Monday 26 December 2011


The more I understand my own writing practice, the more I'm grateful for the first three words (after a colon) of W.C.Williams' Paterson: "a local pride". The closer we attend to the local--a landscape, a socio-political context, a history, an interior system--the wider our work will reach.
Lots of artists have worked out (of) their own local. In the case of Williams, it was the New Jersey city of Paterson, his lifelong local, which spreads behind his hilltop perch in the photo opposite the title page in my edition of |Paterson. In the case of Vancouver photographer Fred Herzog, it's "Granville Street from Granville Street", "CPR Pier & Marine Building", "Hastings at Columbia 2" and so on.
My son Tom's an artistic guy--an improviser, sketch comedy writer, performer and producer who in many ways digs the local in Vancouver. He and I caught a Herzog show in Vancouver last year, and I thought he'd like Fred Herzog Photographs for Christmas. The grit and colour aesthetics of it, the reading of an entire world in a pair of orange cars on Powell or a tableau of real estate ads. I ordered the book for him.
So there we were yesterday, Christmas morning. Tom handed me a present the size of a large box of chocolates, weight of a tray of drinks. I had no idea what it was until I got to the cover--a wide view of an Asian couple about to cross Alexander Street in Vancouver--of Fred Herzog Photographs.
A gorgeous book. Thanks, Tom!

Monday 19 December 2011

I Case Anyone Asks Me About My Teachers

I guess I go way back with teachers. Mrs. Campbell, in grade 1, drew a chalk circle an inch above my nose-height and made me stand there with my nose stuck in it. I forget what I'd done but could make something up, I suppose (I'd slugged Betsy Benny in the shoulder). I've told that story before, but no one has ever believed me. Not sure that I would myself.
Miss S. in grade 2 was a babe, no other way to put it (could again make something up: her first name was Rose). When we got to the classroom the night of the Christmas concert, we found a new phonics workbook on every desk, and the desks themselves renewed.
And so on through the grades. Skip ahead to grade 9 and Mrs. K, another babe, who lived in the same decade as her students, it seemed, which made her coolest by far.
I remember Mrs. Cohen at U of C music ed class, asking us to make noise and record it and compose with it. I reached back, don't know what made me do it, to the back panel of an electric piano, one of seven or eight in the row behind mine. I rubbed along, pulling a groan louder than the other noises. For her, that was a good thing. She was a serious creative spirit

Thursday 15 December 2011

"Steps to Writing a Fresh Expository Essay"

Avoid excessive words and ideas.
This sentence is very long.
Make note of any rampant thoughts.

Take a seat and form these thoughts.
Do not hesitate to get into the simplest of things in a magnified manner.
Do not say, "Sally ran away."

Instead say, "Sally turned on her heels and bolted."
Nix the clutter.
Drug dependency is never good, even for a writer.

Your cat, dog, hampster, infantile sister or brother will do nicely as long as they cannot talk.
Be an artist.
Feeling ashamed while expressing our thoughts will turn into our fatal wound.

For someone to be a dipstick means that they were dipped in a pool of idiocy.
If you notice an impressive sentence, why not write one just like it?
Say as little as possible, while suggesting as much as possible.

Now the cart is groaning.
Pick up a pen or pencil, simple as that.
Take full advantage of your reader.

Thursday 8 December 2011


One of my students wrote sentence composure instead of sentence composition.

When thinking about how they read or write, some students don't know what words to use. But they don't mind the attempt.

Discoveries abound. For some students it doesn't take much, just an invitation.

Some students have realized that if they can't get beyond terms like deeper meaning and line-by-line they haven't thought hard enough.

Some students disclosed, in cautious tones, they might switch majors to English.

The more they learn to write, the fewer words they use.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Further Idea

Seems a bit sappy the way I wrote it, that first one. (No need to comment to this post, confirming what I just said.) I think we all benefit from an opening of expectation maybe challenge. One student--it's becoming a running gag--will comment frankly on what she thinks of the assignment. Everyone will laugh, knowing what she means, but find themselves--this is my dream for you, I'll say, another running gag--embracing the task. Fun for me, at least, to see how deeply they commit to it.

Wednesday 23 November 2011


56 minutes ago, during a trip to the men's can, I got an idea for the class I was heading to. In the classroom, I asked about half the class to step outside. Be with you in a minute, I said. I asked those remaining to respond in writing to What have you done that's risky? while, I explained, their classmates would be watching them write.

I left the room to speak to the others. Instructions: observe the writers without interfering in what they're doing. What are they doing? What body language, what expression, what other behaviours, perhaps symptomatic of what internal processes? Then we all went inside and stood around the room, watching . After 5 minutes or so we switched, the former writers leaving the room while I told the former observors to address this question: What do men/women/boys/ girls/males/females [pick one] want? The new observors came in. This time, after 3 minutes or so, I signalled for them to move around among the writers (who, in this classroom, sit at one of 7 clusters of chairs and tables).

During discussion afterwards, someone asked why I had wanted to do this. To help you think about your last essay, I said. (The last assignment asks them to compose an informal essay reflecting on their own reading and writing practices.)

