What is the Colour of Love, Love?

So I thought I’d write to the ether about one of my favourite things in the world—not only discovering new art, which I like aplenty, but making links between artists across time. When artists reference each other and wait for you to notice, and have the patience of saints and will literally wait decades for you to catch up. Cases in point:

 

What Colour is Love?

Disco Pigs vs. Terry Callier

“Disco Pigs” is an Irish play by Enda Walsh made in to a fairly decent film, which is actually up in full (albeit in pieces) on YouTube. It is a story about two decidedly lower working class kids born at almost the same moment, who live next door to one another, and who go on to call themselves “Pig” and “Runt.” They share a distinct and secreted experience and, like twins, have developed their own vocabulary. As they grow and change, their connection becomes more complicated. The girl, “Runt,” is deemed to have more potential and is sent away to focus on a more rigourous education. That doesn’t mean, however, they can live without each other.

There are some absurdist elements, but they’re metaphorical—such as the two holding hands every night through matching hollowed out holes in their bedroom walls. On one of these occasions,

Runt asks: What is the colour of love, Pig?

He says: What sort of love, love?

Runt: Dunno. But you know the way, things, they got a colour? I wonder what the colour of love is…

Pig: Jesus, Runt, you could read a t’ousand thick books and never know the answer to that quiz.

Runt: It would be a good one to know though, hey?

Pig: It’d be brilliant, Runt. It’s here, somewhere…

 

I’ve loved that film for years now, but never knew this song, “What Colour is Love,” by Terry Callier. What a song! It turns out, I’m learning, that Terry Callier abandoned his music career for the most part at one point, went back to school for a degree in sociology, and took a job at the University of Chicago. Cool! He died in 2012, but just a few years prior, Verve re-released his records, and just bless them for it. His melodies are haunting and his tremulous voice sounds, as times, uncannily like Nina Simone. He inhabited the world I might be least comfortable with—folk—with it’s pre-emo navel gazing and cult-Daddy business, all sunburned and burned out (i.e., “The Source Family“). But some things are worth saving. This is one of them:

So  many simple but resonant lines:

If love doesn’t last
Does it live in the past?
And a heart cannot live
If a heart isn’t giving

When it’s over, does it show
Does it leave an afterglow

I’ve thought a lot about that very thing. That somehow after something bad happens, there’s some kind of biomarker on you, that you’ve been flagged. Or that there isn’t any proof when you wish there would be, so someone, anyone, would reach out, someone who might have gone through the same thing.

But anyway. Do you think there’s a relationship here? Because I do!

 

For Coloured Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf by Ntozake Shange (book)  vs. I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue by The Dells (song)

 

I chose the book “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf” as part of a bookclub because, when I had a bookstore, people would always come in and ask for this ALL the time, and I’d been meaning to read it for years. It is a play but called a “choreopoem”—an invention by the author meaning a combination of dance and poetry. Produced for the first time in 1975, it has the hallmark of all good art: it is both of its time (ie., dated), and timeless (ie., transcendent). It is still being performed worldwide, and was made into a star-studded, sub-par feature film I’m going to implore you not to watch.

The choreopoem tells the story of seven distinct but nameless women: Lady in Red, Lady in Blue, Lady in Purple, Lady in Yellow, Lady in Brown, Lady in Green, and Lady in Orange. In turns, they recount their experiences growing up impoverished, marginalized, and at-risk. They are abused and neglected. But they are strong. Ultimately, it is about valuing self and sisterhood—two things I’m still trying to understand.

 

 

In the text, the choreopoem is anchored by the tonal landscape of an almost constant soundtrack. For my bookclub, I made a playlist of the specific songs mentioned in the book. The music feels perhaps even more dated than than the themes of the play. “Dancing in the Street” was mentioned early on, for example. That song is so co-opted, I can’t see it having ever been anything other than a jingle about, oh, people laughing their asses off about their white white teeth while fire hyrants break open and douse them in another tier of freshness you don’t have until you buy that particular brand of toothpaste. Or that heartless David Bowie & Mick Jagger cover of the song, mullets and all, filmed in <3 (no, not a heart) hours in a scheduled tear-down, likely for free.

But the band The Dells were promising, with their song, “Stay in My Corner.” This was riveting  for a few reasons. The first have to do with song structure The accelerating chord progression after the verse’s opening line is unexpected, as is the call and answer. The song is 7 minutes long!! In 1972, that was revolutionary! It builds like a live performance, and not one moment feels overly drawn. This song is often called an original “slow jam,”but it seems to have an undertow.

Like many of The Dells songs that have a veneer of wholesomeness—5 dudes in matching suits, harmonizing, barbershop style—I find the boxing metaphor kind of menacing. Or at the least chauvanistic. Or at least tragic. You get the sense the fix is in on this guy, and that he might be bringing the woman down with him. The whole song is basically about coercing someone into continuing to hang on, because he “needs” her, as he says 5k times. Most—but not all—of the men in the choreopoem are just as capricious, needy, petulant, stubborn.  And something could be said about the interstellar gap between boxing and dancing.

