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Literary Periods

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Blatantly thieving from those magazines that make clever celebrity connections using six or fewer degrees of separation, I offer some connectible dots representing a wealth of poetic types I know.

Triple-threat writer David Helwig edited my second poetry collection in 1974, when I still resided in N.B. We met only after he moved to PEI.

His partner Judy Gaudet was included in Wayne Wright's 1980 anthology, The Poets of Prince Edward Island (a collector's item), published by Libby Oughton's Ragweed Press, marking my own first appearance in an Island publication.

Brent MacLaine, whose Wind and Root was one of 2000's best début collections, and who co-edited last year's Landmarks anthology for Acorn Press, is the younger brother of Wendell MacLaine, whose own poetry can be found in The Poets of PEI.

Laurie Brinklow, owner of Acorn Press, and an award-winning poet in her own right, refined her editing chops at Ragweed.

Acorn Press is launching Dianne Hicks Morrow's first book of poetry, Long Reach Home, on April 25th. Dianne attended UNB when I did, but our paths never crossed...until PEI.

Laurie, who also works for the Institute of Island Studies, is a sometime colleague of Catherine Matthews, poet and a Secret Swarm founder (and editor of Ragweed's New Poets of PEI, 1980-1990), along with John MacKenzie, whose Sledgehammer was another superb poetry début, published by B.C.'s Polestar Press, one of whose editing luminaries is Lynn Henry, another Secret Swarmer.

Dianne, Laurie, and Judy participated in CBC's Live Poets Society broadcast last summer, previous versions of which featured, among others, Ms Matthews, Messrs MacKenzie and MacLaine, Richard Lemm, and John Smith.

John Smith (also published by Ragweed) was all but a stranger to me until we gave a joint reading at Mt. A. in the early 1980s, where I discovered that he was not only a wonderful poet but a masterly performer. His work was most recently published in Landmarks.

Hugh MacDonald, Landmarks co-editor with Brent MacLaine, met his own poetry publisher, Marty Gervais of Ontario's Black Moss Press, at a Milton Acorn Festival on PEI.

Richard Lemm, a chum of John Smith's, who once worked at Ragweed and with the Acorn Festival, did his Ph.D. on Irving Layton, one of Canada's finest poets of the 20th century, to whom I was introduced by Seymour Mayne, a University of Ottawa academic and poet who came to be involved in Richard's scholarly endeavours. I first met the subject of Dr. Lemm's Milton Acorn: In Love and Anger at the Blue Mountain Poetry Festival in Collingwood, Ontario.

Two of Milton Acorn's den mothers were Ragweed's Libby Oughton and the artist Hilda Woolnough. Hilda and her partner, the late writer and publisher Réshard Gool, were the only Islanders I knew before 1979, excepting Ron Irving, who, in 1990, as director of Theatre PEI, brought my book Shaping the Flame: Imagining Wallenberg to the stage.

Réshard organized a now legendary reading at the Rustico Legion (attended by Milton Acorn), which featured Greg Cook, from N.S. and N.B., also a Landmarks poet, who is writing a memoir about the late Alden Nowlan.

Poet Frank Ledwell's new son-in-law, artist Stephen MacInnis, provided the cover images for Shaping the Flame and for Richard Lemm's Four Ways of Dealing With Bullies. Frank, whose poet daughter Jane is in Landmarks (she's profiled a number of writers for The Buzz), also attended UNB, and is published by Acorn Press.

Another UNB grad, Brian Bartlett, who reads here for The Reading Well Bookstore on April 18th, teaches in Halifax but is a Frederictonian I first met at a school poetry reading I gave with Alden Nowlan, who was once almost involved in a TV project being developed by David Helwig, when David worked at the CBC.

Okay, so the lines are being stretched, but April is National Poetry Month-make a connection.

Peter and the Wolf

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Peter Gzowski would've been taken with the recent five-ring circus in Utah-the thrills, the spills, the ethical chills. In his seasoned role as alpha male radio host, he'd've had a field day with the emotions and the ructions, and connected us with the players and issues in that manner uniquely his.

So why would anyone argue that Peter Gzowski was the worst thing to happen to public broadcasting in Canada? Because he and his pack cleverly seduced so many into becoming relentlessly faithful adherents of a show brimming with unabashed, if unsimple, Canadian pride? Because his brand of personality-driven morning radio bred listeners who tuned in less for the guests and the topics than for the reassurances infusing that singular rye and razzleberries voice? (He could reputedly be a snarly fellow in person.)

