Back to the Laptop, a Round-Up

I’ve been a busy little boy over these last 48 hours. The reading at Pivot went very well, and the TPL’s Book Lover’s Ball (I sat with banking executives, they loved me in a way only grim-faced stoicism can express) was full of high-fashion, gourmet food, and lots of other things I know nothing about.

I’m glad to see the conversation I had started about annotation in poetry collections has taken-off without me. I’ll make an effort to read my way back to being abreast of the argument and try to weigh in again. These sorts of conversations are why I started the blog: smart people, having thought about something of importance for a long period of time, arriving at the polar opposite opinion on an issue.

Those of you who can brave the National Post long enough to get in under the hard crusty shell of failing neo-con print culture to the delicious spongy cake of their tops-in-the-country book blog, The Afterword, may already know this next update. Somewhat disappointed, as I have been, by the move in recent years to more mainstream, pre-approved Canlit titles by the CBC’s book discussion club, Canada Reads, the boys at The Afterword thought up an idea for a sort of Canada Reads Shadow Cabinet. They are calling this (of course) Canada Also Reads and have asked me to be one of the eight appointed Book Defenders. I’ll be vouching for Leon Rooke’s sublime new short story collection, The Last Shot. I think you should read it. There, see how good I am at vouching?

The way this will work, I think, is there will be a parade of personal essays on the eight selected books later this month, then a live-blogging Battle Royale of some sort in early March. Stay tuned.

The Olympics start today, and I’ll be watching. I know there’s legitimate reasons to ignore and even dislike them, but I can’t be asked. Censorship and arts funding and the homeless and whatnot are not to be ignored, but are also not to be pinned on a group of young competitors with stubborn ambitions and poverty statistics to rival any poet’s. Sports have some things figured out that us artists are centuries away from understanding, and there are things we can learn from them. Imagine, a playground reserved for only the people who are the very best in the world at whatever tiny, repetitive thing they do. And we get to watch them do it this on the T.V. And it even happens in our country. I’m sold. The Vancouver poet laureate turned down an invite to participate in the games, which is what they call, in politics, “playing to your base”. Though, as I said above, he had his choice of legitimate reasons.

However, for this viewer, it remains one of more undigestible traits shared among poets that we withdraw from participating in any element of the larger society that troubles our delicate morality. We are always the martyrs we’ve been looking for. And in two weeks, when this is all over, we’ll go back to complaining about how the rest of the world ignores us. If only there was a gold medal for being more noble than everyone else.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Citizenship, Poems in the Wider World, Sports, Television, What Jake Did

12 Comments on “Back to the Laptop, a Round-Up”


  1. “However, for this viewer, it remains one of more undigestible traits shared among poets that we withdraw from participating in any element of the larger society that troubles our delicate morality. We are always the martyrs we’ve been looking for. And in two weeks, when this is all over, we’ll go back to complaining about how the rest of the world ignores us. If only there was a gold medal for being more noble than everyone else.”

    I don’t know if this was a martyr thing, Jake. The secret to a successful protest like this is deciding beforehand whether you can get more press for your cause by participating and saying something at a key moment or withdrawing publicly.

    In the case of the Vancouver Olympics, where even the slightest dissent has been muffled, corralled, and/or labelled as fringe special interests, the story has more legs when we see an “insider”, ie, a public “official”/invitee, push back against the wall of spin and PR.


  2. My lopped off last sentence: I think it was a shrewd piece of politics and a noble stand.

  3. voxpopulism Says:

    Vancouver’s poet laureate is a city insider? Dude, this isn’t ancient Greece or contemporary Persia.

  4. voxpopulism Says:

    My reading is that Cran was appointed to be a public ambassador from a community of outsiders. And in declining the invitation, he elected to be the outsider, in lieu of the ambassador.


  5. The poet laureate is only an outsider until s/he’s appointed, at which point s/he’s a lapdog. And when a lapdog bites, everyone asks what the owner did to provoke it.

  6. Stephen Rowe Says:

    I’m doubtful as to the overall effect of Cran’s stand, though I do think it noble to choose a position and act on it (even if that acting involves not acting, as it does here). The fact that a poet laureate is speaking out may not mean as much today as we would hope; many poets, even those with wide reaching public images (relatively speaking, of course) are still lesser known people in this country and outspoken as he is for an important issue, Cran’s arguement may not have the impact he may wish for. Those in literary circles may care quite a bit, but I wonder how well this will be received across the country.

  7. LH Says:

    “We are always the martyrs we’ve been looking for….”

    What? I don’t get it. How often does a poet actually take such a public stand? Refuse to participate, refuse a prize? This is a guy who remains loyal to his beliefs. He’s not just grumbling in a comment box, he put himself out there.

    If you want to make a stand, by all means, make IT stand. Particularly when you’ve got something to lose.

  8. voxpopulism Says:

    Hmm. That assumption, again. You don’t think that, whereas all the people he pissed off by dropping out are people the typical cloistered poetry practioner doesn’t need to interact with, and by dropping out he’s become a singular hero to that same cloistered arts community, that Cran’s decision isn’t a net gain for his reputation?

    The fellow is rare among VANOC-attached Vancouverites for speaking out of turn, and this should be applauded. But just because he fell on sword we all wanted him to, we shouldn’t be pretending he didn’t have a lot to GAIN as well, Sina.

  9. LH Says:

    I think the decision to read a poem there was also gutsy and difficult.

    I think sticking to one’s principals is always hard.

    Many folks said they would protest Expo as well, as far as I know, none did. Saying and doing are very different. I would like to see how many poets and/or artists would really have said no in the face of it.

  10. voxpopulism Says:

    This is definitely true. I feel like I have a lot more to say about artists and “the courageous public act” beyond simply saying that those who engage in them are more noble than those who don’t. But I was at my job all night, and then there was construction on my street, so first I must sleep a little bit. Enjoy the city!

  11. Brian Palmu Says:

    Bravo to Cran! The arguments against his decision– “the effects it’ll have are negligible; he’s seeking attention; he’s detracting from the grandeur of the Olympians” — are straw-stuffed. Poets, more than any other word-based artistic group, are supposed to be about vocal truth. One can rightly argue about Cran’s political messaging in his “skiers” poem, but the important thing is that he has the right to say it. That contract that all participants had to sign would be laughable if it weren’t sinister in precedent and attempt.

    For a position — poet laureate — which is, at the core, one of aligning with, if not kowtowing to, civic officials, I give three cheers for Cran’s stand. He’s already won a gold if I’m a judge.

    To the argument that he would have been more effective in “spreading the message of art” from the inside, with a vast audience, who are we kidding? One of the most serious roles and attitudes of poetry is to lambaste bureaucrats when called for. If Cran had participated under the thought police code, he’d preemptively be a cheerleader and not a poet, or a poetic spokesman.


  12. Cran didn’t fall on his sword, he swung it. Good for him. Eating shit should be in no one’s job description. (Yeah, yeah, I know.)


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