canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Metcalf : A Counterblaste (or Italics Everywhere: A Cautionary Tale)

by Gordon Phinn

See also TDR's review of An Aesthetic Underground by John Metcalf

I was sitting in a cafe painted like Van Gogh’s bedroom. The street outside swirled with snow. I looked onto a war memorial wreathed in Christmas lights. Apt jazz appointed the room. I noticed a newspaper under the coffee cup. A headline halfway down the page caught my eye: 


Surely not, I thought, it couldn’t be, beloved curmudgeon, curator of commas, arbiter of taste for the timid... no... But the newspaper drifted out of my reach, and I surfaced in a sweat of anxiety and pillows.

So John Metcalf was not dead after all, I thought as I stretched my stiff joints towards the shower. Maybe I should reserve judgment until I had a chance to glance at the morning’s Globe and Mail. It wouldn’t be the first time a premonition had proven true. Nor the first CanLit personality dream.

During the shower, I wondered what could possibly have prompted such a perfidious vision. By the time of my first coffee down the street it had come to me. Yet another literary quarterly had published a special let-us-now-praise Mr. Metcalf issue. This time it was the The New Quarterly, which has heretofore distinguished itself mainly by being the foremost contender for that title long held by the Fiddlehead, - the dullest journal in Canada. Well, okay, I’m a spoilsport spitting poison darts. Forgive me for being so un-Canadian. Perhaps as a last ditch defense of entrenched mediocrity it’s not half bad, if the toadying of tendentious acolytes is your cup of tea. It’s not mine.

Earlier versions of the Metcalf Road Show have focused on his wonderful family, his fabulous taste in art, his endless diatribes to captive audiences, and those great guys, his old pals, the Montreal Story Tellers. Boy, am I tired of the bullshit.

Perhaps what irks me the most is that the rising generation, seduced by the sharp and witty style which enervates his essays, will mistake his puffed up fastidious pedagogy for a well thought out position.

Only in the recent (1990) Volleys has he admitted his position does not hold water, that he’s been bullshitting himself fearlessly for most of his adult life, hoping that no one would notice.

Well, I’ve spent the same period wondering when someone would, never for a moment suspecting the job would fall to moi, and that everyone else would be too busy, too bored or too chicken. Admittedly Sam Solecki did his bit with "Some Kicks Against The Prick," but its pointed élan is undercut by its very Canadian refusal to be anything but polite. The fine art of pulling punches. Being British myself I have no compunction about biting off the balls of the rabid bulldog. Metcalf, I believe, must be met and tackled on his own turf. It’s no good twiddling about with theory, you must cut out the moral cancer of aestheticism with surgical precision. Here goes.

I wonder, for example, how many of the young and impressionable will blindly accept his portrayal (in Editing The Best) of the England he left, in 1962, for Montreal. It comes across as drab, dismal, jammed with post-war scarcity and weariness, a cultural desert which made Montreal seem like New York or Paris. Robin Skelton’s arrival in Victoria a couple of years earlier was just as thrilling to him, but he did not feel the need (in The Memoirs of a Literary Blockhead) to trash his home country with clichés to shore up a sagging argument. Likewise George Woodcock about a decade earlier. But perhaps for younger readers the most illuminating contrast would be with the London of 1958-62, as conveyed by Colin Wilson in his early autobiography Voyage to a Beginning, which we see and feel as a thrilling, turbulent vortex of social and cultural change, one in which the young writer to be is constantly stimulated, challenged and educated by the societal ferment that bubbled up that brief but effective challenge to the old order known as The Angry Young Men. One follows Wilson’s progress with bated breath as he jumps from job to job while working up his landmark volume of existentialist literary criticism, The Outsider.

In Metcalf’s version, life in Montreal eventually reverts to the theme of cultural wasteland, the sensitive artist surrounded by bores and cretins. Note the impish reference to Layton’s and Cohen’s "precious buffooneries". Cohen’s poetry was, apparently, "exactly right for the 12-16 year old naughty set".

This is the Cohen of The Spice Box Of Earth and Flowers For Hitler, books which have aged as well as any other of their time, and indeed better than most, and which include a handful of poems as fine as any anthologized in this country. Metcalf’s critique is as boyish as his palpable envy, and as far as this essay is concerned, is the first of many examples of the writer as long suffering aesthete, peering on the society he abhors from above, a society in which he sees little or nothing of value, a society worthy only of contempt.

As a role, aesthete is about sixty to eighty years out of date, the nineteen thirties being about the last time you could pull it off without a resounding chorus of snickers. Perhaps sensing this contemporary incongruity, Metcalf updates it by donning the coat of the disgusted but respectable bourgeois. Essentially he abhors Bristol and Montreal because of the schools he feel forced to seek employment at. He regards both cultures from the position of the working stiff, not the apprentice artist. Colin Wilson, on the other hand, tells us of the London he experienced as a young writer fresh from the provinces and eager for experience, both cultural and social. His life is penny pinched but vibrant. If he doesn’t like a job he leaves it, goes hitchhiking, studies in the British Museum, and otherwise engages life. Metcalf meanwhile, plods to work and whines.

This may seem excessive harping on a small historical point, but I believe it is the perfect example of the sort of deceptive polemic Metcalf has engaged in for years. And its pernicious influence is slowly gaining ground. Make no mistake: his disciples are abroad and spreading the gospel. A recent essay by Andy Lamey in the Vancouver Review (Fall ‘96) on Atwood’s Strange Things is indicative. Towards the conclusion Lamey reiterates Metcalf’s dogma concerning CanLit before 1960: there was none, none worth speaking of. While Lamey earlier identified Metcalf as an influence, here the point is proposed as some sort of received wisdom. This is not only plain wrong, but pernicious: the young might assume canonical truth.

While far from being a narrow minded literary nationalist, I would humbly suggest that such a statement is far from being beyond dispute, and is, in fact, laughably naive, either in its ignorance, or its wholesale appropriation of an untenable rhetorical position.

And even the redoubtable Philip Marchand, long time critic for the Toronto Star, and far too bemused and crusty to be mistaken for a Metcalf disciple, let alone anywhere near ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, seems to have succumbed. Both his recent essays, in Saturday Night and Gravitas, bear the unmistakable stamp of Ottawa’s best kept curmudgeon.

And that both these men now contribute to Metcalf’s new pulpit, Canadian Notes and Queries, speaks volumes.


