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.