 

 

That leads me to The Dells’ dual-titled song “I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue,” which is not in the play but seems as much an influence. The song opens with the possibly inspid lines (and continues along these lines):

“Red and Yellow and Pink and Green Purple and
Orange and Blue
I can sing a rainbow
(I can sing a rainbow)
I can sing a rainbow, too”

 

While this song is not mentioned in the play, it seems linked in a slant way, in terms of the hybrid name each has and the prismatically splitting nature of our experiences. It’s as if Shange is saying I can be as expansive as any man. Apollo Heights say the colour of love is blue. Like a healing bruise. I refuse to believe it.

 

Tiny Letters

Hi guys, I’m going to be sending out occassional tiny letters this year. Not promotional stuff, but actual thoughts. If you want to, sign up:

tinyletter

Fear is a World

It’s always possible your greatest fears will unfold.
To hold probability closer than hope is our goal.
Fear is a world, and the world is foreclosed.

He will leave you as soon as the baby is born.
Or meet a brunette who wants the baby this fall.
To hold probability closer than hope is our goal.

Yes, a killer can procure a FedEx uniform.
You can’t live in this world without opening a door.
Or meeting a brunette who wants the baby this fall.

A toilet seat could be wet with flesh-eating Zep.
A cobra can uncoil in its shadowed bowl.
You can’t live in this world without opening a door.

A door opening inward might snap your wrist.
In ER, a tumour could be mistaken for a sebaceous cyst.
A cobra can uncoil in a shadowed bowl.

What feels like intuition is a faulty switch.
It’s always possible your greatest fears will unfold.
In ER, a tumour could be mistaken for a sebaceous cyst.
Fear is a world, and the world is foreclosed.

–published originally in This magazine, June 2014, as well as in ^^^^^^.

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“Writing is an action, not an afterthought, it is an job of love and faith, not a sneeze, and this year I am determined to slow everything down to the careful old thump, the beat of the heart. Why are we so determined to take the effort out of everything and save time? The fun of getting it right is the joy of work.” — Andrew O’Hagan

Q&A re ^^^^^^

I was interviewed by rob mclennan for his blog–here’s a wee bit of it and the link:

 

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

Honestly, many of my poems begin with me ranting in bed at night.

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I can’t manage to feel one way about readings. The vibes are so variable and I can’t be the mountain. If someone sneezes, I say, “Oh no! They don’t care at all!” Then I say, “They can’t help it, it’s a reflex! Get over yourself!” And it feels like I’m Richard E. Grant in How to Get Ahead in Advertising, fighting with my giant boil co-head in the middle of a dinner party.

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I don’t have a lot of patience for theory. But I have many concerns. I get this line in my head from some daytime TV talk show I saw, when they had a cook on as a guest. She’s shoving onions around in a frying pan, and he host asks her, “How did you start cooking? Did you go to culinary school?” And she hollers: “I went to the school of MAMA!” That’s pretty much my background with theory.

I’m with C. Wright Mills on this — “Let every man be his own methodologist.”

Read the full thing here >>>>>>

More faves

Got these pleasing mentions for Sharps! Paul Vermeersch was kind enough to mention my book in his gift guide recommendations at All Lit Up:

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Writer and designer Kate Hargreaves chose Sharps as one of her favourite books of the year, over at BookThug:

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And Carmine Starnino made a list on Twitter of his most enjoyed, including mine:

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The other books they recommend are also great and it’s a total treat to be placed in the company of so many great writers!

 

 

Best Canadian Poetry 2014

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Owls freak me out but not enough to make me unglad to have a poem in here. The poem is called “Airporter Driver, Ex-European Tour Guide, Through Canmore Says.” Kind of a mouthful, I know. Tons of great poets in here, a great gift for both avid and occasional poetry readers, I think. It is going to be on the indie lit site, All Lit Up, but isn’t yet. It seems you can buy it directly from the publisher, Tightrope. And it’s over at Anaconda if you want!

 

 

The first thing I thought of when I woke up was this song, “Never Went to Church,” and whether they guy, Mike Skinner (a.k.a. The Streets), was sued by Paul McCartney for this sounding like “Let it Be.” It does, ya? But it sounds more like “No Woman No Cry” and then I realized those songs are very, very close? Doesn’t seem he got sued, and he’s getting along alright. I got lost on the internet reading old interviews about this album, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, and came across this gem quote from some old stuffed-shirt of an English prof, about his music:

“Skinner’s world … is horrible. Grand mal. It lacks culture, learning, grace, courtesy, spirituality, style, ceremony, direction, aspiration, occupation. All it has is vitality.”

What’s wrong with that?

 

 

“Having straddled a class divide and been wrongly stereotyped on both sides of it, throughout my life I’ve found peace in the places and things that don’t evaluate my status: nature, animals, art, books. ‘I sit with Shakespeare,’ wrote du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), ‘and he winces not.’”

 

– One of many gorgeous lines from a story so true to my heart I thought no one would ever write it, but Sarah Smarsh did.

Reading dates for ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^

I’m hibernating for real right now! But this is where and when I read in support of my book, 2014 (and what I wrote at the start of it):

~~So. Things might change a bit with this, but my reading dates are shaping up in a pretty dreamtastic way. Some dates are with a grandmaster of Canadian poetry, Don McKay, whose collected works, “Angular Unconformity,” is coming out this fall from Goose Lane. I’m definitely the opener, there. Some of the other readings are with the frightfully talented Kerry-Lee Powell, who writes incredible poetry and fiction, and (unlike many people) is fantastic at both, as demonstrated by this and this. And other events are with other just as great poets, such as the one-and-only Michael Lista. As usual, with anything that happens for me, I am humbled and satiated by the fact that Bill Callahan has already named the feeling, as he did for how I feel: “I really am a lucky man.”~~

December 1, 2014
Toronto, ON
Rowers Reading Series, Best Canadian Poetry night
The Central, 6pm

November 28, 2014
Toronto, ON
The Puritan Black Friday
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1500231733570346
Loft 404, 7:30pm

November 24, 2014
Toronto, ON
Best Canadian Poetry launch
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/276902622506229
Joy Bistro, 7pm

November 20, 2014
Hamilton, ON
Hamilton Poetry Centre
Prince Bookseller
More info here: http://www.princebooks.net/events.php

November 11, 2014
Toronto, ON
The Art Bar Reading Series, 7pm
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/705293299566712/

October 29, 2014
Toronto, ON
Book Launch! >>>>>>
Unlovable, 7pm
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1534334606796024/

October 28, 2014
Toronto, ON
Hart House Review party
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/651041138342073/
Arbor Room at Hart House, 8pm

October 24, 2014
St. Catharines, ON
Grey Borders Reading Series
Niagara Artists’ Centre
354 St. Paul St.

October 23, 2014
Kingston, ON
Novel Idea Bookstore, w/ Kerry-Lee Powell
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1546527478915396/

October 11, 2014
Hamilton, ON
Homegrown Hamilton, w/ Andrea Bennett

October 9, 2014
Wolfville, NS
Acadia University, w/ Don McKay

October 8, 2014
Halifax, NS
Saint Mary’s University, w/ Don McKay

October 7, 2014
Antigonish, NS
St. Francis Xavier University, w/ Kerry-Lee Powell

October 4-5, 2014
Fredericton, NB
Poetry Weekend

October 3, 2014
Fredericton, NB
Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Goose Lane Editions Gala 60th Anniversary Gala
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/828102757229739/

October 2, 2014
Saint John, NB
Lorenzo Reading Series, University of New Brunswick, w/ Don McKay
(More details on this series here.)

October 1, 2014
Moncton, NB
Attic Owl Reading Series, w/ Kerry-Lee Powell
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/278873155645082

September 30, 2014
Toronto, ON
The Supermarket: Goose Lane 60th Anniversary Gala (Toronto Edition)
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/718695701529176

September 27, 2014
Montreal, QC
Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore w/ Michael Lista, Shoshanna Wingate, and Kerry-Lee Powell
Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/702308086504415/

 

Did you know I starred in the video for “Every Day Is Like Sunday”?

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JK but here’s an inteview where I admit my formative (and I stress: since reformed) rabidity for all things Morrissey.

TTQ – What inspired you to start writing poetry and who were some of your early influences or mentors?

Stevie Howell – In the beginning, there was The Smiths. I got into them in 1988 and they’d already split, which took me all year to learn, and it didn’t stop me. I had them looping for about 5 years, even on earphones while I slept. I identified with Morrissey’s loser themes, but I didn’t understand any of his references. I thought, this other stuff in his lyrics must also be for me? So I’d go to the library and ask, ‘What’s “A Taste of Honey?’ ‘Who’s Keats?”’ Ballad of Reading Gaol was the first poem I remember reading. Had a big Oscar Wilde phase. Everything by James Baldwin. W.H. Auden, especially The Sea and The Mirror. Baldwin and Auden are my Bible and Catechism.

Read the rest here: http://thetorontoquarterly.blogspot.ca/2014/10/stevie-howell-sharps-interview.html

Don & Stevie

 

“So our publisher Goose Lane sent us on this tour and the idea was, it’s a study in contrasts. You know.
I’m male. Stevie’s female. Stevie’s young and hip. I’m old and…really, really hip.” — Don McKay

 

Photo by Wenmei Li, thank you!!!

All Lit Up

So, there’s a great new initiative launched here in Canada, called All Lit Up, which is an independent, online retail space for book buying. Of course, your local bookstore is a great way, too, but they can’t necessarily stock everything, or you may not even live close to one, etc. It’s a beautiful and easy to navigate space where you can browse all kinds of Canadian books, from a range of publishers.

Here’s a link to the listing for my book: https://alllitup.ca/books/9/Sharps

 

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