New Star Blogs

Slim Evans Comes to Princeton: An excerpt from Soviet Princeton

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Here’s an excerpt from Soviet Prince­ton: Slim Evans and the 1932–33 Min­ers’ Strike, by Jon Bartlett and Rika Rueb­saat, forth­com­ing in November.

Chap­ter Two: Slim Evans Comes to Princeton

How­ever geo­graph­i­cally iso­lated Prince­ton may have been in 1932, its cit­i­zens were keenly aware of events unfold­ing in the larger world. This was the case for the work­ers no less so than the own­ers and shop­keep­ers — Princeton’s min­ers were well attuned to the winds of change in the atmos­phere, and the increas­ing atten­tion paid to social­ism. Many work­ers knew of the Indus­trial Work­ers of the World (com­monly known in the Pacific North­west as the Wob­blies), the Com­mu­nist Party, the Work­ers’ Unity League, and other orga­ni­za­tions spring­ing up in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try and the world. These orga­ni­za­tions were being estab­lished to look out for the inter­ests of work­ing peo­ple caught up in the Depres­sion and lead the masses to a bet­ter future. Many min­ers in Prince­ton were more than ready to throw them­selves into the project of build­ing a new world around the needs of the work­ing class.

And so, in the spring of 1932, when the own­ers of the Tulameen mine demanded that the pre­vi­ous year’s “tem­po­rary” wage roll­back be con­tin­ued into the com­ing year, some Tulameen min­ers, who belonged to no union, took it upon them­selves to invite some­one from the coast to help them in their strug­gle with the boss. In response to their invi­ta­tion the Work­ers’ Unity League dis­patched Slim Evans. On Sep­tem­ber 13, Evans for the first time addressed a group of Tulameen miners.

* * *

Slim Evans on the cover of Unity

Arthur Her­bert Evans, or “Slim” Evans as he became known, was an inspir­ing speaker, an inde­fati­ga­ble union orga­nizer, and a com­mu­nist — though he denied being a capital-C Com­mu­nist, i.e., a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party of Canada, since that was ille­gal.i His biog­ra­phy mir­rors the polit­i­cal his­tory of west­ern North America.

Evans was born in April 1890 and raised in Toronto, where after leav­ing school at the age of thir­teen he learned the carpenter’s trade. He left Ontario in 1911 as a jour­ney­man car­pen­ter and headed for Win­nipeg to look for work. After a few months in Man­i­toba and Saskatchewan, in Decem­ber of that year he headed for Min­neapo­lis, joined the Indus­trial Work­ers of the World, and was jailed for the first time.ii

Munic­i­pal offi­cials in the United States had begun using var­i­ous pub­lic order laws to shut down labour orga­niz­ers. The Wob­blies took up this strug­gle and insisted upon their rights of asso­ci­a­tion and free speech by orga­niz­ing a series of “free-speech fights.” Slim Evans was one of many Wob­blies arrested and impris­oned for their roles in these protests.

In 1913 he trav­elled to Lud­low, Mass­a­chu­setts, to take part in a min­ers’ strike. That dis­pute esca­lated into the famous Lud­low Mas­sacre.iii Evans was him­self wounded by machine-gun fire dur­ing the attack. After a stay in the hos­pi­tal he trav­elled and worked through­out the north­west­ern states before com­ing back to Canada through Leth­bridge, prob­a­bly in 1916. He worked as a car­pen­ter in Cal­gary, the Crowsnest Pass area, and Trail, B.C., and was back in Alberta in time for the found­ing of the One Big Union (OBU) in 1919. The OBU was a rad­i­cal new union based on the prin­ci­pal of indus­trial orga­ni­za­tion, in con­trast to the union­iza­tion by craft as prac­ticed by the main­stream labour movement.

Almost imme­di­ately, Evans went to south­ern Alberta as orga­nizer for the Monarch local of the OBU in the Drumheller coal­field.iv There he was elected dis­trict sec­re­tary, and was soon front and cen­tre in the strug­gle between the OBU and the estab­lished United Mine Work­ers of Amer­ica (UMWA). The dis­pute was a bit­ter one, and was as much between the old, Gom­perite UMWA and the rad­i­cal new OBU as it was between the boss and the worker. In the course of the fight, Evans was accused of effec­tively tak­ing over the UMWA local. With the aid of UMWA offi­cials’ tes­ti­mony he was charged and con­victed of fraud­u­lent con­ver­sion for tak­ing con­trol of the local and its bank accounts, and in Jan­u­ary 1924 was sen­tenced to three years in prison. He was released after serv­ing four­teen months; he moved to Van­cou­ver and joined the Car­pen­ters’ Union.

Evans joined the Com­mu­nist Party of Canada (CPC) in 1926. In 1929 social­ist pro­gres­sives asso­ci­ated with the CPC founded the Work­ers’ Unity League (WUL) as a cen­tral labour orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to fight­ing for work­ers’ rights accord­ing to social­ist prin­ci­ples. At some point Evans joined the WUL, and when the min­ers’ call for help came in 1932 he was sent to Princeton.

He brought with him the orga­niz­ing tech­niques of the new rev­o­lu­tion­ary unions: cease­less strug­gle; fre­quent meet­ings of work­ers and sym­pa­thiz­ers, with no dis­tinc­tion drawn between employed and unem­ployed; and no union bureau­cracy — major deci­sions would all be “made from below.”

* * *

Evans arrived on Sep­tem­ber 13, 1932, and met with some of the Tulameen min­ers at a café. They told him they wanted to recover the 10 per­cent wage reduc­tion they had con­ceded in the spring of 1931, which they had been assured would be returned the fol­low­ing Sep­tem­ber. Sev­en­teen months later, the min­ers were now work­ing one day a week and earn­ing $4.50 a day. The own­ers of the Tulameen mine were reneg­ing on their promise.