I don't know if it was a help or not, but I did like the discussion of how we create mini caves with our writing posture, curled over the page. And how we're voyeurs when we watch someone write. (I've always said watching a room of students writing is a beautiful thing. Tender, even. Like watching someone sleep.)

As for the reading side, we've already gone through the "difficult poem" notion and how it forces us to confront how we read. (See Charles Bernstein, for one, on this.)

Anyway, it's fun. Keeps the students guessing.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Business in Vancouver

Not with Jane, my old team-mate, who wouldn't come down from her 22nd-floor apartment until she spotted me arriving at the U of A diamond with the bats and balls; or Bill, who drove his Suzuki bike off the road near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, with me on the back; or Fred or Daphne, my teachers; or Miranda, who felt my broken foot at Emma Lake; or Natalie, a double for Christina Hendricks of Mad Men; or Donna and Al, bridge partners in Port Moresby long ago; or Calvin, co-leader of Hawaiian Howard and the Indoor Plants, Nelson, B.C., 1981-82; not CP locomotive 3009 in the Gastown yard, November 19, 2011, 9:11 a.m.--my business is with my son Tom. Birthday business, he's 25. Last night was the pub crawl through Gastown, today the shopping.

First I had to get down to the water.

Monday 14 November 2011


Trying to think of topics for my students to write with. Don't care for the word, though, preferring to-pick, as in let's generate things to pick from. A new CBC Writes prompt, for instance. I know the topic is obvious but for my purposes that's the challenge: to write it fresh.

I've long wanted to do something with luck, what happened to me a while ago, rolling a pair of 6s to get out of a jam on the backgammon table. It brings out the worst in people, either that or the best. Humility's good for us, right? I had my first-year class writing on luck a month or so ago. I forget why, but one guy put up his hand to remind us of his name, Chance.

In another class, 16 of us (including me) will each contribute a photograph, and a page or two of prose to go with it, to a class anthology called (Catching a) Glimpse. Also obvious but, again, a useful challenge to get at in fresh ways. I'm thinking of the photo of two sisters and me on the back step in Herbert taken, no doubt, by the third sister, the oldest, who was often cursed with the privilege, as she tells it, of babysitting the rest of us. (The anthology title comes from the common insistence around the writing table that you can't glimpse without catching one, usually out of the corner of you-know-what.)

As for the third class, while I'm at it here--they're in the middle, I hope, of an essay that begins here/now, when and wherever that might be, and wanders off.

These ideas, so simple written down, aren't easy for some students.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Billy Collins' Paradelle

Coming across Collins' "Paradelle for Susan" in the Penguin anthology I'm using in my first-year class, I grouped it with other poems in a love poem batch. It turned out to be a hilarious poem to read aloud. I insisted on sharing the pleasure; eventually five or six students read the poem after I did, and we laughed every time. In the love poem context, what we came up with was that the swings between logic and illogic in the poem were, I guess, like love itself. But personally I'm more interested in the laughs.

Just now I was looking for a recording of the poem. I couldn't find one. I did find surprise, however: the poem is a hoax Collins is playing, which doesn't surprise me, now that I've found out about it.

You can read about all this for yourself, and enjoy it I hope. Whatever you do, make sure you read it aloud, preferably in an intimate moment.

And I stand by what my class and I came up with.

Sunday 30 October 2011

New Business

Or other. I'll show you a photograph later but for now a guy's working inside by natural light, late October.
It's Sunday.

Not that he wants a new sign.
He wants it to mean something new.

Today for once the second
movement not the choral
of Beethoven's 9th gets him.

The sign reads the same from both ways.

Thursday 20 October 2011


What a relief to find out that another publisher has rejected my Natural Cause: The Poems of Stan Still. Until then I'd been dreading the writing, as a post to this blog, of an open letter to Regina and area writers who did not show up for even an hour or two to the Saskatchewan Writers Guild conference in Regina last weekend. Even if the conference is expensive (I would have said); even if you have historical, unresolved grievances with the Guild; even if the sessions didn't seem that interesting--no matter, as an organization that has affected your writing career for the better, even if you're new to writing, it deserves your support, at least an hour or two of your time. My reasons for saying that are partly selfish (I would have gone on to say): I missed the pleasure of your company, the stimulation of your ideas.
Instead of such an entry, thank goodness, I have to deal with rejection. But there is no deal with rejection. It gets everything, I get nothing.
I guess that all belongs to yesterday, because today in the mail came word that one of Canada's loveliest chapbook publishers wants to do a chapbook of my Hillsdale material--a dozen or so of the streetpieces, as I call them, written on location in Hillsdale. I'm delighted.
But poor Stan.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Damn, the leaves were right again today.

I handed back the writing they'd done from a leaf with a word on it.
I got an idea for a later assignment: reflect on the assignments, your approach to each one, whatever you came up with, and the grading of each one. Make that your essay.

Good one for me to write too.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Saturday Afternoon

That thump was not west wind on the storm window it was my skull on my stained pine desk at the end of Keith Jarrett playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on his La Scala disk. By the time he reaches that final plink I've spent a few years gone.