Gzowski had a solid reputation as a print journalist by the time his real métier turned out to be the refuge of public radio. (I was spared his apparently forgettable TV efforts.) And untrained or no, the guy was an actor who mastered the role of radio star, one more popular with the hoi polloi than Tom Jackson and Bill Mitchell and Sarah Binks-all those characters he so himself admired. What an ethereal concept for information radio. Ought there to be, then, as there has been, such a palpable sense of Gzowski's aPeter and the wolf
A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Peter Gzowski would've been taken with the recent five-ring circus in Utah-the thrills, the spills, the ethical chills. In his seasoned role as alpha male radio host, he'd've had a field day with the emotions and the ructions, and connected us with the players and issues in that manner uniquely his.

So why would anyone argue that Peter Gzowski was the worst thing to happen to public broadcasting in Canada? Because he and his pack cleverly seduced so many into becoming relentlessly faithful adherents of a show brimming with unabashed, if unsimple, Canadian pride? Because his brand of personality-driven morning radio bred listeners who tuned in less for the guests and the topics than for the reassurances infusing that singular rye and razzleberries voice? (He could reputedly be a snarly fellow in person.)

Gzowski had a solid reputation as a print journalist by the time his real métier turned out to be the refuge of public radio. (I was spared his apparently forgettable TV efforts.) And untrained or no, the guy was an actor who mastered the role of radio star, one more popular with the hoi polloi than Tom Jackson and Bill Mitchell and Sarah Binks-all those characters he so himself admired. What an ethereal concept for information radio. Ought there to be, then, as there has been, such a palpable sense of Gzowski's absence, first intermittent, then periodic, now permanent?

Those of us who cleave to CBC 1 and 2 can lose sight of the fact that there are more radio listeners in Canada who don't, and to whom Gzowski was a stranger at the party (they'd not know him as a writer either). Nor was he a known quantity in Quebec. Mr. Canada? It wasn't a soubriquet he velcroed to his cloak.

I admit to having welled up during the tributes that followed his death. His was a warming vocal buzz through my post-graduate learning curve. Once planted, his persona took. He wasn't the only broadcaster who could tether me to the car radio past an appointment deadline (remember Geoff Pevere on Prime Time?), but Gzowski's eclectic broadcast agenda was particularly infectious. I no doubt have a better appreciation of Connie Kaldor and Dalton Camp because of him.

Smoking killed more than one member of my family, and no tobacco exec in the world can claim that it didn't murder Gzowski. I could wax poetic and say that Pete the Puffer was something to his audience he wouldn't otherwise have been. But even if the sacrifice netted the nation a cultural icon, it broke a great many hearts at payout.

I had a brief, and less than memorable, broadcast moment with Gzowski, once subbing for regular PEI Morningside contributor Daphne Dumont. And I was Poet Laureate for his PGI golf tournament for literacy at Dundarave's opening some summers ago. Disappointed as I was to learn that he'd not be attending, I got a kick out of the connection. I knew him no better, or less, than most of the many listeners who were made comfortable by his molasses and mustard avuncularity.

While speaking, during a day of Gzowski tributes, with the PEI's Angèle Arsenault (who sang in the Morningside den, and took part in his Tuktoyaktuk PGI), I remembered the poem in my new book-the only poem I'm likely to ever write about golf-dedicated to "Di, Norm, Jo, Cath & Pete." Four are names from the PEI Literacy Alliance, the last is Peter Gzowski. And I never actually mailed the guy a copy.

Life in radio broadcasting evolves, as it does elsewhere. I reckon it says something that I've especially missed his take on any number of recent events, here and abroad, that I've heard no one else ask the toothy questions he'd have formulated. At such times we know why we register loss, why some things will never be as whole at dusk as they were at daybreak.

Joseph Sherman is a writer and editor. His latest book of poems is American Standard.

bsence, first intermittent, then periodic, now permanent?

Those of us who cleave to CBC 1 and 2 can lose sight of the fact that there are more radio listeners in Canada who don't, and to whom Gzowski was a stranger at the party (they'd not know him as a writer either). Nor was he a known quantity in Quebec. Mr. Canada? It wasn't a soubriquet he velcroed to his cloak.

