I’m intrigued by the new issue of The Capilano Review (3.12 / fall 2010) and their section “Susan Bee & Charles Bernstein in Ruskin, BC 1973,” come out of nine months they spent on Vancouver after he’d received funding to study in Canada. I’ve been long aware of New York City poet and critic Charles Bernstein’s awareness of Canadian poets and poetry, attending conferences over the years, among other connections, and it’s interesting to see where this attention and awareness might have began.
The section starts with an interview with the two conducted by Andrea Actis, and some of their works from during that period, from Bee’s visuals (including on the cover) and some of his own poetry. As Bee says in the interview:
Charles went to class with Robin Blaser, a seminar in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, while I stayed in the house and painted and drew and cooked and read books. For me, it was a welcome break from endless years of schooling. We had roommates in the house and cats to look after and we learned to bake bread and to chop wood to heat the house with. Neither of us had ever lived in the woods except in the summer and we learned to wield an axe and make a fire and Charles used the chainsaw. We went for long walks in the woods with the cats and Charles wrote poems. We also read Emily Dickinson’s poetry out loud. It was quite an idyllic interlude, though not an easy transition for me. I wasn’t used to the unstructured time, but I immersed myself in the immediacy of this new existence, though I was somewhat homesick for the urban fray of New York.
Are you able to recall the name of the SFU professor who rented out the property in Ruskin?
Charles Bernstein: Names are elusive. I do remember it was Dean Walter Gage of the University of British Columbia who said I’d have to formally enroll in classes to be affiliated with UBC. Simon Fraser was much more accommodating. I’d majored in philosophy at college so my initial contacts at SFU were with the Philosophy Department. I think it was David Finn from that department who said we could rent the ground floor of a house he had just built in Ruskin. He was renting the upper two floors to a few other students. Finn had originally planned to move into the house himself, with his family, but his plans went awry. The house itself was a modern wood house with almost no insulation, so we had to keep a wood fire going all the time to stay warm. I’d never chopped wood before, but now I was swinging an axe if not like a native then not like a killer on the loose either, though my forte was the chainsaw. I love the smell of chainsaw gasoline in the morning, the intoxicating buzz, the moment when blade makes contact with tree. (I’ve never used an axe or a chainsaw since.)
There are also some entirely compelling prose pieces by Vancouver writer and publisher Meredith Quartermain (perhaps from her new BookThug collection, Recipes From the Red Planet, possibly out any minute, if not already) as well as some fantastic original pieces and translations of Nicole Brossard by Erin Moure. When one sees particular journals remain interesting and lively, doesn’t it make you wonder how the rest remain so remarkably dull?
A Marijuana Stalk
Unbeknownst to the woodsman, a marijuana stalk has grown 20 feet over the summer. The first snow has wilted its leaves. The woodsman cuts it down and hangs it to dry in his cabin, pocketing his pipe and some hashish. A smoke for later, he thinks, on a path through a meadow, down a road to a frosty dock—floating out to a raft of sail boats in a lake. He walks down the icy planks, then turns to the grey water sliding murkily around clumps of snowy reeds. In a swift, decisive movement, he jumps in, becomes completely submerged, then rises to the surface, pulls himself up on the dock and sits there, drenched clothes streaming around him. Come, get out of the cold, do come inside, the narrator calls to him, the narrator afraid to set foot on the frosty planks of the floating dock. Why, he shouts back. I suppose, the narrator says, You’ve heard of pneumonia. The woodsman jumps off the dock and dives under the grey brown water toward a steep bank of tangled snowy bushes, leaving the narrator wondering how she will speak to her character. Is a narrator to her woodman like a king to his army, or a mother to a son. Devil to disciple, or god to bewitched. Like language to word, or planet to plant? (Meredith Quartermain)