Friday, February 16, 2007

a as in Artie, g as in Gold (1947-2007)

I have been thinking a great deal
about my bike that will be stolen.

I don’t like things whose inevitability
works against me.

Why have you driven through my heart?
Make that what. (The Beautiful Chemical Waltz)
Born in Brockville, Ontario on January 15, 1947, one of the original Vehicule Poets Artie Gold died in Montreal on February 14, 2007. Out of commission for years due to bad health (including various allergies and breathing problems), Gold published a number of collections in the 1970s and early 80s, including cityflowers (Delta Can, 1974), Mixed Doubles (The Figures, 1975; with Geoffrey Young), Even Yr Photograph Looks Afraid of Me (Talonbooks, 1975), 5 Jockeypoems (The Word, 1977), Some of the Cat Poems (CrossCountry, 1978), Poo Comix (private printing, 1978), before ROMANTIC WORDS (Vehicule, 1979) and Golden Notes / Living on Gold (prose; private printing, 1981), with another little chapbook of 1970s poems appearing more recently, THE HOTEL VICTORIA POEMS (above/ground press, 2003). He was listed as co-ordinating editor of the group anthology The Vehicule Poets (Maker, 1979), and had poems included in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The New Canadian Poets, 1970-1985 (ed. Dennis Lee), The Oxford Anthology of Canadian Poetry (ed. Margaret Atwood), Four Montreal Poets (ed. David Solway) and Poetry Readings, 10 Montreal Poets at the Cegeps (ed. Michael Harris). Ken Norris, fellow Vehicule, was seminal in getting Gold’s selected poems, The Beautiful Chemical Waltz, published by Farkas’ The Muses’ Co. in 1992, that even included a small slate of previously unseen poems. Of the Vehicule poets, Gold was the wildest, the most daring; Gold was the one who went the furthest for the poem, took the most chances, and therefore, had the most to gain, and the most to lose (wasn’t it Bowering who once called Artie the group’s Arthur Rimbaud?). As former teacher and mentor George Bowering wrote as part of the introduction to Gold's selected poems:

A hundred years after Rimbaud wrote his first poems and landed in his first jail cell, I was teaching creative writing, as they called it, in Montreal. Naturally, quite a few students I sat with have gone on to publish poetry, but none of them at the time read as much poetry as did A. Gold, as he then signed himself, with the possible exception of his friend Dwight Gardiner. I was delighted to find that Artie had read Jack Spicer and Frank O'Hara especially, and that he thought of them when he wrote his own stuff. At that time the established Montreal poets, and the vast majority of the would-be poets, did not read Spicer and O'Hara. My fellow professors had never heard of them.

But Artie had, and that is how I knew that he was serious about poetry. He was not interested in getting famous or expressing his uniqueness or preparing himself for a job teaching creative writing. (Artie never chased any kind of a job very hard.) He wanted to know what was happening at the front of the arts. What I noticed in 1970, and what keeps coming through his poetry, is his learning, his engaged reading of the avant garde. Unlike too many of his peers, he really knew what surrealism was, and he also understood the history of glass art, for example. A tremendous collector, he had an apartment crammed with geodes, art-deco lamps, Arthur Rackham illustrations and insolent cats:

you could have seen his silhouette
leaping like a made up mind
across balconies
below streetlight moons

Late night halloween superhero Artiepoet. For Gold the image is what the human mind can do. Reference is not as important as utterance, or maybe we should say that when it comes to skewing one, it will be reference. In this way Artie Gold is not Arthur J.M. Smith.

Spicer and O'Hara reminded their readers that poetry is made of speech, and speech can be exciting no matter the subject. In other words a young poet doesn’t have to write about suicide or seduction to be interesting.

