Author Tags: Journalism, Poetry
Painter and writer Pierre Coupey was a founding member of the collective that launched the Georgia Straight newspaper [see below]. In March of 1967, Coupey drafted a request for public funds for the creation of Gastown Press. His gestetner-produced memo dated March 30, 1967 was addressed TO ALL THOSE INTERESTED IN FIGHTING LIES/PROPAGANDA/TERRORISM. This memo invited those who wished to establish a new, free press in Vancouver to attend an organizational meeting at 883 Hamilton Street (near the corner of Smythe) on Sunday, April 2, 1967, at 7:30 pm or to call Coupey at his home phone number (736-6771). When the inaugural issue of the resultant Georgia Straight newspaper first appeared for May 5-18, 1967, the masthead listed the two coordinating editors as Pierre Coupey and Dan McLeod. A list of thirteen contributing editors followed, including lawyers Harry Rankin and Sid Simons, along with writers Milton Acorn, Stan Persky and Gerry Gilbert.
Born August 17, 1942 in Montreal, artist Pierre L. M. Coupey also founded The Capilano Review in 1972 when he was a faculty member of Capilano College. His editorial board included Bill Schermbrucker, Daphne Marlatt, Sharon Thesen, Penny Connell, Reid Gilbert, Robert Sherrin, and Dorothy Jantzen. Editors of the Capilano Review have subsequently included Anne Rosenberg, Ryan Knighton, Jenny Penberthy and managing editor Carol Hamshaw. Coupey has remained associated with the publication over a 35-year period.
Coupey was also a co-founder of Very Stone House Press along with bill bissett, Pat Lane and Seymour Mayne. "I remember very well how we came up with the name, since we couldn't all agree on one: we each put the words we wanted into a hat and picked them out, one by one: the aleatory method worked." His first book from Vancouver, Circle Without Centre, was published under the hybrid Very Stone House/Talonbooks imprint.
Coupey has written several art and poetry books and his worked has appeared in numerous anthologies including WestCoast Works (Applegarth Follies, 1997) and The Body (Tatlow House, 1979). Holding a M.A. in creative writing from UBC, he has taught at Capilano College and UBC. His artwork has been exhibited at countless galleries and was used by publisher Jamie Reid to illustrate rules of the river [no caps], a poetry collection by Canadian-born Richard Rathwell of London, England.
Bring Forth the Cowards (McGill Poetry Series, 1964)
Circle Without Center (Very Stone House/Talonbooks, 1968)
Terminal Series (Caledonia Writing Series, 1973)
Four Island Poems (Caledonia Writing Series, 1975)
rules of the river (DaDaBaBy Enterprises & Blue Orange Publishing, 2007) by Richard Rathwell; illustrations by Pierre Coupey.
[BCBW 2011] "Poetry" "Journalism"
Origins of The Georgia Straight
from Pierre Coupey
The Georgia Straight has been hugely influential in the B.C. literary scene. The list of writers who have found their way into print via its ages since 1967 is staggering.
New Star Press, for example, evolved directly from the Georgia Straight Writing Supplements. Publisher Alan Twigg and designer David Lester met while working for Dan McLeod’s Georgia Straight prior to starting BC BookWorld in 1987-1988.
Pierre Coupey’s essay on the origins of The Georgia Straight first appeared in The Grape weekly newspaper, an offshoot of The Georgia Straight, in March of 1972 (Issue #8, March 8, pages 12 and 13).
Coupey’s historical summary opened with a preface. “NOTE: In writing this, my purpose is not to malign Dan McLeod. My essential purpose is to describe the beginnings of the Straight, and as best I can the circumstances that led to our decision (Tony Grinkus', Milton Acorn's, Peter Hlookoff's, Rick Kitaeff's, and mine) to leave the Straight in November 1967.”
All the formatting and capitalization are as in the published original. The many spelling typos and one hyphen, though, were corrected by Korky Day.
