Pitt & Ferry: The Old Presses

I joined with University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman and Mayor Drew Dilkens of the City of Windsor for the grand opening of the School of Social Work now housed at the corner of  Pitt and Ferry streets on the site of the former Windsor Star. CS&P Architects  retained the entrance and facade of the former Star building, to honour the history of the newspaper that operated at this location in 1923. The Star was at this location till 2012 when it moved to its current location at 300 Ouellette Avenue.

Wildeman greeted four former Star publishers and editors. He said, “Welcome back…Your hands did the work that created the river of news, stories and pictures to which our history is carried. You, more than any of us, understand how much Pitt and Ferry has meant to Windsor.”

My part in the ceremonies was to speak briefly about the 35 years that I spent writing here, but also to read a poem about the old presses that used to roar over a three-tiered facility. I was there representing both the University of Windsor where I am the resident writing professional, as well as the city as its poet laureate. I spoke about how I used to slide down to the press room and watch the men roll out the gigantic newsprint rolls and clamp heavy metal plates to the vast mechanical network. It always fascinated me.

In this photo below by Star photographer Jason Kryk, I am with two old-timers from that paper: Bill Bishop, former photo editor (left) and Jim Bruce, former editor and publisher.marty at social work.jpg

Melanie Renaud of the30.ca from the University of Windsor Digital Journalism program covered the event on Twitter. This is the result:

University of Windsor’s Social Work Department Expands to Downtown Campus

A full moon ceremonial poetry reading

 

Monday night, D. A. Lockhart, a Windsor-based poet, launched his book Big Medicine Comes to Erie at the Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre in Windsor at a full moon ceremony. The ceremony —a fire ceremony and a Native American practice usually performed every full moon— is a form of purification and welcoming newness in one’s life. I was there to participate in this, and also to hear Lockhart read from his newest book, a collection of poems that paint a picture of the Delaware peoples’ migration to what is now Southwestern Ontario. Here are some of the photographs I took at this ceremony.Daniel Lockhart.jpgDSCF2948.jpgFull moon ceremony (1).jpgFull moon ceremony (2).jpgFull moon ceremony (5).jpgDaniel Lockhart (1).jpg

Leonard Cohen dies at 82

All day long I have been listening to CBC Radio and listening to Leonard Cohen songs and interviews with him. Cohen passed away at the age of 82 in Los Angeles, California.
Here’s a piece that I did on the occasion of his 70th birthday. It was published in The Windsor Star, Sept. 24, 2004.

