Humans make art
Art makes us human
Once upon a time, when we visited faraway places, we mailed postcards home. Postcards were a haiku-like way to let loved ones know where we were and what landmarks we had seen, and to draw envy with our scribbled “Wish you were here!” sign-offs. Back then, it was exciting to send - and receive - one. PoemCards are a digital revival of the postcard experience, “moving” poems of image, sound and text, each “written” to you from an exotic locale of the “image nation.” PoemCards are an antidote to COVID isolation, a balm for the eye, ear and soul, from us to you, through cyberspace, to the world out there, letting you know we’re alive and well, and still creating.
Click on pictures to view
Arctic Flight - Carolyn Marie Souaid
Channeling Gertrude - Tom Konyves
I Love You - Endre Farkas
This Finite Moment - Carolyn Marie Souaid
All Lit Up: What’s the most surprising thing about being a writer?
Endre Farkas: That I’m a writer. I didn’t have a standout moment when I decided to be a writer. I wanted to be a great soccer player. I wanted to fall madly in love. I didn’t want or not want to be a writer. Writing seemed to come easily, even when it was hard. It seemed as natural as the breath breathed in and out. Writing led to more writing. And so it still goes. What is also surprising is that I’m still writing after all these years, in spite of the fact that I haven’t become famous or rich. Revelation. Writing is not what I do. Writing is what I am. Maybe it’s a romantic notion, but it’s true for me.
ALU: Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your own writing?
EF: I’m a genre fluid writer, so I’ve been influenced by writers from different genres. I started my writing life by writing poetry. The first poet I encountered who influenced me, in the sense that he was the first poet I read, was Jozsef Attila, a Hungarian poet. I was in grade one in Hungary and everyone in class had to memorize and recite a poem. The poem I was given to memorize was “Lullaby.” It’s about a tired mother trying to convince her child to go to sleep. In each stanza, she lists a bunch of things that have gone to sleep, from creatures, to threadbare jackets, to streetcars to get him to go to sleep. I instinctively liked the rhyme, images and the idea of lists. I don’t know if I consciously thought that then, but I think it now. I can still recite parts of it. Sixty years later, I incorporated that poem into my first novel Never, Again. That’s influence.
William Blake was the poet I most liked while in university, both for his poetry—simple and complex at the same time—and his weaving of social and political themes into his work. Being the sixties - and he being outside the mainstream of his time – he appealed to me. He made it into my second novel, Home Game. Blake and a high school friend led me to Allen Ginsberg, to his howling and yawping. I wrote a parody, Howl Too, Eh, that made it into National Lampoon and earned me over a thousand dollars (US). Not bad, Eh? Canadian poets David McFadden, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, A.M. Klein and Leonard Cohen all influenced me in different ways at different times. McFadden turned me onto the quotidian as subject matter and Bowering to the Black Mountain poets. Marlatt turned me onto language, stream of consciousness, and rhythm, and Klein to my Jewish heritage as subject matter. And Cohen— he was mystical, cool and from Montreal. And finally, The Vehicule Poets. To know why, read Vehicule Days: An Unorthodox History of Montreal’s Vehicule Poets edited by Ken Norris (Signature Editions).
In my plays and performances, it was Becket and Brecht who I looked to and read. Becket introduced me to non-realist possibilities in plays and Brecht to infusing social and political concerns into plays. “Food comes first and then morality” was a quote of his that I had pinned to my wall. Though, to be honest, I changed “morality” to “art.”
My prose—my most recent genre exploration—is influenced by my father who was a great storyteller, and Ferenc Molnár whose Paul Street Boys was the only novel I ever read in Hungarian—I was seven or eight—just before we escaped from Hungary in 1956. It was about loyalty, innocence, conviction, principled behaviour under stress, and individuality. It was a great read. I’ve even incorporated the novel as a “character” in both my novels.
ALU: Do you have a book that you’ve gone back and read several times?
EF: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. For its language, its observations and its hardboiled-ness. I channeled Chandler when I wrote Murders in the Welcome Café, a serial poem. There are books of poetry and favourite poems I dip into regularly. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence,” Ginsberg’s “Howl”, A.M. Klein’s “Heirloom,” Ken Norris’s “You are reading this too fast” and Carolyn Marie Souaid’s “Paper Oranges” to name few.
