a collection of interesting and not-so-interesting things. including information on current & upcoming projects.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Martian Press Review 01

I've had a few people ask me about the MPR, which has been delayed a few times... the deal with the MPR is this ... it's being launched at McNally-Robinson (Grant Park location) on June 6. Readers are being confirmed. I will be sending out press releases and review copies in May and will also post the press release on this blog and my other. The book will be in stores possibly before the launch. There may also be another reading/launch. Book is not available yet. It will be available through contributors when I release contributor's copies, earlier than in bookstores. These copies should be sent out in April. Look for the book around late April/early May in stores, launch following in June.

Sorry for delays ... keep in mind that I am doing this all myself, and that I also am working on films, working three part-time jobs, writing my own stuff, just defended my MA thesis, and am planning a move to Calgary in addition to working on this small press project, which I am not making any money off of. Plus, as this is the first anthology work on this press (second book) I am still working out design (further delayed by the destruction of my computer, the deletion of much of its contents, and the purchasing of a new computer which I have had to find the design programs for once again).

It's nice to see a bit of interest in the Martian Press sprining up hither and thither. I've already had a chapbook submission of really interesting word art and others have expressed interest in submitting things.... once the first two books are out I expect more attention.... it will be nice when I get a schedule going and start to release things on this schedule. then it'll be less guesswork.

Another reason for delays is that I want to try and launch this press and these books right.... until i have things set up so that i have review copies ready to go out, a web site ready (or near ready) to go up (http://www.martianarmy.com), distribution lined up, and things looking nice, I don't see the point.... people worked hard to write the poetry and prose that will appear in the MPR and since I'm not paying them any money (as much as i'd like to, there's just no money at all in chapbooks) I want to make sure I do as much as possible to ensure that they at least get to read in public and get some media coverage if i can manage it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Ashland" by Gil Adamson - book review

originally published in Prairie Fire Review of Books (here revised)

by Gil Adamson
Toronto: ECW Press, 2003, ISBN 1-55022-576-6, 79 pp., $16.95 paper.

Gil Adamson’s Ashland is one of the best poetry books I read in 2003, if not the best. Gripping and furious, the poems resonate with a mythic power, invoking the spectre of the old American west. Although Adamson hails from Toronto, and nowhere in the book does she situate "Ashland" in any sort of geography, Ashland occupies an imaginative space in the mythology of Puritan America, a landscape stalked by gunslingers, the ghosts of their victims, and other, older things which are far more terrible.

The book opens with a number of prose-poems, and throughout the poetry feels like prose, each piece possessing its own narrative drive. Ashland feels more like fiction than poetry at times, having more in common with the work of Faulkner, Morrison, and above all Cormac McCarthy, than with any of Adamson’s Canadian or American poetic contemporaries. Each poem in the book contains enough character and story to base a short work of fiction around, and Adamson uses this concise, compelling style to great effect. Although each poem is a separate beast, the disparate works are bound by the writing style and the tone which pervades the book. A good example of this can be seen in the first poem from the collection, "Vigil," which sets up "Ashland" as both a place and a mood, a doomed land where the living and the dead are separated by thin divisions:

"Mrs. Dumont has slashed herself across her withered thigh. Two young people recently married are now indifferent to one another. The oldest trees on our main street are dying, all five together. Half the mines are closing due to extreme cold. The men cry over their starved children, bludgeon their wives for sheer pity, bury them in barrels and pillow cases."

"No man or woman is so dear that Ashland will suffer for long or that the townspeople will be convinced to think as one. Vigil as you like; old age takes care of itself, violence does the rest." (3)

Adamson combines this prose-like style (here clear prose) with the poetic device of the list to great effect. In quick bursts, Adamson calls up strong images of place and character, allowing her to build, tell, and end a story in (for the most part) less than 30 lines. The brevity of each piece is astounding, considering the vividness of the images conjured and the sheer power of the storytelling.

Adamson creates memorable, if mythic and therefore at times one-dimensional characters, in the same fashion. In one of the best poems of the book, "Finally," Adamson creates a demonic preacher, who, though no multi-faceted character in his own right, represents another facet of the character of Ashland itself:

He had a huge biting dog
that went everywhere with him,
and a nasty glass eye that seemed to disagree
with whatever he said.
[. . .]
We understood his secret lesson,
that God had been free of us once,
and would be again. (47)

Though the preacher is a stock character to a great degree, the fatalistic terror which he imparts to the townspeople fleshes out not only their characters but the character of the place. Ashland is indeed the book’s main character, a dead, haunted realm, its inhabitants cursed for eternity to reenact the events which led to their damnation. A hellish place, Ashland is an oppressive presence in the book, always on the periphery, colouring each poem and providing a great sense of unity to the book which not only strengthens each separate poem but makes for a more compelling read than the average collection. An impressive writer with a great sense of story, Gil Adamson possesses a singular vision and an immense talent.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Radiohead still has the best Internet site in the world ... genius. Visit www.radiohead.com. I think what I like best is that there is little to no information on the band, at all. Just bizarre, creative stuff. Making full use of the hypertext form.

