Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

Golden Girl seethed: “Why are we such cowards? Can’t we just tell her to stop?” Later, Juniper and JP, brought to their knees, their reasons for carrying on in jeopardy, were to be seen dashing their brains against the concrete steps outside the venue. While this kabuki theatre ran its sad course, a Romanian gypsy guitarist informed us that, when it comes to invectives, the Romanians have it all over the Germans. The latter were, according to his lights, stodgy in their use of the more prime material. Otherwise he did not know what to make of an ex-metal-band singer turned poet. Was there a therapy group for such creatures? And was I so sure that Sappho had been respectable and not a gypsy? The ‘her’ to which Golden Girl made reference was a Hot Ticket from the fabled west coast who might have thought she was Patti Smith, though I am unable to say for sure, as I would be unable to pick Patti Smith out in a crowd of smiling Buddhas. I have, however, admired some of her songs. In any case, the poet proceeded to ghazal and villanelle us. Mere mention of these forms accorded her de facto mastery of each. She mezzo-contralto-ed some ‘metal’ ballad. Considerations of talent aside, and whether or not she had genuine insights at all into the mysteries of sex and life in general, it did seem like life, like energy, like something, at any rate, that she was inserting into the ambience. Ah, pluck. Good stuff. She had gone around the world, researching the female troubadour tradition. That she wound up on the receiving end of ill-conceived behaviour on the part of a few Turkish louts appeared to be the only thanks she got. She read a ‘hate’ poem to that effect, though it was not necessarily the proverbial young Turk she wished to skewer, but your archetypal nimrods from towns like Thunder Bay and Windsor, perhaps, who had compromised her capacity for romance because they were, well, malodorous dweebs. What was anciently formulaic in her choice of verse-form was slicked up to a present day buff of ‘buzz off’. It is what poets do, tricking out the old and making it new, and I have no quarrel with the mandate. And yet, one wondered, and was Golden Girl the only clear-eyed, clear-headed entity among us to spot it: was this woman just another monument to her own line of fashion wear and accessories? Where does ersatz begin and empowerment leave off? There was the matter of the master of ceremonies. Her deliquescent commentary on the running texts of the participants was, in and of itself, a parallel mother-lode of phantom luminescence, so much so McGravitas was spooked. Intros and plaudits as performance art. Looking a bit wan, he retired from the field early. That is to say, his usual forbearance and bonhomie had been put to rout. His quite natural sympathy for the underdog subsumed by a kind of roving purple haze of biblical lethality, and though it was not exactly extinguished in said haze for having no proper oxygen to breathe, it was rendered somehow darker of aspect and a great deal more menacing. I mean, the man is a trouper, and for him to call it quits on the festivities was saying something—I had decided to attend the event so as to behold a legend. And when the legend, at first blush a hold-over from the 60s, took the mike, he at once announced that PC was but the leading edge of the new fascism. Well, that seemed promising. A round of buzz from our table signalled we had heard, assimilated, got the general idea, and approved. We were ready for more. Harper had to go, the poet intimated in a rather forceful fashion. As in toute de suite. As in right now. Get it? We got it and we were cool with that. There was, if I heard him right, an assertion he made in respect to Atwood’s knickers, and that she did to them what Marilyn Monroe did to hers in the hot summertime of The Seven Year Itch. I cannot tell you if the assertion was construable as a ‘dig’. There were quite a few mentions made of ‘perfessers’ and how it is that academe, perhaps, ought not always be one’s last line of defense. As the roll he got on began to snowball, it was soon enough a renegade avalanche, and we were barely ten minutes into his offering. He would read three lines of verse and then it would occur to him to savage the IMF or depict how it is dragonflies make love. Fine. Trouble was, it was not going to be the first time I would witness a better than average poetic intelligence play the clown so as to be taken seriously, and in the end, get only increasingly empty chuckles and nothing more by which one might sustain life, not to mention keep body and soul together. The new fascism, indeed. Its force is assuredly with us. And because it is, ask yourself what it permits in addition to what it forbids. Ask yourself just how often it is that what makes life worth living all too often succumbs to what gets tiresome and the lights start going out one by one. Even so, out of respect for the legendary, I will leave off making any further remarks—A few days prior to this debacle, we promised to stand outside the Claremont (which it is an infamous watering hole in Westmount territory) in the hopes of preventing anyone or anything from hijacking spring. We would stand there like so many instances of the Swiss Guard, with halberds and tall beers. When it warmed up sufficiently to permit terrasse season, we would then enjoy the rewards of our virtue at the ready to hand terrasse. There was the Moesian. There was Cory. McGravitas, of course, and myself. Various tobaccos were in evidence. But who in the hell was Valerian Guy? Could anyone tell me? New poet in town? Song