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Civil Cinema 2003

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

For frequenters of City Cinema or the monster screens, I offer this practical guide to appropriate behaviour:

Selection: Remember "Let's have a night out and catch whatever's playing?" No more. The postmodern consumer reads up before selecting a movie, credible word of mouth being but a humble substitute.

Showtime: Early evening is best, unless you're mentally spry as midnight nears. Matinees? For the young or the nocturnally incapacitated. And full-price nights are for show-offs.

Taste: Know what you like, but take an occasional risk.

Companions: Avoid those who can't share your tastes. Serial sighing will only sully your evening and taint the relationship.

Children: Between the ages of 11 and 19, yours will not wish to sit anywhere near you. Applaud such independence. Their carping when you insist on viewing the credits will serve as a lesson in patience for all.

Arrival: Early, to avoid serious queuing, but not so early as to make you feel thumb-twiddlingly silly.

Parking: Look for the haunted parking space.

Refreshments: Cinemas make more from concessions than from ticket sales, and while some folks tackle a movie only if provisioned with popcorn, chocolaty almonds, and three bladders worth of faux soda, buffmeisters limit themselves to a small coffee or bottled water.

Manners: Ritual container-rustling and slurping are acceptable only until the lights dim, after which they become a capital offense.

Timing: The world is divided into zhlubs who will attend a feature even if it's underway when they arrive and those who will sensibly re-book if even the trailers have begun.

Trailers: They complete the experience and may be the best versions of movies you'll never see. Some people watch in reverence, so behave accordingly.

Cartoons and short subjects: We wish.

Seating: Mid-cinema on the aisle so as to minimize the disturbance of break-exiting. The world is divided into those (latecomers) who face the already seated as they slide by and those who lead with their posteriors, those who rise to let people by and those who pretzel their feet rather than stand.

Seat claiming: Drape your parka across the back, in summer a clean handkerchief. It's gauche to ignore another's marker, even when your favourite seat is at stake. Mind, should it slip floorward, it's hardly your fault.

Conversation: Clam up at the dimming of the lights. Past that, gab is a capital offense. The movie mystifies you? Ask your questions after The End.

Romance: The only people who make out at a movie are the unimaginative and the nostalgic. A fine movie is not a hot date.

Sleep and stentorian breathing: It is marginally permissible to doze, but not to regain consciousness with a snork and a loud demand to hear what you've missed. Snoring is a capital offense.

Reaction: It is permissible and even charming to laugh aloud where apt, and to weep softly at any time. Entertain perspective.

Bailing out: Abandon a movie that gives you the cramps rather than imitate a lump of congealing gravy. And save your editorializing for the parking lot.

Breaks: Slip out stealthily and return likewise, pausing at the back, eyes adjusting to the dark, so as not to end up in the wrong seat. Don't expect a synopsis of what you've missed.

Exiting: Anyone who skedaddles before the credits roll is hell-bound. It shows disrespect for performance and for process, and it also means missing the scenes salted among the credits; a reward to the patient, who earn the right to lord it over those who have lurched out to embrace their cars.

Trash: While you are not obliged to claim your own garbage, those who attend a subsequent showing and encounter messiness and stickiness are entitled to obtain DNA samples and hunt down the offender.

Postmortem: The world is divided into those keen to parse the movie while heading home and those who prefer to sleep on it. Respect protracted post-viewing silence; there's a mind at work.

Opportunities lost: The world is sub-divided into those who don't bat an eye over a missed flick and those who lament. The latter tend not to see videos or DVDs as an adequate alternative to the cinema experience, and rightly so.

FYI: A film is a movie, but a movie cannot be a film…unless elevated in retrospect; e.g. Casablanca was once a movie, now it's a film. Turtle Diary is a film. My Big Fat Greek Wedding will always be a movie.

Words are Not Enough

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

In 2001, an accomplished and disciplined writer I know said to me, "Writing is what I do." Hungry to write, he does. Constantly. Years before, another writer of fiction, then lean as well as hungry (who went on to claim rich book prizes and see his novels into films), bellowed, over a 12-pack up along the Miramichi, that any writer who took a day job and didn't devote himself to his craft 100% could never be a "real writer." Cadet academic that I was, I felt wounded by his remark. I had no dream of becoming a full-time writer, but I chose to think myself a pro.

