Wednesday 1 December 2010

Poetry Island (2)

Five more gone today, costing us these nuggets: "the priest and the doctor / in their long coats / Running over the fields" (P.Larkin, "Days"), and "When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose" (R.Jarrell, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner").  The only unanimous castaway was Roethke's "Wish for a Young Wife" which begins "My lizard, my lively writher" (oops I thought it said "writer" there for a minute).  That leaves a couple of war poems, a couple of love poems, and "The Sick Rose".

Monday 29 November 2010

Poetry Island (1)

Of the 21 poems we read in the first-year class, 11 were just voted off the island, including two of my favourites, "I Knew a Man" (unanimously) and "Anecdote of the Jar".

Among the casualties, innocent by-standers in banished poems, were "the sadness of pencils" ("Dolor", T.Roethke), "a moonless black, / Deep in the brain, far back" ("Night Crow", T.Roethke), "love's the burning boy" ("Casabianca", E.Bishop), "a boy is shot with England on his brain" ("Invasion Summer", L.Lee), "One-woman waterfall" ("Nude Descending a Staircase", X.J.Kennedy) and, one more time, "I placed a jar in Tennessee ("Anecdote of the Jar", W.Stevens).

Wednesday 24 November 2010

How We Read (Again)

I continue to torture my students by insisting on questions and resisting answers (as if I had many).  The latest sticking point: "Anecdote of the Jar".  Determined not to occupy the one-with-the-answers position, I said nothing at all about the poem before dictating it a line at a time, pausing after each line so students could annotate their reading.  This resulted in much doodling, much "I don't get this" and "I hate this."  That was Monday morning.  By this morning, Wednesday, I'd resolved to continue saying nothing, although I was rather impatient with those kinds of responses and in fact did scold the class, for about 10 seconds, about their own readerly impatience.  Then I read the poem aloud, handed out some blank paper, and asked them to draw the poem.

I've spent the last hour scanning 14 of these into a powerpoint thing to show them on Friday.  Not sure what I'll do after that.  Any suggestions?

Monday 22 November 2010

First-Year Essay Assignment: "Mr. Gatsby's Neighbourhood"

Pretend you are 100 years old, still sharp of mind, living in a wintry prairie city in the present day. Write a memoir of the summer of 1922, when as a 12-year-old you lived near the Jay Gatsby mansion and encountered the characters and events in The Great Gatsby. Your memoir will share what you remember of that summer and will reflect who and where you are right now, perhaps looking out the window of your room or turning the pages of a photo album.

You will have to invent the circumstances of your family’s life near New York in the 1920s. Perhaps they ran a flower shop, or a catering business hired for Gatsby’s parties, or a stable for Tom Buchanan’s horses. Perhaps your parents worked on the trains or as tradespeople. As that 12-year-old, you hung around the shop or area, observing the goings-on and listening to the stories. Your memoir will report on what you remember of those goings-on and stories.

What I’m looking for:
• writing that is deeply coloured by the world of The Great Gatsby,
• the details (details, details) of behaviour and personality an observant 12-year-old notices,
• personality in your speaker (who will be at least partly based, of course, on yourself) who passes judgement, speculates and interprets, expresses things in his/her own way,
• carefully formatted dialogue between yourself and at least one of the characters in the novel,
• the present-tense frame, which can be relatively brief,
• fresh language, varied sentences, paragraphs, and precise punctuation choices,
• about 4 pages, give or take a page—if you’re tempted to write more, don’t! If you can’t “do” the whole summer of ’22 in 4 pages, focus on a single scene.

Thursday 18 November 2010

A Nickname

        The grade four teacher was making a seating plan on the first day of school.  She started at the back of the left-hand row.
        "You," she said, pointing at my friend Larry.  "What's your name?"
        "Gus!" Larry said.  And he's been Gus ever since.

Friday 12 November 2010

The Giller flap

I just want to say I'm disgusted about the criticism of Gaspereau for producing only 1,000 copies a week of the Giller-winning book.  What's the hurry--people will read that book soon enough.  Relax!  Meanwhile, if you've ever picked up a Gaspereau book, like Tim Bowling's The Annotated Bee and Me, you know you've got a gorgeous thing, a triumph of book-maker's craft and art.

And I was disgusted enough about Rabinovitch and his pompous Giller posturing already.  Let me conclude with this: if I ever win the Giller, I'll leave it on J.R.'s table.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

How We Read

I got my first-year English students to read "I Know a Man" by Robert Creeley.

We got into a good-natured scrap.  I resisted readings of "drunk driver" or "drug runners" or "fugitives"; they resisted my apparent refusal to go beyond the sense of dis-ease, confusion, meaninglessness of the speaker as conveyed by linebreaks and other elements.  "Yes, but what is the reason for the meaninglessness," they said.  This went on for a while.

Next class, having been dissatisfied with our discussion, I proposed two vessels, each containing poem.  With the first, we attack with our analytical devices, closing in on the poem, pinning it down.  I drew a lid of this vessel, with arrows pointing in.  The second vessel remained lidless, a bunch of arrows spilling out, accompanied by question marks.  With this vessel, I claimed, we tease the poem open and let it stay that way.  So with "I Know a Man", I went on, let's settle for the questions, without stretching for the answers.

