2012 NMAs: Arts and Entertainment

You have to be kidding me. Cottage Life drops a Canadiana bomb with “A Happy Makeshift Vision” [.pdf of story], in which famous Canadian poet George Bowering writes about famous Canadian poet Al Purdy and his old A-frame abode in Prince Edward County. The story has the vibe of a Purdy poem. Give it the award.

OK. Wait. What else is in the A&E category?

There’s a high Arctic Canadiana bomb from Canadian Art magazine. In “Man Standing,” Timothy Taylor profiles Zacharias Kunuk, the director of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. The first section of the story has a few too many overly poetic turns of phrase that draw too much attention to themselves: “[the airport] hurtles by in a rainbow spray of ice crystals….the way tongue drifts form in the winter season.” But, Taylor’s tale really shines later with his insights into the director’s films and the cultural psychology of the Inuit—without using wanky phrases, such as “cultural psychology.”

In The Walrus, Tom Jokinen explores opera from the inside with “Adventures of a Supernumerary.” The writer gets all immersion journalism as an extra (supernumerary) in a Canadian Opera Company production of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Jokinen weaves various themes and images with ease. My favourite line: “The Finn wears his heart not on his sleeve, but in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator, the better to bear the trials of a working life.”

The Walrus also gives us “Modern Inconveniences” by Adele Weder. After I read the first line, I decided I didn’t need to read any more.

In his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime,” Viennese architect Adolf Loos waxed magnanimous: “I have made the following discovery and I pass it on to the world: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects.”

In Grade 9, in an essay on whether the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was insane or not, I opened with “The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘insanity’ as…”

I no longer expect anyone would read on after that.

L’actualité has a profile of Karine Vanasse, who I’ve only seen in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (I really should see Polytechnique.)

Not surprisingly, Gerald Hannon has a fantastic profile of Kent Monkman, the visual artist known for his gender-bending trickster figure Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, who subverts European/Native power structures and makes Monkman a truck load of dough. Hannon lays down words with the precision of a poet. He could win this category, and I have him picked for his story in the Profiles NMA.

In the modern music department, Brian D. Johnson has a profile of Tony Bennett, “Steppin’ out with Tony,” in Maclean’s; Sarah Liss has a profile of Deadmau5, “The Man in the Mouse,” in Toronto Life; and Noémi Mercier has a profile of Karkwa, “Les dernières flèches de Karkwa?” in L’actualité. Of the three, Mercier’s work is the strongest. Her article about the 2010 Polaris Music Prize–winning group examines a band that is famous, but not famous enough. Also, to riff on the story’s deck, it’s one solitude on an odyssey within the other. Call this one a Hugh MacLennan Canadiana bomb, which might pack more megatons than Cottage Life’s bit of maple ordnance.

Military metaphors aside, my pick for the NMA does not feature Purdy or Karkwa, but a game of chance and a writer who passed away in 2010. Don Gillmor writes about writer Paul Quarringtion and his final months before dying of lung cancer in “All In” [.pdf of story]. The story, which appeared in Eighteen Bridges, weaves Quarringtion’s story with the games of poker that he, Gillmor and others played. The story is a tightly written elegy and an effort to deal with chance and mortality. It’s the strongest story in the A&E category.

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