But Evans advised the min­ers to delay their demand. The mine was pro­duc­ing lig­nite coal, which could not be stored — when the weather turned colder, demand would increase and the mine would get back up to speed; when they were work­ing six days a week they would be in a posi­tion of strength.

At an open-air meet­ing that night, Evans said the same thing to a mass rally of min­ers.v Because many of them were Yugoslavs who, feared depor­ta­tion, the meet­ing took place in the dark, in an empty lot in the Tun­nel Flats. Evans later wrote “It had got so dark that no one was rec­og­niz­able, so with noth­ing but a flash­light to read the notes with I started.” He had them all sit down on the grass, since he intended to speak for ninety min­utes or more. Soon, he told them, when win­ter came and the demand for coal increased, “I am pre­pared to orga­nize a local here of the Mine Work­ers Union of Canada.”vi

The author­i­ties were gear­ing up for trou­ble. The province’s attor­ney gen­eral, Robert Poo­ley, ordered thirty mem­bers of the B.C. Provin­cial Police (ten of them mounted) and ten RCMP offi­cers to Prince­ton in antic­i­pa­tion of a strike. “Evans is gain­ing a large fol­low­ing of min­ers and unem­ployed,” wrote one B.C.Provincial Police offi­cer. His supe­rior wrote to the RCMP for help, say­ing “This man seems to be estab­lish­ing him­self as quite a dan­ger, and if there is any way of remov­ing him it would help con­sid­er­ably.”vii It would cer­tainly help the mine owners.

The mean­ing of this large influx of police offi­cers to their small town was not lost on the min­ers, who under­stood that the full weight of the estab­lish­ment was mobi­liz­ing against them. Police tes­ti­mony at Evans’s sub­se­quent sec­tion 98 trial tes­ti­fied to the ten­sion and height­ened anx­i­ety caused by the large armed force, not just among work­ers but among many of the town’s mer­chants and professionals.

Evans, mean­while, had left Prince­ton. When he returned on 17 Novem­ber a period of intense activ­ity began, both by the min­ers and by the police. The min­ers held almost-daily meet­ingsviii attended by two to three hun­dred peo­ple and addressed by Evans. Min­ers signed up as mem­bers of the Mine Work­ers Union of Canada (MWUC), and the unem­ployed work­ers as mem­bers of the Cana­dian Labor Defense League (CLDL).

Police, as the Prince­ton Star noted omi­nously on 24 Novem­ber, “have been giv­ing the mat­ter con­sid­er­able atten­tion. They have attended all the pub­lic meet­ings, and checked up oth­er­wise on these activ­i­ties, and have kept a record. In con­nec­tion with the cam­paign and pos­si­bly in prepa­ra­tion for a pos­si­ble demon­stra­tion, dis­trict author­i­ties of the Provin­cial Police have been in the dis­trict this week.”

A meet­ing of min­ers on 21 Novem­ber was fol­lowed two days later by a “smoker,” a more social affair with music, danc­ing, and a series of wrestling and box­ing bouts. It was a rare oppor­tu­nity for work­ers and the unem­ployed to get together and share their expe­ri­ences over a beer.

This might also have been the impe­tus for the cre­ation of the Work­ers’ Cen­ter that was estab­lished some time before Christ­mas 1932 — fol­low­ing the incor­po­ra­tion of the union, it rented a hall from William H. Thomas, a Prince­ton old-timer who came as a car­pen­ter (he may have built the hall him­self) and was now a rancher. The hall was chris­tened the Work­ers’ Cen­ter, and housed meet­ings of min­ers and of the unem­ployed. It was also a place where work­ers could eat for a rea­son­able price, bed down if nec­es­sary, talk with fel­low work­ers, and gen­er­ally escape their social iso­la­tion amid oth­ers who lived sim­i­lar lives.ix The Work­ers Inter­na­tional Relief, a sis­ter orga­ni­za­tion of the Union and the Cana­dian Labor Defense League was pro­vid­ing food in Prince­ton to strik­ers and oth­ers, and it may well have func­tioned in this Center.

In the Prince­ton Star of 24 Novem­ber, Dave Tay­lor iden­ti­fied Evans as a crim­i­nal: “Police state that Mr. Evans was in 1924 sen­tenced to three years impris­on­ment for embez­zle­ment of funds of the Drumheller, Alberta, local of the United Mine Work­ers of Amer­ica. The amount involved was $2554.27 and action was brought by the Pres­i­dent of the Drumheller local.”

Evans’ response? “Let them give it all the pub­lic­ity they like,” he said. “The more they say about it the bet­ter I’ll like it…. I will place all the facts before the work­ers on Fri­day evening and let them be the jury.” He did just that: At a meet­ing the next day he drew atten­tion to the accu­sa­tion, and explained how the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Labor-affiliated UMWA had col­luded with the coal bosses to rid them­selves of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary oppo­nent. “After giv­ing his ver­sion of the inci­dent, he was voted ‘not guilty.’”x

This marked the begin­ning of the Prince­ton Star’s grow­ing inter­est in Evans and the labour unrest. Over the next ten months, Dave Tay­lor pub­lished near-weekly arti­cles and edi­to­ri­als on the mat­ter — between 23 Novem­ber 1932 and 28 Sep­tem­ber 1933 only two issues of the Star con­tained no arti­cles or edi­to­ri­als on Evans or the min­ers’ strug­gles. Tay­lor con­sis­tently por­trayed Prince­ton as threat­ened by out­side forces, with right-thinking, respon­si­ble cit­i­zensxi defend­ing their small indus­trial town from the alien, hate-filled agi­ta­tors ranged against them.

