break. The feel and look of the universe endures jarring transitions when illustrators jump ship. Even comic enterprises that maintain the same creative team for long periods face the crucial question of how to keep core fans while attracting new readers. How does one entice both ends of a generation gap? 

As someone who has since moved on to collecting poetry and literary criticism, chapbooks and trade collections, I find transferring these concerns of relevance and innovation to the CanLit world a messy proposition. Who is our target audience? What creative steps do we feel entitled or authorized to make? And finally, where is the right place to end? There's an industrious heartbeat to these questions that feels off-tempo in a scene of pro bono work, amorphous deadlines and intentionally splintered plot lines. We work in a niche, that's fine. But it's encouraging, as we toil away on projects that seem to have no foreseeable conclusion, that certain print media has been turning old ideas new for decades upon decades. 

This is the second post in my #MaterialPurge2015 series. To read the first, "Aside; ghosts in the stereo", proceed here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

[parenthetical] issue six & launch!

Nicole Brewer and William Kemp, co-founders of words(on)pages, will unveil [parenthetical] zine's sixth issue on Thursday, March 19th at The Central. Check the fun poster for details but know this: featured readers Phil Miletic and Mat Laporte will be backed by some super-talented issue contributors. I'll bend space and time to attend but my being there is a long shot. Anyway it'll be a great night, so go. 

Digital and physical copies of issue six will include "Reviving the Royal Connaught Hotel", a poem from my Hamilton manuscript A green horseshoe,. Thanks to Nicole and William for presenting my work among such fine company.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Aside; ghosts in the stereo

I was nineteen when music surpassed the role of "hobby" or "passion" and formally became part of my identity. Discovering in my freshman year of university that many reacted to my love of music as "crazy" or "extreme", I found it easy to adopt the mantle of the friend-with-eclectic-tastes, that guy who'd select tunes appropriate for partying or hanging out. Looking back, my listening habits weren't so esoteric: Velvet Underground, Chemical Brothers, Thievery Corporation, etc. But I guess they differed enough from campus faves like Dave Matthews Band to earn me a rep.

That rep felt honest, given how I talked, shopped and worked almost exclusively around music, but it also fueled an ego-based collection. In short, I became a completist — not only for the bands I'd been following, but for new or classic artists that suddenly felt compulsory. I aligned their CD spines in towers as though part of a definitive library. There were three rock towers, two electronic ones and two for jazz (which included the odd new age or classical disc). I didn't need anyone else to appreciate them but I kept the space immaculate, you know, just in case anyone came by.

Although I love music just as passionately as I did in my early 20s, I view these mammoth towers a bit critically now that I'm in my 30s. For one thing, the big house I once assumed I would fill my collection with is no longer desired. I want to live simply, without a lot of material baggage. And although I have ample room in my current apartment, the greater burden associated with my collection has been mental baggage. A quick browse of titles triggers a history of past lives, bittersweet or indifferent.

For a time, I welcomed the idea of harnessing these aural memories into a piggy-bank for when I'm older and nostalgic. Well I am getting older, and no thanks. People in the decluttering industry (something that totally exists) will tell you: sort your photos while you're young or get rid of them. It's easy to hoard boxes of photos under the pretence they'll one day get sorted but the task becomes unmanageable. Photos are the most common thing descendants toss out after a death in the family. And records are my photos.

So in February I decided I wanted all of my music to be visible and organized on shelves. This meant condensing the seven towers of CDs I own with an additional 5 tupperwares' worth in storage. Virtually all of those in the latter group were placed in the discard pile. Will it feel strange getting rid of Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, my first favourite album ever? Sure, but it has more than fulfilled its obligation. If I ever crave listening to it — and I haven't in at least five years — it'll be a click away on Youtube. Want to know just how many records were hidden away in the basement? I didn't count, however I did find a box of fifty or so CDs I could've sworn I'd sold the year before. Out of sight, out of mind.

Funny thing is, I felt unsatisfied once I'd reached the goal of having every CD accounted for on my towers, as though I hadn't pushed myself hard enough. My gaze sharpened on beloved mid 2000s albums I no longer identified with and classics whose glory days were well behind me. Toughest of all were albums I'd bought in recent years which hadn't taken off, so to speak. Is it a bigger waste to sell them without getting their intended value, or keep them for the reminder of a failed experiment? Perhaps their worth has been in illustrating that my music-spending requires more research and less impulsiveness.

I've now conducted four sweeps of my towers and cut approximately 300 titles (roughly a fifth of my total collection). The reward of purging many admittedly great albums is assessing what remains: music that speaks to who I am, not who I was. Some artist catalogs have stayed relatively intact, while others have holes punched in them. But those absences just reinforce the joy of albums I've kept. I feel lighter and more appreciative. With all of this self-assessment, maybe the purge was no less ego-based than the accumulation. Still, it feels right to bid farewell to these ghosts. It's time to move forward, unencumbered.

This process has already moved on to other material categories and I might share those findings. It appears I have exclusive use of the hashtag #MaterialPurge2015 so I'll be annoying people on Twitter with that as well.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Curious links for March 2015

A few events to steer us out of February's greys...
1) March 5th is a bountiful day for readings in the golden horseshoe. Hamilton Poetry Centre presents Karen Connelly and Mark Kempf at Bryan Prince Bookseller (details here). In Toronto, Livewords hosts the impressive line-up of Julie Joosten, Wanda Praamsma, Adam Sol and David B. Goldstein at their new venue (details here). The Echolocation Reading Series is also slated to feature Helen Guri, Stevie Howell and Nyla Matuk (details here). 

2) The Broken Pencil DeathMatch has reached its epic climax, as Talita Valle’s “My Life as the Reincarnation of Dorothy Parker” faces off against Nikola Jajic ’s “The Boogeyman”. Whether you’re interested in the stories or controversial reader comments, take some time to read and then vote for your favourite (once per hour, if passions insist) before all tallies are counted March 8th. 

3) VERSeFEST is back in Ottawa and wielding a mammoth schedule from March 24 - 30th. This poetry and spoken word roster is one-of-a-kind and features, among others: Anne Compton, Gary Geddes, bill bissett, Claire Caldwell, Amanda Earl, JC Bouchard, Lorna Crozier, Paul Vermeersch, and, well, I have to stop at some point. Check out the full schedule and order your passes for what promises to be an incredible week of poetry. 

4) You have a few extra days to prep your manuscript for the inaugural 2015 Metatron Prize. The Montreal-based publisher is offering a publication deal as well as past titles and a cash prize. The new deadline is Friday, March 6th — so get on it!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Rogue Poem: "Cagedly"


Cagedly I mime
for the tulips
glass walls

to cushion their bows
but they slope
at every angle
and I snip
diagonal —
heel by calf,
knee-cap to neck;

a bowl of spring-bulbs
out of ideas
on the Rideau.

Captured I thought
you’d stand tall 
beside me, not
excuse yourself
from negotiations
so boldly that nature
be blamed for its wilting. 

"Cagedly" was written for and published in the first issue of Nickel95, a zine out of London, ON, back in 2013. A one-off poem I'd nearly forgotten about. Spring's coming.