Nine Inch Nails is releasing a new album on May 3. I am a longtime NIN fan, and am very excited. Also exciting is that the video collection, CLOSURE, will also be coming out (hopefully soon). This was previously only available on VHS and was BANNED FOR SALE in Ontario, where I was living, when it came out originally. So I am excited about this since the videos are brilliant and uncensored (including the "Happiness in Slavery" video with Bob Flanagan).

I just got the new Queens of the Stone Age album and am loving it. I just did an interview with local band Tin Foil Phoenix as well, not four hours ago. A fine band. Check out www.tinfoilphoenix.com.

Hell, while you're in a music mood, check out Alek's bizarre stuff at www.kimono.ca.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Matthew Sweet - interview

originally published in Stylus

Matthew Sweet has been a solo artist since the 1980s, having his greatest success in the early- to mid-nineties with a string of hit albums (Girlfriend, Altered Beast, and 100% Fun). In 2002, Sweet teamed up with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins to form The Thorns, a side project for the three solo singer/songwriters. Sweet recently released two solo albums, Kimi Ga Suki (previously a Japan-only release) and his latest, Living Things.

Ball: You recorded Living Things in a relatively short period of time and I was wondering what the cause of this sudden inspiration burst was?

Sweet: It was written faster than it was recorded, most of it was written really fast. Out of the eleven songs on it, at least eight or nine of them were written all at once, the main music for them written all in one sitting, in a couple of hours. The words I fleshed out over the next couple of mornings, I sat out under this tree on this ranch, I was actually still writing with The Thorns at the time when I wrote those. I think it was just because I had spent two weeks doing co-writing between three people, all of us tiptoeing around each other trying to make it work. So I think it was just kind of blowing off steam, like, “it’s so easy to write on my own!” I didn’t spend a lot of time recording it but I probably still spent two or three weeks recording, taking the weekends off.

Ball: How has you work with The Thorns influenced your solo work, or is it too early to tell?

Sweet: I don’t really know. It’s a pretty wacky album, Living Things, at least for me. I think that I was a little crazy at the time, I couldn’t cope, I was probably the most conflicted out of the three of us about doing [an album together]. It kind of came out of the blue, we did this writing session and then people were jumping all over us begging us to make a record. In the end, I think it was an incredible experience for me to be in such an uncomfortable situation where I would not normally be, because it forced me to grow as a person. It was good and I feel a lot better for it, but those stresses at the time probably influenced me when making Living Things.

Ball: Is this quicker approach, not to recording but to songwriting, something you see yourself using in the future?

Sweet: Yes. That is something that I think is good. I’ve thought a lot about artistic process lately. I think that really, when I write a song, it’s done in five minutes. I have basically what it’s going to be really, really fast. Everything else is just — I’ve got to write words, or I’m just not sure if it’s good. My thinking is that I should write with little effort and let it flow out when I’m in the right mood, that’s when the best stuff comes. I’ve found that by taking that approach and not worrying about it, stuff just kind of pops out. I’ve never had a problem with being prolific. I’ve always written lots of songs, but I’ve never understood where that comes from, I’ve always felt so detached from it. The other thing for me, and the thing that I love about doing stuff more independently, is that I’m sick of the rules. Everything has to be so normal, or held to some standard that everybody seems to have. There seems to be a lot of pressure on music to be a certain way these days. It makes me want to fight against that, to break rules and do weird, unbearable stuff, just for the sake of doing it.

Ball: Why did you initially release Kumi Ga Suki in Japan only?

Sweet: I went to Japan in August of 2001 and did a big festival there, it was the first time I’d been there since the early ’90s. While I was there I said, “you know, I’m getting out of my long-term contract, I’m going to be totally free, I can do whatever I want — I could make a record just for Japan if I wanted to.” From that comment came some offers to put out a record that way. So I did it because I felt there was no pressure and that it’d be fun, I could make a record in my house, and they’re so nice over there, surely they’ll like whatever I do. So it was sort of a way to pretend that I wasn’t making the same old pressured, “we need you to make the right record,” music business thing.

Ball: With your new independent status, how is that working out?

Sweet: In all ways musically, it’s great. It’s worrisome just because I don’t know how I’ll manage to survive, because it’s really expensive for my wife and I, between our mortgage and our monthly expenses — we live right in Los Angeles. That’s the biggest fear for me. I sell small amounts of records, initially I haven’t sold any huge amounts, because there’s no way to spend tons of money doing tons of huge publicity without a label pouring tons of money on you, putting you on the radio and everything. So it’s a challenge to figure out how to grow it, but the reality of the business is that I can sell tiny amounts of records and be doing really well, I just have to connect with enough fans so I can do that. I just think I can. But I think it’s going to take a bit of time, and I honestly don’t expect these two records to cement me making money or whatever. I want to just test the water and get things started, so that when I make my next record, probably early next year, I’ll be able to have a way to put it out in a timely fashion and tour and just build it up.