I admit to having welled up during the tributes that followed his death. His was a warming vocal buzz through my post-graduate learning curve. Once planted, his persona took. He wasn't the only broadcaster who could tether me to the car radio past an appointment deadline (remember Geoff Pevere on Prime Time?), but Gzowski's eclectic broadcast agenda was particularly infectious. I no doubt have a better appreciation of Connie Kaldor and Dalton Camp because of him.

Smoking killed more than one member of my family, and no tobacco exec in the world can claim that it didn't murder Gzowski. I could wax poetic and say that Pete the Puffer was something to his audience he wouldn't otherwise have been. But even if the sacrifice netted the nation a cultural icon, it broke a great many hearts at payout.

I had a brief, and less than memorable, broadcast moment with Gzowski, once subbing for regular PEI Morningside contributor Daphne Dumont. And I was Poet Laureate for his PGI golf tournament for literacy at Dundarave's opening some summers ago. Disappointed as I was to learn that he'd not be attending, I got a kick out of the connection. I knew him no better, or less, than most of the many listeners who were made comfortable by his molasses and mustard avuncularity.

While speaking, during a day of Gzowski tributes, with the PEI's Angèle Arsenault (who sang in the Morningside den, and took part in his Tuktoyaktuk PGI), I remembered the poem in my new book-the only poem I'm likely to ever write about golf-dedicated to "Di, Norm, Jo, Cath & Pete." Four are names from the PEI Literacy Alliance, the last is Peter Gzowski. And I never actually mailed the guy a copy.

Life in radio broadcasting evolves, as it does elsewhere. I reckon it says something that I've especially missed his take on any number of recent events, here and abroad, that I've heard no one else ask the toothy questions he'd have formulated. At such times we know why we register loss, why some things will never be as whole at dusk as they were at daybreak.

Joseph Sherman's latest book of poems is American Standard.

War and Pieces of Art


A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

We've yet to hear that an official war artist is assigned to the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry on its muscular mission in the murk of mountainous Afghanistan, but I remain hopeful. In the 20th century, Canada shipped some of its brightest artists to a number of fronts. One recent appointee was PEI's Allan Harding MacKay, who was arting it up in Somalia with our old Airborne buccaneers when a certain infamous incident occurred.

Artists may note things invisible to documenting photographers, and have the time to let their perceptions coalesce before completing a canvas. Mood is something an artist can ken and plumb. Good war art isn't about glory, it's about the work of war, the vicissitudes of war. The strongest of Alex Colville's WW II images are not those of armor in motion or of weary infantrymen sussing a defile, but those few recording his chilling and unwholesome discoveries in a liberated concentration camp.

I reckon there's lots for a keen-eyed artist in Afghanistan, little of it pretty, most of it bleak, all of it potentially revealing. If the Princess Pats are going to mix it up with the adversaries of the day-probably warlords reclaiming chunks of a desiccated demi-country of sour milk and gall-there's bound to be a reward for the patient painter.

Peacekeeping doesn't come naturally to armies. Soldiers enlist with an expectation of combat experienced sometime before retirement, and are usually disappointed otherwise. Regiments yearn to earn and add to their battle honours; renewal is important to a venerable troop. Obviously, those who tough it out in Afghanistan will achieve professional recognition, with medals freshly designed and minted.

As a kid, I loved military models and assembled many a halftrack, jeep, and Sherman tank, plus a diorama in which to place my companies of plastic manpower. This was before articulated GI Joe figures, when soldiers were still one colour, and affixed stiffly to a plastic stand. But I never wanted to go to war. It's not in my genes, though my father did volunteer for overseas duty, only to be betrayed by his flat feet (he didn't need a plastic stand to remain upright). The closest I've come to handling a real gun was that time I fired a pistol belowstairs in a Cape Breton bank (but that's another story). Some friends joined the local militia to earn spending money; not me.

I've devoured Keegan and Lukacs and Gilbert and Deighton on war, but remain thankful I've never had to take up arms in one. And I've always appreciated the work of war artists.