Montreal’s iconic poet and singer turns 70

Several years ago, I got into a horrendous argument with Leonard Cohen’s publicist from Los Angeles who insisted I didn’t know what I was talking about when I told her that he was from Montreal.
“I’m sorry, sir, he lives here! He’s from the United States! He’s American! Not Canadian. Sorry, you have your facts wrong! Do your homework.”
And so went this see-saw argument that I knew I couldn’t win.
I got to thinking about this when I read that earlier this week Leonard Cohen had just turned 70. It seemed impossible that this troubadour could age. His work still circles about the mysterious, the youthful, with motifs of spiritual angst, beauty and sexuality.
This writer, who indeed was born and raised in Montreal, came to the forefront in the 1960s as a poet and novelist. He wrapped himself in this enigmatic image that piqued the curiosity of readers.
The journalist Robert Fulford recently described Cohen as “a bohemian with the courtly manners of a gentleman on day parole from the 18th century.”
True enough. He was an oddity, someone apart, or self-exiled, from the literary scene in Canada. A renegade bard who in his earlier years followed in the footsteps of his mentor, the Montreal poet, Irving Layton.
But unlike Layton’s poetry, which has come to be judged as slightly adolescent and politically incorrect in the 21st century, Cohen’s work– equally sexist in its themes, in both the poetry and songs — is still somehow provocative and enduring.
I spoke with Cohen about this at a hotel in Toronto in the 1980s. I had gone there to interview him, expecting someone cool, distant and philosophical. He was anything but. He was more like a kid bouncing about with a new toy. And that new toy was in his hands — a spiffy and elegant portable tape player. His smile accentuated the lines on his perfectly tanned face. He handed me the head phones and had me listen.
“This is my latest — I recorded it recently, and it’ll be out in a few months.”
I listened.
“So?” he asked with a shrug.
“Great!” I responded.
Now, I can’t remember the song he was singing. To tell you the truth, I was paying more attention to him watching me listening.
Cohen is difficult to pin down, and when I asked how he regarded the poems, the fiction and the songs, he switched from the buoyant and natural self to that unmistakable aloofness. You can’t really call it arrogance, because there was a trace of coyness in his voice and attitude. You see it in the public figure of Cohen. And here it was again.
“I’ve always felt I was just writing one long thing,” he said.
“The novels and poems and songs are all just part of a larger work. I don’t feel any great division.”
My earliest memories of Cohen go back to the 1960s when he was flogging his poetry and a novel called Beautiful Losers, a watershed work that some claim changed the physiognomy of Canadian publishing because of its daring themes.
But there I was, a couple of rows up in an amphitheatre at York University. It was 1966, and Cohen — then not known for his songs – -read from Beautiful Losers. He then asked for our indulgence because he had a song he wanted to try out on us. He picked up an acoustic guitar, slung the shoulder strap over his head, then proceeded to unfold a paper bag upon which he had scrawled out this song.
“I just wrote this, and please have patience with me, because I’m not sure of this yet, and I’m not sure that it’s finished.”
Cohen started into the song. That song would become a signature of his — a song that launched him as a singer.
That song was Suzanne.
Most likely the first public performance of it.
I told him about that night when I interviewed him and he remembered it. Or said he did.
Our conversation then made another turn. This time, to children. Cohen said his own kids felt slightly embarrassed by him. His music wasn’t their cup of tea.
That was fine, he admitted, amused by their honesty. In a way, he said his children had “mellowed” him, and made him realize he was getting older. Interesting. The last time I spoke with Cohen, he was 59.
I wonder what he thinks now.

Halloween Poem

The Magic Wand 

A poem by Marty Gervais

The wizard is poised in the room

like a Halloween witch

with that wide-brimmed peaked hat

prattling on like a philosopher

inviting us to feel that invisible ball of energy

vibrating between our outstretched hands

 

She’s here for the launch of the new Harry Potter book

but my five-year-old grandson is lost

in the magic wand she has placed in his hands

as she speaks about drawing protectives circles

casting spells, warding off dark forces,

even banishing bunions

 

My grandson marvels at this instrument

whispering feverishly “Abracadabra…abracadabra…”

—no longer hearing this wizard

who has fashioned this shaman’s wand

from an aging oak tree

 

Instead, he’s channelling his own energy into the room

but it isn’t working, nothing is flying about,

no sudden gusts of wind, nor pantry doors

slamming shut, nor tea cups rattling in mid air

 

and nothing bigger than he might imagine:

still poverty, still a need for world peace,

still violence and pestilence and polluted lakes

 

My grandson is poised and ready

And frantically waves the wand about him

like a symphony conductor gone mad

 

yet nothing changes —it won’t even silence

this nattering witch from telling us

about Greco Roman wands

or ceremonial fire wands and lotus wands

or those used by the freemasons in

all their ritualistic nonsense

 

Then suddenly in a dramatic abracadabra ending

my grandson shatters the spell:

“Hey, lady, how does this thing work?”

 

 

Poetry at the Manor

Poetry at the Manor last night (Thursday) was magical with poets coming from all across the country to Windsor. It was a lovely fall evening of laughter and meditative savouring. Friends of mine showed up to photograph and capture the moment. Here are some photos by Steve Kriemadis and another by Linda Goodhue. More to follow. The one just below is by Linda Goodhue and shows Mayor Drew Dilkens addressing the crowd. This event was a city-sponsored event through the Poet Laureate program.14633665_10211452637417036_1136273528203349839_o.jpg