Tag Archives: Julie Vik


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!

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.

“What is west coast music?”

Onstage at the Smilin' Buddha

My friend, singer/songwriter Julie Vik recently posed the question, “What is west coast music?” because as she said, I was there for the “transition.” Well, I replied, I can only speak from my own experience. I used to tour up and down the west coast, play the west coast circuit. I always say we shared more camaraderie with our American punk cohorts than those in the rest of Canada. I know some bands like DOA toured across country and around the world but most of us were strapped for cash and stayed closer to home, or at least west of the Rockies. A fellow islander and musician Chris Corrigan said that in the traditional music community there are strong connections within the scenes in Washington and Oregon and not so much with the rest of Canada. “When I was really active in the scene in the 1990s, you could look at the repertoire of traditional Irish tunes we played and see that they were heavily influenced by what was happening in Seattle. We’ve always been closer to Cascadians.” Makes sense to me. Cascadia, as a region, certainly, draws musicians, the arts together. I’ve noticed lots of overlap between the San Juan and Gulf Islands as well in the spoken word, literary scenes.

In any case, it was always more expedient for us to tour in a southerly direction than back east. The snowy passes and mountains certainly are formidable, then you have three days or so of flatlands-prairies-and then three more days of bush-Ontario!

The Dils (from San Francisco) came up and played Vancouver often, hung out with us and were very comradely. Black Flag from LA as well. I became friends with many Californians introduced to me by Brad Kent who had done a stint as the Avengers guitarist; Chuck Dukowski, Gregg Ginn, Darby Crash, Margo from the Go-Gos, Jello Biafra, Kid Spike and Karla MadDog from the Controllers. I got so weary of driving up and down the 1-5, pooling pennies to buy gas and arguing over which fast food drive-in to pull into. One time I begged to take PCH, just for a change of scene, and mentioned that it would be fun to go visit Henry Miller in Big Sur. They thought I was crazy. “Henry who?”

I shared these opinions with Scott Beadle once too, in an interview. He is Vancouver’s defacto punk rock historian, did a talk at the Vancouver Museum a few years back. Man, does that make me feel old! I recall being at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, in the punk rock section and looking at flyers under glass, flyers I have copies of at home!

In my humble opinion, Vancouver was Continue reading