Tag Archives: Dennis E. Bolen


A major windstorm and ensuing power outages have put me behind schedule and I’m still recovering from, and cleaning up after Saturday’s festivities, a tribute to Irving Layton as part of nationwide and international centenary celebrations. We celebrated my birthday as well, still substantially less than 100 years ago, and it was quite the bacchanalia, entirely fitting we all agreed. I made cassoulet, Thesa (Pakarnyk) brought butter chicken and Kyle (Hawke) brought a huge, fantastic pumpkin cake in the shape of a book, left page with Layton’s The Improved Binoculars painted upon maple icing, the right with the title poem from my book, Three Blocks West of Wonderland. I can’t stop eating the damn thing! I must stop eating the damn thing!

And I must confess it was for sentimental reasons that I hosted the event. Or perhaps pure nostalgia. As a teenager, Irving Layton was one of the poets who inspired me to write and then I met his son Max one summer while hitchhiking all over BC with my best friend Cathy. We were so resourceful, I swear I left with $50 and returned with $50. And I can’t believe we did that. Survived! Ah, the resiliency of youth, and if I believed in the supernatural, I’d swear that we’re blessed with guardian angels.

So the two of us wound up in Campbell River once. I recall meeting a crew of boisterous loggers in the bar. Are they called crews? Anyway, the lot of them snuck us into camp and brought us heaping plates of steak and potatoes. We were always hungry. A handsome, talented  young man appeared and serenaded us on guitar. A romantic figure, Max Layton grew up surrounded by artists and poets including Leonard Cohen, who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for one of his mother Betty Sutherland’s paintings. I never saw him again but thanks to social networking, Max and I reconnected. When he told me about the centenary, I was happy to participate, to gather with friends on Bowen Island, across Canada and around the world paying homage to an icon of Canadian literature.

Irving Layton may have been a bohemian, an advocate of sexual freedom, but let’s face it, the guy haboured a very bad attitude toward women. But, all grown up now I’m able to separate the man from the work, the poet from politics. I love his way with words, his lust for life. As with many other male writers–Henry Miller only one of my guilty pleasures—I must pacify my inner feminist for I am a sucker for language, its power. And obviously I’m a sucker for silver-tongued devils and troubadours.

I read from the same book I had back in high school, Periods of the Moon.  I am no less passionate about poetry and Cathy is still my best friend. Some things endure, the important things, like love and literature.

A lively group from various backgrounds, we featured a mix of Bowen Island and Vancouver poets and writers. Dennis E. Bolen is primarily a novelist but writing his autobiography in verse. He observed that he couldn’t lift the cake, so read what is perhaps Layton’s most famous work, The Improved Binoculars in his inimitable way and then If I Lie Still.

Bowen Island poet Lisa Shatsky’s first collection Do Not Call Me By My Name on Black Moss Press came out last year. She shared how Al Purdy introduced her to Layton’s work after meeting him in Montreal at the age of 18, having snuck into a bar. She pondered over Layton’s depictions of women, decided to find a poem that she actually liked and then write one in response. There was a lot of banter between audience and poet at this shindig; Julie (Vik) asked her how long it took to find one. Lisa said Berry Picking jumped out at her and read it beautifully. Her Letter to Irving Layton succinctly addressed his misogyny. Women as “muse and executioner at the same time . . . You must have longed to be delicate in another’s hand” and imagined meeting him at an outdoor café. She nailed it.

Sylvia Taylor, author of the forthcoming Fisher Queen and ever the teacher brought handouts featuring fifteen of Irving’s pithiest quotes and read Layton’s The Wave. Resplendent in fuscia pink leather Barbie driving gloves that surely would have driven Irving wild, Sylvia said,  “To commemorate how he equally adored and despised women.”

In a powerful voice, theatre director Don MacLean delivered one of Layton’s most searing and disparaging-of-poetry-and-poets poems, Whom I Write For.

My friend Thesa Pakarnyk hitchhiked from the ferry to my house with her friend Sabrina Prada (resourceful and independent) read a lovely Thesa poem, African Violets and then in stark contrast, O Jerusalem and Dialogue, both about Layton’s perspective on Christians and Jesus, (sent to her by Max Layton. Again, resourceful girl.) Thesa, a whirling dervish of talent, whose professional work includes animation and music, is currently putting together a live poetry/singing/performance jazz group. I’ll stick out my thumb for that show for sure.

Lastly, and by no means leastly, my dear friend, former band mate and fellow book lover, singer-songwriter extraordinaire Julie Vik surprised us with a reading and related how, like Lisa, she had been turned onto Layton by Al Purdy, who had come to her high school. She delivered On Obsession with aplomb, from a Layton collection she’d had since her teen years.

Then we ate cake! Amongst other things. A fantastic night. A night to remember. A la vida! Long live verse. And versifyers!

Wish List-Books for Xmas-Laytons for my birthday . . .

