27 June 2023

Canada's First Telefome Pome?

These past few weeks have been remarkably busy, which explains how it is that I've read and reviewed just one old, forgotten book this month. Sadly, that volume is John Wesley White's The Man From Krypton.

Heaven help me.

And yet somehow, despite it all, I found time yesterday to thumb through Sacred Songs, Sonnets and Miscellaneous Poems, an 1886 collection by John Imrie (1836-1903).

I wonder what the poet, a staunch Presbyterian, might've made of White's interpretation and misrepresentation of the Holy Bible and Superman: The Movie. I expect he would have been mystified. Imrie died in Toronto three years before the first motion picture was screened in that city, thirty-eight years before Action Comics #1, and long before televangelists took to the air.

John Imrie was obviously of a very different time, as reflected in his Sacred Songs, etc. Amongst the 210 pages – referencing orphan boys, newspaper boys, Sunday school teachers, and the Knights of Labour – is this unusual and unexpected verse. It's not brilliant, but it is delightful. To think that when 'A Kiss Through the Telephone' was published, Bell's invention had been available commercially just six years.


A Bonus (for the musically inclined):

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24 June 2023

'Juin' par William Chapman

Verse for the day and month by son of Saint-François-de-Beauce William Chapman from Les fleurs de givre (Paris: Éditions de la Revue des poètes, 1912).

Très tard le soleil sombre à l’horizon fumant,
Qui garde dans la nuit ses luisantes traînées.
Le fécond Prairial sous un clair firmament
Prodigue la splendeur des plus longues journées.

Une flamme de vie emplit l’immensité.
Le bleu de l’eau miroite... Adieu la nostalgie!
L’Été s’épanouit dans toute sa beauté,
Dans toute sa verdeur et toute sa magie.

Des vagues de lumière inondent les halliers;
Les oiseaux de leurs chants enivrent les bocages,
Et, gais et turbulents comme eux, les écoliers
— Les vacances ont lui — s’évadent de leurs cages.

Sur les arbres, les fleurs, les ondes, les sillons,
Partout nous entendons vibrer l’âme des choses...
Nous voyons par milliers éclore papillons,
Anémones et lis, trèfles, muguets et roses.

Et l’écureuil criard et le bouvreuil siffleur
De nos vastes forêts font tressaillir les dômes...
Les pruniers, les sureaux, les pommiers, sont en fleur,
Et nul mois canadien ne verse autant d’aromes.

Des souffles caressants frangent nos grandes eaux.
Un invisible encens flotte sur chaque grève;
Et, tels les pins, les foins, les mousses, les roseaux,
Nous sentons en nous plus de chaleur, plus de sève.

Nous aimons mieux nos bois, nos champs; nous aimons mieux
Nos pères, dont le culte à nos foyers persiste...
Et dans l’air embaumé vibre l’écho joyeux
Des chants et des vivats de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

Bonne fête!

19 June 2023

Véhicule Press: Ten for Fifty

Véhicule Press celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this past weekend. One of eight people invited to speak at the celebration, I kept kept my comments short, but only because Mark Abley, who co-hosted the evening with Nyla Matuk, threatened hook and hammer if I went over my allotted time. I left the stage unscathed by channelling Big Star... as opposed to, say, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Fifty years is a remarkable achievement, particularly in this country. The press has survived while others, large and small have ceased or been absorbed by foreign multinationals. I'm proud to have played a small role in its history.

For you bibliophiles, I've have put together a list of ten old favourite Véhicule Press books from my collection:

Yellow-Wolf and Other Tales of the Saint Lawrence [Divers]
Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé [trans Jane Brierly]

Jane Briery translated the complete published oeuvres of Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé, beginning with Les Anciens Canadiens (Canadians of Old), one of this country's most translated works. The last, Yellow-Wolf and Other Tales of the Saint Lawrence, received a Governor General's Award for Translation. 