Ball: It must be especially difficult now, with radio being how it is.

Sweet: Yeah, it is really difficult. To do it without them is a challenge. But I just feel that it’s going to be more and more how people do it. All these artists aren’t going to go away just because the record industry has no place for them. They’ll find their fans, one way or another, at least the ones who are into it enough … If someone had given me two million dollars, maybe I would have made five records for them. But I wouldn’t have let them tell me what to do. It’s not even an issue for me now. I’m in my own house right now, and I have the power.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Some Random Things

Winnipeg artist Marcel Dzama has designed the art work for the new Beck album Guero (see www.beck.com). I heard that Dzama moved to New York recently, but Winnipeg will always own his soul. As proof, see Dzama's line of toys, the Monsters of Winnipeg Folklore.

I have been offered a scholarship by the University of Calgary and will be doing a PhD there beginning Fall 2005. I'm getting in touch with and reading books by various Calgary writers in preparation for the move. If anybody's got suggestions, drop me a line. Soon I will offer up a sample of my current/past reading list for those who might be looking for books to read. I'll also be listing a ton of items for sale in the upcoming months. I'm talking books, CDs, DVDs ... I have lots of good stuff that you may want to get your hands on. In fact, if you're looking for it, I probably have it. Drop me a line and ask.

Guy Maddin has apparently just finished shooting a feature in Seattle called Branded on the Brain. I haven't talked to Guy about this and I don't really know what the deal is. But I am sure it will be interesting. I'm helping out Solomon Nagler as Assistant Director (with various other random responsibilities) on his new short film which I think is called Fugue Nefesh. Also slowly plugging away at my own short films.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

East of Euclid - review

I was thinking about my love for the film East of Euclid, a great little Winnipeg movie. Visit www.eastofeuclid.com and keep your eyes open for the DVD release. Here's my review.

Originally published in Uptown Magazine

East of Euclid contains everything a Winnipegger could ever want in a film; the North End, perogies, the Golden Boy, and yes, the Winnipeg Jets.

If that’s not enough to get prairie girls and boys interested, how about the old Tribune newspaper, a fortune teller who reads the future in headcheese, and a thug who beats unfortunates with a coil of garlic sausage? Jeff Solylo’s debut feature boasts all these things and more, a dramatic film noir seasoned with great dollops of slapstick, sci-fi, and sour cream.

The film tells the story of Villosh, the best gambler in 1970s Winnipeg. Villosh loves gambling; he gambles for the groceries, for steak dinners, for fur hats. But Villosh is not content with the small-time. Soon he sets his sights on Atlantic City, and in an attempt to raise some big ransom money to fund the greatest gambling trip of his life, Villosh hires the sausage-wielding Betman (Jeff Skinner) to kidnap Finnish hockey player Veli-Pekka Kaurismaki (Miles Boisselle).

Things are going well until the Winnipeg Tribune’s star photographer, Valeri (Brent Neale), takes a photograph of Villosh at a Winnipeg social. Villosh, who is hiding out from the KGB, becomes furious when the photo is published. He attacks Valeri, drawing the photographer and an eager reporter named Natalia (Daina Leitold) into Villosh’s Ukrainian egg of intrigue.

East of Euclid takes a lot of risks, and hits more often than it misses. The Winnipeg- and ethnocentric jokes could run the risk of being alienating, but the humour is broad enough that even the gags that you don’t fully understand are still funny. Also, it helps that the laughs are packed together so tightly—even if you don’t get a joke, you won’t have to wait long until the next one.

The film noir and sci-fi elements are introduced both as parody and to pay homage, and are balanced well against one another, preventing the film from becoming a stale pastiche of genres. While the characters and situations are played for laughs, at the same time a string of dramatic tension holds the action together and a tragic note rings throughout some of the funniest scenes.

This all serves to make the film more than a collection of sight gags, strange situations, and stock characters. When Villosh looks out the window and sighs “the world is my onion!” it’s hilarious but it’s also a rather sad moment. Time is running out for the old gambler, as the fortune teller predicted in the headcheese, and his story is a tragedy as much as it is a comedy.

The film succeeds in places that most comparable films fail. By treating its characters with loving respect, the film is able to exploit them for laughs without turning them into buffoons and making them unsympathetic or dismissable. East of Euclid marks the debut of Jeff Solylo as one of the most imaginative directors in the country.

Monday, March 14, 2005

New Year's Day - a poem

Originally published in The Manitoban

It's 1999 and it's about to turn and she's blazing there boy on the floor and she burns through you like the chemicals a documentary of the movements mechanical

but wild inspired and alive and so foreign to you and the known universe of the magic mushroom and she flows through you like the chemicals you're overdosing on the lights that stream out of her

eyes from her thighs so alive getting farther from you as you stumble your way to the bathroom and you purge yourself of the chemicals just another night of behaviour mechanical

sometimes it rhymes sometimes it makes sense to you and other times it just feels foreign and you only trust in the chemicals I admit comfort is found in mechanicals

and now somehow you bow out the back door and you catch your breath breathing clean again and you spit out the rest of the chemicals and she's a dream again she's a dream she's intangible

It's 1999 and it's about to turn and you're back on the floor and your body it burns aftermath of the chemicals they're counting down you're just counting 1234

5 6 78910 the silence the noise and a kiss unexpected and she seeps through you like a chemical but she's real and it's real and the moment it feels

like it's real. Something's finally real.

