Bravo, Writers Trust and Canada Council

The Writers Trust and Canada Council for the Arts have partnered to create an artist emergency fund for writers. RBC is in there too, but given how much I’ve paid them in banking fees over time, it’s not so much a “thank you” they deserve as a “finally”. If you’re writer adjacent and flush with cash during this time because you are rich or your employer continues to pay you, please consider donating to the fund. Link at the strangely designed website above (you have to scroll down for the content.)

The current public health emergency has triggered an economic crisis for self-employed workers across Canada. Professional literary creators have been especially hard hit.
Within a matter of days, book tours, lectures, performances, and school visits were cancelled. Other sources of income in the form of contracts for publishing-related or non-related projects have disappeared or been indefinitely postponed. Many professional writers and visual artists are left struggling to buy groceries or medications or pay rent.

Each year the Writers’ Trust distributes money to writers in need through its emergency grant program, the Woodcock Fund. These grants are invaluable, but demand during the present crisis exceeds what that program can match. The Writers’ Trust and Writers’ Union have approached partners to develop a coordinated response to this urgent need. They have collectively raised $150,000 so far for this project, and continue to talk to other participants and funding bodies about the possibility of increasing the pool of funds available.

From front page to the gutter

Imagine if you were supposed to release a book this year. Hell, I’m worried about my wife’s book next spring and my book in the fall of 2021. I’m used to poetry getting lost in the reviews/sales game, but you fiction and non-fiction people must be scared shitless. It gets easier, being invisible, if it’s any consolation. That said, some folk, like old Bookninja pal Laila Lalami, are suffering. You should order her book through your local independent.

Some of the most anticipated titles of the spring have been delayed by weeks or months — including the latest by the best-selling children’s book author Jeff Kinney, literary novels by Graham Swift and Ottessa Moshfegh, and nonfiction books by Representative Eric Swalwell of California, the Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and the comedians and late-night television hosts Desus and Mero.

“Bookstores are shuttered, everyone right now is worried about their health and their livelihoods, there’s so much anxiety,” said the writer Laila Lalami, whose new nonfiction book, “Conditional Citizens,” was scheduled to come out from Pantheon in April, but has been moved to the fall. “It makes sense to postpone it until there’s a bit more clarity, until we know what’s going to happen.”

Tentative mixed news post

I am sort of already sick of making coronavirus updates. Let’s assume everything is cancelled and we’ll revisit in the fall. So, today I’m going to try to mix the apocalypse news in with the regular news to normalize things. Let’s hope we don’t suddenly need separate posts again.

Leonard in Hydra

The Guardian has a nice excerpt on how Cohen’s days in Hydra formed him. As with most artistic circles of the time, the good stuff is about who is boinking who.

On Hydra, Johnston took a pen to the fresh manuscripts that young Leonard brought him, and taught him the value of fierce editing. It was he who encouraged Cohen to play his first concert of his own material. Johnston’s former colleague from his war reporting days, photojournalist James Burke, was living in Athens and is responsible for recording the event with his Leica. Burke took 1,573 photographs of the colony that year, commissioned by LIFE magazine for a feature that never appeared.

From the body language in those pictures, it is hard to dismiss the idea that Charmian and Leonard might have become lovers. It’s something I discussed with Jason Johnston, who was born on the island and is the only survivor of the family. As his father was impotent from TB medication and his mother, still in her 30s, such a ravishing beauty, it was something he’d wondered himself.

On writers and rituals

Are you a writer with a ritual? I am. Once I get into a work, I do the same thing day after day with only minor deviations. Every now and then this gets screwed by some obligation, but largely it’s a very specific set of things. Down to which pens I use. When it’s working, I call it my “Obsessive Compulsive Order”. Sadly, my ritual has gone shitual. I can barely even get the posts for Bookninja done, much less work on the novel. Are you making it work? Adapting? If so, please, outline below?

According to literary legend, probably false, Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day’s work. This was supposed to serve as inspiration for her macabre writing. Maya Angelou could work only in hotel or motel rooms. Truman Capote couldn’t begin or end anything on a Friday. Igor Stravinsky performed headstands when he needed a break, and Saul Bellow did 30 push-ups. For the work to go on, John Cheever required erotic release.

These examples appear to us as oddities, but what needs to be stressed is the importance of ritual in the creation of work. I tell my students that they must “write every day and walk every day”. It is not essential that they write a lot; only 150 words each day is enough. All that matters is the routine.

Stay classy, Bezos

Instead of doing things like, you know, paying taxes, Amazon and Jeff like to splash out now and then with big donations. Word to the wise: it’s a marketing spend. Here, Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon) employees are “offered the option” of donating their unused sick and holiday time to help fellow employees who have used theirs up. Bezos has enough money to fix half the world’s problems in one swoop, but the folk on the floor are being asked to share a piss pot together.

If this virus is teaching us anything, it’s that people like workhorse employees make the world function, not the billionaires who hold the reins. When it comes down to it, if you are an Amazon employee, or an employee of nearly any major corporation, you should know that you have a dollar value attached to you. If it’s more profitable to help you, you will get the help you need and deserve. If helping you is detrimental to the bottom line set from the top, you will get bulldozed into the mass HR grave in a heartbeat and no one will remember you were ever there. We could change all this, you know. I mean, once we’re able to gather again with pitchforks and torches.

(Note that Amazon is trying to spin this with PRs and updates, but it still stinks of minimum wage sweat.)

When progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders say “now is the time for solidarity” amid the coronavirus outbreak, they likely do not mean that employees of Whole Foods—owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos—should be asked to give their own accrued paid sick days to their co-workers who have either contracted the deadly virus or been forced to take time out of work because of what is now a global pandemic.

But that is exactly what executives with the grocery chain are asking its employers to do, even though Bezos’ could effectively give them unlimited paid sick leave during the current national emergency without barely a scratch in his bank account.

April may be the cruellest month, but right now March feels pretty shitty too

Hey poetry nerds, Adam Kirsch has an essay on the poet-critic up at New Criterion. One day I’d like to come to the crullerest month, where we just eat donuts.

The poet-critic has been an institution in English literature because usually only an artist has the stubborn animus, the conviction that art should be one way rather than another, that makes for interesting criticism. To write something new is to imply that the writing which already exists is insufficient. Of course, this can never be demonstrably true: there is always already more than enough literature to occupy any reader for a lifetime. Only an artist’s egotism, his certainty that he has something new to offer that the world should not be without, gives him the fruitfully skewed perspective on literature required to see it as deficient. Harold Bloom’s theory of “the anxiety of influence” gave formal statement to this agonistic element in all artistic ambition. “To imagine is to misinterpret,” Bloom writes, which means, among other things, to misinterpret all existing poetry to its own detriment in order to make room for something new.