Friday 28 September 2007

Wind Notes

Compared to that world-renowned ethicist I just heard--a woman whose opinions, which is all they are, have acquired and are delivered with authority (McGill, Ethics, Law, Medicine) untempered by humility, and whose agenda seems driven by motives far less noble than Ethics (which, in any case, must prove, not assume, any nobility)--the wind is a plain but honest speaking.

She's anti-choice (re abortion), this ethicist is, and anti-marriage (of the same-sex variety). She's dressed up these position in Ethics garb. Call it Ethics garbage, and let's get back to the wind.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Writing Out

In comparing the event (last Friday, see Sept.21 post) to the writing of the event, which my students handed in on Monday, I was again struck wondrous (wounded, for short, or wondered) by what word does to world. How do you put your finger on the difference between being out there and writing about being out there, I asked them today. And by the way, which comes first--language or perception? Not commonplace questions for all students/writers, especially those who take language for granted. We're heading out again Friday.

Also fun today: getting my students to list the most common possible answers to a series of questions like What does wind create on water? and What do ducks do on waves? then banning all such language, so overused in their writing, from further use.

Monday 24 September 2007

Idea Sitting for a While

Now that Marcel Marceau has died, I can get to that Leonard Cohen matter I heard about the other day. In an interview on Bravo, not so many years old, Cohen speaks of our intimacy with our own heart. Each of us. That's what songs are for, he says. "And not my ponderous songs," he adds, "but the songs we wash dishes with, love with" and so on. They tell of our hearts.

The intimacy a man feels with where he is, then, doesn't need the where-ness, it needs only the heart.

And Marceau. His obit in the Globe today tells us he became a mime artist as homage to Holocaust survivers who could not speak of their experience.

Friday 21 September 2007

Damn Near Blew the Pages From My Notebook

We joined the wind this afternoon, my students and I, down by the lake for a word or two (in writing) on what we saw there. I've noticed that many of my students need encouragement to allow that even in the city, at least this city of wind and cloud and goose-life, we live a life that's more or less placed.

"Pay attention to what you see out there," I insisted, "and in here [tapping my noggin]." So that fellow in the black t-shirt on the bikepath that separates our scattered locations from Wascana Lake will show up on a page or two. Or the next fellow, bearded, jogging sleeveless through the leaves.

Later I said that for the fun of it you could try to write this up without using the word wind. But I can't do it myself. I had to lie down on the stubble to get out of it, and even then, I observed, facing up, the w_____ blew a convertible shaped like a cloud (its top retracting) into a horsehead and after that the British Isles.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Go Ahead, Go Out in the Woods Alone, and Don't Hurry Back

As much as I'm thrilled with what the new writers in my creative writing class are starting to get to, tomorrow I'm going to lay some "Push it" on them. Looking at poems, including some really neat ones, I'm seeing too many cute endings, too much ok-I've-taken-it-out-there-now-it's-time-to-wrap-it-up. I'll try the John Fowles line on them again: "An answer," says Fowles, "is a form of death." So's an ending.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

What's Really Fun

is trying to come up with some exercises for my creative writing class. I'm not claiming that these will drive back today's clouds, but here's what I have in mind for part of this afternoon's class: Bring in a bag of kitchen utensils (most of which I had to clean first) and pass them out. Maybe say something about the Neruda-Wayman-McKay (to name only three) tradition of honouring the stories of chairs, forks, fridge doors, and so on, or maybe not. Ask students to see if they can read through the utensil and find a form for what they see. Also thinking of passing out, without comment, a poem from Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht that upsets a few expectations usefully. I'll ask the students to comment, in writing, for Thursday. At some point, the "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" calendar my sister Fay sent me last Christmas--today's Place, Miami Beach, is home to "the largest collection of tropical art deco architecture in the world"--will make an appearance in class. And getting back to that first idea, I imagine the students and I all reading our utensil piece aloud at the same time, building in the sounds our gizmos make.

Sunday 16 September 2007

A Morning

I thought the morning was great already--summerish, gently breezy, a run around the lake just ahead--then I heard Rajaton (Finnish, six-person, mixed-voice vocal group) sing "Butterfly," a song crying "love me" and "good-bye," from a concert recorded by CBC last month in Vancouver. Quiet, lots of swing, sweeter than harmony. If you have a sentimental streak, as I do, and you like your musicianship at a very high level, you too might have sat there half-dressed, hoping the song won't end. I did manage to call my daughter Lucy, though, who'd caught Rajaton at the Banff Centre a few years ago on a school band/choir trip.

Friday 14 September 2007

Just Now

Relay from McDonald: not in time, 3-0 Orioles
gives me a chance to tell this story from earlier today.

Another entry in the assignment-gone-wrong category. I wanted my students to talk about elegy in connection with a Sid Marty essay called "The Rucksack," from Fresh Tracks. (Ain't what it used to be both for the rucksack and for Marty, like that.)

But one of students hears allergy, and ends up talking about chemical reactions.

Later he apologized for his English but didn't need to.

Thursday 13 September 2007


Pursuing a kind of degrees of separation thing here, I note (following the Judy Garland thread from the previous post) that the director Norman Jewison was hired to direct Garland's tv special, at around the time of her Carnegie Hall concert. That led to his first film directing job in Hollywood, a Tony Curtis film. Lots of great films followed, my fav being In the Heat of the Night, with that terrific Ray Charles song over the opening credits.