Now, if Canada were sending more blue helmets to Kandahar and environs, this gig might be ho-hum. But thanks to vigorous inoculations of patriotism, Canada's own are off to slug it out, if the bell rings. Polls indicate that a majority of Canadians, especially from hereabouts, want our troops over there in combat mode. The Princess Pats are probably the only mobilizable Canadian unit, whether they are as tough as the presiding U.S. 101st Airborne or not. So far, more journalists have died in Afghanistan than troops from the West.

Warlike behaviour anywhere troubles me, but I don't advocate for the deracination of our military. I suppose we could leave all defense duties to bionic America, or even hire mercenaries (an ancient and honorable practice), but I'm easy-I can live with a compact, modern military that doesn't mind peacekeeping when summoned, policing the offshore, fighting forest fires, even moving snow around a petrified Toronto (granted, an inglorious task). But I do want to know where the war artists are.

Whether Canada's latest expedition produces fireworks or flubber, it would be instructive to have an artist front and centre to observe, record and interpret. We might learn more about why we're really there.

Voices in the Head

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

More than a century after Marconi shot a loving S across the Atlantic, we still can't figure out what to do with broadcast radio. It wasn't supposed to survive the enthroning of television. Radio's a noise, a buzz, a murmur, voices in the head. And people continue to tune in, despite labour unrest and other static.

Gil McElroy, former curator at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum, and now residing in rural Ontario, is the author of two new and significant books, Gravity & Grace (essays) and Dream Pool Essays (poems). He is also an amateur radio buff and tuned into Guglielmo Marconi. He learned loads about PEI's amateur and broadcast radio history while Island-based.

The upright, cathedral-arched, vacuum tube radio that I buddied throughout my teens, and which informed my earliest sense of romance, was handed away by my father when we were leaving Cape Breton, much to my dismay. It was a beautiful mahogany thing, plundered for parts.

Radio informed my image of the Beatles. When I first watched them on television, I was startled at their odd appearance, amazed that they seemed to be playing their own instruments.

When transistor radios reached my village (Sony was king), I remained the only kid never to own one.

The late Glenn Gould was besotted with the medium of radio and produced a number of sonically inventive programs on Canadian themes that could work in no other medium.

I used to night-navigate the glowing dial of our massive radio in a never-ending quest for new music, and assiduously jotted down titles in dozens of little red notebooks courtesy of the Great West Life Assurance Co.

Bob and Ray may have been the best radio comedians anywhere, though I didn't realize this until much later.

I was a slave to commercial radio during high school. Two friends, both of them paid to DJ weekends on CJCB, recorded and aired skits I wrote (we worked with sound-effects vinyl-a great treat); I settled for affiliated glory.

The guy to whom my father gave our radio eventually abandoned his own broadcasting career to become a chicken farmer at Marion Bridge.

I lived and breathed the student radio life at university, though forbidden to take to the airwaves because of my accent. Having to repeat freshman year as a consequence resulted in my becoming a poet and meeting the woman who became my wife.

Television, when it finally arrived, seduced but never convinced. We thought our eyes demanded something to do, along with our ears, but there wasn't enough. Such inferior images, such inane programming...we settled for pottage.

The niftiest anecdote about university broadcasting is Garrison Keillor's "The Radio Announcer." It makes me wince and yearn each time I hear it.

Our first car (actually my new wife's), a creamy Austin Mini yclept Petunia, didn't have a radio.

Of course, when I speak of radio, I mean the CBC. Ads, even the clever ones, turn me off faster than proselytizers at mealtime. CBC Radio is, however, desperately weary and needs rejuvenation. There's little imagination left in its programming.

And yet, oddly enough, the radio commercials of yesteryear seem entertaining now, even ingenuous.

(Why is it acceptable to drive while engrossed in a pithy radio program, but not while having a cellphone conversation?)

Novelty isn't everything. The CBC's best includes Between the Covers, where books are read aloud.

It's funny...when you speak with someone near, eye contact is intrinsic to communication and trust, but when you listen to the radio and kindle imagination, you feel as if you know the world as well as it can be known. You believe in what you hear.

The preceding radio kisses and chickenbones have been brought to you by my conscience.

P.S.: 2002 is a palindromic year, the first since 1991, the last until 2112. You've heard it here first.

Joseph Sherman owned the first crystal set on Wesley Street.

Heywood Weighs In

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Princess County ideas nabob Heywood Shelkey was in another corner of the globe when NYC was attacked three months ago. Given what's been transpiring, I thought to solicit his reaction.