On the back cover of the New Quarterly, there is a Metcalf quote (can we get the sound of rising trumpets here?) which ends, "There’s nothing intellectual about novels".


There’s nothing intellectual about Metcalf. And he’s appalled by anything that might change his attitude, which is oodles of style and no content, the literary equivalent of all dressed up and nowhere to go. He claims content and style are one and cannot be separated. This may sound impressive, but close examination of the work of the master and his acolytes reveals voluptuous style in the service of moral vacuity and atrophied ideation. His young turks, especially the wantonly praised Russell Smith, at least have the smug incoherence of youth on their side. I suspect with Metcalf it’s all suppressed anger and festering resentments, a not uncommon condition for comedians, as John Cleese, amongst others, has pointed out. He’s like a man at his mother’s funeral who cannot bring himself to cry and instead lashes out at his wife for wearing the wrong dress.

Check out, for example, the numerous irruptions of rage in the by now infamous Kicking Against The Pricks, that catalogue of sour grape complaint and insult, ad hominem and otherwise, masquerading as cultural criticism. Patricia Robertson, in her contribution to The New Quarterly’s Special Issue, describes his defense to such accusations as ‘Oh that, that was just a bit of guerilla theatre’. Rereading the reissued text, I must say I find this response to be, shall we say, unconvincing. Throughout this often witty but bilious tract, Metcalf settles old scores with the demented glee of a geriatric on steroids. A list, both partial and peripatetic:

Page2: "Surely people don’t read Morley Callaghan do they? For pleasure? Surely people don’t actually read Robertson Davies? They’re the sort of books that people own to show they’re `cultured’. Like having a bust of Beethoven on the piano."

Page7: "Critics in Canada don’t have a horror of elegance. They don’t even know it’s there."

Page8: "...I don’t think I stand anywhere in the CanLit scheme. I haven’t got a Garrison Mentality and I’m not at Stage Three or a Victim or on Cloud Nine or whatever the fuck all that twaddle was about. My work suffers from a paucity of Indians and Myth. I have very few readers and the critics are still largely baying at the thematic moon. I just potter about making Ronald Firbank noises."

Page25: "Now I have no time at all for French Canadian stories. They’re not stories at all in our sense of the term and I wish people would stop pretending they are. They’re just silly contes. Fantasies, allegories, parables, think stuff. And as far as I’m concerned, about as fascinating as All Bran."

Page58: "It is unfortunately true that most Canadian writing up until 1950 is rubbish."

Page119: "He also had briefer and more interesting chats with his bookcase, briefcase and filing cabinet" (re. Robert Gibbs)

Page201: "...still makes me wish I had leaned across and stuck my finger up his nose." (re. George Bowering)

Page204: "I look upon the world I inhabit with considerable distaste and gloom; I’m beginning to suspect that I may end my days in a loony bin after an unprovoked and murderous assault on a MacDonald’s hostess.

Page205: "On another occasion I found myself dining with a man who the week before had published a review of my most recent story collection, opining that it was pinchbeck and tedious. Oddly enough, this was exactly the opinion I held of his poetry. But dinner was so surprisingly good that I soon gave up the idea of doing him a sudden mischief."

Much, if not all, of this resentment and rage, can be traced, Freudian fashion, to the pinched and cheerless Nonconformist childhood of Metcalf’s youth, and personally to his domineering mother, a entity for whom hatred is repeatedly expressed, and murder, on at least one occasion, (Private Parts p.18) preferentially insinuated. Though cheered in some quarters on publication for its breath-of-fresh-air qualities, the violence laced insults quoted above are, in fact, just a small part of a lengthy angry continuum, beginning with his youthful detestation of that "comfortable world of teas, scones, Agatha Christie, and missionary boxes", more recently evoked by Jeannette Winterson in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and then refined, under the guise of a grueling colonial exile in the true north of snow and shopping malls, into the rage fuelled imaginings and drunken destructiveness of the dyspeptic protagonists of his seventies novels and stories. An oasis in the desert of academic thematic criticism it may have seemed at the time, but a close reading of all Metcalf’s output reveals it as merely the middle of a three act tragedy in which the angry young hero fails to triumph over his perceived adversities and cocoons into a middle age of alcoholic aestheticism with an extended and tedious fawning over his young protégés as an uncalled for encore.

Should this appear as an unseemly pointing of the Calvinist, fun-suppressing finger at a likely lad just out for a few laughs, let me sequester a couple more lost sheep from Going Down Slow, that early confrontation, so early, in fact, that we did not realize it was going to be but one of many confrontations between sensitive aesthetes, who appreciate the finer things in life, but cannot raise a finger to wash or cook or clean, clownish buffoons and prigs from the long suffering middle class, and borderline retarded proles, fixated on t.v. and trash culture. On page 26, late-arriving schoolteacher David muses: "He felt sorry for McPhee. Not possibly electrodes on his majogglers. Definitely. And up his arse as well." On page 106, eighty or so pages of aesthete-versus-the-boors melodrama and misanthropic musings later, irritable apartment dweller David fantasizing about the demonized Quebecois superintendent: "The thought of Gagnon immured in a ventilation shaft was pleasing. A touch of the Edward the Seconds was precisely what he deserved - a few inches of glowing poker up his arse. His just desserts for interrupting people." And if it’s misogyny you’re after, there’s plenty of "arid old cow" type remarks to expand your list. One poor woman is declared as "the human equivalent of a slice of Weston’s bread." In fact, there is not a woman in the novel, excepting his teenage lover, who has the undeniable advantage of being able to rub our hero’s semen on her belly and breasts, who’s given so much as a backhanded compliment. 

Now fly forward 22 years to 1994’s Freedom From Culture. After slagging off "the arts community" as "an ill defined entity which often turns out to be Graeme Gibson," we find, "And I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Faulkner’s piratical remark about murdering grandmothers if that is necessary to get the money to write. The Ode On A Grecian Urn, he said, is worth any number of old ladies." Now back 14 years to General Ludd, towards the end of which the long suffering Kathy Neilson takes the almost demented poet Jim Wells out for the day, ending up at that pinnacle of aesthetic insult to the Metcalf hero, the shopping mall. "Wherever the eye looked there were angles, vistas, slopes, overhead walkways, diagonal gantries, all of raw concrete, the whole doubtless expressive of some new human vision which I didn’t want to know about. Concourse Three opened into a concrete clover leaf. A diagonal row of moving heads was visible on Concourse Four. I extended my arms into a rifle position and made bang noises. ‘Hit three, I said, and you get a balloon’." 