Through­out the month the heavy police pres­ence was the source of much ten­sion. Soon Princeton’s res­i­dents had had enough: At a mass pub­lic meet­ing, twenty-two mer­chants (out of approx­i­mately thirty in town) and sev­eral hun­dred work­ers and cit­i­zens signed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the with­drawal of “Pooley’s Hooli­gans” (as they were pop­u­larly known):

Whereas the impor­ta­tion of increas­ing num­bers of provin­cial Police, into the town of Prince­ton, is pri­mar­ily for the pur­pose of intim­i­dat­ing the min­ers who are desirous of orga­niz­ing into a union to improve their rot­ten work­ing con­di­tions and low wages rates, and whereas the imported provin­cial Police are noto­ri­ous strike break­ers and thugs and who have par­tic­i­pated in strike break­ing and thug­gery at Tim­ber­land and Fraser Mills strikes, and whereas in the opin­ions of work­ers and cit­i­zens of Prince­ton the impor­ta­tion of these provin­cial Police is wholly unnec­es­sary, and are to be used in the cause of vested inter­est to keep the work­ers under the iron heel of the coal barons of Prince­ton and not in the inter­est of worker-taxpayers, and whereas we the work­ers and cit­i­zens of Prince­ton believe that the tax-payers money squan­dered in this fash­ion could be put to bet­ter use in the way of rais­ing the sub­sis­tence allowance of the unem­ployed there­fore be it resolved that we the work­ers and cit­i­zens of Prince­ton, assem­bled this 25th day of Novem­ber, 1932 in mass meet­ing num­ber­ing ______ [ space left] do hereby demand the imme­di­ate with­drawal of all extra police at Prince­ton. Be it fur­ther resolved that the imme­di­ate ces­sa­tion of the use of Provin­cial or other Police in any and all wage dis­putes. Sub­mit­ted and passed, 25th day of Novem­ber 1932, Chair­man of Mass Meet­ing, Prince­ton, B.C.xii

* * *

Much has been writ­ten about Arthur “Slim” Evans and the events of his life, but lit­tle has been writ­ten about his two adver­saries in Prince­ton, Percy Gre­gory and Dave Taylor.

To start with the elder: Percy Gre­gory was born in Eng­land 8 June 1881, and came to Canada in 1908 at the age of twenty-seven. We know lit­tle of his train­ing and back­ground prior to his arrival in Prince­ton in or before 1918,xiii when he appears in the local direc­tory as a land sur­veyor. He had at that time a wife and three chil­dren: a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a baby born that year.

Gre­gory seems to have played an impor­tant role in the orga­ni­za­tional life of Prince­ton. He appears in the 1919 direc­tory as a land sur­veyor and a fire insur­ance agent, and in 1920 as the sec­re­tary of the board of trade, a posi­tion he holds (except for one year) until at least 1927, when the board of trade list­ing dis­ap­pears. Either in that year or the next he becomes its pres­i­dent. In 1921 his descrip­tion includes “civil engi­neer,” and in 1927 he adds “real estate.” In 1926, accord­ing to local his­to­rian Lau­rie Cur­rie, he was active with Bill Ewart, the hard­ware mer­chant, in an unsuc­cess­ful cam­paign to incor­po­rate the town.xiv In 1928, in addi­tion to his sur­vey­ing, insur­ance, and real estate busi­ness, the direc­tory lists him as man­ager of British Columbian Prop­er­ties Ltd., described as “Own­ers of Prince­ton Town­site and Prince­ton min­ing prop­er­ties,” and as the man­ag­ing direc­tor of Prince­ton Water­works Co. Ltd.

Dave Tay­lor was born 4 Novem­ber 1904 in Tar­bolton, Dundee, Scot­land.xv His fam­ily emi­grated to Saskatchewan in 1909, and later moved to South Welling­ton, a coal min­ing com­mu­nity just south of Nanaimo on Van­cou­ver Island. Taylor’s father was in the gro­cery busi­ness. Tay­lor attended the Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia and joined the staff of the Ubyssey stu­dent news­pa­per., He worked there from Jan­u­ary 1924 to his grad­u­a­tion in 1926, ini­tially as a reporter and finally as sports edi­tor under editor-in-chief Earle Bir­ney. After a brief stint as a reporter for Vancouver’s Province, he arrived in Prince­ton in 1927 and began work for Joe Brown, the owner and edi­tor of the Prince­ton Star. Tay­lor was fired fol­low­ing a dis­pute with Brown in 1929, but he offered to buy the paper and Brown accepted. Tay­lor stayed as pro­pri­etor and edi­tor until 1938, when he left Prince­ton to go to the Far East.

While in Prince­ton he took an inter­est in all the sports activ­i­ties on offer, and played sax­o­phone in the town band. As the edi­tor of the town’s only paper he would have rubbed shoul­ders with Princeton’s “great and good,” and he may have appeared to his seniors as a bright young man who could be brought along. He became sec­re­tary of the board of trade for some years while Gre­gory was president.

As Prince­ton was unin­cor­po­rated at the time and so had no munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment, it was nat­ural that an infor­mal group of well-off and estab­lished senior men would be the ones with the loud­est voices. It may well have been that Tay­lor, hav­ing spent only five years in Prince­ton, was quick to absorb the pre­vail­ing wis­dom that Gre­gory and the other senior men imparted, wis­dom he then par­roted back to them in ever-more-inflammatory arti­cles that had the solid sup­port of the town’s worthies.

