31 May 2008, 10:50am
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Postmodernism and Ironic Humor

There’s a critical tension between history and irony. It’s the straight man, the tragedy, the potential anger and dismay that makes a joke possible by being a foil and an expectation. We norm to humor and soon lose the sense of laughing when everything is humor.

Irony relies on a self-awareness of being inside a narrative text, as much as a character in a post-modern text breaks the fourth well and shows that as a character he is self-aware of being a construction. Irony relies on writer and audience having a shared history. The common truths set up the punchline of subversive irony.

Hutchings quipped that “our era joins every other in being distinct as being an era of irony”. In postmoderism, the author may or may not let the reader in on the joke or lay it on the line, ambiguous which way it falls, satire, or serious.

Lord knows a lot of serious seems to self-satirize. I used to visit a blog, loving the hyperbole, finding it hilarious, complementing the humor, before at one point I keyed in that he was being earnest. (Whoops.)

The humor is in part in miscueing, or by turns refusing the next expected turn and going off on a tangent, when audience and author are aware this is a deliberate resistance to the easy direction. As Schlegel says, it only works to lead to new interesting places if the audience follows. It still can amuse the author, but to pied piper a crew, more so.

“Why should I provide misunderstandings when no one wants to take them up?”; “A classical text must never be entirely comprehensible”;

“Irony is the form of paradox”;

“We haven’t gotten far enough in giving offense”;

“What gods will rescue us from all these ironies? The only solution is to find an irony that might be able to swallow up all these big and little ironies and leave no trace of them at all…. But even this would only be a short-term solution. I fear that…soon there will arise a new generation of little ironies: for truly the stars augur the fantastic.” – Schlegel, essay “On Incomprehensibility” [via Adam Carter of Lethbridge U]

It does seem funny to try to formalize what was resistance to formal, like a rogue rhino party army becoming the government, the rules of operation change.

If ideas are to be passed on to future generations, there must be a reduction because those generations have ample lives already without what came before. What needs to be passed along needs to be winowwed.

Robert Kroetsch A common proposed term to keep in common is a person (pictured), Kroestch, “a gateway thru which a generation of literature myst pass” (as Lindy Ledohowski related in panel 2). In his talk, he chatted, telling a humorous anecdote.

Postmodernism, although it has elements of overthrowing non-equity, appropriately enough also popped up times of laughter during the conference, such as in panel 4, fielding questions…

panel 4
(Peter Thompson out of frame), Jennifer Blair and Adam Carter on Hutcheon.

As one audience member pointed out, key parts of the wild and crazy new pomo movement in the 70s, get intergrated into culture without the next culture knowing where it came from.

The radical ideas of postmodern, to mess up order of narrative from on high, to do metafiction, to speak in ironic voice, take folksy (but informed) potshots at the questioned sacred cows, to have multiple voices telling a story, collaging fragments, to leave a story without closure, was there when this youngest generation got there, culturally. People norm to what we encounter; They take the traits as normal default.

It reminds me of the Arthur Erickson lecture where an audience member said that by making spaces in Simon Frazer university, that build landscape became the baseline of what is, same as tree that was always in that spot.

Would then humor and linear story reverse poles? The default is cream pies in the face and the subversive is the solemn? Meet the Mormons Missionary calendar (NSFW) covers both bases of being earnest and playful, messing with expectations and yet in the name of fundraiser for charity.

Irony is not exclusively a force of foil. Like a satire comedian who worked so long with politicians that his teeth nip instead of bite, there’s a danger to the “rebellious” nature. Irony’s in a three-legged race with what came before.

If irony becomes automatic, Bok warned, it can become used as an alibi, becoming complacent with the history it seems to be rebelling against by keeping the history referenced. You have to reference the thing in order to doubt it and by doubting, you reinforce and reactivate instead of just turning the page of history to something fresh, rather like Gladwell was talking about in priming for race or gender throwing off the natural course had these issues not been raised.

Link: 10 Ways to Annoy the Hell out of your Writers’ Group

Quote: “It’s hard to be funny when you have to be clean.” – Mae West

Haiku Conference

tulips Ironic there should be hectic mornings getting ready for a restful day…

Thank goodness for deduction. Wandering around I realize there is cereal in my mouth. I must have started breakfast. That would mean there’s a bowl here somewhere getting soggier cereal. I look thru 3 rooms before I found it.

