Happy Birthday, Blob.
This is year #7 and it’s also my 600th post. Wow.
Happy Birthday, Blob.
This is year #7 and it’s also my 600th post. Wow.
This graphic novel? picture book? by Graham Roumieu is a delightfully and grubbily illustrated no-holds-barred memoir written in Biglish (Bigfoot English) is so much fun. Nasty, silly, profane, a gross-out fest, an encyclopedia of yuck — I can’t praise it highly enough.
Bigfoot tries hard to get by in the world and be a “forest gentleman” but the world often makes him “angry like Henry Rollins”. One of his few human friends, Chet, compares himself and Bigfoot to Han Solo and Chewbacca. Bad move, Chet:
I wake up next day with Chet scalp in mouth. Seriously, I not Chewbacca. Dude.
In Japan, he dons a mawashi and sumo wrestles wild animals:
Not want to toot own horn or anything, but I really good. I Harlem Globe Trotter of Sumo. Tear head off puma, throw head in garbage can 50 feet away and pretend play rest of body like guitar…walk down street everybody whisper: ‘Bigfroot! Bigfroot!’
He readily admits that his luck with women isn’t too great: Most of them run away, a few haul out the pepper spray, but Worst is when they do silent scream and vomit trickle down chin like hot fudge on sundae.
Even on the bad days, Bigfoot can always take comfort and pride in being one of a kind:
…me very proud of being on endangered species list because of all privalege of being in exclusive club. Some day, I just pick up phone, call Black Rhino and shoot the shit. I can even use the word rhino and shoot in same sentence and nobody think twice. Crazy! I get away with murder cause everyone think I fragile since I last of kind and so on.
Of course, the downside of being a rarity is that Bigfoot also attracts a lot of poachers. A safari hunter who had a yen for Bigfoot’s organs stalked him and studied his habits. Learning of Bigfoot’s love for Count Chocula cereal, he hid in the refrigerator, disguised as a carton of milk.
Unfortunately, for the hunter, Bigfoot had just decided to go on a low-carb diet:
…so no Chocula. Man freeze to death in fridge. Bigfoot also have cirrhosis at time so it convenient for me use him for liver transplant donor. Bigfoot enjoy irony.
Blame it on the compost smell or maybe that family of voles nesting in his armpit, but I find him pretty damn irresistable, and can’t wait to read his follow-up memoir, Bigfoot: I Not Dead.
>I don’t know any good living poets. But there’s this tough son-of-a-bitch up in Canada that walks the line.
Apparently, the hard-bitten admiration was mutual, because the first poem in Al Purdy’s last poetry collection published during his lifetime is “Lament for Bukowski” in which Purdy says, “You wrote like God with a toothache” and leaves even the most casual reader of Bukowski, or anyone who’s ever seen Barfly with this spot-on image:
Pop Bukowski in his coffin
dead as hell
but reaching hard for a last beer
and just about making it
The second poem in the collection, “On Mexican Highways” is a disturbing memory of being able to see the final expressions of a family in a car in the last seconds before they plunged from the trecherous road and down the mountainside. He compared it to a photo. Spooky stuff, the seeds of future nightmares.
To Paris Never Again consists largely of memories of the past that seem to have been covered in his earlier volumes, but this is no shambling about in old age — he’s revisiting these scenes expertly, eloquently. There are also meditations on approaching death and coming to grips with the passage of time:
The Clever Device
Time is a thing you invented
for a point of reference
–after three score years
and ten of your clever device
you point to yourself
in the mirror
and say POUF
you no longer exist
or not be able to laugh
I’m a little sorry (“soar-e”, as the Canadians would pronounce it) that Al Purdy wasn’t more of a fiction writer. (He wrote one novel rather late in his career, A Splinter in the Heart.) He had an endearing gift for detail and setting a scene. In “Case History”, he goes back to the 1950s and early 60s, hardscrabble years when he and his family were just barely getting by. They lived in an “A-frame house, half built” and he did a variety of odd jobs: “collecting scrap iron, picking tomatoes, selling apples door-to-door”. When even the odd jobs became scarce, they subsisted on “Kraft Dinner [macaroni and cheese] and cooked road-killed rabbits.”
