May 5, 2020
Down the Rabbit Hole
Well, this is different. Never imagined a year ago that we’d be where we are. Even though social distancing doesn’t result in enormous change to a maker’s day-to-day, it’s one thing to choose solitude and quite another to have that freedom removed. And while one could view it as an extension to winter hibernation mode, the quieter time of year many creative introverts enjoy, when spring arrives everyone’s ready to bail on the old homestead. … Ah, there’s no point dwelling on it. Better to stay busy with reading old books and new, poetry, continued work on in-progress manuscripts, spring gardening, bird watching and listening, long-postponed house projects. Or chasing the trail of ancestors down the rabbit hole of online heritage repositories. All those maze-like tunnels of names and dates and places, the rooted mysteries of your own make-up branching out into till-now dark distant corners. Sometimes those roots seem endless (and of course are). Sometimes they come to puzzling dead ends (so to speak). You can get lost for days. Works for me. Keeps my mind off what can’t be changed. Call it research.
October 9, 2019
Distraction is playing havoc with the ‘dreaming shore’, the space required for listening and thinking… to be remedied later this month. For now, set down in this cloud-place: a poem by Canadian poet Elizabeth Brewster (1922-2012), from her collection Sometimes I Think of Moving (Oberon Press, 1977), as a reminder to keep listening. And to keep saying.
ON READING ANOTHER POET
I think we are being given the same messages
that oracles are speaking in our dreams
warning admonition code
syllables of unknown meaning.
We are not in competition.
If I say the same thing
it is not because I copy
but because the voice says so.
Maybe there will be hundreds of us
like choric echoes.
It will not matter
that the words repeat themselves
so long as what is said
rises like the tide in all our separate waves
and beats upon and shapes the dreaming shore.
April 29, 2019
In the Village
From 1915-1917 Great Village, Nova Scotia was the childhood home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop, when she lived with her maternal grandparents, the Bulmers. Given the number of poems and short stories the house and village later inspired – some of her best, in my view (e.g. “In the Village“, first published by The New Yorker on December 11, 1953) – this maritime place had a profound effect on the artist the child became. This month, for two weeks I lived and worked there, thanks to the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society, which maintains the Elizabeth Bishop House as a writer/artist retreat. And I understand better now how it was for her. How the white clapboard house seems small from the outside, but inside, isn’t. How the steep, brown-painted stair complains underfoot, the cozy pantry offers a view of the church while you wash dishes, and the undulating wood floors teach you your sea legs. Now I know how the village settles into a deep, gentle quiet after 10 p.m., as if a switch has been turned off, when the gas station across the road (Bishop immortalized its earlier incarnation in her poem “Filling Station“) closes for the night. During the day, though, you can’t believe at first what a hub of activity this short stretch of Highway 2 is, or how much traffic zooms past, and how close. After a while, you don’t notice it so much. Sitting in the sun on the back porch, you attune to other sounds – a chorus of returning spring birds, the rush of the Great Village River tripping over itself on its way to Cobequid Bay, a short distance across the tidal marsh. And inspiration sneaks up on you like a wintry breeze off the Bay of Fundy, prodding you into action. The house was, unusually, empty for the month before my taller half and I stepped inside the back door. A chilly room temperature and that musty smell old houses acquire when they’re vacant too long greeted us. Once the furnace fired up, though, and we settled in, moving about the rooms, unpacking our bags, stowing groceries, putting on the kettle, and then reading in the parlour or writing at the desk in the study, the house became a home. As it did for Elizabeth during those two formative years and for many summers afterwards. She found comfort and inspiration in this unassuming Nova Scotia house in the village. As I did, when it came alive again to welcome strangers.
March 12, 2019
‘Parking’ this here, as a reminder on days when it’s tough to answer the W5s of poetry, those days when answers to WHO one hopes to be as a poet, WHAT one’s trying to explore and document, WHERE one can find a creative space, WHEN exactly it’s necessary to protect that space, and WHY it all matters anyway are wavering, blurry, lost somewhere between. At least, I might address the question of “HOW”, having rediscovered a piece I read earlier, an observation made by Scottish poet and critic Douglas Dunn. His own “framework for poetry is that it has to happen between the ears—intelligence—it has to happen under the left nipple—bit of heart and feeling—it also has to happen between the tongue and teeth. If it doesn’t happen between these places, it is not poetry.” A chestnut of wisdom to remember. Even when the W5s are only vaguely answerable, the HOW can be found in the places between. (Update: Found another ‘where’. Read April 29, 2019 entry.)
November 19, 2018
On October 16, friend and colleague, Canadian poet and author David Helwig passed away at the age of 80. I admired David’s dedication to “living the life of the writer”, and his work remains a benchmark. Over the past few years, I edited a new book of essays about his fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, and thankfully it was released in time for David to see it. What’s more, he was gave it his ‘seal of approval’ – “Looks splendid,” he wrote to me. We saw each other for the last time in September this year, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, at an event celebrating the man and his life’s work. I wrote a short piece about the evening and David’s final reading before an audience. I will miss his voice, I will miss his words. Yet I’m grateful to have known him and to know his books remain. David Helwig — multi-talented, skilled, dedicated writer, whose work should not be forgotten — is a touchstone in our national literature.
August 11, 2018
Time Is All
If you’ve read This Being, or entries on this page, you might have noticed certain preoccupations. Time is one. More and more I’m inclined to declare there’s none to waste, especially when it comes to the human noise that grows louder every day. Though I tap into it, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, I regret it almost always. Black vibes are clogging up the forward-thinking machinery like tarry, brainless gunk, wasting our energies, damping down the hopeful, the positive, the idea that we can improve even one small part of the world. Time is all. None to waste. I’m missing the castle in the deep glen along a Scottish river, where the drawing room clock’s ticking seemed to slow. Time is all. None to waste. Everywhere else, at least in the way we perceive it, time chugs along. Time is all we have. We can’t change the past. The future’s out of reach. Only the present offers itself up to us. Don’t waste it. Refuse the noise and carpe the hell out of your diem.
March 12, 2018
These past four weeks, I’ve been far, far away. In a 15th/17th-century Scottish castle near the city of Edinburgh. With four other writers. There was no internet access, WiFi, TV, or cell service. Delicious meals were prepared for us, and our laundry done. We were taken care of, as elected ‘Fellows’ of this wonderful haven, where our sole purpose was to read, consider, observe, listen, and to write. I began work on a substantial portion of my next book. Disconnecting brought home yet again the insidious nature of distraction and its true impact, especially in our current world. Places that offer and encourage quietude, where you can actually hear yourself think, are few and far between. But we found one, near the Pentland Hills, in a deep glen along the River North Esk, where the only sounds are the constant babble of the river, the wind moaning low in the chimneys, the castle settling in its bones, and birds singing for spring. Where “ut honesto otio quiesceret”, “in peace and decent ease”, is the motto. I listened. The words came. A glorious rush.
December 31, 2017
Last of the Old
For a little while today, I forgot the date, forgot 2017 is on its way out. The year’s hard work was rewarded with dividends of all kinds. Relief, too. However, much-needed rest is yet to come. Right now, I’m watching an icy white wolf moon thread its way up through the locust tree’s bare branches, and I realize it’s chilly here in my study. Outside the window, the air is -17C, feels like -24C and dropping, and I think it’s time to shut down this screen, to say “enough work” for 2017. It’s time to sit by the fire, take in these last hours of the year, and imagine what those round the corner might hold. I know there’s writing to be done. And very soon, I’ll be hermitting myself away with pen and page, on a writing fellowship, in an old attic room far away, at a castle in Scotland, looking out its windows onto 2018 and a new view. I’ve no doubt it will become familiar and beloved. But first, it will be exciting! A change is as good as a rest, so the saying goes. I hope to manage both.
September 12, 2017
Stubborn or Obliging
My solo show, Re|Visions, will soon be installed and will open on October 14th, which means I’m currently in the final stretch with this particular body of work. I’m thinking more and more about writing again, how I’m ready to get back to it, to that process, how “sometimes I can’t write fast enough – those rare moments when a ‘gift poem’ seems to materialize fully formed out of thin air. Other days it’s worse than pulling teeth – like you’re yanking on the spleen too and getting nowhere. The stubborn poems piss me off, yet I’m oddly suspicious of the obliging ones…” (read the whole interview here.) Three and a half years have passed since I began work on Re|Visions, and even though I also published a book and edited another during that time, and new poems continue to crop up, the past few months have been focused on the fusion of image with text. It’s almost time to return to wrestling solely with words, be they stubborn or obliging.
June 19, 2017
The Eyes Have It
This Being won the 2017 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, presented by the League of Canadian Poets! Aye. The jury, quoting from the book itself, said the “poems read as sonic and ‘sombre supplicant to the whims / of living, age, genetics, and weather’ fashioned into a ‘stronghold of I.’” I’m heartened. Honoured. And now a member of the League as well. … The ms for David Helwig: Essays on His Works, with splendid essays from ten contributors (more on that later), is complete and has gone to the publisher. Watch for it from Guernica Editions in 2018. … Currently on deck: new interviews, essays, poems, workshops; a few upcoming readings; and art-making continues for the fall show, now titled Re|Visions and recently full of eyes. There’s light at the tunnel’s end for that body of work, but new Ideas are already surfacing.
March 17, 2017
You have to trust in the creative process’s cycle of wild peddling and pause, production and apparent inactivity. After a project reaches completion (the release of a book, for example), there’s a moment when the idea of resting appeals. Except, you can’t help but worry that if you stop now, you’ll lose steam and never make anything again. I paused to get some exercise, meet up with friends, check on seasonal progress, give a brief talk or two about what I do, before heading back into the studio to actually do it. Nearly three years on, I’m still working toward this autumn’s solo exhibition, which opens October 14. Thing is, I also have a manuscript due the first of May. With so much to finish, there’s no rest. Only the peddling. Always the peddling.
November 1, 2016
The days shorten, grow darker. The sun retreats from the northern hemisphere. But this afternoon, summer seemed to be clinging to autumn’s coattails. The sun warmed the air, the bricks of the house, me, as I yanked out plants that won’t survive the winter, tugging on stubborn, intertwined roots that had, in a few months, reached deep into the soil. There might still be a poem attached to one of those long filaments… A friend wrote something that brought me to a quote from the late American poet James Dickey: “‘The sun is new every day,’ the ancient philosopher Heraclitus said. The sun of poetry is new every day, too, because it is seen in different ways by different people who have lived under it, lived with it, responded to it. Their lives are different from yours, but by means of the special spell that poetry brings to the fact of the sun – everybody’s sun; yours, too – you can come into possession of many suns: as many as men and women have ever been able to imagine. Poetry makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the world.” That’s all that needs to be said today.
August 10, 2016
Summer in southern Ontario used to be predictable both for its weather and R&R. Lots of holiday lazing about during hot, humid days, followed by thunderstorm-filled nights. This year, while the swelter has been in glorious attendance, the usual rainfall is absent. The garden’s feeling it, and so are we. Climate change, we’re told. After the new book’s spring release and the buzz of readings, interviews, and appearances that followed, I counted on summer to offer its usual reprieve. So much for that. The only predictable thing is that a writer|artist is never not working. Even though part of me needs to be outside absorbing the sun and heat and the feel of grass between the toes, the other part is content to stay inside with the next piece of writing or art (the latter for a September 1 deadline). Predictably, I’m juggling. Because I don’t want to miss any of it.
April 5, 2016
Long Time Coming
THIS BEING, my new book of poems, is now available. Recently I was interviewed about being a writer, and thing I was asked was How did your first book change your life? Since the entire interview is forthcoming, I’ll simply post a snippet of my response here: “A first book … marks you as a paid-up member of the tribe. Even though I’ve been part of the lit[erary] community for a long while … I skirted around my ‘first’ book by producing so many others: 17 issues of the literary journal I co-edited & co-published; anthologies; a chapbook; a poem-sequence-artist’s-book; a volume of critical essays and a volume of poems (both about the work of other poets, which I edited, selected, contributed to). So, in a way, my first book doesn’t quite feel like a first. While I’m glad now that it didn’t leave home sooner, the pressure to get it out there has finally eased…” That last bit is especially true. (Read the whole interview.)
January 4, 2016
A Beginning in an End
Another turn of the page, on the calendar as well as metaphorically. T.S. Eliot’s poem “Little Gidding” springs once more to mind: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice. … And to make an end is to make a beginning.” And isn’t it all continuation of a sort? Words linger. We linger over them. Put them aside. Revisit and reshape them. I’m sure I’m repeating these very words, though perhaps in a slightly different order. My new book of poems will be released this spring. Will its words prompt page-turning, recalling, revisiting, repeating? That would be a very good beginning from one project’s end.
August 25, 2015
Doing the Work
Eight months come and gone in a flash. I’ve had my head down, working. On the book of poems that will be published next spring. On an extensive series of visual works that are slated for exhibition in Fall 2017. On adjusting to changes that come of children becoming adults and starting to lead their own lives. Doing the work makes me a better writer, a better artist, a better parent too. Maybe. If nothing else, doing the work keeps me sane amid the chaos.
January 12, 2015
Happy New Year! Lots on the go at the moment, so just a short scribble. If you’ve ever wondered whether location affects inspiration and output, I wrote about it last month, for Open Book Toronto. “Some writers find their process inextricably linked to a particular physical place… My own writing process isn’t anchored to one location. At times, I’ve exited the day-to-day via cabins, hotels and country inns. Occasionally a café or library plays sanctuary. Words have ambushed me on trains, in rowboats and waiting rooms, in the quiet that a long road trip often evokes, or at night, when any scrap of paper from the bedside drawer will do…” Read the entire archived text of my “At the Desk” feature.
December 5, 2014
A writer has to get out of the house once in a while, no matter how dedicated to the work, no matter how introverted. This past week, I drove to a friend’s house. She’s a writer too, so understands the need to get out and to get the word out about words. She and her husband hosted the first “Writers in My Residence” literary salon in their living room. They welcomed everyone with food, beverages, seats enough for all. I and fellow poet|writer|editor Stuart Ross read from our respective new books – mine is The Essential Anne Wilkinson, poems. The room buzzed with energy, then discussion, questions, laughter, even excitement. We shared a love of words, books, ideas, art. Sure, I was working, and it takes energy to gear up for a gig, then stand in front of a group of people and perform. While it’s energy you’re always aware you could put into making something instead, it’s worth it. So much so, I read again yesterday evening in another town! Nothing like getting out of the house. Twice.
October 6, 2014
The “somewhere” mentioned in April looms closer. Several somewheres, in fact: a book due out in November, another two books in-progress, and an extensive textwork series taking shape, based on the prototype “Antoinette’s Head” and “Heads of Fate” series, which was shown at an art festival in September. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t give away too much. It’s not about being secretive or even superstitious – to be honest, I’d prefer spilling the beans. But it’s better to err on the side of caution, to not vent too much steam in the excitement of discovery, because that steam is what drives the engine forward. For now, even for me, patience rules. (Update: Check out my latest works.)
April 5, 2014
As a “plane of passage / contained by a frame / hinged to the changing / gate of its door” (from “Doorway”, a poem in the collection THIS BEING), they represent possibility, opportunity, discovery. A few new doorways, and even revisited familiar ones, were disguised as other things:
1. “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry” (i.e. “ModPo”), an engaging online course which entailed ten weeks of collaborative close-reading and discussion with classmates around the world. It’s offered annually through the University of Pennsylvania, via the Coursera platform, and I’ve returned as a Community TA. 2. The “Artist-Educator Foundations Course” facilitated by Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, with the support of the Ontario Arts Council. 3. Books: A Humument by Tom Phillips, Uncreative Writing by Kenneth Goldsmith, How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ, Ark Codex (Calamari Press), Heresies by Anne Wilkinson, A Journey with Two Maps by Eavan Boland, and The World of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin. 4. The work of creative women predecessors: Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, Artemisia Gentileschi, Dora Carrington, Judith Leyster, and so many others.
All this is leading somewhere.
January 1, 2014
It’s been awhile. In fact it’s a whole new year. Full of activity though 2013 was, it did include pauses to take stock. One such moment came about when Open Book Ontario solicited an essay regarding my experience as a writer in this particular part of the province. In looking back I realized how far I’ve come and how much has changed here. It also confirmed the importance of the here and now. The text of my essay “Here Be Writers” is archived online. Here’s to being here.