Hey, people are saying the new century really began on September 11th. Do you buy that?

Bucko, from where I was recently perched, events in Babylon West looked less than surreal. I supped with people who barely survived massive earthquakes, people who lost cousins to major floods. If you were any more upset than otherwise by bleak September, it’s because you saw yourself clinging to one of those buildings.

Meaning you weren’t flabbergasted?

It was a long time coming...if you read the signs. Awful, terrible. That many folks from just down the road...neighbours. And, y’know, you can struggle back from a natural disaster, but this wasn’t Ma Nature, and it was an opening salvo. Then anthrax by post. Some poultry are coming home to do more than roost.

How does uncertainty about our safety affect the way we perform?

Well, I figure we’re all of us in for worse yet. The Island is small and off the beaten track, but we’re as exposed as any Bunionville. Care for a timely metaphor? Think storm surge and erosion that just won’t quit.

Still and all, I won’t hack thumb-twiddling or hand-wringing. Or martyrdom. I’m for getting on with getting on, for making plans. Biggish plans. I know I’ll not soon see the funding for my P.E.I. subway project, the roofing and thatching of Confederation Bridge, or for the development of Spudhenge, but if we come through all of this intact, I’ll find my angels. What the world needs more of is covered rights of way and imaginative monuments.

So you’re saying life should be lived as normally as possible.

What choice but gusto? This is a golden time for the opportunistic and entrepreneurial. Buy low and hello high. And for artists. Any writer or musician or painter who doesn’t squeeze the juice out of this experience isn’t seriously spring-loaded.

Cripes, Heywood, I haven’t. Not yet. Not really.

Maybe you’ll be bitten later. Have an epiphany. You go on about how long it takes for you to write, how unprolific you are. I can see in those googly eyes that the valley of the shadow has affected you. But mark me, this playing-with-war stuff is going to eviscerate cultural funding (not to mention health and social). Public spending on the arts is soon to be a misty memory.

We’ve weathered storms before.

Never a long blow like this one, buddy-boy. Think about it...it’s always been a struggle; you, of all people, know that. Now there’s a bonafide excuse to body-check artists into the margins, where they’ll dig away as best they can...or not. I hate to say it, but this era will make or break many of the creative types. Still, I reckon there’ll be some fine writing to come out of the smoke and mishegoss, and you may be one who rises to the occasion. In the old wars, young artists found themselves in uniform, many of them to take the full count. But today’s front line’s wherever you care to draw it. Pitch in or pitch out.

So this one’s really different?

This conflict’s a mother of a battle between ideologies, one of them fanatically religious (however twisted), the other secular and shackled to the make-a-buck motive. One is hedonistic, one queerly masochistic; both are self-serving. Quelle surprise! One is medieval and insidious, the other modern and out of control. Me, I’d prefer the freedom to choose my poison.

You’re something of a cockeyed optimist, Heywood.

It’s the only useful position to occupy. The world is new each waking day. Let Kent Stetson’s success with regal awards from Ottawa be your guide. Play ABBA tunes early and late.

Joseph Sherman's latest book is American Standard and other poems.

After the Fall

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

We've been fed enough remarkable images since September 11th to fill innumerable souvenir and legit photo books, and never has such video been shot of a monstrous event unfolding. Those images out of New York are sadly unique. We watch an original atrocity being committed, a grotesque crime unfold in detail. There's even footage of the first plane piercing the WTC, from a European filmmaker shooting on-site. The volume of eligible new image icons is unprecedented, thanks to lens accessibility for pro and amateur alike.

Art wrestles with and feeds on social upheaval and trauma. How to re-present it, how to achieve transcendence? Sensations that scutter like agitated mice through our brainpans are especially tough to assimilate and interpret.

Consider some defining American photographs of the 19th and 20th centuries: Timothy H. O'Sullivan's A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Dorothea Lange's Depressionistic Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California; Robert Capa's Death of a Loyalist Soldier. There's Jack Ruby plugging Lee Harvey Oswald, those dramatic Viet Nam images of the napalmed, naked girl and of the prisoner being executed with a revolver, the grieving student at Kent State-photojournalism become social icon become photo-art.