It's 2000 she's lost in the crowd and the music's loud the music can never be too loud and you swear off the chemicals and you'd look for her but it'd just be a letdown

and now you bow out the back door and you catch your breath breathing clean like a real person would and you finally feel more than chemicals wild inspired so alive there is beauty in animal

there is beauty in animal there is beauty in animal there is beauty in animal

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Cremaster Cycle - review

originally published in Uptown Magazine

The Cremaster Cycle is American artist Matthew Barney’s art film epic, five films which taken together total six and a half hours in length. The point of departure for each film, at least conceptually, is the male cremaster muscle, which controls testicular contractions.

As a result, the films are steeped in sexual imagery, with a focus on the physiological. This is not to say that Barney takes a cold, dispassionate view of sexual attraction and human interaction. Rather than removing the magic and mystery from a concept like love, Barney focuses on physiological processes as mysterious in themselves and producing their own magical results.

Take Cremaster 1, for example. In it, the heroine Goodyear filches grapes from the table under which she appears to spend most of her time, then consumes and excretes these grapes in a rather clean and mystical fashion.

The table under which Goodyear moves manifests itself in two separate but similar areas, blimps hovering above Bronco Stadium. Hostesses in each blimp tend to the tables, their vaseline sculpture, and their grapes (green on one, purple on the other). After moving through Goodyear’s body, the grapes are then used to choreograph movements by dancers on the football field below.

This concept of transformation is central to the films, in which physical and spiritual metamorphoses are inextricably bound and dire consequences result from attempts to circumvent established systems of progression.

In Cremaster 3, the Apprentice cheats by creating a perfect ashlar (a hewn stone used in Masonic ritual) using a mold rather than carving the work. The Apprentice is punished for this action, which departs from the “natural” process of ritual, which is considered sacred.

The films are cryptic but stunning. Barney’s visual style, which combines 3-D art, video, sculpture, performance, dance, and pageantry, is staggeringly original. However, due to the obvious financial strain that such a project would cause, parts of the films seem to suffer from poorer production values than other parts.

Barney certainly knows how to stretch production dollars, however, and scenes which reveal the limitations of the budget still manage to be strikingly beautiful. The true glory of The Cremaster Cycle is its visuals, which are absolutely stunning. Rich, imaginative, and beautiful, the film’s visual style is extraordinary in every sense of the word.

The ideas in the films are interesting and not as incomprehensible as might be expected in such a surreal work. Though the imagery can be as confusing as it is striking, such confusion leads from attempts to force the film into categories and to assign a specific “meaning” to each image.

Such an approach is a reductive one, and though the film’s images are not devoid of meaning, shot by shot these meanings exert influence upon one another and transform each other as they themselves are transformed.

The Cremaster Cycle may be a bit pretentious in places, but Barney’s films have a sense of humour about their own pretensions and are packed with subtle visual jokes that also tie into the overall concept. Smart, sly, wonderful films, packed with incredible visuals.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dennis Cooley Interview

I interviewed Canadian poet Dennis Cooley shortly before the release of Seeing Red (Turnstone Press). This interview took place in person in April 2003.

Ball: You're a founding editor of Turnstone Press, which has become a Canadian institution and a powerful presence, especially in the prairies. Can you talk a little about how you got involved in the creation of this press?

Cooley: Turnstone started here in the mid-70s. Robert Enright was the most important figure, really, in getting that press started and in its operations for several years. We were the three official founding editors—contrary to a story that's taken on such proportions that everyone now believes it, Arnason was not a founding editor of Turnstone Press—he didn't even join until about five or six years later. It started mainly because of Enright's passion—he wanted to do an anthology of Manitoba poets, but the then-chair of the Manitoba Arts Council, Ken Hughes, said: "Well, maybe that's a little premature; why don't you publish a bunch of books and then do an anthology?" So on the basis of his urging and his hint that MAC might put up the money to help support some titles, some of us thought there might be some value in starting a press. It went through various kinds of configurations but it ended up being Turnstone through a desperate need suddenly to have a name (a name we thought was available wasn't available).

The very first book published by Turnstone was In the Gutting Shed by W. D. Valgardson, which originally had some kind of maudlin title, Purple Lilies or something like that. For the first several years we had that press, writers would sometimes bring in kind of "tough" poems and then want sweetly sentimental titles, and we managed to bully almost every one of them out of it. That one had some unbelievably melodramatic and sickly-sweet title that became In the Gutting Shed. It sold like crazy, because he sold it—he was a mad seller of books, he would go out to Gimli in the summer and set up tables and just sell books. So he was this fierce promoter, but also the people in Gimli are fierce book-buyers, so it was a good match, he sold hundreds and hundreds of that book and others. That was the very first one. One of the first was Patrick Friesen's the lands i am.