STRAIGHT BEGINNINGS: THE RISE & FALL OF THE UNDERGROUND PRESS
By PIERRE COUPEY
In February and March 1967 The Vancouver Sun/Province mounted a campaign against the youth culture, "hippies," and "drug use." It was designed to misinform and frighten the public, and to twist the "drug" issue into a cover for police suppression of the developing social and political energies of the Vancouver young. Remember The Advance Mattress? 4th Avenue? The Sound Gallery? Vietnam? I felt strongly that we needed a voice in order to expose and resist this harassment and misinformation: the idea of starting a radical free press flashed to me one night in March. I spoke first to Rick Kitaeff about starting a paper, and he liked the idea. We called up Milton Acorn, and the three of us met at Rick's to discuss the idea further. We agreed it should be a community paper, and that to arouse community interest and participation, we should call an open meeting at Rick's house. We also agreed I should write a statement announcing the need for a free press in Vancouver, the aims of the paper, and an invitation to an open meeting. I wrote the statement, dated 30 March 1967, showed it to Rick and Milton, got their approval, had it run off (as I recall) on Bill Bissett's press, and set out to distribute it in Vancouver. The statement invited all those interested in discussing "the aims of a free press, its name, the means to set it up, its floating editorial board, its stance and scope," to come to 883 Hamilton, Sunday 2 April 1967, at 7:30.
Although I don't remember exactly when I met Dan McLeod, it was certainly after the statement was written, and probably just before the meeting was held, or perhaps at the meeting itself. There was a large group at the first meeting, too many for me to recall everyone. Those I remember as the most active in the discussion were Milton Acorn, Rick Kitaeff, Peter Hlookoff, Tony Grinkus, Kim Foikus, Claude Jordan, Gerry Gilbert, John York, Peter Auxier, Stan Persky, John Mills, Barry Cramer, and Dan McLeod. The consensus of the group was that a free press was needed, that it should be supported by and responsible to the community at large, and that it should be co-operatively produced by as many interested people as possible. At no time was the paper conceived to be a private enterprise, owned by anyone or any one group. On the contrary: it was to be against private ownership and for community involvement. We discussed many names for the paper ("Gastown Press," "Terminal City News," etc.), and finally arrived at the name Georgia Straight, proposed (as I recall) by Dan McLeod, though it may have been Glenn Lewis' or Glenn Toppings' idea. The group at large undertook to contribute and raise money to get the paper going, again with the understanding that the community should support its own paper. Eventually we raised enough to print the first issue, the major contribution coming from Milton Acorn, some $200. The consensus of the group agreed on having an editorial board and 2 co-ordinating editors who would oversee the production of not more than 2 consecutive issues. We felt this principle necessary to prevent the paper from being controlled even editorially by any one individual, so that the paper would remain truly a co-operative. Since Dan McLeod and I were most concerned to get the paper going, we were authorized to act as the first 2 co-ordinating editors, to activate an editorial board and staff, and to get the first Georgia Straight out.
LAUGHING ON THE WAY TO THE BANK
To do that, we solicited material, assumed functions, searched for a printer. I made a poster announcing the paper, its contributors, the deadline for new material and ads, and when the first issue would be out (see copy of poster attached). At this point the paper was functioning co-operatively: Dan, Rick, Peter, Tony, Eric Freeman and I were all working closely together, not to mention Milton and many others. We also had to open a bank account, and here's where I made one of my biggest mistakes. As I recall it, Dan and I went to the Toronto-Dominion Bank, corner of 4th and Burrard, to open an account in the name Gastown Press. I didn't think this action important at the time. I suggested to Dan that he handle the money, since I neither liked nor understood money matters. I didn't think of having a joint account, with both of us responsible for signing cheques, and Dan didn't suggest it or resist my own suggestion. As a result, through my antipathy to money, my ignorance, and my naive idealism, Dan had sole signing privileges on the account, and, as I later found out, a legal claim to the paper's assets. It never occurred to me that Dan might later capitalize on the trust of all those whose money we were putting into the bank. Perhaps Dan didn't understand the implications of the moment either.
Although I worked for almost 8 months full time on the Straight (without drawing a salary) from the time we started it to the time I left, I, and most of the other founding editors, had made it clear from the beginning that we did not intend to work all our lives on the paper. We intended to maintain the principle of rotating co-ordinating editors, and accordingly I passed on my own position to Peter Hlookoff for the second issue. We idealistically expected everyone, including Dan, to follow this principle, and also expected a continuous infusion of new talent into the paper. All of that was too much to expect. Dan's willingness to assume responsibility for many of the daily demands of the paper suited, at the time, my own desire to gradually disengage from major activity and to return to my own work, even though I was disturbed at his reluctance to step down as an editor in favour of someone else, and at his unwillingness to encourage others to participate in the paper's production as editors. In short, we allowed Dan to assume a more primary role partly because we wanted to pursue our other activities, partly because we wanted to maintain the co-operative principle and allow others beside ourselves to play important roles in putting the paper out. As we can see now (and as I suspected by the time of the 3rd and 4th issues), these two purposes were mutually contradictory, and aided Dan in gradually assuming more and more editorial power within the paper, and minimizing the co-operative nature of the paper.
