Author Archives: jso

Whiskey with Al Neil in the Blue Cabin in 1971

(from a longer piece that appeared in Geist 57 in the summer of 2005 ) . . . . Some years later, and many years ago, in 1971, when I went to Dollarton to have a look at Malcolm Lowry country, a couple of hundred squatters in Vancouver were living in a shantytown at the […]

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National Poetry Daze

This year the mavens of As It Happens on CBC Radio celebrated National Poetry Day on the 22nd of March (the second day of spring) by reading aloud a “poem about spring” written in 1916 by Bliss Carman, the poetaster whose not nearly-enough-forgotten oeuvre has been the bane of five generations of schoolchildren. I happened […]

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Oblivion, waters of

[READINGS]  [Eliot] did, though, behave with characteristic punctilio over the rent. This strange combination of self-distancing and financial propriety was well caught by Bob Dylan in “Too Much of Nothing” (written in 1967): Say hello to Valerie Say hello to Vivian Send them all my salary On the waters of oblivion r e s o […]

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Goethe + Nazis; Surnames, Fate

   [READINGS] Wahl appealed directly to Hitler—and met him in 1934—in an effort to obtain funding for the new Goethe museum . . . Hitler assented … and the museum opened in 1935. A bust of Hitler was erected in the foyer of the museum along with a display showing Goethe’s family tree—intended to disprove claims […]

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Approaching Toronto, pre-winter

Approaching Toronto on the last day of October. In a new city, everyone you meet partakes of this quality of the denizen, of the holder of a secret: they deport themselves “naturally” without apparent self-consciousness, crossing streets and walking along sidewalks, rather as children in Quebec are able (miraculously) to speak French without having to think about it.

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Poets, Occupists, NaNoWriMo-ists

(part 3: excerpted from a longer essay in Geist 83) The moment from which poetry emerges is often a moment of crisis: in the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts (where the conference concluded), crisis permeated the air we were breathing. Poetry is the struggle between language and time, said one of the poets on the […]

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The Poets and the Occupists, part 2

Poetry lacks the focussed attention of a large public; it is forever seeking an audience with ears to hear; its practitioners are dedicated to clarity rather than meaning, and the struggle for clarity is itself troubling and uncomfortable, and can lead into the arcane, the complex and the weird.

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The Poets and the Occupists

Observations made at the Vancouver Poetry Conference in October, 2011, during which some two hundred poets and friends of poetry descended on the city at the same time as the Occupists were setting up on the lawn in front of the Art Gallery

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DM Fraser responds to Margaret Atwood in 1974

Part 3 of 5 in the series 3-Cent Magazine

In place of feeling, we’re served a smorgasbord of leftover sentimentalities topped with cheap ironies like stale whipped cream; in place of thought, a catalogue of lnformation Canada platitudes; in place of reasoned political analysis, an undigested lump of anti-American rhetoric no self-respecting paranoiac would lay claim to. And, at the end, we have a cop-out even in terms of the novel itself: another of those weary reconciliations in which, god help us, Revolt is snuffed out in the great damp blanket of lnstant Transcendence. Women take note: the message here, what Surfacing at last comes down to, is that Woman’s place really is, after all, with her Man, just as long as he’s a Canadian : “he may have been sent as a trick. But he isn’t an American, l can see that now; he isn’t anything, he is only half-formed, and for that reason l can trust him.”

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Mr. Tubesteak and the School Teacher

Twenty-nine years ago in Fanuj in south­ern Iran, Mehrab Arbab, a high school teacher who today oper­ates the Mr. Tube Steak hot dog stand at the Broadway SkyTrain sta­tion in Vancouver, escaped from the Revolutionary Guard of Ayatollah Khomeini, when they took twenty-six teach­ers from the school at which Mehrab Arbab taught English, his­tory and geog­ra­phy, […]

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What is a cultural magazine?

I have started a new blog over at devoted the question of what constitutes a cultural magazine. Many arts and literary publishers are struggling to adopt or adapt to the standard magazine publishing models as exhibited by entertainment, news and lifestyle publications that thrive in a world of periodicity and renewal (ie: a consumer […]

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Word Cloud

Here is terrific summary of a story in Geist, from (thanks to Lauren Ogston)

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Father, dinner, spiritual machine, excremental

I am preparing to adjust the spiritual machine under the floorboards at the publishing office, which is somewhere out of town, east and south (a large upstairs space shared with other operations). The floors are made of squares of stiff composite of some kind, which can be lifted up at the corner to reveal a […]

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Short day, long night

Today is my father’s birthday. We always called it the shortest day of the year: he said it was an easier birthday to get through than other birthdays. We ignored the fact that it was also the longest night of the year. My father took his own life two years ago, a few months before […]

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In the mail today a copy of Readers Digest arrived containing a cheque and a story of mine published ten years ago and collected in 2007 in an anthology called Body Breakdown. The original story appeared on, the epistolary venture undertaken by Paul Tough after his tenure as editor of Saturday Night, the general interest […]

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