Those essays I was talking about (an entry or two ago) that began with a word on a leaf--so far I don't know what the hell the word was in each case but man, they went for it. The question is, how well. If that seems an inpertinent question, spare a kind thought for yours truly, who must come up with a grade.

Now I'm worried that readers of this entry--hello aunt Martha and uncle Mart--might wonder if I know what I'm doing, assigning that kind of work. (Keep reading!) It's just as easy or hard to grade as anything else. Some writing not only gets a fresh idea but finds a fresh way to say it. That's in the 80s at least (as always, depending on things like punctuation choices) With others it's one of the two, usually the first. 70s or 80s. It goes down from there.

It seems to be about challenging these skilled writers. Come up with an idea, get them to try it. See how well they do.

It's trying to get them to go to an open field.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackird

I can't possibly add anything to the miles already written about this fabulous poem. But I'd capitalize the a in At. Makes the looking more pointed perhaps.
For me the easiest way into this poem over the years has been via the word imagination (and I'll try to cut down on the italics from now on). The sheer opening. Anything a sky can do, that poem can do.
I'll try to convey all that to my writing class this afternoon, before assigning them an essay made from the poem, or not from the poem exactly but the looking at the poem performs. Thirteen ways of looking at a lamp, maybe (the lamp by the window). I'd like to hold my students to 13, too, not just 5 or 6.
I can't spend much more time talking about this poem, except for a word--equipage--and the name of my favourite band--the Bawds of Euphony. And now that I think of it, maybe the upper-case Looking is enough; it's more open.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Specific Word

One of my students, asked to find a suitable leaf and write on it a single specific word--stubbornly concrete and particular was how one of the essays in our text put it--wrote the word "time".

Another student, after drawing that leaf from a paper bag passed around the table, said "time", hm.

He grew silent. The next five or six classmates weren't keen either. About half way around, one tossed down the bag and said let's write new words. Which we did, quicker this time.

The words became objects, in other words, that would better serve as prompts for six or seven hundred words of prose.

I drew wooden spoon. So far my essay reads my teaching practice in the spoon. It could just as easily read the open 6th-floor lounge of Lloyd Hall at the Banff Centre, already three weeks past. Time has a way, all right.

Friday 23 September 2011


The problem with an original assignment (which in this case I got from a book) is that its demands and effects become evident only after, sometimes, the writing is done. Some around the reading of it, not unconnected to the grading.

Students find this unfair, if grading standards are retrospective rather than prior in application, which I have to watch out for (or as Don Cherry would say, to the college grad hockey player at training camp who said "Coach Cherry, you can't end a sentence with a perposition": "Ok, 'which I have to watch out for' you asshole").

Students enjoyed writing the voice of a coach instructing and inspiring his/her players at half-time (but does Cranium have half-times?).

Trouble is, they wrote the voice and didn't speak it.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Geometry Sets

(after comment by Hawksley Workman, 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, guest-hosting for Molly Johnson)

If you saw your friends with
the latest geometry set
you knew they'd talked
their parents into it

or something along those lines was the comment Workman made, and he's right. We needed those oblique accessories like a golfer needs the wider bag. Those mini pencils, size of a bullet. We needed fine muscles on the upper tenth of thumb and index finger on in my case the right hand. For running the compass. And of course with the protractor (or proto-tractor), properly deployed, you were at the one true center, where the shadow meets the wall, the yellow leaf the green.

Friday 2 September 2011

Decisions Writers Make

Already the topic is too small. I've claimed for several years now that every book I write becomes another hit of The Man from Saskatchewan. If it is, my current book-to-be (some publisher willing)becomes Book Five of The Man. What showed up at 8:45 this morning was the idea that current work will take up more than one book, perhaps requiring re-jigging of the numbering scheme. I'm sure you can imagine, dear readers (good morning Uncle Sal and Aunt Pete), that the sentence you just read was rather distasteful to write. Because none of this matters except at 8:45am, one day out of 21, 901.

Monday 29 August 2011

Turning Sixty (plus 13 or so hours)

First blunder after becoming this old:

Installing foot powder
where it easily falls down.

Turning Sixty

So far--it's been only a couple of hours--I prefer 60 to 59. That teetering tower in the "one's column", as we used to call it, that goes by the name 9 felt more nervous than the beautiful 0 I've got there now. Over in the "ten's column", sure the 6 is a notch higher, but it's 6 decades, dear reader.
Here they are:
decade one I played under the big sky around Herbert (remember those readers with names like Open Skies or Open Roads?);
decade two I practiced every anxiety known to boy;
decade three was half clueless half motivated, start of my teaching career;
decade four was writing and marriage;
decade five was writing and separation;
decade six was writing arrival to young oldmanhood;
decade seven, at this point halfway through a bowl of cereal, will later today see a man about a map, a daughter about a new photograph for my website and on and on it goes.
Yes, give me sixty.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Why I Prefer Miles (One Night Driving Back from Glendive, Montana, Where I Intercepted My Son Half-way Through His 50-hour Drive on the U.S. Interstates from New York toward Victoria)

They're longer, more open.
You put your lips together to say them, instead of cackling from the back of your mouth (as in kilometers).
How far from the border would you rather be?
We walked or biked to OneMile Crossing along the CPR mainline east of Herbert--my many sisters to neck with their boyfriends or smoke Black Cats, my pals and me to open packs of baseball cards. (All "one kilometer crossing" crossing would be good for is burning our little bums on the hot rails.)
It's automatic: Where's Herbert? 30 miles east of Swift Current. Another 85 to Moose Jaw.
Farms were two miles north, half-mile east, another half-mile north from town. (Any of you, my dear readers, who come from farm stock--that's you, Aunt Daisy and Uncle Fitzgerald--know that your quarter-section is a half-mile square.)
A sign can announce MILE
and mean it.
East of Glendive I crossed Thirteen Mile Creek. I'll claim no creek is named for a kilometer.
After a meal together, Tom and Devin (of Hip.Bang fame) would head west through Miles City (named, surely, after wide spaces, not some guy named Miles City).
Across the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, those are miles, man.
And you've gotta hand it to the miles and miles of stars, Montana night.

Monday 22 August 2011

Listening to Court and Spark on August 22, 2011, 8:30 am, Highway 11 South From Saskatoon

I prefer this spot to the Kenaston Rest Area with that sign which cannot be spoken here.

Not the crossing sign I walked by.


Joni Mitchell twice through in my head.

If I ever meet her she's in for a serious hug.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Further Home

Because each of the words family and home implies the other, most of the time, little else needs saying.
My sisters claim to laugh at every wisecrack I offer but who wouldn't. My grandson, more and more into walking, expects to fall forward or arrive safely to where I sit, that look on his face.
Where I sit now--an area of Strathcona, joined in the 1890s to Edmonton across the North Sask (which my sisters and I ferried across last week at Wingard, Sask) but settled orginally by a rag-tag group of settlers including a Metis man, Laurent Garneau, who was thrown in jail in '85 as a Riel sympathizer, his Scottish wife Eleanor grinding Riel's letters to bits in her washbucket as the Fort Edm Home Guard paddled across to get Laurent--yes where I sit now, across from the blues bar on Whyte (next to the former hall where Garneau played fiddle as the settlement grew), I'm waiting for my breakfast, for a few hours to pass, for my daughter Lucy's last show at the Edmonton fringe--Bertha, a wise/sad/sweet half-mask clown/woman whose "bon voyage party" takes her--she hopes, she desperately and sweetly hopes--somewhere home.
Then I had back home myself.
I guess history's a home too--one we imagine, like all homes.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Sisters Road Trip, Home

Home is a flag with many countries (other way around maybe).
One, a gravesite in Wynyard where a brother was buried. I wasn't born yet but two of my sisters were.
Two, a road, any of those back roads our relatives drove.
Three, a patch of smooth pavement after BROKEN SURFACE sign.
Four, one of my students in Cabri, scene in the hotel pub at the start of a Rider game.
Five, another gravesite, for a moment four sisters.
Six, that blue thing hanging in our eyes.
Anywhere else the car stops.
Even Regina where one sister was born, three lived, and I three different times moved.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Sisters Road Trip, Live From the Manitou Beach Golf Course Lounge

The sisters are all down at the spa gift shop, buying the place out. I haven't got much time; they'll be along any moment and I'll have to buy beer in addition to the one I've already got, which I haven't much time to pour down.
This aft, driving back to our B and B from town past the golf course, we watched one golfer run across our path to retrieve his ball from the far ditch--at least 60 yards from the nearest in-bounds. I'd buy the man a beer if I had more time.
Before that, the power was out. I couldn't sleep.
Yesterday my youngest sister, referring to the fabled Manitou Lake, said Get down there and feel it and see it which I thought was pretty good advice for any writer.
But I haven't much time. With what's left of it, I'll overhear golfers, who with every shot have had to deal with the same stiff wind that kicked at our floating feet in the lake this aft. Well, before I finished that sentence they left. There they go down the cartpath.
So long, dear readers (that's you, Uncle Roy and Aunt Dale) from the clubhouse at Manitou Beach.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Sisters Road Trip, Ouzo

One more Ouzo, a sister says. But I'm going to have mine inside and that's the last I'll see of her until the morning. After four of us in one suite in Riverhurst last night, we've fanned out in Rosthern tonight--one double and two singles.
We ran into a most un-communicative ferry operator on the Wingard ferry earlier. This is all the bugger deserves:

We had Ouzo on our minds.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Sisters Road Trip, a Morning

List of what woke us:
hail adjusters
river next door (where next is
twenty miles north and door
is access road)
woman in raglan-sleeved Jets shirt
Rider loss
flipped hinge of a SportRack
Co-op opening
need for good coffee downtown
scent of home-made foot balm
two hands loaded with hearts
kicks of stones below the boardwalk below our rooms
and what finally gets us: birds we offer names
(which, if not the right ones, they can trade)

Friday 12 August 2011

Sisters Road Trip, Soon

The sisters have mustered near Edmonton, checking in within whatever rules re luggage size a birthday boy might impose.
The plastic container for a roll of toilet paper, however--so it won't crush, says a sister--will have to stay behind. Even recognizing that toilet paper issues differ between his sisters and himself, the birthday boy stands firm. A touch of crush won't hurt, he says.
The day is dark so far. In their overnight acreage just out of the city, the sisters will be gathering their scarves and leggings, their armloads of carry-on, their lunch. It's time to begin.