June 11, 2013
Today we heard that a controversial, much-delayed, and much-opposed regional international airport will be built after all. It will consume a third of the already expropriated 18,000+ acres of local, prime agricultural land. This comes hard on the heels of the current in-progress highway expansion, which is devouring thousands more acres of our finite amount of farmland. In light of this, I feel the need to reference “Driving Away,” a piece I wrote for CBC CanadaWrites’ “HyperLocal” series:
“When I first came to live in this town east of Toronto, one thing struck me as familiar; people said hello to each other on the street. In stores they stopped to share family news. My husband and I, our roots still elsewhere, felt anonymous. Warm evenings we’d ride our motorcycle on country roads only minutes away. Across fields and ditches fireflies signalled their Morse code of tiny binary lights. The air smelled of damp loam, growing things, and I could recognize cornfields by their sweet scent….”
March 1, 2013
Only the Words
“Picture a thing for which you have only its name – no image, in fact or memory; only the word. Picture Photuris pennsylvanica. Language shapes us. It anchors us in a visual world, extends us. Words guide with associations, lead with meaning. We, perhaps, forget how much…” Read the online archived text of my piece about language and “The Etymologist’s Legacy” textwork.
February 1, 2013
As a writer, I’m interested in where people tell stories and read books. As an artist, I study the role of text in the reworking and retelling of our stories and histories. A quote from the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald set the tone for this particular project: “Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.” And finding this chair was another stroke of luck. With its 18th-century North American origins and long association with storytelling by the fire, the rocker is the perfect vehicle for exploring these ideas. Text – even text presented on computers, tablets, and e-readers – usually comes to us as black shapes on a white or near-white page. However, some of us still recall blackboards at school, where we learned to read and write and put words together. Here, the chair is now the slate bearing a mysterious, chalk-white, hand-lettered invitation to become the listener or reader of the story. Through the spindles along the back, I wove the opening sentences of twenty classic books. They represent the world of literature that words open up for us. The chair’s lovely, historic bones are now accentuated, and the whole has a more contemporary feel. With a new book included, there’s no better place to begin a story than at the beginning. (“The Invitation” was auctioned off at a community charity ball in February 2013.)
January 11, 2013
Eleven days into the new year and two projects are checked ‘completed’ on my 2013 project list: the ‘Chair Affair’ contribution, i.e. “The Invitation” rocker. And “BinaReCodings: ‘In the beginning was the word'”, a bookwork for Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project 2013, to go on North American tour then housed in the Brooklyn Art Library. Deadlines can make you sweat, but they also grease the motivational machinery and keep you on track.
December 21, 2012
It’s a dim, brief day in the Northern Hemisphere. But glimmers of light appear everywhere amid the long shadows. They’re strung on houses and through festive greenery on the mantel. They’re found in gatherings with friends, in laughter with family, in projects that await your attention, in small mercies. It has been a fulfilling year, and no doubt 2013 will be as interesting.
October 23, 2012
Recently I’ve had to write a few. And while I prefer to let the audience come to a work unimpeded, without too much lead-in, an artist statement, much like the title of a poem, novel, or piece of art, provides an entry point. Here are a couple of mine:
“dBooked” is my response to the apparent decline of the book as object, as the container and conveyor of a narrative, and examines it as an artifact in our digital, eBook world. Going against my instinct to take care of and preserve any book, I pulled this one apart. I removed its three dimensions and most of its pages, then cut away the story word by word, leaving only a few clues as to its previous state. What remains is skeletal, even historic: sections of the dust jacket, cover, and end papers; library markings that confirm its previous life of use; near-empty pages; conjunctions and a sequence of chapter headings. Descriptive text and paratext are absent, though their original locations are visible. As the words drain away, the vivid, colourful picture they painted evaporates, the story disappears. We become archaeologists… What was the story? Who told it? When? Where? And with whom did it once connect?
“The Etymologist’s Legacy“, as idea, arrived virtually unannounced. I woke with the words “entomologist” (a zoologist who studies insects) and “etymologist” (a specialist in the origins of words) doing a tango in my head. Almost immediately I sidelined all other projects to begin this one. Its shape came quickly: a shadowbox collection of insects, though not the usual kind which displays the insect’s physical remains. Rather, this collection would consist of the words that represent their scientific classifications, their ‘official’ names. For each name, I selected a typeface|font, as well as a paper colour and texture, that together would suggest the physical nature of the insect… If the insects themselves are gone (and with them their beauty), if all we have left are the words (their names), what story will we tell? what picture will we paint? what will we truly know, then?