We know noth­ing of the rela­tion­ship between Tay­lor and Gre­gory in the event­ful and emo­tional months from Decem­ber 1932 to Sep­tem­ber 1933. But Tay­lor must have been keenly aware of the extent to which the but­ter on his daily bread depended upon Gre­gory: The Prince­ton Star was dom­i­nated by adver­tise­ments for Gregory’s many and var­i­ous enter­prises. While this rev­enue could be seen as implic­itly back­ing Taylor’s increas­ingly hos­tile views, Gre­gory was by no means con­fined to the shad­ows — he led the kid­nap­pers in 1933, while Tay­lor was appar­ently not present. Though there may have been dis­agree­ments on some issues (Gregory’s enthu­si­asm for incor­po­ra­tion, for exam­ple), on the ques­tion of red rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and indus­trial strikes they stood as one.

Notes:

i Evi­dence of Const. William Thom­son, Rex vs. Arthur Her­bert Evans, Adjourned Spring Assizes, Ver­non, 11 Sep­tem­ber 1933 before Mr. Jus­tice W.A. Mac­don­ald & Jury. Trial tran­script, p. 7.

ii Jean Evans Sheils and Ben Swankey, Work and Wages! Semi-Documentary Account of the Life and Times of Arthur H. (Slim) Evans (Van­cou­ver: Trade Union Research Bureau, 1977), 6.

iii The infa­mous Lud­low Mas­sacre, where the Col­orado National Guard and guards from the Col­orado Fuel & Iron Com­pany opened fire on a camp of strik­ing min­ers and their fam­i­lies, killing twenty-four peo­ple, includ­ing women and chil­dren.

iv Bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion from Rex vs. Gre­gory et al. Coal­mont, BC, 1 August 1933 before Nor­man Craigie, Jus­tice of the Peace. Evi­dence of the Com­plainant Arthur Her­bert Evans. Depart­ment of Attorney-General: n.p.

v By this point Evans was already being mon­i­tored by the local provin­cial con­sta­ble Thom­son, who had advised the owner of the hall not to rent it to Evans: Rex vs. Arthur Her­bert Evans, 5, 16.

vi Endi­cott, 154; Rex vs. Arthur Her­bert Evans, 39.

vii Endi­cott, 155.

viii Meet­ings were held 17 Novem­ber at the Scan­di­na­vian Hall; 18 Novem­ber, Orange Hall; 19 Novem­ber, I.O.O.F. Hall; 22 Novem­ber, Orange Hall; 23 Novem­ber, Princess The­atre (a smoker, at which Evans sang “Should I Ever Be a Sol­dier” and “The Inter­na­tionale”); 24 Novem­ber, I.O.O.F. Hall (a wed­ding, with Evans again singing “The Inter­na­tionale” and, with oth­ers, “The Cops’ll Have a Hell of a Time” and “They are Fill­ing the Town with Bulls”; 29 Novem­ber and 6 Decem­ber, Work­ers’ Cen­tre. All dates from Rex vs. Arthur Her­bert Evans, 5–13.

ix It should not be for­got­ten that the min­ers were not eth­ni­cally homoge­nous –– though min­ers of British extrac­tion were per­haps the largest group, they did not con­sti­tute a major­ity, and East­ern Euro­pean min­ers (mostly of Ger­man and Slavic ori­gins) speak­ing a vari­ety of lan­guages made up a large pro­por­tion of Prince­ton miners.

x Prince­ton Star, 1 Decem­ber 1932.

xi From var­i­ous issues of the Star: well informed men of rea­son­able views”; “think­ing cit­i­zens, devoted to the wel­fare of the com­mu­nity”; rea­son­ably minded peo­ple”; “broad-minded person(s)”; “ratio­nal cit­i­zens”; “the respon­si­ble cit­i­zens”; “sin­cere men.”

xii Cross exam­i­na­tion of Con­sta­ble William Thom­son in Rex vs. Arthur Her­bert Evans, 52–54.

xiii Much of this infor­ma­tion is drawn from the Direc­to­ries pub­lished in Van­cou­ver, mostly on a yearly basis until 1948, with the excep­tions of 1906–1909 and 1911–1917. The Gre­gory fam­ily is present in the 1921 Census.

xiv Lau­rie Cur­rie, Prince­ton 120 Years (Prince­ton, B.C.: Sim­ilka­meen Spot­light Pub­lish­ing, 1990), 79.

xv Infor­ma­tion about Tay­lor is drawn from Nicholas Mills, Once Upon a Time in Prince­ton (Chill­i­wack, B.C.: self-published, 2013).

Copy­right 2015 Jon Bartlett and Rika Rueb­saat. Please con­tact info@newstarbooks.com for repro­duc­tion requests.

The Party, I Guess :: George Bowering Book Launch

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Bowering launch party posterPlease join us in East Van­cou­ver to cel­e­brate the launch of George Bow­er­ing’s new book of poetry, The World, I Guess.

The World, I Guess is the 36th book of poetry from Canada’s inau­gural Poet Lau­re­ate and 2x Gov­er­nor General’s Award win­ner; it demon­strates a com­mand of a broad poetic range, a catholic range of inter­ests, and echoes of a life­time of read­ing and learn­ing from Pound, Williams, Stan­ley, and others.

You can read Frank Davey’s review here.

Book Launches of the Near Future :: Tim Conley’s Dance Moves

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Please join us, lit­er­ary afi­ciona­dos of the Out East, to cel­e­brate the release of Dance Moves of the Near Future by Tim Con­ley. We have four pre-apocalyptic events planned in the Golden Horse­shoe and environs:

***Please note: Due to a burst pipe at the Nia­gara Artists Cen­ter, the St. Catharines event has been resched­uled from June 5th to June 19th.***

June 13th, TORONTO

ft. Louis Cabri
Hosted by Adam Seelig
The Cen­tral, 603 Markham St., 6:30 pm
Read­ings, free food, cash bar, books pro­vided by Apollinaire’s Book­shoppe
(Tell Face­book you’re com­ing!)