ALU: Do you have any rituals that you abide by when you’re writing?
EF: Not anymore. In the beginning, because I thought it was romantic and I couldn’t sleep, I used to write round about midnight to the cool jazz of Chet Baker, Miles Davis, etc. I also used to like writing first drafts by hand. I still do when on the road. I like the feel of my fountain pen, its scribbling/scratching on paper. Nowadays most of my writing is done on the computer. I also like to toke as a way of opening doors of perception. Editing, I do straight. I now write or not write anytime and everywhere. But one ritual I still abide by is showing up.
ALU: What was your most rewarding moment as a writer?
EF: I didn’t have one “most rewarding moment.” It always seems to be when a line of poetry works. It’s the sigh after an image is “perfect,” when I feel that there can be no other way to say it (at that moment). In fiction it’s when a character says something I hadn’t thought of but rather comes out of his/her mind and mouth. And I say “of course.” Or when a scene makes a scene.
ALU: Describe your perfect writing day.
EF: I wake up. It helps to be awake. I do my tai chi exercises and forms. It’s great for posture, balance, memory, mindfulness and sweeping away sleep. Coffee is a must. In winter, staring out my window helps me focus. In summer, going to my little garden, seeing what seeds sprouted, what plants bloomed, what vegetables were eaten by the birds or squirrels, and which died. Then, going to my desk and winning the struggle between starting to write and googling. Winning is when I start to write. Although I sometimes think that by googling I can approach writing from a disconnected perspective, outside the box. Sometimes some random piece of trivia or serious piece of information might spark something. A fellow poet, Stephen Morrissey, wrote a poem that I use as a mantra to get me going: “regard as sacred the disorder of my mind.” I write in 20- to 30-minute bursts. After that my back begins to ache and my mind wanders. Looking in the fridge and having an epiphany as to what would be fun to eat for lunch is part of the perfect writing day. After lunch, a siesta is a must. Waking up in a good mood is great. Reading one of the three to five books I have going is a nice transition back into writing. Feeling like making supper is a good sign for more writing afterwards. I usually have a good conversation with my partner about writing (she’s a writer as well) or watch stuff till midnight and then write for an hour or so. Then it’s off to sleep, perchance to dream of waking.
ALU: What question do you wish someone would ask you about your book? Let us know, then answer it here.
EF: How and why did you structure your book Home Game the way you did?
This question is about the creative process. And though most critics and readers react to a work by asking what’s it all about, I’m very curious to see how a novel is structured and why. This question may seem more about construct than content, but for me, one is very much linked to the other.
Originally, Home Game had a much different structure. It had back and forth sections between Tommy, the main character, and his childhood friend, Frog, and, like two trains on the same track, they were heading toward each other. I liked it but my editor thought that the back and forthing was taking strength and focus away from both. It also required more tell than show. Then I got the idea of starting in medias res, in the midst of things. Now it starts in a crucial part of a related chain of events— the situation is an extension of previous events that are developed in later action. I wanted to plunk the reader in the middle of things and live the unravelling that Tommy is experiencing. The reader, like Tommy is dislocated. The structure reflects this dislocation, beginning in a police station, in his birth town, from where he and his parents escaped eleven years earlier during the 1956 Hungarian uprising. There, he is waiting to be interrogated for something that is not clear, in a language he now hardly speaks, and scraping a drying brownish stain from his hand. By way of this beginning, his childhood and present predicament is presented simultaneously. What follows is a flashback to how it all started, at a soccer game that seems to have nothing to do with the interrogation. The flashbacks are interrupted by ‘flash present’ interrogations. So, in the end, I did get my back and forth-ing but not the way I had originally conceived it. God bless and curse editors.
