Monday 8 December 2008

Final exam notes

Of the 27 people writing the final:
One was a baby in '85 when I held her for her mother, a writer friend.

Two asked me what "awe" means.

All 27, for the first time all term, face the same direction: toward me, as if I'm the bus driver, with seat reversed, facing them.

One had given up coming to class a month ago but showed up for the final, stayed a half hour and left, forgetting her purse.

All of them observed my flight-attendant-walk up and down the rows, checking that everyone was double-spacing (for readability), or my bingo-worker-walk, displaying extra exam booklets.

Five will be in one of my classes next term.

About 16 whisper "thank you" and "have a good Christmas" as they hand in exam booklets and pick up essays on the way out.

In the "Instructor's Name" space on the booklets: Gerry Hill (10 times), Gerald Hill (8), Hill (1), Gerald A. Hill (1), Gerald Hall (1), Hill, Gerry (1), [blank] (4), Prof. Hill (1).

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Irony, continued


She's been introduced, and the band is onstage, but no sign of Jill, until there she is: entering shyly from state left, wearing a baby blue, knee-length, empire waist dress with black polkadots, hair in a modified beehive, earrings dangling. Her shoes, I found out once I stood up for a closer look, were some kind of transparent plastic pumps with heels (if pumps have heels). On her face: the same blissful, shy, room-capturing smile she'd wear all night. And the room, the Exchange in Regina, was more packed than I'd ever seen it.

This is where the irony comes in, or goes out, or whatever irony does. She sang songs from her new Chances cd--retro, almost wartime-flavoured songs that, as the cd jacket says, "come clear and true to the listener." Without irony, in other words. That's the way she delivers them; that's the way this listener takes them. No doubt about it: she had me one hundred percent being her man, or leaving her, or making promises, or whatever else she wanted me to do.

But other listeners, like maybe the students I'll play a couple of her songs for tomorrow (on the way to revisiting the Robertson poem, see previous blog entry), will be unable to commit to her without irony. They'll think she's hokey, a dreamer, lost in some time warp. They won't believe her. Furthermore, Barber's not without irony herself, as in her comments about how glad she is to be "out of Saskatoon", which raised a predictable roar of appreciation from us Regina folks.

Listening to CBC on the way home, about half an hour ago, I heard a song called "If You Rescue Me," written by Lou Reed in 1969. Reed wrote it but, the dj tells us, could never sing it. "It's too pure and innocent," he said. His is the irony the Robertson poem claims, ironically or not, to be "sick of."

In the end, give me Barber. She put on a great show, as did her opener, the fabulous Royal Wood.

And best of all, maybe: I got to shout out the punchline I'd been saving ever since I heard Barber sing a song dedicated to "all the men I've forgotten but would like to say thank you too", or something like that, at the Regina folk festival last summer. As she introduced the song tonight, I shouted out "You're welcome" loud enough for everyone to hear. It worked!

Monday, two poems

Yesterday, a couple of poems showed us a good time. In one class, Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" resulted in a small wall extending for a couple of feet across our classroom. (The assignment was to bring a rock and oh yes read the poem.) In the poem, a playful speaker teases his neighbour about his simple, uncritical belief in the necessity of mending the stone wall between them. Yet it is the speaker, not the too-sensible neighbour, who every year initiates the mending of the wall--the wall thus dividing and linking the two, as if (as one of numerous on-line commentators on this poem have noted) both sides, the non-sense and the sense, are needed. The poem raises these matters in blank verse, spoken as plainly as can be. It's a beauty, this little poem.

In the later class, it was time for William Robertson's "End of the the 90s Poem" from his 2005 collection Just Living. It's a poem about irony that may or may not be ironic. It offers a series of statements--"I love you", "Let's get married" and so on--which may or may not be ironic, ending with "I meant every word I just said" which may or may not be ironic. When I suggested to the class that maybe the speaker is just fed up with the ironic distance so prevalent in late-90s popular culture and just wants to lay his emotions out as genuinely as possible, no one admitted to believing me (not that I was sure what I believed anyway). Once irony is evoked, I realized as I stood in front of the class trying to help us all understand what this poem was doing, we can't be sure where we are.

Friday 14 November 2008


Wednesday's poem adventure happened courtesy Steven Ross Smith's "n.", from his Fluttertongue, Book 1: The Book of Games. One of my students had selected it.

It's the kind of poem--does anyone know how I can link to this poem, by the way, without keying it into this blog?--that requires enlarging, the better to focus on individual letters, sounds, syllables. So I blew it up to hand out. At the last minute I decided to write it on the blackboard

[a digression: I like to tease my students sometimes about "old-time education" involving memorizing poems, or working silently while I walk around with a yardstick (try to find a yardstick nowadays), or writing their answers on the blackboard]

so I could run the chalk back and forth as we considered the various dynamics at work in Smith's poem. My students, bless their hearts, were more or less willing to play along--play being, I think, exactly what the poem does and wants us to do.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Word life

Tomorrow I'll tell my Sask Lit students that their stories written in the manner of Warren Cariou's Lake of the Prairies makes for a powerful combination, most pleasing to read. I may ask them to stand up, extend their right arm behind the person next to them, and pat. (This term for the first time I've not brought up the topic of plural pronouns with singular antecedents.)

We'll finish with the Cariou this week, then seven or eight more poems and maybe two or three short stories. For their last essay, they have to offer conclusions about Saskatchewan poetry based on the 25-30 poems they selected for us to read in class, poor sods. In the past, students have tended to make safe choices, but not this time. Maybe I framed the task differently, I'm not sure. But they come up with not just dandy-but-safe poems but about a dozen poems that have given all of us, me included, plenty of questions.

By the way, inevitably the word "fuck" or some other such word will show up, with corresponding uncertainty about whether or not it's ok to say it. Past classes have included such moments as "Yes! I've always wanted to say it", everyone saying it in unison, me chanting it, or no one taking any notice of it whatsoever. Monday one student was reading some Cariou aloud, when there it was. He paused ever so slightly and said "f-word" and read on.

Friday 7 November 2008

Class Acts

The week took a turn toward delight when my Sask Lit students considered Sheri Benning's "Bird-bones", which one of them had selected. What poetry is, how it works, what it can do--this poem, located somewhere between the poles of "nearer" and "further" I've been using, arbitrarily, to classify our poems, helps the students to shade their understanding of such matters. It tells a story, takes a leap, leaves questions, gestures toward both familiar and unknown territory. Just right for the group of readers in my class.

They talked the poem over with no intro from me whatsoever, other than to the process I wanted them to follow--everyone speaks, someone writes down comments, when running out of things to say go back into the poem, etc.--and as sometimes happens at the best of such times (from my perspective), they come up with commentary I hadn't thought of myself.