I quote at length, not only to illustrate the continuum of barely suppressed rage, but to assert this black climax as the endgame of aestheticism as a philosophy/cultural stance. This obsession with self as a glorious procession of moods and attitudes, this deification of "us", the refined, sensitive, and cultured who quickly become an elite, and the demonisation of "them", the uncultured slobs, the dumb ass proles, the ass licking bourgeoisie deserving only of insults ("the great and stunned unwashed"), with the underlying implication being a dehumanizing environment causes alienation and then irresponsible, anarchic action, when, in fact, it’s the culmination of the art-toting aesthete’s path. A grim thought, but true. 


Was it Dylan Thomas who said, "I see the boys of summer in their ruin/ Lay the gold tithings barren"?


Moving right along, then, to The New Quarterly special issue (Dec.’95) there is the following quote: "It is a fact that ours is largely an illiterate society, and one which is very anti-intellectual. We suffer bitterly from a lack of a cultured elite." Well, please suffer me as I pursue this adolescent longing for an aristocracy of the spirit to its rather tacky conclusion.

After reading the flamboyant praise of Michael Darling somewhere in that pudding of a book Freedom from Culture, I was not surprised to see Mr. Darling’s fulsome praise waving flaglike as a foreword to Shooting The Stars, the1993 reissue of three Metcalf novellas. The elitist attitude resounds. Darling assumes that there is an audience, distinct from the coterie of camp followers, that is interested in whether the master uses a comma or a semi-colon, italicized dialogue, tone colours and deflationary structures. Besides the obvious complaint, that it’s just another noxious example of creative writing class culture, where the initiated fraternity nibble on their nifty delicacies without ever seeing that nobody outside of the loop gives a shit, let me dare to express another dissenting opinion: the extensive use of italics for emphasis is, at best, visually disagreeable, and, at worst, downright disruptive. The reader is virtually directed to focus on certain words and phrases, as if she did not have the requisite intelligence to witness their significance unaided. Any sentence or snatch of dialogue, sensitively rendered, does not need italics. They are superfluous to the narrative flow. And if I’m not mistaken, Jane Austen, who has, from time to time, been noted for her wit and sharply ironic delivery, managed just fine without them.

The underpinnings of such an attitude are revealed in the following: "Just as the composer’s genius is more apparent to those who can read music, and the painter’s achievement more pronounced to those who understand how paint is applied, so the writer’s skill is best appreciated by readers who have a feel for the rhythms and connotations of words, the verbal texture of the world." This is the classic attitude of the aesthete: that there are two classes of people, those in the know, and those left out in the cold of their dumb ass ignorance. It derives, historically, from the days when only the educated aristocracy had access to the arts. Only they had the leisure, education and money. Despite the Elizabethan era model of the commoners enjoying the theatre, serious music, literature, philosophy, and the fine arts were their preserve. The aesthete loves that distinction, and secretly longs for the return of that era, before the democratization of culture, when the plebs knew their place. But like many a prejudice, it rests on a faulty, nay deadly, assumption, and that is that those ‘in the know’ will, as a result of their educational propagandizing, share the same taste, and that this taste, will be completely misunderstood by those not in the know. This leads, and has always lead, quite unerringly to the reassuring leathery fug of the gentleman’s club, where the achievements of a Michelangelo, Rembrandt or Vermeer are as beyond question as the harmony of a Mozart and the energy of a Beethoven, but where the discomforting ripples of Dada and Surrealism are as unwelcome as the baffling genius of a Rimbaud, Kafka or Joyce, or the unsettling rhythms and harmonies of a Shoenberg or a Bartok.

(The clubby atmosphere is somewhat echoed in the Porcupine’s Quill Reader, where Metcalf’s stable of protégés is comfortably housed. Perusing their quarters, one is reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s remarks (from The Autocrat Of The Breakfast Table) concerning societies of mutual admiration: "...that a circle of clever fellows, who meet together to dine and have a good time, have signed a constitutional compact to glorify themselves and to put down him and the fraction of the human race not belonging to their number.")

My concerns on this issue are most pointedly expressed by the English playwright David Hare, whose 1991volume of autobiographical essays Writing Left Handed came my way, as things often do, when one is engaged in composition, just when I needed them. In a reminiscence of his mid-sixties days at Cambridge, he describes, what obviously became for him, a life altering encounter.

"Somewhere in the middle of my second year, I reached a turning point in my education. I was being instructed in aesthetics by a don from another college, who came out and said bluntly what I had long suspected. He informed me, as an absolute law, that profound feeling could only be stirred in people by first rate works of art. Only by coming to understand what was the very best, and then coming to value it above all things, could readers experience the deepest satisfactions of art. I asked him where this left people who enjoyed a profound religious experience when contemplating the work of an artist whom superior people held to be bad. I gave Salvador Dali as an example. The don’s scorn was complete. ‘Anyone who when looking at a painting by Salvador Dali imagines himself to be experiencing anything is quite simply wrong.’ Wrong? ‘They are fooling themselves. They may think they are having an experience, but they are not.’ They are not? ‘Only worthwhile works of art can produce worthwhile emotions.’ But, I said, pressing a little farther, who is the legislator for the worthwhile? Who is to define ‘worthwhile’? He looked at me as if the question answered itself. ‘Well, me. And people like me,’ he said.

It would be fair to say from this point on I lost a good deal of relish for my studies. I had no desire to train to be a non-commissioned officer in the arts police, patrolling literature for capital offences such as ‘failure of seriousness’ or ‘writing under the influence of immorality.’ The attitude of my don implied such a contempt for the ordinary feelings of people that the inevitable result of all this list-making would surely be more to remove me from life than to plunge me into it. Outside the university, a Labour government was once more selling its own supporters down the river, the Americans were snared in an insane war in Vietnam, middle class youth throughout the world was bursting with indignation. What on earth could this judging be to do with anything?" Sometimes the serendipitous route is the most efficacious, m’lud.


Back to that quote: "There’s nothing intellectual about novels." It’s the last line in a prominently displayed paragraph, which is perhaps worth quoting in its entirety. "Art arises from the realness of the world. Of course, art encompasses ideas but it’s not about ideas. It’s more concerned with feeling. And you capture the feeling through things, through particularity. There’s nothing intellectual about novels."