This century has been stamped forcefully with one Tuesday's events: those shots of fleeing, dust-assailed survivors; of the WTC's fall, before, during and after; of rescue crews drowning in search of their own-many to be art-commodified for at least this generation, in photo-based work, work on canvas and paper, sculpture, and video art itself. (Performance and literature must speak for themselves.)

I've been wondering which of the images constantly being reproduced would become the mind-tattoos for the zero decade. That picture of a spectral, shell-shocked middle-aged businessman, hanky over mouth, standing amid the desolation and clutching his precious briefcase, is already a logo for corporate America.

Two images are certs for popular culture, awaiting transcendence though artist intervention. That picture of three firemen raising the Stars and Stripes on the downed WTC mast echoes Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1945 shot of five American marines and a combat medic raising theirs atop Mount Suribachi. Of the infinite number of flag images recently hoisted, this one's the most assuringly poignant, if conceptually derivative and jingoistic. That oddly beautiful seven-storey-high fallen facade, suggesting a cathedral ruin, has already been pegged as a future memorial.

It is, without question, destined to feature prominently as an only slightly abstracted image...and as commemorative jewelry.

There's not a genre that can or will remain alien terrain to 9/11. (Will something displacing yet poke a sharp or poisoned stick into our noodles?) Not only are all previous references to New York now dated, but all future art must pay homage. Pop culture will be the first to integrate in movies and music videos.

Visually, something as ordinary as those thousands of victim portraits strikes a profound chord. Garden-variety camera shots of this nature are usually staged, even goofy and innocent in the way of most hopeful gestures of a moment. More than the obscene, peek-a-boo images of the catastrophe itself, these portraits transcend the prospect of intervention to introduce us to ourselves. It's like being fixated on a fun-house mirror.

There is little that gets disqualified as a subject for artmaking, which has its job to do. Arrest is for journalists, interrogation is for creators. And as free expression is inimical to the mindset of the assailant, it is necessary that it be unfettered and given a workout.

The dominant images of this century provoke great uncertainty and unease. The newest cosmos is as rife with boltholes as black holes. Most artists are not fanatics and can't keep up. Still, they will try, using the materials at hand. Art has always done very well by hell, and vice versa.

Coast is Clear

A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

Until this last August 4th, if anyone had asked me to name a favourite spot on P.E.I., I’d have vacillated. When our kids were small, a certain, then undeveloped, south-shore cove was the family destination of choice on a sunny summer’s day at low tide, zoologically intense tidal pools and all. But that popular cove never spoke to the inner me.

Now I’ve a ready response that discounts family suitability as such: Cape Tryon, overlooking the Gulf of St. Laurence.

Not for its fabled lighthouse have I taken to the cape, but for its feng shui (or whatever that is when applied to Nature’s ordering of land and water), and for some indefinable attraction that works on me when I make my way to the headland and can see the spreading coastline for many kms to left and to right.

My best pal and I are keen for our summer day trips. She’s the pilot. I’ve learned that the Island landscape changes perceptibly within even an hour’s drive, almost always within view of water, either the sea or one of its tributaries. I’m not large on travel for its own sake, but exploring the Island countryside gives me something. We usually choose a direction that is exclusively east or west, and seek out the many working and abandoned harbours and the bosky mid-Island dells between them. Who says P.E.I. is flat? There’re enough undulations to suit us. These saunters cost only half a tank of gas plus picnic fixin’s, and there’s never much of a crowd where we wind up, even in August.

Cape Tryon, with its cormorant-invested cliffs precipitous enough to prime the adrenalin in a high diver, appeals, even if Quebec attends beyond the horizon rather than the invisible Ireland of my boyhood (when I spent my summers gazing from the Nova Scotia coast). The funny thing is that I usually favour white beaches, and here I am signing off on some of the highest sandstone cliffs I’ve ever visited.

Twice this summer we found ourselves briefly alone off Cape Road, joined all too soon by a small convoy of uninvited sightseers. The first time in August it began with a young family from Wisconsin, the father armed with camera and tripod. To be fair, they weren’t anxious for our company, either.

We were the only ones to tread the path to the headland—oddly warmer and less windy than below—with its wide view of the gulf and the cape’s own sea serpent (that’s not a secret, is it?) The path up in early August was bounded by butter and eggs, thistles and goldenrod. Stunted raspberry cane hedged the brow of the cliffs. A matched pair of sootywings literally beckoned us up in a butterflight processional, pas de deuxing as if they and not the resident prima donna cormorants were the star attraction.