THE NOVEMBER 67 SPLIT
Between the appearance of the 1st issue and the 7th, a vortex of events surrounded the Straight, too many to recount here. The license suspension brought down by Milt Harrell and Tom Campbell was, however, the most important event, for two reasons. First, instead of crushing the Straight, it virtually established, by itself, the Straight as a permanent fixture in Vancouver. In becoming a major censorship issue, the suspension vaulted the Straight into national prominence, and the media in its eagerness to exploit the issue did what it usually does: simple-mindedly identified the Straight with one personality, Dan McLeod. Dan, of course, must have been pleased with the national publicity he was getting as the courageous editor of a cruelly suppressed radical paper. So the second reason the event was important was this: as so often happens, as the national media established a clear identification of the Straight with Dan McLeod, so Dan himself began to believe the publicity and identified himself as the only person responsible for the Straight.
At the same time as this was developing, dissension within the Straight was growing, a situation that was only aggravated by Dan's media encouraged personality-cult. I, and others, were becoming more concerned that Dan was not respecting the original principles of the Straight, and that he was assuming dictatorial control over a paper that was meant to be co-operative. This understanding emerged in 3 areas: in the editorial policy of the paper, in the finances of the paper, and in the total control of the paper. The last, the issue of control, is the same issue that has come to life again in the last months, almost 5 years later. Between the 5th and 7th issues, we began to suspect that Dan was taking legal steps to put the Georgia Straight in his private possession, steps that would rationalize his growing psychological belief, encouraged by the national media, that he was in fact the Georgia Straight. One of the surface rationales Dan always raised whenever doubts were expressed was that he had done "all" the work, a rationale that is not very gracious when one considers how many people contributed their time and energy to the paper up to that time. No one can deny that he did a large amount of work on the paper, or that he fought hard for the paper's continuance. But to say that is not to say that he did all the work, that the paper depended solely on his presence for its continuance, or even that there would have been a paper at all had he, in fact, been alone in putting the paper out. Nonetheless, his attitude had become one of "L'etat c'est moi," an arrogance Dan had no right to assume, the arrogance of an aristocrat or a capitalist boss who sees the efforts of others as nothing more than extensions of his will. This attitude on Dan's part showed itself more and more, to the point where one saw him treat with contempt everyone working at the Straight, especially those who fawned on him. In short, it had become clear that Dan had so far abandoned the co-operative spirit, that he was already considering all those who worked on the paper as his employees (unpaid), and not as equal co-workers in a community paper: the Georgia Straight was becoming a private enterprise, both psychologically and factually. We wanted this to stop.
As to finances, there was a further aggravating doubt: by the 5th issue, the Straight's circulation had risen to over 60,000 per issue. Even before then none of us knew what was happening to the money the Straight earned, for Dan had complete control over the back account and the finances, and he never shared information on the paper's finances. But when the Straight was selling 60,000 copies an issue, its gross earnings, at ten cents a copy (the Straight sold for 15 cents a copy then, the vendor keeping 5 cents), was $6,000 per issue, or $12,000 a month. And remember, no one a the Straight was earning a salary at that time. Now, $12,000 is an ideal figure, so let's do some subtraction. subtract the value of 20,000 papers a month as lost, stolen, or seized. That's minus $2,000; only $10,000 left now. Next, subtract the generous figure of $7,500 a month to allow for printing costs, office equipment, office rental, legal costs, and incidental expenses. That still leaves $2,500 a month profit, even at the above generous figures. Unfortunately, I was never able to find out what happened, and when we tried to get Dan to give us some idea, he was evasive in the extreme, and never gave a satisfactory response. Obviously we suspected a measure of financial mismanagement.