Veiled Countries/Lives
Marie-Claire Blais [trans Michael Harris]

Marie-Claire Blais is my favourite Québécoise writer. To think that we've both been published by the same press!

Comprising Pays voilés (1963) and Existences (1967), this volume is the only translation of her poems. 

The Crow's Vow
Susan Briscoe

The poet's only book. How I looked forward to her next.

It was not to be.

A wonderful friend and a beautiful soul.

Neons in the Night
Lucien Francoeur [trans Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood]

The oldest Véhicule Press book in my collection. Francoeur inscribed it to "Joe," describing a 1981 John Abbott College class as "wild and crazy." I was a John Abbott student at the time, but do not remember his visit. If memory serves, I purchased my copy at Aeroplane, a basement-level book and record store on Sherbrooke Street in NDG. 

The Heat Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco
John Glassco

A Gentleman of Pleasure, my biography of Glassco, was the culmination of seven years' work. The Heart Accepts It All was edited in its wake. Credit goes to Carmine Starnino for proposing this book. For a time, I thought of it as my farewell to things Glassco, but I now realize I was just taking a breather.

Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit
Robert Lecker

Best to leave the description of this book to the author:
The idea of being Dr. Delicious instead of plain old Professor Lecker made me think about the kind of writing I would have done if I was really the tasty version of myself. Professor Lecker would be reluctant to tell stories about his own life. He would resist the temptation to make his life in Canadian literature personal. He would not gossip. He would write scholarly articles and books that no one would read. But Dr. Delicious would lead a completely different life. He would delight in his classroom experiences. He would take liberties with his life story. He would talk about the ups and downs of being a Canadian publisher. He could bring in music, painting, hypochondria, malt whisky, deranged students, government grants, questionable authors, bank debt, termite infestations, a teaching stint in Brazil, lawsuits, the pleasures of hot-sauce. He would write about his passions, his failures, how the whole business of CanLit drove him crazy, lost him sleep, drove him on.
Stepping Out: The Golden Age of Montreal Night Clubs
Nancy Marrelli

Hello Montreal! Stepping Out covers thirty years – 1925 to 1955 – during which Montreal's night clubs presented the finest jazz musicians, crooners, and burlesque acts in North America. Oh, the photos!

Remember the scene in The Great Gatsby when Nick suggests Gatsby lie low in Montreal? This is the city he had in mind.

David Montrose [Charles Ross Graham]

A second sentimental favourite, The Crime on Cote des Neiges was the first title in the Ricochet series. Sixteen have followed. I'm most proud of the John Buell reissues – The Pyx and Four Days  but this stands as one of this country's three best private dick novels

Remarkably, after all these years, Montrose/Graham remains a mystery. For all my efforts, I've yet to find a single person who so much as remembers meeting the man.

The Apprenticeship of a Young Writer as a Hospital Clerk
Andrew Steinmetz

Another book by a friend. I first met Andrew in the summer of '85 at Station Ten, which I maintain was the smokiest of all Montreal night clubs. My eyes still sting. Andrew was then a member of Weather Permitting. We two were young pups, each imagining that we might one day produce a book. Andrew was the first to realize the dream. As much a fan of his writing as I was of Weather Permitting. 

Lasting Impressions:
A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec
Bruce Whiteman

Short and bitter sweet, Bruce Whiteman's history of English publishing is an invaluable resource. Véhicule Press figures. How could it not?

It's only in writing this that I realize Lasting Impressions was published a quarter-century before last weekend's half-century celebration.

Here's to the next fifty!

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06 June 2023

Man of Faith, Man of Steel


The Man from Krypton: The Gospel According to Superman
John Wesley White
Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1978
175 pages

John Wesley White died on September 4, 2016, the very same day Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis; White being a Billy Graham Evangelistic Associate, I consider this a coincidence.