Ball: How did you get your start as a writer?

Cooley: It was a combination of things: I had written a dissertation on a poet, Robert Duncan, and was teaching poetry, studying poetry in classes, writing about it, and had been editing Turnstone for a couple of years. So the combination just sort of came together of the interest and the opportunity and the skill. It was also a very heady time, the mid- to late-70s; people were just doing things all the time. Many of the things that have become institutions in Manitoba were started then—within a matter of a couple of years the Manitoba Writers' Guild started, and Turnstone started, Border Crossings was then Arts Manitoba and ran out of that office right there [pointing at the office across the hall from his own office in St. John's College]—Turnstone was in that office too, though they weren't in there at the very same time. Dorothy Livesay was next door with CV2, Arnason was over here with Journal of Canadian Fiction for, well, I don't know how long he had it when he came here, but for several years, so it was just a wild and heady time.

Ball: Did you write at all before then?

Cooley: Oh a little bit, but not really. I didn't have the sense of myself as a writer. When I was in public school I had a teacher who was very influential and I liked writing and that probably had a lot to do with it ultimately, but when I was in high school or university I certainly didn't think of myself as a writer.

Ball: Most, if not all, of your collections are organized around a theme, concept, or semi-narrative, though you delight in diverting yourself from this loose "topic." What is it that you find attractive about these conceptual threads, and why do you indulge yourself in digressing to such a great degree in the published work?

Cooley: For me, it's a way of generating texts. It gives me a site to research, to see what the possibilities are; there's a kind of focus in thinking about a terrain, saying, "what can be done in this area." I find it really generative, and because it works so well for me I always recommend it to others. Find a site, and then play off it to see what the possibilities of it might be. If you write a balloon poem, well, maybe you're interested in doing a series, and maybe this extends into a notion of flying things, or rubber things, or symbols of innocence, or whatever—you often find all sorts of things by accident.

I got into the Dracula poems because I was writing a series of fairy tale poems, some of which became Goldfinger, and as I was reading and working there I thought, okay, well, what else might I write? and I thought of Dracula and how he was sort of a fantasy figure, and I wrote a Dracula poem, which I don't think is in the collection now because I willfully pulled it, because there's just so much stuff to draw from. So I wrote that and I found myself writing a bunch of Dracula pieces, they just went on and on and on, I started about 1989 I think. [Cooley put a few of these poems out in 1992 as the chapbook burglar of blood.]

Ball: You're known for constantly working on your manuscript up until the last minute. When do you decide to begin the editing process with the publisher, and when do you decide that enough is enough and that's the book?

Cooley: When you run out of time! When the publisher says, "Okay, that's it, we're taking the manuscript." I bring it to the publisher when I think it's quite well-developed, but I never have the sense that something's finished—there it is—and I can't change anything or shouldn't change anything.

Ball: How heavily did you edit Bloody Jack for the University of Alberta Press reissue?

Cooley: There are hundreds of little changes and a batch of new things, and I pulled a couple pages, and I rearranged some things.

Ball: Was there something you felt was lacking in the original text that you wanted to add or bring to the fore, or was there another reason for the extensive changes?

Cooley: One of the main reasons was because of the opportunity; when you get a second edition you can do that, and it's rare that one gets such a chance, especially with poetry, given the sales there are—poetry almost never reappears. But it also was the nature of the book in the first place—Bloody Jack perhaps even more so than some of the books I do—there is no obvious boundary to it, it is plastic and omnivorous, I could swallow things and throw them up or out. In the meantime over the years I had kept a bunch of notes, I had a huge pile of notes for "cunning linguist"—I must have had about 80 pages of notes for that poem.

Ball: I read somewhere that it was over 800 pages at one point.

Cooley: That's a legend, it was never that big! There were some things that I was working on back in the 1980s, that I had been developing but that didn't appear—why I can't remember, probably because it was too late—and I slipped some of those things in. Near the end I began leaning more towards cinematic entries and I slipped some of that in.

Ball: Bloody Jack contains a number of meta-fictional pieces—a review of the book, an angry letter concerning the book, characters interacting with the author—are these examples of you consciously drawing attention to your re/writing of history or some other, less political, move?

Cooley: I can't decide how you read the book, nor should or can my sense of it determine or decide what people do with it—though certainly the book has those possibilities, I hope. In my view the book has a lot to do with power, a sense of "who gets to do what to whom," to use that phrase that Atwood keeps using when she talks about politics—I think it's a little insufficient, but certainly that's a good part of this. Also the authority of the reader, the authority of the critic, the authority of the author, what sense of jurisdiction may be there.

