Saturday 20 December 2014

What Retire Meant

Dedicated followers of this blog--a foggy evening to you, Uncle Thorn and Aunt Rose--will wonder when this retirement is to take effect. June 30, 2015, as I should have said.
Judging by all the spam that's shown up since the announcement, I won't have to stay retired for long. We thought the vacant position in our company could be interesting for you, said a "Personnel Department" email. To proceed to the next stop we should register you in HR system so we will need a small piece of your personal information.
(My personal information: I bought a pair of double-walled coffee mugs for a certain somebody this afternoon. I watched the Leafs look sharp in taking a 2-0 lead against the Flyers, on the way to losing 7-4. My response to a book of poetry I'm to review consists of how I would write the review.)
The non-spamic responders have included a few lovely souls on Facebook and my kids and sisters.
I'm not sure I'll notice much difference in my retirement lifestyle, except that in early September I'll be driving to Toronto instead of laying out What Will Make Me Happy to an English 100 class.
Years ago I ran into my aunt in the federal government office in Kelowna. I was applying for UI, she for her Pension. She acted caught.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Hill Retires

Luther College English professor Gerald Hill announced his retirement earlier today. "The sun wasn't up yet when I dropped off the letter to the Dean," Hill said, on the steps of Tangerine, one of his latte haunts.
Hill's teaching career began in 1975, as a grade 7 Language Arts teacher in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. "It was a great school," he said, over his latte at Tangerine. "I could have stayed there and retired 10 years ago."
But he stayed only two, then part of a third, thinking that with his Permanent Professional certificate he'd get a job down in Calgary, where he'd taken his B.Ed. What he did get was the notion to teach in Papua New Guinea, as a CUSO volunteer, from 1978-1980. "I could have stayed there too," he says, "and taken a contract job for big money and retired 15 years ago."
When his writing career kicked in, Hill taught around it: as a sub in Nelson (1981-82) while he studied writing at DTUC, as a maternity leave replacement at an alternative school in Regina (1982-83) once he'd set up his first writing home, as an Adult Ed drop-in Literacy instructor in Saskatoon (1983-84) after he'd met his future wife, the Saskatoon-based theatre artist Ruth Smillie, at a writing retreat in Fort San, and as an Adult Education teacher in Edmonton (1984-8). "That's enough for one sentence!" Hill says, wiping the latte foam from his lips.
As a matter of fact, teaching did feel as if it were a sentence by that time. "I wanted to more closely align my teaching and writing interests," is how he put it this morning, breaking off a piece of peach-pair scone. That meant post-secondary; that meant grad degree.
By 1993, with a new Master's and an all-but-dissertation PhD in English from UAlberta, Hill had been teaching first-year English for a couple of years. "The plan was, I'd finish the PhD and get a job somewhere and move the family there." That plan ended with the marriage. Hill taught for a year or two at Red Deer College and then, in 1995, "When my ex got a job at the Arts Board in Regina, I got one too, at Luther as a Sessional Instructor, so we could continue to co-parent our young family." 
In 2001 he won his tenure-track job, the one from which he's just retired.
"Man, good latte," Hill said, as the darkness lifted this morning.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Grading of Christmas Essays Completed

Thanks to a latte at Atlantis, I finished the last essay an hour ago. Six words, was the assignment. Pick six words, follow them into your personal material, see what you see.
Students need help doing this. Any connection between writing and joy has nearly vanished, but an assignment like this one gives it a chance, that was my idea anyway.
A few writers ran with it--for some reason, I think of horses--and seemed to feel frisky. After all or before all, the writer who turns down the road into his/her own stories doesn't have to run far. A few follow-up assignments would kick things along even further.
All that's left to grade: final exams.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Playlist for Grading Christmas Essays, continued

My Christmas fav is playing: Dawn Upshaw and Chanticleer, "Spanish Carol". If I had a dog, I'd name her that right now. Or Soprano, after Upshaw running the show, ringing the highest bells.
One thing about final exams is that students do them briskly. (Of course, nothing I say about students applies to all.) As writers, they seem less inclined to take extra steps--into the open field of the question posed, their professor hopes. That's enough, let's move on, they say.
Everybody understands.
Dark clouds known as "grades and grading" can't decide to leave. When they do, I would like to speak again of these writers. 

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Playlist for Grading Christmas Essays

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—We Covered This in September”

“I Wonder as You Wander”

“Rejoice and Be Merry, They’re Done”

“Angels from the Reams of Glory”

“Mess, I, uh”

“In the Bleak Midparagraph”

“Ouch Tannenbaum”

“Allegro Morto”

“It Came Upon the Midnight, Unclear”

Tuesday 2 December 2014

This Has To Be Fast Because Gumbo's Coming

How to prepare for the final exam:
Think of the exam as a writing performance.
Think about what we've said and done in class.
Think about your own experience as a writer in this class (not to be taken as chance to praise or condemn your professor).
Re-read the Birkerts essays. How do you relate to them?
Think about how this class would respond to your next page of expository writing.
Read your own essays. How do they read?
View all handouts. Why were they handed out?
Get a good night's sleep.

Saturday 29 November 2014

So Exam Time Has Rolled Around Again

Recent readers of this blog--a dark evening to you, Uncle Buster and Aunt Pete--have been clamouring to hear my ideas for the final exams. Hush-hush about exams of course but I'll give you a hint, as soon as I get one.
It's tough to overestimate the power of final exam. I like to tease my students, telling them to take care of my class first, the others later. I'd love to see engagement with their last assignment, in one class, which asks them to revise their work from an earlier assignment.
But let's see. On the exams they will have to produce writing; it has to be about writing, more than answers.
I want them to put their language to work at the levels of word, sentence, punctuation.
I want them to stop themselves long enough to think about their choices.
I'll differentiate types of questions by the writing tasks they evoke.
I'll try to, anyway.

Tuesday 25 November 2014


I prefer entries in this blog to those on T or F because here the place is mine, which is not the reason I begin this way.
I was going to write about a slab of concrete I had to pull around with synthetic yellow rope that kept snapping--my class today, I mean. Everybody's tired, but so what. All that drove them was sheer bull-headedness, to do that last assignment and get that grade. I think they could do more. 
So, I'll try this:
I ask them to write a simple sentence, simple as can be. Then we add a word or two between subject and verb, a word or to before. We build story and sentence at the same time.
Or this:
They design a class for Friday. General parameters: something useful on language grounds. Make it happen.
They might have to step out of their skin.