The devil and the angel are in the details. And these details, I believe, are relevant to more fully appreciating the story. After the fourth or fifth draft, I began to see its arc. I began to consider Home Game as a quest. I started to tweak some details. Originally, I chose to call the soccer team the Internationals because the team is made up of players from all over the world who, like Tommy, are exiles/immigrants. They are all from elsewhere. Then I changed it to the Knights because it suited the quest idea. Later, I realized that both were right, so I had them call themselves Sir Internationals. It reflected their own sense of identity and their evolution into being Knights on a quest. This way, Tommy leading the team back to his homeland becomes much more than the story of a couple of friendly soccer matches between countries. Also, in his own trials, tribulations, epiphanies, and adventures into sex, drugs and love, identity and home become more meaningful because he is a Knight errant. He and his teammates being “Knights” also ties in with The Holy Grail that they are consciously and unconsciously after. He discovers that his Grail isn’t the trophy he holds up at the start of the novel but Frog’s Manifesto, “J’Accuse,” at the end of the book.
There are other underlying structures, minor and major, upon which the story is built. I invite the reader to look for them. I really believe that with this extra eye, a story or any piece of art, becomes more alive.
GIVING PEACE A CHANCE
This is Part 1 of my ramble about getting to interview John Lennon & Yoko Ono during their Bed-In in Montreal.
Giving Peace a Chance
Fifty years ago today was May 26, 1969. Fifty years ago today John & Yoko came to Bed-In in Montreal. Fifty years ago I was 21.
Fifty years ago I published my first literary/hippie magazine, Ostrich. In case you’re wondering why I called it Ostrich, let me make a short story short. Here’s the last paragraph from my editorial in Volume 1, #3:
“The ostrich, contrary to popular belief, does not bury its head in the ground in times of danger. Rather, its keen eyesight serves as a sentry, on guard for dangers from within and without.”
I told you it was a hippie literary magazine. It looked hand-made. It was. It was how we wanted it, anti-commercial, anti-establishment. Of course, we also didn’t have resources to do it up snazzy, so we made it unsnazzy. And maybe we did it because the times they were a-changing.
It was during these changing times, May 26, 1969, that I interviewed John & Yoko and published it in Ostrich. We also published photos and excerpts from the ‘interview’ and a poem by John. It all came about through chance, serendipity, alignment of the stars and a little deception.
I was working at The Gazette as a sports reporter. I was the ethnic sports reporter who covered ethnic sports, namely soccer. I was also in my transitional phase from jock to hippie. I was a jock who played Junior A soccer and covered the major league.
However, as my hair and consciousness grew longer and deeper, my interest in sports moved from the actual to the aesthetic. I still enjoyed the camaraderie of jocks, the rush of the game, and the thrill of victory but I was also tuning in, getting off on the Beats, and experimenting with grass.
I remember when the two states – body and mind – joined for one glorious moment. It was before I dropped out in 1970 and moved to Meatball Creek Farm. It happened during a game in which I scored five goals while high.
I felt so inside and outside of myself that that I was beside my self. It was as though I was watching myself and knew where and when the ball would arrive before it did; knew exactly where it would be and what to do to become at one with the game. I was in the Zen moment; ‘it’ was doing it. They now call this state The Zone.
I got the newspaper gig through the team manager of my Junior A team, who worked at The Gazette and knew that I was in the Arts program at Sir George (now Con U) and needed a summer job. He used his influence to get me an interview.
The sports editor, a cigar smoking/chomping gruff man – a real cliché of a newspaperman à la Perry White – asked to see a sample of my writing. I gave him my honours essay ‘Meditations and Variations on Waiting for Godot.’ He glanced at the title, tossed it on the desk and asked me if I could spell and type.
I happened to see two guys (who turned out to be Pat Hickey and Ted Blackman) hunting and pecking on manual typewriters. I told him that I could do that but lied about my spelling. After all, I was an English major. I knew how to use a dictionary.Back then, The Gazette was in a battle with The Montreal Star for readership and was looking to get more ethnics to read the paper. Having a regular column about ethnic sports seemed like a good plan. I was ethnic, my name was ethnic, I played the ethnic sport, I could write English well enough and I could hunt and peck, so I was hired and given a press pass.
It was around this time that I got friendlier with a couple of guys, Allan and Allan, whom I knew only casually in high school. One Allan was into the Blues, the other Allan was into journalism à la underground. The three of us were also into getting high.