We also began to question Dan's editorial direction of the paper. He would arbitrarily reject articles for the paper after they had been accepted by other editors. He discouraged talented new people who wanted to work on the Straight, especially if they were local and independent. He relied too heavily on UPS American reprints, discouraging in the process the development of accurate reporting on local and national politics. Politically, the paper was becoming so tepid, a kind of hippy liberal/NDP mix, as to fail to offer any real alternative to the politics of the Vancouver Sun/Province complex. All of these dissatisfactions: Dan's editorial policies, his financial vagueness, his arrogance toward Straight editors and workers (he even had a private office!), and his assumption that he now "owned" the Straight, built up to the point where Milton and I especially, and Peter Hlookoff in a more detached way, wanted to confront Dan and air the issues. But Dan became elusive, even more uncommunicative than he usually was, and did his best to avoid committing himself to a meeting.
Finally, we were able to force a meeting of the editors just before the 7th issue (Nov. 10, 1967) came out. Present at that meeting were Milton Acorn, Peter Hlookoff, John Laxton, Dan and myself. A few others may have been present, but they were not essential to the discussion. John Laxton was supposed to act as an unbiased mediator, but as it turned out, Dan was at times so incapable of speaking for himself, that Laxton did much of his arguing for him, and seemed to be acting on Dan's behalf. The three basic issues were raised: editorial policy, control of finances, and control of the paper, but the last was obviously the most important. We began by discussing Dan's attitudes, the fact that he now acted openly as a dictator, and that he assumed he "owned" the paper (because he had done "all" the work, and had the bank account in his name). Laxton supported Dan's assertions that he had done "all" the work, and that on that basis, he did "own" the paper. We reminded Dan that the paper had started as a co-operative and was never meant to be anyone's private possession. We proposed that we form a co-operative non-profit society under the B.C. Societies Act, as we should have done right at the beginning, and, better late than never, legalize the co-operative nature of the paper, and thereby eliminate capitalism at the Georgia Straight. Dan refused the proposal, which was supported by Milton, Peter, and myself, and asserted that he did not have to consider the paper a co-operative since he now "owned" the paper. In refusing, however, Dan and Laxton offered what they considered a "just" and generous compromise: they had the nerve to propose that ownership of the Straight be shared between Dan, Peter, and myself - Dan to have 50%, Peter and I to have 25% each. We, of course, refused such a deal. The Straight was formed as a community co-operative, and did not belong to Dan, nor could it belong to Peter or me. We refused to have anything to do with private ownership, a corporation, or anything less than a true co-operative. In the process of this discussion we had demanded a public audit of the Georgia Straight books (if there were any) in order to discover what had been happening to Straight money, and to discover where the paper was financially. Dan refused to consider an audit, and denied that he had to. In short, Dan was totally intractable, and Laxton supported him so strongly in his mediation, it became apparent it was futile to try and achieve a workable arrangement with Dan, and that it was equally futile to try and work with the Straight under his control. There was no point, given that most of the Straight staff at that time was composed of McLeod lackeys who had no vision of the paper, who had not been around at the time the Straight started, and had been chosen by Dan precisely because of their subservience to him, in trying to form a staff revolt. There was no point, in view of Dan's insistence, and Laxton's support of that insistence, that he "owned" the paper "legally" in trying to force him out of the Straight without going to court, and we simply did not have the resources to take such action. And, in spite of everything, we did not want to have to make such an either/or choice. We had hoped Dan would be open enough to recognize he had violated the fundamental spirit and principles of the Straight's founding group and of the community the Straight was responsible to. We had hoped he would cease his arrogant assumption of ownership, and recognize he was part of a community larger and more important than himself alone. But, given his refusal to recognize the Straight's origins as a co-operative free press, given his obstinate and arrogant assumption of ownership, given our powerlessness at the time to force him out, we chose to break with him and the Straight rather than to continue in the sham of presenting the Straight as a free press when it was being subsumed and run by one who apparently did not believe in a free press at all.
In the 7th issue (on which I had already done much of the layout, and which carried a collage of mine on the back cover), Dan announced that "Four editors - Pierre Coupey, Peter Hlookoff, Milton Acorn, and Tony Grinkus - have resigned from the paper. They are going to form a new (and different) paper, and we have agreed to lend them our support. The growth of the fifth estate media is necessary in order to keep all communication lines open and honest." The announcement was dishonest for several reasons: 1) it implies that we asked for Dan's "support" to help us set up The Western Gate, something we never did ask for; 2) it neglected to mention that we resigned in protest of Dan's refusal to maintain the paper as the co-operative it was originally intended to be; 3) the last statement is especially suspect in view of the fact that Dan's communication lines with us at the time of our meeting and before were certainly less than "open and honest." Dan McLeod's co-opting of the Straight culminated in his forming, without the staff's knowledge, Georgia Straight Publishing Limited, at the end of November 1967, with himself as owner.