One day, Purdy discovered the garbage dump near the Mountainview RCAF base and found discarded food rations. He brought his family back and they scavenged cans as well as “boxes of quarter-inch plywood and cans of red and black paint.” This “manna” meant that not only would they be able to eat better, he would be able to make progress on the A-frame:
With literary confidence
I didn’t really feel
Stashed the worksheets of a poem
inside the house overhang
along with a note
directing future discoverers
to take the sheets to the English Dept.
of any Canadian university
and receive as reward
for this unknown masterpiece
one small case of beer
or more likely
an embarassing question
“Purdy — who he?”
In another meditative poem, “Happiness”, Purdy has a lovely image about writing that echoed exactly how I feel about reading his work and just about reading and books in general:
the writing itself
the words exploring
all my veins and arteries
Then, there’s that exquisite grappling again with life and time and what it all means:
–and by this time
it has become plain to me
that I’m not writing about happiness
at all but the puzzle of being alive
Purdy is also generous in making sure that people who helped him get credit. During the road-killed rabbit and Kraft Dinner days, there was an editor, Bob Weaver, who evidently saw promise in him and other struggling poets. “Do you need any money, Al?/Just send me some poems/I’ll make sure you get the cheque fast.” Purdy remarks, “Bob Weaver was Santa.”
I don’t know if he ever got any thanks
or for that matter wanted any
for making the connection
that these rather scruffy human beings
with all the faults of everyone else
were responsible (though very rarely)
for something that leaped up from the printed page
dazzled your brain
and fireflies whizzed in the cerebellum.
Another Carveresque short story masquerading as a poem, “Aphrodite At Her Bath” takes the reader back to Montreal, 1957 and relates an odd incident. Purdy’s wife’s cousin, a beautiful young woman is newly married and newly pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby and has heard that the combination of beer and a hot bath would induce a miscarriage. Purdy’s wife goes off to work and leaves the two there alone, the cousin sitting in the bath and Purdy fetching more and more of his home brew. They’re both getting sloshed, then abruptly, Purdy flashes-foward. Aphrodite is sixty now, he tells us, with two kids:
And now the venue changes
from Montreal to Sidney BC
Anno Domoni 1995
near forty years later
where I sit writing
these words on paper
trying to avoid the eyes
of quite a large crowd
of pro-life denonstrators
around this poem.
One of the last poems in To Paris Never Again is about Marius Barbeau (1885-1969), a Canadian ethnologist and folklorist. Barbeau spent years during his career living among the Native American tribes. One evening, when Barbeau was older and largely retired from field work, Purdy asked him about Tsimsyan drumming dances. Instead of telling, Barbeau said he’d show him. Purdy writes that Barbeau really got into it and forgot everything, “focused on only the mountain at the end of the sky.” Purdy admits that at the time “I was embarrassed for him/but now I’m embarrassed/that I was embarrassed/Barbeau was one of the ancient rememberers.”
I first became acquainted with Al Purdy’s work in his 1984 collection Piling Blood. I’m now reading 1965’s The Cariboo Horses and meeting the younger Al(fred) Purdy, with smiles and shocks of recognition, a growing affection and that deepening sense of sadness readers get when they freshly discover someone who is long gone. I want to know all the incarnations of Purdy, all the way back to 1944 and his debut collection, The Enchanted Echo.
Purdy died in 2000, three years after To Paris Never Again was published. His stuff (I don’t mean “stuff” trivially or dismissively. I mean it in the baseball sense, in which a pitcher is lauded for his “stuff” — his talent and skills) makes me wish I could have met him and shared a glass of his home brew.
I’m really grateful to my Canadian friend, Jim Cooper, who is sharing his Al Purdy collection with me. I’m also glad that John Mutford continues to host the Canadian Book Challenge. Wish I could give my thanks in the shape of a poem, guys.
