Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

I have finished with S&S, Sense and Sensibility to you,and have started in on P&P (Pride and Prejudice). I am unable to account for the fact that I expected to admire the former book much more than proved to be the case. It is not disappointment that has me by the proverbial curlicues as it is a species of bewilderment: despite all the literature there is on the subject, I still do not understand what it signifies when a movie improves on the book from which it derives its content. The apparent superiority of one form to another? Or that, in this particular instance, a screen treatment causes one to pay no further mind to book material it has sidelined in order to accommodate the movie format? The shelf life of a universe seems to have been fixed in our consciousness at 90 minutes per cosmic order on average, then Götterdämmerung. Even so, I seem to be getting on much better with the latter Austen opus. Its prose either has more of a sparkling bite to its panoply of effects or else I am hallucinating the results. Another possibility involves an old subjective canard: my well-being barometer has been signalling pleasant weather of late—Otherwise here we wait to see if the so-called Iran Thaw will have any legs or whether it is but more street theatre, of the kind that gives good photo op and sound-byte and curls the curlicues of neo-cons in world-ordering mode. Is it Bogarde playing the grand pessimist and great romantic in the flick A Tale of Two Cities (1958) who puts it to some interlocutor or other: “How say you?” How say you, all you nation-state leaders, congratulating yourselves on Syria and awsterity? Perhaps there has been something in the water of late, but I was near tears when, by random design in the course of an evening with friends, I came across a YouTube presentation of a blues singer I often used to hear live in a 60s coffeehouse. He was (or still is) of Polish bloodlines. He hailed from Boston, I think, and was one of the few white men I have ever encountered who could inhabit blues without it seeming a ploy or more street theatre, of the kind that only exposes how inescapably suburban we are; without the music ratcheted up into something pyrotechnically absurd. Gene Jaleski was his name, and from what I can gather, he drifted into the business world when he had done with his hippie days. He thereafter retired to Florida. I suspect he posted the YouTube interlude in his old age. It features not only two minutes and fifty-six seconds worth of a near choir boy’s voice getting low down and nasty and honest guitaring but a compelling montage of depression era photos of America. This montage accompanies his rendition of Hard Time Killing Floor Blues. (Hard times are here and everywhere you go—) Another YouTube presentation of the man seems to have recently surfaced: a performance of Dekalb Blues. Both presentations are pretty rough, audio-wise. Moreover, in the second one, he funks a riff or two, which deepens my suspicion that he recorded these two songs at a time in his life when his hands were no longer limber and responsive enough and yet, he did not panic; being seasoned, he just kept going. Perhaps he was attempting to regain old glories and a lost integrity, however imaginary that integrity might have been. Perhaps none of the above ever went missing in the heat of the action, for all that he seems to have gotten into real estate. He was also stellar on the 12-string in respect to Leadbelly’s songs, Fannin Street especially, and Bourgeoise Blues. (Me and my wife, we went all over town, and everywhere we went people turned us down—) I see that in my notebook I have scribbled ‘gentilized’ and described the word as nouveau jargon for gentrified. An ill-drawn arrow points at the words ‘the Jolly Dwarf’. Beats me. Who do I know who is in possession of dwarf-like attributes or is spiritually shrunken? Some politico? Another CV-heavy arts grad? Although Guitar Teach does not swear by the guitar compositions of John Fahey, he has nonetheless taken a shine to Fahey’s arrangement of ‘Uncloudy Day’ which I believe Fahey siphoned off from the Staples singers, whose version is, in itself, one hell of a haunting treatment of a song. So much so that Guitar Teach has got me playing the damn thing. He is in the process of tacking on his own embellishments. Which brings me to the non-sequitur that follows: this bit features Guitar Teach not having at ‘Uncloudy Day’ so much as he is unmasking his inner courtier in his treatment of Tarrega’s ‘Carnival of Venice’. Guests I had over, viewing it, were reduced to a state of utter awe. Any moment now, and the doge would appear and marry the town to the Adriatic and, in essence, to Aphrodite, goddess of just about everything, including commerce, at which activity the Venetians were no slouches. Then some cheek arose in the person of McGravitas as he regarded Guitar Teach pulling off quite the little run: “Do you suppose the student will ever outstrip his master?” “Not bloody likely,” Sibum was heard to sigh. [Note: We are not at all displeased to hear the news that Alice Munro has copped the Nobel. Congratulations. Poor woman, though. She may have to book passage on the Night Train to Valhalla and incur a fete with Current PM or his multi-tasked minions. But would certain parties I know in London, having made a suicide pact should a Certain Other Personage from this half of the continent have won in Munro’s place – well, would they have leaped from the Hammersmith Bridge as promised in protest, and caught a Roman death, and their carcasses eventually drift out to sea like love letters to truth and beauty and frontier justice?] [ Noted: doctor acorn or: how I joined the Canadian Liberation Movement and learned to love the stern nurse fusion-bomb sun. A book authored by Shane Neilsen on the poetry and politics of Milton Acorn, with what appears to be various sly digs at a certain Babstock who may have figured as a character out of some tale by Washington Irving, but I can’t say for sure. In any case: Frog Hollow Press. LITERARY CRITICISM MONOGRAPH: NUMBER THREE.] [Noted: Gibbet: I have spent my whole life under the impression that the word gibbet refers to a device that bestows upon a victim loss of neck, or ruptured spine and the like, if not the loss of entrails. A trio of poets last night attempted to correct this mistaken notion I have had; that the word simply refers, and I quote, well, it means when you strangle some schlep from behind. And I bought it, seeing as I am, in fact, frequently mistaken about things. Still, unease that has been with me since I woke this morning has sent me packing to the dictionary, and consequently I quote: any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold—] [And now: I have my very own copy of Leopardi’s Zilbadone. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Its roughly 2500 pages will bespeak a man who refused to cave to the homiletics, religious or secular, of the day. (19th century.) Pull that stunt now, and in addition to the authorities looking askance, you will no doubt rate the pity of those busy at saving the world from its current run of stupidities. Granted, those stupidities are very real, but so are those stupidities accorded carte blanche by the so-called good guys and given license to run amok on any front you care to name. Try it and find yourself, so as to pay your rent, delivering suburban flyers for the remainder of your wretched days—] [Noted: The Jonas Variations, it being a translation by George Jonas of various portions of poetry’s honoured canon. Cormorant Press, 2011. I cannot say much about it, as the book was pressed into my hands and then as abruptly retrieved, McGravitas deciding to have an aural go at Jonas’s rendition of Villon’s ‘Danse Macabre’, a refrain from which goes as follows and will serve as a peroration of sorts to this post: We were false experts, one and all, / years flew by like minutes to amaze us, / by the spilt dewdrops of your blood / be merciful to us, Prince Jesus—