"But what kind of world is filled with confusion and questions," they said.

"Exactly!" I [may have bellowed].  "The world of the poem!  The world "surrounded by darkness"!  Sounds quite a bit like life to me."

"That's an interpretation!" they cried.  "How come you can say that and we can't say it's a drug deal gone bad or a couple of drunks out for a joyride!"

We had smiles on our faces, most of us in the room.  I mumbled something about, well, you're adults, you can do what you want, but on an essay or a final exam you'd better be able to make a case that your reading comes from THE LANGUAGE OF THE POEM and so on.  "We will," they said.  "No worries."

Then I got the best idea yet.  "You know," I said, "I'd prefer a poem like this any day to some poem you can read once and understand forever.  "Tell you what.  Let's turn to the first the war poem listed on that essay assignment.  Let's see which one you prefer."  We read "Arms and the Boy".

Not a bad little poem, I said to myself, after we talked about it a while.  An informal survey: Do you prefer this poem or the Creeley?  Results: Inconclusive.


Sunday 24 October 2010

Laughs 4

I said to them "Write what you mean when you say the word home."

"Sorry, was that home or poem," one of the guys named Michael said.

"Home." Maybe I should have said poem.  Anyway, this wasn't a laugh, strictly speaking, but I think did come from a place of trust where laughs are heard.

Michael R. sits in a cluster of tables that also includes Michael P.  It took me a month to figure out which is which.  Of course, asking them for help was a good idea.  "I'm Michael R. because I'm closest to the door where I can run away," he said.  Michael P., I've learned, is the other one.  He sits with his back to where I am most of the time.  When he turns his neck to say something to me or the rest of the class, the look on his face says good humour and good sense both.

Michael K. sits one table over.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Laughs 3

Today at the start of class I sat there and tried to say nothing.  It soon became funny, the 14 students--one missing, had to finish a project for his Theatre class--expecting me to speak.  Maybe it was nervous, not funny.  But I laughed, they laughed, and we went outside.

I'd gone out two hours earlier to come up with a list of prompts.  Of the ten I came up with, the only one that didn't for a moment catch on in someone's writing, the writers told me later, was Look back across to the university campus. What's going on over there? 

While they were doing that, I worked on my Open Mic intros for tomorrow night in Saskatoon, using the same prompts.

Monday 4 October 2010

Laughs 2

I promised I'd find or create a laugh every class.  Not sure if I laughed this morning, but just before class I got an idea: each person goes outside, collects two leaves, preferably leaves caught in mid-fall from the tree.  Can't be crunchy ones, I told them.  Back they came, with at least two leaves each. 

Next: write one word on each leaf, a word not usually associated with leaves.  What words are associated with leaves, someone asked.  Not "boring" or "stupid activity" or "what is this BS" I said. I asked them to lay out all their leaves in the middle of each table (seven in the room, 38 students). 

Now pretend you're a poet, I said, and put the words together somehow.  Write the result in your journal.  Which they did, a few groups offering their piece to the whole class.  (I couldn't persuade the boys down in table 7 to share their piece, though.  Should I COMMAND them to read theirs? I asked the class.  Yes, command them, was the reply.  I wouldn't do that, I said to the boys, their last chance to offer up their piece, which they didn't take.) 

Now a journal entry, something about leaves or what we've been doing here or what you saw outside.

No laughs, then.  But lots of good spirit and a gorgeous day, leaves ejecting all over the place.

Tuesday 21 September 2010


The essential difference among poultry, pottery, and poetry is that the first two get trucks.  Little white panel truck with a chicken on the side, or that half-cart, half-truck Saramago's potter drives in The Cave.

Once I bought a truck from Barbara Klar.  I was up to Riddell to work with her on a book (hers) in February, damn cold.  Her Datsun truck, an '81 or so, was parked for the winter in deep snow.  We had to haul it out with a tractor, which Barbara's partner drove.

Her Datsun was rusted out, like all Datsun trucks.  But it ran great.  A mechanic said, "Geez, you've kept this truck in good shape."  "Thank you," I said.

I drove it for three or four years.  My daughter Lucy, who was under 10 at the time, and Tom (about 12) climbed in and out of the front seat often, Lucy straddling the gear shift.

After a while it was time to buy an Oldsmobile.  I took possession of an '89 Delta 88 on Valentine's Day, 2001, and drove it to St. Pete's.  Wrote poems in there, motor running.

Monday 13 September 2010


     Defenceman/Forward Gerald Hill announced his retirement from organized hockey last night in Regina.  "I gave away my equipment," he said.  "It was time."

    A lingering knee injury in recent years made the decision easy.  "I waited five or six years, but the knee didn't respond," Hill said.

     Playing parts of 34 seasons, in Calgary, Rocky Mountain House, Nelson, Edmonton and Regina, Hill amassed career totals of 11 goals, 26 assists, and six or seven hundred minutes in penalties.  "That last number is sketchy," Hill said.  "Half the time we had no clock and just guessed."

     But the numbers don't tell the whole story.  Known as "Pylon," Hill made up in physical presence what he lacked in the skills of skating, shooting, and passing.  "The 'new NHL' was the kiss of death for guys like me," Hill said.  "It was all skating and puck movement, like the burger without the beef.  No wonder the coaches stopped calling."