Thursday 20 November 2014

To Dark

It's time to ask whether they believe the characters in On the Road. If (see Part Three, Chapter 7) we say The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn leans its sunny shadows onto every page of Kerouac's novel, the mawkish bits borrow from Tom Sawyer. The blend doesn't work. The cost is that Sal and Dean turn into Hardy Boys. Spontaneous bop prosody--where are you now.
Over at the second class, "Planet Earth" by PK Page didn't settle any more deeply than other poems. We need to take care of the planet, so what.
That leaves the third class. They handed in letters for our class anthology called, but can't we do better, To Whom It May Concern: (though I haven't checked with the class about that colon). I'm to edit and return for 2nd draft. I've got to finish my letter, but what's the hurry. I need dark to do it.

Monday 17 November 2014

Damn, I Hate When a Post I Wrote Vanished

You fans of this blog, I was saying--snowy hello to you, Uncle Pete and Aunt Daisy--yearn after my Loco Log, the story of shinny I played on winter streets in Herbert, some poem I'd killed and brought back to life. My usual topics, in other words.
Instead I carry on this way: re my job, and when I might quit, if I do. To help you understand my predicament, here's the roster for tonight: go over notes of talks students gave on Part Two of On the Road; compile decisions about word, sentence, punctuation made in a set of lovely essays; figure out what to do with "It Wasn't a Major Operation" by Anne Szumigalski (whatever it takes to convey that poems do things). These classes in 40 hours coming up, they're all a good time.
What's tougher is the task of getting to it.
Hate to end on such an ominous note, though. This morning a student stopped by the office for a bit of business then said he'd like to stay a little longer to talk about On the Road. He was digging the book, and he asked me when I first encountered it.
(I couldn't remember. When I was 17, I'm going to say. The Beats, especially Kerouac, took me deep.)
And here's maybe the best part: he's a Science major, near the end of his program, but he'd like to try my creative writing intro class next semester. I asked him if he'd ever written anything and he said no! But he'll be good in the class, because he's ready.

Saturday 15 November 2014


Reading On the Road, my students tend to judge Dean Moriarty as insane, Carlo Marx as weird, Sal Paradise as sad. They're all (the characters, not the students) drug addicts and problem drinkers. These categories tend to become fixed, un-nuanced.
If so, here I am again claiming that students don't want to move or be moved. They don't want to submit or explore. They don't to be challenged or renewed.
Such a claim is unfair to individual students and maybe to all students. I'm not sure anymore. I'm not sure if such a claim is the reason for or the result of my thoughts of quitting my day job.
It's easy to read pointlessness in how the characters in On the Road live their lives. It's easy--as their language, behaviour, morals, decisions, etc., sail past, like lost comets, to deep space beyond us--not to go with them.
Watching North by Northwest last night for the 34th time, I dug again the 50s cars and that long, virtually wordless, cropduster scene set along a road in the flattest of prairies west of Chicago (not far, I imagine, from Sal's Route 66, Chicago to LA). I thought of Dean and Sal and the '49 Hudson. I'm thinking now that more than ever we need, as we always have, to drop out--to go down that "holy road," as Sal says, and get the hell out of who we think we are. 

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Love, I Think

When, in On the Road, Sal meets his Mexican "soulgirl" at the Bakersfield bus depot, he falls, in his way, in love. Love in the Beat sense. None of my students (who spoke) thought so, however. They saw lust, a guy with a drinking problem, just another one-nighter--though it lasts for 15 days, a Beaternity. I've noticed before that I'm less cynical about love than my students are. Like Sal, and maybe like Kerouac, maybe I'm willing to accept love in a moment, willing to get to it. Poor Sal, always "shambl[ing] after" holiness.

Monday 3 November 2014

On the Road

I've said for years my literary hero is Jack Kerouac. I said it again this morning, warning my American Classics students that my bias need not sway their own take on On the Road. I told them the legend of the scroll, the legend of the Pranksters who rode the bus (Neal Cassady at the wheel) across country in the mid-1960s to pay their respects to Kerouac and have him slam the door in their faces, the legend of spontaneous bop prosody inspired by Cassady's mad letters circa 1946, the legend (according to me) of my blast down to Kerouac's grave in Lowell on the 40th anniversary of his death in 2009. The telling of such legends went well, but essay and "chapter talks" assignments spoiled the fun for the students.
Eventually I arrived at the claim that the thematic territory travelled, as it were, by On the Road is the source of its greatness. What is it that people want in this life, I asked. The students wrote on this query a few minutes. And what might "the road" mean? Something straight or crooked, said one student. A way out, said another. And speed.
It will sadden me some day soon to think I'll never again talk On the Road like this.

Friday 31 October 2014

Never Mind That It's 25 in Lisbon

Having just graded midterms which revealed some impressive engagement with the poems we'd read earlier in the semester, I continue to be frustrated with the blankness on the faces in my first-year class, with the sense that if I don't push the wheel, it rolls to a stop.
Yesterday I tried what I called a poetry blitz. They'd have 10 minutes of private reading and writing time with each of three short poems by Anne Simpson, Michael Crummy and Lorna Crozier. After each 10-min spot, if they wanted to talk, we'd talk. "This is read and react," I told them. "As directly as possible."
There's more obedience than responsiveness with this group. I noticed that many students would read the poem, write their piece--"write a letter to the poem," is how I put it--then sit back and wait for the 10 minutes to expire. Before the second set, I pointed out that they could devote the whole 10 minutes to the task if they wanted, perhaps to supplement, deepen, further explore their preliminary response.
Today I'll see what observations and questions they might have. If none, we'll move on. I'm going to simply refuse to tell them about the poems (as if I know anyway). If all that matters is what they have to "know" for the exam, they'll have to settle for what the ten minutes, or any further private consideration they might apply, told them.

5 hours later: I did end up offering a few observations of my own about the poems. No matter how stoutly I reminded them that I might be full of beans, some students wrote down what I said. I'd rather they paid more attention to their own reaction to the poem. 
The idea didn't work, but come on, it's Halloween afternoon. And I've got a new idea for next week. 

