Monthly Archives: April 2021

Chillin' in Niagara on the Lake

ACTOR, ARTIST & POET PHILIP CAIRNS RELEASES BOOK OF POEMS ABOUT HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS….AND BED BUGS!!

Over the past five or six years, I’ve had the opportunity to promote plays, art shows or poetry readings by my friend and client PHILIP CAIRNS. He’s currently celebrating the release of his latest book HOLLYWOOD POEMS AND OTHER DIVERSIONS, now available from Amazon.ca. The first section of the book offers stream-of-consciousness narrative poems about Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, Lee Grant, Anita Ekberg, Gloria Grahame and Canada’s own Jackie Burroughs. The author weaves biographical tidbits about these women into each poem, and includes snippets about his own life growing up as a gender-questioning, queer boy in Scarborough, then living as a struggling artist in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. The second half, “Bedbugs and Cockroaches” features satirical, comical stories and poems in which these itchy-scratchy critters come to life. They are like truth-telling cartoon characters, forcing the protagonist in each piece to face reality. The first half is mostly serious in tone and confessional while the second half will make you laugh out loud!coverPhilip has already garnered glowing kudos and thumbs-up from fellow writers and literary media, and I recently spoke with him and asked him to share his thoughts on completing the book during this past year of Covid.

What was the inspiration for your new book of poetry & prose, Hollywood Poems and Other Diversions?  It was David Bateman, my editor, who suggested the concept. He’s very familiar with my work through my public readings. We’ve also co-written short plays that were performed at various festivals. This book is 12 years’ worth of poems, written on the theme of the Golden Age of Hollywood, though not by any means the only poems I wrote during that period. I’ve been a movie freak since I was 9 years old. I was sleep-deprived all through my adolescence because I stayed up half the night watching classic films on the late show. As a teenager, I once saw 4 movies in one day with my best friend. I always identified with the actresses. I loved to get lost in a different world in the dark. I would often sit through a movie more than once. I once saw a double bill of a Robert Altman film and a Jane Fonda movie and I sat through both of them twice…8 hours of movies. I was in my late teens and seeing Bonnie and Clyde was a turning point for me; I came out of the theatre wanting to have sex with Warren Beatty and wanting to be Faye Dunaway. That was scary for a 14 year old. Many of the poems in my book are loving biographies of movie stars I love like Anita Ekberg, Gloria Grahame, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. And Canadian icons like Mary Pickford and someone who was supportive of my work, Jackie Burroughs. But interwoven in many of the narratives, there are incidents from my life growing up as a queer, gender-questioning person in Scarborough. The second section of the book is pure fun, the Bedbugs and Cockroaches chapter. These critters come to life and do tasks like raiding a jewellery box and hiding pills, and they comment on the action with razor sharp accuracy. They are satirical and fun pieces and mostly fictional. They usually get laughs – I used to perform these works live a fair amount. I love to hear an audience laugh. Bringing laughter into people’s lives is manna from heaven. This is such a challenging planet to live on. Economically, it’s like being a hamster on a wheel.IMG_4161Have you spent time in Hollywood and visited any of the homes of those legends about which you write?  I’ve never been to L.A. It seems kind of scary with all those back streets full of pup tents close to movie star mansions. I’ve been outside of Brad and Angelina’s former place in the French Quarter and I did go to the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago where I starred in a short film that played at the Short Film Corner. I went to lots of cocktail parties and met filmmakers from all over the world. It was surreal. I went to one queer party in a tent on the beach but that said, No Celebrities Allowed although it was hosted by a queer celebrity. When I left the party, there were fireworks over the water. We’d been to a screening of our movie that day as well. I think it was the happiest day of my life. I felt like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief without her jewels and fine gowns.

