by Michael Dennis

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When I met Ian Arlett he had just come ashore from a shipwreck and he was in desperate straits. He was waterlogged and sluggish and more than a little thirsty. He’d been bashed up against the rocks pretty good. Love had failed him, beaten the crap out of him, he walked like he was fighting nature.
The first I really got to know Ian was when he directed the play Dylan at Trent Theatre. That was when I was just getting to know an entire gang of people who would shape my life. Ian was a giant, galloping genius who dazzled the bejesus out of me right from the start. Listening to him talk was better than TV.
And then there was the poetry. He was absolutely electric with it. “Come swing in the hammocks of my arms” he’d roar and his big nose and fracked teeth would howl and god only knows what the hell was going on with his hair. I thought Ian David Arlett was the second coming of Dylan Thomas and once I got to know him I followed him around like a puppy every chance I got.
Ian was generous with his time and energy and we became friends. I was never exactly sure what I was bringing to the table with Ian other than being an appreciative audience but he always treated me as a peer.
Ian’s frantic energy was overwhelming and sometimes completely overwhelming. But he could sing.
For a time we became quite involved in each others writing process, we’d go over each others poems word by word, even wrote a few poems together although I can’t seem to find them.
Ian’s poetry was unlike anything I’d ever heard. A beautiful hybrid of Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas if they were being channelled by Kerouac and painted by Basquiet. Ian was the physical embodiment of a cubist painting by Picasso and a large scale Napoleon complex motherfucker.
Ian and I met in Peterborough in the 70’s. In the early 80’s I moved to Ottawa and shortly afterwards Ian followed. As brilliant as he was Ian struggled with some of the most basic human interactions. When he arrived in town he and I spent a great deal of time together. I was able to find him an apartment just a block or two away from my own. We got together almost daily and it was an incredibly exciting time in my life. Ian really was one of the most charismatic men I’ve ever known.
And then after a few months of very exciting poetry something broke. I never did find out exactly what set Ian off but whatever glue that bonded us suddenly came apart. I only ever heard from Ian once after that and it was in anger. He left Ottawa and I never heard from him again.
Losing my friendship with Ian David Arlett was a damned shame and one of my biggest and most puzzling regrets. To this day I have no idea what transpired.
He had the most generous and beautiful mind I’ve ever encountered.

Ian David Arlettby Ward Maxwell

When I think of Ian Arlett — I am overcome with memories of a wealth of personality, moments …
I am overcome with awe — I’ll take on any poet in the room — but not him, not him …  he was all of poetry and all of performance. He could bend a room to him — like a gentle wind through a reed of willow sapling, a hurricane through the forest he just levelled— but there you go — I’m just doing bad Ian Arlett again.
In his arena — it was love of words and theatre and it was Elizabethan — you had to see him, hear him — the poems are lost unless you sing them, topple with them like a ship heeling at sea — a gracious, graceless fool savant delicately balanced on a tight rope talking while singing to you like he is singing to you alone.
When I think of Ian Arlett — I am overcome with sadness at the waste, the injustice, the train wreck in slow-mo sense of it’s him or me …
Ian called me Doc — my nickname back then was Doctor Who, given to me by Michael Prendergast (who was always good at prosonomasia) a nod to my love of science fiction, anonymity and the surreal.
Ian would come up to me “Doc!” — a splay of teeth worse than mine (my jaw was broken as a child and my front teeth are a mess), bright blue eyes that said “I’m gonna tell you the same kind of story I told a guy on his way to a wedding oh so long ago.”
Ian would have laughed his head off at that one.
We are all trying to convey to you the elephant in the room — blind men telling you “it’s big.”
I am in a room with Ian — we are all there — all of us who want to be poets/ singers/ artists — we call ourselves a collective, because we want to share and solve all of the world’s problems — and then have a great party — and Ian and I get into a fight (not physical, but …) a hysterical pretentious we are 20 year old fight — and all I remember is I am standing over him, electric — and Ian jumps up and he is a tower of one brooding titanic storm cloud of anger — and I can’t remember which one of us told a joke but we both laughed — the room laughed — and we hugged — and afterward I can’t remember who said it … because my stress level was higher than a kite, higher than the moon — we did it because Ian cared, and I cared, and we both were fighting for poetry— and the poetry was all that mattered … afterwards — someone said — I thought you two were going to kill each other.
We would have as there was nothing we loved more …
we would have — but the love won out.
There are many stories to tell … but tl;dnr
What I will say — in the end — I did something (like Mike) and Ian left my life — I have a better sense of why — I told Ian we couldn’t get stoned at my place any more, because it wasn’t good for Ian, and I wasn’t going to do it — and he left. I suspect I know why. It is called hubris — and we are all guilty of it.
We did see each other after that — by accident, by chance. There was no rancor; we would enjoy each other’s company and leave, whispering idle, empty promises. Who can say that they involved Ian Arlett in idle chit-chat? I can.
Because there was too much between us, too much we knew about each other — and Ian, me — we had to move on.
The last time I saw Ian was at a poetry reading at the Imperial Pub in T.O. We saw each other and, naturally, sat together. Ian told me a bit about his life and then he told me about his neighbor — the Gay Gangster. He said— “this guy comes out into his backyard every day and is in this silk bathrobe — so I have to know— who are you? and he tells me he is the Gay Gangster — I ask him what does that mean — and he tells me — “I’m the guy who sweeps up the fairy dust underneath the cuckoo clock and I pound the farts out of the rump roast.”
You can’t make up stuff like that— and that was but a moment with Ian.
A beautiful poet — an actor, singer, director, bon vivant, tragic figure — I remember him as Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream — still the best Bottom I have ever seen.
If it is not apparent we worshipped Ian — we haven’t tried hard enough. He was a blessed bag of hammers — and those who are so cursed — are the most loveable, the ones that cause us the most heartache.
I turn to a quote from one of the classics A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum — “Stand aside everyone, I take large steps!”