Earlier today, considering Tim O'Brien's anti-Vietnam War story "The Things They Carried", two students got into a mock argument about whether it was about war wrecking love, or love wrecking war. (In the story, a Lieutenant is daydreaming about a past love when one of his men is shot to death.)

Anything is better than just me talking.

Monday 3 November 2008


I said good-bye to both my son and my youngest daughter this morning. By day's end they'll be in Vancouver (Honours history student and improv whiz) and Saskatoon (to start rehearsals for A Christmas Carol at Persephone), respectively. In a minute or two I'm into the classroom, proposing to my students that they write about saying good-bye. I'll write a drop or two myself.

Later: Don't know if the topic took or not in class. They'll have the chance to work informal journal entries into longer pieces for their next essay assignment. For my part, I started to noodle away about the unsaid behind goodbyes.

Now, back in my office, I'm listening to the new Tafelmusik recording of the Beethoven 7th, the same piece I heard on CBC the afternoon of 9/11. I can't wait to go home and go to bed. The goodbyes feel like a bomb.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Good day

By the time you read this, I'll have written the next line, although the way things are going I can't be sure. A while ago I woke up already over-stressed about the day ahead the one or two behind. Took a bowl of Bran Flakes and a look out the window to settle me down.

This morning I start working with some writers down at Globe Theatre (where my daughter Lucy has made her professional debut playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream).

And I'm working on my act for the Saskatchewan Book Awards Literary Saloon coming up in a couple of weeks.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Tour gin

For Ariel Gordon, the "Newborns and Nightowls" tour in support of The Navel Gaze, her new chapbook from Palimpsest, was a way to get to know her own book better. "I read it out loud every day in the car," she says, over a lousy gin and tonic in south Regina. Here she casts a sly glance in the direction of her tour-mate, Kerry Ryan, who's been launching The Sleep Life, poems from Muses' Company.

Gordon's poems track a pregnancy, pre-conception to afterbirth. Longish down and across the page, they've continued to push, so to speak, into Gordon's present work. "I'm still going on the pregnancy/childbirth poems," she says.

After the back-and-forth with Ryan during their reading at Luther the other night, Gordon noted "We could go endlessly back and forth with sleeping and birds". That seems about right--sleeping and birds--as the two Winnipeg poets drive north through autumn to Prince Albert for the last stop on their tour, Gordon's Gaze once more sounding from within.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Brand New Books

I look forward to my shower, down the hall to the teller, over for supper with Tracy and Ariel and Kerry and maybe others, I don't know. And a couple of brand new books.

First I'll finish listening to this song.

The two of them apparently pulled in last night around 7. Almost twenty-four hours later now; I'm sure the landlady has treated them well. Ariel said something about maybe fooling around with their presentation. Fine with me.

I've slapped on an old Alison Krauss, Now That I've Found You, just to be continued.

Saturday 27 September 2008

Reading matters

Leona Theis dropped into Luther the other day. The next two days I spent in Winnipeg at Thin Air, where I had a couple of readings.

Leona talked and read with my students, a great addition to our class. They made each other think, I think. I know I wrote a bunch of stuff down.

In Winnipeg I enjoyed the hospitality of Thin Air. With 7 of the 14 longlisted Giller writers on hand, I was surrounded by fiction writers. All the better. I laid a little Human Comedy on them.

At this point, I could try to explain either why I tape photos of Virginia Woolf and Gabriel Dumont to my office door, or why in Winnipeg I walked to the downtown Mountain Equipment Co-op store and Louis Riel's grave.

Either way, I had to press Friday morning to prepare for talk of Bruce Rice's "Story of a Tree" in one class, and a kind of journal-essay assignment in another. The talk of the Rice poem proceeded like this: I ask for questions or observations. Silence. Silence over here too. More silence. Ok, talk about it in groups then, I say. That works. Turns out, these readers were experiencing the very process the poem itself was more or less describing (increasing abstraction in Mondrian paintings of a tree). We moved on to something else eventually, but now I'm thinking we should come back to this idea for an update: how do you read? do you need specialized knowledge when you read poetry? can you live with surrender?

Thursday 18 September 2008

Today's Class

I just finished reading new work by my creative writing students, which was fun for sure. I notice that people who think about writing write better stuff right away. But that just opens the door to so much more these writers can do.

Part of the fun for me in the professor position is whacking the horse on the rear end, so to speak, not that I know a thing about horses. My point is that now that the writers have arrived onto the field, they have to let the animal go, and I'll stick with animal.

I think some students become friends, or at least neighhbours, of their characters. Which means, maybe, watch them veer off.

And now I want to come up with a way of putting these matters to my students.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Loco log, first pass

6063 standing still westbound Swift Current

8883 west near Swift Current

9840 eastbound near Morse

9418(some of these back to front)
9108 Parkbeg eastbound 3:58 pm Sept.1

Wednesday 3 September 2008

First Day of Classes

This week I start two new classes with poetry, beginning with talk of "what we're not going to worry about": hidden meaning, analysis, what the writer intended to say, what the poem is supposed to mean--the list is obvious, no doubt. Make that three classes, because we've already begun the same conversation in my creative writing class, around that John Fowles quote I lay on them: "An answer is a form of death." So what kind of poems do you like to read or write, ones that answer or ones that don't?

I'd like to tread warily around a poem with my first-year classes. Get it in play, then leave it off to the side as we talk our way somewhere else. Come back to the poem when conversation lags.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if the convocation address I have to deliver in October could claim that the situation of the grads about to embark on the rest of their lives is analogous to that of a first-year student about to read a poem?

At least this much is sure: in either case, the meaning is as close as your own use of language.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Wild Luck


As if my nation had pinned its medal hopes on me and I had lost, I hang my head, find myself down 3-0 in best-of-nine backgammon. I buoy at the sight of double fours bringing me wins in the next two games. But the only reason I'm here right now is that I lost the match in about five seconds after that. Barely had time to lecture my opponent on how to sit at the backgammon table, even a virtual one.

I'm leaning toward naming luck as one of the elemental forces of the universe. A profound shaper of character. Better than weather for turning a day around. Because it's luck (best of all), you never know where its boundaries are, and you have to consider your own. No point in getting too satisfied. Before long, things are going to change.

Part One: Bad Luck

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Two Ideas

How's this for an idea: Just as folk festivals have main stages (concerts by single acts) and workshop stages (gatherings of groups of banjo players, say, from several main stage acts), why not try something similar at literary festivals. In addition to their regular readings, three or four poets, for instance, would appear onstage together, talking about poetry matters. The degree of exchange would vary, as it does at folk festivals, from a succession of individual presentations to all sorts of instant collaborations, harmonies, accompaniments.