You see these sorts of things happening internally in the text, they may be about law or criminality, transgression, propriety and impropriety. In all kinds of ways the book addresses that, but also the constructed-ness of it, the verbal options which seem trivial to people who work up notions of large and fixed truths, but which probably have a whole lot to do with power itself. What are the options? What forms of language do you have so that you might understand things? What is it to apprehend the world in a certain way?

Ball: What about this bad review of the book, contained within Bloody Jack?

Cooley: That's certainly a pretty unfriendly review, isn't it? Well, there it is! There's a text in there, L. A. Wynne-Smith writes his criticism. There's the interview, think what you will. Why would you assume I wrote it?

Ball: Well, to what extent then does it matter to you how involved the reader gets in thinking about such things, and engaging in the text in this manner—is it important to you whether or not the reader does the crossword puzzle in the book, or plays the sheet music on their piano?

Cooley: Well, that's up to them. Often, if some of those things appeal to the person, it may be because they enjoy this departure from the discourse. It's hard to think of those things as ruptures, because the book doesn't have much continuity to begin with, but certainly they are departures from what you might expect to find in a literary text, a voice speaking in a sort of non-literary discourse, saying: "What is this?" I would hope that readers would respond with some sort of surprise or delight, or maybe puzzlement. The danger of course in doing this is that you might make people mad, and people do get mad.

Ball: Why is that? Do they just want something easier, something that makes more sense?

Cooley: Well, yeah, or maybe they just want the illusion, I think that's a powerful appeal to readers—you want the illusory world, and when that illusion is broken often you feel disappointed and angry about it, like something has been taken away from you, I think that this is not an uncommon feeling, and also I think a not surprising response. It's understandable, I think, that readers might be angry or disappointed.

Ball: Seeing Red is a collection of poems based on Dracula—what is it about that attracted you to contribute to the Dracula mythology, and what do you feel your book adds to the in many ways saturated field of Dracula literature?

Cooley: I have no idea. I'm not a student of this, I don't read such things generally, not because I am offended or bored by them but because there are just so many things to read that I haven't gotten around to reading. I don't know what's out there really, I could make some guesses—my guy is whimsical and self-mocking, sometimes frightening, sometimes tender—I kind of like my figure of Dracula, who in some ways resembles my figure of Krafchenko, I think. This figure is especially bawdy, even more so than the Krafchenko figure.

Ball: Why do you think Dracula is such an enduring figure, enjoying immense popularity over so many years?

Cooley: A part of it is that the figure has gotten to be safe, in some ways. The figure has become domesticated—if you show up on cereal boxes, you're not a very frightening figure. Also, there is a distance from the character, historically and personally. In a way it's much tougher to write about things that are closer to you and more personal. When I write a text that is very personal—if I write a poem about my mother, I'm not going to screw around with it much, there is a sense of a kind of loyalty to a certain moment or figure, a certain narrative, whereas Dracula is kind of public property, to which almost no one has any sort of ties to "the" story or "the" figure.

Ball: Have you thought of getting more involved in the musical aspect of poetry? You seem very interested in orality—when you are writing, how much do you think in terms of how the words will sound when read aloud?

Cooley: I am strongly guided by the sounds of things, it is an enormous force for me when I write—so much so that sometimes I think that I probably get too caught up in it, I rhyme like crazy, for example, and begin words off their sounds to a great extent. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that musicians are often very interested in what I do, and quite a few of my pieces have been set by musicians, so there is something there that I guess catches their ears. I have planned for many years to do a musical version of Bloody Jack and still hope to do it over the next few years. But also, visually, I use the page—I have always thought of the page as a space in which you put ink.

Orwell's answering machine - a poem

A link to a poem I published online called Orwell's answering machine.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Frank Black (of The Pixies) Interview

I did this interview some time ago and it was published in Stylus Vol. 13 No. 5 Oct/Nov 2002

Frank Black is one of the most influential rock artists of all time. The mastermind behind The Pixies, who paved the way for the alt-rock explosion of the early 1990s, he can count Kurt Cobain and David Bowie among the many fans he has inspired. At the time of this interview, Black had recently released two new albums with his band the Catholics, Black Letter Days and Devil's Workshop, as well as the original Pixies demos (known to fans as The Purple Tape) as The Pixies.

Ball: You have a history of avoiding the press, and once claimed you'd never do another interview. So how come you're talking to a loser like myself?

Black: I do interviews all the time. I may not have done interviews on a particular record years ago, but I usually do interviews.

Ball: What turned you around?

Black: I guess it's just the nature of the business. You have to let your customers know you've got a record out, and the best way to do that is to talk to a journalist. Also, hopefully, it's an opportunity to, you know, be misunderstood.

Ball: Why did you decide to release two separate albums? Are they meant to be companion pieces or are they supposed to stand alone?

Black: Either/or, I guess. You can buy one, you can buy both. I made two records this year, so I'm releasing two records. If I made three records I probably would have—well, I probably wouldn't have gotten away with three records, I would have gotten too much resistance from the powers that be. Seems that they can handle two records.

