Sunday 20 December 2009

It was all very lovely but a long time ago

Is that the sun going down? It's not even 4:30. Time to haul out the images from a summer solstice on Emma Lake. Here comes one now.

Might look chilly, but really it's the mosquitoes we needed jackets against.

Rowboat trips before and after--this one to check a beaver dam on the north side of the channel behind the campus.

Saturday 19 December 2009

And a Portuguese phrasebook

The writing of Daphne Marlatt has always had high notability quotient--writing so live you want to read in every direction, a reading experience so active you have to quit it every two seconds to write.  This of course keys into a piece of advice my father used to give me: Read with a pencil.  Causes marginalia, is the only problem.  The endpages of my copy of The Given have run out of room.  Writing that opens into its own past and present, says the first note.  The story in so many fragements, it is fragment where all the action is, says the last (awkwardly).  The way I'm thinking about my work in the next while, some Marlatt and maybe Paterson and one or two other books is all I'll take with me to Europe.  That'll give me plenty to read my own material through.

Monday 14 December 2009

La Verendrye, fur trader and explorer, after whom a street is named,

approaches an idea first glimpsed at a distance.

 He continues.

 He's not sure he likes what he can't quite see.

Formerly an undeveloped lot behind Motherwell, the corner of Hillsdale and 23rd has been rezoned Residential Multiple Housing.

He enters a clearing just off the northwest corner of Roberts Plaza, on LaVerendrye Way.

He gets this far.

Saturday 12 December 2009

How cold

Winter in Hillsdale. Right now, a Saturday, mid-December cold SNAP. I thought it was rain earlier this morning but that didn’t make sense. I’m tempted to buy a week-long resort package in time to be home before Christmas. That’s what winter does in Hillsdale.

The opera singers need extra time to warm up in a winter like this. They spend their morning hours on high notes, occasionally rising like shards of broken bird. No need to rehearse winter, though.

And it doesn't help to sing along with some soprano. She’s got winter of her own, a bloodstream frozen with debris.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

After Latta, that cold

Good thing it's a short street--13 houses, the street bent 90 degrees at the church.

Where my sister got married for the first time.  I snapped the newly-weds in an angled frame.  They were coming out the south door into sunlight, August 1964.  Confetti, a gauntlet of well-wishers, 25 years of marriage straight ahead.

Wearing a fawn-coloured blazer, I held a Kodak instamatic.  About the size of 3/4 of a pound of butter.  It was honey in my hands, that's for sure, that angled pic a hit.

New as the church was then, it's my borrowed Nikon, courtesy my brother-in-law, I'm working with today.
I dawdled for a moment when I got to Latta, then felt the cold catching up.  Heading briskly for the north end, I shot all 12 driveways (one a double), not taking long to compose each shot. 

The light felt good.  And no glares from behind closed blinds.

Before Latta

A whole Latta driveway: every one of them, about 8, shot in colour from the bottom of the driveway up.  Don't want to freak anyone out.
Might walk there.  Cold out, though.
Finish this game of backgammon first.  (A win--gambles taken, dice good.)

Wednesday 2 December 2009

With some Hill here and there

Says Jason Dewinetz--poet, publisher, Okanagan College instructor--the idea of the Vertigo Gallery reading series he runs in Vernon "is to have a conversation with the audience, to discuss poets you appreciate and are inspired by, specific poems that speak to your sense of poetics, and to tie all of that into a reading of a handful of your own poems. I hope that you'll involve the audience in the discussion, so that we can avoid the standard one-direction, reader-to-audience presentation that is so many readings." 

I'm looking forward to the chance to pay tribute to some of my literary fathers and mothers, a notion I discussed in an earlier blog.  Some Purdy and Ondaatje, Wayman and Suknaski, McFadden and Calvino, Wah, Kroetsch, Marlatt and nichol, Olson and Williams--I'll be happy to lay a taste of all of them on my three sisters and whoever else is there tomorrow night. 