It is interesting to note that Dan has once again graciously offered assistance to a "new and different paper," this time The GRAPE. Slick, but empty PR work.
WHY I SUPPORT THE CO-OPERATIVE AND THE GRAPE
I supported the co-operative's efforts to reclaim the Georgia Straight, because the paper was founded on the principle of co-operative ownership, tried to return to that principle in November 1967, and needs to return to that principle now. Since leaving the Straight in November 67, I recognize I have no personal claims on the paper at all, and don't wish to make any. In this account of my own involvement with the Straight, however, I meant to reaffirm that at the time the Georgia Straight started, the spirit of the group founding the paper militated absolutely against its private ownership by any person or group. At no time did the group that founded the Georgia Straight, or the community from which it derived its resources, authorize the private ownership of the Georgia Straight, or give consent to its being anything but a co-operative.
The North Vandals: A Conversation
from Pierre Coupey
[This interview by Jenny Penberthy was prepared for Moodyville, a 2009 issue of The Capilano Review, about North Vancouver, that was co-published by Presentation House Gallery, and is reprinted here with the permission of Pierre Coupey]
Was Tatlow House formed to publish The Body? How did it work?
David Phillips and Hope Anderson formed Tatlow House primarily to publish The Body, although I’m pretty sure they envisaged further publications. There may have been other books, even some published under the Tatlow imprint but not produced by David or Hope. But The Body, this anthology of work by John Pass, Sharon Thesen, Hope Anderson, Billy Little, Scott Watson, Brian Fawcett, Barry McKinnon, George Stanley, David Phillips and myself, could be called the embodiment of the so-called “North Vandals.”
So all of those published were “Vandals”?
Well, that north vandals tag wasn’t something we thought up. We’re clearly not a homogenous group, and only David, Hope, John and I lived in North Vancouver at the time. That was Bowering’s pun, which he might have conjured at the time of the first Creative Writing Conference at Malaspina College. Or later, after The Body came out, I can’t remember. And maybe he was only referring to me, David and Hope. I’ll have to ask him. I’m pretty sure the majority of the people in The Body wouldn’t consider themselves full patch Vandals, then or now –– honorary Vandals maybe, or volunteer Vandals, or weekend Vandals. I guess David and Hope are the core Vandals, since they both lived on Tatlow Street in North Van. Funny thing, the only dog I’ve ever had was a pure Alsatian named Vandal. Lovely old dog. Used to take him to my first classes at Cap, but he died before I moved to the North Shore.
What were these creative writing conferences?
PC: They grew out of the Colleges in the 70’s –– Capilano, Malaspina, CNC, VCC, Okanagon, Northern Lights, Fraser Valley, Douglas, the others –– they emerged from our annual Creative Writing Articulation meetings, which we took advantage of to kick up the energy about writing and poetry in BC. So many wonderful people at those meetings, Barry McKinnon, John Lent, Ron Miles, Tom Wayman, again so many others. The conferences also represented our resistance to the universities, whose dead hands we often felt at those articulation meetings, and we thought we could offer practising writers and our creative writing students richer, more intense experiences in a three day block of readings, panels, and discussions than they’d ever get at UBC, SFU or UVic. Of course, we’re all universities now…
How did they work?
The first Creative Writing Conference was hosted by Malaspina and it was a great success. Marvelous group readings and individual readings, Maria Hindmarch, Daphne Marlatt, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Pat Lane, George Stanley, Phillips, McKinnon, with Roy Kiyooka wandering around taking luminous photographs. And at Malaspina we discovered some new poets, in particular Pete Culley and Kevin Davies, brilliant Nanaimo teenagers who’ve gone on to do real work. The second, organized largely by Jon Furberg, was at VCC with a guest reading from Alan Ginsberg introduced by Warren Tallman. The third, organized by Sharon Thesen and Maria Hindmarch, was held at Cap, where Sheila Watson blew us all away with her brilliance. There was one at Okanagon College at the Vernon Campus where Barry McKinnon kept us in stitches for days with a tour de force non-stop running commentary on the absurdity of it all, and Colin Brown screened his latest film; and the last, which I missed –– I think I was travelling, Paris and the Ivory Coast –– was at CNC. It was organized by Barry, and called Words/Love, with readings by Audrey Thomas and Ken Belford, and a major reading by Robert Creeley amid Prince George wild times. Apparently Robin Blaser was there as Creeley’s chaperone in the Canadian north. Barry also invited Cohen, Atwood and Munro, but they were busy elsewhere. There may have been other conferences. Certainly the first were very exciting.