. . . and a pot of chicken soup. I start battling the flu the moment the clocks turn back. Every godamn winter; I wish I could make like a snowbird and fly south, to an abode in the desert. I’ll put it on the list.

My buddy Sean Cranbury of Books on the Radio invited me to contribute to his delightful Advent Book Blog. Despite the aforementioned bug and a dearth of time for fiction, here is my recommendation.

I’ve long been a fan of Dennis E. Bolen’s uncanny dialogue and unadulterated prose, the economy of which adapts well to the short story genre and his new collection, Anticipated Results. Though Bolen skillfully renders male Boomer ennui entertaining, not every tale wags in Loser Ville. As affecting as his unflinching portrayals of disaffected, middle-aged lost boys may be, I was moved by other premises: the emotional intensity of a child fleeing a bizarre outburst of patriarchal rage, the twisted, lustful hilarity of Kitty, the genuine poignancy of Lena, an account of driving with offspring as fraught with a father’s palpable longing, regret and resignation as his daughter’s intractable anxiety, seething and clumsily concealed reproach. The result? A thoroughly engaging read. Check out the book trailer, which we just screened at Visible Verse Festival.

Another friend, Max Layton, son of Irving Layton, has asked me to participate in a nation wide Layton centenary celebration in March. I said I’d be happy to and have started planning an event here on the island. It will provide an opportunity to celebrate my birthday as well. If it’s half as wild as 2011’s, we’re in store for a memorable occasion.

And oh, other books I’d happily recommend; and also sharks by Jessica Westhead, Jenn Farrell’s The Devil You Know, Michael Crummy’s The Wreckage and The Spoken Word Workbook, edited by Sheri-D Wilson, with “inspiration from poets who teach, 27 of the most influential Poets, Griots & Bards working in jazz, hip hop, dub, slam, storytelling and sound from across North America,” moi included.

Remembering Riflemen Whilst Bushwhacking

Good trick, eh? 11 • 11• 11. Felt like any other, though good news arrived to brighten the short, dark, cold November days. My videopoem Bushwhack is an official selection of the International Literary Film Festival, Director Lee Bob Black, “excited to be screening it along with many other brilliant films.”

I still have not had an opportunity to write an account of our recent Visible Verse Festival, swamped with novel queries, hustling, but did take time to honour our war dead on Rememberance Day. My maternal grandfather Rifleman Reginald Haley of Matapédia, Quebec was a member of the Royal Rifles taken prisoner by the Japanese Christmas Eve 1941, dying of dysentery a few awful years later. My friend author Dennis E. Bolen said it was a damn shame how the outfit had been abandoned by Churchill, tortured for years by the Imperial Japanese. Though we both have many dear Japanese friends, agree that their government’s refusal to apologize is deplorable. He recommended a book on the subject, War Without Mercy, which “attempts to explain the racism wherein the Japs considered North American Caucasians to be effete and we considered Asians to be sub-human. Bad combination.”Indeed. I recently read Michael Crummy’s The Wreckage, which vividly depicted the brutality of a Japanese POW camp and some people, usually Americans, claim that the Kamikaze ideology is what got them nuked. And there’s my hapless big Mick grandfather Reggie caught in the crossfire. Sadly the soldiers that survived received no hero’s welcome either. I regret never having had the privilege of knowing him, sounds like we would have got on. Hell, my mother could barely remember him, only eight years old when he died, leaving her, my grandmother Genora and four brothers and sisters bereft and impoverished. I can honestly say the tremendous loss of my grandfather has impacted our family to this day.

Rest in peace Reginald.

Why These Shoes Matter More than an MFA

I’m paraphrasing; read an interesting book review of British sociologist Katherine Hakim’s Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, which argues that “erotic capital can be as professionally useful as a university degree,” and that, “women have been conditioned not to exploit their attractiveness for economic benefit.” I didn’t agree with her entire hypothesis but certainly she makes valid points. “Hakim claims heterosexual women’s erotic capital and fertility— their greatest trump cards—have been systematically undervalued and suppressed by religious fundamentalists, the patriarchy and even radical feminists who want to restrict women’s ability to benefit from their one major advantage over men, and to humiliate women who gain money or status though such activities.” Well, growing up, I was always uncomfortable with my sexuality and certainly didn’t feel at liberty to exploit it. I covered up, equating sexy with sleazy. I was actually loath to admit that I was afraid of men, their oh so keen response to my body nothing but overwhelming. I still don’t believe that being desired makes one powerful, not in and of itself, but as a happily lapsed Catholic, I’m able to revel in my body, mainly grateful it works, and do not hesitate to flaunt.

On the novel front, I’m working hard on a proposal, completed a synopsis and now must compose a scintillating query letter in order to avoid the dreaded slush pile. Feeling very good about this book, vital because I’m acting as my own agent. Apparently there are no agents in Canada worth pursuing. With a large part of the story set in United States, I suppose I could look down there, but the head reels at the thought, so I’ll focus my efforts north of the border for now, though I did contact several American colleagues to receive some promising leads. I’m very grateful for the help and guidance of friends Dennis E. Bolen, Gretl Rassmussen, Peter Trower, Julie Vik and Jenn Farrell.

