Archive for the ‘Television’ category

The Evaluative Ethic of Tobias Ziegler

August 26, 2010

If I feel like I had this conversation once sometime in 2003 or so, replacing the word “speech” with “poem”. Also, I feel like if more primetime dramas could gracefully employ the word “obscurantist”, I’d watch more TV. Try your best to ignore the subtitles.

Optimisms/Open Stage Updates

March 28, 2010

Hey folks.

I’ve been a busy boy these last few days, and unable to tend to the blog like I’d want. And this is just a quick hitter. Something more thoughtful later in the week, I promise.

1. There’s still a handful of spots available for The Optimisms Project. We had to rejig the schedule a couple times, first for the Torontoist’s non-publishing on Sundays, and then for the Easter holiday. But we’re putting together a solid little parade now, dotted by some special guests that, though they may not hit that age range per se, are always welcomed voices in this country’s internal poetic dialogue. Send your email submissions to, folks. Submissions are very much still open.

2. On the off-chance any of you are fans of local daytime television, tune in tomorrow (Monday) morning around 11:00am to see myself and Robert Preist on Rogers TV’s “daytime Toronto” talk about Wednesday’s NOW Magazine Open Stage Night @ Harbourfront. For added drama, keep in mind that I’m working an overtnight shift at my job before this, getting off at 7, to North York for make-up at 9, and on TV trying to say smart things and not fall over at 11:15. Should make for good television, don’t you think?

Back to the Laptop, a Round-Up

February 12, 2010

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.

“The romance of the artist as…”

January 21, 2010

Hey all.

Kind of a busy day for me, but there’s lots to talk about. So, I figured I’d let other people do the heavy lifting and try to get by with a boring old link round-up. So here goes.

The Canadian Periodical Fund looks like it’s going ahead as planned. Or at least, the changes to the plan are non-literary in nature. I might have more to say about this, but need to self-educate a bit first. As it stands though, I wonder if the actual role of the journal community is reflected in that ideal “cultural farm team” metaphor I keep hearing. I also wonder if any of this would have happened if the journals embraced the internet to the degree young know-it-alls like myself have been suggesting they should. But who knows. I want to learn more about this, before I publicly say something stupid. Speaking of being stupid in public, is there any quicker way to grow dismayed by this country than by reading the comments section that follows any G&M story about arts funding? Copy, paste, copy, paste, copy, paste. Being a neo-con must be hard work.


There may be no group of people I love more this month than the atheists of my ancestral home nation of Ireland, who are turning the nauseating rejection of their free-speech rights into a sort of Blasphemy Carnival. Someone has posted 25 great moments in the history of defamation on this atheist organization’s website. There’s more examples out there, but you can find those yourself.


Speaking of atheists, once the football is over on Sunday, you should all print off some scorecards and tune in for the return of CBC’s IQ Test/Game Show “Test the Nation“. There’s some interesting rivalries a-brewing, including Nerds v. Athletes and Religious Leaders v. Atheists Two Vox Pop associates are participating in this round of the game. Mr. Paul Vermeersch is representing the atheists, while Jan “DownrightDirty” Dawson is rocking it for the Athletes, as part of the delegation from Toronto Roller Derby. The CBC has not responded to my demands that, if the atheists beat the believers by at least 20 points, Peter Mansbridge be brought into the studio to publicly declare that God does not exist.


The Janufeb edition of The Quill & Quire is out. It’s worth picking up for a couple reasons, chiefly the recommendation of one blogging cousin’s book (Stephen “Below the Spruce” Rowe) by another (Zach “Career-Limiting Moves” Wells). There’s a roundup of the last decade in Canadian publishing and an article by Zoe Whittall on writers of various notoriety-levels and the day jobs they must suffer through. I’m quoted therein, and I come off like a slightly sketchier character than I’m usually comfortable with, but it’s my own words that paint that picture, so all’s fair.


This next one’s going to rot your teeth, so go easy on it… I’m something of an amateur movie-awards buff, so I sat through the endless parade of cliched descriptions of the film art that was the Golden Globe Awards last weekend. My favourite film blog has a critique of the notably populist swing in the statues this year. For the record, the drama that made the most money last year (Avatar) was named “the best”, likewise the most successful comedy (The Hangover) and the most successful animated film (Up) won their respective categories. I liked all three movies, but it’s the kind of evening that calls to mind a wonderfully combative Lapham quote which I’m still trying to dig up on the interwebs. I’ll let you know.