     [This blog entry has been formatted to fit your screen and edited for content, specifically testimonials from Hill's opponents: "Brutal.  Couldn't play worth a shit.  Thought every icetime was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals"  and "Not much of a skater but tough to budge in front of the net" and "With that long stick of his he could hack at you from 14 feet away" and "Took the poor guy half an hour to get his equipment on."]

     Probably most famous for crushing an 8-year-old into the boards of the old rink on the U of A campus, or for assisting on all three goals a one-eyed guy scored in Nelson, or for using the same stick for the last 16 years, Hill can also call upon a slim but potent bank of high points over his career.  Almost single-handedly he repelled a Kinsmen two-man advantage at a key juncture of game in Rocky in '77.  And poor Phil P.--"don't use his full name," Hill told this reporter.  "I don't want to embarrass the guy"--is still looking for Hill's laser-like forehand that beat him high to the glove side from close range out at the Sherwood Twin arena in Regina in '94.

     By the time his career wound down, Hill had put together just the right look out on the ice.  "Modelled after Borje Salming, my favourite player," Hill said.  "Long, blue, white, TWICE as good as anything else out there."

     Could he be coaxed out of retirement with the right offer?  "Coaxed, hmmmm," Hill said.

Friday 10 September 2010

Laughs 1

What a course outline starts to say:

"American Classics" studies three famous American novels narrated by characters who, like the rest of us, want things, make choices, do things, suffer consequences, and figure their worlds out (more or less).  Along the way, the novels offer us glimpses into the wonder of our own worlds. We’ll see what makes these novels “classics”—texts that have had enormous influence and popular staying power over the decades.

"The composition component of the course carries on from English 100. We will focus on selected elements of grammar and mechanics as required. Student writing will be our primary source for both problems and solutions.

"Formal assignments will consist of three essays of about 1000 words each. Other class activities will include lecture (although this will not be a lecture-based class), discussion, frequent journal writing, student presentations, group work, peer editing, informal assignments, and unscheduled quizzes. This is a language class in which plenty of listening, reading, talking and writing will occur, and in which all the elements of language in the worlds around us will be in play.

"Required Texts (buy them now while they’re in stock):
1. Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
3. Kerouac, On the Road
4. a duotang journal"

Three people named Shelby, who didn't know each other, ended up sitting next to each other around the table.  We all enjoyed friendly laughs about having three Shelbys in a row.  The Shelbys laughed too.  If they don't sit together on Tuesday, we might have to make them.

Two of them, it turned out, were named for car designer Carroll Shelby, whose website is titled "An American Classic".

Friday 3 September 2010

Back to ________

Warm, winded, bluer--like leaves I could see out the south window, in other words--is how I felt yesterday morning during a meeting.  Sure, about to wither and fall, get walked on, finally swept up by a noisy machine.  (Duchesa, if you're listening, you can hear the same noise when the gardiner trims grass below your place.)

But I know I'm enjoying myself back at ______ because I lay awake last night.with teaching ideas   And just one chapter of Huck Finn fired me up.  How wise the kid is, how innocent, how much he sees in other people.  Knowing that most students won't have that text with them when my American Classics class opens next Wednesday night, I look forward to reading that first chapter, Huck already wobbling the nature/civilization line.  Laughter shows up more easily in night classes, I think I've learned.  Huck will make us laugh.

Sunday 22 August 2010

August 22

Took a look outside the other day.

Wondered what haze meant.
East on the former 25th. 
By now the smoke from Williams Lake had reached me.
Found the nearest house red,
old Broad street turning.

Friday 6 August 2010

Further to Previous Post

After this brief note I'll insert a photo of a post.

It's about smaller steps now.
Less content, more jump.

Less research, less unit of street.

Might even take a glance, shiver to think of it, south to Whitmore Park or some area with no name at


Tuesday 3 August 2010

Gathering Room

Something about "new enhanced preview" on this blog machine.  That's what Sage Hill did for me--what Daphne Marlatt and the group did. 

I knew I hadn't arrived at the starting line, really, of my Hillsdale book until I'd finished the initial gathering of pieces (later this summer and fall, I'd hoped).  What I mean by starting line is that moment when I begin to zap individual pieces, make them live a little.  I knew, too, that like the folks on that cruiser the other day off Lumsden beach, I was having fun at the surface, not minding the depths.  It was getting sort of automatic. 

Daphne took one look at the 35 or so pages of sample pieces I'd sent her and pointed out, politely, that the language needs a good zapping--the tensions among pieces too--and that the deeper through-line, so to speak, is yet to show itself. 

I told her a little story about the early days of my first creative writing class, with Fred Wah at DTUC in 1981.  I'd handed in the 4th of a series of poems about a guy delivering ice in the Okanagan (my summer job in '81).  Fred said, politely, "Well, it looks as if you've found a lyric voice" which, for Fred, was the faintest of praises indeed.  That is, it was a useful enough achievement for a beginning writer, but he was looking for deeper explorations with language.  I feel the same response from you now! I said to Daphne at Sage Hill.

Of course, that is why I wanted to work with Daphne Marlatt.  Be a student again, tip myself and my work over, get new with my process, etc.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Gardiner Ave.

I've been wondering what to do with words
in relation to photographs

in relation to seeing.

