Last week we spent a couple of days in the Waterloo area with my brother, street photographer Al Doerksen, and sister-in-law, artist Agatha Doerksen. First up was the opening of Agatha’s stunning new show, “Off the Wall,” at the Red Brick Cafe in Guelph. The first pieces in this series were inspired by layers of peeling posters in downtown Toronto. Agatha gathers material life wherever she finds it–lists, wallpaper, bits of text, buttons, old photos, and much more–which she then maps and collages in new arrangements. These “remnants and discards” of daily life are variously re-layered, re-configured, revealed, perhaps covered again, perhaps painted upon, but thus preserved. The result is sometimes whimsical but more often–to my view–boldly provocative, and deep. Here’s “A Single Leaf,” one of my favourites in the show. If you live in the Guelph area, do stop by to view the exhibit, or see more of her work at the Art by Agatha page on Facebook.13645115_830262967108427_4770586795850250156_n


The opening itself had a layer of unexpected drama when one of the largest pieces was stolen the day before the opening. CBC told the story.

I always enjoy visiting with Agatha, and now back in Toronto, I’ve been mulling over what I heard her say about her artistic process. Although she works in a very different medium than I do, so much of what she talked about resonated with my writing life: curiosity that motivates the gathering and gleaning of material, the complex interaction of theme and content in the actual production of the piece, the surprises that emerge, how the piece happens both with and yet also (it seems) without the artist’s conscious intention.

I’ve been mulling the notion of layers and collage also in reference to this period of transition we’re in and its increasingly thick layers of experience and emotion. I’ve found myself a little frustrated that they don’t easily form articulate patterns. But perhaps life is art-making too, with its necessary process; perhaps this stage is a gathering, picking-up, peeling off the wall. Surely the meaning of it can be formed later, out of the fragments. I’ve been conscious too of living all this on a backdrop of troubling world events; places of unrest, uneasiness, violence like France, Turkey, U.S.A.; a sense of challenge and uncertainty. What is the “keep” of all that; its ultimate effect? 

Agatha sent me these lines by Franz Kafka (translated), which she included in a number of paintings. I like it for its counsel about the necessary processes of both life and art. 

You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait,
just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.


Refreshment in Toronto

I lived a year in Toronto more than four decades ago, and if memory serves me, it was an uncertain and sometimes lonely year, but as for the city, I was beguiled by it. Now I’m here again, for a couple of months—H. and I spending the summer with our Toronto children, having packed up our things and shipped them off to B.C. where we’re locating next—and once again this city offers its charms.

A woman I met the other evening told me that beauty in B.C., where she’s also lived, is “in your face” but appears more subtly in Toronto; it has to be discovered. Continue reading

The Danuta Gleed Award

It was a privilege to serve as a juror, along with Shauna Singh Baldwin and Barry Dempster, for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for best first collection of short fiction in the English language, awarded via The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC). Barry noted that we may be the only three people in Canada who read all twenty-five of the first collections submitted for the award. A unique and fortunate book club, indeed, for there is a great deal of fine short fiction being written in this country.

Here follows the press release from TWUC announcing the short list and more details about the prize, as well as the shortlisted books: Continue reading