Here's another one: I've been spending afternoons in the City of Regina Archives, looking through all kinds of stuff relating to the development of the Hillsdale subdivision of south Regina 50 or so years ago. "Are you finding what you want?" the Archivist asked me yesterday. "Don't know what I want, for sure," I told her, "but I'm finding lots that's interesting." Thinking of that conversation this morning as I rode home from the grocery store, I thought it might be fun to pick five addresses in south Regina, and do some kind of longitudinal study of their inhabitants. Track down the people, track down the stories.

Monday 18 August 2008


Family seems to take a lot of rethinking these days as my kids get older and my mom and sisters too. Because all of us are linked to place, a bikeride through, for instance, the Hillsdale subdivision of south Regina becomes a laying down and picking up of memory and observation about family.

"Oh, we sure used to have fun in that house," Mom told me a few years ago as we drove past a house on Massey Road. Some old friends, very frail themselves and not so mobile anymore, will never see Mom again, is the kind of thing I'm trying to say.

And my youngest daughter, formerly a regular at the pool just east of here on a hot summer day like this, has gone to audition for acting work in another city.

Saturday 9 August 2008

4 hours, 230 km, home in time to meet Tom and Emmaline for lunch

Aiming for a trip around Old Wives Lake yesterday, I made it as far as Mortlach then turned back, looking for Ardill, which I'd just missed on one of my shortcuts. I saw a sign pointing toward Ardill, and a billboard advertising the Ardill Hotel, but it took a guy at the Co-op in Mortlach to draw me a map and send me back in my tracks.

Funny how words gouge at our experience. First I'm digging the way highway 2 turns SW into the coteau, then I'm spending an hour at Ardill (hotel open 11:00-12:00 Tuesday to Thursday, till 3 Friday and Saturday, 12-6 on Sunday).

I had an aunt and uncle who ran a store there, is all (late 30s). A town like Ardill--by some definitions, already a ghost town--may not represent deep connection, but getting there and back does, as soon as we put it to words.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

The opening of south Regina

I think it's time to get after where I am now, and where I was as a teenager. On the edge of Hillsdale, and in Hillsdale, respectively. Just the way things work out.

The whole subdivision in south Regina was the brainchild of a real estate firm, of course. For my parents, the house we bought on Anderson Avenue was the first new house they'd ever owned.
That didn't matter much to me, but now I'm kind of interested. What this part of the world means to me and my history, and in the trajectories of my family's lives.

I look for a long and fruitful writing experience, ever-heedful of this exchange from The Graduate:

Mr. Maguire, a wealthy suburban neighbour: "Ben, I've got one word: Plastics.

Ben, who is worried about his future: "Exactly how do you mean?"

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Prairie Edition: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whenever I need something to talk to my English students about, I pick up the daily newspaper--the Leader-Post, if I hope we can learn from the crappy writing of an ex-columnist, or the Globe & Mail for something of interest on pretty much every page.

Today, for instance, the business section refers, over and over, to stagflation, an awkward portmanteau word. Reminds me of what was a fun exercise (for me at least) with the Sage Hill teens recently. Listing as many ordinary compound words as possible--tunesmith, wallpaper, hand signals, skydome--and switching around the parts, as in tunepaper, skysignals, handsmith, and so on.

The top story in "Life" is a review of a book called Good To Go: A Practical Guide to Adulthood, by Sharon McKay and Kim Zarzour, who is described as a "parenting journalist". What I would do with my first-year English class is try to talk about the experience of being, or having, a parent of a first-year university student. And turn it into writing somehow.

"Review & Sports" yields, in a column by television columnist Kate Taylor, this hyphen usage discussion-starter: the "traditional sex-kitten pose" (supposedly evoked by Pamela Anderson in her reality-tv show called Girl on the Loose). Perhaps not much would come of talking about that hyphen decision--the one between sex and kitten, I mean--made in Taylor's column, but many students seem surprised to learn how much choice they actually have every time they write a word or choose (not) to use a hyphen. Awareness of choice first, "correction" of choice maybe later.

How about this for an article, by John Ibbitson, at the bottom of page one: "People look warily at the Anglo in the good clothes, carrying a notepad and knocking on doors along this ramshackle row of trailer homes." Reads more like a column, doesn't it? What does this language do? While we talk about such matters, it might be fun just to imitate the sentence, slotting in replacement nouns, verbs, and modifiers.

Any of these ideas could lead to useful writing assignments. Also lucky for me, tomorrow's paper will be new.

Thursday 31 July 2008

In Training

Now the pigeons have taken a new approach. They back just enough of their rear ends over the roof of the building so that they can shit directly on my balcony--anywhere on my balcony, doesn't matter. Judging by what I saw out there just now, two of three of them can gang up and all shit together in the same spot.

Perhaps I've forever ruined a prime nesting site with my netting and my plastic barbs and toxins, but they still rule the air overhead, and in fact are such skilled shitters that they can hit a folded lawnchair from 300 meters.

Keep your Beijing Olympics, I've got to beat the pigeons.

Tuesday 29 July 2008


Jean-Jacques Rousseau was into rowboats:
"I would row out into the midle of the lake when it was calm; and there, stretching out full-length in the boat and turning my eyes skyward, I let myself float and drift wherever the water took me, often for several hours on end . . ." (from the "Fifth Walk" of Reveries of the Solitary Walker Penguin Classic, trans. Peter France).

I'd love to be in a rowboat right now myself--get out into this wind and noise, see what sails through the the sky.

More than once I've leapt from rowboats to tractors. And from there, not far to a trombone.

Monday 28 July 2008

More on Marlatt / Rock Pigeons

I didn't know until last night at the reading out at Sage Hill that Daphne Marlatt's The Given, about which I've marveled in a previous post, completes a trilogy, as she says, after Ana Historic and Taken.

The work manges its polyphony with the lightest, surest hand imaginable, ranging from the body on out into times and places close and far. It becomes personal and cultural document. It both preserves and explores, answers both to itself and its worlds. Her performing of the writing adds yet another figure, another character to the text.

Put me down as a big fan, in other words, as I have been since working on Ana Historic in my PhD (all but dissertation) work years ago.


Not to spoil the appreciative tone of this post, but the second of two annual rock pigeon breeding cycles has led to a renewal of hostilities out on my balcony. Seems the newborns haven't absorbed certain lessons all the way into their DNA. I've had to deploy the barbecue lighter, the tinsnips, the high-tension wire laced with mini-barbs (something like this: ---*---*---*---*---).

Saturday 26 July 2008

Tonight in Saskatchewan

I've had my toot with the writers tonight and now I'm home.

I was babbling on one of two themes: the way the local tends to be overlooked by those who are local, and the plague of fantasy/scifi for young readers and writers.