I accept now that the upstart was essentially correct, certainly where fiction and poetry are concerned; and that the senior fellow's modus operandi is the model for a serious writer. (The younger guy had a wife who willingly toiled so that he might be free to novelize, but that's another topic.) The best artists in any discipline are those who think as artists, unencumbered, as much as is possible, by the mundane. A working academic is almost free enough, but some would say there's the danger of, well...of being an academic.

To this I add my conviction that a determined artist must be brutally honest with himself, and needs to talk to himself -for real. Otherwise, he is never as `clean' as he needs to be to create, invent, animate. An artist may stretch the truth with others, and should, but must follow a diet of veracity in his own life.

The making of genuine art requires genuine commitment, if not total sacrifice. I don't think that artists should suffer. That's hooey, the hinge to a deleterious stereotype. I've never been creatively productive when distressed or grieving. Uncertainty, tension, the unknown...fine. But real, it does nothing for my elusive Muse or her train.

I knew a fine poet who one day announced that she was abandoning her craft for a specialized professional life. She felt she couldn't handle both. I was appalled. Two books published and much promise. A few years later, when her marriage ended, her new skills were a lifesaver. Perhaps she's had no regrets about the poetry.

The late Henk Ykelenstam (to use an actual name), when he decided to become a full-time painter on PEI, abandoned his established career as a concert flutist and even sold his instrument, never to play again. I couldn't comprehend that, either, though he was at least trading one discipline for another. Some artists agonize when they eyeball the steps to the pantheon. It can be a relief to fall back on that day job. A painter friend has spoken to me of A-lists and B-lists and how painful it is to know, if you think such thoughts, that you'll never achieve a celestial ranking.

I used to say that I valued and respected the teaching profession too much to settle for being less than fully committed. I feel the same way about creativity, even if my own pace is erratic. But becoming a celebrated artist may as well be a lottery win. Talent, opportunity and luck are like a juggler's clubs in flight, sometimes disappearing into low cloud. I know wonderful artists who have yet to be recognized as they deserve, and others who have been luckier than they deserve. It's like life writ large. Justice isn't waiting around the corner with a fast horse.

If you care enough, you do your best rigorously and constantly, pray that your best is superlative, and hope that there'll be an appreciative audience to sustain you, and a monogrammed pin on the map.

Raise the Dead of Wintertime

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Upon learning that Dracula will soon take to PEI's largest stage, I asked to interview the elusive star himself. We met in a private spot of my choosing.

Welcome, Count Dracula.

Thank-you, Vlad to be here.

That has to be an awfully old joke.

I'm ancient myself, despite a sanguine appearance, so what do you expect?

When you're a soulless bloodsucker, you take your humour where you can find it.

Okey-doke. As you'll be staying with us for some time, here's that Island question, Who's your father?

Ah, it's been a century since Count Dracula has even thought of his Transylvanian papa, known to friend and foe as Tolkan the Pointer. In the days of my distant mortality I was Vlad the Impaler. If you think pointing is rude… The name is Terpes, Vlad Terpes. Dracula `lives' thanks to the pen of an excitable Irishman.

That's certainly no Island name.

Well, I'm told there was a Terpes family near Eldon, but they drifted away. In truth, I myself have been here before. Some summers back, I ferried over from the foggy mainland forests in a customized hearse disguised as a gravel truck. Nothing like a darkened summer theatre in which to…unwind.

Count, many say your theatre-season pairing with Anne of Green Gables is a bizarre mismatch.

They're dead wrong. Aside from the fact that our respective creators were of Celtic stock, Anne Shirley and I have much in common, on page and stage. We're both seductive figures, yes? She keeps a diary, I am written about in diaries. We two are incorrigible romantics with a thirst for life. And do consider her seeming immortality.

You can't mean…?

Must I spell it out? But don't be alarmed. Show business is still business, and, raspberry cordial is thicker than blood. It's a living.

I understand you sing in this new production.

Yes, I trill, I play the ocarina, I do a little dance. Truly, I sing for my supper. Still, a song in my heart feels better than a you-know-what.

Can PEI possibly be a haven for Dracula? You can't exactly savour our beaches and the long summer days.