Rev Dr White was no stranger to the Dusty Bookcase, yet his passing was not noted here. The Dusty Bookcase has to do with the forgotten, the neglected, and the suppressed. In the days following his death, John Wesley White was remembered as never before.  

Looking through his obituaries, I find it curious that few mention the preacher's written work. The Toronto Star obit informs that White wrote "over twenty books," singling out Re-entry (which I've read) and The Prodigal Son (which does not exist). My introduction to White, the man, and his prophesies didn't come through Agape (his TV show) or 100 Huntley Street (not his TV show), rather Arming for Armageddon, which I found fourteen years ago in the Stratford, Ontario Salvation Army Thrift Store.

John Wesley White on 100 Huntley Street, January 1988.

Arming for Armageddon espouses an all too common, all too unappealing brand of born again Christianity, but White's writing, particular and peculiar, had me yearning for more. Over the next few years, that same Thrift Store yielded a second White title, Thinking the Unthinkable, and a third, the aforementioned Re-entry, but then my family moved eastward. Since then, I've had to rely on online booksellers, The Man from Krypton being my most recent. I'd long wanted this book because of something I'd read in my first White book.

In Arming for Armageddon, Rev Dr White condemns Christopher Reeve's Superman for "preparing the human psyche for an Antichrist."

The Man from Krypton isn't quite so damning. Published to coincide with the release of Superman: The Movie, its first chapter cribs liberally from issues of Time. This quote from creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz sets the tone: "Whatever Jimmy Carter is asking us to be, Superman is already. What we are really giving people is the Christian message: that we should all be honest, love each other and be for the underdog."

Being familiar with White's writing, I questioned the veracity of the Mankiewicz quote, only to find it in the August 1, 1977 edition. Further surprises followed: Rev Dr White praises Jimmy Carter, happily notes increasing church attendance, and remarks on young people's attraction to things spiritual, as reflected in the popularity of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


So positive, so uplifting, the first chapter of The Man from Krypton is unlike anything found in the Rev Dr's other books. The remaining nine chapters are classic White: disinformation ("Murder in Canada has doubled in a dacade [sic]") and misinformation ("There are some current movies entitled Fantom From Space and Tony and Tia, Two Cosmic Beings — From Outer Space."), accompanied by the usual muddled rambling:

"Sorry seems to be the hardest word," sings Elton John. Eric Segal, the Yale professor who became famous as the author of Love Story, defines love as never having to say you're sorry. Coming to Christ, as Billy Graham has demonstrated in his prayer with millions of repenting sinners, must begin with: "I am sorry for my sins," or words to that effect.

According to White, Carrie is the sequel to The Omen and Shakespeare wrote The Little Prince. An Oxford graduate, he attributes these words to the Bard:

Le petit prédicateur writes of men named Timothy O'Leary, Gue Grevara, Freddie Printz, and Terry Keith. On his planet, Hollywood produces "Satan thrillers" titled Satan's MenThe Devil's WidowMistress of the Devil (starring Liv Ullman), and The Devil's Mistress (starring Andy Warhol), none of which are recognized by IMDb.

Preacher White was always quick to judge; anything might be condemned as a Satan thriller. Consider Shout at the Devil, the 1976 action-adventure inspired by the 1905 sinking of SMS Königsberg. White is wrong in describing it as a Satan thriller, just as he's wrong that it stars "Marvin Moore."

After all these years, after all his books, I feel I've come to understand White's confusion. Until 1996, the year he was pretty much silenced by a stroke, the Rev Dr was extremely busy, flying around the world, spreading his interpretation of the Bible. I believe his habit of referencing billboards and newspaper headlines is a reflection of the fast-paced, jet-setting evangelical lifestyle. The preacher had little time for contemplation, never mind investigation. Writing of Tony and Tia, Two Cosmic Beings — From Outer Space, White is almost certainly referencing Disney's 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain, a film he almost certainly never saw.