In fact smart-talking poetry corporal Gold was, in my opinion, just what the seventies needed. We had a lot of younger lyricists consolidating their post-language territories, solemnly dishing out free-verse stanzas on the northern experience or immigrant families toughing it on the plains. Gold is a city poet for sure, wielding lingo instead of Canadian agenda:

So many things remind me of you
The birth of christ: Georges de La Tour (around 1633)
page 126 Art news Annual/1955: The repentant Magdalene
a nude, Kirchner painted. A Matisse (pp 11-2)
In the 1970s in Montreal, Gold was one of seven poets gathered around Vehicule Art Gallery that eventually helped Simon Dardick with the editing and content of the subsequent Vehicule Press (the press was housed in a room at the back of the gallery), with the group eventually known as the Vehicule Poets – Gold, Tom Konyves, Stephen Morrissey, Ken Norris, Claudia Lapp, John McAuley and Endre Farkas. Gold, along with the rest of his Vehicule peers, wrote and read voraciously, started reading series and magazines, published in journals across Canada, and took advice from various older upstarts such as Louis Dudek, George Bowering, Lionel Kearns, Daphne Marlatt, bpNichol, Barry McKinnon and David W. McFadden. As Gold himself wrote of their little group for the anthology The Vehicule Poets (1979):

I would not like to see perpetrated in the calling of this collection The Vehicule Poets any mythic understanding that bonds exist between these poets greater than common sympathy arising from the shared perplexities of the Montreal English lifestyle.

I don’t somehow feel people will understand the spirit in which seven of us have just upped and borrowed a tag none of us really wants to wear to the bitter end.

So here we are and if we are together and need a name and can't rule one house with seven different signs, well, hell, let it be Vehicule.
Gold’s first collection of poems, cityflowers (1974) and his selected poems, The Beautiful Chemical Waltz (1992) both sported introductions from western Bowering, who first encountered the young student Artie when George was teaching at Sir George Williams (what later became Concordia). As George wrote in cityflowers, “So in the years 1967 - 1971 I encountered lots of young Montrealers who wanted to be poets, but only two who wanted to step fully into the world, the world, of poetry. These were Dwight Gardiner & Artie Gold. The only two I knew with holes in the knees of their jeans & great big libraries at home. Of course they were not in a hurry to get publisht, & of course they got to know each other. They both became familiar, & of course they got to know each other. They both became familiar with the energy centres of Canadian & American poetry. Curiously they were the first 21-year-olds I ever saw getting turned over by the great dead poet of SF, Jack Spicer, & the great dead poet of NY, Frank O’Hara.”

O'hara died like christ
a blue chrysler struck him down
he died suddenly in a field of white yellow daisies
scattered among grass, he died surreally
in a kitchen wallpaper (excerpt, from The Beautiful Chemical Waltz)
Artie Gold was an important poet for me from the time I discovered his work in my early twenties from his then-new selected; I could mention the years I wandered Montreal's Ste. Catherine's Street with my Artie Gold book in pocket, trying to understand the workings of the city through its pages. It was a few more years before I was actively engaging with more of the city's writers in a useful way – expat Ken Norris, Peter Van Toorn, Anne Dandurand and Bruce Whiteman, or the younger group of writers just beginning to emerge in the mid-1990s, such as Catherine Kidd, Corey Frost, Colin Christie and Dana Bath. But even as others came and went, there was the constant and even present absence in Montreal (in my mind) of Artie Gold, who had long gone underground by that point. I first learned Montreal from the point of view of his poems.
I came to this city
naked and from a small town
and have rearranged some of its objects

I will hitch-hike out of here one day
with my hair in my eyes and a good breeze blowing
and cause a little confusion I'm sure--

though no more than a hair
discovered in a gravy. (excerpt, from before ROMANTIC WORDS)

It wasn’t until The Muses' Company "last supper" in 1995 that I actually met Artie Gold, however peripherally. Arriving at Ben's with then-Ottawa resident and poet Elias Letelier-Ruz (at the suggestion of Norris), the informal gathering was to honour the press and its achievements, as well as the achievements of publisher/founder Endre Farkas, who had just sold the press to Gordon Shillingford. I think I mumbled something to Gold about him being great, before pushing a small stack of chapbooks across the table at him; I was far more excited meeting Gold than meeting Louis Dudek. I don’t really remember anything after that.