Sunday 29 November 2009


My 14 Tractors scored the Poetry Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards gala last night.  Not expecting to win, I did nevertheless sketch out the thank you list: the photographs by Shelley Sopher, the Writers/Artists Colony program of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild (wherein this book was first perceived, imagined, written, and re-composed), the financial support of the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Regina and Luther College, the expertise and commitment of my publisher, NeWest Press, and the two beautiful young women--my daugher Emmaline and her friend Nat--who sat with me at table 26 last night.  Had I stayed up there longer, I would have gone on to point out that my own writing practice gets a boost every time one of my friends publishes a book or gives a reading or receives acclaim in some other way.  Thank you to you writers out there.

That's one of Shelley's photos, the International Harvester 300 Utility, which I imagined for a long time as the cover image.

Tuesday 24 November 2009


Last time I mentioned that word in a blog entry, I got an email a day or two later from an outfit in Nova Scotia that makes really nice crokinole boards.  They had some sort of internet tracking that notified them whenever people like me used that certain word.  They were very friendly, and I bought a board.

Last night after our reading, I played crokinole with Maurice Mierau and Tracy Hamon.  They're pretty good, but it didn't take long for home board advantage to prevail, at which point Maurice and Tracy lost interest.

Earlier, they'd been telling me I need to go down to WalMart and get some little rubber sleeves to wrap around the pegs.  Something about "random bounces".

So-and-so's basement, so-and-so's car

The other day I had dinner at a brewpub with Cam and Annette so they could share their knowledge about Portugal.  In a gap between map references--the Iberian peninsula spread open on the table--Cam happened to mention that he'd grown up in Hillsdale.  I found out what schools he went to; I knew them well.  I named a half dozen or so prominent figures; he knew them well.  In fact, he knew some of them so well that he gaped in astonishment at my mention of their names.  He'd spent hours and hours with some of these characters, he said.  Once or twice he slammed his palm down on the table, remembering John G., or Alex N., or Gary G. 

That closed the book on Portugal and swung the book of Hillsdale wide open.  To be continued.

Saturday 7 November 2009

As for mother, well . . .

Yesterday I shot some property lines on Motherwell in black and white

after viewing Robert Frank's The Americans (stunning--I can't believe I didn't encounter this collection before).  Introduction by Jack Kerouac.

Earlier, I'd checked at Bird Films about an update to my Canon point-and-shoot.

But for now I'll stick with what I've got.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Re: The Horse Knows the Way

Last night I was enjoying the early poems, all I've read so far, in Dave Margoshes' The Horse Knows the Way, his new book of poems. These early poems re-figure or fill in a speaker's boyhood most engagingly.

At that point I put the book down.

I found myself--I wish I could stop there--thinking of Wallace Stegner's musings on how the past "utters and affirms us" (I think was how he put it). That's what the Margoshes poems were doing: going back over material from the past, re-membering it, filling in and thus affirming or building up the speaker.

It's a filling in of blanks, I reckoned, not unlike the filling in of basements, the laying of streets. In Hillsdale now certain areas long vacant, like the field behind Calder where the Riders used to practice, are filling in with high-density development.

Field becomes city, boyhood becomes poem, city becomes field for poem, and so on.

Monday 2 November 2009


My poem about the legendary Habs (later, Leaf, Blues even Oiler) goaltender Jacques Plante was as wrong as a poem can be. According to that poem I wrote about 25 years ago, it was in Detroit where Plante was hit in the face by a puck and refused to go back out unless he could wear a mask.

TSN says it happened in New York, 50 years ago yesterday.

Change is not easy in the context of a tradition-bound culture like 50s-era hockey. Plante's free spirit was all about change, however, and the Andy Bathgate wrister Plante took in the face was enough to let the goalie mask in forever (although some goalies played without one as late as the early 70s). "Artist at work" was the tag applied to Plante. I saw him up close from a seat by the face-off circle at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton in about 1975. He roamed freely, handling the puck as well as any defenceman, shouting instructions to his team-mates the whole time.