As a young man, were you a big movie fan and if so, who was your favourite star and what was your favourite film?  Probably from 8 or 9 years old, I’ve loved movies. I was precocious. I was reading newspaper reviews of foreign films when I was 9 or 10. I wanted to be on TV from the age of 4 or 5. My favourites as a child were Hayley Mills and Annette Funicello. As a teenager, it was Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. In high school, I once asked my mother if she would write me a note for the office saying I had a dentist appointment. I told her I wanted to see a Marilyn Monroe movie on TV. You know what her response was? “Okay. You’ve been working hard at school and I know how much you like her so I’ll do it.” Wasn’t that cool? She and I didn’t always get along that well but that’s another story. My favourite film is The Wizard of Oz. Number two is 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Cabaret with Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, is on my Top Ten list of fave movies. Judy Garland is my fave singer and her record, Judy at Carnegie Hall, is my favourite album. My second favourite album would be Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Notice a theme here? And of course, All About Eve is on my Top Ten list, as well. I think I have about 25 films on my top ten list. I love many of Robert Altman’s films. Watching James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden on the late show when I was 16 was a turning point. I sobbed in my bedroom the whole next day. I love Brando, Montgomery Clift, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Lee Grant, Bette Davis. The list goes on. I work as a background performer in film and TV – I feel lucky that I get to be on set with famous actors and watch them work and be well paid to do it. My family isn’t impressed because being a background performer is the lowliest position on a film set. It was worse back in the 1970s when I started out. I’ve been at this a long time, plugging away in the underground trying to be heard. I don’t go to a lot of auditions these days. I would love a really juicy part in a film. The character would be someone who questions their gender. I lived the life of a gay male for decades, and now I don’t identify as male or female. For me, gender is totally irrelevant. What I have between my legs serves as a function and gives pleasure but does not define who I am. What difference does it make what gender I am? At the same time, I wish to be considered for male roles in film, TV and theatre.  Below, Philip performing poetry readings around Toronto.1799986_10151999725607129_1737786910_o readingsIn the second part of the book, you’ve written about bedbugs – those stories are so funny and biting (pun intended!) – what motivated you to explore those themes?  I suppose it was losing my bed to bedbugs. They kept spraying and spraying but they wouldn’t go away so I threw out my mattress and box spring. It was the only one I had ever bought as an adult. I have been sleeping on the floor every since. They are really horrid little creatures. I don’t know what made me give them voices. Weed, maybe? I can’t for the life of me recall. I love writing those pieces because the bedbugs and cockroaches can say things that people normally are too polite to say…like a little devil sitting on your shoulder. It’s almost like those pieces write themselves. I am just the channel or conduit. I think they work because audiences laugh and even request them.

Philip, you’re quite the renaissance man – a fine artist, a writer, poet and an actor for both film and theatre…what do you find more challenging or fulfilling?  I think I do all these things because I don’t like to be bored and I bore easily. What I found hardest was making a living. I always had to have another part time job to get by, and I would have to juggle things. Sometimes the Universe is kind. I was rehearsing a play and I got 2 TV commercials which shot at night so it meant not much sleep but I could still attend rehearsals. And then finding time to paint, write, draw. I’m pretty driven but I also need down time to recharge. Often, it’s marketing time that goes out the window. I’d rather get out the drawing book and coloured pencils than start submitting myself for film roles or my work to publications. I think I find painting the most relaxing even though I feel it is not my strongest talent or skill. Reading my poetry in public or sitting in the audience watching one of my plays is exhilarating and fulfilling when you really connect with an audience. You can feel it in the air. Total silence. No snoring. Ha!! Hearing a big, big belly laugh from an audience is indescribably wonderful.  I suffer from stage fright these days. I have a terror of forgetting my lines. But if I’m reading one of my poems, I’m fine. I have it right in front of me. I’ve been studying with the most wonderful acting teacher, Alan C. Peterson, which has taught me to tune out everything on a film set or on stage, and just focus on what is happening in a scene. That is all that is happening.  Below, Philip running lines as Julius Caesar and as a glammed up blonde for a recent indie filmRoadrunner Commercial Durango Miller’s Abortion is FunHas the isolation and quarantining throughout this past year of Covid affected your writing or ability to earn a living?   My income from film and TV has dropped considerably but then my expenses have dropped, too. I used to spend a fortune going out with friends and colleagues. Now, I make all my meals at home. But it has afforded me the time to assemble the book and edit and rewrite it which is much harder than the initial writing of a poem or story.  It’s a great feeling when you’re in the zone and it’s flowing out of you onto the page or screen. That usually happens with the first draft. Since the first lockdown, I’ve written a lot and done a lot of drawing and painting. I don’t like to watch more than one movie or TV show per day, if that. It’s been a time of deep, deep reflection. What is awful is that all the dumb, stupid things I’ve done in my life have come bubbling up to haunt me, perhaps to teach me a lesson or something. It has helped me to grow but has been quite painful to behold.head shot (2)

Below is a selection of Philip’s paintings that have been exhibited in Toronto galleries…Crystals on my Kitchen Table Terra_Multi-Gender Being From Another Solar SystemAbout the author: Philip Cairns writes poetry, performance-pieces, plays and short stories. His work has been published in Labour of Love, Resistance Poetry 2, Excalibur Monthly, Xtra! and The Body Politic. In Toronto, Philip has performed his own writing at “Plasticine Poetry” at The Central, A Space, The Art Bar, the Black Swan, the Gladstone Hotel, Glad Day Bookshop & the Theatre Centre. He was one of the organizers, and a frequent host for The Beautiful and the Damned Poetry Cabaret at The Central. He was MC for “Sexy Words” at Lula Lounge and “Bent Expressions” and “Smash Words” at Press Club. He performed in “Hard and Able #2” at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, on the TV series “William Shatner’s Weird or What” and in “The Judy Monologues” at the Toronto Fringe Festival and in a province-wide tour (winning the Best Actor award at the London One Act Festival). Philip has exhibited his acrylic paintings, watercolours and coloured pencil drawings in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Toronto and Edmonton, most recently at Urban Gallery, the Parliament Street Library and at Arcadia Art Gallery in Toronto.

