Good night, Mark McCawley, 1964 – 2016
I was reading John Fante the other day, and I thought of Mark McCawley, wondered if he liked Fante. Fante was a huge influence on Bukowski, and Mark loved Bukowki. As it turns out, at the moment I was thinking about Mark, he was already gone.
I just heard this morning in a group email from the poet Chris Faiers, that Mark died, on April 19. rob mclennan wrote an obit here. Mark was nearly five years younger than I was. I know that he had health challenges and financial challenges. But in the last exchange I had with him, a week before he died, he offered to send me a small cheque to help buy a new computer because my laptop is starting to go bonkers. I thanked him for his generosity, but declined. He mentioned, as he so often did, that I was getting a bad break in the Canadian lit scene and should win a GG. I told him my stuff was way too weird for that. He wrote: "Weirdness really ought not to be a barrier to being shortlisted for the GG." He was a really great supporter of my work, and of the work of many other writers who he felt were working outside the mainstream.
He championed Daniel Jones to the end, promoting Jones's work decades after that writer's much-too-early death. More recently, he was soliciting and pirating work that excited him for his Urban Graffiti online project.
Mark was an angry guy when it came to CanLit. He was also a tender and generous man. The last time I saw him was when I visited Edmonton a bunch of years back. Mark took me to the Blue Plate, his favourite diner; we had a colourful, often dark, but ultimately inspiring visit. Mark had trouble getting around, but we took a long walk afterwards, and he showed me some neat Edmonton sights. We were looking forward to our next meeting at the Blue Plate, whenever I could get back to his town.
Mark was hardcore. Hardcore in his aesthetics. A hardcore small-presser. A hardcore promoter of the transgressive in literature. His comments on FB were often indignant, pissed-off, and outrageous. And it all came from a good and principled place. He was a very loyal guy. In Edmonton, I gave a reading in the lower level of some fancy bookstore there: the only people to attend were Catherine Owen, at whose place I was crashing, and Mark McCawley.
In December, he wrote to me: "I've sadly discovered lately that transgressive writing is disappearing from local libraries, including works by Jones, Firth, Quinn, Burnham…"
When I whined to Mark that I had become an ignored "literary geezer," he replied: "Where there is life, there is work to be written. Soon we 'geezers' will take over! Imagine a legion of literary 'geezers' with walkers…"
Mark kicked against the pricks. And he was a man who experienced a lot of pain. I hope his end, however that played out, was gentle.
I never did send him that copy of Juan Butler's Canadian Healing Oil I promised him. If he reads this and has a new address that Canada Post can reach, maybe he'll let me know. When someone dies unexpectedly, isn't there always this rush of things you wanted to say, to express, to ask?
Spend some time at his website today, will ya?
And for Mark, here's one of his favourite artists.
Over and out, Mark.