Plante's part of the Hillsdale material now. Fifty years ago yesterday, someone in Hillsdale looked west through what soon will be a thick, winter-long ridge of frost (though I suppose the window was tight and new then), maybe picked up the paper and read about Plante's new mask, maybe watched Plante on tv a day or two later, beating the Leafs again.

And the writing about all this will be wrong, will be changed, will be then and now.

Monday 26 October 2009

Re: The Maximus Poems

I was reading "polis is / eyes" and hearing again that notion that place is a way to see, that what we do when we write about place is, first of all, see.

I really like the frontnote about the "glyph": the Figure of Outward (we are told) striding forth from the domain of the infinitely small. I'll take that as an invitation to keep working from the specifics, which Olson and Williams and Marlatt and Nichol all do in their long poems. (The small but also the mythic--the Maximus, the saints, the Giants. Marlatt is different that way, but her river, like Williams' Passaic Falls, is mythic enough on its own.)

Reading Olson's poem, I'm reminded again that after the "accumulation" Robert Kroetsch spoke of at the SWG conference, the finding of form is like that "striding", that movement through/into/over the accumulated material. I must be careful, as I accumulate my Hillsdale material, not to get lazy: too passive, not enough striding.

I look forward to another session with Olson this afternoon.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Kerouac 5

Then came the Gloucester episode. Pulling out of Lowell before noon, I thought I'd drive east to the old seaport made famous in the literary world by Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems (although Olson, as much as I admire what I understand of his poetic, isn't on my "literary hero" team). Nothing worked. Couldn't find Olson's grave, couldn't find the bookstore that supposedly kept stacks of rare Olson upstairs somewhere (then did find it, but nothing that interesting in its stacks), found the place a tad resorty, couldn't stomach the turkey wrap, etc.

By 1:30 I was booting it back north, the Impala cruising easy in the bright sun and nonstop satellite radio jazz. By 6 I was handing over the keys to Louis, the Budget guy at Dorval, and shuttling over the Best Western for a burger and a ballgame and these blog entries.

While not actually a balling-the-jack kind of trip that Dean and Sal repeat in On the Road, I did cover 1250 km in 24 hours, half of it in the darkness of last night or early this morning, and much of it tightroping through the freeway maze of the Lowell-Gloucester axis just north of Boston or rush hour in Montreal.

It was a gas. Once I got the idea, I had to do it.

Kerouac 4

I can see the Kerouac Commemorative in old downtown Lowell from my booth in Arthur's Diner on Bridge Street, a football kick south of the Merrimack River. The commemorative is made from 8 granite pillars, each etched with an extract from JK's writing. The 8 pillars, we are told, form a mandala, with benches scattered about.

Nothing on the array of tourist signs I've seen around the city directs us to this spot. No doubt Kerouac's an embarrassment to Lowell. But he obviously loved the place, judging by the extracts on the pillars, which speak of what he did, what he learned, as a boy roaming around Lowell, the place his Canadian-born parents moved to and Kerouac lived through his high school years.

The diner's been here for 80 years. Maybe Kerouac ate a western omelette on a paper place as I'm about to do. "For sure, Kerouac ate here," the young cook says when I ask. "He used to live just up there, and drink in that bar around the corner."

Later, as I leave the diner, I just for a second imagine his hand closing the door.

Kerouac 3

I got to the gravesite in Lowell by 8:00 am. I'd written down "corner of Lincoln and 7th, Lot 94" but I still would have had to search a wide area if I hadn't spotted the wine bottle and the candle. When I got closer I saw cigarette butts, and various scraps of notes and photographs. The ground around the marker was worn. I added my used Man./Sask. map with my Dear Jack message on it and Herbert circled inside.

I stood there a while, no one alive but me taking pics in four directions from Kerouac's grave.

The cemetery's in south Lowell, a beat part of town.