The latter is a provocative sentiment, of course. Seriously, I'd like to open a dialogue on this matter. It goes something like this. I just finished a week as Instructor of the Sage Hill Teen Writing Experience. All 8 kids, ages 14-16, were experienced readers and writers. For most of them, that meant experience, including with the previous Instructor of the Regina SAge Hill teen program, with fantasy and scifi. When I encouraged them to represent their real world, the one that only they, each one of them, could represent, it was new territory. When I wanted to see their world, each of them, in writing, I had to find a way around the default fantasy/scifi orientation. That's a problem, I'd say.

The other theme I babbled on about this evening at Bushwakker was about how somebody should be writing about Saskatchewan writers. As several people have pointed out, perhaps I should be doing more of such writing myself, positioned as I am as a tenured professor in a Saskatchewan university. True enough. But for now, my point is that many of us still hold to the assumption that if it's local, it's just local, or regional, and that therefore if we pay any kind of systematic critical attention to it, we're revealing ourselves to be mere cheerleaders, or mere provincial hacks.

For me, these two themes are linked. Even as readers, never mind as poets or critical writers, we think that we must find ourselves elsewhere, we must define ourselves in terms of how we fit into so-called "universal" paradigms. (That's not quite what I mean, but I'll leave it there for now.)

All that aside, it was just darn fun to hang with Ariel G., Roewen C., CHris R., Jeanette L, Tracy H., Andy S., Katherine R., Nathalie T., and others this evening. I was tuckered out from a week with the Sage Hill teens and also before that from the weekend in Moose Jaw. And now I feel better.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Marginalia upon reading Daphne Marlatt's The Given

Ease with which her intertexts (a tired word) rise and subside like breath (which gives us the metaphor for the writing and its thin line between life and extinction).

The story in so many fragments it is fragment where everything is.

Every-ready to leap via a letter or a sound to the next idea--that haphazard but always building the poem until more and more comes into play.

Model of longpoem action, that refusal to end, that willingness to embrace the next move in any direction: time, place, form.

Writing to itself. Writing that reads itself.

Remarkable lightness with which these words settle: mother, home, loss, story, body, self, writing--any one of which could sink a page of writing in no time.

Her writing has been this way before.

A poem that ends with the word word. Writing that opens its own past and present, that constantly questions itself. Adjacent fragments speaking to and from each other. Writing that absorbs everything from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth to the "famliar ache and shift" of one body. Writing that asks "where does the perceiving body begin and end?"

What is most given is the past, never distinct from the writing present.

As always, writing that makes you write.

Saturday 5 July 2008


Now that I'm back in Regina, I'm slow to get back to work. Must be the normal post-retreat lull-la-lull-la-lull.

I was admitting to someone up at Emma that the kind of energy I like about that place--the days, light, the rowboat (well, it's a long list but one of those three is usually involved) and the socializing that goes with it all--doesn't work for everybody. Can get a bit noisy for some people, not that anything too wild occurred.

That was cause to re-think how I work as a writer. How I work as a writer seems to require, usually, attention to day/light/rowboat, or whatever it is, right now. I mean right now, which is why there's a joke on page 25 of My Human Comedy about poets who have to sit where they sit yesterday, or they're screwed.

(Later: idea for series of hits called "Episodes Taken from Real Life''. Play them straight, see what they look like.)

Monday 30 June 2008

Cocktails in Cabin Ten

Coming soon, return to Regina. At the moment I'm about to meet Doug and Lou of NeWest Press in Edmonton to talk about my 14 Tractors, which they're publishing next year.

Got in yesterday from Emma Lake, where mozzies rule. There I touched up the tractors and wrote a series of encounters with people (Monroe, Woolf, Hill (E.G.), Fitzgerald (Ella), Kerouac, Brother Bernard (OSB) and, finally, Kroetsch) who showed up for cocktails in cabin 10 at Emma lake. When I realized that the first three were all alive at the same time, 1926 (when Monroe was born) to 1930 (when Hill died), then everyone had to be. For Kroetsch, born a year after Monroe, I had to narrow the range to 1927-1930. Now, any more entries to this series will have to have been alive those three years too. Barbara Stanwyk, maybe. Or Gary Cooper.

These are all people I admire.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

SE 6-22-1

I notice how easily we turn what we like into stories. I keep coming back to, for instance, that visit to the farm. I realize this dates me, but the whole trip out there was self-affirming.

Now I'm tempted to blend impressions of that place with other ideas. I'll run into someone at work, chat in my office for a while, end up telling him about my trip to the Hill place northeast of Eyebrow. Everytime I tell such a story, it layers just a touch more, whether I want it to or not.

You see how tempting this whole process is. The pitfalls are obvious. So I'll say only this:

That yard--no matter how overgrown and unruly or the depth of the cowshit and junk--would give me, in writing, everything I wanted. (The discovery of a couple of clipboards full of receipts and correspondence, dating to 1919, doesn't hurt either.)

At the moment, the disjunction--between the hardships the Hills and everyone else experienced in the late '20s, early '30s, and the appeal of lilacs and peace while the land is still moist in early June to someone who doesn't have to make a living off it--is too damn wide.

Saturday 7 June 2008

the Hill place

"There's the Hill place," John Aitken said, as we drove north out of Eyebrow. "You can see it from all around." I'd met John a year ago, after I'd identified myself as a "son of an Eyebrow man" in introducing his daugher Hilary, "daughter of an Eyebrow man," at Luther convocation.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: it's a dry, stoney place my family left in '30 when E.G.Hill died and his eldest daughter took the younger kids and her sick mother down to Mazenod, where she (Maude, the daughter) taught school. My dad, also a schoolteacher, had left by that time. Alex Foulston bought the Hill farm, as it's still known, from the land company in 1949; his son owns it now. The yard, abandoned, serves as winter shelter for Foulston's cattle. The house E.G. built in 1917 still stands, although no one has lived there since the elder Foulston died in '92. Everything is falling down; the yard and outbuildings, even the house itself, are filled with junk.

But what a gorgeous location, the crest of a hill giving views for miles north, east and south. Dad rarely spoke of this place. I think life was too hard, and/or his own father too hard, to merit remembering. During a few good years they did well enough to buy a new threshing unit--long ago scrapped, with dozens of other pieces of machinery, out back of the barn--and a crawler tractor which Dad, age 15, drove to the farm from Moose Jaw (a 15-hour trip by tractor). But by 1930 it was done.

E.G., his wife Alice, and their son Leonard who died in the flu epidemic are all buried in the Eyebrow cemetery. Their farm is visible for miles, as I said. This morning back in the city I can still see it.

Friday 30 May 2008

This Morning

In a section of their own called "Long Story Short" or dispersed among five other sections of a manuscript called Natural Causes--six Stan Still songs will go one way or the other. But's that for later, after I tell you about the potential tenants' revolt here in my apartment building.