Ian David Arlett by Ken Wallace

All I can say about Ian is that after being at Naropa in ’77, and experiencing that poetic fervor, with Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso present and all that the Kerouac school inspired, Arlett in Peterborough or — wherever he might happen to be — was the real thing.
He’d wake in the morning, pick up a Globe and Mail, and write a dead-on poem about whatever happened to be on the front page that day.
To my mind, Ian Arlett is a poetry god, and could easily compete for greatest Canadian.
The Arlett line I remember is: “for all the cedars in Lebanon” — not sure why this is — and yet I see that it’s altogether biblical and no doubt it was applied incisively to a contemporary injustice.
We really came together over the production of Dylan the play. The whole thing was huge.
Ian used the Ordinary Studio as one staging base for the play. From beginning to end we were in touch daily. It’s not too far fetched to say that his persona and love affair at the time were intimately echoed: Dylan (David Ramsden) and Caitlin (Ian’s first lady). The play in 12 acts was a massive achievement mustering the entirety of Peterbourgh’s creatives in an incredibly skillful way.
At the time, Ian and I had a serious falling out over the price of the poster… might have been $300, and yet Ian was upset, that out of all the players in Dylan, I was the only one being financially rewarded — I thought we were making an outstanding poster largely driven by all the creative energy swirling around the production of the play — Ian was flip-city that money was involved at all.
Ian Arlett, as I romance him, lived like Dylan Thomas, completely outside the box, and therefore could speak about all of us inside the box, with so very much fucking precision.
Last time I saw Ian was at a poetry night at Ordinary. This needs to be better documented. Perhaps Michael can help here. I wanted Arlett there and sought him out. I recall Michael drove him back to T.O. in my car that night which never made it back to the Patch because the dashboard oil light was not working. That ’68 Dodge Valiant died forever unfortunately — but having Ian read was more than worth it!

© Ken Wallace, 2014

Ian David Arlett, a memoir by Rob Wipond

I remember Ian Arlett as brilliant, funny, and inherently deeply wacky; basically, he had my favourite combination of personality traits in a person. He was often reciting things, and when I asked how he could possibly remember so many long sequences of poetry or prose in such detail he said, “It’s easy when you love it.”
For decades afterwards I thought often about one particular recounting of an article he’d shared with me. It must’ve been around 1981. The internet had only reached select universities by then in a pure text format. And every time I wanted to write something on my own computer, I had to take a couple minutes to re-load my entire word processing program from a 5.5 inch floppy disk onto my computer before I could start.
That was the technological context when Ian told me about an interview he’d read with a former chief of the KGB, the infamous secret-service paramilitary police force that some thought actually ran the Soviet Union for many years. This KGB chief had been asked how he would create the perfect police state, said Ian. That would be very easy, the KGB chief had answered; he would simply require everyone to use a credit card for practically everything, and then network all computers everywhere together. “That way you’ll know where everyone is all the time and exactly what they’re doing,” the KGB chief had explained. Ian evidently thought that notion was significant and concerning enough to recount and impress it upon me.
And today it’s clear to me that Ian had always had another personality trait I really like: he was capable of insight into humanity and society to the point of being prophetic.

© Rob Wipond, 2014

 

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