Kerouac 2

Louis, the Budget rent-a-car guy at Dorval airport in Montreal (the airport still has 2 names), looked impressed, maybe just surprised, when I told him where I was going. “Oh,” he said. “I have relatives in Lowell.” Confirming what I’d worked out from studying the maps, he wrote directions to the Champlain bridge on the back of my rental agreement, and handed over the keys to a white Impala, an “upgrade".

By 6:00 I was heading south through the snarliest freeway system I’ve ever experienced. Two or three times I was sure I’d missed a turn but found myself heading to, then on, Vermont 89, an Eisenhower-era interstate, just as Louis and I had planned it.

The border agent asked my what my business was in Lowell. I wasn’t sure if she asked out of interest or national security concerns. When I told her a bit about Kerouac, she asked if I’d known him. “He’s been dead for 40 years,” I told her.

By 8:30 or so I’d had enough driving and stopped in Montpelier (pronounced mont-peelier by the locals), the state capital. Angelino’s pizza looked like the right place for a beer and a feed. Enjoying a Samuel Adams lager and a Copper Mountain ale, I asked the waiter if he could recommend a reasonably priced hotel. He paused before suggesting the Economy Inn up the hill. “There’s a closer one,” he said, “but my dad died there.” Turns out this waiter had been born in Lowell but hadn’t heard of Kerouac. I told him about the commemorative square in downtown Lowell, which I plan to see tomorrow. He’d seen it there but hadn’t realized what it was about. “I’ll check it out now for sure,” he promised.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Kerouac 1

It was dark this morning--what else would it be--when I flew out of Regina. Yesterday, picking up maps of Montreal and New England from the CAA, I figured out what I'd leave at the Kerouac gravesite: a worn-out map of Saskatchewan on which I've written: Dear Jack, For the "immense winds that blew clear down from Saskatchewan" [a line in On the Road]. You'll find another home inside. Love, Gerry

Here in Calgary--a three-hour stopover--I'm studying the maps so later I can escape Dorval in my rented Pontiac as slickly as possible. Will cross the Quebec/Vermont line at Philipsburg instead of the busier Rock Island crossing further east. According to the "Driving Distances" legend on the map, I could make it to Lowell in about 4 hours from Montreal. But that would mean a 9:00 pm arrival. My brother-in-law, from Connecticut, tells me there are plenty of motels along route 93, so I'll likely stop around 7 or 8, catch the Dodgers-Phillies game 5.

Meanwhile, by the end of Part Three of On the Road, Dean and Sal have arrived in New York.

Monday 5 October 2009

Page 93

I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October, says Sal in On the Road. I read this after I bought a plane ticket for Montreal, on my way to Lowell, Mass., for the 40th anniversary of Kerouac's death, October 21.

What do you want to get from that, somebody asked me. I'm not sure but know it's a kind of going home.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

This breeze

Book First of the Prelude (on this windy day, windy enough to force our Leaf caps tighter onto our heads) begins: "O there is blessing in this gentle breeze". The Prelude breeze--not as rough, I suspect, as today's--provides the first-person Sojourner a model of escape from his "vast City". He claims, joyously, that "The earth is all before me", perhaps referring to the 13 Books--or about 250 pages the wind right now wants to free from their binding--after this one.

By line 45 I'm a little tired of this Sojourner voice, although I understand how much he wants to get out of the City to write. What interests me most is Wordsworth's blank verse, which I spent a lot of time working with at Emma Lake and Banff, in my own out-of-City cottages, earlier this summer. Ten syllables per line, beats irregular, unrhymed.

Wordsworth's system allows this: The heavy weight of many a weary day. Instead of: The heavy weight of many weary days and counts harmonious verse (to which our Sojourner looks forward) as four syllables instead of five, the horizon as three instead of four.

Other words like towards (2 syllables, line 67), or memory (2, line 75) or power (1, line 77) could likely give or take a syllable as required.