And more recently, I swore I would add my bag before we go. Hubby checks my progress, amused to see how I’ve done. I’ve added the essentials: a swimsuit, a camera and a box of chocolates. One needs more for any day?

He’s got my number.
old plates

It seems I never posted many photos from the Haiku Canada conference. Even tho haiku is timeless, it’s bout time isn’t it?

Philomene, Terry Ann and Claudia were some of the team organizing it.


The new Carpe Diem Anthologie Canadienne Du Haïkus/Canadian Anthology of Haiku had its Ottawa launch. It was co-published with Borealis Press and Les Éditions David which is responsible for spearheading and publishing over 40 French Canadian haiku collections. Shown here with the publisher is Marshall Hryciuk and Karen Sohne.

Carpe Diem has 320 haiku, 4 by each writer, 40 French, 40 English from across Canada. Although each conference makes a collected chapbook of participants and broadsheets of renga and contest winners, it’s the most comprehensive national collection Haiku Canada has done in about 20 years.

IMG_5825 IMG_5827
Past-president LeRoy Gorman and this Ottawa slam poet both read their haiku.

haiku Canada conference
Michael Dylan Welch did a couple presentations, coming up from the Haiku Society of America

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Professor Makoto Kakanishi came from Ehime University, Japan (on request after his presentation on teaching children the form read a few of his own haiku) and Guy Simser, who recently won the Diane Brebner Award, shared his vision too.

Next year’s conference will be in Montreal. This fall there will be an international haiku conference in Ottawa. (I’ll keep you posted.) Before then there’s another international haiku conference sharing Plattsburgh New York and Burlington Vermont.

Quote: “Is that a real haiku or did you write it yourself?” – Haiku Tshirts at CafePress.com

29 May 2008, 1:02am
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Support for the First Nations

May 29th Aboriginal Day
Rally at Victoria Island at 10 a.m. with elder’s invocation, dancing and drumming and walk to Parliament Hill for 1 p.m.

P.S. The 7 point challenge of First Nations to the Goverment [courtesy of JohnW]

A statue in the park.

It’s not a bird, not a plane, not just a hat, it’s a scone basket.

Side thought: Castor oil comes from the castor bean. Somehow I’d stuck with the idea that is was rendered down beaver. how long have I been carrying that idea?

Buyer Beware: synthetic products in shampoos, cosmetics, fragrances that cause skin sensitivity and enhance allergies. Some countries ban before others. (via Najahface

Quote: “deal with the facts and fuck the theories” – Shabless, in define feminist? by this single mom life activist who runs a DJ service has a massage therapist business as well

28 May 2008, 12:20pm
Comments Off on John Donlan at Tree

John Donlan at Tree

John Donlan was reading from his new poetry collection, Spirit Engine (Brick Books, March 2008) at Tree on May 27.


His poems in this book were split, like his time, half in Vancouver, and half on his 170 acres of what his dad would call “snake farm” of rock and swamp. He plans to get a conservation protection on it so any future owners can’t develop into their idea of something useful. Great idea. The pressure to develop the greenbelt and let people sprawl their lawns, rather than be contained in a more upright posture is a nagging sort of debate. Score one for the damselflies and frogs?

IMG_5998 What struck me from what Donlan read from his 4th collection was the sense of settling into the landscape, opening up to it as the bridge the more hermetic life of city to enter one’s own breath. The book seemed to be a deep inhale and deep exhale. The contemplative poems, and the choice to gear down from the urban impress/depress/repress/suppress and just press into wind. It seems a sort of coming to terms with past when ignorant as a clod as a boy stoning frog, now giving the later generations a refuge, appreciating the equality of frog and man both living richly on the muddy margins. A touch of gentle humor there, camaraderie with animals like Basho and modesty for one’s place in the grand scheme.

He read Looning bringing a new word to me, crepitus, the sound of old joints grinding. In one poem, nature creeps into the urban landscape where we don’t even remember to look for it, or expect it. It takes other hand pointing and willingness to look and attend.

It’s a walkabout in the back forty, realizing a day can be as simple as this, looking at the white pine: everything the wind wanted to say confined to a few gestures of the branches. One can take a time out and traipse over the bared bedrock where wind has made rocks smooth as naked bodies. Moments of successive images and tactile was a trip outdoors, visible, tactile while pulling back from invoking God or profound or wedging in some edgy or clever word trick. There’s nothing to prove. No reason to rove an autobahn all the time.