The quote is from "Forde Abroad", Metcalf’s then most recent narrative effusion, and despite a certain warming towards the commoners milling about him, a certain dulling of the aesthete’s spleen, it is, essentially, yet another yarn about a disillusioned sensitive wandering in a world of the uncaring and uncouth, which is what, more or less, all his other narratives are about. From confused lonely teenagers to student-seducing teachers, pathetic drunken poets and anarcho-luddite writers in residence, the story is ever predictable and wearying. All his protagonists, essentially variations on the one, drink sodden person, seem to be shouldering that famous Oscar Wilde dictum, "The first duty in life is to assume a pose; what the second duty is no one yet has found out." The pose is whingeing aesthete finding his society, shall we say, less than decorous, with the mandatory recourse being drunken rebellion to epater le bourgeoisie in the standard trivial and tiresome fashion.

Some of these wounds were more artistically addressed in what remains his most successful work to date: the 1975 collection The Teeth Of My Father, still, unfortunately, out of print, but well worth seeking out, whatever the cost. It is, undoubtedly, one of the best volumes of short fiction published in that decade, easily the equal (although admittedly, shall we say, slimmer) of the first Munro or Atwood collections as it trawls the lyrical bounce and wit of early Dylan Thomas for some of its best passages, and combines it with a more self reflective ironic modernism that is brilliantly, but alas only briefly, effective. (The later fiction, from Girl In Gingham onwards, of course, continues the themes, but allows anger to grind them into grisly obsessions which offend rather than charm the reader.) Even the filching of the best of Going Down Slow’s chapter five for an unacknowledged addition can be forgiven in the pristine glow of achievement. This is what he should be gifting to future generations, not the petrified rhetoric he passes off as literary criticism. My god, how many more times must we endure the trotting out of Evelyn Waugh , Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Bloody Hemingway, those timeless paragons of literary achievement? There are many, many other good, indeed, great writers, but in Metcalf’s world we rarely, if ever, hear of them. And usually it’s because they dare to have an idea or two. Whether it’s Joyce’s attempt to construct an Uberlanguage, or Eliot’s deconstruction of traditional poetic principles to illustrate the cultural dislocation rendered by World War One, or Lawrence’s striving to make Mind a passion, Metcalf just doesn’t want to know. Ideas are anathema to Metcalf. No, let us wallow in our feelings, wait for the bath water to grow cold, and then cry to mummy. Let us pinpoint our pathetic whining with a perfectly whittled metaphor, and then let us rejoice in our little dead butterflies. That’s what all the great writers do, right?

Sorry, but no.

The great writers are all yea-sayers; they embrace the world in all its gaudy glory. They say yes! to grief and suffering; they say yes! to pleasure and its pitfalls. They embrace the reeky public notions of progress for they know the road of excess can lead to the palace of wisdom. They do not turn their nose up at anything, they see beauty in every form of baseness. They write, as Updike said of Nabokov, in a state of ecstasy. They say, Yes I will, yes.


Now, let it not be supposed that I am opposed in principle to baccanalian revels. No stuffy sourpuss am I. But in Metcalf’s world, the novels particularly, but also the stories and essays, drunkenness is exalted over and over again, most often as an antidote to the dreary world of citizenship and moral responsibility, which is fit only for ass-kissing climbers and dopey proles. "The floating world" it is named in General Ludd, that maundering rewrite of Going Down Slow, and it is in this world, where everything is usually "glowing" that the Metcalf protagonist, whatever his name, experiences some transcendence of his anxieties and angers, some notion of ecstasy, but not its true function.

But this ecstasy of the aesthete’s decent into drunken, dream like stupor, where everything is shining, smiling and wonderful, should not be mistaken for the ecstasy of the mystic, as the flowery language would ofttimes suggest, for it is, at its core, a contraction into a kind of infantilism, where the universe of appearances is not so much transcended in the act of embrace, but ignored in the process of overwhelming self absorption. The mystics of all ages open up their consciousness to embrace all manifestations, whether good, bad, or indifferent. The Metcalf hero, while drowning his sorrows, becomes absorbed in woozy aesthetic contemplation and sensual gratification, worshiping only that which he deems worthy, scorning all else, while the mystic looks over all with love, having ridden the taxi to the end of desire.


Was it Auden who said, in his elegy to Yeats, that "we must love one another or die"?


Metcalf has made two fine and memorable contributions to contemporary CanLit. In the small, faulted, but ultimately persuasive volume What Is A Canadian Literature? he successfully deposed the then-ruling kings of thematic criticism. It was a tough job, but hey, somebody had to do it. And I’d rather John than me. You need credentials I don’t got. And although the truths arrived at in the process of demolishing those poisonous myths were confirmed by the expedience of a few simple phone calls, the results will take, I should imagine, at least a generation to percolate through the system, and by then the battle will have been won, the playing field repopulated and the goals redefined.

And while I recognize the cultural hurdle overcome by his exertions in this regard and predict the pivotal nature it will someday hold in the history of CanLit criticism, there are a few small ironies I would like to ignite. Firstly, referring to Canadian ‘classics’ (Callaghan, MacLennan, Ross, Buckler, etc.) he insists "They were old fashioned when they were written and are now antiquated." For a guy who’s heroes tend toward the hopeless bachelor syndrome - dysfunctional alcoholics who cannot care for themselves or their habitation - , and who seem so out of tune with a modern, multicultural , post feminist, post pill, post everything kind of society, this reveals a remarkable ignorance of the kind of time bubble his own novels float around in. Secondly, when he reiterates his assertion that the Canadian Tradition is represented by the paperback reissues of the Modern Canadian Library series, and that these books do not connect with any ordinary book buying public... and that the reputations of these books is created and fostered by academics to serve dubious academic and nationalist ends, he is being disingenuous, for he knows full well they are modeled on the Penguin Modern Classics series and are no different in their creation and affect, both on interested students and the general public.