Wednesday 12 September 2007


Just now I was lying awake, imagining a "degrees of imitation" gauge for my creative writing students (after observing they were too attentive to poems by Lynes, Wayman, Collins, Cooley, Carson, etc., in an assignment about imitation), when I heard, on the CBC Radio 2 program "Nightstream," about Rufus Wainwright's Judy Garland project. Apparently he re-staged, song for song, her 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, and plans to do the same with her follow-up Hollywood Bowl concert in Los Angeles. After laying all this out, the host played some Wainwright tune or other--I can't stand the guy's music so was about switch the radio off when I heard, from two miles north of my place, the call of a CPR train. At first the train just imitated Wainwright--that diesel whine--then (thank goodness) made its own night sound.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

A Lover's Discourse, Maybe

I said I thought it was a lover speaking: Di Brandt in her essay about the prairie (in the Pamela Banting anthology, Fresh Tracks). That's why it's so full, I suggested to my class. So excessive "in a good way," I claimed. So rambly, overwhelmed, wide. But the students weren't so willing to go with the writing. "I can't process it," one student said. "These long sentences, these lists, all the commas, running on and on."

"Well, if you're in love," I continued, "and if it's the land you're in love with, this land . . ."

To be continued in tomorrow's class.

Saturday 8 September 2007


50 years after On the Road, another round of Jack Kerouac buzz. I plan to keep quiet about it myself, but he was my first literary hero. As a young man, I felt a kinship not so much with his writing, which I collected, but with that sadness--that void, to use a favourite Beat word--between him and his world. As for the counter-culture that first valorized then abandoned him, Kerouac was already out of it by the end of the 50s. He'd always been essentially an observor, letting Neal Cassady and others operate out there on that mad edge (mad another Beat staple). The world so easily passed him by.

As brilliantly documented in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (a must-read for anyone interested in the 60s), when Kesey and the Dead and company drove their bus on a pilgrimage to Kerouac in '68 or so, I forget when it was, they found in Kerouac a drunk, a loony right-winger dependent on his mother. I remember, too, the pics in Rolling Stone of his funeral--Ginsberg and Corso and one or two others in the rain at Lowell, Mass.

I see him now as an innocent, a Quebec/Lowell boy (McGarrigle territory) looking for the right brand of holiness, which he never found.

For the goods on Kerouac, read anything by Ann Charters, especially her biography of J.K.

Friday 7 September 2007

A Few Words about Backgammon

Not sure how to put it together but I will say this about bad luck on the backgammon board: When I roll a 4-5 at the wrong time, I'm driven back to high school, shoved against a brick wall. Feel a younger version of the same self.

But can't lose with those double-5s when I need to run home in a hurry.

Why I Love My Job

With the first-years, I can play with their nervousness (see "What's UP" on and talk about how they read a poem. (After we deal with the article in Thursday's Globe about the proposed banning of hoodies in a Halifax high school.)

With my "writing the western landscape" class we can consider just what connection, if any, we might feel with what Don Gayton calls our "primal landscape." (After I finish teasing them about walking across intersections while operating hand-held gizmos--and without a helmet.)

And in the creative writing class I get to brandish my favourite quotation on line-making: "Keep the line (which has movement) from breaking down and becoming a hole into which we sink decoratively to rest" (W.C. Williams).

It's all part of a fun wash back and forth, writing and teaching.

Thursday 6 September 2007

More Will Come of This

How wordly should a writer be. I tend to operate according to some notion of local first. As if by taking care of, or at least trying to pay attention to, the local, then larger-scale matters will be taken care of. The result is a bunch of local stuff, like the hulk of cloud just out my west window, which, if anyone read it, might give rise to the "so what" reflex.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

How To Get Out

Quick throw to a covering McDonald at second to double-off Varitek.
Still 1-0 after two.

Tried to pick up the extra base, did Ortiz, and it cost him.
1-0 after three.

Rolls it back to Marcum, who was a shortstop in college, for the easy out at first.
1-0 after four.

LIner by Glaus, right to Ellsbury. But the Jays strike for three--3-1 after four and a half.

The Jays will hold the Rod Sox 3-1 through five.


Red Sox 1, Jays nothing after one

The problem with the Jays being on is the bottle on the table beside you. But don't get the wrong idea. Bottle of beer is all.
The table's cheap green plastic would stand out if not for the lime green indoor/outdoor carpet it stood on, or the bucket marked HOME DEPOT next to it.
With the lid cracked, the bucket lets loose. To be continued . . .

Young Man Leaving

The thing about your son leaving is that if you're playing backgammon while he's out running his list of errands, the dice won't roll your way. For long, anyway.
Sure, and just after I wrote that, he arrived home, reporting that he'd lost his wallet.
"I've had kind of rough afternoon," he said.


I dedicate this moment to Don DeLillo, American novelist. His Underworld delivers a long (as in 800+ pages) series of moments--words and sentences, half-pages, chapters--that create the second half of the last century (one version of it, anyway) with convincing tentativeness (about as sure as I'm sitting here, day after Labour Day). Think of the big issues, think of zany sentences, images you'd like to high-five DeLillo for. It's pomo in the best possible way, I'd say. For you baseball fans, the opening section is by itself worth the price of a novel. Polo Grounds, 1951--Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, J.Edgar Hoover in attendance.