What’s the timeline here?
If we’re looking at a chronology, blocks of writing things happening on or from the North Shore, The Capilano Review started in 1971, the Capilano Poetry Reading Series in 1974, the Creative Writing Conferences in 1976, and The Body comes out in 1979. Roughly.
Did the North Shore become a focus for you because of Cap?
The North Shore became important for me well before I came to Cap because of my friend David Rippner, one of those hippie refugees from the States at the time of the Vietnam war, who brought that California 60’s energy and excitement with him. Davey was famous on the 4th Avenue Kitsilano scene, and later on Lower Lonsdale, as The Leathersmithe –– he made sandals, belts, vests and artsy leather stuff, a guy with humor and the best American openness ––cheerful, positive and razor smart. So when Davey and his girlfriend moved shop to Lower Lonsdale from 4th Avenue, my family and friends had a reason, for the first time, to cross the bridge. And going into North Van seemed like going into the wild, a trek to some mysterious, far place, like Nepal or Tibet. For some reason we never considered West Vancouver any kind of a destination.
So this was in the late sixties?
Yeah, ‘68, ‘69, in there. So that was the first focal point for us to come from the sophisticated urban scene to the wilds of Lonsdale. And then I was hired at Cap in 1970 and started doing the Review. At that time my first marriage was breaking down, and I thought, why not be on the North Shore where I was working? For one thing, everything was cheaper in North Van and none of us had much money. I found a slum dwelling on Lower Lonsdale above a café called the Meat Market, a former butcher shop that morphed into a hippie café where everything was whole grain, sprouts, granola and so on.
For $85 a month I rented two rooms above the Meat Market, two long railway-car rooms. One became my studio, the other my living space: sleeping loft, living room, dining room. The bathroom and shower was communal, down the hall, which the neighborhood drunks and Al Neil made free use of. The place was basic and ugly. In exchange for a painting and a little cash David Phillips agreed to make it liveable. David is a superb carpenter as well as a superb poet. I found a cheap sling of D grade cedar planks and he turned the rooms into a work of art. Along with a few salvaged Persian carpets, the cedar made it a warm and confortable place. Some early issues of the Review were done in those two rooms.
What was the Lower Lonsdale area like back then?
Basically it was gritty, tough, working poor, not at all the gentrified area it’s becoming now, and filled with character and characters. People on LIP Grants pretending to make documentaries, movie set painters like Phil Morgan, a Lynn Valley giant whose name I forget now who was an extra in Fellini films, Barry Cogswell whose ceramics kiln at the back of the Meat Market caught fire one day and almost burned the whole place down, and of course notorious outsiders and artists like Al Neil, who would weave in and out of the scene. And then there was the pre-history of the people who lived on the mud flats –– who built the squats off Dollarton, following in some ways in the footsteps of Malcolm Lowry –– Tom Burrows and Al Neil and a host of others. And then there was a group of kids from Lynn Valley who were involved in poetry, fresh, smart young guys like Martin Jensen, who seemed to know more about Charles Olson than anyone else. Gerald Giampa, the master letterpress printer, was a friend of Martin’s and also came out of Lynn Valley. Pieces of culture springing up everywhere on the North Shore.
And besides culture?
Lower Lonsdale then didn’t have restaurants, it had bars. There were two infamous hotels on Lower Lonsdale, the Olympic which was known as the Big O, and the Saint Alice, and both had beer parlours, both notorious for drunken fights. We preferred the Big O, but we’d count the number of motorcycles outside first, and if there were more than six, we wouldn’t go in, we’d head down the street to the Saint Alice and check for bikes there. The Alice also had a cocktail bar called the Cockatoo Lounge, if we wanted to avoid the craziness of the main bar.