More recently, on February 15, 2004, Montreal poet Artie Gold was celebrated by at small gathering in the boul. Ste. Laurent studio of friend Tom Paskal, with a number of his friends old and new there simply to say hello, including fellow Vehicule poet Endre Farkas, artist and photographer Chris Knudsen, and Adrian and Lucille King-Edwards (owners of The Word bookstore). And celebrated, not for any particular reason, but for the fact that almost no-one has seen Artie Gold in so long, due to his numerous ailments; I thought it an opening into something, not realizing it would be the last time I'd see him. Allergic to everything, with an oxygen tank nearby, it had been years since some had seen Gold at all, with his increasing inability to leave his apartment, let alone the inability to let others come in. Consider the bad timing of a Montreal black-out the same night, and a small group of friends with him in the stairwell, wondering what the hell we were doing, watching Artie climb four flights of stairs, stopping every step or so to breathe (it took about half an hour). It did seem odd timing that, around the same time I got the phone call invitation, Vehicule Press publisher Simon Dardick was organizing the reissue launch of Peter van Toorn’s Mountain Tea, originally released in 1984 by McClelland & Stewart, but long out-of-print. It seems safe to say that February 15th, 2004 was “old poets day” in Montreal (three years nearly to the day Artie died). And a couple of us, including Adrian and Lucille, as well as Jennifer Mulligan, were able to easily attend both, directly leaving the van Toorn event for the “Artie Party.”

Still writing over the years, Gold claimed, and still in good humour, despite his health, with a quick wit that can still turn twice on the same dime, a trade collection of new writing hasn’t been seen of Artie’s since 1978, with the publication of his before ROMANTIC WORDS that year through Vehicule Press (amid the rumours of a “lost” manuscript around the same time that never saw print, involving Coach House and David W. McFadden, supposedly called Romantic Words. The rumour has yet to emerge as anything more than that – no-one claims to actually have a copy anymore, so it’s impossible to know what might have been in it). It was only a couple of years before, after years of living with boxes of writing in storage, and he somewhere else, that Artie had moved into an apartment that could house both, basically trapping the boxes of unseen poems there in his apartment with him. When the anthology YOU & YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS: NEW MONTREAL WRITING (Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2001) came out, I quoted him at the beginning of my introduction and mailed him a copy (I think I accidentally mailed him my copy); he later said that he not only enjoyed it and read it repeatedly, but that something about the paper stock made him itch all over for days. I don’t think there could be a finer compliment, that he was willing to continue reading and re-reading the collection, despite the itch.

Still, over the years, the rare poem appeared in the hands of Lucille King-Edwards, handwritten on a scrap of paper or a napkin, or in the hands of another Montreal poet, Sonja Skarstedt. Remaining in their quiet hands, seen only by them. In March 2003, I was lucky enough to have a new poem of Artie’s arrive, typed by him on a postcard. Artie had even sent it on the back of an Artie Gold postcard that had been published in the 1970s by Ken Norris and Jim Mele's CrossCountry magazine (I published the new poem in the first issue of The Peter F. Yacht Club).

there’s Mitch w/ his I just
swallowed Charles Bronson
smile towing his Chester
Goulde pitbull who’s
watching his legs move
with the same stupified
wonder a man might give
his hernia if his guts
out of the blue went roping
cattle. Yippie-ai-Yai
yippie-ai-Yoh. / who wants
blow– I only / sell / halves!