June 19th, ST. CATHARINES

ft. The Nia­gara String Band
Hosted by Jon Eben Field
Nia­gara Artists Cen­tre, 354 St. Paul Street, 7:00 pm
Read­ings, cash bar, books for sale

June 26th, KINGSTON

A Novel Idea, 156 Princess St., 7:00 pm
Read­ings, food & booze & books

June 28th, MONTREAL

Librairie Le port de tête, 262 Avenue du Mont-Royal E, 6:30 pm
Reading

The “Event Horizon Before an Orgasm” :: Donato Mancini News + Events

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The cover for LoitersackDonato Mancini, the hard­est work­ing loi­ter­sack in poetry, fresh off suc­cess­ful events in DC and NYC, is enroute to Seat­tle to speak to a class at Seat­tle Uni­ver­sity and read at a book launch:

Sat­ur­day May 23, gallery 1412, with Sarah Dowl­ing and Maged Zaher (fb link)

It appears peo­ple are wrap­ping their heads around his sin­gu­lar brand of poetry, poet­ics, the­ory, the­ory the­atre, and laugh par­ti­cles, as reports back from the swirling deeps of Loi­ter­sack are uni­formly glow­ing (and at times a touch baffled).

You can view “ABATTLEHORSEANUDEWOMANANDANANECDOTE” from Loi­ter­sack in its 20-page entirety at (the sadly–now-defunct–but-still-available) Lemon­hound. Jonathan Ball at the Win­nipeg Free Press cel­e­brated National Poetry Month with Loi­ter­sack and books by Kathryn Mock­ler, Gre­gory Betts, Mad­hur Anand, and Damian Rogers. The gang at CV2 said Loi­ter­sack “is like jump­ing into a pond of poetic intrigue. … The effect is just as per­plex­ing and just as thrilling as sit­ting down with the work of a well-loved scholar. The best part of Loi­ter­sack is that Donato Mancini makes it fun.” At City I Am, Kevin Spenst talks to Lucie Kra­j­cová about his new book Jab­ber­ing With Bing Bong and the wealth of poetic tal­ent in Van­cou­ver, and sin­gles out Mancini and Loi­ter­sack as “a work that com­bines humour and a hell of a lot of think­ing.

And finally, in advance of his appear­ance with Steve Zul­tan­ski at the Poetry Project last Mon­day, Har­riet excerpted a few chunks of a long, fas­ci­nat­ing, oft-hilarious inter­view with Mancini by E Mar­tin Nolan at the Puri­tan, enti­tled “Put on Your Neg­a­tive Capa­bil­ity Hel­met and Go with It,” in which they dis­cuss Wal­ter Ben­jamin, the shared lan­guage of aes­thetic appre­ci­a­tion and condo mar­ket­ing, “musi­cal archi­tec­ture,” the poetic influ­ence of The Exor­cist, the “event hori­zon before an orgasm,” and so, so much more. Before you decamp from what­ever “vor­tex of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion” you call home this May Two-Four week­end, we highly rec­om­mend load­ing it on your intel­li­gent tele­phone or print­ing it out and tuck­ing it in your box of Lucky Lager for an engross­ing, head-spinning read.

Newest and Newer New Star Books

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New Star Books Fall 2015 CatalogueToday we loose upon you George Bow­er­ing’s new book of poetry, The World, I Guess, and Tim Con­ley’s hilar­i­ous and unset­tling short story col­lec­tion, Dance Moves of the Near Future. Look for both at fine pur­vey­ors of printed paper and, for Dance Moves of the Near Future, pix­els: it’s avail­able as an ebook from Kobo and BitLit.

Besides danc­ing, our near future includes three awe­some new books: check out our Fall 2015 Cat­a­logue for details on Twenty Seven Stings by Julie Emer­son & Rox­anna Bikado­roff, Clean Sails by Gus­tave Morin, and Soviet Prince­ton by Jon Bartlett & Rika Rueb­saat.

The cover image is a detail from one of the last pho­tos Peter Cul­ley posted to his blog, Mosses from an Old Manse.

Peter Culley, Pleasure Poet

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1851_commercial_jl_13Because he lived there for a while, Peter Cul­ley would usu­ally end up back at 1851 Adanac Street at some point when­ever he was in Van­cou­ver. And because I hap­pened to be there one night for a party at Lisa Robert­son and Dan Farrell’s place after a Koote­nay School of Writ­ing event some time in the early 1990s, we hap­pened to meet. Some­one said some­thing about the music, music was some­thing that Peter hap­pened to know quite a lot about, I liked that he talked about Funken­t­elechy vs. the Placebo Syn­drome as if was uncon­tro­ver­sially capital-A Art, we got onto some­thing else, and the con­ver­sa­tion and friend­ship went from there, episodic but con­tin­u­ous, until last week.

Not just our musi­cal tastes, but a cer­tain oth­er­ness too that we must have sensed in one another brought us together. Just the fact of it; our oth­er­nesses were of a dif­fer­ent order. His was expressed in an unease in Van­cou­ver (that never left him) and the KSW writ­ing scene, and grew out of his working-class, Army brat, Nanaimo-Harewood back­ground, which seemed to make him feel more of an out­sider in Van­cou­ver than being a poet and intel­lec­tual ever did in South Wellington.

