I met David Cull in Vancouver in 1963. He was one of the editors of the famed Vancouver poetry newsletter, TISH. We reconnected when he moved to Montreal for a time a year or two later. He was staying with Jerry Matsabushi on Avenue Overdale, just a few doors down from Victor Beauchemin’s place. Jerry and David became regulars at my 55 Guilbault Street salon. I thought then, and maybe I was right, that Cull was the smartest person I had ever met. I thought this because he was soft-spoken, and included long silences in his conversation. He read constantly. He introduced me to the ideas of language philosopher and visionary, Benjamin Lee Whorf who, like Wallace Stevens and myself, worked for the Hartford Insurance Company. He also taught me to cook. At the time I either ate in restaurants or, if at home, ate nothing but Greek bread from the Four Brothers, oatmeal, sardines, and french fries. One day we went out and bought a can of kidney beans, hamburger, ketchup, chili powder, and an onion and Cull cooked us up some delicious chili. I memorized the recipe and chili became the first food I prepared by combining more than two ingredients and heat.
We decided to publish what would probably be the first bilingual poetry magazine in Canada. The idea was to assemble Montreal poets – English and French – and publish all the work in both languages. When I asked David what we should call this thing he wrote the following on a piece of paper and through the haze and smoke I reached for it and read:
When two thieves meet, they need no introduction.
They will recognize each other without question.
We called it Two Thieves.
Like so many of the unrealized enterprises of my life, planning it was fun enough. I found two translators, both of them half-crazy so that together they comprised one full maniac. Normand Gingras and Alexander, whose last name eludes me but who’s escapades are featured elsewhere in these memoirs. They never translated a single poem but the time I spent in their company, mostly in bars like the Swiss Hut, Spanish Club, and Le Cochon Borgne (One-eyed Pig) rendered normal language obsolete in any case. Tracking down the francophone poets in the east side bars and cafés opened up to me the real Montréal which, although it had always been an exciting, with-it, major cosmopolitan centre of culture and drugs was for me till now limited to the minor region occupied by the English. I even became a seperatist for a while. I exchanged a handful of Cuban coins with the bathroom attendant at the Cochon Borgne for a black tee shirt with “Je suis seperatiste” on the front which I actually wore for a few weeks. That’s how blitzed I’d become in those places. For the record, I think seperatism is a mass mental idiocy but jesus those bars were great!
I managed over time to collect a few typed-up pages. I forget now from whom but André Major sticks in my mind for one and Gabriel Safdie another. Major later won a Governor General’s prize. Cull and I took the bus out to some east side printer who said it would cost five hundred dollars to print the thing. We were in business! For all the money we had he could have said fifty dollars or five million dollars, it made no difference. I have no idea where we thought the money would come from but we persevered. At least I persevered hanging out in French bars. David decided to go to New York so the two of us took the train down and spent an entire day looking up poets and getting them high. I remember John Keyes, Carol Bergé I think, and Aram Saroyan, son of the author of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.
We spent the day, or two days, in this way, walking about the lower east side and the Bowery, going from one poet’s apartment to another, all of them walking distance from each other and along the way the poverty and ruins of men were everywhere. It was not a pretty sight but for Cull it was especially dumbfounding for, if I recall correctly, he’d pretty much spent his life in Vancouver. And now on the sidewalks of Vancouver it’s hard not to stumble over the bodies of men and women sleeping and living on sidewalks. In 1965 it was unimaginable there or even in Montreal. But New York was after all the cultural centre of the new world. I don’t know if it was these sights or if it was something he’d already intended but David said he had to go to Europe. We stopped at a travel office. He bough a one-way ticket to Europe for fifty dollars, got on an airport bus and so far I haven’t seen him again.
Cull, I believe, became a Buddhist, lived for a number of year in India and/or New Zealand, is back on the West Coast and is an environmentalist and hemp advocate. I lived in his brother John’s house at 1937 West 3rd in Vancouver for a time. John later became head of the Fine Arts and Music division of the Vancouver Public Library. He retired earlier this year.
Gabriel Safdie is the younger brother of the architectural genius Moshe Safdie, the visionary behind Habitat. He is also responsible for the magnificent new Vancouver Public Library.
Aram Saroyan’s father William, a highly regarded playwright and short story writer also wrote “Come On-a My House”, a hit for Rosemary Clooney, based on an Armenian folk song, and written with his cousin, Ross Bagdasarian, the impressario of Alvin and the Chipmunks. His books can be found in the Vancouver Public Library.
Both my brothers were accountants.