For the ladies, right? [laughter]
Yes, and for the more sophisticated drinkers and us chicken-shit poets who wanted to live …. It had bamboo walls, fake parrots, it was bizarre. A little outpost of Hawaii, kind of Humphrey Bogart-ish. And then we discovered Mac’s Billiards, the best pool hall in the lower Mainland. This was the unsung jewel of Lower Lonsdale, its heart and soul, and much missed when it had to close. David Phillips and I, and anyone else we could round up, would shoot snooker there at least twice, three times a week. We weren’t great, so we never got to play table one, which was reserved for the money players, the pros. And we weren’t good enough for table two, which had very narrow pockets and hard banks. But Mac made sure we always got table three, which was just right for us: forgiving pockets and cushions, and every now and then he’d give us a free lesson. A very generous man and the master of his domain. Mac’s Billiards was an oasis of peace on Lower Lonsdale, no fights. On one occasion we had a full afternoon tournament with Brian Fisher, Pat Lane, and Dwight Gardiner showing the rest of us how the game was really played. And the conversations about poetry and writing and reading, the jokes and laughter, would interweave with all of this.
Did you think of yourselves as a group, though?
If at all, a very loose one, a loose grouping of companions, on the margins, fluid, blues singers, romantics, individual voices, with a certain amount of defiance of establishment and elders, but not an “organized” group, say, like TISH. We had no program or consensus on poetry or poetics, just a sense of companionship, however momentary, in our deep love for poetry and for writing that energized the field.
Did you see yourselves as an alternative to TISH?
No, none of us were “charter” members of TISH, but our basic affiliations are with the TISH poets and with the advanced writing from here and elsewhere they also embraced and championed. So not an alternative, but another inflection from many shared roots and experiences in poetry. And though a younger generation, most of us started working before we knew of TISH. My roots were in Montreal where I studied with Louis Dudek, and David Phillips started writing poetry in high school in South Vancouver with bp Nichol. Sharon Thesen and Brian Fawcett must have had their awakenings in Prince George before getting to Vancouver, and Barry McKinnon arrives in Vancouver via Calgary and Montreal and studies with Irving Layton. George Stanley arrives from San Francisco where I’m sure he was in very close touch with much that inspired TISH. And Billy Little arrives from New York, Buffalo, and San Francisco with his own direct ties to the 60’s and 70’s avant garde American poets. But maybe some of us saw ourselves at that time as more free, more wild, more radical, less theory driven.
What was your role with The Body?
David and Hope were the editors and publishers, and I was just a facilitator, because of my experience with the Review: how to organize a book, take it through a press, design covers and whatnot. They raised the money to cover costs, debated who to invite, worked through the manuscripts, did the final editing.
Why The Body?
Good question, and I’m not sure I can remember the particular discussions that led up to it, but The Body seems now the logical culmination of all the parties, dinners, friendships, companionships and conversations –– epsisodic, extended –– we had been engaged in until then. Not to mention the laughter and the jokes, the general silliness and craziness, like John Pass’s infamous and hilarious Sasquatch Streak. And the arguments and fights –– we had our share of those. We wanted to do something to celebrate those gatherings and conversations. And when the idea of an anthology somehow came up, Hope said let’s call it the body, and that stuck.
We talked a lot about the intelligence of the body, proprioception, that notion of re-enactment, the poetics of place, so many of the ideas that come from Projective Verse and from Williams and his thought on the work of the imagination. And much of the ferment came from Phillips and McKinnon, the genius of their conversations, both of whom were deeply influenced by Creeley, and much interested in that order of plain and direct speech, in the concrete, the particular, the objective. We talked about what we liked and disliked, respected and admired, what we’d whistle down as fake or pretentious. But nothing formalized –– no rules, no manifestos, no program. The Body conspicuously lacks a preface or introduction from the editors, anything that would make a claim, but simply proposes a constellation of companions who came together at that time, without any sense then of how we might eventually drift apart because of age, argument, circumstance and geography. And all of us have gone on to pursue our individual paths and investigations, most of us scattered across BC, Brian in Toronto, Hope in Florida, and Billy in Paradise. Wherever our bodies and brains have taken us.
After this conversation appeared in TCR, George Stanley called to remind me that perhaps the "last" Creative Writing Conference, organized by Fred Wah, was at DTUC in Nelson in March 1982. Fred recalls that "The Writing Through Revolution event was substantial, with close to 200 people at what, for me, was a significant debate about feminist poetics between Margaret Randall and Nicole Brossard. Lots of readings, parties, workshops. It was a great event… ." The ripples raised by all these events continue.