I had read and been thrilled by his two 1980s chap­books, Fruit Dots and Nat­ural His­tory, and so I was a bit of a fan too that night. (A long time later Cul­ley allowed that he had been embar­rassed by my praise and hadn’t felt able to tell me then that “he hadn’t writ­ten a word” of the poem I was rav­ing about, Fruit Dots, that the entire thing had been com­posed of phrases lifted from a 19th cen­tury botany text. Well, Miles Davis didn’t write most of the songs on those LPs either.)

Culley’s poems, which counted on the reader’s sheer plea­sure in the text for their effect, stood out against the Spar­tan archi­tec­ture of much of the work issu­ing from the poetic avant-garde whose Van­cou­ver out­post KSW was, and it felt like a guilty plea­sure. The room that Cul­ley gave in his poetry for plea­sure, and for the plea­sures afforded by an “older” poetry, had a par­al­lel in the way another poet in the room, Lisa Robert­son, infused her own work with beauty and the per­sonal. Both writ­ers were bend­ing if not break­ing club­house rules; I won­der if that was an ele­ment in the improb­a­bly sol­i­dar­ity between these two rather dif­fer­ent writ­ers. In any case, over the years Robert­son proved one of Peter Culley’s best read­ers (a new essay, “Inter­val, Diastem: Pol­i­tics of Style in Peter Culley’s Park­way,” can be read in Toward. Some. Air., edited by Fred Wah and Amy De’Ath, from Banff Cen­tre Press).

Peter Cul­ley emerged from, instead of into, the West Coast lit­er­ary main­stream, in the early 1980s. Jack Hod­gins had been a high school teacher, and early men­tor; Mina Totino the painter and Kevin Davies the poet were class­mates. His elders saw Culley’s promise and his first book was named Twenty-One in part because that’s what he was when Oolichan Books issued it. Cul­ley later more or less dis­owned that book, not because of any bad pub­lish­ing expe­ri­ence, but because even as it was going to the printer his poetry was turn­ing away from the first-person I of those poems to the cam­era I at the cen­tre of all his later work.

Cul­ley moved to Van­cou­ver with Kevin Davies in the late 1970s where they encoun­tered Gerry Gilbert and through him gen­er­ally fell in with what their Island pre­cep­tors would have thought of as a very bad crowd, pre­sum­ably their pur­pose in mov­ing to Van­cou­ver in the first place. That Prince George poetry con­fer­ence with Robert Cree­ley in 1981 was another big thing. Cul­ley started asso­ci­at­ing with the Koote­nay School of Writ­ing (behind another impor­tant con­fer­ence in 1985) and its Art­s­peak off­shoot (at first), and the con­stel­la­tion of artists, writ­ers, teach­ers, pub­lish­ers and cura­tors that thrived in those spaces.

Susan Lord and Lary Brem­ner pub­lished chap­books, Nat­ural His­tory and Fruit Dots, which I encoun­tered at Octo­pus East on Com­mer­cial Drive. Steven Forth was set to launch his new press, Leech Books, with The Cli­max For­est, Peter’s new book and his first since Twenty-One fif­teen years ear­lier. This would have been in 1995; some­thing shifted in the world; after only a few boxes of The Cli­max For­est were shipped the rest of the stock went into stor­age in an indus­trial park near the Fraser River. A dis­tri­b­u­tion deal with New Star got a few more car­tons into the world before one day the calls for more books from stor­age went unanswered.

The expe­ri­ence seemed to dispirit Cul­ley; so did, over the years, the drip, drip of rejec­tion let­ters from arts coun­cils; so did the news. The Simp­sons helped. For long stretches Peter wrote lit­tle or no poetry, turn­ing to art essays (the fine arts juries didn’t have the same prob­lem rec­og­niz­ing him as a writer) on, among oth­ers, Clau­dia Hart, Stan Dou­glas, Kelly Wood, Car­rie Walker, Roy Arden, and Mark Soo, maybe the last piece of writ­ing he com­pleted. For a while he was on PW’s ros­ter of anony­mous review­ers, cor­re­spond­ing to a period of renewed inter­est in the great Cham. It’s entirely pos­si­ble that in his life­time Cul­ley was cited as often as “Pub­lish­ers Weekly” as under his own name.

Peter lis­tened to a lot of music, seem­ingly able to lis­ten to it in a lot less time than it takes to per­form, as if he could lis­ten to it in com­pressed for­mat too, even as he was watch­ing every inter­est­ing movie ever made, usu­ally for the third or fourth time, hang­ing out with grand­chil­dren, rear­rang­ing objects in the house, walk­ing Shasta, or hav­ing vis­i­tors, which he was con­stantly. He trav­elled, when he could.

And he read. His library made you want to spend weeks in it; the fact that he had a good idea of what was in each of those books more so. If he needed some­thing he’d call Daphne, who worked at the uni­ver­sity library, and she’d usu­ally have it when she got home around five. This was before the Internet.

Ham­mer­town, when it came out in 2002, reprinted (slightly revised and reordered) the final sec­tion of The Cli­max For­est, the begin­ning of his long-term “Ham­mer­town” project that he com­pleted in 2013 with Park­way. The new book also con­tained a suite of six poems, “Snake Eyes”, into which he inter­po­lated a sequence of small black and white pho­tographs. Peter had always been tak­ing pic­tures, I real­ized one day; so unob­tru­sively that it had taken me years to notice. He’d always been inter­ested in the work his artist-friends were doing, and in fine art pho­tog­ra­phy gen­er­ally; W.G. Sebald was a thing; what might hap­pen if he were to drop a few pho­tos into his poems, not to illus­trate them as such but to stand as parts of the poem itself? In time he would dis­pense with the poem part.