and dance man? We had been to yet another reading about which seethings had been overheard, to wit: He’s got so much edge there is no edge. Or: she had absolutely every expectation we would be clenched, by way of our buttocks, to the edges of our seats, each of us hanging on to her every word, our years of wandering in the wilderness at an end. It was possible that, in the person of the woman in question, a new species of humankind was come upon us. A fresh day was circulating that spelled the end of all doubt, even self-doubt, our quotidian world, as if there were any other, thus purged of so many old corrosive nasties. A new spate of gods had come down from on high with laptops. They were lush with social media. And she was one of those worthies, and she did not even have to intern for the distinction. In this new Eden no Adam or Eve poet need any longer to break a sweat. Let me read you a poem I’ve never read before. I’ve got scads of them lying around – in my laptop. Endless reams of the stuff—Clearly then, one simply wears the appropriate hat, Satan’s quarrel with God as to what constitutes the ‘bar’ purely academic, and one is a Master of the Revels that is poem-making of the 21st century. I surrender. The woman, and she is young, is hardly to blame for the wretched verse she writes as she has been, more likely than not, the victim of misguided notions of what poetry is and what it is for. I am reasonably sure that when Atwood argued why it was permissible for ideology to trump aesthetics in the making of poetry, she did not intend that one’s own navel and one’s own capacity for being oh so clever was commensurate with having a point of view. Moreover, it is true the male has no right to complain of double-standards when it comes to gender politics, especially when said male is even more of a fool than he was when he was dumb of wit and devoid of sensibility and it all exploded in his face. Now everyone, whether they want it or not, has had dispensed to them their allotment of vacuous nonsense when it comes to what is literary about literature, or what is or is not morally ascendant in any human undertaking, which it is the only game in town and has been for a while, everywhere in the western world, and long after one has forgotten what was moral and what was ascendant. Right: God, not the Canada Council, did create Atwood so she might remind us. Yes, and the so-called surge in Iraq only disguised the fact the Americans wanted a civil war there: it was a cheaper option for them, in dealing with those suddenly disenfranchised Sunnis, than to occupy the place with half a million boots on the ground. The rich are getting richer off American prison systems for which there is a bottomless pit of fodder keeping the system amply stocked, and we’re arguing, what, who rates the next effing literary prize? Did I just buy myself a used soapbox?—I have put aside Mr Thomas Craven for the time being and his discussion of Italian Renaissance painters in favour of Gore Vidal’s Imperial America. Well, in me, Mr Vidal was writing to the converted, and the book, in a sense, did disappoint; just that it has a way of confirming one’s least generous suspicions in respect to the quotidian of the past 40 years: Oh dear me, it’s so much worse than you can imagine, and so forth and so on. The man, however close to jingoism he gets, manages not to capitulate entirely to it; and he has rather modest ideas as to how to ameliorate Death of the Republic Malaise, a disease the Roman historian Livy first diagnosed in his day some 2000 years ago. Mr Vidal recommends a bit of tinkering on the old executive-legislative-judicial shell game of the last two hundred odd American annums. If P.M. Carpenter, Distinguished Political Commentator to the south of here, even now suggests that the hands of Current President are tied, Vidal counters: “Pshaw, any president can do what he wants. Johnson and Nixon got their war. The Bushes got theirs. Congress didn’t stop them. Clinton got to play fast and loose with language, and whole new vistas opened up for post-modernist authors and intellectuals. Transcendent truths began going about with a somewhat sickly pall. It was a mini-Golden Age. Hell, even Carter, back in his Stone Age, would have gotten his energy policy, but then, you know, there was the looming spectre of his re-election chances, true—” There had been a poker party at the Moesian’s. Texas Hold’em was the game of choice. I found it decadent and pronounced it so, and attempted to sabotage the derring-do with plain old seven card stud. I was told: one doesn’t play sh-t poker. Cocaine cowboys, especially, do not play sh-t poker. Now and then some poems were read aloud, cocaine cowboys notwithstanding, and that was something. Larkin, Anne Wilkinson, Keith Douglas. I have for a long while endeavoured not to lean unduly on ‘tradition’ so as to shore up my credentials in matters of literature and language itself. Still, it is not always so easy to distinguish between what debases language and what enriches it and what only bleeds it of its ability to tread water. The fact that, now and then, ‘tradition’ seems to speak more clearly in regards to the problem than the winging it on an experimental prayer cannot be entirely delusional. Montaigne: In a certain bark of the dog the horse knows there is anger—What I liked about Mr P Van Toorn’s reading, when he could tear himself away from his beloved euphemisms for performing unseemly acts with one’s mother, was his insistence that there is cause and effect in this world, or that if you place yourself in front of a moving bus you are likely to get yourself killed.