Oh, I feel safe enough here. For one thing, Islanders shun garlic. They've a reputation for great generosity of spirit. And come June there'll be fresh blood from away. But is it true you've a compatriot who's promoting a province-wide subway and a covered Confederation Bridge? Marvelous! I love subterranean spaces and most roofed-in secular structures. I hope to enjoy a bite or two with this fellow…Shelkey?

Whatever. Look, how can your production possibly pass for Canadian content?

That's been an issue here.

Anemic parochialism, shortsightedness. Dracula is universal, his legend reimaginable everywhere. Listen, this is small potatoes for me, but an invitation so nicely put is irresistible. I so enjoyed dining with the messenger. Dracula is a being for all seasons. Not only does my story bear relating, but as no one ever gets it right, I remain hungry for a fresh opportunity. Hounded and reviled, regarded and envied-why, I'm a bloody paradox. My legend: romance matched with risk, hunger with satiety, old age wed to nubility, the virtues of dusk over dawn-the nightingale over the lark. As well…good grief, is that a cross you're wearing?

This? Just a local resort insignia, a pair of crossed golf clubs.

It's a cross all the same. Uh-oh, no wonder I'm feeling queasy. Could you remove it until we're through? Wait, where's that awful light coming from?

Relax! You're paler than Yvette Mimieux, that's why I asked to meet you here. Winter tanning salons are very popular on the Island. Here, I'm upping the juice (turns away). You'll soon be as bronzed as (turns back)…now that's odd, where'd he disappear to? Ashes? Why, Dracula's been smoking, and he didn't even ask. Not a good idea on PEI nowadays.

(An aggrieved voice animates an ascending wisp of smoke): Shlub! You can forget about complimentary tickets for the show!

With a tip of the tuque and apologies to Bram Stoker and Woody Allen.

Parade of Thoughts

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

It's November 10 as I begin, and the weather is spring-like. Georgius Caesar is preparing for war against barbarians from the further east, and here in a temperate corner of So-Be-It Canuckistan I am preoccupied with dratted building renovations, money-issues, and Derek Bell. Derek Bell the musician, not the ballplayer. The harpist and tiompan player with The Chieftains, who died suddenly in October.

The Chieftains are to Celtic music what the Beatles were to Pop. The gold standard. Derek Bell was kind of like a roly-poly meld of Ringo Star and Yo Yo Ma, to cite a friend. And an eccentric.

Classically irreverent if not eccentric is George Bowering, named Canada's first poet laureate. He's written strong poetry (as well as a respectable body of prose). Irreverence may be a Good Thing.

Another Good Thing, your must-read book of the season: The Stand-In by Belfast's David Helwig. Featuring an eccentric narrator.

Pat Buchanan. I don't know the infamous Peebie, but he may have done us a favour by calling Canada a cute name. Might we identify and embrace an opportunity? Our son is working in Cork until early 2003. This Remembrance Day he sought somewhere to remember (something he's done faithfully since his grandfather's death), and learned that in Eire they remember things differently. And different things. He's no Chieftains fan, regrettably.

Derek Bell hailed from the other Belfast. A child prodigy, he mastered the piano, oboe d'amore, and horn before taking up the pedal harp, and in 2000 was named an MBE by HRH for his musicianship and fame.

Speaking of the Royals, it isn't that the Windsors are unconventionally farpotshket, it's that the public, through an idea-challenged media, demands to know things it never thought to know 30 years ago. This obsession with the defenestration of gilded ma/paternalism is surely Freudian.

The period just before Britain last went into serious battle with Germany was called the Phony War. How phony our present breath-holding, as our impatient and muscular neighbours conjure global sociomilitary strategy? Terrorism brings war to civilians here, just as in the past traditional warfare has brought it to civil populations elsewhere. The cinematic V-2 rockets which fell upon Britain without warning in 1945 suggest the terrorist acts of today.

I am weekly reminded of how important City Cinema has become in our local cultural life. I can't imagine a month without several engaging films to view. Come to think of it, I see many of the same people there I see at the Farmer's Market. What do the two hold in common?

The must-have CDs of the season: The Essential Leonard Cohen, and Lennie Gallant's Le Vent Bohême.

