Saturday 31 December 2016

For a New Year's Eve

I'm not sure why I've cleared the decks of obligation to publicize what I write. Got to be something more than well shit, no one takes interest anyway
I've licked the cup of the coffee I drank. 
New to language is not as
easy as it sounds. Look how long
a line takes, a countdown 
100 top tunes of 2016. Number seventy.

I've wiped the birth from my fever.
I've driven truck and a case of water, sure.

Whatever it takes to stretch in the Yucatan
hint: sun. That's where you'll find me or me you.

And the toast I offer tonight says
may you take and be taken by the best in '17.

Tuesday 20 December 2016


Regina poet Gerald Hill has resigned after one year of his two-year term as Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan.
The cause of the resignation is unknown at this time. When pressed for a reason yesterday outside the Frontenac, to which Hill was seen returning with a box marked “Christmas liquor,” Hill would say only, “It’s time.”
According to his reports to Poet Laureate HQ, obtained through the Freedom of Poetry Information Act, Hill had enjoyed his year as poetry sovereign. His various events, most of them new to both the position and himself, took him to Government House, pubs, Culture Days, rodeo parades, outdoor food fairs, music festivals, arts congresses, comedy shows, and beyond. “It was a blast,” Hill says, “except maybe for opening the Leader-Post recently and finding my mug spread over three pages.”  
Why, then, the resignation? “Things came together,” was all Hill would say outside the Frontenac, repeating that “it's time.”
While full exposé of reasons for the resignation will have to wait, sources hint at a series of rejections of Hill’s work, one commentator speculating that “constant rejection as a poet gives the lie to public celebration as Poet Laureate.” Asked to confirm, Hill admitted that “I did have another manuscript rejected Friday, my third this year” and that “recent work can’t find any purchase in the journals of the land.” Could it be that less prancing about as public poet and more work with pick and shovel in the dark, private quarry is called for? “I do need a re-set,” Hill says.
“I think of it as the Abdication,” says Hill, known to be viewing The Crown for the fourth time. “My only regret is that I was unable to sign legislation requiring poets to bow before and after their public readings.”

- 30 -

Thursday 15 December 2016

Last Class

The last class this semester was like the first one. When I showed up to the big round writing table in Luther 213, all 15 students were seated in their usual spots (wearing parkas, though, instead of shorts). We ate butter tarts and muffins and cookies.

I handed out copies of the anthology to which we'd all contributed.

Sam gave me a photo taken in class about month ago, when I am claiming I was the first to have written this new word, buycott, on the blackboard.

My pitch at the time, as always, was that the more we're aware of small language moves like this one, boycott to buycott, the better we can use language ourselves and thus, I need hardly add, the better we can resist the tyrants, advertisers, bullies of the world.

Shyla asked, "Is this the last class you'll ever teach?" I said I didn't know. But right now I'm feeling a little sad.

Tuesday 13 December 2016


Last summer in Herbert, at the end of her piano set opening for my Poet Laureate act, Mrs. A., long-time Herbert piano teacher, offered a beautiful bow. I say offer because surely that's what a performer's bow does: acknowledge, submit even--to the audience, without whom the performance means nothing.
Mrs. A. has bowed a thousand times in her lifetime (decades long), I'm guessing. We're used to seeing theatre performers bow also. But not us literary types. 
I for one have never bowed, except the other night at a party when I got going on this matter and tried a few out, with ridiculous effect. Maybe it's my three times through the brilliant "The Crown," which is full of bows, at the neck, whenever His/Her Majesty walks by. Forget neck, I want the full half-body forward fold, palms resting above the knees or hanging loose in front. 
This is no idle gesture. I learned in Andalusia how performers and audience fulfill mutual needs. I think it's about time the poets got bowing. When I mentioned this at that party the other night, a friend said, "Well you're Poet Laureate. Can't you just make everyone do it?"
I'll start with myself. Every time I do a public presentation, I'll bow--after, maybe before. Starting with Red Hot Riot this Friday in Regina. How low to dip, how long to hold it, what to do with hands and feet and eyes? Drop in and see.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Proposal For Proposal To My Class For A Class Anthology (Designed, At Each Choice, To Cause Talk)

Let's imagine that the focus of everyone's essay is "bad behaviour". (Needless to say, each person has his/her own way of doing "focus" (which I hope is the last of the quoted bits here).)

Make the bad behaviour happen in your choices of word, tone, form, voice, language--that's one way of putting the task.

Write the behaviour in sections, five or six sentences per section. Make them work.

Is every notion of bad behaviour a moral judgement? Does the speaker matter?

And so on. We can learn from "Brown Loafers" how to dodge focus--swing around it, turn away, come right at it for a spell, veer off. 

If we all do that, I think we'll have a really exciting anthology. Next task: title!

Monday 24 October 2016

A Trip Around Lake Wascana

Wind was gulping from the southeast.

I didn't say much.

The stage was not mine.

Or the victims of genocide in the Ukraine.

Or the bleachers at the Douglas Park track.

I left the lake about here.

Saturday 15 October 2016

On Dylan Getting the Nobel Prize

We all know that words like literature and poetry are inadequate. They’re either too vague or too prescriptive. Either anything can be called literature, or only those works that fit the bounds of some narrow definition can be called literature.

Great art doesn’t just happen. It isn’t just laid down. It doesn’t just appear when or because an artist claims to have produced it. Whatever the inadequacies of the word literature, it has to keep faith with craft, it seems to me. As in, years and years of practice and study within an ever-changing but ever-present set of disciplinary constraints we label with generic terms such as poetry, literature, music, folk music and others.

As shifty as these constraints may be, and as rich the blending of artistic forms throughout media these days, if we abandon them, and the imperatives of craft they imply, we’ve dumbed ourselves down considerably. The problem for me with the Swedish Academy’s decision to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan is that it participates in—and will no doubt propel—a retreat from these disciplinary imperatives of art.

What are we afraid of—reading a poem? Engaging with a work of literature? Paying the price to develop and recognize the craft at the base of any great art?

On Thursday night in Regina I heard an English Studies academic present a series of monologues written in the voice of a painter and his subjects. On Friday I heard an MFA visual artist’s statement about his own work that consisted of a slide show of pop-cultural images and a streetwise voice-over. Both of these presentations seemed lazy, self-satisfied. Unwilling to go deeper.  

Same with the Swedish Academy. 

Wednesday 28 September 2016

If I Had To Do What I’ve Assigned My Students, Due Tomorrow, It Might Look Like This (With Comments)


        [Comment: so far so good]

Warm, after all, for the 16 of us seated in late morning sun. I saw shadows of hairs on my hand—it was that bright. To the dome of the Legislature, a prize for shine.

[Comment: could cut it was that bright]

The first thing I saw, as I remember it now, was the stillness, a lake showing its quiet side. We all saw. From our swarm of sorrows—wifi frustrations, a fender-bender, a 15-minute wait for coffee—we found our listening, that blank page that let us alone, us and geese, Trans-Canada highway, flightpath to YQR.

          [Comment: past tense helps here, if I set up remembering]

The longer we sat, the more refined our sensing became—a shiver in the grass stem, peep-end of birdsongs, light let onto a shadow by tiny holes. As if, senses open, we’d revealed our finer workings.

          [Comment: someone’s going to ask what workings?]

It would seem odd to early humans observing—our backs to a stone or treetrunk, or folded into a patch of grass, scratching marks onto a surface we carry around. They would wonder if life itself isn’t a blank page on which we scribble our lifeforms.

[Comment: Now we seem a long way from the moment. And where are we again? Some re-location required?]

But that sounds a bit grand. Let me start again with this: we’re here because it pleases me and offers possibilities for writing and/or a moment of peace.

        [Comment: that's it? seems a bit let down?]