As a White scholar, there was no challenge in linking Tony and Tia, Two Cosmic Beings — From Outer Space and Escape to Witch Mountain, but I am stumped by his description of a non-existent Blood, Sweat and Tears album. What inspired this?

The rock group "Blood, Sweat and Tears" combined Mick Jagger's "Sympathy for the Devil" and Moussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" in an album entitled "Sympathy to the Devil — Symphony for the Devil." Tragically and quickly Eve's sympathy for the devil had turned the human race into rendering a "symphony to the devil" which is playing and slaying at a higher decibel level today than the devil has directed in the long history of man.

One might ask what any of this has to do with Superman.

The answer is not much.

The Man of Steel is the focus of the first five pages – "Joe Schuster," "George Reeves," and "Lennone Lemmon" figure – after which he is relegated to the introductory paragraph of each chapter; these being typical:

In the film, Superman has X-ray eyes that can see through virtually anything. He knows everything about anybody with whom he has to so. This, of course points us back to Jesus Christ.

Superbaby grows into Superman and seems to be able to do anything. He can leap over skyscrapers in one gargantuan bound. He tames bursting floodwaters from a collapsing dam. He catches a crashing helicopter in midair. The people are left asking: "Is there anything too hard for Superman?" Which of course rakes us straight to the Bible. 

There is one brief mention of Superman outside these introductory paragraphs, but it comes with a degree of resentment: 

Jesus could walk over hills or mountains at will, calm stormy waters, and save a sinking ship in mid-sea. Superman's feats of leaping over a skyscraper, calming a bursting dam, and catching a crashing helicopter were topped by Jesus years ago!

White knew little about Superman other than what he'd read in Time. The Gospel According to Superman was nothing more than a subtitle used to sell books.

John Wesley White's world isn't Earth One or Earth Two. Bizarro World comes closest; ugly, disturbing, nonsensical, and usually good for a laugh.

Favourite short passage:

There's a book title Drop Into Hell. Christians are to urge people not to drop into hell.

Favourite short passage (runner-up):

"If I were God, this world of sin and suffering world break my heart!" Goethe, the German, reckoned. Mr. Goethe, that's precisely what it did when Jesus hung on the center cross!
Favourite feature length passage:

Saved! That word conjures up a lot of impressions in our minds. A hockey goalie makes about thirty saves per game. A baseball relief pitcher might manage twenty or so saves in a season. A crop is saved by good rain. A surgeon saves a patient's life by the educated skill of his hand on the scalpel. A policeman saves a child from drowning. Churchill saved England from Hitler. Erica Jong writes her best seller, How to Save Your Own Life, which the way it defies morality and defies immortality, might better be entitled How to Ruin Your Own Life. Whole pages in magazines and papers are sold to bank advertisements which invite: "SAVINGS –That's What It Is All About." "SAVE NOW – During our Annual Sale" publicizes every store worth its salt, sooner or later. A headliner during the Rumanian earthquake disaster reads: "Buried for 62 Hours, Waitress Saved in Bucharest." Yet when the word is used spiritually, it is nearly unknown.

Object and Access: An unexceptional mass market paperback. The cover illustrator, who seems to be channelling 1966 Batman, is not credited. 

Eighteen copies are listed for sale online, the least expensive priced at US$5.23. One Maryland bookseller offers a signed copy at US$5.29. I'd say it's worth the additional six cents.

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03 June 2023

Steinmetz on the Launch Pad

One week from today, I'll have the honour of interviewing Andrew Steinmetz at the Ottawa launch of Because, his sixth book.

I've known Andrew since we were young pups. We met at Montreal's Station 10. This would've been in the latter half of 1985. Andrew spent much of the evening onstage as a member of Weather Permitting. I'm pretty sure he sang this song: 

Described by publisher Véhicule Press as a "punk-rock novel about teenage daydreams and sibling dynamics," Because draws inspiration from those younger days.

Or am I wrong?  

Let's find out together!