Oscar Wilde's grave statue by Jacob Epstien

Oscar Wilde's grave statue by Jacob Epstien
Lipstick kiss on face of the angel

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Grave of Oscar Wilde with lipstick kisses and messages.

Statue by Jacob Epstein, Commissioned by Robert Ross

On November 30, 1900, in a seedy Parisian hotel, Oscar Wilde, the acclaimed poet, novelist, playwright and great wit died.  His last years were tragic. He had spent two years in English prisons convicted of “gross indecency with a male.” The harsh conditions he experienced damaged his health.

Robert Ross, a Canadian, grandson of Canadian statesman Robert Baldwin and Wilde’s first male lover, was with him when he died. Ross who was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal, helped Wilde with both financial and emotional support when he was in exile.

After Wilde’s death, Ross took on the task of literary executor which included purchasing all the rights to Wilde’s work which had been sold off during Wilde’s bankruptcy. Ross turned over all monies to Wilde’s two sons.

Ross also commissioned the sculptor, Jacob Epstein, to design Wilde’s tomb in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. After much controversy,  the monument was unveiled in 1914. A tradition grew up of leaving lipstick kisses on the monument but a glass barrier was erected to make the monument kiss proof. But the kisses and messages are still there

Kisses and messages written on the plexiglass surrounding Wilde's tomb

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Most Wonderful Bookshop

I'm hanging out at one of the most wonderful bookstores in the world


Sylvia Beach opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris in 1919 and it became the centre of anglo-American literary culture until it was closed by the Nazis. Hanging out at the bookstore were luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Scott Fitzgerald. James Joyce used it as an office. Beach helped out many writers including Joyce. She published Ulysses and lent money to the impecunious writer. (He never paid it back). But after the shop was closed down in 1940, it never reopened.
            After the war, book seller George Whitman’s shop Le Mistral became the literary focal point frequented by beat generation writers such as Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. Henry and Anais visited often.
In 1958, Sylvia Beach publically announced she was giving Whitman the use of her company’s name, and in 1964, Whitman re-named his store Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to her. Whitman called it “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” The bookstore has sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.
From 1978-1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika among others. Sileika went on to become a well-known Canadian novelist and presently heads the Humber School of Writing.
The building is a maze, a treasure chest, a place to get lost in and perhaps never found. It carries all the best new works and most of the old. You can perch on the spiral staircase and read forever and no one will bother you. Better if you find a cosy chair in the library. You can browse outside and in but don’t step on the cats. You could ask to volunteer as a worker as many have done. The store is now run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman.
I grabbed Orwell's Dairies and The Dawn Chorus by Canadian Helen Humphries. Both good travelling books.

May this wonderful place  go on forever.

sky spirits dancing
dreams and stories reflected
on night sky water
early morning sun
streaks of red gold amber light
absorbed into blue
morning welcome run
mother superior waits
step through each moment
Estella Howard

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Memoir By Brian Spare

The Boy Who Couldn't Smile
by Brian Spare
Author’s Note 
  The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile is a journal of how changes shaped my life. I began writing my memoir to simply pen the events of my life that I had told many times for years without much cause for emotion. I quickly found that expressing them on paper was a very different experience. As I wrote about my life, feelings stirred inside me that tugged at my heart, made me search my soul and reflect on my life as never before. I realized that I had a story to tell and I wanted to share it. As much as I wrote this book to recount my past, I wanted to share how I overcame adversity and convey my dreams for the future. If my story inspires even one person to meet the challenges they face, my mission in writing this book will have succeeded.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading

1.     Summer reading should be light, some say. The listers recommend flimsy stuff but I believe summer reading should be engrossing, so when, every once in a while, you look up and see the beach or the camp or the lake or the rainy windows on an inside day, you can breathe in the wonder of the northern Ontario summer, sigh with pleasure and drift back into the book.

Here are my picks for engrossing enjoyable summer reads. Some are old and some are not.

1.     This One Summer by brilliant Canadian graphic novelists Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, the creators of Skim, another fine book. A young girl meets up with her friend at the cottage community but the two discover a secret. A coming of age, beautifully drawn, tenderly written.

2.     Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She walked the Pacific Trail and then wrote about it. This book charmed me.  I admired Strayed’s guts, her winning fight against fear, her ability to endure pain and her attitude to her poverty. I also liked her candour when she spoke about her sexual desires and her sexual life. She had little money to use on the trail and mailed forward boxes with a 20$ bill in them, all she could afford.  I missed her once the book was done.

3.     A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. I saw the movie many years ago but the book took my heart. It’s 1912, and young Lucy Honeychurch teeters between dull respectability and authentic living. She is drawn to conventionality but then, in Italy, she meets George Emerson and his iconoclastic father. The characters of her fiancé, Cecil Vyse (deadly dull) and Aunt Charlotte Bartlett (ditto) are marvelous comic inventions. I found so much humour in the writing, almost Jane Austen like, that was omitted from the movie, proving once again that the book is always better.  