Apparently what is happening is that my zealous pursuit of rock dove eradication has multiplied their presence on other people's balconies. The balcony straight north, for instance, presents a new skyline: pile of dung next to the barbecue.

Just now when I threw my bag of household garbage into the dumpster, I heard a voice coming from any of five half-open windows or balcony doors. "Hey buddy. Carry your share of the pigeon load, why don't you."

("Rock doves," some other voice yelled, correcting the first. "But I agree about the load.")

It's getting a bit tense. Anyone I meet on the stairs looks at me like I'm the sherrif or something. And all because I've kept my mornings free of rock doves and their cooing, so that I may better hear the busses idling loudly across the alley.

Saturday 24 May 2008

A Page of Family History

Neither my sister Susan nor I, browsing through some family histories last weekend, remembered knowing that our grandfather's parents and 3 siblings were buried in Regina. None of them had lived much of their lives there. But we found Robert and Mina (short for Jemima), the parents, with one of their sons, added 25 years later, buried right beside them.

Like all families, ours carries a number of oddities, too many to mention here (except for the tall guy named Shorty).

I've been thinking it might be fun to explore the stories, maybe give them to Stan Still, a character I've visited lately. I want to keep the garb of fiction in full swirl if do get at those stories--that a nod to my sense that maybe I was a tad too free with family stories in pieces in My Human Comedy.

Fiction or not, most them are rural in setting. I suppose I'd risk tripping on nostalgia or other forms of dogma if I or Stan went on and on about buns, roads, countertops--all of it coated with dust.

So the thing to do, maybe, is start at the gravestones, work back.

Saturday 17 May 2008

afternoon rock saturday dove

Barring catastrophe, this will be my last rock dove entry. I'm about to declare my place cured.

Still, earlier today I spotted--at an angle of about 100 degrees left of where I'm looking right now--a familiar shadow: rock dove 134b2, landing on my windowsill. He was scrawnier than I remember, twice as desperate. I gave him a split-second rest then shooed him away with a snip of my brand new scissors.

Time to roll back the netting for good or tomorrow.

Thursday 15 May 2008

back to the rock doves

This morning I'm feeling a tad exposed. Just washed my windows, for one thing. One of my sisters is dropping in tonight, for another (but that's a small one). I'm starting to dig into my Stan Still poems and songs--that must be the main thing.

Not quite. What exposes me most is the removal of anti-rock dove netting out on my balcony. Right now--prime mid-morning over the commerce of the alley, for the rock doves--I'm here at the keyboard, when I should be out there with my prod and my traps in case "Sylvia" or "Ben" happen by.

(I should explain: I'm the one who removed the netting so I can sit out there and my sister can.)

Every five minutes or so I go out and rattle a bucket around or knock over a broom. It's just one person, but I'm doing my bit.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Hour and a Half to Game Time

During the forthcoming literary salon at Katherine Lawrence's house, Brenda Schmidt and I share the billing. There's talk of questions, something like Why and how do you use sports in your poems? or something like that.

To answer, I'll tell them about right now, when it's less than two hours to game time--the second outing of Love Story, the ball team made up of from 6 to 25 friends, workmates, kids, friends of kids, and others. (That reminds me, the buggers had better bring their ten bucks, their share of the cost of organizing this band of line drive and hard field artists.)

We won last night, but can we win tonight? Will those liners continue to elude the hands of would-be fielders? Will we make it through seven innings without serious injury (such as that broken nail Luba sustained up in Edmonton years ago, causing her to miss the rest of the season and part of the next)?

Carla, the librarian, who said today I'm pumped for tonight--will second base continue to serve as her personal dancefloor?

To find out, check tomorrow's post. For now, I'm going to pick up Tom at work--so far he's the slugger of the team--and head over to the diamond.

Monday 5 May 2008

Glove Story

Nothing starts summer for me like a game of backgammon while I wait for the sun to warm the balcony on my west side, which will happen in an hour (give or take a couple of weeks).

First ballgame tomorrow. Glove Story, is the name of the team. A collection of sons, fathers, young women, friends, spouses, and remnants of ballteams past. Looks like I'm the oldest on the squad, having already claimed infield work only, since I can no longer see home plate from deep right field.

And I'm looking forward to my rendezvous at a literary salon in Saskatoon with Brenda Schmidt, whose Cantos from Wolverine Creek has lately made it all the way to my inner chamber at bedtime. (It's a book of poems that will rock you in your tracks.)

But first, the balcony (unless I can get hold of Lucy to go throw some frisbee). I'll have to peel back the perimeter of my rock dove defenses.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Near the End of a Long Month

The safer route would be to talk about the essay mix cd my students collaborated on (I piped up with my own choice, Tom Waits' "Hold On") to accompany an anthology of one-pagers about "favourite all-time song".

What's most on my mind is the way we tend to overlook the local for something else. Maybe I'm already over-emphasizing what identity people might derive from where they are.

I should try to keep a positive shape to what I'm saying: as artists our first source, first figure in view, even first responsibility (I'll say, for purposes of argument) is the local--that which gives us everything and is not to be taken for granted.

Next, if there is a next: why the local should be our first focus of critical attention.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Tonight, Freehouse, 8:00

Now that my book is out, I'm resuming my career (which never before has been) as the public voice of Stan Still's songs. The character is fictional, but, as we say at Stan Still headquarters, the songs are real. At least we hope so.

In preparation for my performance, I've been marking essays, watching Spurs-Suns basketball and Blue Jay baseball, and now the Habs-Bruins from Boston.

That and watching for rock doves (who, I've discovered, don't like bombardment by wads of frozen peas).

Wednesday 16 April 2008


Road trip this aft, up to Saskatoon to buy a crokinole board at Lee Valley and read at McNally-Robinson. I'm feeling a little worn out from working late at the annual "midnight breakfast" event at Luther, in which we faculty serve breakfast at night to students studying for exams. I get to run the industrial dishwasher, allowing my inner efficiency-obsessed worker to have his moments.

I may have to pull over for a sunny nap on the road. This morning I went over some details for my launch tomorrow night at Le Bistro. Mainly I want to make sure that people can get their booze without a lot of standing in line. Snacks, candles and tablecloths, low lights--if I didn't have to read every half hour or so I could sit there and have a great time as, I hope, everyone else will.

Then Saturday it's time for the songs of Stan Still at the Freehouse. Good thing I've got a guitar player who can play.

Thursday 10 April 2008

spring rain--what's it good for?

Boo-hoo, the rock doves don't like the splash when a car drives through a puddle in the alley below my kitchen windowsill. On which today's dove leaves his breakfast.

When I shoo him away, trying out my new slingshot, he gives me look like "Hey, leave me alone, fella. I'm just trying to stay out of the rain."

These verbal rock doves are the worst kind.

All of which, I hope, helps me come up with final exam tasks for my expository writing class.

Monday 7 April 2008

the first launch of the book

I'm happy to hold a brand new My Human Comedy, beatiful design by Duncan Campbell at Coteau. Just read pages 70 to 80 or so. Doesn't seem too bad. As I was reading page 83, titled "Youngest Daughter, First Date", that youngest daughter called from Paris and I read her the poem.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Weyburn and Back

Last night I drove Robert Kroetsch to Weyburn and back for his reading. On the way home, he admitted that he'd rather write than speak. No wonder he'd deflected some his post-reading questions onto me. It's part of his generous nature--valuing the knowledge of everyone in the room. Part of his reluctance to talk, too. A quality I share with him. Nevertheless, I tried to offer some observations about what to do with history, about nonfiction and truth. I'd rather listen to Kroetsch anytime.

He says he's found that the last 6 days in Saskatchewan, including trips to St. Peter's Abbey and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, have made him want to write again. "I've been going through a dry spell," he says. He's writing another novel.

Meanwhile, his Seed Catalogue continues to be required reading, I'd say, for anyone who wants to learn ways of butting heads with one's language and one's stories.

Monday 31 March 2008

the day after Talking Fresh 6, for me

Say good-bye to Talking Fresh 6, now that Kroetsch has hit the road for St. Peter's. Not that the weekend was only about him.

Denise Chong said she was learning stuff the whole time. In every session, she shifted expertly between passages from her books and musings about writing and history. That voice in her writing--that voice you wouldn't mind being around--was also on hand for Talking Fresh.

Sharon Pollock replayed a history of professional theatre in Canada, pointing out that it was short-term, federal government make-work programs in the early 1970s, and not the Canada Council or other granting agency, that sparked growth of new theatre artists and companies. She bowled us over with a scene from Doc, its two voices controlling us.

Dennis Cooley brought in (at different times) some Hayden White, some poems of history by Pratt , Kroetsch, and Scott, some notes on what poets do with history. Coming the afternoon after Kroetsch's own reading from The Seed Catalogue, Cooley's commentary citing the same material was a neat reply. During the panel, he brought out his own Bloody Jack, with a poem called "The Facts" (or something like that), a poem new to the second edition.

I introduced Kroetsch by telling everyone he was the same age as hockey legend Gordie Howe. For the next two days, Kroetsch exhibited much of the same guile and brawn that Howe used to lay on defencemen in the 1950s. As always, our Mr. Hockey was generous with his attentions and damn funny half the time, tired too. The scene he read from The Words of My Roaring--Johnnie Backstrom buying contraceptives--was hilarious.

All that's left to report is that on the day after Talking Fresh, a rock dove got in. Got in but couldn't get out at first, until it finally squeezed out between the railings of my balcony. (I hope that doesn't give away too much of my perimeter rock dove defence, because that information is still classified.)

Monday 24 March 2008

Imagining an Audience

I hope the rest of you don't mind, but I'd like to send a fond hello to all the Leaf fans out there. I'd say they were the best team in hockey right now, after watching their gut-drenched win over Ottawa the other night, except that my son already corrected me, pointing out that in fact the Leafs had played badly--bumbling, in their early-season manner.

Still, I've rinsed my glass and now offer it in toast to you, Leaf fans. The film just now settles to the bottom of the glass, just our Leafs will one day, soon, settle into their traditional roles as Stanley Cup champions.

I think that's enough for now. The Leafs are at home to the Bruins, the team they're trying to catch, in 24 hours.

Sunday 23 March 2008

Rock Dove 6

With my happy hour, drop-in book launch coming up on April 17 (details at my website or upon request), I've been compiling my launch mix cds. Right now, some funk, Grateful Dead style: "Shakedown Street".

Launch music cds have nearly replaced rock doves as my private obsession. Easy to say, now that the doves had had to find solace elsewhere. (I think I saw Winnifred and her mate heading southeast, toward that new condo unit made from old apartments.)

Edith Wiens, Steve Earle, Ella, Wailing Jennies, Tierney Sutton, Ry Cooder, Eddie Daniels, Bill Evans, Leonard Cohen, Allison Krauss, the Mavericks, Emmy-Lou, Blossom Dearie, Tom Waits, and others.

Maybe I'll make a rock dove cd: Ex-coos.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Rock Dove, the next one

The low-voltage lead to the perimeter of the balcony railing didn't work. Killed the geranium, is all. But the rust on my barbecue seems a tad crude for rock dove sensibilities, for they try to penetrate only the north edge of the balcony.

Now that I've strung 25' of 3' netting, however--held in place by s-hooks wired to the railing--maybe the rock doves will take their act to the balcony of suite 18.

Fat chance, which is how I see rock doves. A bunch of fat chance.

(Fat chants, if I was a little more adventurous.)

Saturday 15 March 2008

the songs of Stan Still

Just a while ago on the phone, my eldest daughter's question about "my schedule for the day"--we're trying to meet for lunch or a beer or something--left me a little puzzled.

First will be some internet backgammon while I stretch for my run.

Well, I can see that continuing with such a list will be pretty boring. But maybe what's most on my mind at the moment is how exactly I'm going to follow up my public claim to do a "songs of Stan Still as performed by Gerald Hill" gig at the Freehouse on April 19 (two days after the launch ofr My Human Comedy, another story). I'll have to sing a couple, see if I can get a guitar player for a couple, maybe even dig out my trombone.

(Haven't played the bone since the '05 Grey Cup parade.)

They're supposedly songs written in the voice of Stan Still, whatever that is. Mostly about feeling helpless in the face of love, is how I recall them right now.

They do require a voice that can sing in key and is not afraid.

Thursday 13 March 2008

Rock Dove, 4

One of my more recent attempts to bring Sask poetry, or any poetry (but starting with Sask poetry), and my students together, they had to write hybrid essays made from their commentary on a Sask poem of their choice, their own parody of that poem, and whatever they noticed about the difference. At least.

Reading the results, I wish there was time to do the same thing again this term. The students did well but might relax into the challenge even more a second time. The parodies (definition I go by: repetition with a difference) were devoted, almost innocent, some of them, in their obedience to orders they inferred from the poems. Minus ambiguities, rambunctiousness, denial, resistance, mystery.

I'm also touched by their sense of newness, as it occasionally seems to be, when they come to a poem from the parody side, so to speak.

And I can tell you this much about the rock doves: I drove home from the hardward store on east Vic with barbed wire, turpentine, roofing nails, exterior caulking, and weatherproof nylon mesh called DoveGlove. Also 24 feet of 1x4, flexible plastic sheeting, black paint. [Later: a cheap set of steak knives.]