Let’s face it John, the average Joe or Jean across the pond is no more likely to buy Walter Greenwood’s Love On The Dole over the newest Joanna Trollope than the average Joe or Jean here will but Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese over the new Joanna Trollope, and to pretend otherwise is silly. Thirdly, and this would be my number one submission for the Metcalf-as-guilty-as-those-he-would-accuse file, in the course of What Is A Canadian Culture? Duncan Campbell Scott’s In The Village Of Viger comes in for something of a drubbing, both as a literary work and as a figment of nationalist literary imagination, and as one submits to the insistent tides of Metcalf’s rhetoric, bashed slabs of one’s own aesthetic surface from time to time. Here’s one: "The style of In The Village Of Viger is not, in the main, as bad as Compton MacKenzie’s, but it is drawn from the same models and exhibits the same tired tricks and tropes, the scuffed baggage of a worn out culture and language." Metcalf’s own novels are the product of a worn out culture and language, the scuffed baggage of a very masculine British empire brought to its knees, and full of another kind of self-consciously ‘poetic’ language. What is the difference, John, between D.C. Scott’s overuse of the word ‘little’ and your inane fondness for the word ‘rucked’? You both sentimentalize charming pasts. As you said in Kicking, "It isn’t difficult to invent England." 

The above mentioned Teeth Of My Father continues to be his most accomplished exploration of the landscape left to him by that other great British writer of comic poetic stories, the one only occasionally referred to by our dissembling polemicist, Dylan Thomas. The two novels that straddle it (Slow and General Ludd) are, for the most part, depressing and dire. Pathetic losers whining about concrete and computers when thet’re not vomiting across bedspreads. It’s no wonder that few wanted to read them at the time. Only masochists enjoy being that morose. The jaded aesthetes and misanthropic malcontents at their core fail to charm, or even convince. They are, at best, idealized anti-heroes in a fifties mind-set, with spray cans of vitriol their only ally in the hopeless struggle against overwhelming mediocrity, and as unbelievable, in their way, as James Bond. Surrounded by uncomprehending clowns and blustering buffoons -Howie Bunceford springs to mind here - they inhabit an inner life of spectacularly neurotic dimensions, while their various combatants inhabit nothing, not even the punching bags they are dressed in.

The literature of defeat, I suppose. It’s a shtick that worked fairly well in its heyday, with its protagonists nodding toward some fabled but faded fin de siecle glamour, but the theatrical snob with his snoot in the air, the dandy who deigns to dignify us with his superior taste, his time is long past, his pose passe. Many forces in society have since combined to democratize culture, and literary practitioners can no longer afford to hold themselves apart as sole purveyors of the sublime. A play by Tom Stoppard or David Mamet, a film by Krystov Kieslowski or Tim Robbins are as profoundly moving and thought provoking as any novel. While it might be countered that, in their day, a play by Ibsen or Shaw was the equal of a novel by Dickens or Eliot and thus things remain unchanged, I would remind that in our democratized culture anyone with a VCR can see the modern works above, whereas before it was only the privileged few. Adult Entertainment, his last volume of stories, now more than ten years old, extended the territory covered earlier, but sadly, failed to deepen it.

The same old aesthetes fighting the same old battles. In "Polly Ongle" for example, no one is real except Paul Denton. The others serve merely as foils to his flow of self consciousness, they do not achieve characterhood. One more result of this elitist view: only the moods, perceptions and battered sensitivities of the cultured individual are worthy; everything else is a function or effect of the degradations of the everyday world and its "herd" of inhabitants. Similarly "The Nipples Of Venus", where it leads to the following: "...but all I wanted of Rome was to sit in the sunshine drinking cold beer and listening to the loveliness of water running, the trill and spirtle, the rill and trickle of it."

In the foreground we have the sensitive protagonist, who, while inhabiting the form of that dreaded item, the tourist, separates himself from the gross unfeeling mob by denying any interest in "the famous guidebook attractions" of Rome and instead settles himself in an "outdoor cafe hidden in a narrow garden" where he intoxicates himself with (a), a series of beers, and (b), the delightful darting and gamboling of tiny courting lizards. In the background we eventually encounter a chorus of shouting, gesticulating Italians who operate a tour coach business described as "a bit makeshift and fly-by-night." They are, of course, not allowed to become characters; they only "stump about shouting and growling", or "speak beseechingly to potted azaleas". They are the herd, the uncultured slobs, that are fit only for the amusement of the elite. They don’t speak, they "spit" words; they don’t walk, they "goose walk". Cultural stereotypes bordering on racism, and a xenophobia of a peculiarly British middle class stripe, usually mocking those in the service industries. A tiresome case of political correctness that may sound, but it runs all the way through his work right up to Forde Abroad, the most recent. Quebecers, Italians, Slovenians, Germans, what difference does it make, they’re all bleedin’ foreigners, ain’t they mate?

It’s the tortured young artist effect again, except now he’s middle aged and anxious, instead of young and obnoxious. Life is funny, of that there is no doubt, but satirists like Metcalf do not allow fun to arise naturally out of the narrative, like steam from a boiling kettle, they poke fun, they intrude upon the text with their wit and their vocabulary like show-offs talking loudly in restaurants.

The much heralded textual innovations are, to my mind, mere affectations of the jaded aesthete who has nothing to add to the culture he abhors and resorts instead to flourishes and gestures. He used to be the man who made his exits sweeping a dark purple cloak over his shoulder. Exits, alas, are no longer sustainable, not to mention dark purple cloaks.


I am not the first, and will surely not be the last, to accuse Metcalf of wasting twenty years in belly aching and tub thumping. Facing that empty page is the hardest job for any writer. To recreate anew from scratch can be appallingly difficult. One sees how lonely a god could come to be. Writers find many ways of avoiding the task: sex, drink and teaching are three of the most popular choices, with hand wringing and script writing right behind. Organising movements and coddling the young seem to be Metcalf’s choice.

And when I turn to his new story included in the Special Issue of the New Quarterly, and I witness a text liberally dosed with those poetic adjectives, you know, the ones the rest of us are too dull witted to employ, such as sibilant, frowsty and knurled, and all those, oh lord shield mine eyes, italics, I wonder if, in fact, we have been spared.


Was it Roger Waters who sang, "And if I were a good man, I’d understand the spaces between friends"?


And as for these new stars of his, so endlessly celebrated in The New Quarterly special issue and the nauseating self-congratulatory Porcupine’s Quill Reader, are they doing anything so radically wonderful and new? Or is it just their proximity to Metcalf that makes them so special? Are they anything more than young writers, pleased with their precious issue?

Mostly they recompose their childhoods, families and lovers, all staples of the Canadian short story cottage industry for the last quarter century at least. And I don’t see any of them coming up to the standard of, say, Isabel Huggan, whose first volume from 1984, The Elizabeth Stories, now seems like something of a landmark in the childhood-recalled genre. The whole thing reeks of the small press mutual appreciation society, another well-worn CanLit tradition.

But let’s get real for a moment about this trumpeting of new talent, ... the buzz. Who now recalls the much touted Martin Avery, that short story hot shot of the early eighties, winner of awards and prime positions in anthologies? I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him in over a decade. He might very well be dead. But back in 82 and 83 he was a contender. The buzz was abroad. It blew about for some months, as we waited for the next great Canadian something or other, and then petered out, ...into the next buzz. Much the same could be said for Barry Dempster, another early eighties contender. Around the same time, Greg Hollingshead published Famous Players, his first book of stories, which went largely unremarked as I recall. I think I bought it because it was a Coach House book, which usually meant eye appetizing design and large dollops of unrepentant surrealism regardless of the author. Now who of the three went on to win the Governor General’s award with the brilliant Roaring Girl?

You got it. The one that snuck by unremarked. As Stuart Ross remarked at the last Small Press Book Fair, "It’s the quiet ones busily beavering away you gotta watch out for." Compare also the snail like progress of one Carol Shields, a name you’ve likely heard bandied about these last few years. Well, in the seventies she couldn’t get arrested. She was somewhere in the back of the crowd, chatting with Constance Beresford Howe and Rachel Wyatt. Her calmly accomplished, but timid domestic dramas somehow leaked out and were respectfully reviewed in that perpetual hope, amongst Canadian literary types of the time, that the counterculture, drugs and feminism would just go away and leave them to their quietly ironic despair in the traditional manner. It wasn’t until 1985’s triumphant burst into magic realism Various Miracles that we realized we were in the presence of a major artist.

Now with the sort of trumpeting of youthful talent that Metcalf indulges in at every opportunity he is reducing himself to the status of the back cover blurb artist, the sort of hack you see gushing under every week’s new Hollywood blockbuster. As a man of already rapidly eroding credibility, I would humbly suggest that he can no longer afford this ‘one of the year’s ten best’ behaviour. In place of the graduating class of young geniuses, I see children giving speeches in class, and being reminded by their fawning teacher to enunciate their syllables and curtsy when they’re finished.

Despite his endless disputation, implying that he distances himself from the timid, dull and quotidian, Metcalf’s attitude towards his disciples best exemplifies another engrained CanLit attitude: Thou shalt not criticize the young who have attained a modicum of craft. Thou shall, at all costs, be encouraging. This attitude, a bastard child of the nationalist seventies, and one too many creative writing courses, will only create a surfeit of capable but predictable story crafters, just as it brought forth that glut of barely passable poets in the seventies.

It would be instructive, at this point, to include a contemporary aside. In the October ‘97 issue of Vanity Fair, a magazine not perhaps noted by the cognoscenti for its insight into matters literary, James Wolcott, in decrying the current US glut of confessional memoirs, had the following to say: "The danger is that creative non-fiction could do to non-fiction what creative writing has slowly done to fiction - embalm it. The proliferation of creative writing courses across the country hasn’t expanded the audience for fiction, especially for short stories; if anything, there are probably more short story writers in America now than short story readers. The short story has become a minor arts-and-crafty skill, like Indian pottery. All that sunless nurturing and fussy doting has rendered the form quaint and nearly extinct. It’s dying of acute inwardness, a disease that could spread." The point, I trust, is taken.

But not, perhaps, in the spirit in which it was given. So let me illustrate with some good true north examples. Caroline Adderson, for one; Metcalf persists in drooling over her, once insisting , before she had as much as one book to her name, that she already had devoted readers "from coast to coast". For the life of me I can’t imagine why.

Let’s take, quite at random, as Mr. Metcalf is very fond of doing when he’s happily dousing reputations with gasoline, one of the stories from Ms. Adderson’s Bad Imaginings, "The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon". And let us focus on what the story is actually about. Let us assume, as anyone outside the CanLit cuddle club would, that the writer is capable of producing a sentence appropriate to the actions described. Let us also refrain from genuflecting before poetic adjectives, intrusive italics and comma carping.

Two smudge faced scruffy children, seemingly belonging to the class of rural poor, are ejected from a cluttered, trashed out home to fetch the daily mail, which appears to be a considerable distance from the house. The parents range from incompetent to vegetative. But before their dismissal from this grimy Eden in the second paragraph, there is, guess what, some foreshadowing of future action when little Rudy walks his fingers gently over his pregnant mother’s breast. I wonder where Ms. Adderson learnt that little trick?

On the way the brother and sister discover a dead cat, with maggots busily wriggling. Well, that’s death, what can be next? A speeding car nearly hits them. Surprised? I wasn’t. Then they meet up with another rapscallion, who leads them to the pond in the forest, where they encounter hundreds of croaking, coupling frogs. The word ‘fucking’ is introduced and repeated, naturally by the older male child. Then, as if to firmly establish the moral of the story in a manner more reminiscent of hammering the stake in the vampire’s heart than anything in recent memory, a pair of the coupling frogs are dashed most cruelly against a tree. Brother and sister flee the pond, squabbling on the way home. Sister experiences an all encompassing vision of the forces of nature multiplying around her. Story ends with a bird flying by, upon whom much metaphorical baggage is heaped.

Needless to say, this excuse for a narrative is conveyed in sentences which can pass muster as literary fiction, but the basic elements of style cannot save this abysmal accumulation of thematic and metaphoric cliché from itself. Marcel Proust himself couldn’t salvage this sucker. If style and content are one, as Metcalf continually insists, where does that leave this? To me it’s icing on an non-existent cake. Where is the vision, the striving for originality, the wit? Metcalf calls these stories ‘deeply imagined’. Deeply imagined my ass.

As I said, this is a story picked at random from a pile of books. I got the idea from the old master himself. He’s made use of it on several occasions, most vividly in his willful destruction of Morley Callaghan, "Winner Take All" (Editions Of Canadian Writing, 51-52), and his general assumption seems to be, ‘If you can find an awkward phrase, risible cliché, or clunky rhythm then we are not in the presence of an artist, and if anyone else thinks we are then we are not in the presence of a literature.’