I thought writing on location

would be WRITING on location, not

shooting the puddles, the effects

of overnight rain. I got the idea

from re-reading Gardiner

as rain dreg and going there

to collect what the dregs

might be.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Houses of Haultain 7

Houses of Haultain 7
Originally uploaded by TagHill
Not a great photo--crooked, the light too harsh and all, but I'm going with this blog entry directly from my Flickr site, home of 180 Hillsdale photos, including the seven Houses of Haultain.

What goes on in these houses includes:
Garbage day.
Woman walking by with one child strapped to her chest and at least one more in a stroller wide as the sidewalk.
The sidewalk itself split and lifted.
Just down from here a house for sale. L-shaped living room, a fireplace angled at the crotch of the L, kitchen on the other side of the walls, two bedrooms and a bathroom, basement steps leading down from the back door.
Rain earlier, bright clouds now.

So far I've chickened out, but sooner or later I'm going to use my little digital to compose a panorama, images linked, of this row of houses on Haultain.

But as I say, not when the light's so harsh.

Friday 2 July 2010

Road Trip

In June I drove to Edmonton to see my friends off to Europe.

And catch my son's act at the Edmonton Improv Festival.

He and I walked by our old apartment (top left).

A few days later I slept by my sister's pool in Kelowna.

Under the solstice sky, which had all the answers.

My three sisters and I spent 48 hours down the lake.

I tipped my cap to the sky.

Then I drove home.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Jose Saramago

I dug reading Saramago in Portugal.  Sitting below the statue in Lisbon so prominent in the Ricardo Reis book (the statue that's prominent, not me).  Intepreting with him the Lisbon skies, the streets, the water.  Enjoying the wryness of the voice in any page (any strange Saramago page).  Trying to write like him for the fun of it: _________. Being cantankerous correctly (a sentence he would never write).  I love his respect for Pessoa too.

Fans of fooling with history enjoy his The History of the Seige of Lisbon.  In it a proofreader inserts the word not at a crucial point in a narrative of the Crusaders and the famous seige at the heart of national stories in Portugal.  And falls in love--yes you fans of love, he doesn't forget about you.

The bulk of a Saramago book was a companion the many times I reached into or from my backpack, removing a piece or replacing one.  If I think about what those days were like, five to six months ago already, I think of that fabulous writer.

So he died the other day, had been sick.  It is said that his good-bye was placid and serene.

Thursday 10 June 2010

How I Damn Near Bought a Kayak Last Night

Jubilee avenue was Lake Jubilee when the storm hit.  A couple with my last name, but no relation, had been trying out kayaks during Product Demo nights and had taken one home.

It was a tandem model, perfect for paddling Lake Jubilee, about four feet deep.  At first they kept to the street, that late afternoon, but after a while paddled right up to neighbours' front doors.  "It was tippy," said Gladys later.  "People handed us hot chocolate."

This went on until sundown when they swung the kayak around and tracked north over Langley then west for the last time.

Friday 4 June 2010


This little guy lives closer to hearbeat and breath than most of us.

Monday 31 May 2010

Tomorrow, then. Straight to Jubilee.

I've been wondering for several minutes how to get back to work.  Deleting now about from between minutes and how is as far as I've gone.  And turning up the volume on my random five cds.

Last week I attended my son's convocation in Vancouver.  In breaking our joint two-week abstention from liquor of any kind--this was the night before--we wondered if arbitrary goals meant anything.  Depends on the context in which the goals were set, is the sensible answer, isn't it?  (The process of composing pieces of poetry might be one context for usefully arbitrary goals.  If not, I'm screwed.)

On the way out to Vancouver on the plane, anticipating that conversation (which we'd begun on the phone), I read the June The Walrus cover to cover.  About three quarters of the way through I came across commentary about Micah Lexier that began by quoting Igor Stravinsky.  I didn't write it down--something about the generative and liberating powers of arbitrary goals--but I did clip it and pin it to his bulletin board when he wasn't looking.  (Poor guy--he gave up his bedroom for me and slept on the couch.  Then after work he was heading across the line to the Sasquatch music festival until today.  He won't spot the clipping until tomorrow, I'm guessing.)

So, I know my Hillsdale work is not done until, among other things, I've written on location on every one of its streets.  I'm working backwards alphabetically; a version of K, for Knowles, is my May 20 blog entry.  What I particularly like about that idea is that it ends with Anderson, my boyhood home, where we moved in '61.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Crude Audio

Four times I walked the path through the woods between the Emma Lake Art Camp and Fern's Grocery at Murray Point last June.  For fun, I had my Sony mp3 recorder running.  The result is four tracks averaging 11-12 minutes each--mainly footsteps and birdcalls.

In case you listen to these tracks, using the link to the right, you may want to know that the "Brando" talk refers to the last in a series of poems set in Stan Still's cabin at Emma Lake.  Everyone at the party--one of my grandfathers, Virginia Woolf, Robert Kroetsch, Jack Kerouac, a monk from St. Peter's Abbey, Ella Fitzgerald and Marlon Brando--was alive at least between 1927 and 1930.  On the day of the four walks I'm musing about how to make the Brando piece (which I'll record and add to the site later).