Sunday 31 July 2011


Ok, here's your chance to weigh in, my many readers (that's you Aunt Sarah and Uncle Huck).

I've just begun to consider Hill, a Geography as title of this manuscript I`ve been working on. Used to be imagined by a former name to do with Hillsdale, that part of the city.

I invite you to talk about this title or titles in general. Meanwhile, I`ll carry on.

Monday 25 July 2011

Road Trip With My Sisters, Step One

This happens soon, leaving from south of Sherwood Park in Alberta. Day One might look something like two or three new (to us) highways down to three ferries near Leader, Sask., maybe staying (staining?) the night in Eston or sneaking onto a certain farm near Luck lake to pitch our tent. (Except sisters #2 and #3 have said "no tent" so I'm pretty sure it's the Eston Inn--greetings my friend Brit!--on night One).

Maybe Outlook gets us for night Two, by the time we hit Riverhurst ferry north of Herbert where sister #1 and I were born, #2 got as far as grade 9, #3 graduated grade 12. (Yours truly, in grade one, carried her books. Remind me to take my revenge by kicking butt at the card table, where bridge or cribbage or Scrabble could break out.)

Day Three, well this is getting to be too many numbers but I think we meet aunts and uncles and cousins for lunch August 14 in Saskatoon (my initial idea was to have them dangle food bags along highway 11 so we grab them as we drove by, Tour de France style). Later we'll drive to sunset, might be the command, if get to make commands, which for sure I will, being the birthday boy.

I'll ending up telling you more.

Thursday 21 July 2011

The Gerald Hill Diet, Step Six

I tell you, friends and family--stay away from liquor. Never mind the intrinsic caloric muscle of two pints of Palliser Porter after a workout, necessary to wash down the spicey chicken noodle dish and the green salad, blue cheese dressing, at Bushwakker. (A man gets thirsty after a hip mobility workout, my hips so far open I walked one way and imagined another.) The liquor wants more; a stop at the grocery store on the way home from the pub becomes the first purchase of a deck of Rip-L Chips since this diet began.

Can you tell I'm a third of the way through the first bag? I can. But I've already downed half of the follow-up Stella, so things are out of whack.

So, liquor. Sure the sunset over the court house looks fine, and the One Way sign (south) on Smith promises discovery by the movie crew shooting a block away. But it's not worth it. Rip-L #15 has lost snap. That half bottle of Stella looks a dirty-sweater green. This is no way to wait for the end of your diet, I tell you.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Live (by Digital Delay) from the Lone Eagle Motel in Herbert, Saskatchewan

Only by driving through the hottest spot (Medicine Hat) at hottest point of the day (about six o’clock) and through the most wildlife-intensive spot (gap from Walsh to Maple Creek) at dusk did I make Herbert by sundown.
Followers of my Loco Log—that’s you Uncle Pete and Aunt Rose—would have enjoyed passing CP locomotives 3061 and 9713 eastbound just east of Swift Current then, after checking into the Lone Eagle, sitting down at the desk in #7 just as 3061 and 9713, hauling fifty-some cars, came rolling through, a mosquito-swat away.
I was born here, so I must have faced heat like today’s which, modulated by sunset and air-con and a sheen of mozzies, remains alive at seven past 10. The thermo touched +38 at The Hat (or vice versa).
I was more of a daytime kid. I didn’t get outside much after dark.

Monday 11 July 2011

Help Wanted

I walk Debbie north
into Hillsdale Sunday
I wonder how long to.

(this photo not related to
the three lines above)

Wednesday 29 June 2011


Kroetsch would have enjoyed himself, except for having all the attention on him. The memorial event on Monday afternoon in Leduc brought writers/readers and his family together. Some difficult, tear-edged, moving tributes. Photos, music, a short film, some lovely "Uncle Bob" stories. A few beers at the Leduc Legion afterwards, with lots of good cheer amid the sorrow.

I drove over to my sister's place near Sherwood Park that evening, through the intersection where Kroetsch had died. It was my sister's birthday. Earlier that day, another sister had become a grandmother for the first time when her daughter gave birth in Edmonton.

Birth and death, beer and food, corners and turns, mosquitoes and stories and finally a late darkening--it all seemed to fit.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Robert Kroetsch

Robert Kroetsch died yesterday, that longest day. In a traffic accident. Don't know any more details.

From the moment I imagined myself as a writer, 1981, and the moment I began post-graduate studies in English, 1988, Kroetsch showed the way. "This thesis has gone on long enough without mentioning Robert Kroetsch," I remember writing in my MA thesis, a collection of creative/critical essays on Virginia Woolf, Gail Scott, Ethel Wilson, Kristjana Gunnars and Kroetsch himself. I was able to claim both creative and critical status (however temporarily, as I learned from Kroetsch how to say) for my essays only because I'd read the Kroetsch novels poems and essays.