A. Gold, March 2003
Around the same time, Gold gave permission to release of a stack of unpublished work into my hands, nearly 700 pages of writing from 1968 to 1978 (the photocopies of a stack that sat in Ken Norris’ Maine basement for years), with the hopes that there would be something publishable; some of it appeared very briefly as the chapbook THE HOTEL VICTORIA POEMS from above/ground press, named after the hotel Gold lived in during the period some of the poems were composed), all during Artie’s own claim that he has far better writing in his apartment, if anyone could get to it (but he wouldn’t let anyone try). My favorite of these acquisitions was getting a copy of the “lost” Gold poem, “doublet,” published in an edition of 30 copies by Barry McKinnon’s Caledonia Writing Series in Prince George, in the spring of 1978 (the same time Gold also worked the press to make 80 copies of his “sex at thirty-one” poem, one of a couple of "sex at thirty-one" attempts he made around the same time), included in a package of other materials from former Gold collaborator and The Figures publisher, Geoff Young. That’s a long way for a poem to travel, from Prince George to Great Barrington, Maine and back to Ottawa. I immediately made a broadsheet of it (with Artie’s permission), in a handout edition of 250 copies, later doubling the run in reprint. Even Vehicule Press historian and longtime Gold editor Norris hadn’t heard of them poem.

I rode her a different direction
like a constant collision lodged
Oh, why would you want to publish that, Artie keeps saying of the older work, but you can if you want. And then he’d laugh. Part of the hopes of the stack of poems was an eventual collection of "new" poems (even as Gold taunted me with the stack of more recent poems), and a potential second selected, but after a few months of negotiation, the whole project was nixed by Gold without explanation. On my end, the months I spent boiling nearly seven hundred pages to a file of about a hundred poems or so that I still have to finish going through; what does one do with seven hundred of someone else's poems?

there is the pipe smoke
that is like plankton in water
it is proof not only I
thread bare hallway rugs in slippers
I have seen 2 girls there
one watching the other
the other watching the one
the both watching me
as I turned to go
by some silent consensus
one spoke , they both spoke
said - hi! (like -
snappy! )
and sometimes the phone rings
that is in the morning. one night
a hand, pausing on its way
down the long hallway, for a second
felt my doorknob
but it was not my hand
so it went on, on to its own.
like a waterfall behind a lightswitch
things wait there just out of reach.

jan 6.77

On April 8th, 2004 in Montreal, they held the publication launch of the 25th anniversary Vehicule Poets anthology, The Vehicule Poets_Now (Winnipeg MB: The Muses' Company, 2004), including new and old work by all seven poets (Gold's section, instead, was a selection of previously published works), with all coming in to read for the event – Lapp from Oregon, Konyves from Vancouver and Norris from Maine – but for Artie Gold, due to his health. It wasn’t possible for him to be in such an open space with that many strangers, with whatever smells and animal hair brought in on their clothes. Even the "Artie party" put Gold in the hospital for three weeks. Again, it was western George Bowering writing the introduction again, unable to escape his own Vehicule days, even if he wanted to, writing of Montreal poetry during and just before the Vehicules happened:
But by the time I arrived there in Canada's centenary year, English Canadian Montreal was a poetry ghost town. The old guys were still around, at least part of the time, but they were not causing any trouble. Cohen and Mayne had moved out. Roy Kiyooka was there, but his best poetry was in the future. There were some English-language poets in their thirties, but they were staid. They resembled the academic poets in Iowa and the versemakers trying to get something together in the postwar desert that was the English tradition. They fashioned metaphors and crafted stanzas and considered the spirituality of nature as opposed to the disappointments of contemporary city life.

They may have thought of poetry as the sullen art.
Artie Gold was one of those who helped make the art less sullen, the best of the bunch, writing his poems in Montreal and further, thanks to those Vehicule days. I will miss those postcards that I don’t get anymore.

related notes: Endre Farkas' on Gold's passing ; a poem I wrote a few years ago about Artie ; an Artie Gold note by Brian Nation ; Todd Swift note ; Brian Campbell note ; and as Endre Farkas notes in a follow-up email, "If you wish to view Artie's Obituary and sign the guestbook you can Google Montreal Gazette Obituaries and follow the instructions. There will be a memorial in early April-date to be confirmed. If you wish to be kept, informed-go to"

No comments: