Saturday 31 January 2015

Alfred Cochlan

I was going to add a small piece to that map project Brenda got us going on but wasn't sure where my uncle Alf had been born, almost 90 years ago. He died the other day. I share the Alfred with him, and we shared it with his dad, and dads all way back to the first Alfred, Maria Alfred, who came over from Ireland around 1850, and gave her male descendants her name. 
Call Uncle Alf a trickster, you wouldn't be far off. He'd watched his Bowery Boys and his Abbott and Costello. He was so far the youngest in his family of 5 (three girls, including my mother, Alice, the oldest girl) that he was closer in age to some of the nieces and nephews. For those youngsters, the marriage of Alf and his tall Icelandic bride, Sheila (which took place the year I was born, I think) was fairytale indeed. Sheila wore wavy blonde hair, Alf looking Irish, like his dad.
I'm not sure if he was born at the farm or in town, Palmer, Sask., south of Moose Jaw. A Saskatchewan boy.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Propositions for Tomorrow

How to tighten and open at the same time--tough!

Forget all conclusions.

Treat any prompt as an excuse for exploration. Come on, this is an opportunity.

If voices have layers, what's the next one deeper?

We're familiar (we English-users) with fine-tuning. Suppose your poems are tuned, where's the fine part?

Why not make your title happen, the first kick at your reader. (But is that what you want to do to your reader?)

Yes, you have an opportunity to explore, what you, and only you, can write.

Don't write poems to please me.

Dare your own voice to way what it really wants to.

Don't forget that an ego--that-which-you-think-you-are--tends to be at work in the word "I", but the voice doesn't have to speak that way.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Saskatchewan Poetry

My students read aloud poems they'd selected by Currie, Szumigalski, Margoshes, Krause, Rawley, Benning, Monahan, Lynes. A Saskatchewan poetry festival, right here in our classroom, was how I billed it.
I should have played it up more. The reading of any one poem went ok--a tad fast at times, one or two sing-songy interludes from students who haven't heard a poem lately.
I asked them to write down whatever they took from a cold hearing of the poem, no text. Write up your reactions informally in prose for Monday.
As I try that now, I  note a lyric voice understood this way: a man (for example) watching seasons, the flora and fauna, creating the field he knows, one eye on the ending. Done well, it does well. If we're looking out a west window, might as well watch the melt in the alley, spring-like in January (except for the green, the man admits, still looking).
When further poems move that way, even the inexperienced readers in the classroom get restless. The man points out that what he feels in his body is what he sees out there. From here to the horizon becomes the poem, by the time the man attaches a story or two. 
Of course, I'm referring here to the effects of what my students want when they read, as much as to any default poetic at work in Sask poems.
Well, whatever. The poem continues. The man begins to act like, and be, both the source and destination of language (often expressed as book, writing, word).
Something small will be observed.
The man will remember. 
He used to write in the fronts of textbooks, more than just his name. Those inside front covers escaped the usual rules. Bones could be drawn, and maps. He could execute his signature with pens of three colours at the same time. The school's name had been stamped there, and a PROPERTY OF. After that, anything goes.
Six or seven poems in, the students were repeating themselves in what they picked out of each poem heard, for now, only once. Night seemed to be showing up in every poem, followed by day. The poems seem to gaze through their own reflections
Wouldn't you know it, one of the poets--I'm sorry I don't remember which one right now (but I can check!)--lays down lush rebellion, allowing me to claim we have just encountered these two words together for the first and only time in human history.
And the man walks on with his landscape and his breath and all those hours.
But we'll see what my students say come Monday.

Thursday 22 January 2015

One Morning in the Creative Writing Classroom

My account of today's class begins with a series of exhortations (disguised as critique, encouragement, boots in the ass, cajoling, general commentary, assignment, or other pedagogical imperative) to raise the stakes for their writing. People get executed for their words,
I remind them.  Make yours matter.
I invite my students to reflect on the first 2-3 weeks of the class.  Is your writing getting enough attention of the right kind?
No, says the woman on my left, whom I respect from a previous class. I thank her and mumble something, I forget which came first.
Throughout this portion of the class--preceding the exchange and performance in pairs of each other's scripts--I sustain the desperate hope that the odd single word, the odder the better, maybe two or three of them together, gets through.
I don't think I'd mention any of this if I didn't think the class experience was useful for these young writers. A few bruised egos, maybe, but when is that a bad thing?