If you're a writer friend who likes birds, you'll hear your name mentioned during the third and fourth walks.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Fire Two

The day the fire ban is announced, the traveller lights a fire--tricky enough to do in wind, mid-May--and places a cage over his pit.  He burns scraps of cedar lattice and a Corn Flakes box.  New leaves are about to touch from trees on either side of Knowles.

Some citizens, he reads, don't want fires.  Enforcement will be funded, tickets issued, hours restricted.
For this, says the traveller, laying on three more foot-long strands of lattice.  And this (looking around).

He adds elm bark, maple twigs--Hillsdale's finest.  A robin leaps to the garage roof, hops along and heep heep heep disappears.  This is "fire cage brass wind fence treeblow page sun behind a cloud" stuff, the traveller argues.  Why would you want to legislate against the joys of May?  Why not go straight to December?

But he's not going to push it.  He does add one log.  He'll orchestrate its demise and that'll be that.  With no more fires he'll have to remember this one, a flame about the size of a flowerpot.  In this sharp west wind, you'd have to be straight east to smell it.  Or right beside it, your skin smokey and your fingers charred.
Result one: The Traveller speaks out against over-regulation in municipal government.
Result two: He's still sitting there, red bench beside the fire.
Result three: He stirs and pokes with a stick.  His eyes-sting count is about six.
Result four:  For two ants approaching the char, this is Mount or Moment Doom.

Fire One

The Leader-Post reports Community and Protective Services Committee Chairman Mike O'Donnell observing that "now we can all go out and enjoy the summer, I hope."  They're clamping down on firepits in the City of Regina.

Whose summer is that--his? 

I'm going to a firepit I know and lighting a fire right now.

Monday 17 May 2010

Coming Out of the Royal Bank

I met Gord this morning, father of an old marching band mate.  Gord and his son, who sold their farm just southeast of Regina three years ago, were two of my technical advisors for 14 Tractors.  (It was Gord who told me he'd combined a skunk one harvest, among other tales.)

I've noticed that every time I read from that book, as I did the other night in Rosthern, people come up and tell me more tractor stories.  If I ever write another tractor book, I say to them (not that I have any intention of doing so), that's the kind of stuff I'll use

For sure I'd use some version of my conversation this morning with Gord.  He showed the the cane he was using.  I had a knee replaced, he said.  Hurts like hell.  You know what a sign on the wall of the doctor's office said?  "EXPECT PAIN"!  We talked a while about arthritis.  Remembering that Gord was the one who'd told me that farmers tend to suffer more hearing loss in one ear than the other, I suggested that his knee deterioration might likewise be related to that certain repetitive twisting motion (see 14 Tractors, page 59).  I think it's from 60 years of pushing in the clutch, Gord said.

Sunday 16 May 2010

At the Broadway Cafe

It feels like travel, this wee trip to Rosthern and Saskatoon. Last night, opting for the country motel experience, I bought a room at the Parkland in Rosthern after the Sask. Book Awards roadshow group reading at the beautiful Station Arts Centre. At the end of a gorgeous day, the night was lovely—open, fresh, a slip of new moon.

The motel room, though, would have been a downer after a travel day in Portugal. The hot water worked, and the wireless connection. As for bed, pillows, thin walls, all-round smell—well, I was up and out of there by 6 this morning. Next stop, Saskatoon, where I’ll be leading a writing group workshop starting in an hour. That has given me plenty of time to drink tea in cafes and overhear conversations (of a bunch of Asian folks—the one word I understood was “Blackberry”) and watch pelicans.

And watch pelicans. Shiny white below the weir on the South Sask. this morning, diving in pairs but not catching much, as far as I could tell. Through my Eddie Bauer binocs, one of them looked like my landlord—that tuft of hair sticking out the back.

“If you give it all up, where will you go,” Dave Carpenter (part of the SBA roadshow) asked me after the reading last night. I’d told him a bit about my euro trip and how I haven’t done much since. “Don’t know. Somewhere with a more moderate climate” was how I answered him.

For now, I'm hanging at that Nutana hotspot, the Broadway Cafe, admiring the tea, the overheard conversations (“They don’t even want to talk to me” / “Well now that you’re working it’s more of an investment decision” / “I thought of all my old buddies but . . .”), the pelican, the six hours of poetry talk ahead. After that (as the Asian guy answers his Blackberry) I’ll catch the Habs on tv—last night one of the roadshow readers pulled a Habs jersey from her bag and put it on before beginning to read; Go Leafs, I hollered—watch the sun go down, get up tomorrow and go visit my grandson Davey (he’s turned me into a non-stop singer/hummer). Put a period at the end of one sentence, start another.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Ideas That Didn't Work (yet, anyway)

A "Regina By the Sea" thing, photos of every commercial operation here that begins with the word Sea--this after spotting the "Sea Breeze Laundry" on Dewdney.

(Pause here to remember the potato breeze of the Hawthornden kitchen where our clothes dried.)

But the Sea Breeze is the only one ("Seaboard Insurance" turning out to be a subsidiary of another business).

Housework.  Great for focussing attention on anything else, like this blog entry.

Tom's coming home this weekend and I'm hosting the family Mother's Day brunch.  (Quiche Lorraine x 3, here we come--with bacon, pancackes, fruit and some kind of sweet cake Emmaline and Allen are bringing ("sweet cake" not code for Davey, their new son).)

