Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

Lunchtime. Nikas. Tag end of a holiday, business slow. Bored waiter and waitress, even so, come at the booths and tables, as if equipped with the latest tips in self-marketing by way of a business school or a fashion institute or an online tutorial. The identity of Valerian Guy remains a mystery. Perhaps he originated the pun: she had no sense of sylph. Well, there was a reading of the poetry sort at the Word that was not a disaster; and for that reason I will not remark on it much. Just that the reading led to good conversation later at a micro-brewery. I was under the impression we were going to shoot snooker in the place – a knock-on effect of a fine evening, but there was no snooker, no old glories to be had. At a table adjacent to ours, a gentleman who might have stepped off a Berkeley campus from the 60s, what with the beard and the garb and the air of a committed intellectual, presented us with a problem: how might one depict him in a poem, his face illuminated by the light of an electronic screen that he held in his hands, the gadget an I-Pad perhaps? There it was then – one of those words that will not scan, the use of which, in any line of verse, will instantly form a black hole of the devouring kind; and into it all surrounding life will disappear. In order to accommodate this phenomenon, we will have to throw out our language altogether, along with our tin ears and shopworn aesthetics and start anew; and indeed we already have, and we are swamped by the effects of novelty. Juniper had no answer for the problem, but he dared me to include the word ‘X-Files’ in a poem. I said, “Only over your dead body. But as a line-ending spondee? It’s a possibility. So really, there’s no snooker here? And this Valerian Guy – you must’ve heard something. Special ops?—” True enough, poetry has become that which affords one de facto license not to care. This state of things has been coming on for years. Captain Kydde was heard to say in Ziggy’s that the only thing that saves poetry from its irrelevance is its irrelevance: no one really gives a toss for it, and there is no money in it, unless one allows for state subsidies. And yet I used to think that poetry was the only endeavour left on this earth that would keep the house honest; and then I had a lesson or two to learn. Was it not Péguy who said: “I do not judge; I condemn”? It has been my rather lame observation of late that, with us, all that is not porn is ideological. It does not seem to leave room for much else, so much so it is probably not possible to regard a discussion of tulip bulbs as politically innocent—At some point in the last two weeks I was able to meet up with Labrosse. It was a bit like old times, he providing me with a crash course in the history of Shawinigan. This history had to do with hydro power and outside investment and a boomtown citizenry that was as worldly as any big city citizenry. It did not last, this state of affairs. The town has been gradually drying up for years now, population-wise. So much for Labrosse’s idyllic childhood that wants its poet— I have recently read somewhere that what the world desperately needs is a creator-culture. This will save humankind from its worst follies. I read, and under my breath, I was already muttering: “Sure. And everyone will paint Mona Lisas and write Brandenburg Concertos and fashion paper dolls from what survives of print media. E, still a part-time waitress at Nikas, winner of the bronze in some contest that she called a ‘translation Olympics’, will have occasion to add scads more friends to her burgeoning honour roll of boon companions. A kind of meat market perhaps in which she could sell shares. And then like Alexander with his best buddies at his side, she could take on Sogdiana, bringing enlightenment to barbarians at the point of an I-phone. Why do people continue to think the act of creating automatically sanctifies the human soul and renders it incapable of mean-spiritedness? Have they not sat on arts juries? Penned reviews? Perhaps these are unusually difficult times in which to negotiate intellectual, political and social realities. Perhaps it is only business as usual, or that not much has changed since Pessoa noted that his generation had not a leg to stand on, its fathers having more or less relieved the world of any straws at which to grab – like family, God, notions of justice, any smidgen of an ideal—” Good thing I was only muttering, considering the amount of oxygen I could have otherwise consumed—It would seem I lost a friend of sorts in Mr P.M. Carpenter, Distinguished Political Commentator to the south of here. My peculiar strain of pessimism finally got to him. It is conceivable, is it not, that we all of us haul around an inner psychopath in the course of our day-to-day dealings with one another? No? Not even remotely possible? As for that prize-winning journo Mr Chris Hedges over at Truthdig, while his moralistic fervour often rubs me the wrong way, even so I agreed with him in his latest go-round screed in which he excoriated all the liberal apologists for the Iraq war including Mr Ignatieff for whom, on that account alone, I could never have voted, even if it meant having Harper as our Dear Leader. Liberals. Neo-libs. The frothing right. Humble ground for a humble mensch on which he or she might stand is getting more difficult to obtain. I have been reading a book by Gabriel Levin on the making of a poetics for the Levant: The Dune’s Twisted Edge, the University of Chicago Press. Was it anyone but Mr Levin, I would be rolling my eyes. At McGravitas’s, last night, wine was consumed, and impromptu readings-aloud were proffered, Flannery O’Connor on tap, as were Alan Bennett and D Barthelme, and there was an attempt to raise the spirit of Red Lane, a B.C. poet from the old, old days. We decided to leave D.M. Fraser in blessed peace.