Peter’s prac­tice of keep­ing the peo­ple (just) out­side the frame of his pho­tos, which might be seen as an aes­thetic move, was for him pri­mar­ily social and polit­i­cal, and reflected an essen­tial respect for fam­ily, friends, neigh­bours, class mates, sol­i­dar­i­ties incul­cated in him long before I met him. His class con­scious­ness was instinc­tive, and not ever in his inter­ac­tions with his South Welling­ton and Nanaimo neigh­bours did I detect con­de­scen­sion on anyone’s part. Peter’s occu­pa­tion and eru­di­tion didn’t seem any more remark­able to his neigh­bours as far as I could tell than if he had been a welder, let­ter car­rier, school­teacher, a clerk at the Co-op, or unem­ployed. His make-up included a con­trar­ian streak, and he could present him­self as a bloody-minded Tory, foil, or goad, to my own dour Marx­ist pro­cliv­i­ties. But at home he was what I would call a staunch Tommy Dou­glas CCFer.

An invi­ta­tion from Reid Sheir to write an exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue essay for a show at Pre­sen­ta­tion House Gallery in 2009 changed Culley’s life in an unex­pected way. One result was To The Dogs, a book pub­lished by Arse­nal Pulp Press. Another, much more sig­nif­i­cant result was Culley’s deci­sion to acquire Shasta, brindled star of count­less Cul­leys, a kind of Cata­houla hound they found on Used Nanaimo. From a cat per­son to a dog per­son: there are few big­ger life changes.

Peter was pleased by the pop­u­lar­ity of his pho­tos but the con­trast between his recep­tion through­out his work­ing life as a writer, where he was a truly rare and remark­able tal­ent, and now as an artist must have baf­fled him, and is surely a the­sis topic for a doc­toral can­di­date in sociology.

But those shows at Charles H. Scott Gallery in Van­cou­ver and the Nanaimo Art Gallery did more than grat­ify. Many more peo­ple responded to those shows, and to his stream of pho­tos on Mosses From an Old Manse (and Face­book) than read his, or almost anyone’s for that mat­ter, poetry books. Every artist feeds on that response, which is called “val­i­da­tion”, and in Peter it fed an appetite for try­ing out new things.

He had the guilty plea­sure of see­ing peo­ples’ faces drop when he told them that the Ham­mer­town project was fin­ished with Park­way, while leav­ing hang­ing whether he was work­ing on any­thing at all. In fact Peter in the last few years had entered a new phase of cre­ative energy, much of it flow­ing into a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Vancouver-based visual artist Elisa Fer­rari. An early shoot from this col­lab­o­ra­tion appears in TCR 3.23, Spring 2014. The abrupt inter­rup­tion of their col­lab­o­ra­tion is one of the more keenly felt losses result­ing from Peter’s much too early departure.

[ The Cas­ca­dia Poetry Fes­ti­val, held in Nanaimo just three weeks after his pass­ing, opened with a trib­ute to Peter Cul­ley. You can watch it here. ]

Revised June 5, 2015.

peter_culley_june_2011

A Sisyphean Task: On The Myth of the Death of Newspapers

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Cover of Greatly ExaggeratedThings that are eas­ier to do than burst­ing The Myth of the Death of News­pa­pers include con­vinc­ing peo­ple there’s a brew­ery in City Hall, afford­ing a house in Van­cou­ver, and win­ning the Stan­ley Cup. But that’s exactly what Marc Edge attempts to do, as well as sketch a his­tory of news­pa­pers and their own­ers’ recent efforts at “finan­cial­iza­tion,” in the heav­ily researched and highly read­able Greatly Exag­ger­ated: The Myth of the Death of News­pa­pers. And he’s mak­ing some headway:

An early review from Char­lie Smith at the Geor­gia Straight called it “thor­oughly researched,” “provoca­tive,” and “enter­tain­ing,” and said “For any­one con­cerned about where [the con­cen­tra­tion of media own­er­ship] might lead, Greatly Exag­ger­ated offers a use­ful road map.” (Full review here.)

Marc made a few media appear­ances, includ­ing a TV spot on BC 1 that, some­what implau­si­bly, isn’t online (did it really hap­pen?); an inter­view with Joseph Planta at The Com­men­tary; a call-in seg­ment on CBC Radio Van­cou­ver (auto-playing audio link here); and an inter­view with World News Pub­lish­ing Focus.

Scott R. Maier picked up the story via Marc’s aca­d­e­mic paper based on the same research (“News­pa­pers’ Annual Reports Show Chains Prof­itable,” in News­pa­per Research Jour­nal, Vol. 35, No. 4), and ran with it at the Euro­pean Jour­nal­ism Obser­va­tory (always so much more enlight­ened, those Europeans…).

And finally, Rick Edmonds came away from the annual News­pa­per Asso­ci­a­tion of America’s Medi­aX­change con­fer­ence with the belief, par­tially inspired by Marc’s study, that although the indus­try has “a lot of work to do,” it’s “not any­where near dead as doom­say­ers had pre­dicted five years ago”: At Naa’s Nashville extrav­a­ganza, tough issues sur­face through the glitz | Poynter.org.

So at least some wonks seem cau­tiously hereti­cal. You can flirt with these blas­phe­mous ideas in print, or buy the ebook, or use the print book to get a free ebook via the BitLit mobile app. (Irony duly noted.)

Indigena Awarded :: Annharte wins Blue Metropolis First Peoples Literary Prize

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Marie "Annharte Baker"Con­grat­u­la­tions to Marie “Annharte” Baker, win­ner of the inau­gural Blue Metrop­o­lis First Peo­ples Lit­er­ary Prize!

