Ephemeris by Norm Sibum

A warm patch in our winter weather, and Labrosse saw fit to venture into town from his hideaway in the sticks, almost the ‘burbs. He was interested to hear that E has returned to us from the provincial capital, and has taken up the odd shift again in Nikas. Apparently her internship is at an end for the time being. Someone said to me just the other day that these internships are yet another way for the corporate world to exploit the young’uns. Labrosse, who has reason to know, says that, yes, such abuses do apply, but that the better companies pay their interns, if only because not paying them comes back on them in negative ways. He is doing well, he said, for an old man, but that E’s French is not as good as it could be – an old bone of contention between those two Quebeckers. Otherwise, I have quotes for you, to wit: from No Other Book, Randall Jarrell, HarperCollins, posthumous: Modernist poetry – the poetry of Pound, Eliot, Crane, Tate, Stevens, Cummings, MacLeish et cetera – appears to be and is generally considered to be a violent break with romanticism; it is actually, I believe, an extension of romanticism, an end product in which most of the tendencies of romanticism have been carried to their limits. Romanticism – whether considered as the product of a whole culture or, in isolation, as a purely literary phenomenon – is necessarily a process of extension, a vector; it presupposes a constant experimentalism, the indefinite attainment of ‘originality’, generation after generation, primarily by the novel extrapolation of previously exploited processes—And so forth and so on. So much for London Lunar’s recipe for almond squash soup. And this from the same source: Early in his life Mr Pound met with strong, continued, and unintelligent opposition. If people keep opposing when you are right, you will think them fools; and after a time, right or wrong, you think them fools simply because they oppose you. Similarly, if you write true things or good things, you end by thinking things true or good simply because you write them. For Mr Pound, both circumstance and predisposition made the process inescapable. His friends and disciples were eager to encourage him in his worst excesses; and modernist poets or critics hated, by caviling at the work of their talented fellow, to expose him to the jeers of the academic masses, who already condemned indiscriminately all that he had done—Amen, brothers and sisters. And where, by the way, have the old brave flowers gone, that new guard of a time as corrupt as the elite they once fulminated against? One is on occasion inclined to think they never really meant it“I can hardly read the quarterlies any more,” said a bird of a feather; and I once heard Elizabeth Bishop say, “After I go through one of the literary quarterlies I don’t feel like reading a poem for a week, much less like writing one.” In other words an age of criticism is not an age of writing, nor an age of reading: it is an age of criticism. Now what follows are concluding lines from what is most likely a bad poem, even in its mother tongue; but it is one written by Agustin Barrios Mangoré, the great Paraguayan guitarist-composer of another time fallen away from ours: For I am a brother in glory and in sorrow / to those medieval troubadors / that suffered romantic delusion / And like them when I have perished / only God knows in what distant port / I’ll go and find my unkempt grave—And then there is this fellow Pleau, our new parliamentary poet laureate, and he insists that poetry belongs to everyone. No doubt. Yes, but in the way he says it, poetry belongs to everyone in the way that bingo belongs to everyone, or needlepoint or banging on bongos. But then it is the Globe and Mail in which he makes his utterances, and God only knows that he is then obliged to say something. I have also heard it from someone (I suspect from the Moesian or Literary Thug #1 on one of their swings through my territory) that had Alice Munro not been able to publish in the New Yorker there would have been no Nobel—Hard on the heels of this observation came a disquisition, for my benefit, on Canadian history and what has made Canadians Canadian, as opposed to American, something to do with a little revolutionary fracas. Could be. I have always wondered if it was an over-rated notion, this business of the Americans having gotten clear of the Brits. Coming, however, from the mouths of the sons of staunch respectables – doctor and priest – I have to take the inference seriously that Canadians are their own masters on paper, but—Two weeks into January, and gone was the Christmas tree from Nikas. Whether this had to do with what makes Greeks Greek, I cannot say—I believe Outram (Richard Outram: one of the great Canadian unknowns) sometimes sacrificed sense for a rhyme, but one can turn that argument on its head and speak of poets who are all sense and have feet of lead. I have finished a book on who wrote the Bible, and though I found the writing indifferent and the thinking in it at a far remove from the quality of, say, a Frye, I take a couple of points to heart; one: what religious writing in the world has so much in it of human failure? And two: what religious writing seems to have so little compassion in its purview? This is in consideration of the fact that Homer the pagan is quite capable of seeing the world through the eyeballs of the enemy. I have finally gotten around to reading Bruce Catton’s The Civil War, the language of which is so peculiarly American in an attractive way and so opposite from Gibbonese (or Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), the sentences of which I have always been enamoured. How nice then to be able to park under an umbrella that can accommodate both mother lodes in English language-speak—I attended a guitar recital recently at the Casa del Popolo that featured Glenn Jones, a so-called American Primitivist guitarist who was an old friend of John Fahey. If Fahey’s work represents a classical standard after a fashion, Mr Jones is baroque in his approach to his compositions (he is quite familiar with the music of Barrios), and he is a poet on the banjo, to boot, a fact which renders all possible criticism of his musical manner moot. One of the warm-up acts was a young woman by the name of Myriam Gendron who, to her own arrangements, sang the verses of Dorothy Parker. She was awfully good, and somehow was able to render the sarcasm and wit of the Parker verses into all the pathos that any ballad worth its salt typically musters. It was nothing short of alchemy. Also the woman knew how to sing: not once did she over-emote. It was the last thing I expected to hear, and I was, so to speak, blown over.