"Hockey" as the first word of the latest in a series of imaginary pubs ("Pub Scrawl") I started at Hawthornden.  The Back Inn, this one might be called, as if it's got about getting back somehow.  Hockey in every direction, for starters.  Perhaps this leads to talk of service and Euro cafe/pub culture and, before too long, to something else.

Something beginning with duck, as in

I spotted a duck
on the corner of Bryant
and Munro--a duck and an Old
Dutch bag and a grey squirrel.
The duck didn't mind a Ford turning right,
didn't mind me watching.
He sipped from a puddle, walked into
the lawn at 106 Munro.
Since then he's memory, that sure of himself.
[then something or other from the spot where
this is remembered] I recommend the duck,
the lone duck making afternoon
like pepper in a shaker made of glass.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

A Line (I'd String If I Had Some)

I like to say to writing students:

"Keep the line (which has movement)
from breaking down and becoming
a hole into which we sink
decoratively to rest" (W.C.Williams)

after which I've heard myself say:

If the poem doesn't have action in the lines
it doesn't have much.

[to the tune of the Sibelius 4th on CBC]

as if poems should have.

Sunday 2 May 2010


Can you think of a less interesting title?  +21 in Lisbon today, that warm in London the week I was there.  Only +5 in Regina today.  Snow would have fallen, but the season beat it back just enough to keep it at rain, and a light one at that.

Twenty to nine, light still haunted a night-time sky.  I do believe we've beaten winter at last.

Tonight I'm wearing one of the shirts I bought in London.  First I walked Notting Hill Road in shiny blue running shorts with a bright red running shirt.  Not even my sexy Spanish sandals and my flat cap from Lisbon could save that get-up, which I was sure people gawked at from the top of the double-decker buses.  Later that day I visited the nearest clothing store, a Gap, and bought three shirts and a pair of non-shiny shorts, which I was prepared to wear out of the store, forgetting about the security fitting clipped onto the right leg.

The shirt worked with my new grandson, who was fussy until I picked him up, wrapped him up tight, and left him no choice but to wave his eyes over the vaguely hallucinogenic pattern I was wearing.  He dropped off soundly to sleep.  (Not to give all the credit to my shirt--I was humming a down-tempo version of "Please Please Me" at the time.)

This baby doesn't know it yet but he's born into an uncivilized climate.  Today I lead a Jane's Walk through it, talking about Hillsdale.  And tomorrow I get to work after an unmotivated week at home after my travels, weather promising.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Hillsdale by the Sea

If that's the title, a traveller remembers watching in any direction to the sea.  Sometimes, as in the Guadiana at Vila Real de Santo Antonio or the Tagus at Lisbon, he watches a river, calling it sea, which it is within a mile or two.  Everywhere he walked was toward the sea . . .

This remembering goes on overlooking a hotel parking lot at the west edge of Hillsdale (not counting, the traveller adds, the western sky, just now retired into dark).  Wind blows in his open windows.

21 in Lisbon today, the same in Hillsdale.  As he would have done at the bottom of Alfama, across from the Lisbon waterfront, the traveller today found a cafe for a cup of tea.  He read the paper, which probably would have been a day old Guardian or Telegraph over there, by the sea.

In either place there was all sorts of remembering, broadly understood as a matter of invention, which might turn up in this paragraph once it's longer.

After that the traveller goes home, where he misses sea the most and, as if denying his sense of loss, watches hockey on tv.

Pigeon Update

Many of you have asked for
a pigeon update.  (As you may recall,
I called them "rock doves" until
my birder friend said "they're pigeons".)
(They were taking over.  I rigged up lights,
electric prods, a track of nails.  I sent away
for netting and fibreglass spurs meant to burst
to sharp pieces next to birds.  But when it came
right down to it I had to wreck a home by
picking up an egg and chucking it, then fighting off
the mother for a while.  I guess they were
discouraged after that.)

They didn't arrive this spring, at least into
Sector 25, where I've had to lay off night
staff, Perimeter Unit.

Makes for a dulll evening until
T. and L. and L. show up
and I try out Belen's paella
(with chicken, Duquesa) and regret
not buying saffron in Spain.

Friday 23 April 2010

Getting There

You’re a couple from far away, on a hot afternoon. You stare out the window of a hotel shuttle bus from Pearson airport in Toronto but don’t see much beyond the freeways of the place, its sky everywhere.

You hope that the bus is heading in the right direction and will stop at the right time, that you replied correctly to “You don’t have a ticket, correct?” (the bus driver offering this in a loud voice, smiling, one eye on the other passengers), that your hotel reservation holds, that the water is hot and the bathrooms clean (that you have a bathroom in the first place), that somehow you can get some food.

Arrival is easy when you know the place. In my case, the shift from the British Airways 767--pause to acknowledge that I showed up at Heathrow yesterday with an Air France reservation, which they’d cancelled on me--to my hotel room in Toronto with a slice of pizza in one hand, the first of two Blues in the other, and the Globe in the one after that was so smooth that I’m not sure it happened. (Except that just now, next morning, I phoned back to the hotel about what I’d left behind.)

Yes, and knowledge is easy when you know. We don’t label our street corners, our trains (oh right, we have no trains), in general our systems and procedures for everything from shopping for groceries to unlocking doors, for people who are new to them.