Interesting how certain entertainers (but rarely politicians) with iconic status are never criticized. In cinema it's Gene Hackman and Sean Connery. Their movies may be trashed but never them. In music, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. And The Chieftains. They are inviolate.

My son being away, we've inherited use of his TV and its two channels. Will someone please explain the virtues of repetitive commercials? Also the back-to-back National on the CBC? I don't get it.

TV cop/crime procedurals are ubiquitous. Once it was sci-fi shows and their spin-offs, much earlier it was westerns, but westerns became a discredited American fantasy. The West Wing is an embraceable, and funnier, blend of Gunsmoke and the Shatnerian Star Trek.

Curious how Canada's cultural reputation, especially the literary and the musical, is now reaching unprecedented heights internationally, even as our sociopolitical sectors are receiving serial lashings with a wet towel stamped USA.

Poet laureates are a Good Thing. Every province should have one.

How to know when a government is in real trouble (and its citizenry by association)? When it's beyond satire.

One could do worse than turn to any recording of Derek Bell's interpreting the compositions of Turlough O'Carolan. Or play The Chieftains album The Bells of Dublin over the holiday season.

A Namedroppers Journal (Montreal)

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Saturday a.m. To Market for smoked salmon en route to airport. Check my weapons with the baggage. Traversing Halifax International…it's Wendy Jones, again! She introduces me to comedian Ron James, nice fellow.

Airborne. Chilled Air Canada pseudo-muffin...yum.

Montreal. Cab to Kent Stetson's on Christophe Colombe near Jean Talon. His flat a walk-up, steps as steep as K2. Swell digs, a writer's aerie. At work on his screenplay. The guest room filled entire by the unfurled futon. Cosy.

Post-noon pizza in Little Italy. Must visit my uncle at the Maimonides facility, a cab-ride from the Snowdon Metro. "Did you know," confides the driver, "that relatives of the patients there pay staff to finish them off? For the insurance." No, I didn't know. I find my uncle's room (too late now to also visit Irving Layton), where Tod is spooning Ensure into his father's crushed cave of a mouth. No flicker of recognition. Disengaged. No visible distress. I am not shocked. When we leave, I kiss my uncle on the brow and whisper "Goodbye, Uncle Bern." Who last welcomed me to his youngest son's wedding six years before with a broad smile and "My boy...!"

Tod finds us an East-end bistro. Superb brew. Me for an ostrich-burger with cranberry chutney. John K., a longtime ArtsAtlantic contributor, spots me through the streetfront window and joins us for an hour. We agree there's no money in art-essay bookwriting. Tod, an ex-spy turned pro scribe, demands that his writing and writing activity make his living. We exchange family stories. Discuss the Middle East. Intelligence.

Sunday. A slow morning. I prep for my role in today's commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg Square and his 90th birthday. Is he alive or is he dead? Phone Aunt Florence, who says: "I wish you'd waited to visit Bern with me on Monday; I told Irving Layton you'd stop by." Cappuccino-and-quiche brunch downtown with Kent and a friend of his. Next, to locate Place de la Cathédrale.

Thankfully, I'm early. It takes ages to find my way into the lovely abbey-ceilinged lobby, behind the church and the square being named for RW. Archbishop Hutchison is a charming fellow, erudite and eloquently bilingue. Elderly ladies dispense Wallenberg Movement newsletters. I meet my hosts, Vera Parnes and Isa Millman. Raoul's brother, Guy von Dardel, is a no-show. He's 88, am I surprised? But I had a gift for him.

Speeches and presentations. I am front-row beside an affable Hon. Sheila Finestone. Montreal's mayor has sent a stand-in. A message from the Swedish Ambassador. Musicians Pavel Feldman and Irina Nitskina and I are the program's designated spacklers. Originally allocated two five-minute readings, I am now asked to abbreviate. Cut one Wallenberg poem, shift another to set two. How many people…50? Most aren't here for my poetry, but I deliver. Respectful applause. Later, just before I reclaim the microphone, Isa whispers that folks are weary, suggests reading accordingly. Okay. Three more minutes, three more poems.

Afterward, several strangers are kind. Isa gives me one of her own poems. Here's a man who helped rescue Danish Jews from the Nazis. A Hungarian woman who, with her mother, was saved by Wallenberg, winkled from a queue for the Budapest-Auschwitz Express. Susan Budner: "I wouldn't be here today if not for him."