Philip has a number of interviews coming up in May, including CIUT-FM radio’s Howl! show as well as on the Art Bar online poetry show May 11. Follow Philip on Facebook for all the news… Facebook.com/philip.cairns.16

HOLLYWOOD POEMS AND OTHER DIVERSIONS
By Philip Cairns
Purple Poet Press (April, 2021)
$17.89 – Soft-cover, 186 pages
ISBN-13: 979-8701703214
Available from Amazon.ca

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CANADIAN POET, ARTIST & ARTS JOURNALIST DAVID BATEMAN LAUNCHES HIS FIRST NOVEL “DR. SAD”

I’m pleased to introduce you to Canadian freelance arts journalist, artist and performance poet DAVID BATEMAN, who currently resides in Toronto, Canada. David has published several books of poetry and contributes literary reviews in several leading national and local newspapers & magazines. He has also taught creative writing and literature at post-secondary institutions across Canada. He has recently published his debut novel DR. SAD, and although Covid quarantining and stay-at-home directives have forced him to cancel live readings and book signings at bookstores and coffee houses around Toronto, David is utilizing the internet and social media to reach his fans and attract new readers (and book sales!).Dr-Sad-2x3-RGBStory synopsis: Discover the difference between living a life and simply enduring on in this cross-campus, cross-country comedy of manners, queerness, poetry and HIV.

Bateman has crafted a brilliant novel featuring a main character, Stephen, who is a middle-aged teacher who is also gay. He’s content, except when he isn’t. He’s a poet. He has a new teaching job in Kamloops, British Columbia……Stephen has HIV.  DR. SAD is the story of one man’s journey across Canada and through his diagnosis. It is the story of the distance between queer urban spaces and a small campus in small-town BC.  It’s the story of discovering the self within the world and the world within the self, of discovering the difference between living a life and simply enduring one. This is a tragicomic cross-campus, cross-country romp that believes in the power of romance.  Weaving together narratives of past and present, of Toronto’s Gay Village and the streets of Kamloops, this lively and dynamic semi-autobiographical novel dives deeply into gender and queerness, class and privilege, and the realities of aging. It is a dynamic and engaging hybrid, stylistically daring while remaining intimate and human.  Leaping through time and mixing the playfully serious with the seriously playful, DR SAD blends poetry with prose and finds the humour in despair in one complete, glittering tragedy of triumph.20210317_153614 (2)I recently spoke with David, socially distanced, of course, and he shared his thoughts on the writing process and of life under Covid:

Congratulations on your first novel, David. What inspired you to share your small town/big city experiences in the semi-autobiographical DR. SAD?  The diagnosis that begins the novel motivated me to write the openings chapters. It was a very curious and startling way of receiving the news, and I thought it would work well as an introduction to a kind of tragicomic, semi-fictional narrative around survival and endurance under challenging circumstances. The diagnosis was revealed in the first chapter, in the fist draft of the manuscript. After a variety of editing suggestions from various editors, I decided that moving this to a slightly later chapter would work better.

Your career has included arts journalism, book editor, poet and performance artist – now you add novelist to your CV; compared with your other pursuits, how difficult was it to complete the book?  It was much more difficult with a longer project to find the time to develop it. With arts journalism, poetry, editing, and performance, over the years there have always been deadlines in those areas, so that made it easier for me to focus on an end result. But with a novel there was no sense of a deadline so it just kept being put off. But I had always wanted to write a novel, and started a few but never got very far. I was writing poetry more at the time, in my thirties and forties, and had a publisher in Calgary who published four collections of mine over a ten-year period, and that was my main focus. A longer narrative project always seemed out of reach, never enough time to devote to a novel length project. Soon after I returned to Toronto, after living and teaching in Alberta and B.C. for close to ten years, I applied for a year long Fellowship and was delighted and surprised when I got it, so basically, the funding and the lengthy time period, one year, motivated me to sit down almost every day and work on a first draft of the novel. The application for the fellowship included the original first chapter for the manuscript.

