Friday, January 17, 2014

Some Thoughts Down Memory Lane

Last week I was at an event that included a panel of music experts. Asked to sum up their thoughts about upcoming music in 2014, there were a variety of responses from "garbage" to "optimistic" to "plateau" -- but one answer was "1994," which got some laughter but he explained that 1994 was 20 years ago so we could expect a lot of that happening again. Which I get -- my 15 year old son and his friends are presently infatuated with the music and culture of the mid 90s much in the same way I was interested in the music of the late 60s and early 70s when I was in high school. 

So the idea is that music circles back at the same time that it moves forward, as though musicians today (or culture, given that taste has a lot to do with these things) have been deeply influenced by Yates' weirdo gyre idea. And suddenly I'm thinking about how many things do work in a circular historical way -- for instance our "new" reading series that begins this on Sunday afternoon called HIJ. 

Twenty years ago HIJ was a journal that Hazel and I ran when we were students at York. It was an idea I'd come up with because I was meeting people both at York through various writing workshops and through the activities of the Toronto Small Press Group. Through the latter I heard about a poetry journal that appeared every two weeks out of Minneapolis -- it seemed like an interesting and challenging idea. So we started HIJ in the same fashion: we would gather writing and every two weeks issue it in a publication that we printed in enough copies to give the contributors 2 each. It seemed naturally small: the contributors would hopefully give their extra copy to someone interested in receiving such a gift. 

We lasted 5 issues. Not only was it significantly challenging to find work, but because I was interested in slower modes of production -- printing all the sheets on an inkjet printer and binding them by hand into covers that were printed using a combination of silk screen and stamping using hand carved rubber stamps -- we ran out of steam pretty quickly. I wonder how long the journal in Minneapolis lasted. 

Over the years we have also hosted a variety of poetry events in our home. I remember an evening of readings in our basement apartment for an issue of BafterC (the same apartment we ran HIJ out of) -- this was back when people still smoked indoors and our apartment that evening was literally a box of smoke. One summer evening we had some people over for a reading in our back yard at that same address and someone brought a bottle of tequila, which was a disaster for me, at least. I was wearing a red tshirt with a blue rubber star affixed to the chest and I kept pointing to it and exclaiming "superstar!!" As Hazel can attest it was super obnoxious. More recently we have hosted some gatherings that were really sweet, like when Dot Devota and Brandon Shimoda came through town or our BookThug Holiday Party both of which featured readings in our living room. 

There was also the Speakeasy series of informal talks that I curated and hosted on Sunday afternoons about 12 years ago -- at first we met in Lynne Donoghue's loft on Dundas Street until she passed away suddenly; after that we met at This Ain't the Rosedale Library (also no longer) on Church Street thanks to the kindness of Charlie Huisken. (Goodness, thinking about it all now it is very sad to think what has literally moved into the past tense in the past 20 years.) I very much enjoyed these gatherings. They were for the most past about a shared thinking amongst the small group of people who actually cared -- academic in the literal sense of that word. Gatherings for thought. 

So now it is twenty years since Hazel and I first made those issues of HIJ, and ten years since the Speakeasy series. I don't think I even have any copies; likely they are at the Fisher Rare Book Library. If anyone actually has any maybe they will bring them and we will have a moment of show and tell. Or a moment of that was then and this is now, because we have produced a small publication that has links to the past but is far less intensive to produce. I admit that I've been thinking lately around the subject of "returning" as "progress." I don't know if it is because it is winter (which is a yearly returning to reflection) and I want to remember the silly things I got to do when I was young and the stakes were low while the game ran high. It may have something to do with what I'm seeing culturally now:  people are gathering once more around creative things they are interested in. And Sunday afternoons are the perfect space enough for such things -- Sundays should be about gathering mindfulness. 

At any rate I'm excited for the "smallness" of hosting a reading at our house with Hazel this Sunday, and to host Mat and Fenn, two young poets who are likely around the same age as I was when we first published HIJ, and who are themselves producing very interesting smallpress artifacts now that seem related somehow to the things I was experiencing then. Mostly I'm interested to see who will come out and to find out what will happen. 

I'm also in it for the pie.

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