>I know that I said back in the 1990s sometime that I wanted an engrossing career, but teaching is a jealous bastard. It wants every little scrap of me. When I go deep to read, ponder and write, it catches me and yanks me back up by my hair and exposes me to the mental equivalent of harsh florescent light and the cacophony of a construction site. It’s the first day of the semester, and teaching has already covered the nap of my mind like a nest of prickly burrs. I’m not going gently into that good classroom, am I? Vacation, I will miss you like hell, mourning those shapeless hours in which day and night were when I damn well said they were.
Since I’m feeling too frenzied and distracted to write proper reviews, flirty little capsule looks at the ten I read for February will have to do for now.
1. Mother Love, Deadly Love – Anne McDonald Maier. This true-crime book is about the infamous case in 1991 of a Texas mother who was ready to kill in the name of cheerleading. The mom, Wanda Holloway, was obsessed with her daughter becoming a high school cheerleader, so she unsuccessfully attempted to put a hit out on the mother of one of her daughter’s rivals. Crazy stuff. As with most true-crime books, the author tends to put too much of her own scornful opinion into the pages. A quick, fun read if you’re in that special mood for equal parts of ludicrous and horrifying.
2. Book Lust To Go – Nancy Pearl. My bookish heroine and girl-crush kicks smartly into armchair traveling mode, recommending both fiction and nonfiction from all over the world.
3. The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton. I’ll do a proper review of this 1913 novel later. For now, just know that this is my new favorite Wharton novel. It’s like The Age of Innocence with the corset strings tied not quite so tightly. Highly recommended. Now go read it.
4. To Paris Never Again – Al Purdy. I’m going to write a proper review of the last collection of poems Al Purdy published during his lifetime. After being away from poetry for so long, I’m really developing an affection for it again, thanks to Al.
5. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen. I never get these things right, but here goes: I predict that Jonathan Franzen will win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year.
6. Your Right to be Beautiful – Tonya Zavasta. I can knock down the ageing process and kick it in the groin if I start eating a raw food diet comprised mostly of fruit and vegetables and generous daily helpings of seaweed. Apparently my love for caffeine, chocolate and the more-than-occasional French fry is what’s making me look like I use a contour map for a pillow.
7. Adventures With The Buddha – Jeffrey Paine (ed.) Since at least the last part of the 19th century, Westerners have been travelling to Asia to seek peace and spiritual fulfillment and writing about it. This book is a sampling of those writings. I found the excerpts quite choppy, but still entertaining.
8. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton. This novel about New York Society in the 1870s shows the strong influence that Henry James had on Edith Wharton, but Wharton is supple where James is often not, and she never gets buried under a ponderous mass of prose. Her writing is powerful and there is so much going on under the surface that The Age of Innocence is now one of the novels that I will revisit over the years. I also watched the 1993 movie, or, I should say in this case, motion picture.
9. Carrie – Stephen King. This story of a misfit-turned-prom-queen-turned-avenger seems so literary. Weighing in at a trim 253 pages, here’s none of the Dickensian bloat that plagues some of King’s later books. I haven’t read this one since it was first published, and gobsmacks me to realize that this was a first novel. Even readers who don’t like horror or Stephen King should read Carrie and check out the 1976 Brian DePalma movie of the same name as well.
10. Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir – Graham Roumieu. Wow, I really went off the rails after the Wharton book. This delightfully, grubbily illustrated no-holds-barred memoir written in Biglish (Bigfoot English) is so much fun. Nasty, silly, profane, a gross-out fest, an encyclopedia of yuck — I can’t praise it highly enough.
Sigh. That was really fun, but work beckons, inflaming my sighness. I feel kind of like Merle Haggard: Is the best of the free life behind me now? Are the good times really over for good?
>This continues to be my lucky month. Last week, my co-worker Mike came back from Canada “with a shit-tonne of books”. He immediately sent out an invitation to friends and neighbors to come over and grab the old books he’d culled from his shelves to make room for the new. Since Mike’s collection (as well as his sub-collections) is fresh and winsome with beguiling whiffs of quirkiness, I headed over there with The Spawn, who came to visit for a few days.
9. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark. A nice Penguin copy with a still from the movie on the cover.