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Not Talking About What I Was Up To A Year Ago In The Yucatan

Having read 14 x 2 pages of Creative Writing student writing, I'm ready to pay the bill and head home. Love and patience helped, as much as I could muster. Kick or two in the ass, more like it, one of my 8-year old Blunnies--you'll remember them, dear reader (a slushy good eve to you, Uncle Blimp and Aunt Goodyear), from here or here--which tonight massaged the base of my table at the FreeHouse, to the beat of Oilers-Caps and classic rock.
I admire deeply where the pieces of writing come from, even it's Café Cliché or fantasy fiction or romance, sometimes all at once. There's also love and play and human warmth and sneaky voices that maybe should leap once in a while.
Oops I'm still at the pub when Tom Cochrane comes on.
Drink my water and get out.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Prompts, Jan.18, Part II

[I offer these reminders: Any prompt is just a way to start. Once you’re rolling, you can ditch it. Be as free as you can with whatever voice speaks in your writing. See if you can give up some control.]

Name your style of dress.

What our objects say about us. Pick two or three objects. Notate in detail what they say.

You find something in the paper you’d like to rip out. Write the scene.

New products for the home. Make one up, or a bunch. Keep the language of your products sharp.

What, if anything, worries you about fashion these days?

You trust yourself. You know what you like. So?

Our world includes “the world’s smallest flying robot”, pictured in Saturday’s Globe landing on the heart of a flower. Your comments?

Cheap thrills. I count eating a radish as one of life’s cheap thrills—what are a few such items on your list?

You’ve just heard that your two grandchildren, ages nine months and 5, will be here in two hours. What do you do?

Only one week left. What’s in it?

is the way an ad goes. Despite what I proposed about single-word lines, where could you take those ones?

An experience in a store.

Three ways to ___________________.

“Try acting normal, but angrier.”
(found in a panel of Dilbert, Saturday Globe, page B2.

What you expect to
hear more about.

Tell us how you blew your gasket.

Your future highlights a problem. Which one?

Do people "fall apart"?

You, or someone for whom you speak, are dining at your favourite restaurant, really a splendid place. Look who walks in.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

That's How It Begins-a

Pause here to listen to the end of "Needles and Pins". I'd have to run away-yay. The tears I gotta hide, etc.
(My playlist, shuffling, comes up with B.B.King.  Down in the alley, way down in the alley.)
I was talking about notebooks in my creative writing class. We all flashed our own. I explained that a recent purchase--a sketch book about 24-by-30--didn't work. I asked if anyone wanted it. One woman, a mother, snagged it for her kid. Today the woman brought a note and sketch, ripped from that book. A very cool message--sorry, dear readers (hey that's you, Uncle John and Aunt Deere), it's private.
The writer signed it sincereally, can't tell if intentionally or not. Damn fine word.
Later today I began to consider what I'd like to do, what my employer would like to do, for a retirement party. I think I'd want it in the classroom I entered most often, and left about the same number of times. The one with the photograph of Einstein. Pity the poor student who sat nearest, bearing the brunt of my daily need to tip Albert up a little or down a touch, maybe both, not quite that much, a little more.

Thursday 8 January 2015


I was thinking just now--about time, I can hear you say--that I've met every one of my readers. Not sure if should worry about that or not.
On Wednesday in my first-year class I managed to talk up a poem and draw them in. I don't control their reading experience (it was listening, in fact, not reading for most) but I do encourage a response to the poem. Pretty much any response. 
It seems that the less we talk about what a poem means and more how it behaves, the better things go.
I apply the tricks I learned teaching grade 7 almost 40 years ago.
Create expectation, chance of surprise.
I like the way all my classes have begun and I know the reason: I'm sitting down. The classes are small enough; the one with lower enrolment cap is full. I can sit down, get a circle going.

Sunday 4 January 2015

What the National Newspaper Didn't Say

With Newest Press, I'm launching Hillsdale Book this coming April 7, the Tuesday after Easter, at Luther College, 7:00.
For me that's a big deal. The book's been a while in showing up.
Earlier ideas of driving a busload around--stopping at Hillsdale sites, where I'd read a piece--will happen later. This coming April, I'd like to create an event to entertain the Regina arts community, a diverse and erratic crew.
Announcing Hillsdale Book.