I feel for the young man I saw this morning check in at WestJet. He checked a mammoth hockey bag and a backpack the size of a barrel. That left him with a smaller suitcase on rollers, a smaller backpack, a camera bag, and his jacket. Approaching the counter, he had to walk backwards to manage it all.

If he’s by himself when he arrives, I hope he finds his way.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Now on to the Henry Moore Show at the Tate

Just now I ate the hottest curry ever, the Thai Jumbo Chicken Curry at the Shannon on Portobello Road, London.

"Another napkin, please," I called out at one point.  "Better make it two."

The barmaid gave me three.  "Hot!"

"I like it that way, though," I said, slumping back to my table, eyes watered, nose running.  I felt a bright red.

A pint of Guiness and a glass of water--absolutely essential for that curry enterprise.  In fact, "Another Guiness," I said to the publican.  "Have you tried that curry?"

"No, I've not tried it," he said.

"Make sure you've a Guiness in front of you when you do," I told him.

We made small talk about the red-cross-on-white flags I'd observed the barmaid tack up.  "St. George's Day tomorrow," the publican said.  "Like Aussie Day, St. Patrick's . . . ".

I tell you, that curry sent a flame through my systems.  If I make it through this Guiness, I may need another.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

One Afternoon in London

Riding the top front of the red double-decker but up to Camden Town to look for the taxidermist shop used in The Man Who Knew Too Much—a Fellini-esque scene in which Jimmy Stewart, realizing he’s wrongly accused the proprietor of kidnapping, tries to escape the grasps of the shop workers, in the process inserting his right hand into the mouth of a stuffed lion—I damn near fried in the hot sun.

Just now, seated in one of a hundred sling-back lawnchairs under that same sun in Green Park:

Him: I need to charge for use of the chair, sir.
Me: Pardon?
Him: You have to pay to use the chair, sir.
Me: Are you serious?
Him: Yes I am, sir.
Me: Why?
Him: It’s not a free chair, sir.
Me: How much?
Him: One pound fifty.
Me: (smiling, handing over coins) It’s just a chair in the sun.
Him: (smiling, handing over receipt) Thank you, sir.

Sunday 18 April 2010

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The black shine of a pistol barrel pokes out from behind red velvet curtains at the Royal Albert Hall. A visiting royal is to be shot at the precise moment a cymbal crashes during the performance of a Bernard Herman oratorio. The McKennas, played by James Stewart and Doris Day, have blundered onto the plan, trying to rescue their son from the would-be assassins.

Doris Day spots the gun barrel and sees its target. She screams a moment before the cymbal crash. Startled, the assassin misses, and is himself killed—he falls to his death—when the police rush into the box he’d occupied with his near-sighted accomplice who’d been following the score.

The other morning I was thrilled to visit the Albert Hall and see I saw where this all happened.  Why not, I reckoned, look for the rest of the London locations for the Hitchcock film.  First, the taxidermist shop said in the film to be at 61 Burdette Street.  There is no Burdette Street, but an actual taxidermist shop at 61 College Street was used.  I went there.  Torn down, replaced by an apartment block.  Next the Anglican church which in the film is located in Bayswater on Ambrose Street.  No Ambrose Street, but an actual church was used.  I went there--the church is in Brixton, not Bayswater.  Torn down. 

But this weekend I'll view an early Hitchcock film, The Lodger, outdoors near where much of it was shot in the 1930s.

Unless KLM puts me on a flight by then to replace the one they cancelled because of the ash.

Thursday 15 April 2010

What I’m Packin’

I took a picture of my shoes just now. A silly thing, no doubt. As if the work of the day was done, the can of Tennent’s opened, the pantlegs rolled up.

I give myself a 95 for decisions on what to bring with me on this trip of a hundred days, a 98 for the footwear—the Blunnies and my dad’s old slippers, topped up with the sandals from Santander once the Euro winter backed off.

I added a sweater, two t-shirts, four or five pairs of socks, one pair of pants from the high-end nautical wear shop in Vigo, and a travel mouse for my netbook. 85 for all that. Longjohns, bathers, shorts—not worn often but handy at times, 89. Nylon rain jacket and three umbrellas lost, wrecked or left behind, call that 80. Plastic accordion document file (full), new netbook, Tupperware box of office supplies, 99. Camera, thera-band, clothesline and pegs, deck of cards, mink oil for the Blunnies, duct tape, jackknife (in case I need to start a tractor), pillowcase/laundry bag, two books (Paterson and The Given), th’underwear—also 99.

By now I’ve sent home three boxes of stuff, a hundred bucks in postage. When I pack Friday to leave Saturday morning, with four days to spend somewhere, I should be able to more or less toss it all in my bag and backpack, no worries.

Going shopping in Edinburgh tomorrow though.

Monday 12 April 2010

Spring Healing

I see the skin on the back of my left hand is healing.

Sometimes when you call a plumber it’s a couple of days before he/she can get out to the house, and in the meantime (“in between time’, as the popular song would say next) you leak, you stay split, you make a mess all over, you start to think maybe this is the way it’s going to be.

Same with the back of my hand after I spilt hot water on it. Red. A deeper red, almost a crimson bruise. A dried, weathered look, like some old fence I’d never get around to mending. I asked the Tassie woman who lives next door if she had anything for it. “Here,” she said, handing me a bottle of good scotch.