4.     Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. In the small Colorado prairie town of Holt, an elderly widow visits her neighbour, also elderly, also alone, and suggests he come over sometimes so they can sleep together. A simple book of love and caring carries you along by the clear and simple language, the descriptions of the natural world, the depth of the characters. Anything by Haruf is worth reading. This was his last novel. He died of cancer soon after it was published.

5.     The King’s Curse by Phillipa Gregory.  For the lover of historicals who will not spurn another visit to the court of Henry VIII. Gregory, an historical master, introduces Margaret Pole, a woman with unfortunate family connections. Henry wants to divorce Queen Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Margaret Pole is a friend of the queen. The king is portrayed as childish, spoiled, conceited, arrogant and above all lazy, a slacker king who loves to play and party. He would have done well in the 21st century.

6.     Euphoria by Lily King. In the steamy New Guinea jungle, anthropologists Nell Stone (based on Margaret Mead) and her unpleasant husband meet a fellow anthropologist, a lonely and depressed young man (based on Gregory Bateson). It is 1933 and things get steamier as Nell’s brilliant mind and her passionate concern for the local people add up to a multi-layered story of intellectual and physical desire.

7.     Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. A Japanese classic. Written in haiku-like language the story describes a rich, married, and rather feckless man who, from time to time, travels to the mountains to meet the geisha who works at a mountain spa in the snow country. From the start, both the reader and the two lovers know their romance can go nowhere, a fact that gives the book its strange, delicate feeling of sadness.

8.     A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. George’s long time partner has died and George, a professor in LA, is bereft. Over the course of a single day, we meet his neighbours, his students, including the teasing Kenny, a strange young man attracted to George but whether sexually or just as a needy student is not entirely clear, a woman friend in a hospital, a drunken very needy woman friend (based on the poet Iris Tree) who he treats with patient kindness and then a chance meeting with Kenny in a bar which leads to the great swimming scene when he and Kenny go swimming in the ocean. During the single day, Isherwood tracks George’s mood fluctuations, his hatred of the homophobia around him and the difficulties of living in a society saturated with it. George is an alienated man, lonely and lost, but still retains a kindly stance towards the people he encounters.  I have never read Isherwood before but now I am drawn to him.

9.     Rust is a Form of Fire by Joe Fiorito. Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by. That was Joe Fiorito who spend many hours on a busy Toronto street corner observing—just observing. His collection of short observations hypnotized me. You might have to search around for this book which was published this year. Try on line. You won’t regret it.

10.  The Fixer by Joseph Finder. In the summer, many people turn to mystery novels. Joseph Finder is always a good choice. After Rick Hoffman lost both his high paying job and his fiancé, he is reduced to living in the abandoned and dilapidated house belonging to his father who is left speechless after a stroke and who is confined to a nursing home. But why are there three million bucks hidden in the walls of the old place? And why did the father, a lawyer, consort with seedy characters linked to municipal corruption? And what about this gang of thugs who follows him around with murderous intent?

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Poets Hang On" - Margaret Atwood

The poets hang on.
It’s hard to get rid of them,
though lord knows it’s been tried.
We pass them on the road
standing there with their begging bowls,
an ancient custom.
Nothing in those now
but dried flies and bad pennies.
They stare straight ahead.
Are they dead, or what?
Yet they have the irritating look
of those who know more than we do.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The "Modern Girl" creates quite the discussion

Jane Nicholas reads from her book: The Modern Girl: Feminine Modernities, the Body, and Commodities, in the 1920's. Maybe our grandmothers and great grand mothers were standing by to hear how they changed society by getting jobs, moving to the cities and asserting their independence. They ran into opposition from conservative feminists, the churches, society at large not to mention horrified parents. As author historian Jane Nickolas put it: "with her short skirt, her bobbed hair, her penchant for smoking, drinking, dancing and jazz, the "modern girl" was a fixture of the 1920's consumer culture. She appeared in art, film, fashion and advertising as well as on the streets of the towns from coast to coast."  Nicholas argues that this feminine image was central to the creation of what it meant to be modern and female in Canada.

A lively Q&A followed the reading, with many in the audience at the Northern Womanb's Bookstore recalling stories of their foremothers.  We toasted her in tea, coffee and goodies, before heading out with the book.

Margaret Phillips of the Norther Woman's Bookstore with historian Jane Nicholas.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Amy Jones Novel Picked Up by M&S

Thunder Bay resident Amy Jones' novel, We're All in This Together, will be published at McClelland & Stewart. Amy is a dynamite short story writer and her book of short fiction, What Boys Like, is a great read. Recently Amy has also served as the e-writer in residence in Thunder Bay. Congratulations Amy.

CBC Literary Award winner Amy Jones’s debut novel, We’re All in This Together, has been acquired by Anita Chong at McClelland & Stewart. The two-book deal was arranged by Chris Bucci. The novel is pitched as being in the tradition of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang, and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, about a dysfunctional family forced to start acting like a real one when their matriarch survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel, a feat captured on a video that goes viral.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tia Lunn, poet, and winner of Young Adult Writing Competition at the Pride Literary Evening

You and Us and Them

Award winning poem by Tia Lunn. Tia is a grade 11 student at Westgate High School.