For some reason that I don’t remember – if you remember those days, you weren’t stoned enough – we decided to start a magazine, along with one of the Allan’s sisters, whom I had a crush on.
I think one of the reasons I was interested in publishing was because of LOGOS. LOGOS was a Montreal underground paper. It was messy, edgy and fun. I think it was located in an apartment on Duluth above a butcher shop. Aislin was one of its cartoonists.
Its most memorable issue was the one in ’68, in which they reproduced The Gazette logo with the “z” inverted. The headline read “Mayor (Drapeau) Shot By Dope Crazed Hippies.” It also claimed that one of the “dope crazed hippies” stabbed the mayor with a hypodermic needle.
I vaguely remember that an announcer on CJAD announced it as The Gazette gospel truth. I found a second source who also “seems to remember” that this was true. According to The Gazette, about fifty people called the switchboard thinking it was true.
LOGOS publisher Paul Kirby landed in jail and during the trial, in 1969, Drapeau personally testified that “nobody shot him or stabbed him with a hypodermic needle.”* Ah, the good old days of ‘Fake News’ with a social, satirical purpose.
Memories keep my mind wondering. Sorry.
I had a press pass, and a first issue of Ostrich was about to publish an article about marijuana by “The Mandala”, a couple of short stories, a couple of poems and a cartoon about the environment with the heading of ‘Time’s on my side’ by The Rolling Stones. I'm impressed how environmentally aware we were.
Just before we went to press, we heard that John and Yoko were coming to town to have a Bed-In for peace. Back then, everything was an “in”: Love-in, Sit-in, Be-in, so why not a Bed-in?
Allan said, but don’t quote me, “you have a press pass, I know a photographer, let’s go interview them.” So off we set to be a part of The Happen -(In)-g.
The Queen Elizabeth hotel lobby was crowded with perplexed business-suits carrying briefcases, trying to go about their coming-and-going among the flower-powered jeans and skirts, the tie-dye shirted, sandaled, army surplus canvass-bagged longhair boys and girls and their auras and scents of patchouli, wanting to see John & Yoko. It was the clash of the bland and the colourful counter-culture cultures.
I used my press pass to get Allan, Morrie (the photographer), and me past the loosey-goosey security into their suite. It was crowded with the famous and the unknown. In the middle of the room, reclining in their all-white bed, in their all- white pyjamas were John & Yoko. (John’s PJs might have been striped.) My first impression of John was that he was skinny and not as tall as I thought. His long hair and beard reminded me of Jesus with glasses. His saying, in 1966, that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus might have influenced my thinking that. Yoko was even smaller. Her wiry black hair fell like a cape about her delicate face. Her smile had a seriousness to it.
Even though they were considered “royalty,” I didn’t feel that they acted as such. Yes, they were reclined but it felt like you were at a friend’s bedroom party. People were sitting guru-like on the bed, on the floor, leaning against walls and doors, wandering about, chit-chatting and smoking. It didn’t feel odd. Maybe I’m seeing it through rose-coloured glasses. Probably. Probably, it seems odd now.
I don’t remember how long we spent there or what we talked about. I remember him asking me, “Hey man, how’s it going?” When I told him about the magazine, he said “cool.” Looking back on the notes in Ostrich, I see that John also said, “We’re all Christ, you know” and Yoko said, “The main centres of the world are Moscow, Washington, and the Vatican.” Allan was the one who asked him to write a few words. John drew a quick sketch of himself and Yoko. He also gave us permission to reprint a poem of his ‘Our Dad.’ I think it was from his book, In His Own Write. Reading it now, I must say, it isn’t a great poem, but the sentiments were right for the times.
We spent a few hours mingling, feeling special, believing that love was the answer and peace was possible.
“You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one.”
Imagine © John Lennon
We’ve been sold the idea that war can end war. We’ve given war chance after chance and it always ended up leading to more war. It’s the classic definition of insanity, doing the same thing time after time and expecting different results. Giving peace a chance seems like a sane alternative. I think we need dreamers more and more because I don’t think we have a choice. Time is not on our side. Imagine that!
I left before ‘Give Peace a Chance’ was recorded. I had a soccer game to cover. I was probably the only one in the city of Montreal who wasn’t on the record.