Update: I’ve found the quote, and it’s actually pretty apt for both this story, and the first one listed in this roundup. Oh, Lewis, you can really pack’em in. For this, I’ll shall grant you naming rights to this post.

“The romance of the artist as an impoverished seer no longer commands belief. Under the new cultural dispensation, poverty is merely poverty, and behavior once attributed to the vagary of genius has come to be seen as being both boorish and subversive. The phrase ‘a poor artist’ stands revealed as a contradiction in terms. If the artist were any good (i.e., ‘a real artist’ and not a charlatan) he would meet that editor’s criterion of being rich. If he isn’t rich he has failed the examination of the market and deserves no sympathy. The bias explains why the literary press so seldom prints unpleasant reviews of well-publicized books. An angry review constitutes an attack not only upon a writer or a work of art but also upon money itself, which, of course is blasphemy.”- Lewis Lapham


And lastly, Paul Quarrington died today. I didn’t know Mr. Quarrington personally, so I’ll just say this: To die with any amount of class, or even dignity, is a rare and incredible thing. Watching him pull that off in these past few months has been inspiring. Julie Wilson has a more substantial tribute than that on her blog.


It may also be okay to like this.

October 18, 2009

Kudos go out to my cousin Charlie in Halifax, a filmmaker, for reminding me of this addendum to my last post re: commercial usage of poems. Perhaps as proof that Ford doesn’t have any original ideas anymore, those good Germans at VW beat them to the punch with this Dylan Thomas themed ad for their total shitbox urban getaround car, the Golf. Officially, Under Milk Wood isn’t a poem so much as a series of dramatic monologues written by a man most beloved for his habit of drinking too much and falling down writing verse. Still, this little ditty is most definitely in the club.

It’s not bad, either. Reminiscent of the Ford piece. Are there any more examples of this weird crossover out there? Somehow, I can envision a Frank O’Hara  soft drink ad, or Leonard Cohen hawking ladies’ rainwear…

It’s okay to like these.

October 17, 2009

I’m unsure how many events are needed to spark a “trend” in the field of commercial production, keeping in mind that commercial producers are a breed of supereager trend-diviners who don’t usually need much to jump on a bandwagon. But if it’s two, then we have a live one here: Using excellent poems to make classic long-form commercials for your aged, wilting brand.

It’s possible you’ve seen these before, either before a movie or, say, on my facebook. First, there’s the flashly, deliberately narrative Ford commercial set to the tune of an actor’s rendition of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

It definitely benefits from having chosen one of the maybe 15 English-language poems recognizable to the average consumer. Everybody thinks they know the moral of the poem: You gotta choose your own path, you see. Because, you see…paths are different. So you gotta choose.

It’s easily the best car commercial I’ve ever seen. Well, second best if you include this one:

However, the winner of the poem/commercial mash-up is undoubtedbly the good cowboys and cowgirls at the Levi’s Corporation. And not just because Walt Whitman is so obviously > Robert Frost, or because jeans are a more carbon-friendly mode of transportation than an F-150. They’ve really made a beautiful commercial here.

If, at this point, you’re questioning why I’d want to treat these two little films as works of art and not the propaganda wing of the corporate takeover of civilization, then you’re undermining their creative and educational value. The formula that’s clear from both the Ford and Levis commercials is this: car and jean commercials are awful wastes of the viewers’ time and intelligence, but these car and jean commercials are entertaining and thoughtful. What brings them out of the realm of vapid cheerleading and into the realm of art? Poems. In both cases, whether mumbled through an old wax recording system by the poet himself, or spoken with eerie clarity by a contemporary actor, the poem is what makes the world’s most intolerable means of communication something you wouldn’t mind sitting through again once the first 90-second showing is over. Essentially, the poem is the source, the well, of entertainment. Poems can be sources of entertainment, it would seem.

And I like the idea of a theatre full of people doing that math inside their heads: Car commerical= awful, Car commercial + poem = Not bad. It’s the start of a longer train of thought. Such an integral train of thought that it makes my opinion of the specific politics of Ford (corporate welfare, a hole in Antarctica) or Levis (douchey college students, lakes the colour of marbles) seem oddly, perplexingly, shallow.


On an unrelated note, mon ami Stephen Rowe jotted down a quick homage to the original source for the Frost/Ford commercial, and you might like to read it