Book Supplement: Three Hours North

Through the Glass

Suicide in the West End

Orpheus in Vancouver

Convergence Zone

Bordering on the Dream World

Tour of Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, BC


by Zsuzsi Gartner

It's Vancouver in the late '90s, and all the anxious girls (and boys) on Earth are waiting for the apocalypse, whatever form it takes. The girls and boys are adrift, and filling their stories with recognizable details of Vancouver local colour doesn't help to ground them: The Burrard Street Bridge is just the place where a man wrapped in a sheet quotes from the Book of Isaiah, the corner of Broadway and Cambie marks the site of the latest pizza-parlor explosion.

In her debut book of stories, Zsuzsi Gartner channels the immediate future, as imagined by the immediate past. Her gimmicky urban jokiness, though, makes me think back to the less immediate past, to--I hate to even mention his cursed time-capsule name--mid-'80s party bard Jay McInerney: She shares his fondness for the second person and his Coma Baby tabloid dread.

At its most tired and familiar, Gartner's satire reaches for the kind of punch lines (double espresso "tastes like chicken") that put her closer to being part of the problem than part of the solution. But at their best the stories are get-under-your-skin strange.

In "Boys Growing," a teacher's defiant confession of her underage desires leaves you no room to breathe: "Bones growing faster than their skin. You could hear it--a terrible sound, canvas sails tearing on a tall ship at sea, a border guard grinding his teeth. Boys growing. It kept me awake."

And in the collection's unsettling final story, "Odds that, all things considered, she'd someday be happy," Gartner takes the apocalyptic violence that the other stories drift toward (in this case, the random death of a girl in a vaguely terrorist bombing) as a starting point, and shows that what comes after the apocalypse--the rise of the girl's mother to talk-show superstardom--will just be more of the same, but worse. TOM NISSLEY

by Clint Burnham
(Coach House Press)

Wherever you go in Vancouver, your ears are filled with the sounds of Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Urdu, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Japanese. It's an international city overflowing with linguistic richness--a perfect city for a poet. Clint Burnham has not let this privilege go to waste.

Buddyland is largely the consequence of a Oulipian strategy for aleotoric language production called homophonic--or, as Burnham prefers, homolinguistic--translation. Homolinguistic translation involves taking a foreign language and reproducing the sounds--one's imagination of the sounds, the way one's inner ear imagines them pronounced--in English. The more foreign the language the better the results. The top priority is to avoid a semantic correspondence. This is the point--the fun--of the whole exercise: To produce unexpected meanings.

Buddyland abounds with libidinal ebullience, passages in which Burnham (the poet as satyr, or satirical rogue) moves in and out of the language, babbling, bubbling, bursting semiotic seed: "take all those flying foam rubber cocks what use are they abs filled/with discarded tits and cunts nowhere where can you buy an as-well-stocked sex/shop don't think so no let's tighten our scrotums and get the job done stick that/finger up his ass and ask for a raise again for the discerning consumer of/hangnails cancel the gunsel let's say poetry's for fags and homos what does that/say about foot fetishists reverse pedophilia wrinkle stilt skin." One begins to see--or hear--those OBJECTIVE categories of words Pound found in Dante's criticism: "Dante called words 'buttered' and 'shaggy' because of the different NOISES they make. Or pexa et hirsuta, combed and unkempt." JOHN OLSEN

edited by Grant Buday
(Anvil Press)

Given the sheer volume of initiatives, council votes, and petitions dedicated to any number of public transit's many guises here in Seattle, it's easy to replace the public face of transit with the political. Vancouver's Anvil Press, however, has produced Exact Fare Only, an anthology dedicated to the interaction forced by public commutes across the world, be it by train, ferry, passenger ship, or, most commonly, the bus.

Editor Grant Buday obviously considers public transit more than just a simple commute. The selected stories reflect an attempt to view transportation as a microcosm of modern culture, filled with violence, sex, and monotony. The violence, in an odd turn, is reflected not in the passengers, but in the drivers who deal with the public. If anything, Exact Fare Only depicts the rage inherent to service industries. A bus driver in Vancouver, BC, relates incidents of passengers beaten by their driver. Another driver, unwisely eschewing any punctuation in his story, speaks with contempt about the downtrodden who ride his bus. Or, a taxi driver describes the ultimate humiliation of his trade, when a late-night fare forces him to feel like--in order--a voyeur, a pimp, and finally, a whore.

The collection's best story is "Pilgrim Ship," a tale of two women traveling through the Middle East aboard a passenger ship headed to Mecca. The strict tenets of Islam, including the ascetic fasting during Ramadan, mix uneasily with the assumed liberties of the West. But at night, when the fastings break, the two Canadians face the charity and joy of the Islamic faithful. Ultimately, this is the heart of Exact Fare Only, where travelers enjoy a state of transitory grace, accidentally met. NOEL CHRISTMAS