You speak like April's wind promises July's.
With your unpredictable hair and star-glazed eyes
I've never met anyone more honest in their idealizations
You've got me believing more unbelievable stories each minute.
Your heart is so big that sometimes I get lost in it
And I hope you don't mind that I've stayed,
Even if sometimes I get cut with the scalpel blade when
They start to dissect you into different parts.
Easier syllables they can swallow through hollow teeth,
Shape your name to fit better in their nervous hearts
Call you "phase" call you "experiment" call you anything but you what you are,
Hoping to sear a scar for when we're older but
I cannot stand anyone trying to melt you into any other mold
No other shape could do justice to your gold.
We're beyond anything that they ever could have thought,
And sweetheart you are so much more than anything you're not.
You are more than sugar and spice and everything nice,
You are crop tops and skirts and button down shirts,
Black boots and eyeliner that matches the colour of my smile
When I tell my friends you can play any instrument,
And you're quick to shout out that's not true,
And it could be I'm wrong
But I swear that you do,
From the sound of the song that you orchestrate in my chest
On the days when I feel like an empty theatre,
You are a million piece band,
The baseline in my pulse moving through me when you take my hand,
And I know you're and artist so I hope you understand,
When I paint my red lips across your face
Let them see the stain, know I'm saving my place.

Amber Dawn at Literary Pride

it's Pride Week in Thunder Bay. Literary Evening tonight and Amber Dawn read us poetry and a selection from her powerful memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Death of a Great Writer

Kent Haruf has died. I believe he was one of the greatest writers or our time.  Haruf wrote about a small town in Colorado called Holt and gave his townspeople such sharp, realistic lives they cannot easily be forgotten. He surrounded his townspeople with the great turns of the seasons, detailing the vast western plains that were central to their inner lives.

It took him twenty years of writing before he was published.

 “If I had learned anything over those years of work and persistence, it was that you had to believe in yourself even when no one else did. And later I often said something like that to my graduate students. You have to believe in yourself despite the evidence. I felt as though I had a little flame of talent, not a big talent, but a little pilot-light-sized flame of talent, and I had to tend to it regularly, religiously, with care and discipline, like a kind of monk or acolyte, and not to ever let the little flame go out,” he wrote.

His final novel, Our Souls at Night, written when he knew he was dying, explores the theme of happiness.  One comment on the Guardian obituary gives good advice to readers just coming to Haruf. Start with the novel Plainsong, and carry on from there. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Making of the Raven's Wing. Kim Erickson talks about creating a CD.

Kim Erickson .

On Saturday, June 13th at 7:30pm in the Unitarian Hall, I will be unveiling my newest cd release, 'The Raven's Wing'.  There will be an opportunity to listen to the project, hear a few words about the songs and the album, and buy a copy to take home. And while you are there, you can support two worthy causes if you like - Stoves for Humla, Nepal and The Underground Gym.  Admission to the event is free and all are welcome. 

This will be my first launch activity for the project, and the first Canadian launch event.  'The Raven's Wing' was already released in the EU on May 11th by my record label for this album, Route 61 Music, who are based in Rome, Italy.  Route 61 will work with me and for me to distribute the cd worldwide.  The project has its wings. 

'The Raven's Wing' is a previously unpublished collection of my own songs - with the exception of Pete Seeger's setting of Ariel's Song from The Tempest, "Full Fathom Five".  A couple of the songs are traditional folk lyrics that I gave fresh musical settings to.  There is a decidedly cohesive flavour to the songs and their treatment in the studio.  And the songs take the listener on a journey of "10,000 Miles", across oceans and landscapes, and into the deep interior of the human heart.  The album is a nod to my mother's North Sea Scottish roots, and is a taking stock and a looking forward to "the time the will come to be."  And that brings me to one of my greatest joys, which is the addition of a backing vocal on one song by my daughters Roisin and Lesya Roberts.

Atwood contributes book to be published in 100 years.

LONDON — The author Margaret Atwood — perhaps best known for her dystopian-future-set novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” — made a further contribution to the fictional future today, handing over a secret manuscript to Oslo’s public library to be published in 2114.
The handoff is the first phase of the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s “Future Library” project. For the next century one author a year will contribute a new written work to the project. They will be sealed in secrecy by the library until being published 100 years from now on paper made from trees planted in a local forest.
The day’s events began with a public walk from a local train station to the wood near the northern edges of Oslo whose trees were planted for the project. There, Ms. Atwood gave a reading (not from her new work). She handed the secret manuscript to Ms. Paterson who then gave it to a representative of the library. A similar ritual is to take place every year for the next 99 years.
Ms. Atwood announced that her manuscript is named “Scribbler Moon,” but revealed no other details. “She won’t tell anything at all,” Anne Beate Hovind, a project manager for the Future Library project, said in a phone interview. “She’s very, very strict on this. She won’t even talk about the process of writing. No content, no process, no nothing. Nada.”
Ms. Paterson will announce the name of the author who is to contribute next year on Wednesday.