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Gandalf of Granville Island: Tim Lander

September 22nd, 2012

It is impossible not to feel sympathy for Tim Lander when he describes sleeping under the Burrard Bridge and waking to discover his false teeth were stolen.

If you’re passing swiftly, illness street musician Tim Lander might appear to be a harmless simpleton or a public nuisance, visit web or both, or even a busker who needs a handout or even a bath, but stop and talk to the Yeats-quoting Lander, who operates a boarding house that he owns in Nanaimo, and you’ll quickly realize he’s a gentle and sophisticated wise man who masquerades as an over-grown sprite.

Like a universal character from a Tarot card deck who invites complex interpretations, Lander has lurked and laughed for years on the perimeter of the West Coast poetry scene, a self-publisher who frequently shows up at literary events as the real McCoy, mysteriously enduring beyond the writing departments and the cabals of mutually motivated poseurs.

Or, putting it another way, Lander remains leery of what he calls “the hierarchical filter of the Canada Council system of Approved Editors and Publishers.” Stapling together his own meditations on life, Lander functions like the wandering minstrel of old, dependent upon the curiosity of the general public, not the public purse.

Educated in England, Lander describes himself as a coward, not as a rebel, someone who knows he cannot change the world, but his barnacle-like presence on the literary scene of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island has gradually earned him widespread respect.

“I was an aged man,” Lander once wrote in his self-published memoir, The Magic Flute, “a paltry thing, travelling every week with my pack on my back, my hat on my head and my piccolo in my pocket, over on the ferry from Nanaimo, to play around the market and craft shops of Granville Island.”

“At night I would unroll my sleeping bag on a thick, soft growth of ivy under the Burrard Street Bridge, with the ever-present noise of traffic thudding above me. I reckoned that if I made a few dollars, why spend it on a cheap bed? I had no shame in sleeping like a hobo. I’d always secretly admired the ‘gentlemen of the road’ and by nature I’m a penny-pincher.”

Refusing to submit to Nanaimo’s humiliating by-law that requires all buskers to audition in front of a by-law officer to obtain a license, as well as a name tag, Lander increasingly gravitated to Vancouver to play his piccolo and penny whistle. Some youngsters have belittled him as a haggard version of Father Christmas, but far more have called out “Gandalf ”—a comparison he enjoys.

Most passers-by have responded kindly. “If you can play me some Jethro Tull,” said one Aboriginal man in a Pink Floyd t-shirt, “I’ll see if I can find you a buck,” to which Lander responded by saying he’s just an old hippy who only plays music off the top of his head. The Jethro Tull fan gave him his take-out box of steak anyway.

Another time a Vancouver cop encouraged Lander to keep playing, even though a noise complaint had been made.

One morning Lander woke under the Burrard Bridge, put his hand in his hat and discovered his false teeth were missing. This happened a few weeks prior to Christmas. He searched desperately in the brambles to no avail. A malicious thief or a wild animal had stolen his ability to make his meagre living because Lander couldn’t play his flute properly without his teeth.

“Then … I realized that this was absolutely the funniest thing that had ever happened to me,” he writes, “and the humour of the whole predicament filled me with light.” The theft proved serendipitous. He found he could play his piccolo even better without teeth. “I could do things with the notes that I never could do before. This was my Zen moment, this was my satori. My flute and I, we had discovered each other like two lovers.”

For decades Lander has conducted an erudite, one-man campaign to assert the validity of the humble chapbook as the purest vehicle for poets, “not dependent on the good will of the government,” although he has just released his second ‘legit’ trade book called Inappropriate Behaviour (Broken Jaw Press). Whereas his first collection, The Glass Book (Ekstasis 2000), was a gentle work, Lander describes Inappropriate Behaviour as “a book full of repressed rage” mainly comprised of poetry written before he started busking.

According to Lander, homemade chapbooks have the added advantage of displaying the hand, judgement and design sense of the poet. “Chapbooks can be printed in small quantities,” he explains, “as needed, and they do not require a huge outlay of cash. They are cheap, unadorned, designed to be traded with other poets, and they are affordable to the kind of aficionados of poetry who attend readings, the educated underclass.” Most of Lander’s chapbooks over the years have been deftly illustrated with whimsical, minimalist sketches.

Somewhat alarmed when he realized Inappropriate Behaviour is a potpourri of pieces written between six and thirty years ago, Lander recently released his umpteenth chapbook, Elegy Ritten in a ORL Nite Café, only available for $5 by mail, via his personal email address. A usual, it contains Lander’s trademark advice to the reader regarding copyright: “Do not reproduce without love.

In much the same tradition, unstoppable self-publisher and door-to-door book salesman Joe Ruggier, born and raised in Malta, has operated his Multicultural Books, and written te titles of his own, most recently Pope Caesar’s Wake: Letters Exchanged with Pope Woytyla (MBooks).

Ruggier has had to invent his own niche for himself, overcoming health hurdles, in order to pursue his dream of respect for his ruminations on love, culture and religion. Although his persistence is remarkable, it’s not peerless.

Self-publishers aren’t necessarily inveterate egoists. Ruggier, for example, has evolved to publish numerous other writers with his MBooks imprint, and currently he is preparing the twelfth volume of his poetry journal, The Eclectic Muse.

The precedent for Lander and Ruggier is Gerry Gilbert, who sold his anthology publication BC Monthly, founded in 1972, and organized literary events. “Gilbert is legendary among the other poets of the city as the poet who rides a bicycle, a kind of Hermes on two wheels,” commented reviewer Jamie Reid in 1992.

Similarly Robert G. Anstey of Sardis had produced more than 100 titles under his own West Coast Paradise Publishing imprint since his first book appeared in 1970.

Terry Julian of New Westminster and Ben Maartman (of Fogducker’s Press in Errington) are just two of literally hundreds of writers who have produced highly readable and challenging works. Unfortunately few self-publishers have the smarts to advertise and market their work properly.

As well, there are countless chapbook publishers around the province, such as Mona Fertig, who operates Mother Tongue Press (aka (m)Öthêr Tøñguè Press) with her husband Peter Haase on Saltspring Island. She’s now seeking stories and photos from anyone who remembers her Literary Storefront days (1978-1982) in Gastown. Her latest poetry title is Invoking The Moon: Selected Poems, 1975-1989 (Black Moss Press).

EXCERPT BY TIM LADNER

“I am an old man, time moves on, and the rock musicians with their enormous amplified sound systems are telling the politicians how to run the world, and the politicians pretend to listen, smile for the cameras, and go back to their agendas. What magic, what truth can emanate from all that digital, solid state circuitry and strutting, grandstanding rock and roll tub thumpers?

“… Still the ancient struggles will not go to sleep and the armies march away to war, to disappear like water in the sand. The tide of entropy and the breaking wave of history are irresistible, but a line of music in the street can give the harassed mind a small beautiful place to dwell.

“The magic of the flute is a small magic, like a little white flower among the pebbles by the roadside, a lifeline thrown to the poor benighted people of the city in the deep heart of their suffering.”

Essay Date: 2007

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