Such matters would be old hat to the masters, new hat (the Leaf cap Lucy bought me in Toronto) for me with the Stan Still material at Emma and Banff. There the blanking of several poems, but without the Wordworthy caps at the front of every line, seemed a useful editing device, even usefully annoying at times.

Sunday 27 September 2009


Enjoyed the sky along highway 20 on the way to Muenster the other day.

And yesterday here in the city.

Wind warning today, though.

Meanwhile, down here on the ground:

Just back from a Hillsdally (Hillsdaily, Hill's delay). After Paterson, I'm thinking of widening the sweep a little for the Hillsdale book, including notes on jamming a nickel into the window frames last night, the windows rattling; on Lucy's request for the lentil soup recipe; on finding my Banff Artist's Card in my back pocket this morning.

Wednesday 16 September 2009


Last night I hosted an open studio at the Leighton Colony, with my little buddy the marten on the poster--a photo taken just seconds before he tracked down and executed the squirrel living inside my north wall.

About 30 people showed up for the cocktail party/reading, everyone having a dandy time with the wine and cheese (part of it provided by the Leighton program) and chit-chat. As people arrived, I'd greeted them with the standard line my father used to use: I'll pour you the first drink, after that you're on your own. At 5:30, though, I did what goes against the grain of a certain keep-the-party-vibe-going policy I think I learned from dad. I interrupted everyone so I could read a few poems.

The poems, mostly made from images and moments visible or imaginable through the windows around us in the studio, worked fine. Since Robert Kroetsch was on hand, I decided to publically acknowledge my writerly debt to his work by reading one of his poems, "Elegy for Wong Toy", a poem itself about honouring "one of my fathers". That worked pretty well too, I think.

Then back to the wining and cheesing. People gradually drifted off, leaving a hard core of 6 or so. At 7:20 I had to leave for the Wynton Marsalis concert. Turn the lights off and lock up when you leave, I told the rest of them.

At the concert, which was a blast, I ran into the man who was principal of the school where I had my first teaching job, from 1975-78, in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He was a fabulous principal--willing to let me try things, not afraid to let me know if he thought I was getting a little carried away. (I got the sense that W.Marsalis shares that leadership quality. If the rhythm section got a little out of line, he'd just look at them from his trumpet chair and keep on looking until they got back into line.) This man, now retired, Alan Marshall by name, was the model administrator that no one else in my experience has matched. Another kind of father.

After the concert I was roaming around the Banff Centre campus, looking for someone to have a nightcap with. Seeing no one, I thought I'd head into the woods to the studio, do a blog entry or something. Damned if those cocktail partiers weren't still there, having a merry old time, all the booze long since consumed.

Off we went from there. This morning I cleaned up.

I forgot to mention that Andrea Przygonski, a printmater/papermaker from Adelaide, installed one of her stocking pieces in the studio.

Monday 7 September 2009


While I'm putting finishing touches on Natural Cause: The Poems of Stan Still, Stan's looking for his last word, maybe his last word ever. Maybe ever will be that word. (Dad used to end his letters that way: As ever.)

Somewhere through his window, in that sun just rising over the Bow valley, in some post-conceptualist junket, somewhere in his body, in the eyes of three elk cleaning up his apple peels, in the dream of his mother surprising her siblings by showing up at the dinner table, in that next cup of tea--he'll come up with his last word.

I'll give him a week.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

At Banff

My eldest daughter got married last weekend, three days before my drive to Banff. "Will you write about the wedding?" my other daughter asked. Not directly, I said. But I'm here to work on my Stan Still book. Stan might have something to say about the wedding.

Her other comment was about how inspiring Banff must be. That's a topic--inspiration and place--I've been hired to speak about at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild fall conference. No, I'll claim. A mountain view is precisely as inspiring as a dusty campground outside of Brooks, or Level 1 of the parkade at the Banff Centre for the Arts. It's about the way you look, not what you look at, I'll claim. Still, is that sunlight bleeding to the forest floor? My old buddy Marten hooping along a log? A promise of moonlight later?