It felt good to be there. It’s a bucolic surround, measured by the drama of coastal hardness and height. There’s a real sense of standing on the edge of things. The lighthouse itself? It has its own story, but that doesn’t interest me just yet.

The high cost to agriculture of the recent blazing summer was discernible in the sere potato and grain fields adjoining Cape Tryon. But looking out to the horizon, and watching the sea ravens draw invisible lines of life across the cliffs and shouldering gulf, I chose to be self-serving. That stony aircraft carrier for cormorants, the crouching sea serpent...I wonder, has it been noted by others and photographed? Has its story been told?

The title poem of American Standard and Other Poems, Joseph Sherman’s just-published fifth collection, was first published in The Buzz.

The Tunes of Summer


Roy Johnstone

Review revby Joseph Sherman

Roy Johnstone with bassist Ross MacDonald at the Victoria Playhouse in August

The first time I heard Roy Johnstone play Gershwin's "Summertime," he cannily segued from that ripe standard into a Celtic set. It worked. The Winnipeg-born instrumentalist's eclectic taste in music fuels his knack for fusions.

It was just a matter of time before his exploration of smart 20th-century pop and jazzy stuff produced a repertoire that now includes other bone-happy examples of the music pillaring an era. The violin/fiddle has always had a respected spot in the group portrait of swing and blues-pop, even genuine jazz (e.g. the late Stephane Grappelli). Exhibit A: Johnstone's latest recording, Summertime.

Roy Johnstone's CD-launch concert reflected the refinement of his explorations. One second-half number was an unadulterated Celtic set, but why not? He had virtuoso percussionist Allan Dowling to play with.

Dowling was the senior sideman on stage, companioned by two talented Islanders, upright bassist Ross MacDonald and guitarist Ian Toms. Their youth and infectious zest for the music gave the concert a warmth and exuberance matched only by Johnstone's patented vertical peregrinations when performing, his sinuous reed of a body a conduit for the music's lilt and feel.

The play list read like a cartogram of (mostly) American popular music. The first half included "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Blue Skies" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," all enthusiastically received by a full house. "Take Five" disappointed only because I love Dave Brubeck's extended version, which gives musicians a chance to fiddle with the motif, and these guys chose to keep it tight. The international component consisted of Moe Koffman's irrepressible "Swingin' Shepherd Blues" and "The Girl From Ipanema," the sweetest samba ever written.

Everything was looser in the second half: "Sunny Side of the Street," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Ragtime Life" (all on the CD), "St. Louis Blues," "Lullaby of Birdland" and a nearly deconstructed "Someday My Prince Will Come," duoed ably by Toms and MacDonald. And there was that necessary Celtic medley.

Arrangements are the key to appreciating such familiar music, whether in adhering to the tried and trusted, or thoughtfully spinning off something new. Johnstone's approach is respectful and fair.

This music, while eternally accessible, was written for a different time, an analog time, when audiences listened more attentively and innocently, and shouldn't be mocked or undersold. It was great to hear these musicians as a combo-two of them born long after composition, the other two grown up awash in rich echoes.

I've a repertoire request for Fiddlin' Slim: a groovy take on "Night and Day" (full version). Oh, and a lush cover of "Yesterday."

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Some Upcoming Events

Free Solo

November 16–20
City Cinema PG, language may offend, scary scenes
Dir: Jimmy Chin/Elizabeth Chai Vas [ ... ]

Symons Lecture

Dr. Margaret MacMillan is 2018 medal recipient and lecturer November 23
Homburg Theatre Confederati [ ... ]

Wintertide Holiday Festival

November 24 & 25
Charlottetown Wintertide Holiday Festival begins November 23 with a Wintertide  [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Acadian showman

Profile: Christian Gallant by Jane Ledwell Forty-six musicians and step dancers took the stage at  [ ... ]

October is Learning Disabilities Awarene...

This October, the Learning Disabilities Association of PEI (LDAPEI) will be marking Learning Disabil [ ... ]

Young Company headed to National Child W...

The TD Confederation Centre Young Company is hitting the road again. After a busy 2017 season that s [ ... ]