So here’s the synopsis. Please don’t ask if it’s autobiographical. I feel much the way Beauty and Pity author Kevin Chong does. “You’d have to be an intellectual dwarf from Cloverdale to make that assumption.” My protagonist Fiona is not me and I am not Fiona. And though I may be a Surrey girl, I have a high IQ and stand 6 foot in heels.

The Town Slut’s Daughter


The Siren of Howe Sound, AKA Canadian poet Heather Haley’s debut novel, The Town’s Slut’s Daughter, is a tale of loss and transcendence, peopled with unforgettable characters. Fiona Larochelle’s journey unfolds in three sections with a mix of fact, fiction and startling events.

In part one, Girls With Guitars, Fiona flees a tortured relationship with mother Jeanette, and a harrowing home life of terror and physical abuse only to land in Vancouver’s violently blazing punk rock underground. Music provides a catalyst however; Fiona mines a talent for singing and songwriting to form an all-girl band, the Virgin Marries.

In part two, Girl With Guitar, Fiona is stranded in the United States after her bassist ODs and the Virgin Marrries scatter. Fiona is forced to navigate a minefield of vice, drug abuse, jealous lovers and predatory record producers as she works to rebuild her dream.

In part three, Girl with Ratty Hair, Fiona struggles to retain her voice while indulging in an obsession with cruel, dangerous men. She discovers that peace of mind is not possible with the volume cranked to ten. Rage may have facilitated Fiona’s quest in the beginning but it cannot deliver her. Amidst the tumult of the LA Riots, Fiona bolts her cocaine-fueled marriage to a modern-day Bluebeard. Throughout it all, a fierce, indomitable spirit prevails.

(G)literati and Fighting the Good Fight

Author Kevin Chong

Where’s the poem? Swamped this week screening submissions for Visible Verse Festival 2011 and up to my eyeballs in experimental film, which happens every year. Without being semantical, I have to say poetic is not the same as visible verse, or a video poem or a cine-poem, or whichever term you prefer. I think I just got semantical.

Still laughing and sharing photos from Kevin Chong’s book launch of new novel Beauty and Pity at Vancouver’s infamous Penthouse nightclub, the first and likely the last time I’ll ever set my ass down in there. I was surprised; the interior does not reflect the fading building facade. Neither did the carpet reek of stale beer, wall of framed 8×10 black and white celebrity headshots only one of its charms. Anyway, I’ve spent enough time in strip clubs. Bartending was the only job I could find in New York City when I resided, or rather survived a year there in the 80s. Man, it was a tough town, nothing like it is now, inhabitable. A friend of a friend got me a job at the Baby Doll, a topless bar on White Street, just down from the Mudd Club, where we used to convene after our shifts ended at 2 AM, or at the sushi bar imbibing hot sake, which goes down well in the company of bitterly cold Manhattanites. Club management kept trying to get me to strip too. I was quite miserable after my band broke up and told them, “No thanks, I don’t miss the stage that much.” I only had to watch the dancers—what was left of them—flaunt it, appalled by the Wall Street fat cat CEOs and bankers turned on by such pathetic junkies. No way I was going to wind up down there.

But back to Vancouver. I love book launches that are beyond readings. Kevin commissioned a book trailer, directed and produced by mutual friends Pam Bentley and Tara Flynn and it was hilarious. The book jacket states “Malcolm Kwan is a slacker twenty-something Asian-Canadian who is about to embark on a modeling career.” Kevin had Owen Kwong, a real male model, portray him. Later during the reading, host Charles Demers applied makeup to Kevin’s face, and not expertly, bestowing him with a magnificent unibrow. Kevin admirably kept reciting throughout the lipstick and purple wig application. What an event! And so glamorous. I’m enjoying the book immensely, can recommend it.

Attended a Continue reading

The Humble Muralist and the Reproachful Buddhist

This island girl’s latest work-in-progress. I am reminded of the Jung quote Dennis E. Bolen used in his book Kaspoit! “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” I’ve noticed a lot of islanders fleeing their shadows. There are no no shadows in Paradise, no darkness allowed and nothing bad ever happens even as the RCMP investigate the murder of a 17-year old girl. Hypocrites.

The Humble Muralist and the Reproachful Buddhist

Island roads are only as long as the island,
invariably leading to the vortex every island hosts,
the village or burg hugging the cove or bay,
the place where sweaty, unsighted, unrepentant
cocaine and alcohol abusers
gurgle down to, wind up in,
rubbing elbows with the vigorous
Tilley-hatted, swamping landowners
with their nasty habit stench.

Island roads snake lowly
through a bucolic landscape;
swaying grasses, expansive elms,
lambs, cows, horses, llamas.
Do not be lulled.
Anxiety stalks the Continue reading