Thursday 23 October 2014

No Secret Here

Today I put to my students the notion that maybe a policy of mine, never mind what it is just now, was old-fashioned. (Lucky for me, the discussion was prompted by my mention of that perennial burr, the Old Fashion Foods store on south Albert. The way they spell it, not the products, some of which I consume. By now my students can predict the rap: Where's the -ed and what about that hyphen?)
Though a few students expressed support for the policy, I also heard a voice using "Pavlovian" to describe what I was up to.
Though the full story's more nuanced, the episode amounts to another reminder that if what I do doesn't work, I should change it or quit.
This is what I'm talking about: I reserve 10% of the grade for something I call Classwork, defined in several ways that could be grouped under "commitment" or "taking care of your job as a student". I want the students who do the work to get the grades.
Of course, as I say so, I don't much like the sound of it myself.
Writing this, I come up with a fabulous question for tomorrow's midterm. Sorry, can't spill it right now.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

facebook twitter netflix blog

I know everyone says this, but I don't like what facebook does to friend and like. I don't care after a while. I did read the interview in the Globe & Mail, October 10, with Alfred Hermida and his "different way [of forming social bonds], in a different space." But to suck into facebook is to say good-bye, I'm thinking now.
I watched Salinger on Netflix (a word which jumps to upper case until I bop it back), found it useful for context of The Catcher in the Rye. It got stupid later when, because John Lennon's killer had been reading Catcher, investigators blamed, for triggering the deranged shooter, the many times kill appears in the novel. Maybe in class we'll talk about this.
I was less than ready for my classes today. Been fighting a cold, though I feel better this eve. Classes like those reveal the good students, the ones (I can tell) let down. They've got questions about assignments. One thing we got done: idea for class anthology. Letters we'll each write somebody. We all write; I edit (they edit mine). Second drafts. I produce the document, a simple saddle-stiched thing, cover art and author bios included.

Monday 20 October 2014

Where I Want To Be

In the last two weeks or so I've entered the worlds of Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix. Fun, all of them. But I feel resentment also--for their insistent systems (insistems), for the facts that just googling a single letter, f or n, calls up two of them (twitter coming third after TSN and something else). With f and t, I wonder why I'm there. With n, and the others, I resent the constant prompts to give up even more info than they already have so they can profile me more deeply.
I'll get over all that, I suppose. What I really resent is that f and t tend to divert me from this blog, the social medium in which I'm most at home. With hardly any followers and only you, Uncle Ford and Aunt Chevy, as readers.
I'll carry on.
As I was saying in the last couple of entries, I think every day about how long I'll do my day job. Yesterday in the pub while I was reading The Catcher in the Rye, two different people spotted the book in my hands and came over to talk about it, in that wistful voice people use as they pet your Golden Lab, say, and remember their own Golden from years ago.
Today I told my students that story, on the way to reminding them that the novel stays with its readers who commit to it. And as the only book, of many I've ready in a public place, to attract strangers the way Catcher  did yesterday--while the Rider game was on, no less--maybe this novel deserves our respect. One of the people in the pub told me that Lee Harvey Oswald had a copy of Catcher in his room. "But not just assassins read it," I told my students.
Their next essay calls for more first-person informal writing in a voice like, or inspired by, Holden Caulfield. They're going to have to read it out loud. They're going to have to speak from the heart. If they don't, they'll hear the voice of Holden, or me, calling them "phony".

Thursday 16 October 2014

What Happened This Afternoon

A student caught me in a mood swing this morning. I started grumbly, something about a massive wheel which, if I didn't push it, stopped its forward roll. It takes more than just to me to move this thing, I think I said. This was because I was sick, at that moment, of students who unless poked, shoveled, attended to or graded just sat there. I implied that such unresponsiveness was occurring right now in this classroom.
I don't think everyone agreed. I seemed impatient for sure.
(Right, though.)
Anyway, that passed. Talk turned to the hit Ivory bar soap had taken these last couple of decades. An hour ago I claimed I had to rush out to Safeway to score that last 16-pack for eight bucks or so, and live "clean and simple" for the rest of the day. (Achieved, so far.)
It's the systems of teaching that bug me, most of them attached to grading. The most joyous writing to share was offered as voice, not assignment, a response not a grade.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Coming From

A dream, briefly: I am house-sitting, a house I don't recognize. But through the back door I see a familiar sight. It is summer. A boy, age 10 or so, reclines in the dirt against a patch of fence that sweet peas would climb. A few trucks and cars--Dinky Toys, we used to call them--lie scattered around him, but he seems content just to feel the heat of the sun and the dirt. When he sees me, he says, "Do you want me to leave?" I tell him no, it's ok. I know this kid, I realize, watching him out the back door. He's me.
If in my English classes I can get students close enough to their own material of this sort--the images, stories, memories, identities only they can access--then their writing will be that much more effective. I mean writing of all sorts: poems and stories, personal essays, even formal essays of commentary and argument about The Catcher in the Rye, Richard Ford's "Sweethearts", John Newlove's "The Double-Headed Snake", or any other work they encounter.
It's as if their writing voice needs a place to come from.

Saturday 11 October 2014

The Same Title For Now

Continued from the previous entry is the fact that every day I think about my job and how long I want to do it.
As planned, I passed my sheet of commentary (grouped around "elements of fiction"--setting, language, plot and the rest, ending with theme) and did my loop through the 7 table clusters. Even at that more intimate level, the students were reluctant to talk, unless I put a question or comment to any one person directly. My questions about "the experience of listening to and reading along with 'Sweethearts' the other day" didn't seem to make sense.
Sitting at each table, I could respond better to individuals, and they to me, I suppose. But the whole exercise didn't do much to get them closer to the story, I don't think.
I had the sense that just before and just after my pop-in, each group subsided, but for the diehards (bless their hearts), into talk about anything else but "Sweethearts".
Over at The Catcher in the Rye, I was engaged in a similar task: getting to know Holden Caulfield, with a class of 33 English 110 students. Holden's easy, in one way, bringing me up against an issue, call it a problem, across all classes: people content to do the minimum--in this case, pin Holden to a convenient definition.
In case this all sounds too negative, I'll say again that the act of inventing these ideas or variants of existing ideas--let's put them all into that category--is what I love about my job. When, as with Catcher, the acts of understanding the achievement of that novel and getting students into Holden's voice, so to speak, overlap, that's when the good stuff goes on.
I think I've decided to continue in this vein.

Friday 10 October 2014


It occurs to me today (a clause I'll eliminate later) that getting students to feel the poem or story, feel what comes from commitment to word and line--even to accept for a split second the notion that language could move them if they let it--is all I do.
Today I read aloud in class Richard Ford's "Sweethearts" in its entirety, pausing occasionally for student questions, comments, reactions, thoughts, predictions. None. In fact, we all seemed content for me to read. The students relaxed into a read-along rate of, I'd say, 85%. It took the whole class. "Have a good afternoon," I said when it was over.
On the premise that more vigourous motivation might seep through by tomorrow, I've readied a page of my commentary, which they'll talk about in groups of 2-5. And with me when I come around to their table.
This is the fun part of my job. Just getting ideas for things to try is fun. In the face of granite-skinned resistance, I'll try to draw them out, trying not--as Elaine in Seinfeld put it so memorably (about men she'd like to date)--"to make any loud noises or sudden moves that might scare them away."
The pay-off--I need hardly remind you, dear reader (that's you, Uncle Roy and Aunt Rogers)--is many voices speaking in the classroom, not just mine. And every time a student speaks of his/her experience with, say, a poem, the poem expands. (Here I don't count the rehearsed disdain uttered by the young man or woman who needs English 100 but never wants it, never stoops to engage.)
As soon as I write this, I run into L______, my waitress at a south Regina pub, who says she can't believe how much she loved my class years ago. I thank her.

Friday 26 September 2014


          The PCL guys—don’t any women work at this construction site?—return from lunch, walking slowly, as if they’d eaten that extra burger at the all-you-can-eat Luther cafeteria.

          I got an email from my sister in Kelowna this morning, saying that one of her old school pals from our home town had died. “Another one of the old gang gone,” she wrote. The funeral will take place in B.C., but there’s to be a memorial at his farm somewhere near Regina. Although I didn’t know the guy—he was 12 years older—I told my sister I’d attend the memorial on her behalf if she wanted. She’ll let me know.

          The workers get up to the 12th floor in an elevator that crawls up a shaft fixed to the southeast corner of the new residence tower. I can see their yellow safety vests through the grille of the elevator car. I’m curious now about how that elevator works. I can’t see any cables but I hear the motor.

          This Jake, my sister’s friend who died, played on a ball team for which I was the batboy, years ago. They were men; I was a boy. As I saw it, they inhabited a world I wasn’t yet qualified for. They smoked cigarettes and drank beer and knew how to talk about girls. Jake, a tall powerful first basemen, was one of their leaders. I think he became a high school principal.

          The elevator holds at least 8 of the PCL workers, I see. The 8th guy hangs back long enough to finish his cigarette, which he flicks over the railing at the entrance to the elevator. Three more guys file in, and the car ascends. I see now part of the pulley system that runs it.

          And we all carry on into the afternoon.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

14 Minutes

They found my silence and gestures odd but brought in their leaves (or as we hockey fans say, Leafs). I tried to keep it going until everyone had dropped his/her leaf onto the silver tray I passed around. I guess it was no surprise when the whole room got silent, until "Well, that was a goofy idea," I said. The leaf-words didn't seem that interesting, at first pass. But I'll bring them back and see if I can get them to think of words more as sound than meaning events for a while.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Notice of Attempt at Personal Best : Longest Time Not Speaking While Engaging Class in Useful Language Activity

Depending on the system of measurement, my PB stands at a mere two minutes, maybe two and a half. The idea I'm about to present, however, guarantees, if successful, a score of 20 or more on the Minutes scale. Here's the plan. I present 14 expository writing students--skilled, if unchallenged, writers--with this set of instructions:

As soon as you finish reading this, get up and go/wheel outside. Leaving everything here, where it will be secure, take nothing with you. Nothing at all.

Your task is to find a leaf big enough to have a single word written on it. Therefore, the leaf cannot be too brittle, or too fresh. Attention to detail is required.

Think of a specific word. These words are banned: love, perfection, beauty, truth, creativity, honesty, joy, health, money, travel, happiness, peace, life, mercy, tenderness, desire, sex, sympathy, understanding, brains, magic, pain, heaven, faith, serenity, everything, One, good looks, music, melody, harmony, unity, heart, autumn or any season, humour, disease, certainty, silence, Name, hope, generosity, spirit, moon, sun, earth, blood, colour, light, sound, sensation, mystery, death, wonder, disappearance, violence, pleasure, splendour, breath, birth, sadness, temptation, or any word like them.

When you’ve found your leaf (with maybe a back-up leaf) and thought of your word, come back to class. Maximum time outside: 15 minutes.

Using the felt-tipped pen I will provide, write your word on the leaf and drop it into the container.

Yes, and I'll come up with something to do with the words later.

Saturday 20 September 2014

What Happens

Just now I compared a notebook entry from Jerez de la Frontera, March 27, with its present iteration as a poem called "The Right Size". The first had a Saramago move: "...engaged in the study of what we call, choosing the most common metaphor, borderlands...". This never made it to the poem.

Where the notebook entry goes on to coin edgethropologist, the poem gets to its five stanzas and sees itself looping at the end, as did the entry, now that I read its last half-page.
Anyway, I've been noticing with such material a drift from where I wrote the entries--I can't remember the exact place in this case--and what I saw, to the form it's taken now. Maybe that's why I've kept the place and date bottom-right of each poem (not in photo above). To keep the lines of the place moving my way.

Could have been written here.

Thursday 11 September 2014

How Long It Will Take to Read The Great Gatsby a Page at a Time

It will be easy to get my students engaged with the first sentence on page three: My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western city for three generations. Admire the hyphens, first of all. This gradual zoom--what could a zoom be but gradual, I'll propose to the class--on who's narrating, never mind who Gatsby might be.
I blame this on fame. What new might a person say or write about The Great Gatsby. Better to read it, a page a time. So far it's all the narrator's worry over how he hears people, how he got tangled up last summer back East.
But back to My family, in a minute.
Today I asked--in honour of the designation of "selfie" as Word of the Year--what word do you like and why? Write it on the board; we'll all see it. We'll read it out. One of the results was "family," a word selected for meaning only, not sound.
That was fine, of course, but the word that turned out best, for me anyway, was chug, which I've tried to do since then.
The rest of page three gives us Carraway and his story, though not yet his first name. (Pssst, if you've read past 3 don't give it away.)

Sunday 31 August 2014

Wascana Hill

I reached the crown of the highest hill after half-time of the Riders-Bombers game.

Up there, listening northwest toward the stadium, I couldn't hear the crowd noise as I can from home. Geese I heard--a family spat--and patches of traffic from Wascana Parkway. Pelicans near the north shore ruled more serenely than ever.
Listening to the first half on CKRM, I'd heard one announcer, in a scripted ad, say "where the action's at". Earlier, the statistician had stated that in the first quarter the Riders were "plus one in the turnover ratio". These would be exhibits #1 and #2 in one of my English classes starting in a few days. Not that I have a case that requires exhibits. I'll be happy just to talk with my classes about whether and how such language matters.

At that point on the 2nd highest hill in Regina (now that I'd spotted the landfill hill), I decided to head back for the 4th quarter of the game, arriving at 13th and Lorne to the unmistakable din of touchdown delirium, Rider fans celebrating a 59-yard completion to Taj Smith.

Monday 25 August 2014

Hillsdale Rain, Sunday

It came in so sure of itself it didn’t need a storm. And it’s stayed that way 17 hours, with 17 more to come.

We forget that the urban subdivision known as Hillsdale comes post-glacial, as does the body of southeast Saskatchewan, from which Hillsdale extends as knuckle, finger or hand. Subject to wet spells, would be the polite way to put it.

But let’s be blunt: flooded basements, trunks floating, wretched sewer back-ups that stayed backed up. Pets lost, schoolwork abandoned, no piano practice for days—piano lost in the flood!

We figured out the sump pumps and plugs and for a decade or two stayed pretty dry.

It feels different now, the rain, weird climate dynamics. (Quake in California last night, for example. I’d watched a ballgame from Oakland—no sign of the quake by 10:00 pacific time.)

The runty little avenue, Anderson, where I lived for ten years as a boy used to be open space with no trees. The tallest things were survey sticks, which we used as swords with yellow ribbons, or paint can lids which we imagined as attack Frisbees. Or ourselves, but that’s another story.

Now the rain turns Hillsdale inward, clinging to bark of its own elms, canopied. The young professionals and managers, physicians, judges and football players have long ago moved to new homes somewhere else.

Nothing weird about this rain. It covers everything.

Friday 22 August 2014

Wascana Lake East

I don't want to say much about the teaching year ahead, which is coming up fast. Today I thought about preparing for the year by reacquainting myself with the landscape. That would include repeated exposure to interiors, approaches to doors. But let's start with the lake.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Hello From the North Apron of Wascana Pool

I pulled weeds along the fence to make a place for my towel, which is the first time I've said such a thing.
Run. No wait, don't run a mom tells her daughter. My bad!
A lifeguard, dude with red-blonde afro, takes the loudspeaker Listen up, hey listen up to explain how the deep end works now that the high board has gone. The high board--how many times did I arc against a blue sky poolward, blade or wrecking ball, the surface all mine?*--took us higher than anything, especially the Recreation Ranch-style, worn blue, office and changeroom building.
It's the contour I miss, of high ladder.
When some teen with a football calls out Hey good timing, buddy, afro says Thank you with his loudspeaker as he disappears inside.
He makes other announcements--too many. People will stop listening.


Saturday 12 July 2014


I wonder if visiting an archeological site, say a Roman settlement near present-day Mertola, in Portugal, and finding your jackknife there would make you old. Old needs no help, of course. I worked my scaps the other day and felt like a bird, old bird, proto-pelican. I liked what it did with my voice, but I tell you, the rest was brittle. Things continue that way. A casual swipe of a square inch or two back of my left eyebrow leads to consultation with NASA as to the composition of my noggin. I'm called "you old fuck" during a parking lot episode. In Lisbon about two months ago a young man on a tram offers me his seat. (Here I'll remember that a crowded tram in Lisbon leaves you hanging from forces of nature beginning with, but not limited to, hump, swivel, bend, press and hundred-year-old wooden box with windows.)
Eyes that require
their own staff and budget
(but don't they see past the bridge?)
is how an idea like this carries on. And I'm not feeling old today!
I did point out to my daughter the other day, though, that "we're all pushing 80."

Monday 7 July 2014

In My Room

Not to go on about old songs, but the Beach Boys are doing it right now, singing "In My Room" at my desk while I look out across the Courthouse. In either case a fortress is built, as adolescent boys know how to build them.
Here I am, thinking this way.
I don't know details but Brian Wilson got heavy into himself, I think, and the group broke down. I'll use sublime for some of their songs, though. "In My Room" can take a lot of abuse--sentimental pap, lyrics that beg for satiric intervention, squarest possible harmonies--but every fourteen years or so I find it again.
Look at the workers streaming home through the sunlight, 4:49.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Three Days After Canada Day

Three days later much had changed. Just occasional waves reached the bike path nearest the bandstand. They looked thin, doomed.
The bandstand could've played through it all. I attended a love-in there in about 1969, played concerts with the Lions Band. Trombone. When horns were required by progressive rockers, the time of Lighthouse and Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears, I covered the 'bone chart for Kharma, a band that lasted not much longer than three or four gigs around Regina, the last at the bandstand on a Saturday afternoon.

For the lake to achieve even that much overflow today the lake needs wind. Those two have been at it for a hundred and thirty-some years.

I heard the fireworks on Canada Day, saw people walking there with blankets.
It's a day bracing and fair.

Friday 20 June 2014

Gerry Goffin

Long-time readers of this blog--a rainy afternoon to you, Uncle Brownie and Aunt Green--will have at least twice seen the story of my life as defined by encounters with the King-Goffen 1962 hit "Loco-motion". I'll check the facts later, but that's the gist of it, the gist book.
All you have to do is listen to the song. Maybe you were there in the fall of '62, the gym of Massey School in south Regina. Colleen, Diane, Sherry, Laura, Trudy, Linda, Lisa, Barbara, Sheila, Joanne--I know you were there, for the dance, a Friday after school. And so was Little Eva, on a Dimension '45, doin the loco-motion with me. Everything I knew about girls I learned to that song, but don't blame the song.
Jump ahead 38 years. Friday after school at Massey, my daughter's staying for a dance. I'll pick her up when it's over.
I walked. Approaching the gym I could hear it, "Loco-motion" (accept no substitute--stick with Little Eva) and I stopped to do it just inside the front door. The light from the gym was getting to me. And everybody's do-oo-in a brand new dance now.
Do you like it with the hyphen?

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Wascana Lake

I'll get to the lake in a minute but first I'm saluting the late great Paco de Lucia, now playing with Al Di Meola on the latter's "Mediterranean Sundance". Please Check it out on the Tube or someplace. Paco's gorgeous "ole"! (Try to find the version from Elegant Gypsy, Di M's album from '77.)
But yes, the lake. I'm meeting my daughter and grandchildren for a circuit. I'm also poised for a big write on the topic, of that lake but maybe the family too.
I'd give in to goose by page three.
My grandson might need a piggyback part way. First I'll ask him to give me one.
Tennis ball, never a bad idea.
The lake offers I'd say fifteen thousand viewpoints. That could be the writing piece right there.
Sorry, gotta go

Sunday 15 June 2014

Lotta Latte

Since I bought the machine, I've cut down on tea, though I'm making a pot right now. I refer to my Breville espresso maker, aka espresso machine, which I've used daily to refine my coffee habit, the one costing four bucks per small latte. This pot of tea is my first in a week.
I'm not sure if latte is what I've produced, these last few days. But I've downed it, and it's not bad. Don't rely on your machine to make your latte, the guide tells me. Distracted by World Cup soccer, I'm learning to run the machine, all right. (A sip of green tea, the rain stopped.)
Because size of glassware offers room to explore, I sent away for latte glasses. And I'll fool around with beans. Once I get it all figured out I'll turn to the weather, which it takes a pot of tea to subdue.
PS: I'll be looking to Portugal tomorrow.

Wednesday 11 June 2014


If I'd arrived in Regina just now, I'd admire the pelicans, aka The Mighty Pel. If they sat at cafes, they'd drink lattes. On the beaches of Normandy they'd serve. They're the favourite bird of the Charolais Breeders conferencing at my workplace.

The pelicans as I skidded my bike into view gave two seconds of their lives to making sure I could stop before I hit the water. The rest was lake, the west curve of the big lake at the Broad Street bridge. In unison they bowed their heads. What fish had a chance, if the lake had fish, before eight pelicans forming a scythe that skipped choreography and went straight to dance.

It may have been a dance of sorrow re the abundance and content of the fish. But The Mighty Pel knew that coming in.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Flamenco 48 Hours Later

Afterwards I heard a kid in the stall in the men's can tell his grandpa, waiting for him by the sink, that he wasn't afraid of anything anymore. Good boy, said grandpa. When the kid came out, I saw he was about eight years old.
We could pause now for what we feared when we were eight. I'll start. It was the wall right next to me, which in the night caused hallucinations.
The subject of fear had nothing to do, surely, with the flamenco performance. In 48 hours, the group had found their way deeper into what they were doing (guitar/vocal, chorus of clappers, one solo dancer). Maybe the later hour and larger crowd helped things. For me, the signal of flamenco that works is that it answers a prayer I wasn't aware of sending.
Before all that, I caught Lowell Dean's Wolfcop, a buddy/suspense/fantasy/cop comedy/drama produced largely in western Canada. It delivered just enough surprise to make it past some dubious moments to an ending.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Flamenco in Regina

I tried. I showed up with my backpack, by myself, early--just as I'd done for dozens of arts events in Europe. I didn't hold out much hope, however, for flamenco in the context of official multiculturalism. In a curling rink.
To elaborate on those two problems: the acoustics were terrible. The vocals and guitar were inaudible, the palmas (clapping) even more so. The ensemble dancing, even precisely delivered, sounded like a truckload of boxes tumbling off the back. And as part of the "Latin" pavilion of the Mosaic Multicultural Festival, the flamenco group shared the stage with salsa dancers, traditional Mexican and Chilean dancers, etc. This turns living culture into museum pieces. Given those two conditions, any chance of the electricity I experienced in Andalusia was squashed.
But I salute Flamenco Regina for doing what they can. They're serious about flamenco, bless their hearts. I'll try them again tomorrow.

Friday 30 May 2014


I notice, while editing the writing from Europe, the inevitable distancing from the places written, which doesn’t surprise me, though my reaction to it does. The pieces remain linked by a location and date to their moments of first writing, but now I’m writing the piece, not the place. The not surprising part is that the process of abstraction—inevitable anyway as soon as we use words—was built into my approach: pay attention, spin out. Thus, my prose poems written in and set among the stairs of Alfama, for instance, or the Grand Socco in Tangier, began leaving those places as I was composing them. Now that I’m removed in different ways from the Euro locales—the “cities” of my writing attention—the poems become more removed too. Before long, they’ll have travelled beyond specific rootedness in any café, ferry, plaza, tram, bus, beach or avenue. They may even incorporate the Reyes throwing error that cost the Jays a win against KC last night, for god’s sake. But for a few muted allusions to incidents and sensations from over there, a few words of Spanish or Portuguese, no one will know where the poems came from. My location and date data might as well wither and blow away. Here’s the part that surprises me: I’m a little sad that the stories of my euro travels will soon be lost even to me, the only one who holds them.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Duration of Present Ideas

Write 50 Lake Wascana pieces by the end of summer, each on location at 1/50 intervals around the perimeter of the lake--a week or two, but paused while I measure the perimeter.

Resume blogging an entry per day until I get to 365, then repeat the same 365 forever, with edits--since the middle of last night. (Snag: this year's Tuesday is next year's Wednesday, etc.)

Dictate Billy Collins' "Introduction to Poetry" to my first-year English class this fall--three hours.

Launch Hillsdale Book on a chartered City bus driven through Hillsdale, parking to read pieces where they were written or where they are set, while sipping champagne--a few months for this one.

Consider the differences between us and rhubarb--two hours.

Remember a month ago in Lisbon--one hour.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Later That Same Status

While I was looking at my maps, outside Tangerine café, a guy got curious, wanting to know if they were old maps. Worn maps from a trip to Europe wasn't quite what he'd hoped to hear, but soon I'd taken a seat at his table so we could talk. Then the woman at the next table got curious. I must have mentioned Sevilla or Jerez. I'm from Malaga, she said, sliding her chair over.
(Malaga, Picasso's home, lies east of the route to Morocco I'd taken in March. On the Mediterranean, it must be gorgeous. For another trip.)
In the heat of the afternoon there at Tangerine, I didn't need a lot of encouragement to talk about Andalusia, especially the first thing I always mention: flamenco. There's a flamenco group right here in Regina, the woman said.
Put an exclamation point on that one!
After a few inquiries, I'm primed to take some palmas (flamenco clapping) sessions this fall.

Wednesday 14 May 2014


Today I finished the quick 2nd draft of my travel writing, and darned if it doesn't come to 100 pages. Working title, "Travel Cities" (being a series of prose poems set in specific places I call "cities"). I gathered the maps and miscellaneous documents I'd mailed home and reached into my shelf of folders and envelopes. There I'd tossed the plastic folder-sized envelop I'd kept documents in while travelling. The yellow plastic remains intact, and the snap still holds. I put it to work again.
I headed for a latte, pretty sure that when I sat down, opened the plastic envelop and started going through the contents, I'd find a title for his new book (as it might one day be). I hadn't even left the parking lot when I got it: City Map. That's the new title.
Latte steaming, I opened the envelop a few minutes later to Jose Saramago's "Words for a City" from his The Notebook, a transcription of his late-in-life blog: "What we know of places is how we coincide with them over a certain period of time in the spaces they occupy." Simple but loaded. Because so much about travel, and my own travel writing, involves knowing or not knowing, maybe Saramago's words, artfully chosen, will be the new title.
This is all fun, this stage of mini-accomplishment before the next stage of prolonged agony (a dynamic my body experienced many times on the hills of Alfama in Lisbon).
My maps, worn from the folded intimacy in my pockets and repeated, often hasty consultations in wind, sun, water, and sand of Europe and Morocco, once more oriented themselves in my hands at a café, this time a block and a half from home. They'd proven to be more flashy geometry than accurate cartography, in some cases, but they got me going.

Friday 9 May 2014

Alfredo Marceneiro

It's taken me a while to pay respects to this Fado artist, this fadista I'm hearing again. It was this time of day when I played him most in Lisbon, on cd Sara, the landlady, had pointed out, identifying Marceneiro as Fado Vadio, the less commercial strain. Such distinctions lose effect quickly, but A.M.'s voice seems one with the song, by which I mean truer. (Not to diss fado-based superstars like Mariza or Misia, whose music I also purchased in Portugal.) His voice is simple, subtle.
The time of day I'm referring to is around 5, a mostly sunny afternoon. We're about two months behind Lisbon's spring, but one of these days the buds will pop. People are walking home past the court house. I'm heading out soon myself for burgers at my daughter's place.
If ever our next words are our last, I want Alfredo Marceneiro to sing them.

Wednesday 7 May 2014


Somewhere between the back of my fridge and the kitchen wall I got the idea to throw some kind of late-May poetry/travel event at Luther. Quick before my tan fades, just kidding, I could read new work and show pics to some of the Luther folks, who after all have a hand in enabling, as part of that institution, my Euro travel and writing. I could invite other poets to take part, since I’m not the only one just returned, thus folding into the scene a kind of open house social component. I.e., food and drink.

Today, 2-3 days after getting here, I think I’m tuning ever-more tightly into where I am. Lucky for us, a place is always new, but look there’s that rabbit in the parking lot, that sundown over the court house. One of these days will hit the 20s, which tree buds will take as permission to open and fling their contents over the streets. That might soften the air a little.

I keep thinking about how such-and-such a figure from Lisbon would see the place right now, on foot over the bridge toward the campus, say. I think I know better than to look back for too long, but one physical analogue to the Europe still in me might be a kid reluctant to turn his head from something behind him while a parent pulls relentlessly at his hand.

This sort of thing, again lucky for me, works with what I’m trying to write—second drafts of my travel Cities, as I call them, and a bunch of new ones here and there in Regina.

I suppose I’d offer a version of such musings at this event I’m considering, on my way to the red wine.


Drunk means drunk. But someone let me into the keyboard room, so whohoo here we go. I'm going to see how many words some program underlines. IN the last few hours I had the various pleasures of my two daughters and their situations. Sitting in the SUV with my granddaughter (this aft between about 1 and 3) and sitting in the pub across from my other daughter (about 10-12). This adds up to a night, though I haven't checked. Those teachers used to tell us, check your answers as if there was something to check, as in this is my answer why should I check, which it often was, especially in my case, clamping to the speed of my operations, in fact driving to early retirement the math teacher who'd also taught two of my sisters.
If I eat egg salad for breakfast and wag my finger at a workmate for eating Brussels sprouts at lunch what's happening? I don't know whether to embrace or resist the weather today. Everybody says get over it, it is what it is. Is that cause or excuse? I don't know, I'm just telling.
It was someone's birthday. I was happy to join in celebrating. Earlier this eve, after one of the daughters but before the other, I built a fire, a damn good one. I told her I claimed to be a fire expert, as I claim to you all. Tomorrow I'll show you the fire.
If you see my words in a line like this, I'm thinking of a rule.
You might have to read a bunch of numbers.
I agree to all of this.

Saturday 3 May 2014

What Content Meant

On my last day in Lisbon, familiar patterns at departure time jostle for my attention: sadness (as in, love for what I’ll never see again, though who knows, but I doubt it, and it can never be the same anyway, but man does the place ever bloom in summer, etc.) and system (as in, zero in on the end of my food and Euro currency supplies so they run out just as I’m leaving, saving 20 for the taxi in the morning in case the train leaves me tight for time, a game time decision). And a dwindling list of errands: mail this, shop for that, get a haircut (in a 200-year-old Alfama barberia—I hope you’ve sharpened the blades once or twice, I quipped), finish this (bottle of wine), dispose of that (one of my books in a second-hand bookstall at the market—see photo below)). Wandering through these things, I’m haunted by the general sweetness of this place. Stunned with contentment, that’s me.

