R.M. Vaughan writes of ruined stars

On Jan. 24, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented poet and author R.M. Vaughan reading from his latest collection of poetry ruined stars. York teaching assistant Chris Cornish sent the following report to YFile.

Whatever we own or caress or breathe on or slurp or pick at or bump against or visit or
waste tells on us, spills the beans, makes with goods, testifies so I thrush to print, I publish and perish.    

                                                                                                             from ruined stars
by R.M. Vaughan

R.M. Vaughan (right) appeared at the Canadian Writers in Person series to read from his poetry collection, ruined stars. The writer, dressed casually and twisting his left foot idly, shared his work and thoughts as if there were not a hundred students before him, but one friend in a café. This is typical for the man, also an art and culture critic for The Globe and Mail, who downplays the "Olympian perspective" of those who write "high culture."

If anything, there’s almost something very low culture about Vaughan and his work. He admits that if the legendary Sky Gilbert (of Buddies in Bad Times) hadn’t taken an interest in his plays, he might have been a manager at Zellers in the small New Brunswick fishing village where he grew up. "I wasn’t supposed to be an artist," said Vaughan. Yet, he also believes that "no-one is limited by their biography. Everyone has the capacity to go out and see the world." He said that he merely inserts himself and his perspective into whatever he does, with honesty and hilarity.

Vaughan’s restless inquisitiveness ("I’m never bored") has led him to be what NOW magazine has dubbed a "quick-change artist." In addition to being a prolific writer in pretty much every form (poems, novels, plays, essays, blogs), he is also a video artist who has screened films in several international festivals. Two of the films which he screened for his York audience show not only layered media, but layered meanings. In Walnut Grove, Mon Amour, anyone who watched television in the 1970s will recognize and laugh at the ridiculous melodrama of the frequent tear-fests in "Little House on the Prairie". Yet, when Vaughan connects this to his own inability to cry at his father’s funeral, one feels sucker-punched with loss (see also his poem, VE1XE). 

When asked which medium he favors, Vaughan stated no preference other than to suggest that it depends on the whim of his ideas. Poetry is playful, self-indulgent, and tends to arise from "small" ideas. Although plays were what started his writing career, he finds that novels are much more liberating. It’s easier for a character to cross the continent in a novel than to have it staged in a play. Though he claims he is a failed visual artist, "I was the world’s worst painter", he said. Vaughan explained that he still writes and collaborates with other artists such as the painter William Forrestall. Eschewing the idea that an artist must monastically stick to one form, Vaughan believes in the cross-pollination of interrelated arts.  "I’m constantly cannibalizing myself. If a tactic works in one form, I try it elsewhere," he said.

Vaughan’s poetry collection ruined stars is likewise eclectic though the title’s theme plays throughout. He writes of broken love affairs, broken families, broken minds and dreams. "We know so little magic now," said Vaughan. Even an ambitious pub crawl of London’s gay bars turns to disillusionment. Yet all these things that turn the author’s hair gray and make him long for simpler things are justified by "that Me, that conceit is just Desire sure, but who doesn’t want the world?"

The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. On March 27, Heather O’Neill reads from her critically-acclaimed novel Lullabies for Little Criminals.