If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I'm working out there.

[next: why I'm a Leaf fan]

Rock (Dove) and Roll Hall of Fame

Sure I remember the Dave Clark Five, one of five inductees--with Leonard Cohen, John Mellancamp, Madonna, and the The Ventures--into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like the Beatles, the DC Five first showed up to North American audiences via the Ed Sullivan show, which used to air on Sunday nights, right before Bonanza. Although saxaphones were not new to rock and roll bands that followed black R and B groups, the Dave Clark band featured a baritone sax, about as large a sax as you can get. There he was, lip-synching along with the lads on the Sullivan stage. "I'm in pieces, bits and pieces," was one of their anguished refrains. ("Glad all over, yes I'm glad all over" was another.) I bought their 45s--Capital Records, if I'm not mistaken, like the early Beatles.

Meanwhile I'm building my rock dove hall of fame to which no rock dove will be inducted. Sorry, the details are still classified, but let's just say that yesterday after rock doves number 34 ("Esther") and 35b ("Rod") played down in the alley in the meltwater, they were unable to talk it over later up on my balcony.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Rock Dove Chronicle, Part Three

I just got a great idea. Make essay assignment #4 exactly the same as #3. These ones aren't good enough--don't lay out clearly enough what they want to do, or do it systematically enough.

Seems over-formal when I put it that way.

So why not ask them to build on what they have already, more or less incomplete as it is, and give themselves a chance to do some better work (on will Ferguson's Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw).

Meanwhile, the same rock dove has been settling every two hours or so on the south side of my balcony. I've chased it away by crashing a broomstick against my balcony door. That's my main tactic until I install certain anti-rock dove devices--sorry, that's classified information for now--in their faourite spots.

Just now I chased one away. A different one.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Rock Dove Chronicle, Part Two

Let the fun begin. Just now down at the Freehouse I had a couple of beer and a grilled pork sandwich with fries, met with Nik and Deborah from Coteau, touched base about the forthcoming "Happy Hour with My Human Comedy" (more on that later), had one more beer, wrote another verse of the rock dove song I'm going to sing in April (also at the Freehouse) and picked up some bacon on the way home so I can have a BLT for breakfast, if only I had a tomato.

That's right, happy hour with My Human Comedy, a come-and-go launch, with me reading every 20 minutes or so, otherwise your regular happy hour. I'm going to burn a disc or two of my favourite music to keep us company.

Might as well have fun with it, because soon enough the work will seem stale, the book will be more or less abandoned (although never, I hope, lacking in interest) and left behind for the new.

You're all invited to the launch. April 17, 5:00-7:00, at Le Bistro, 3850 Hillsdale Street in Regina.

For the rock dove:

one too many species in the bird world
one too many feathers in my trap
one too many wing-ed adversaries
one too many rocks doves taking a crap

Saturday 1 March 2008

Rock Dove Chronicle, Part One

Watch me snuff out the rock doves along my west side. (Here picture me with a water pistol, old beach towel, flyswatter, barbecue skewer.)

I'll start by reading them some crappy poems, some of my out-takes. If that doesn't stop the pigeons from roosting, I'll set out copies of the Leader-Post, or line my windowledges with dirty socks. I'll hire schoolchildren with extra-long scissors--whatever it takes.

You can enjoy "Song for the Rock Dove" in My Human Comedy, forthcoming from Coteau, but after that say good-bye (to the rock doves, that is).

Wednesday 27 February 2008

One way of looking at this afternoon's English class

I have often told my students that I love the sight of them writing, a sight I saw again today.

One hand to steady the page, the other to move the pen. The writers lean forward, their eyes watching their hand. Innocent as children sleeping.

Who they are narrows for a moment (especially in this case, a midterm exam).

Maybe the simplest way to say what I try to achieve with my students is this: to open that range back up again. Use writing to do it.

Either that, or I've been watching too many classic movies

Thursday 14 February 2008

Survivor: Love Island

After some Survivor-style foolery, in which four love poems were voted off the island by my first-year English class, the winner was Burns' "A Red, Red Rose" in a close vote over Kim Addonizio's lusty contemporary sonnet (its title escapes me at the moment) about kissing your tattoo. (The other poems were an E.B.Browning sonnet, a Sharon Olds lyric, and one of C.Bok's letterplay pieces.) All along, as we read and talked about the poems, my students claimed the Burns poem was too "cheesy", but in the end it won.

Today in another class, given fifteen key words on which to produce as many "short talks"--quick hits--as possible, the two words least used were "sexuality" and "mourning".

In both cases, then, the safest choices were made. This tendency toward safe readerly/writerly choices is the largest single impediment to effective teaching of literature and writing, in my opinion.

Tomorrow I'm heading up to St. Peter's Abbey for a week of writing. Unsafe writing, I hope.

Saturday 9 February 2008

Meanwhile, love-wise

In the very spot we'd touched for the first time, we touch for the last, memories already.

The winds'll do ya, someone must have sung.

Bring on the anger and humiliation, and a set of essays.

Monday 4 February 2008


I'm thinking of getting a gizmo that provides about two or three octaves of piano keyboard. Just to lay down some bass lines.

Writing a song right now. Or would, if I could shake that Tom Waits snarly blues tune "got the push, got the shove".

Mine goes something like this so far: Got the switch, got the fan. Got the sunlight, got the tan--homesick. That's what I call it, homesick. Or, backing up a page or two: Got the room, got the shovel. In times of doom, I use a shovel--homesick, etc.

My friend Regan was telling me about the new system he bought. Can lay down multiple tracks, vocal or instrumental or electronic, cut a cd just like that.

You'll know I'm serious about the songwriting thing when you hear me do "Stan Still's 5/4 Blues for Brenda Brown" with only my only voice for instrumentation, beginning with a bass line groove.

Saturday 2 February 2008

The Forecast

Today old friends will be seeing winter sunshine for the first time in months. They're writing at St. Peter's Abbey, a Saskatchewan Writers/Artists Colony at the southeast edge of Muenster, Sask.

I'm just kidding about the sunshine, but they'll love it anyway for how cold it is, how jewel-like and colder yet.

In two weeks I'll be up there as well. A good day to be writing, for sure.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

January 30

By now I've worked out the kink in my right calf from springing out of bed to answer the phone. I knew it would be my daughter, Lucy, just arriving in Paris. The poor soul had to carry her bags to the 4th floor of a friend's apartment twice before she figured out which suite was his but she made it.