[Grade: After removing the name from this essay and forgetting it was mine, I give it an 82.]

Thursday 22 September 2016

Update Re Class

A friend told me the worst thing about being alone is that you start to think your own ideas are good. That's why in class this morning I proposed otter as "exotic creature I'd like to domesticate as a pet."
A grim topic, to be sure. I'd seen the question in NY Times magazine and repeated it as a journal prompt. This resulted in two dolphins, a clouded leopard, a white tiger, jellyfish, a wolf ("not wild dog, wolf"), a pig ("I don't know, I've just always wanted one"), and two lions (which I mention last only because if I didn't, the last word would be my otter). 
I love sitting down ten minutes before class with most of the students already there. 
Today I flashed my file of anthologies produced by past versions of this class--my fav, as I said this morning, being a collection of short essays on favourite songs. On final exam day that year, one guy burned a class set of cds with all the songs, which we included in a pocket fixed inside the back cover of each anthology. 
What I'd like to talk about with the present group is the notion that the language study we are undertaking--in the (open) form of expository essay writing--goes well with conversation. We can talk with our audience across the table. We can trust who they are.  
What always comes up in this class is frustration about "what I want in this essay". My theory, picked up decades ago as a B.Ed. student, is that when it comes to frustration, anything this side of paralysis is good. It signals the new.
And on it goes. After much pausing, three students agreed to offer a page of writing to class for workshop next Tuesday--a big step on the trust front.
By the way, I picked otter because I saw one eyeing me down below the bluffs in Scarborough a year ago (somewhere in this photograph). I tell you, in that gaze you behave.

Sunday 11 September 2016

First Class

I found out where "bae" comes from and claimed that alone was why I'm glad to be in class today. They laughed. This happened a few times. A question or answer would pop up, and we heard chuckles, the sound of doorways approached.

I had no idea, specifically, where this all was going but I'd ask "Why the chuckle?"  (I'd ask with a smile, by the way. Not my usual semi-scowl (my bad luck with the downturns in my face).) If they couldn't answer, good enough. Every bit of reflection on language helps us use it, I've always claimed. 

Maybe that's just hope minus doubt.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Meeting My Students Tomorrow

Can't wait but have to. I just gave Birkerts' "The Walk," last essay in his book (our text) The Other Walk, another read.

[I'll insert here later a photo of the cover]

It's loaded with ways in to talk writing. And I've tacked a few provocations into my remarks to the class chat room and my course outline. What I'm going for, of course, is that we examine how we use language and how else we might use it. Birkerts' writing is full of useful choices.

I've got a few surprises in store for when we first meet, tomorrow morning at 10:00, these 15 students and me. They can write without fear--being pre-Journalism, English major, or Secondary English teacher types--or they wouldn't be taking the class. But, as they'll soon find out, that doesn't mean they can cruise on what they can already do in writing. 

I see frustration on the horizon--as long as it's not paralyzing, it can be managed--that leads to learning. A few laughs too, I expect. As I'll say tomorrow, if we're not laughing, we're not going far enough. 

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Short Entry Wishing I Was On My Way to Scarborough Again

I asked geese from Regina if they knew any geese from Toronto.

Scarborough, specifically.

I imagined some gooseline after hours by which they shared ideas.

Comparing notes re light.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

One Afternoon Around Lake Wascana

I'm on the trail (one of them) of Don Quixote, for whom every skew of reality comes through language. Coded language hundreds of years old. 

I name my bike, my bag and gear. I select my own names from whatever the breeze provides. This would be no ordinary bench,

no obvious view.

Here flowers abound.

Like the Don, I speak as if authored in some story.

Like him, I take enchantment from distant isle.

 Of course the path narrows . . .

a warning.

When I spot the white stallions emerging from the sea, I take off.

Thursday 4 August 2016

How I Spent Three Weeks West of Here

First came the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, and my Rembrandt rendering of Crozier, Currie, and Carpenter.