Tuesday 18 August 2009


I walked over to Marilyn's place this afternoon, pretending it was 1957 and I loved horses.

Marilyn was out riding, as usual. I hung around anyway, pretending her family house wouldn't turn back into a Wascana Centre Authority storage facility.

Pretty soon her family farm on section 5 (township 17, range 19, west of the 2nd) would turn into Hillsdale.

Here is the view across the lake from Marilyn's house.

This would be about as close as I would get to Marilyn today.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

First house, latest shadows

Here's the first house in Hillsdale--6 Scott street, built in 1955, year of the provincial jubilee.

Stucco siding looks old but may not be original. Roof isn't, sidewalk might be.

Superb instance of vintage curb, however.

I'll re-shoot these images without the shadouflage.

Monday 10 August 2009


Had a beer with Mike Trussler the other night.

I enjoy talking to Mike, who knows a lot.

We exchanged updates on various writing projects. In the case of what I'm calling Hillsdale, an Auto-Geography, Mike asked "How will you know when to stop?"

Monday 3 August 2009

What Worked Today

I'd decided to write a piece in, and on, every street in Hillsdale. I didn't have anything in mind for an order, or much in mind at all, really, except the knowledge that whatever project momentum I've built will push through and beyond the next moment of writing.

I'd thought about setting certain formal regularities for all the street pieces--after all, I reasoned, the physical lay-out of Hillsdale was itself highly formalized--but hadn't settled on any. I leaned (not sure why) toward Uhrich Avenue for the first piece, and this morning when I checked my alphabetical listing of Hillsdale streets, I saw that it was the last one. And Anderson, where I'd lived as a lad, was first. Perfect! So there's my order, last to first.

Before I set out for Uhrich, I added Don Kerr's poems (see an entry or two ago in this blog) and Saramago's Journey to Portugal, from which I've borrowed the figure of "the traveller". The plan was to walk, take pictures, look around, then sit in the car at the corner of Uhrich and Bryant (the weather sketchy today) and write, dipping into the books as required.

That I did. One line from page 417 of Journey was enough: "The higher [of two small hills] rises so steeply out of the plain that it looks artificial". As I'd just noted on my walk, Uhrich rises. Uhrich rises--that notion would take me through the next few pages. After that, we'll see, the traveller says.

Thursday 30 July 2009

My Own Places

Add to the list of “Books The Traveller Carried While Writing Hillsdale: An Auto-Geography” Don Kerr’s My Own Places: poems on John Constable, an homage to the 19th-century English landscape painter. “One regionalist discovering another,” as Kerr notes. A beautiful UCalgaryP book from 2006, with several lovely colour reproductions of Constable paintings and drawings. Kerr’s poems take us to Constable and to Kerr, take us out and take us in. They show us how and why Constable “paints [his] own places best,” as Constable noted in an 1821 letter, cited by Kerr as an epigraph to Section 1. And Kerr does this by painting, so to speak, his own places best.

Thus inspired, the traveller spends the morning walking and photographing.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Selected from the "All Titles" menu of Gazelle Book Services, UK distributor for NeWest Press

10 Cash Flow Rules You Can't Afford to Ignore
10 Neat Things About Being a Flower Girl
12 Easy Knitting Projects
13-Moon Diary of Natural Time
14 Tractors
18 Management Competencies
25 Years of Buell
26 Feet to the Charlottes
100 Word Exercises--Punjabi
100 Years of Anne with an 'e'
101 Ideas for Homebrew Fun
300 Golf Solutions

Monday 13 July 2009

I took a walk the other day

I headed north on Spence, turning right into the easement behind Parliament.

Blocked to the north, I turned south.

Then east.

The easement empties into the park behind the swimming pool and skating rink.

Next to my old high school.

My daughter Emmaline joined me for a spell of frisbee.

It's her old high school too.

And we both drive little red cars.