Covid has obviously put a stop to live readings and bookstore meet-n-greets with your fans – what’s been the most difficult or inconvenient part of the lockdown/stay home situation for you as a writer?  Actually, I have found that the pandemic has afforded me more time to write, and develop various projects. I have been very fortunate to be in a relatively safe and comfortable environment over the past year and have had a couple of small grants that have supported my creative work. It is disappointing, of course, not to be able to take part in live readings and events, but I have found zoom and various online platforms to be very satisfying and inspiring to be able to continue to take part in events with a variety of other artists across the country, and beyond. But the hardest part of this I think has been not being able to go out and exchange ideas and hear other writers present their work in community settings. That was a very inspiring and motivating part of my life as an artist, and a lot of that has disappeared during the lockdown/stay at home period. And yet, on the other hand, online platforms have extended some of my connections as an artist to people from parts of the world I might never have had the opportunity to connect with through readings, festivals, interviews etc.

So many people are utilizing the pandemic stay-home time writing their own books of short stories, poems or novels – what advice can you share with them?  I try to have a routine, dividing my time between painting and writing. Deadlines give me a focus, and even if there isn’t a set deadline from a gallery or a press or an arts publication, I try to write down rough deadlines, and creative ideas, and follow them as much as possible – with a list of projects itemized by priority. Of course I often stray from those deadlines, but just having them there, written down and always present in a way, can keep me interested and motivated in continuing the creative process within each separate area – poetry, painting, editing, arts journalism, and longer prose and performance works. And searching online about various grant possibilities is also helpful. Even if I don’t get them, which I often don’t, it can be a great source of motivation to re-consider various projects in the context of a grant application. This helps me to develop the project in formal ways I might not consider outside of a grant application framework – when I am sitting around just thinking or jotting down lists around ideas for a number of projects. Applications often ask artists to describe various ideas in specific itemized ways. I find this very helpful as I move forward with any given creative idea.

Any other comments you’d like to share?  I try to think of everything I do as part of the creative process. Sometimes it can feel a little silly, and enormously privileged to be able to just binge on Netflix, or any of the big movie and television channels available. But especially now, within this pandemic, watching a variety of narrative structures, flash across the screen, whether they be contained within a kind of documentary style or pseudo reality tv show about a painter, or something as mainstream as Ozark or The Queen’s Gambit, or a series like Flowers or Fleabag, well, it all acts as inspiration for ideas and images that contribute to the ideas and images racing through my head. This has always been the case, as we live in an image world, but now, confined more to our homes and workspaces, film and television, and some reading, can be a welcome and nurturing distraction.20210317_155215 (2)David has a number of interviews in May, including the popular HOWL! radio show on CIUT-FM 89.5 with host Valentino Assenza on Tues. May 4th (10pm to 11pm) and another scheduled for taping in mid-May with Mark Tara of Rainbow Country radio (for broadcast in July). Follow David on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/david.h.bateman

DR. SAD, Soft-cover, 310 pages
Price: $28.99 Cdn. (hardcover) or $15.94 (Kindle e-book)
University of Calgary Press (Dec.2020)
ISBN: 9781773 851037
Available from: Amazon.ca, Type Books & Glad Day bookstores in Toronto & Waterstones Books (UK)

 

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ENJOYING A SHORT WALK AMONG THE SPRINGTIME FLOWERS IN DOWNTOWN TORONTO

As our city enters its third week of stay-at-home restrictions, how lovely to enjoy the spring air, free from the confines of my apartment in downtown Toronto. With no other way to get exercise or see daylight, I chose to take a quick stroll away from the main thoroughfares this Sunday afternoon. Although I’m surrounded by concrete and glass high-rise office buildings and condos, there are a few secret pockets of turn-of-last-century townhouses with their beautiful little garden patches as well as a parkette or two.20210418_121409 (2)I first dropped by my neighbours across the street – the spectacular office building that’s headquarters to the Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Co.  Carefully reaching through the wrought iron fence, I snapped a few pictures of their flower beds, most of which are still slumbering…but there were a couple of early risers!20210418_115317Around the corner, there’s a delightful little parkette that never disappoints at springtime. Usually full of red tulips and bright yellow daffodils, this year there’s a blanket of tiny blue flowers…not bluebells but something just as pretty…wow!20210418_115826 20210418_115757Behind the parkette, there’s a modest little cul-de-sac lined with row houses from the 1900’s, all beautifully maintained and reno’d. The houses on the north side of the street back onto the Rosedale ravine and at the end they’ve created a lovely area with wooden railway ties as benches and the wild gardens are filled with birds singing. I frequently go there just to sit and relax and…breathe!20210418_120709Looking down onto Rosedale Valley Road from my perch above…..

Walking back along the little street, I enjoyed several of the perfectly-kept flower beds and pots….20210418_12143520210418_121439Time to head home as the skies grew a little overcast but not before I snapped a few shots of the planters along my home-stretch of Bloor St East, featuring my favourite little flowers, pansies. Aren’t they lovely?20210418_122955 (3)So get outside and enjoy the sun, the fresh air, the flowers and birds…forget about Covid for half-an-hour and be grateful for all these beautiful things we’re given for free. But please keep your mask on when passing by your neighbours.20210418_123006