So endeth this daily blogging to accompany my trip—99 days, 99 entries. I’m flying to Canada early in the morning and will no longer be making daily entries. Dedicated readers—that’s you, Uncle River and Aunt Shore—will have noticed a few forced entries, as if I was hard up for what to say at times. True enough. But from my perspective, the blog has always said company, allowing me to imagine a reader or two.

For those of you who read and/or commented, I’m grateful. Thank you.

Over and out from Lisbon.

Friday 2 May 2014


Suppose you want to build a book of travel writing from questions found in My Book of English Exercises, Volume II, used in Portuguese high schools, circa 1957.

Here, first, is your epigraph:

By a double mechanism of revision and exercises the student’s knowledge is maintained and enlarged and his attention seized and held.

And your first 13 questions:

What must I wait for?

Was there any dog in the lady’s bedroom?

Must every steamship have a propeller?

Were all the rooms in the houses well-furnished?

What do you mean by travel?

What is a city?

What did you _______ yesterday?

What do you mean by food?

Is this a bus?

Which way am I to go?

Who builds with stone?

Are there not any banknotes?

When do you think of starting?

Good luck!

For inspiration, consider Outra Forma De Luta (Another Way to Fight), which I saw last night at the Indie film festival in Lisbon. A leader of the anti-Fascist movement, Carlos Antunes, while in jail prior to the 1974 coup that dumped the dictatorship in Portugal, was given 13 questions on 13 pieces of graph paper by a journalist. The journalist died 2 days later. The questions were never answered, until this documentary, in which Antunes turns the pages one by one and answers them.

Thursday 1 May 2014


I came here for writing time, of the all-day, all-night persuasion. Not for the newness of things, which I can create at home. Wait a minute. I came here for the absence of prairie winter and the early onset of summer.

By writing time I mean staying ready, like those sailors in orange jumpsuits on that vessel I can see, to generate and respond—in my case, to language possibilities (in their case to I don’t know what, the threat of pigeons on the rooftops maybe).

By summer I mean a day like today, hot by 09:00. I took my notebook and two pages of material drafted earlier on this trip to a café and watched a craft market set up and my galão go down and my 0.9mm Pentel pencil do its thing, repeating as needed throughout the day.

Results of such a pattern over time: a tan. Ideas for books it will take time to bring about. According to this line of thought, I should quit my day job to get after them.

In fact, the day was so fine I booted down to Rossio for a shine.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Mesa Solo

All it takes is a guy wheeling a keg of beer to block a Fiat blocking a Smartcar blocking a Mitsubishi flatbed on one of these Alfama street/sidewalks. The keg guy parks his wheelie in front of the beat local café I’ve visited several times for a beer—make way for the keg guy!—and here I am again, at a table outside for one, now that Lucy’s flown home.

This joint is friendly but a little rough around the edges, until we extend those edges to 22+ degrees and a sky full of blue and fado from a nearby window, as if edges promise more. I suppose if I drink enough Sagres and write and cross out enough notebook I could arrive at or depart from the meaning of a day like this when my daughter’s gone home and Alfama’s alone again.

This café sits at the base of a hundred stairs, counting only the ones I can see, that lead to hundreds more. Tourists can’t walk by without shooting them. That’s Alfama, a song should go. The guy’s exchanged the full keg—unhooking a worn green bungie—for an empty and wheeled off. That surge of traffic has unblocked and subsided.

And, you dedicated readers keeping me company now that Lucy’s flown home, I’m handing over my 1 Euro 30 and moving on. Good afternoon to you all.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

One More Afternoon at the Beach

Who knows when we’ll get back to the ocean, Lucy and I agreed, trekking toward the train to Cascais around noon. By 13:30 we’d parked our lunch, bathers, towels, notebooks, cameras close to where we’d parked on Sunday, maybe up the beach a bit where the tide couldn’t get us. Lucy, not yet burn-proof, spent a quarter of a bottle of sunscreen on herself. I opted for 3 bottles of Sagres which, like the Mexican beer, seems brewed for beach days, when you can down a few and get more refreshed than hammered, but hammered enough. At about 14:15 we shifted a bit and did our other sides.

After a while we walked east along the promenade toward the next beach—Estoril, pronounced Shto-REEL—and caught the train back from there. And thank you, bank machine in Estoril, for finally getting it right with my bank card and handing over some cash.
For tonight, Lucy’s last in Lisbon.

Who knows when we’ll get back to Praça do Comércial. Might as well jump.

Monday 28 April 2014

One Afternoon at the Castle

We take our time getting to the castle, but who hasn’t. Everybody’s pre-Roman, when it comes to Castelo de Sao Jorge, built on a mosque, built on a temple, built on the highest cave. Site of siege and occupation, national legend, the royal and the military; urban capstone; survivor of the earthquake of ’55—1755, for you post-Romans—the castle now lets tourists overrun it, the way an old hound might tolerate the frolic of a pup. Today, Lucy and I tour among them, as if finally paying our respects to that fortress from which all Lisbon descends.
What we’re paying is €7.50 each to troop behind other tourists up and down and along battlements, gardens, walls . . . but don’t get me going on the tourists. We’re willingly in line with them today, for the castelo, as these tourist things go, is excellent for its views (the best in Lisbon), its deep stone, its 1100 years. And for its pastries, to tide us over, as we said.

Maybe for the first time in its history, the castle becomes an item on the same itinerary as a café on Rua da Graça, near where I lived in February. See the gates and towers! Eat the soup! As it turns out, getting from the castle takes a while too, by the time we loop below and have to catch the tram back up and around.

Sunday 27 April 2014

One Afternoon at Guincho Beach

Today we spent a couple of hours in the engine room, the giant wind-‘n-wave scene of Guincho beach, west of Lisbon, that blew out everything else.

For the hang/wind gliders/boarders it was paradise, and the families and dogs, the daughters and dads.

Lucy and I had already taken two hours of sun in the resort town of Cascais (kes-KAISH). It was sandy business, requiring a change of footwear new shades.

At Guincho we dozed and snacked and took pictures of each other.

At 5 or so we walked back on the boardwalk to the bus to the train to the metro to the short walk, the usual climb and descent, to our place.