Ball: What I'm wondering is why not a double album.

Black: Why? Oh, well, it's two different sections, two different lineups, two different producers. So it's sort of out of deference to some of the people involved. I didn't mix and match, I just kind of left them separate.

Ball: On the two new albums the American west dominates both the lyrical and the musical content. Why is there that focus?

Black: I guess it's just the whole idea of going west. The first time I went west I was a baby, so I don't have any memory of it, but subsequently I ended up moving back east, and then back west again, back east and back west again . . . I've done that a lot in my life, growing up, and of course I travel around as a musician, so I'm still very much in touch with that experience of heading west across the continent. And of course I live in L.A., so even though I haven't moved for quite some time now I'm always coming back here from somewhere, most often moving in a westerly direction from other parts of the U.S.A. or from Europe. Or Canada.

Ball: Black Letter Days is bookended with two covers of the same Tom Waits song, "The Black Rider." Why did you choose this song to cover in such a prominent fashion?

Black: We started to play that at our show about a year and a half ago. We tried a couple of different covers when we were recording, but that was the one that we did the best. Even then, I wasn't happy with the way we were doing it . . . so we started to fool around with it a bit and have some fun, and the result was one reel of tape with probably seven different versions of "The Black Rider," one devolving into the next and getting sillier, so what you hear is the first take and the last take. It wasn't meant to be taken seriously, we're just doing the song because we like it. Lyrically, the song is, on the one hand, really kind of dark and ghoulish, but on the other hand it's very cabaret. It's like, "Welcome everybody, to the night club. Let me sing you a song about the Devil." It's got this show biz-y kind of vibe.

Ball: Do you know if Tom Waits has heard the song?

Black: No idea. He's a busy guy, I'm sure he's got other things to do than sit around with the new Frank Black record.

Ball: I understand that you recorded these albums in a portable studio of some sort.

Black: Yeah, we've got a real vintage analog pile of gear, it's all in flight cases. We move it around to different spaces and set it up and hopefully get a good sound going. We've set it up in three or four spaces now, all in L.A., but we have hopes of moving it to other cities and setting it up in other warehouses.

Ball: Were you still recording live to two tracks?

Black: Yeah. Or one track. Some of those songs are in mono. There are mono recordings on both albums actually. We have a mono machine and a stereo machine.

Ball: What is it about this method of recording that appeals to you?

Black: I just like the challenge. It's fun to have that parameter. We're a band, so let's all play together as a band. We'll either pull it off together or fail, and we'll put all our successes on an album and hopefully eliminate the failures. It's very simple, instead of constructing this facsimile of a performance.

Ball: It's interesting, because the trend now is towards overproduction. Every song you hear on the radio is, as you say, a construction.

Black: Right. There are no rules, I'm not against anybody doing that, it's just that what people do with that technology is they tend to iron everything out, so everything's on 10—as loud as it can be, as bright as it can be, as perfect as it can be—and the people who are doing that are the ones who are really trying to be on corporate radio, which is only playing 10 songs or whatever. They're all trying to fit into a certain super tiny niche because of the rewards available to those that make it into the exclusive club of commercial radio . . . I don't listen to the radio, the music's too bland and there's just too much advertising. It's just so, so corporate. [Makes disgusted sound.] I have no interest in it at all.

Ball: Why did you decide to release The Purple Tape [as The Pixies] at this time?

Black: It's just the way that it worked out, it's been talked about for a couple years but we never got all our paperwork together or whatever until now, so it's just a coincidence it came out in the same summer as the other albums.

Ball: What about the decision to re-record "Velvety," with lyrics?

Black: Well, that's just some song I wrote in junior high and I never wrote lyrics for. When the Pixies did a version of it as a B-side I called it "Velvety Instrumental Version" as a reference to the Velvet Underground, because I was really into them at the time and I fancied myself able to pull off that kind of sound, which is maybe not that accurate. So I kind of painted myself into a corner, I was like, "Okay, I called it the instrumental version, so now I have to write a song called 'Velvety.' " So that became the lyrical direction of the song, I had to write a song about some woman name Velvety. I like those kinds of random parameters. That's what songs are a lot of the time, they're just games that you play, sometimes it's a language thing, sometimes it's a meter thing or a rhyming thing, there are all kinds of neurotic little games going on.

Ball: It seems that your past success has put you in this position where people demand that you grow as an artist, but then when you do they start condemning you for not sounding like The Pixies.

Black: Right. Thank you for saying that.

Ball: Is it frustrating working under the shadow of that band?

Black: Yeah, it's occasionally depressing, when you read some review that totally pans you or something . . . The only thing that's would give me revenge would be if I had a hit that somehow overshadowed it. Unless that happens, that's always going to be the thing hangs over me and, well, that's okay. People like to talk about successes, frequently a success happens to someone early on in their career and it's hard to escape that, not just for me but for anyone.

Ball: You've claimed to have had UFO experiences in the past. Would you care to tell me about them? (I love UFOs.)