I drove west, stopping to visit my old friend and teacher Tom Wayman, pictured here on the former rail line past the former Lemon Creek internment camp above Winlaw, B.C.

On to Kelowna the next day, I shared the lawn with various children, siblings, nieces and nephews . . .

On the way back east, I stopped with my sister Susan for a couple of walks in Grasslands National Park.

Two days later, she spotted the sign at Herbert, my home town.

I gave two readings in this former Roman Catholic church owned now by Pat Donnelly.

And rode in the Herbert Rodeo Parade.

After that, I was exhausted from all the attention. 

Saturday 30 July 2016

Introduction to a Reading from 14 Tractors in my Home Town of Herbert Sask.Tonight

I've found that a useful thing for a poet to do is pay attention. (To, as we all know, whatever your senses provide and what's inside in the way of memory, story, fear, ache, cry.) Pay attention and let your mind wander. Everything flows from that.

And for me, that flows from the first ten years of my life, which were spent right here, in Herbert, Sask. 

Cut to the scene next to a cornfield at St. Peter's Abbey, me paying attention. To tractors.

That's where this book comes from. 

Thursday 30 June 2016

One Morning Early

I got up early the other day.

It stayed that way for a while.

When I became poet laureate, people said what can you do about the weather. I said Besides look?

It's easy to remember seasons more regular. Darkness was good no matter what the weather, refinery lights as bright. Three forty-eight, thin cloud, patches clear.

The more I watched, the more I heard birds. A gull on dawn patrol seemed annoyed.

By saying this much I've agreed talk is all we can do when it comes to weather. Thousands remember the storm of '74 when if you drove a Cortina I guarantee the water came over your hood. Make up a story of a piano floating or a wedding gown lost, somebody's already told it.

Details emerge, colours of cars on the highway. Trail on the far side of the lake, still an hour from first jog. Weather's just one of those names of how our planet behaves.

When one's mind drifts from weather to some other idea, truly there is nothing one can do.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Solstice is the Best Medicine

That's the title I came up with, anyway. It's the length of day that sets us down around 7:00 pm as if after breakfast, that much light ahead. 
Tonight by accident I came upon the old University sign (new one here). 

Half storage half junk, this patch scraped into a southeast corner of the campus. 
I'd pulled in to have a look. Now that I've seen the area, I plan to bring my writing class over in September. Lay the usual admit inner and outer lives on them. I'll probably use the phrase bring language to attention and speak of translation. Needless to say, though I will anyway, it is the particulars--the fabled details--of the sign and beyond that will make the writing work best. 
As I will point out to my students, this discussion could drive the entire semester if everyone buys in. 
It occurred to me just now that what is most satisfying when everyone does buy in is the fact that each person sees the benefits for him/herself. 
I'm afraid few benefits will accrue to the sign, which I'm guessing is destined for the hammer.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

One Afternoon in Herbert, My Home Town

The first thing is getting there. Take the Trans-Canada west into the Missouri Coteau.

My bird-loving friends will approve of a stop at Chaplin.

In Herbert, I tried to check into the motel or campground.

Nothing was open.

I went over to the Co-op to ask. Me: I was born here. Co-op guy: I'm busy! It looked like hard times at the Lone Eagle.

Just east, the grounds where we used to go on Sports Days.

I never had much luck here.

When the highway diverted to the south edge of town, the original Trans-Canada became South Railway avenue.

I used to get a bean shave here.

Dad got a new red Chev every two years here.

I'd heard that local media were excited about the hometown boy returning as poet laureate this summer. 

The quieter the town, the louder the train.

The giant poplars are all that's left of the school where I'd been a good boy for Mrs. Campbell, Miss Shopa, Miss Higginson, and Mrs. Benallack . . .

. . . though some the bricks were used for the Memorial Wall.

I walked by 432 Brownlee. I felt the pain from a fall off my bike long ago.

That was it for my camera battery. The rest was notes toward a Herbert piece I'm working up for this summer. See you at the Herbert Rodeo weekend, July 29-31.