I trust, then, that my methodology is ideologically sound. I would not wish to get drummed out of the party, at least not until this essay is over. Eyes closed, I pick from the pile and open. I see, rather quickly, that we are continuing in this originality and imagination-free vein, with one Terry Griggs, whose volume Quickening is another of Metcalf’s raves. In encountering Griggs, one is reminded of the American critic Sven Birkets comments (in An Artificial Wilderness, 1987) on another powerful/influential editor, Gordon Lish, whose tenure at Knopf seems to have created an entire generation of minimalist fictioneers dedicated to purveying his esthetic. "Lish’s progeny come across as purveyors of the slight and the fragmented. They are sculptors of sentences rather than worlds."

The world Griggs would have us subscribe to, in the randomly picked "Oral History", purports to be an account of a prodigious small town kisser named Charlie Hay. During the exposition his virtuosity in the intimate embrace is repeatedly extolled in metaphors so glutinous one strives in vain to shake them off. One of the town’s women finally gets the better of him, but not before the fantasy is subverted by its own self-centeredness. In the real world such a man would quickly lose his job through sexual harassment allegations and probably wind up in jail for stalking, but in Grigg’s fantasyland, so obsessed is she with her own sentence bound charisma, he comes across as this winsome some town eccentric, a kind of hick James Dean perhaps, probably descended from the likes of Twain and Leacock.

In Oral History, Griggs does not represent a world in miniature, but an elaborately rendered authorial fantasy, which, after fumigation with a fearless bullshit detector, reveals little but sentimental notions masquerading as characters, pursued for the duration by look-ma-no-hands sentences, chock a block with cloying cleverness, to an inconclusive desk top which ought to be marked ‘first draft’ instead of ‘finished copy’.

In great literature, which Metcalf parades himself as stimulating, virtuosity is never an end in itself, it is a tool, a tool to engineer visions of moral integrity and metaphysical harmony, visions whose scope exceed the precocious to serve up the comprehensive.


After rereading Metcalf’s sly admission of the utter indefensibility of his aesthetic position in 1990’s Volleys, quoted at the opening of this text, and hearing of his attempts to pave the way for his new star Annabel Lyon with all the major book review editors in the country, I sat down to consult her collection of short fictions Oxygen and see what all the fuss was about.

As usual, not much more than a promising start. Yet despite myself, and despite the MFA in creative writing, and all the mustering of mediocrity which that entails, the editorship at Prism (and the years of you-publish-my-story-and-I’ll-publish-yours which that implies) and the recommendation from Caroline Adderson, I found myself liking Metcalf’s latest wunderkind. At least it’s contemporary, I thought, at least there’s no syrupy poetic adjectives, (although a certain self-conscious reaching is evident : - "carbonated with pleasure" - "heat plaques him with sweat" - "the city writhes with cats" - that verges on overwriting of the commonest kind, although to be fair, it’s just the type of overwriting that Metcalf drools over) at least there’s no ghosts of Atwood and Munro, at least the theft is from Yankee sources, at least I can read it without wanting to throw it at the wall.

But you see, don’t you, I’m still making excuses, that peculiarly Canadian brand of special pleading: please, we’re an emerging culture, we don’t have much money or influence, but hey we’re nice, give us a chance. The sort of inbred excuses no self-respecting critic in London or New York (or Edinburgh or Sydney) would dream of.

So, once again, the critical crunch, the condemnation that the grant funded convivial will chide me for. Ultimately, despite a pleasant couple of hours twitching to her staccato rhythms and cheering on a degree of contemporary multicultural honesty, I am left with the by now customary sense that a prodigious accumulation of tips and techniques does not an original vision make.


With reference to the above, Metcalf often sells a vision of inter-generational camaraderie, supposedly inspired by the life of Margaret Lawrence and her selfless acts of goodwill on behalf of other writers, one that he argues will save CanLit from its endemic dearth of readers (one of the "issues" recently rebooted by Philip Marchand).

From here it looks more like an excuse to get drunk and bolster sagging senses of self-esteem by mocking those unfortunate enough not to sup at the favoured trough. Can you see a future with literary nationalist in one corner, Metcalfites (or will we call them Metcalfians?) in the other, both champing at the bit, agendas ablaze, and the rest of us somewhere in the middle, getting on with the business at hand?

This lack-of-sophisticated-readers really is a red herring issue. There is no lack of literacy in this country. The problem (if it can be so called) is more an embarrassment of riches. There is a great deal of high quality English language literary fiction (let’s not even bother with the flood of fine non-fiction) from Britain and the United States, not to mention Central and South America (or Canada for that matter).

Walk into any well-stocked bookstore, those charmingly comfy emporia of cappuccino and culture springing up across the landscape. The woman you see lingering over Alice Munro’s Selected Stories, is she not just as likely to buy the latest Atwood, Joanna Trollope, Isabel Allende, Marylin French, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, or even Virginia Woolf? She’s only got thirty bucks, she can’t buy them all. The intense young man with his girlfriend, both skinny, pale and dressed in black, loitering about the Camus section, are they not just as likely to be Sartre and de Beauvoir bound, and from there to Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and from there to Marie Clair Blais and Nancy Huston, and perhaps Barbara Gowdy and then Judith Fitzgerald’s bio of Sarah Maclachlan? Don’t laugh, mine eyes have seen the coming. The grey haired gentleman hovering over the biographies, what should he choose? The Robertson Davies? After all, he’s the right age, he can remember when Davies edited The Peterborough Examiner, he lived there at the time. But then there’s the paperback of Peter Ackroyd’s Dickens book, that was well reviewed, then there's that Shelden bio of George Orwell, always wanted to read that.

How many times have you wanted to forego the current issue of Books In Canada or Brick and buy The New Yorker or The London Review Of Books instead, but stick with the home grown product out of guilt? It’s hell out there let’s face it, and lack of readers is just not the issue. Lack of leisure and disposable income is. If only the Yanks spoke French and the Brits Gaelic, then we’d be laughing.

Metcalf has grumbled that a good book of fiction, well-reviewed and promoted, can usually sell no more than 1,200 copies. In Shelden’s bio of Orwell it is revealed that before his big breakthrough with Animal Farm, Orwell’s reportage and novels sold about 2,000 per, and Homage To Catalonia, his first-hand account of the Spanish Civil War, which along with John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook The World set the standard for front line journalism, books revered the world over, sold in its first edition about 700.