Black: Well, there was a UFO that hung out over a house I was staying at when I was a baby and I heard about it years later from my family members. I was so surprised to hear this story, that they all saw this thing floating in the sky above the house, called the police and everything. They thought it was the end of the world. I had another experience that I do remember, that my brother and I had involving kind of a missile- or a rocket-shaped craft that passed over us in the morning or afternoon when we were outside playing. It was completely silent and passed slowly over us and we stopped and looked at it. And then we went back to our playing, you know, we were fairly young. We never talked about it to anyone, not even to each other, and it came up in conversation 25 years or so later. We were both surprised that the other one remembered it, we each thought it was our own weird personal memory, and we just found it really surprising that we both had this kind of shared memory of the same thing. I'm not really sure if I believe in UFOs, but I've had a couple of odd experiences.

Ball: You've also talked about a comet making you decide to start a band.

Black: Well, I was down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I was getting ready to go on a world trip. I was going to go down to New Zealand to look at Halley's comet which was passing by that year. It just seemed like a cool thing to do. I had begun to make preparations to drop out of school and to go do that, when I thought, "Wait a minute, what am I doing? I'm going to go to New Zealand and look at a comet? It's cool, but what is it that I've been dreaming about my whole life? It's to be a rock musician." So it was kind of interesting how the whole comet thing brought this to the top of my head, like "That is not my calling, to wander right now, my calling is to do this."

Monday, March 07, 2005

Guy Maddin & George Toles Interview

I did an interview a while back for scr(i)pt magazine in the US, you can read it HERE.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Submit to the Gimli Film Festival

I'm short films programmer again this year, so do your duty & submit your short films. The guidelines can be found at www.gimlifilmfestival.com. Winnipeg Film Group members DO NOT need to pay the submission fee, just call Matthew Etches & make sure he sends your film to me.

new stuff

i am going to try to post new stuff on here every day or so, something i'm up to or something i've seen/read or even just a link to somewhere more interesting. so visit every few days & there should be plenty of new things for you to read.

an interesting article Sol Nagler drew to my attention on the "Cinema of Damnation."


a good man i met at the festival, with many interesting sites other than this one: www.raypride.com

Aleksander Rzeszowski, of Spoony B and Lead Pipe Vigilante fame, has started up his own site/repository of stuff: kimono.ca

I wrote some articles for Alek's site:

Thank Heaven! kimono.ca/ball.asp
You Don't Know About My Theories kimono.ca/opinion.asp
No, I will not tell you the details of my sinister plan kimono.ca/evilgenius.asp

that should occupy you for the moment, at least.

NSI FilmExchange 2

Last night at the FilmExchange, came home early instead of attending parties. I know, I know, I'm lame, but I'm burnt out. This week I attended a lot of festival stuff, entertained my visiting parents, defended my M.A. thesis (successfully, thank you), accepted an offer of admission to a Ph.D. program in English (with some Film thrown in) at the University of Calgary, on top of all the usual things. Haven't been sleeping well, been super busy, super exhausted, and tomorrow have a full day of interviewing filmmakers (Daniel Eskin & Sean Garrity, separately) & writing articles (DVD review, interviews, horoscopes, art show reviews, etc.) so I just need some sleep. Also supposed to attend a punk rock show where Pat's band Under Pressure will be playing (www.underpressure.n3.net). Watched Denys Arcand's The Decline of the American Empire today, along with most of the short films program (in the hotel screening room) & also saw Noam Gonick's Stryker, which struck me as a film that had a lot of interesting ideas and some good comedy in it but suffered from poor acting & a bad script. The story was good but just not realized well enough. I would like to see Gonick go back to short films and hone his talents some more before tackling another feature. I think he has a lot of good, interesting ideas but I just don't think he's a good enough director yet to realize them effectively.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

NSI FilmExchange 2005

Just got home from a party at the NSI film festival. There was another party I was going to go to but I decided that it would be in my best interest to be able to wake up tomorrow. It's 3:31am as I write this. Have been watching the short films mostly at this festival, a great slate. Much better than last year, overall. Highlights so far have been Ryan (which won an Oscar a few days ago) and The Salt Pillar by my friend Daniel Eskin, an outstanding film in the tradition of Tarkovsky. I will be inviting at least half of these short films to screen at the Gimli Film Festival this summer. I would invite more but some just screened last year (we scooped the NSI!) and I don't want to fill up all the slots before I even get to look at the films submitted by mail. I should have thought enough to have Gimli business cards made up. Tonight I watched It's All Gone Pete Tong by Mike Dowse and it was fantastic. He also did FUBAR which I have not seen but will have to rent. The most shocking thing to me about Pete Tong was that it was shot using HD for around 2.1 million Canadian. Insane. It looks like a 10 million dollar Hollywood film, only it doesn't suck. Got my tickets to see Noam Gonick's Stryker tomorrow. Also going to try and catch The Decline of the American Empire, a Denys Arcand classic. I'll issue a fuller report from the festival tomorrow or Sunday.