Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hamilton, Ontario, metaphysical centre of the known universe

I wrote the following letter to the local Hamilton paper (The Hamilton Spectator) about David McFadden, however they didn't publish it. So, I post it here.


A few days ago, David W. McFadden’s book, Why Are You So Sad?, was nominated for one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Canada, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and I for one, am delighted. It’s been a long time since his work was given such recognition. As a writer and as a Hamiltonian, he has been an inspiration to me. I’m pleased to think that as new readers encounter his work, they will encounter our city and see in it something of the depth and wonder that McFadden has seen here.

Before I moved to Hamilton eighteen years ago, I already knew a lot about this city. I had a sense of its complexity, depth, humanity, humour, and vitality. I knew that it was a place rich with the details of everyday life, a town where one might be stricken with bemusement or wonder, or else surprised by coincidence, sadness, or indescribable joy. How did I know this? I had read the writing of David W. McFadden.

McFadden was born in Hamilton in 1940 and grew up on the Mountain. He worked as a night proof-reader and eventual beat reporter for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the author of over two dozen books. Much of his early writing is filled with Hamilton, from Kenilworth and the Cannon St. bus, to Mountain Brow Blvd., Brucedale and the Undermount, but most importantly, his writing conveys the sense that we can look out at the world and our lives from Hamilton, Ontario. You don’t need to live in Paris, Beijing or…Toronto. You can be metaphysical in Hamilton, Ontario. You can be bemused and filled with Zen-like delight in Hamilton, Ontario. You can hear amazing stories and encounter remarkable people in Hamilton, Ontario, such as in this poem:


He was well groomed and well dressed
and he stopped me on the street
and asked for a quarter.

When I gave him one he said:

I can draw power
from the ground
up through my legs
to make my heart
shine like a searchlight.

I love how this poem is able to be funny and compassionate at the same time.

McFadden’s Hamilton is not limited to cartoon cut-out figures of steelworkers, Ti-Cat fans, and Tim Hortons’ coffee drinkers, though real-life three dimensional steelworkers, Eat ‘em Raw fans and coffee drinkers are there. Cities need writers to reflect the richness of the city back to the people who live there, as well to the people who do not. Even though he moved away from here in 80s, McFadden is our Hamilton writer, reflecting the complex simplicity and simple complexity of our city. We should name a street after him: he’s more Hamilton than Liszt!

* * *

(Note: the reference to Liszt is because Hamilton has a street downtown named after Liszt due to the Romantic music festival at McMaster University.)


Pearl said...

and they didn't publish that? odd birds.

gary barwin said...

I think that many writers at the local paper have a particular vision of Hamilton. The newspaper doesn't know what to make of the fluid visions of writers, artists, and urban thinkers, of a re-imagining of the city as a dynamic, multi-focused, complex city. There certainly are interested people writing and thinking about the city -- H Magazine, Mayday, etc. Not to mention a bevy of artists engaging with urban issues and Hamilton spaces specifically. Despite the officials at the city, Hamilton is emerging with a dynamic alternative culture. For example the fantastic TH & B installation in the Imperial Cotton Centre. Check out: http://www.thbcollective.com/

gary barwin said...

...and I think McFadden's writing is messy, capricious and unpredictable (in all the best ways), and so not something that the establishment could easily endorse. Not that they would likely endorse any writer. Still I'm sending a copy of the book to the mayor.