I saw him many times over the years. In September 2009 I was honoured to read Kroetsch's "Elegy for Wong Toy" to a Leighton studio full of Bob and others at Banff and tell everyone that Kroetsch was one of my fathers (to use a phrase from the poem).

The next summer I came up with this piece, set in my cabin at Emma Lake:

Robert Kroetsch, writer
White hair, white beard, Kroetsch
old as hockey legend Gordie Howe
and golf legend Arnie Palmer
worries about too much sun, he says,
sitting in my cabin with a beer.

Kroetsch is to blame for today's light,
which splinters and flares for his arrival
in his horsefly tractor, his bucking dock.
Twelve hours earlier, a football moon
scored behind a blade of sprucetop.
I’m writing poems, he says. I love it.

Half-way through his beer he recalls
with a laugh he’d seen a man swimming
in marsh-like conditions, wind
blowing in the swimmer's mouth.
Must have been a farm kid,
thinks he’s found the Riviera.

Lightly clouded day after solstice,
twenty degrees in wind and blue
and we’re indoors
far from the trembling,
with music on. No mosquitoes
in here, he says. It’s good to just
sit for a while.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Darke on the Longest Day

The traveller walked here to here
to/from to McNiven
cupping between them Darke Park
vacant tonight for mosquitoes.

Hydrants guarded
each a dozen homes
no matter what your
reason for seeing.

Tonight only travellers wrote the hydrant
family of red bone, dark face, lawnmark.
Every few feet they seemed near.

On Darke re-committed to wild yard.

How long does a driveway?
Ruckus and splash?
If time does this to
driveways, think.

Later in the coffee shop
on Kramer, Darke Park
a stone's throw and a roll and
a kick away.

Stranger than later
the hill.

Monday 20 June 2011

The GHD, Step Five

Don't weigh yourself every week as planned. As my grade seven Manual Arts teacher used to say, If you measure, you might not like what you see.
Two years ago in Darke park:

Last week:
Looks change.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Entering Hillsdale

Show your credentials to the duck.

Ok move along.

The people who moved to Hillsdale in '58
live here or if
you like liver.

Like stories, they sometimes escape.

This way.

Running under.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Creek that Calls the ENE Boundary of Hillsdale

Forty-five years ago we'd panic
at the sight of rain
how it made the tables rise
and who'd have to stay up how late
mop floors.

Today the creek where
it's called the lake warms
four-five birds at least.
We park our rusted
bikes and lie down.

We speak to the lake as we would
to passers-by who say
pardon? and walk on.

Doesn't take much sky just the one hill,
the rest pause of water
let's say.

Monday 16 May 2011

The GHD, Step Four

Move into an empty place and fill it (oops, can't say fill ). Dig emptiness. Wait before you haul up that futon you've been storing, that rocker, those tubs. Be pleased--you've figured out how to store your bed out of sight during daylight, you've ditched the ex-door that was your desktop, you've gone through your personal archive with a shredding eye (and donated the shreds to a furniture store on Broad for use as stuffing for the very storage ottoman you're thinking of buying--well done!). And look, you've lost 19 pounds.

When the space was empty you could stretch your body everywhere and not touch baseboard. Your mat became a slim boat in a windy sea, the nearest window miles away. Facing 80-year-old light fixtures from directly below, you saw future in furniture, budget permitting.

Anything in the store, said the guy at the high-end furniture store today, waving at two long racks of fabric samples, you can get in any of those.

Thursday 28 April 2011

The GHD, Step Three: If the bread and the onion are good enough, that's all you need.

Imagine a sandwich. Any good bread + don't skimp on the butter + any good cheese + one of onion (with cucumber or baby dill) or radish + lettuce if you must + any good sausage (substitute leftover chicken, beef or turkey). Double the recipe. Add a glass of milk and a Blue Jays game (when the bats are working and the pitcher's hitting his spots).

Good, now this is where the diet part starts: Use multigrain rice cakes + cheddar but minimize the slabbage and don't pop a slab into your mouth while you're slicing + cucumber + as much baby dill as you want + slice of red onion why not + salt and pepper. Call it an open-face. Keep the Blue Jays part, no milk.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

The Gerald Hill Diet, Step Two

Embrace your inner skeleton, for where else would it be? Whose season of tissue would it carry about but yours?

I remember wall charts in grade six, first flowering of the word system in my young vocab, as in circulatory system and digestive system (and the lore-shrouded reproductive system). The skeleton was portrayed as a mere collection of sticks, a rack of hangers for the glamour-pusses: muscle, organ, blood, nerve, brain.

Recently I've been reduced to seeing myself as skeleton. With add-ons, for sure, but essentially a bone-character, rising to the surface.

Monday 18 April 2011

The Gerald Hill Diet, Step One

Lose the Rip-L chips. As everyone in my family knows--hello my sisters--that's tough to do. Any lunch, any picnic or summer meal, anytime hot dogs stack on a plate or a can of beans (Heinz, in tomato sauce only) heat in the saucepan, it's time to pull another deck of Rip-Ls from that lower cupboard where the double-pack boxes neatly stack. But at about 250 calories per 11 chips--11 chips! That's barely a mouthful--they just do not, I'm sorry, fit the GHD, Step One. Same goes, by the way, for the lime nachos.