There are lessons in the air, where dragonflies are stained glass, wrinkled windows. His poetry is in the pastoral, lyrical vein. Not so much sense of smell or touch, but also nothing he read was self-agitating drama-spun, more a mosey inviting a walk alongside.

After a time on the land without the milk skin of concrete, one begins to wonder about the futile strains and struggles and flinches we choose to put ourselves thru, and as he said, why complain about the weather; let is teach us to vary.

He had a pleasant chatter in there too, mentioning that bill bissett has said he’ll make a movie of nothing but poets shuffling around for the next poem to read.

The open mic: a mixed bag, as it always is anywhere. Bob, now out by Peterborough way, was present in absentia because Baird read 3 pieces from him. A new lady to Ottawa readings brought rob (who she’d never heard of before picking up his flyer tonight) in absentia thru reading Alexander Graham Bell at May Day poems. Another newer person, Rona read 3 poems. One used the idea of two people as being hour and minute hands to each other, was particularly well-put. I read a bastard ghazal and a double acrostic (described there as an 1850s fad. heh).

News from Tree: They plan to set up recording of the open mic and feature reader starting sometime in June and come July, the long talked about change of venue, is set to happen, a shift to the Arts court. Tree’s also looking for a community liaison volunteer to drum up publicity. The count down to Jaap Blonk, sound poet of of Holland is getting short. He’ll be here June 6th at Saint Brigid’s Center for the Arts/ Irish-Canadian Cultural Center.

Quote: “The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.” – Katherine Mansfield

28 May 2008, 11:26am

Left Cold, Threat, and What Underlies Groupisms

A tidbit from a few lines in the open mic last night brought closer to focus what I’ve been mulling for a few weeks. Rod read a couple poems from What Narcissism Means to Me by Tony Hoagland. What struck me was the pithy list of parallel groups, (paraphrased):
mammals curl low to the ground when wounded,
birds huddle in their nests when hurt and
people when injured, become pontificating experts.

It’s compassion in there, looking past how behavior makes us feel to what causes the agent to act before we react. It’s looking at and past the superficial similarities, seeing what propels people to act outwardly how they do. The same two outward behaviors can be unrelated inward behaviors.

People when hurt can curl inwards into nests of cringe too, or can move outwards and intellectualize and attempt to master or show mastery. People who are outgoing may be naturally gregarious or may be naturally shy. And it’s contextual and at the point in day and life one is in.

From there, back to the idea of what causes people to close ranks, stay close in tribe? What makes those senses of you-are-of-me where when I wear headcovering and in an Arabic store, Muslim women meet my eye and when my hair shows, they don’t. When I walk thru a mixed race crowd of strangers and try to meet eyes, it is very rare for a black man to meet my eye. When I gained weight a few years ago, more women of my new weight range met my eyes on the bus. When I lost weight, that “tribe” shifted.

At the Pow wow one of the things that struck me the people dancing as Natives were of native culture, participation. People would be in other contexted skim-coated as labels of black, Native, chinese, white, south-east asian…a kid in a double-strand twist. It seems very similar to rule and tag replacing thought and observation, such as in a workshop group where one would censor forms, going thru another’s works without reading the content or intent, caught up in counting syllables and dismissing haiku as 5-7-5=invalid, skimming a poem to take out all the gerunds and repeating words before reading the message. Slap a label on and move on is to splash about in shallow end of the pool. We automatically segregate ourselves to defaults, which is simple, and pleasant and reaffirming and all, but a trifle staid, a tad sad.

At the same time, one wants to have rules and groups. One has safety and can use one’s mental, physical and emotional resources to more important things by skipping other things without thought. It would be exhausting and impossible to examine. and. question. every. little. thing.

When threatened, or when there is the sense of finite resources, people get more conservative to their territory and start affirming tribe.

When there are infinite resources, infinite time and sense of freedom, people thrive in exploration and expansion. When tired, there’s a temptation to make shorter mental sojourns. Reaching just seems like too much effort when fatigued but counterintuitively, like exercising creating energy and couch-sitting sapping energy, reaching out can manufacture energy. Unless one doesn’t have the buffer zone, has been running too long past the red line, or empty tank. At some point, one needs to refills on what is familiar, safe, heal in quiet. Any amount of new is too much.

It’s a coping mechanism to pull back. To pull back within oneself is to also pull away from something outside of self, which is a very long continuum. I’m not about to say that keeping to “one’s own kind” (those who agree with you, or are like you by whatever measure) is the cause of schisms and societal breakdown. My focus is to understand the phase, what drives it, what is behind it and what outcomes are.

What are the constraints we live under? It’s not sustainable to be culpable for oneself if what one does is blame, be angry and sad. If that is the default, it is self-immolating. It is more functional to displace the feelings to place the agency, the cause, onto the subject, or structure, or group that is not oneself. If one can successfully reroute all one’s frustration and dissatisfaction into a small box of “people who do/are X” then that frees one up. Each time one turns to self-flagellate, one can deflect and say, oops, no, the lashes for that are someone else’s.

It’s not good for what or who gets the brunt of the blame for being not up to one’s standards, causing problems but it does give closure, satisfaction, stability at understanding how the world works and relieves oneself of the guilt and fear of wanting change but not being able to change onself to excise the parts one doesn’t like. One can disavow that aspect being part of oneself.

One can perhaps admit, the trait is universal but only a mote in self and in general people but in the scapegoat, it is the principle character. Ideally one doesn’t have to encounter this scapegoat often, but can store up all the sourness until next encounter and then have lives sufficient separate that one doesn’t have to see the eyes of the person or outcomes in lives after vivisecting an interior projection/construction of the notion, religion, angle, group, etc.

This is theoretical or physical warfare at a distance. The Hun, the other, the whoever one diminishes and dismisses as the safe group to attack without being destroyed by counter attack. If the Other can spar back, as in political cartoons, satire, in humor, the entire reaction chain can be expressed and released safely. If not, there’s potential for escalation, or internalization into ulcers, physical or societal, agist, groupist, sexist, genre-ist, racist, nationalist, whateverist rhetoric and unconscious blocking individuals in society.

This narrative line will remain as long as one clings to it and does not have a better strategy in stress to shunt or disrupt or disperse the feelings of frustration and anger.

At least that’s my current working theory. Being among people who all agree, or among all who disagree, are both disconcerting. There’s nothing like strong provoking opinions on what I already agree with to get me to rethink and reverse my position. Even tho I like to devil’s advocate but it’s a game of mental dexterity, exercise in exploration and empathy, avoidance of my own hardening into no sense of humor or complacency with thinking I know something.

When there’s praise pawing or consensus of dismay/dislike, I tend to exit, mentally if not physically.
It’s a kneejerk response. Better to stay my own course and continue to like or dislike as I was doing.

Best to just lack at the comic absurdity and transitoryness such as comes from the headspin of talking to two people in succession who independently of each other rip into opposite stylistic they are closed to. It’s a case of accepting the state of not appreciating, and yet not then moving on away. Further blame-game spins in against a stylistic expression for not actively coming out and grabbing them and the person faults a type of communication as somehow defective for not making them feel some desired buzz.

Different things reach different people, scratch different itches. Any communication, music, movie, poetry, visual art, architecture, sentence.

There’s an underlying frustration that is partly a person feeling owed excitement pings, and partly a disgruntledness of not-really-about-subject-at-hand-but-neighbour’s-dog-and-infinite-other-context-I-can’t-know-informing-opinion. Most people seem to thrash about without self-awareness or know why they respond as they do, not really attending to what’s coming at them, just caught up in their own body’s sensations and then intellectualizing and justifying opinions from there.

When the shoes on the other foot, does it fit better or worse? When you walk miles in other shoes, and keep swapping shoes, how much of the time are you barefoot? And when barefoot, you toes spread and become wider and your own shoes won’t fit after a summer of that. Which is not to embrace the idea that one grows, one may also flatten and distort causing “fallen arches” according to a podiatrist who said shoes have evolved us to need them now and barefoot is unnatural. I’m not convinced, nor unconvinced.

Soundtrack: Overreacting by Brad Sucks,
Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now by Dave Brubeck Quartet
Bewitched Bothered And Bewildered by Sinéad O’Connor
Skylark by k.d. lang
Gratitude To The Ancestors by Sweet Water Women

Vid Link: Jewaira posts a video on Saudi women and the question of what does modesty mean compared to women working as broadcasters.

Quote: “Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.” – Adlai E. Stevenson [evil? hm. setting that aside. distort public discourse, and mainstream understandings by propagating misinformed, more emotionally laden than dialogue-weighted.]

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