The Blue Metrop­o­lis Inter­na­tional Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val (April 20 — 26 in Mon­treal) is hon­our­ing Annharte for Indi­gena Awry, her 2012 poetry col­lec­tion. Con­grat­u­la­tions also to the other lit­er­ary win­ners at this year’s fes­ti­val:  Nancy Hus­ton (Grand Prize), Junot Díaz (Azul Prize), and Gene Luen Yang (Words to Change Prize).

Annharte will be appear­ing at a half-dozen read­ings and events, includ­ing Poetry at the Zen Cen­tre on April 24th, with Marie Howe, Don McKay, Jer­amy Dodds, Paul Weigel, and Carmine Starnino; an awards cer­e­mony on April 25th, when she’ll receive her $5,000 prize and be inter­viewed on stage by Taia­iake Alfred; and, on April 26, a dis­cus­sion with Lee Mar­a­cle (Celia’s Song) about indige­nous women and ter­ri­tory in their books.

You can find details about all her events here.

Blue Met sent Annharte to the Hay Fes­ti­val Carta­gena de Indias this past Jan­u­ary as part of the Open Win­dow on Canada pro­gram, which also fea­tured Steven Pinker, Réal God­bout, and Kim Thúy (win­ner of Canada Reads 2015). She par­tic­i­pated in a poetry read­ing and a panel dis­cus­sion on indige­nous cul­tures and cre­ative lan­guage with authors from Colom­bia and Spain.

Indi­gena Awry was recently reviewed in Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture, where Lor­raine Weir said it is “darker and tougher than [Annharte’s pre­vi­ous books], sat­u­rated with rejec­tion of ‘hon­est Injun’ clichés and of ageist and sex­ist stereo­types from set­tler culture.”

If the poems of Indi­gena Awry con­sti­tute the writer’s act of both wit­ness­ing the sus­tained impact of col­o­niza­tion, par­tic­u­larly on urban Indige­nous women, and repu­di­at­ing its effects, they are also char­ac­ter­ized by a fero­cious hope in the future…  In this tough-minded, some­times funny, and fre­quently elo­quent book, five cen­turies have dis­tilled rage into incan­des­cence. … Annharte’s work ranges from dub to lyric, from spo­ken word to elegy, from col­lo­quial humour to jagged irony in which the ’exper­i­men­tal’ is never sep­a­rate from a pas­sion­ate rejec­tion of white bour­geois aes­thet­ics. In this, Annharte is closer to Skeena Reece and Rebecca Bel­more in her craft­ing of an “enemy lan­guage” to do the work of resurgence.

Read the rest of the review here; you can pre­view all of Indi­gena Awry here and buy it here.

West of Charles St. :: George Stanley at Johns Hopkins

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North of California St. coverGeorge Stan­ley vis­its the East coast of his nation of ori­gin next month to take part in the Poetry at Hop­kins Eng­lish read­ing series at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity in Bal­ti­more. Stan­ley and Kevin Kil­lian, the San Francisco-based poet, nov­el­ist, play­wright, art critic, and scholar, will be read­ing on April 3rd and “In Con­ver­sa­tion” on April 4th. The events are co-sponsored by JHU’s Pro­gram in Women, Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity; all the details are avail­able here.

Stanley’s most recent book, North of Cal­i­for­nia St., was recently high­lighted by George Fether­ling in the Van­cou­ver Sun as one of “Three BC col­lec­tions that stand out.” Says Fether­ling: “North of Cal­i­for­nia St. is a rich selec­tion … with an inci­sive intro­duc­tion by the poet Sharon The­sen. His poems are often like slide shows, kalei­do­scopic and dis­con­tin­u­ous … At times he rises to great beauty.”

More reviews/response to North of Cal­i­for­nia St. are col­lected else­where on this blog, includ­ing the lament (from the intro­duc­tion to 2003’s A Tall, Seri­ous Girl) that “Stanley’s work has been, in effect, excluded from the canon of ‘van­guard’ Amer­i­can poetry, and from the odd process by which the poems of a small per­cent­age of poets become acces­si­ble in the wider world of class­rooms and far-flung lit­er­ary scenes.” Here’s hop­ing this appear­ance at such an august insti­tu­tion some 4,000 km away goes some small dis­tance to cor­rect­ing the oversight.

Donato Mancini in America

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The cover for LoitersackDonato Mancini is tak­ing his sin­gu­lar brand of poetry, poet­ics, the­ory, the­ory the­ater, and laugh­ter par­ti­cles south of the bor­der at the end of this month. He’ll be read­ing from and dis­cussing his new book Loi­ter­sack, but in fact has an even newer book out just this week: snow­line (eth press, 2015) col­lects 40 trans­la­tions of “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?,” that (600-year-) old ches­nut from François Vil­lon, into a hand­some lit­tle book that includes orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions by Donato.

But back to Loi­ter­sack news. Catch Donato at the fol­low­ing engagements:

Feb. 27, Oak­land: La Com­mune Presents: Brian Ang, Donato Mancini, Anne Les­ley Sel­cer. A read­ing and release of ARMED CELL 8 (ed. Brian Ang), Loi­ter­sack by Donato Mancini, and Mul­ti­ple Bippes (CUE, 2014, ed. Donato Mancini). See the FB event page here.

March 1, Port­land: Donato Mancini and Paul Maziar read­ing for the Spare Room read­ing series at Mother Foucault’s Book­shop, 523 SE Mor­ri­son St., 7pm.

March 2, Olympia: Read­ing and poet­ics talk at Ever­green State Col­lege, TESC, Sem­i­nar II D1105, 5:30 — 7pm.

Donato has also con­firmed an event at St. Mark’s in NYC for early May — details TK