When I say Rip-L, I refer only to the Old Dutch variety. And if I ever say major lifestyle adjustment, I refer to that crisis point, a couple of decades back, when Old Dutch ceased dispensing Rip-Ls in the little bags and we either stood bewildered in front of the junk food machine or settled for plain chips (second choice, Sour Cream and Onions; third, Bar-B-Q).

I've written to Old Dutch about this matter but do they listen?

Wednesday 13 April 2011

What does your bridge look like?

In her journal, one of my students wrote that question, having found it in a self-help book her mom had read over and over. I think I'll run that question by a certain group of poets I'm looking forward to working with.

For me, it's an abandoned hump-backed concrete job like the old Borden bridge, although the other day I was dazzled by that 30s-era bridge over the rail yard in Moose Jaw that set my Loco Log meter all a-whirl. But these are just first crossings. What my bridge looks like depends on what it's over, where it leads, what it sounds like under my wheels. Maybe that black iron bolt-and-girder beauty just down from the Stegner House in Eastend, where I perched and watched the beavers. Maybe that river between Kupiano and Moresby in Papua New Guinea, '79 or so, that we could drive through when it was low, get stuck in after a rain, have to spend hours waiting for when it was running too high--until they built a bridge there after I'd left.

So what does your bridge look like, my friends.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Robert J. Sawyer.

I met him a few years ago at a Sask Writers Guild conference at which he was a guest speaker. He showed up at the annual open mic I've been hosting in recent years. "Has to be a three-minute piece," I told him. "I don't have anything that takes only three minutes," he said. "Sorry," I said. "No exceptions."

(Once I witnessed my friend Brenda Schmidt jump up and down, stamping her feet, when I cut her off after three minutes. Until then I hadn't realized stamping one's feet was actually possible.)

Sawyer disappeared upstairs to his hotel room, re-appearing a few minutes later with some sort of hand-held reader. "Ok, ready," he said. And he read from that.

The other night I heard his talk at a conference here. A spectacular performance: a thoughtful, energetic talk on the origins and future of consciousness, delivered without notes. Later, his answers to questions were likewise thoughtful, attentive to the heart of the question, and comprehensive.

He'd spoken of a time 40,000 years ago when homo sapiens became conscious of themselves. (Evidence: archeological findings of bodily adornment, the cave paintings at Lascaux, findings of "grave goods" buried with the dead.)  Leaving aside Sawyer's reading of why and how this all happened--he says it's all in his novels--I cut to that first sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I'd just watched again on the plane to Montreal, in which a group of primates whose limited set of behaviours about, say, how to take or defend a watering hole, expanded dramatically and forever once they touched a black monolith that appeared in their midst. Which allows me to name one of my favourite moments in movie history: when the primate, having discovered how to use an animal bone as a weapon and thus achieving an evoloutionary leap for the rest of us primates, tosses it triumphantly into the air, where it spins in slow motion and becomes, at its apogee, a futuristic spacecraft.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Somehow I Think

The older I get and the later in my teaching career, the happier I am to honour my teachers.

(Here I pause to note an idea for my class today: get my students to write about their favourite teachers, pre-university.)

(When I do that myself I come up with only fragments: the grade 2 teacher whose first name was Rose, the ex-trumpet playing wisecracker who taught grade7, the long-legged looker Miss Kehoe in grade 9, my typing teacher Miss Fawcett who showed us individual finger exercises. Somehow, I think, out of cowardice or willful resistance or being a teacher's kid myself, I didn't let my pre-uni teachers inspire me.)

Fred Wah was in town yesterday. I've said this before: I thank my lucky skies to have had Fred and Tom Wayman and Dave McFadden as my first creative writing teachers 30 years ago this fall at the late, great David Thompson University Centre in Nelson, B.C. About as different from one another as three writers could be, they hauled us in every direction, writing-wise. Everything I write comes from what those three got us doing.

Last night, at his reading, I introduced Fred to my creative writing students, proud to do so.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Literary Award

I managed to score a 2nd in the 2010 CBC Literary Award, poetry category, second to some lovely work by Brian Brett.

As Brian and I noted, the poet winners are more or less 60, the nonfiction winners more or less 40, the short story winners more or less 24.

And I managed to pick up a stomach wog--could have been the chicken souvlaki at Pearson, about 10:30 Wednesday night, between delays 2 and 3 of the 5 I experienced on Air Canada that day, turning the Regina to Montreal flights into a 12-hour hassle I'm only today recovering from.

But the party in Montreal was swell. If CBC, Air Canada, and the Canada Council can't throw a party, who can. The writers were rather strangely peripheral, though. Our role in the soiree was limited to a 10-second walk across the stage to shake hands with Shelagh Rogers--and, oh yes, with the Canada Council person who handed over our cheques. We writers agreed that we were sufficiently pacified by the cheques to remain in the background the rest of the time, while the corporate sponsors enjoyed what was really their moment.