Only took an hour or two, the hand feels much better. Next: the knee.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Who’s this moving alive over the moor?”

“All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings” writes Alice Oswald as a preface to her beautiful new book, Dart, from Faber & Faber, a book/poem set on the river near where she lives in Devon. The mutterings—fragments of human voices, history, river culture, close observation of the river itself in continuous flow—stay true and quick, in language with muscle and snap all the way through.

The ending might be a tad over-defined, in my opinion, but I’ve added Dart to the list of books the traveller carries, in the form of place = form of poem section, next to Steveston.

And with a draft of my Hillsdale book complete, for now, I’m moving on to a series of imaginary real pubs, beginning (as much as any idea “begins”) yesterday with a visit to the Polton Arms, this morning with the dream pub, this afternoon with a bus ride into Edinburgh.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Getting There

86 pages off the top of the deck of the old printer at Hawthornden today, April 1, no joke—that’s the (in)complete first draft of Journey to Hillsdale, An Auto-Geography.

Far from a book, even if someone decides to publish it eventually, with much yet to see, write, photograph, figure out and revise, the thing has barely reached the launch pad, never mind the blasting off. Still, I’m happy to have come this far, having left for Portugal with 130 pages of single-spaced fragments, 150 pics, and the thickest wad of photocopied material I had room for in my bag.

Get me back to Hillsdale, maybe by the end of the summer I can finish a second draft. In the meantime, you’re all invited to the Jane’s Walk I’m leading on Sunday, May 2.  Details to follow.
Now, time for a little mischief.
Later: I kidnapped her lunch, that Aussie rotter of a neighbour, and came back to find that she’d kidnapped mine.

Monday 29 March 2010

How Would Little Larry Get the Manhole Cover Off?

I met a man and woman yesterday on the path from Roslin to Polton. “Do you mind if I ask where we are,” the woman said, holding out her map. I showed her: across the North Esk from Hawthornden house. “That’s where I started,” I said, “and I’ve looped around through Roslin to where we are now.” At that she paused, glanced at her husband, and said, “Well, we’ve just come from Roslin. One of us is terribly wrong ” We shrugged, laughed, wished each other well, and carried on in opposite directions.

I was the wrong one. Let’s forget the details, noting only that by the end of the afternoon I’d walked miles—most of them in exactly the wrong direction, over significantly uneven terrain, and in the rain. I never did find my way home, only to a pub in Roslin, which became my instant home, what with excellent pints of Tenant’s, a Liverpool-Sunderland footie match on tv, and a bar matron who, having touched my sleeve and remarked, “Oh luv, you’re soaked”, said I’d take a taxi home and she’d call one for me right now.

For the second time on my recent travels, then (the other time in Vigo), I’ve made a series of right/left decisions that have been precisely correct, but 180 degrees wrong. As if my private gyroscope, until now a source of pride, has tipped or gone away.

So, in the next sentence or two either I add that to the breakdown ledger known as my body, or I find “lost” in my body of work these days, my auto-geography of Hillsdale, as in, people used to get lost all the time finding their way to our place amid the crescents and drives and cul-de sacs so favoured by 50s-era urban subdivisions, requiring elaborate sequences of directions, often administered by dad over the phone to relatives who’d given up and pulled into the Esso on Albert, or the time my son Larry, who must have been 6 or 7 at the time (one long-time Hillsdalian told me), disappeared in the afternoon. We couldn’t find him—where the heck is he? F. and I checked with the neighbours. I even took the manhole cover off at McNab and Jubilee in case he was down there. In the end we found him sleeping in his own room.

Friday 26 March 2010

A Thousand Years, My Rear End

“Rained all night,” says one of my breakfast companions at Hawthornden. “I wonder if the Picts built fires in their caves, or thought the caves were enough?” (The Picts (for those like me who didn’t know) were pre-Celtic people “of uncertain antecedents” who ruled, if not terrorized, most of Scotland for more than a thousand years, harassed the Romans and the Britons, were eventually Celticized, Christianized, and confined until “nothing more was heard” from them after 844 AD.)
We’d toured their caves upon arrival here at Hawthornden Castle, more a great house built onto the remains of a castle, that had been built of sandstone on an impressive jut of stouter rock, in which last night the Picts may or may not have huddled in their caves out of the rain.

The Picts where short folk. For me, not so short, a tour of their caves meant dodging both the puddles of water and the stone roof. I spent the whole time stooped over with my hands on my knees. This is how they lasted for a thousand years, I reckoned. No one else could stand more than two minutes in one of their caves.

“It’s thought,” says my companion, “the Picts were covered with tattoos, or painted themselves blue. Imagine, running naked across the heather, painted blue.” Well that would be fine, it seemed to me. There’s room in the caves to paint yourself blue.

Living up in the house/castle has been something of a Pictish cave-tour experience in some ways. I can’t fit my knees under the breakfast table. The climb up the spiral staircase to the top floor is a little like feeding a long towel through a wringer washer. And if I want all of my body, including the top third, under the shower nozzle, I have stoop and squeeze, without extending my rear end through the shower curtain where it might drip water onto the floor and from there, as the sign says, go “underneath the lino and cause problems below”.

But the prize—richer than rain, brighter than fog, lead-glazed glory for a man’s rear end—is pictured here: