mardi 29 avril 2008

Frye Jam

As promised, here are some videos from Saturday night's reading.

This first one is of me performing "Offshore."

This second video is two poems: "Canto Incorruptible" (performed in French) and "New Orleans" (which is the final show-stopper, in English, and begins at about 2:19).

Both videos were shot by Lee Thompson.

lundi 28 avril 2008

Moncton Finale

My Fulbright stay in Moncton has formally ended. And the Frye Festival was the perfect way to do it.

From Wednesday to Friday, I entered the anglophone highschools on the Moncton area and essentially read poems to teenagers. You would be surprised how much poetry still can affect people. The kids were engaged and shocked and were thoroughly moved, I think, which was energizing and validating and anything you need as a writer. I couldn't have asked for a better audience in many cases. Also, I received cool highschool schwag, such as a leather portfolio (from Moncton High), a cookbook (from Caledonia High), and a t-shirt and mug (from Harrison Trimble).

Wednesday night I saw the Zachary Richard concert, where I met the artist. We were just two Cajun anglophones talking to one another in French in Acadie.

Linda came Thursday night just in time for the last poem of my reading, "New Orleans [kudzu king]."

On Friday I conducted my first radio interview, with Radio Canada, and totally in French.

The final event of the Frye Festival (for me at least) was the Frye Jam on Saturday Night, which features readings by authors with musical accompaniment from the band, Les Païens. This was the highlight of the festival. I "performed" four poems quite theatrically while the band played amazing and genre bending music from and industrial rendition of "Offshore" to the Saint James Infirmary behind "New Orleans [final]." It was surprising how well I fell in to adapted the rhythm of my speech to the pulse and melody of the songs. For the first time in my life, I felt like a rock-star.

Incidentally, I feel like I want to cut an album of my poems now.

I didn't stay long after my performance because Linda and I had to drive to Rhode Island, which Linda bravely led--I was burned out after the week of visits and packings and endless endless goodbyes.

lundi 21 avril 2008

Mixing Memory and Desire (brief)

Last night Chuck threw a party for me. We ate Fricot, Bouillée, and Poutine à Troux. You know you're finished when they throw a party for you. And with a few revisions on my final report, the Fulbright committee will know I'm finished too.

I am looking forward to meeting and talking with friends for hours and drinking and laughing and most of all being with Linda again. I'm afraid this hermitage up north has made me socially awkward and that I won't be able to talk to someone outside of the context of the "cultural artist" topic.

Later this week is the Northrop Frye, as I've mentioned. I'll be interviewed and perform readings. I will give Acadie a taste of what's to come.

This I know is a slightly more personal and laconic post. The theory and intellectually melodramatic questions were I know getting out of hand, and it's hard to think that way all the time. In truth, I don't think about culture or art all the time. Mostly I think on specific instances of communications, bits of correspondence, waiting for the time--the era--to pass, missing home, wishing I were with others/away from others, being nostalgic for the future.

Evangeline is being revised and guess the title for the section about Louisiana:

Elegies for a Paradis Terrestre.

vendredi 18 avril 2008

The New Art and a Barbaric Yawp for Teens (and Adults!)

I would say Spring is really here in Moncton, after being surprised that the thermometer in my car read 15 degrees C (about 62 F or so). Walking is easier and sweatier. People are milling about downtown as if for the first time in their lives. This is my first spring in a winter city.

I have a project for this week before the Northrop Frye Festival: figure out how to make poetry thrilling for high school students. You heard right--this coming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I will be giving lectures and workshops at Moncton's premier English high schools. I have anywhere between one and two and a half hours to stand before twenty to thirty 17 year olds and state my case. In the words of the early nineties: gag me with a spoon!

Seriously, this is a good opportunity to reach lots of people, continue (at least on a small scale) the influence of poetry, which as you know is waning about as fast as Louisiana's coastline. So this weekend I am rereading old favorites and my own catalog to find the most compelling poems for young adults (that won't get me thrown out of Atlantic Canada).

As I was talking to my friend Kimberly about this over lunch, she and I were discussing which poems teenagers would be interested in, to which I suggested, "Only ones with the word ipod in the title." She said, "Or cellphones." While this was all sort of a joke, there is an inherent truth to the changing of the guards in art--and not only in thematic.

Weirdly enough, some of the best art that I've seen recently have been advertisement campaigns (especially billboards in the Paris metro). Movies have certainly replaced live theatre (sorry). And even pop music, those bastards who stole not only the fields of music but also of poetry (kidding, I listen to pop music), is not so much on the decline so much as relegated to another consumable that people can use to "identify" themselves to others with similar "tastes."
I read an article recently on a student at Yale who's senior art thesis is video tapes of her inducing miscarriages, which she obtained through artificial insemination and then herbal arbotificants, and then smearing the blood from these episodes in vaseline coated plastic wrap. Needless to say, this is ghastly and shocking to most people (who are human), regardless of what side of the abortion debate they're on. But consider, in 1863 at the salon in Paris, Edouard Manet unveiled the Olympia, which scandalized art viewers and critics by showing for the first time an unadorned and average nude whore, staring directly at the observer. But now, what it takes to shock us needs no subtlety: we are the shock and awe culture, we've seen it before.

Recently I saw the acclaimed film No Country for Old Man, something that everyone considers hyper-violent and not in a Kill Bill/300 kind of way. But for me the most shocking thing was not the gore or the captive bolt pistol or even the ultra-menacing Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, it was how human I felt after I watched the film, how much I appreciated life, and how much I felt like we were all "in it together." Out of violence, there grew empathy.

And maybe this is the solution to both finding something to move children who live in seven minute periods between commercials and to the lack of soul in art today. Much writing, art, film, music, etc has nothing to do with a real connection with the Other, and its only communicative intent is to impress and sell. Great art now must shock you out of the consumerist loop, it must return you to a primal state wherein people are capable of caring for one another. And this extends well beyond the petty trappings of culture, demographic, writing movement, and any other dimension. This is why at least I do art. It is another ambition question, but one that holds an ultimatum: are you in with us humans or are you out?

lundi 14 avril 2008

Ambition value

Yesterday I went to a writers' meeting in Grand Barachois with Lee Thompson. There I met many people I had met already with the addition of the great Acadian artist and poet Roméo Savoie. We read our own work, etc. I read my poem titled "Ruin Value" which obviously touches on that same concept of architecture.

This was excellent because Roméo was himself an architect before he became a famous Acadian figure. He said that Acadie created a ghetto for itself. That it will be a hundred years or so before the culture can move beyond the issue of the culture. He is the first Acadian to present this mindset to me, that culture is irrelevant, that the only thing that matters is life--not the homeland, not the language, not the cultural artifacts dressed out to confirm any lingering stereotypes from outsiders.

Meeting him and of course Herménégilde has been a breath of fresh air here. Because they understand more acutely the ambition of the artist. In the end, ambition is the real question. The ambition to communicate and reach the Other.

People don't write for themselves, solely. If anyone tells you this and then shows you his manuscript, he is looking for acceptance, one form of communication. He wants to show you this extension of himself, something he came up with. The qualifications of "personal" writing are a facade. Of course. But the point is that artists are trying to say something.

But this something is less important than you think. It is more in the manner, the style, and the technique of the communication. The concept is well less important than the execution. To quote J. Robert Lennon, "You can write anything you want, just don't write it shittily."

There was incidentally a bit of contention this week over a "movement" of new minimalist writers. I don't want to go too far into it, but most of the writing itself is unreadable and laughably self-conscious in an adolescent, look how cool I am kind of way. But the real problem with this writing was not topic (which though banal cannot be bad in and of itself) but with the lame prose and conceited, ironic tone.

In any case, I am 12 days until I leave Canada for good. In the meantime, I have to figure out what I am going to tell high school kids during my school visits for the Northrup Frye festival and pack and see what I want to see before I go. Linda will be here in 10 days for my readings and to help me pack.

lundi 7 avril 2008

Culture Wars

Culture. What is that? My friend and landlord, who by day is a psychologist, claims that it is "a system of laws to check instinct." But this is conflating culture with institutions--which is no surprise from my friend, who "hates" them all, especially Organized Religion. But there is also his culture--upper middle class academic/professional, atheist, permissive, purveyor of both fine and folk art. There is also my culture(s). Cajun, yeah yeah yeah. But moreso, I'm a twenty-something writer, cultural (at least) Catholic, permissive, consumer. I dabble in many arts and am well "versed" in many subjects. I avoid opinions I find distasteful--racist, mysogynistic, homophobic, conservative. Both of us has "culture."

But you could say the same with any demographic, and now I'm conflating "culture" with "demographic group." (I can't help but think that's what culture is now, sorry.) But maybe I should look more toward what separates humans and animals. I don't buy the feel-good idea that animals somehow have culture, one of the defining things, I think, that cleaves that chasm between us and Those Others Who Live. One great big advance that humans made in evolutionary history is of course the capacity to engage in symbolic discourse.

Symbols. Signs for something else. Is this what culture is? In Cajana, there is of course the music, symbolic wailing and complaints not unlike Medieval French poetry. There is also symbols that have come to represent the people--the crawfish, the bayou, the French language, etc. There is also literature.

But for my purposes, can there be any culture? I am an artist. And as I've stated before, I am not doing this just to be the world's biggest Cajun. I really don't think I'm that exotic. And continuing in my writing and in my reading, what is there but culture? What is there that but what has nothing to do with culture?

Culture may be something only valuable to the two jobs offered by an MFA in creative arts: artists and marketing people. But maybe when either is address directly, the only thing that can happen is a war of generalizations (read tautologies) and the dehumanization of the individual. New postmodern dictum: you can have a culture / but have it slant.

vendredi 4 avril 2008


Okay. I am back in Moncton. This is my last stretch in Canada. In three more weeks, I'll be preparing for the great move back South with Linda. I officially accepted Cornell's offer and already have an apartment in downtown Ithaca. I cannot wait to start the next chapter.

Traveling here and being here is increasingly difficult. There is so much I want to do and see, but not here anymore. I am justing waiting it out. I've even received the rest of my grant money, as if even Canada wants to push me out: you've been a vile and regressive hermit, Christopher, and it's time you go soil your own country. This is welcome. I want to be back in the world, which here, I fear, I am not. Certainly, people have been nice and some are even friends to me, but I am sure that even they can see how being tied here cuts into my wrists and ankles.

In anycase, I hardly have anything to say with this post. I just know that if I am going to keep a blog, I better not wait until I have something clever or important to say.