Picked up a set of essays today on the general topic of what a poem can do, using the poems we'd read as examples. And then assigned the next essay: tell your life story using four incidents involving animals. Informal writing this time, obviously. I'll have to convince these first-year students that even the most ordinary stories they can imagine are in fact loaded with material, if they can commit to going after it. Such switching of gears from a formal essay to something else is not popular with all students. It's just another thing they have to learn, is how they might see it. But the rewards are great, I keep saying.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Travel Piece

Tomorrow my youngest daughter, Lucy, leaves for Paris. She's prepared, I'm prepared. But she's been on the edge of crying for an hour or two now, and I'm on my second scotch this half hour.

I've noticed that as I get older, I settle for the memory of stuff, as if that way I don't have to do whatever it is again. Travel around the world, for instance (I got home 25 years ago to become a creative writing student--see "longer bio" at my website) or go downhill skiing (that would be about 30 years ago at Sunshine--so fantastic an experience, why would I ever need to repeat it?).

Saturday 26 January 2008

Sask Poetry

"Nothing but poems about death and love," said one student, leaving the classroom yesterday. She'd heard/seen 7 presentations of Sask. poems:

love as diseases, love as cure (and probably back to disease again) in "Heal" (Randy Lundy)

the four windows through which a man looks from his vantage point at the very edge of where his body meets the (ever-continuing) world in "Four Windows" (Michael Trussler)

Louise Halfe's "Der Poop", in which a voice calls down the Pope, his Church, his various colonial manisfestations, the Queen's English, and several other hierarchies from her perch on the shitter

a sister who lost her twin in what seems to have been a summer incident in the prairie bush in the kind of day you'd love to spend berry-picking (Judith Krause's poem of that name)

a love poem, the lover wanting ("Orange", Elizabeth Philips)

a poem set in a dance hall--another man, another aging body ("Polka Suicide", William Robertson)

And a couple of others I can't remember right now.

I guess it's commonplace by now to say all poems write to or from birth or death.

I love the Al Purdy story I heard him tell one afternoon at U of A in the early 90s. As a young man I had this manuscript that had everything I could give it (Purdy said). A famous Canadian publisher read it over and rejected it, commenting "This manuscript is nothing but sex and death".

A few years later I realized that there IS nothing else but sex and death.

End of story. You can read Purdy's own telling of that story in the Preface of his Sex and Death, which M&S (I believe) published in 1973.

And I'm dedicating my book to the lover.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Continued from Previous Post (How Could it Not Be?)

The most common choice was Truth 100, because that supposedly contains all the others. I selected Body 100 for the same reason. The idea is, or will be this time tomorrow, officially an option for the next piece of writing to be graded.

Today I read the summary, prepared by Anonymous, of my teaching evaluations from the fall term. I go straight to the comments, which cover the range from pos to neg. The more negative ones still give me pause, reminding me that my professorial ways don't work for everyone.

I still learn from my own classroom. This morning some talk about Christopher Dewdney's "Ten Typically Geological Suicides" lead to new ways of thinking about the poem, for me, and new ways of thinking about any poem, for my English 100 students, who at first wondered why someone would write a poem like that--a playfully serious piece, as I see it--and what makes a list of ten perfectly effective, if wildly impractical, ways to commit suicide a poem. (Ways like standing naked over a geyser, just before it erupts, or consuming a lethal dosage of beach sand.)

Then on to Ondaatje's "Sweet Like a Crow," another list, comparing a young girl to a rusty bible, among other things. Just seeing rusty next to bible is enough for me. Just that pairing of words opens the world a tad more. I hope my students would agree.

Tuesday 22 January 2008


I just got a great idea for a personal essay assignment for my expository writing students: Which of these imaginary classes would you most like to take, and what's in it? Truth 100, Happiness 100, Body 100, The Past 100, or The Future 100.

I'm going to run that idea by them this afternoon, then save it for a little later in the term. Maybe they'd like to invent their own imaginary class.

Meanwhile, which one do you want to take?

Saturday 19 January 2008

What, memory?

Ran into Ken Mitchell last night at Cougar basketball (we're both long-time season ticket holders). He's got another new idea: to open a spoken word, Saturday night event at a local nightspot. Said he wants me to be part of it.

The last time Ken told me something like that, I spent hours memorizing new poems as I wrote them. Took forever. A couple of the poems will show up in My Human Comedy (arriving from the printers within three months). But I realized--this was at a writer's retreat at St. Peter's one February, two or three years ago--that committing work to memory is easier if the work rhymes.

It was cold as hell. I was out jogging in the bright sunshine, turning west along the grid road south of the Abbey. Every step pounded the new poem into memory: something about an east view, an Oldsmobile, can't remember the rest.

Friday 11 January 2008

Just To Say Hello

I must be aging faster than ever. Just now I lugged my pack and gym bag up the stairs, a young woman ten steps ahead of me. Her suite was the one at the top of the stairs on the left. She scooted into her suite, not once looking back, locking and latching the door between her and the point where just then I was turning to head one floor up and across the hall.

As far as I know I was not mumbling or wearing stains. She wasn't taking any chances for what must be good reasons.

It's probably true about the aging, but just now I typed again instead of aging. So I'll take it.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Back In the Classroom Again

Funny, the ideas people get about poetry. As if there's not a million ways to teach, read, write it.

This realization came about, I hope, when one young woman admitted that her dislike for poetry --It doesn't speak to me, she said--derived simply from one teacher's approach to it. I told her we'd check in again in a few weeks.

She and the rest of my Sask Poetry crew have to (if they want the marks) attend a literary event and write it up. For many, this is a challenge. Would it help if they knew any poets? (That way, they'd find out what a broken path poetry and its pracficioners are.)

Monday 7 January 2008

Going Again

Started a new academic term today. One young fellow came up to me after class and said he hoped I wouldn't mind his stutter. He said it gets worse when he's nervous. After we chatted for a while I told him I get nervous going into a class for the first time. "You didn't look nervous," he said. Later he told me he hoped I'd have fun this term.

Earlier, I'd advised a former student who's now an instructor to make sure to have fun with his classes.

Of course, the "fun" here has little to do with jokes and fooling around. It's about being as open as possible to the inherent playfulness of language itself--language as a lively hound dog that can never be fully trained. So I like to tease and otherwise encourage my students to admit such playfulness into their reading and writing practice. Heel, then romp.

Thursday 3 January 2008

The Radio and a New Year's Letter

I've been hearing on the CBC Radio 2 weathercast that today will be "a balmy minus one degree." What about all the other degrees? Would other punctuation help? Maybe take a word or two off: a balmy minus, or balmy minus one, even minus would do.

I also said to a friend, I hope our paths will cross--then a dash, then with us in them. All very well to cross paths, but the point of crossing would not by itself satisfy me. In other words, I can see picking up a broken leaf, saying So-and-so was here. Maybe salute the sky, notice wind for a moment. But I can't see staying there for long.