I do salute these sponsors for what, judging by the size of the cheque and the amount of media attention we've received, is a significant commitment to the literary arts. We were well taken care of in Montreal and it was fun to meet the other writers.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Loco Log

Dedicated followers of this blog--hello Uncle Ritchie and Aunt Phyll--will want an update on my loco log, my haphazard listing of Canadian Pacific locomotives--where I saw them and what they were up to.

The other day at 3:42 pm I spotted 3083 and 3110, back to back, shuttling back and forth over the Albert street overpass in Regina. That makes 46 locomotives in the last four years, anywhere from here to Rogers Pass. Just the ones I've been close enough to, or my poor children have been close enough to, to read the locomotive number.

I'm going to keep at it, haphazardly, until I spot a locomotive for the second time, at which time I'll claim that at last I've found structure to my life: every _____ years I spot locomotive # _____.

Saturday 12 March 2011

I'd Give You My List (But You'd Know It's Mine)

Talking about "creating character" in my creative writing class, I let out with the claim that given an anonymous list of ten specific items in any one person's bedroom (a person in this class, that is), I could identify the person.  "We should do that," one of the students said. We swept over that--on with the task at hand of building character through details, not through generalizations of narration.

Fine, but a half hour after class I thought damn, we should have gone ahead with that bedroom thing. So I tacked that on, via our class message board, to the assignment for Tuesday. At the same time, I composed my own list. 

All that's left in this story, apart from whatever results show up on Tuesday, is me wondering whether or not this is too personal a thing. Creepy, maybe. Offensive, illegal. Out of bounds.

So far, four lists have been posted.

Monday 7 March 2011

After Talking Fresh

I really enjoyed my students at Talking Fresh.  New to the writing world, most of them, they caught four terrific writers in action:
Brenda Schmidt
Michael Trussler and Karen Solie (photo by Shelley Banks)

Daniel Scott Tysdal

These writers delivered ideas, laughs, good company, inspiration, books, various styles and discourses, and splendid appetites for wine, food and what we all had to say. I'm so happy my students could hear them.

Thursday 10 February 2011

His Daughter was a Student of Mine

I see that Bobby Kuntz died.  A lot of those old CFL stars have died recently--Ron Atchison, Cookie Gilchrist, Herb Gray.

Their obits featured the single stock photo that was always used in the sports pages and game-day programs of the time, '57-'64.  The one of Atchison shows him in his lineman's squat, arms bent and elbows forward, set to repel some unseen foe.  Gray's too, all crew-cut and shoulder pads, ready to take you on.

Photo day would be a day to pretend. The Atchison photo was shot in the old Rider practice field next to Campion in NW Hillsdale.  Some phtog making the rounds, telling each player to strike a pose, imagine the game was on.

In the CFL at that time, the players didn't earn much and held other jobs.  But they earned enough, some of them, to buy a new house in the newest suburb of Regina, say, where they hosted block parties and built swings for neighbour kids.

Or they ended up running an electroplating company in Kitchener, like Bobby Kuntz.

Monday 7 February 2011

It Gets This Way Sometimes

"Just sitting here with all your friends?" said Herb, the Maintenance guy, grinning, with a nod toward the table that was empty except for me.

"They're out writing," I told him, and changed the subject.

My students were scattered around Luther, writing from a line that opens Joan Didion's "Los Angeles Notebook"--There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension, a line I love. 

I'd stayed at the table, reflecting in my own notebook on the air around my workplace this morning.

It was good to see Herb grin, anyone grin.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Weather Like This in Portugal Except for the Snow

Just now I sat down with a tea and fired up my netbook in a cafe in downtown Regina.  Everything's in the past.

I'd stood at the counter beside a guy I used to work with.  He was buying his 2-year-old some banana bread.

A simple workout this morning: push-ups and a rowing machine.  Now weak, I've fortified my tea.

Yesterday I had to pull some poems from one of my favourite litmags because by accident I'd submitted them somewhere else, which also wants them and pays more, like way more.  Sent the mag a donation to appease my guilty conscience.

The day before, my creative writing students had rolled the dice to come up with a number of lines with which to write on a random topic assigned to them (taped to the bottom of their chairs, actually).  Outstanding results.

Monday night I found I'd lost 1.8 pounds in a week.

A year and a day ago I found my old friend in Vigo, Spain.  Received an email from her just now.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Them Write

I've told my students many times how much I enjoy watching them write.  I mean it: the calm, the beauty, knowing that for a moment maybe they're going someplace that belongs only to them.  So in all my classes I ask them to keep journals, usually a series of entries following prompts I come up with.  I'll do an entry at the same time, but I like to put my pen down and listen.  It's a humbling kind of thing, this sense that for a moment we're at play on the fields of language, so to speak.

I also keep a blooper file.  Here's the latest entry: Once dead, you have to gut and skin the animal.  I'll run this by the class tomorrow, first saluting their (anonymous) classmate for beginning the sentence with a modifier instead of, as usual, the grammtical subject.  Come to think of it, I might use this line in 20 minutes when I go into my creative writing class, saying, as a prompt, what else do you have to do once dead?

Thursday 6 January 2011


My class was full, but when we realized her grandfather had delivered me, I let her in.