Familiar faces. Clara, who recently lived on PEI. Sarah and Ben Gersovitz. Two of my cousins, with whom I afterward traipse to Westmount. What a sweet view Mitchell has of the flagrantly autumnal foliage. We dine out, Italian. He has his own extraordinary story. Then back to K2.

Monday. Sunday's schlepping wrecked my feet. Never stuff new orthotics into new shoes for an urban hike. Prep for tonight's Double Hook reading. Kent is finalizing his screenplay, but fetches us mid-day sandwiches from the Jean Talon Market. I edge down to Olio's at Sherbrooke and Peel for latte with Elizabeth Wood. Who used to write for me, is now tenured at McGill. Dark shadows. An abridged reunion but she vows to make my reading, even if late. Ben Gersovitz swings by to fetch me. Great chili and chat with Ben and Sarah in their Westmount home. Sarah's The Game, recently reframed, was our first print. She also wrote for me.

Judy Mappin's Double Hook is a legendary Canadiana bookstore. The sixteen people present pack the area belowstairs amidst the kid-lit. Hurrah for family and friends...only three here are strangers. Some nifty surprises. Shauna from the ConfedCentre, a cousin I'd never met, a friend of my son's, poet Maxianne. Four cousins in all, two of whom don't know their kin. Kent is here. John. Tod. Sylvia. Mitchell. I read from American Standard until Sylvia requests a Wallenberg poem. A sentimental evening. Elizabeth arrives in time for refreshments. And then it's over. I make my way flatward by Metro...contemplative.

Tuesday. Fly home, bagels stowed, having viewed little art-Metro stations, chez Gersovitz, and what's on Kent's walls (e.g. Karen Gallant, Ben Kinder)-a far cry from the days when Ann and I would explore the Montreals. This one's been a people trip.

Tuesday evening. My distraught mother phones. Her brother, my Uncle Bern, has died suddenly. Can it be? But his journey is finally ended. Wallenberg's remains mysterious. Mine continues.

Joseph Sherman is the author of Shaping the Flame: Imagining Wallenberg and American Standard and other poems.

This Sporting Life

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

As I began to harvest the stuffing for this column back when summer's broiler ran high, I anticipatorily typed: "I did three things this summer I've never done before." Then, sadly, my famous wife's holiday plan to go deep-sea fishing came to naught.

I did two things this summer I've never done before. July found me turning my expertly beaded eyes upon page proofs for a book celebrating last season's Superbowl champs, the New England Patriots. I've viewed enough North American football to know that CFL rules are superior to those of the NFL, but, in truth, I will never understand the underlying philosophy behind armored athletes tossing and wrestling a pointy ball down a field, yard by incremental yard. (Why, not incidentally, isn't it metres in Canada?)

Working on this project left me concerned for the fate of one Drew Bledsoe, the classy Patriots quarterback who set a new standard, last season, in the art of lip-biting and otherwise striking a noble pose. For details, read the book when it hits the kiosks. But don't look for my name in the credits. We 11th-hour `fixers' tend to be magnificently anonymous, and almost as noble as some put-upon quarterbacks.

Two: I played an inaugural golf game. An expert witness might challenge my presumption, but I did rent a wheeled bag of clubs and join two writer friends on Belfast Greens. Play? As in having fun. No golf carts for us, and a minimum of advice for me beyond "Keep your eye on the ball." My first, a Lowell (fancy naming a ball after a famous poet), was sucked down some hobbit warren on #6.

I teed off as I tend to bowl at first after years away from the gutter...impressively. Immediate retirement would've laminated my dignity, but it was nine holes or bust (18 would've seen me buried on the course), so I lived to slash, crash and burn: lost both `experienced' balls and excavated several divots, none too surgically; also entertained an aged twosome that chose to hang back in their buggy and observe my style rather than play through. Still, the day was beautiful, the scenery stunning. I've identified a personal preference for a 5-iron and a 2-wood (or is it the reverse?).

I comfort myself that many intelligent people are passionate about golf and football, and possibly deep-sea fishing.

The burning question now is whether to root for Tom Brady and the Pats or the Buffalo Bills, now that Drew Bledsoe is their new quarterback.

To change the subject-I'm suffering as I attune to waste recycling. It's a bit like learning how to tie shoelaces or a Windsor knot, but less forgiving. If you can't figure out where a particular used-up commodity is to be disposed of, it goes nowhere-it's yours forever. It won't vaporize on a wish. And forget depositing an anonymous bag of unsorted trash on someone else's curb; the Waste Rangers are not to be riled. The texture of yard sales and flea markets is surely going to change. Garbage culture is shifting. We are not only being forced to think about what it is we discard, but to soil our hands while making real the selection. Isn't saving the planet, or even an island, almost too abstract a goal to justify the energy and time expended on foodstuffs and acquisitions that don't become invisible when their usage has been exhausted? Choosing the correct bin is a worrisome, uncertain exercise. The orthodox trashcan, a staple of urban literatures and the paintings of Edward Hopper and Brian Burke, is joining the milk bottle in the celestial storage shed. Garbage-bag green is disappearing from the artist's palette. Rocky Raccoon and Oscar the Grouch are chewing their nails.

Divertimento-please take this Globe and Mail gem with you into October country (to-be-recycled in November), courtesy of Sir Simon Rattle, the newly appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic: "There is something about being in a place where the arts are essential, even to politicians. No civilized politician in Germany does anything except support the arts. It is simply a mark of intelligence there, just as it should be. It's deeply imbedded. Not a luxury. It's understood as something everybody should have."

Rumour has it that Sir Simon loves to deep-sea fish. I'll suggest to my famous wife that we ring him up in time for her next summer holiday.

Joseph Sherman's book American Standard and other poems was awarded the 2002 Aaron/Fuerstenberg Prize for Poetry.

It's True & Other Answers

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

More questions from over the transom:

Is the Queen Mum’s demise the Royal Family’s?

Few people living have experienced the era in which she held court and fewer yet can identify with her crises of abdication and shrouded in time’s gauze. The QM took her fabulosity with her. Now, loyal-to-royals must wonder if they want an odd stork of a principal, sensitive as he is on certain motherhood issues, taking the salute and spending the purse on sweetmeats. His own Queen mother ossifies, soon to be subject only to erosion. But still, traditions are anchors and lodestones, and many may choose to retain even the clunky ones, salted seasonally with the pixie dust of importance.

Why haven’t you spoken out against the NS government’s commando-style shutdown of its arts council?

I doff my fedora to the apparatchiks. Rather than mouth stale platitudes and hypocrisies, they sweep in and fire council workers peremptorily, padlock the doors, then introduce legislation that permits capture of the NSAC’s endowment fund and bars canned employees from suing. As tush-kicking artphobic behaviour goes, it’s a super-duper performance.

What of the latest controversy in NS about certain books being removed from the classroom?

The best way to mute the potential positive influence of a book is to tell kids they must read it. I did all my reading of the controversial (and salacious) behind locked doors and in murky attic light. Selecting reading material for age groups is one thing (nothing in a school’s library should be denied the curious), banning is another. Suppression of controversial or even questionable art won’t eradicate it or any implicit offense.

Is it true that a cousin of yours dated Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin on the Batman TV show and later Rocky’s trainer?

It’s true.

Is it true that you’ve a cousin who was a spy?

Yes, that’s true. He’s now a skilled journalist specializing in espionage and crime.

Is it true that your favourite comfort food is tinned beans on toast?

No, it’s a GCS with white bread and name-brand cheese slices, washed down with a name-brand chocolate milk.

Have you any solution to the Middle East problem?

If the UN mandated that all adult males in the ME become tailors of fashionable three-piece suits, with the Israelis making the jackets, the Palestinians the trousers, and the region’s gentiles the waistcoats, they’d all have to get along.

What is your favourite decade of the last century?

The 1960s, no other. I came of age, completed my formal education, began a family. I discovered marblecake rock ‘n roll, adopted Herb Alpert’s trumpet and the acid-washed Beatles. The ’60s  were the noble Kennedys, Expo ‘67—and political marches I mainly watched on TV. I discovered good books, began to write (initially aspiring to compose ad copy), and passed the exam for my poetic license. I read all about LSD, left rum and cokes for whiskey sours, learned that nothing weighs more on a steep stairway than an oil stove or a sofa-bed. I finished the decade praying I’d survive as a classroom pilot. My ’60s began and ended with summer.

Is PEI now really the poetry capital of Canada?

Unquestionably. And this should highlight all tourist promotion, with Milton Acorn’s family home a stop on the official bus tour. As well, the Island’s living published poets deserve tax breaks and a clothing allowance.

Is PEI any closer to having a Poet Laureate?

A presentation has been made to the higher powers. The response was warm. The faithful remain hopeful.

What’s best for value in today’s marketplace?

A box of 5,000 staples for 89 cents. What else can you buy 5,000 of for 89 cents?

Is Heywood Shelkey real?

Heywood and nephew Pellum Shelkey are as genuine as Hugh McDonald and Brent MacLean. But Princess County does stand in for Away. Our dirty little secret is that Heywood was born and raised elsewhere. Yes, it’s true.

Art in Pocket

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

I know where Heywood Shelkey isn't, but can't say where he is. Over our last shared pot of broccoli tea-Hey just in from Princess County and several international airports-he looked more than a tad worn and torn. What could he have been up to? Hey's best high-test schemes to place PEI on the map of man-made wonders haven't fruited yet, and his latest business plan is confetti. I hold out hope for his Island-wide subway and the thatched Confederation Bridge-brilliant ideas both-but I shan't weep to see Spudhenge crumble into the red dust. That concept cost him his marriage.

Pellum Shelkey…present and accounted for. Heywood's baby nephew, only son of littlest sister, Willow, the pale lad, with a degree in funny business from the region's tiniest university, has venturesome plans of his own. Chutzpah is clearly a Shelkey family attribute. (It seems like only yesterday that a pimply Pellum tried to sell me on investing in a lawnmower powered by vole droppings.)

He hitchhiked to the new New York last month for a look-see, and returned with a notion born of too much time spent being abraded by airport-security polyester. The monumental hole that is Ground Zero reminds him of the monumental hole that is the Grand Canyon; he's met tourists who've worshipped at both sites. In NY, they obsess on the mind-scenery created through absence, expostulates the young Shelkey, who can prate like a lecturer from one of the more questionable colleges.

Pellum's idea: to make a commemorative sculpture out of the sharpish metal items confiscated by airport security since September. Penknives and cuticle scissors, letter openers, nail clippers and files, metal combs, pointy keys, loose screws…tons of these things are accumulating at airports worldwide, he asserts. You can't melt them down together, apparently, as they're made from different alloys and wouldn't amalgamate properly, or whatever it is deliquescing metals are expected to do; but you can shape them into a welded structure.

How, I ask, would personal items abandoned before boarding a plane warrant a memorial? They have nothing to do with the WTC tragedy. "Wrong," says Pellum. "They're being taken from travellers because of what happened." The price we now pay for what drew the shade over one bright morning in September is to be forced to sit aloft in cramped quarters for hours with an untended hangnail. Apparently, what we can't tote aboard may as well become art and incite people to contemplation of the state and fate of the world as we thought we knew it.

Where would this memorial go? "I'm thinking of a continental tour on a 24-wheeler for a year or so," says the boy. "Then I'll consider offers." I think to remind Pellum that he's no artist. "You're no artist," I tell him. "You used to think The Blue Boy was the title of an Elvis Presley film." He condescends to laugh, then says: "I will be when my assembled sculpture has been spotlighted by the media. This could be my decade." He adds that we may be living out the 21st century's noughts, but not the nots…or something like that.

Like his blood uncle, Heywood in absentia, Pel retains some practical pods in his bubble-pack of a brain. If the art part doesn't fly, he's planning to open shipping kiosks adjoining airport security areas-franchisable as Pockets Home-to return confiscated items to their owners, for a reasonable fee. You can't deny Pellum's inclinational genes, though his standards don't yet meet Uncle Hey's for qualitative Brobdingnagianism.

This 21st century: Cynicism is its business. Dare to say otherwise to the Pellum Shelkeys of PEI and the nearer galaxy. Shed a quota of tears when something terrible transpires, then convert any remaining tears into a profitable elixir. Feelings that aren't. Art that isn't. Commerce. Can this really be? Can he be real? Heywood Shelkey, where are you?

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