A sobering thought? Not necessarily. Greatness rarely explodes on a culture. Usually it seeps through over time. Antonio Vivaldi: household word, right? Only recently. His music was virtually lost for 200 years. Someone dug out the manuscripts in the 1920’s. Speaking of that tumultuous decade in modern literature, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was published by the Hogarth Press in 1922 in an edition of 150. It took years to sell out, according to Leonard Woolf, who ought to know. In the same interview, with Malcolm Muggeridge in 1967, and included in Recollections Of Virginia Woolf, he reveals that "The Voyage Out and Night And Day, I think, both took ten years to sell 2000 copies." Can there be two more influential figures in 20th. century English literature than T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf?

The situation in Canada is not nearly as unusual as Metcalf would have you believe. Small presses the world over have boxes of unsold books in the basement, and the large ones warehouses full. Like many a polemicist he presents only the sides of the issue he wants you to hear. A perfect example is his use of a quote (The New Quarterly) by Jonathon Franzen from Harpers magazine. It is a typical aesthete’s smug dismissal of the low-brow types he had to endure on his book promotion tour. The accoutrements of fame (limos, money, glamour), he realized belatedly, were the consolation prizes for "no longer mattering to the culture". Assuming the reader agrees with all this guff, Metcalf issues a rousing rallying call, to man the barricades against the insurgence of the "larger presses" bent on profit. In about five years they’ll be protesting outside MacDonalds. Perhaps after that they’ll take to growing hemp to produce their precious books. Hey, those trees need protecting.

What he neglects to mention in this thrilling tirade against all that oppresses, is the three pages of letters sent to Harpers (July 96), all completely opposed to Franzen’s vision, including one by Kurt Vonnegut. Not one letter in support. Not a one.


In March 1985, The Malahat Review presented its special Metcalf issue. One of the contributions was "The Collector’s Real" by Keath Frazer. It opened with the following Metcalf quote; "You can’t explain elegance. It’s pointless to try. It’d be like telling a joke to Rudy Wiebe."

In this brief extract one can actually see everything one needs to know about Metcalf. Miniaturized Metcalf if you like. In the first sentence we feel the sting of the elitist assumption: only certain very special people (ie. me and my friends) have the necessary qualifications to appreciate the mysterious something. In the second we see the laziness of the dandified aesthete: contemplation of the mysterious something leaves him much too tired to initiate a dumb ass like you. Besides there’s only so many seats in the clubhouse. In the third we feel the clincher, the nastiness secreted in the benign reserve, where the would-be schoolyard bully leaps at the main chance, something along the lines of ‘No, four eyes, you can’t join our club, your conkers aren’t big enough’.


Enough already.

Postscript : While spending literally months rereading the Metcalf oeuvre for this overview, I noted a few points which could not be made, much as I tried to slice and tuck, to fit in the main body of this text. While I can only surmise that some doctoral student fifty years hence might scrape together enough of those loose ends to stage a reassessment, I would like to mention just one, for reasons which will soon become apparent. (I know, there’s nothing quite so arrogant as quoting yourself.)

"One of Metcalf’s great failures as a writer is his weak grasp of characterization. He has his aesthete protagonist, his mother-substitute, his reeking bourgeoisie and his dumb ass proles. All his protagonists are thinly veiled versions of himself, and as sensitive artistes in a crass uncomprehending world (‘Canada as a spiritual K-mart’), sympathy for their travails is never achieved, in a writerly sense, it is considered self-evident. The bourgeoisie and proles are all buffoons, clowns and incompetents. The mother substitutes are good girls when they give him what he wants and castrating bitches when they don’t. All are caricatures, not characters. They have no inner life, no room to develop. They never develop, ...why? Because they barely exist."

Although I felt these remarks quite strongly, I believed proving them would necessitate a complete critical study, something for which, after months of Metcalf, I did not have the intestinal fortitude. Now what fascinates me is that Philip Marchand, in the Toronto Star (Sept.16/2000), has recently declared all modern Canadian fiction, certainly the last decade or so, to be equally wanting. Pointing at the season’s big releases, Atwood and Ondaatje, he accuses them of "hollowness of characterization". Munro and Shoemperlen, he continues, leave you only with texture and mood. Quoting Mary McCarthy and, of course, Tom Wolfe, he asserts that novelists just aren’t interested enough in society. And why? Perhaps because stream of consciousness and the notion that language creates our reality have left us adrift. Or perhaps it’s because, as T.S. Eliot noted, the idea of original sin has lost its force, and with it the notion that we are flawed creatures who must fight to save our immortal souls, which naturally lent itself well to the tale of heroic struggle, giving us characters etched in moral conflict. Or perhaps it was the death of Henry James, whom Graham Greene argued embodied the religious sense in the English novel, and which sense gave dignity to the human act. Greene also noted the importance of another, unseen world, whose very existence gave importance to an otherwise trivial character. For Flannery O’Connor it was even simpler: "Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama." And, "The maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy". And, "Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe."

Now while Marchand, ever the liberal journalist, invites the reader to agree or disagree (always a sign that the writer hasn’t got the courage of his convictions), I would give him a tip of the hat for reminding me in such a timely fashion that aestheticism represents a loss of spiritual values, a personality cast adrift on the seas of time and space, rather desperately trying to attach meaning to one wave over another - this wave’s more beautiful than that - while the spiritualized soul understands that all waves are equal, spectacularly unique and emanating from a divine source.

Most of this essay was written three years ago, when I was regularly contributing to the now defunct Paragraph. This current issue was delayed, as many projects were, by my absorption in a book about the Afterlife. When you find yourself out of your body, night after night, roaming the worlds of spirit and having endless converse with the souls of the supposedly "dead", and you are already a writer, you feel, let me say, compelled. Compelled to elucidate the apparent immortality of the soul, sporting any number of arguments and attitudes in a seemingly endless series of spheres, all spiffy with life and still looking for god. Which, of course, brings me full circle to the Flannery O’Connor quotes above. I never thought the two projects would ever tie together so neatly. Surprise, surprise.

Gordon Phinn published his first book of poetry in 1975 and since then has been pursuing anonymity with a vengeance. An independent scholar focused mainly in literature and metaphysics, he finds himself in that awkward spot: too young to be a grand old man and too old to be a young turk. But middle age does have its priviledges, and he suggests you try him on for size. An extensive backlist of chapbooks is available at :






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