September 8, 2012
Bye-bye, Summer. Landed a few keepers. Now it’s all gutting, scaling, beheading, filleting, seasoning, and sizzling. Hope to serve up the results soon. Stay tuned.
June 16, 2012
Not really. But I’m just as ‘away’. For the summer. Hung the sign on the door. Fishing for ideas, for silence, for time to make new things, write new words. Back later.
April 16, 2012
The word pretty much sums up the state of the creative mind. Influences revisit. Images recur. Ideas refuse to go away. Right now, preoccupation reigns supreme. A few months ago, the curator of a local public gallery invited me to be part of a group show this fall, called “Reading the Image”. All five participating artists work in image and text. It’s a fabulous opportunity, and there’s nothing like a deadline to push you to produce new work. So, while I continue to plug away at new poems, book reviews, and ideas for another artist’s book, I’m also searching out images, recalling influences, scribbling and sketching ideas, trying to figure out how they’ll get channelled into new artwork for this show.
December 28, 2011
It’s nearly impossible to come to the end of another year and not wonder, Where did the time go? A self-employed, self-regulated maker also tends to ask, What have I accomplished? And that’s when the reckoning begins – the review and tally of the year’s productivity. By my accounts, the past twelve months have been reasonably productive. I continued to do what I want and need: read, wrote, noted, edited, created, recreated, retreated, reviewed, published, spoke, hosted, exhibited, travelled, observed, listened, wondered at, simmered ideas, interviewed and was interviewed, taught and was taught, launched two books, completed my stint at one volunteer post, then accepted another, and all the while connected with colleagues, celebrated with friends, and received responses from readers who confirmed that I wasn’t toiling in solitude for nothing. So yes, by all reckonings, it was a good year, though the satisfaction will likely only linger a moment.
September 15, 2011
Autumn, already. Maybe age or the nature of my calendar is the reason, but the seasons seem to cycle more quickly now. I grew up in a small town in the middle of farm country, and fall remains my favourite time of year. Transitional. Bittersweet. Harvest time. These days, completed projects are my crops, each one different. The seeds of one may seem barely sown when, magically, they’re ready to reap, while others reach fruition after a lengthy maturing process. This fall I launch two books – Richard Outram: Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions) and Slipstream (ARKITEXWERKS & Soper Creek Chapbook Studio) (shown here). The former has been a long time coming. The latter, even though its text was written in 2007 and its shape and presentation has morphed a few times, was completed in a whirlwind of effort, in two editions, over the summer. I’m pleased with each book, for different reasons. Mostly I feel a sense of accomplishment. However, the time of year still makes me pause. It’s hard to say goodbye to summer, knowing winter is inevitable. The next few weeks will be spent glancing back (with a twinge) at what’s done, while at the same time preparing for what’s ahead.
April 28, 2011
Ah, the circularity of journeys. Last month’s stops: Amsterdam, Lelystad, Bruges, Paris, Versailles, London. With my eldest daughter. For me it was partly a return. For her, new yet familiar wonders. For us both, a shared grand adventure. Before she sets off for university and another kind of adventure begins. The creative well is also full again, thanks to all the sensory input. Soon, some of it will percolate to the surface, renewed, and take shape in fresh work. For now, I’m simply reliving. Round and round. Securing memories, mental images, details. I’ll return to Paris. Or so it’s said, once you’ve stood on the stone-ringed, shiny “Point Zéro” in Place du Parvis. As I did. We’re bound to meet ourselves coming back.
January 10, 2011
Next Stretch of River
A new decade arrives and rather than making New Year’s resolutions, rather than spouting lofty public proclamations, it seems wiser to privately reaffirm, each day, those things one hopes to change or achieve or improve upon, while being mindful of the fact that a hundred years from now no one will remember or care who did what. Unless, of course, s/he develops a cure for all disease, or discovers we’re actually bugs or something. 2011 is a paddle, a figurative canoe, a still-surprising river to keep navigating.
October 20, 2010
What Do You Do?
When asked that question, I used to respond with “architect”. I soon learned it elicits an eager itemization of home renovation wants and desires. Whoa, that’s not my section of the Building Code! Now I hesitate for a different reason. Answering “writer” or “artist” isn’t like saying “algebra teacher” and knowing all further interrogation is blessedly dead in the water. Instead it’s often followed by “oh?” (which means “why?”), or “what kind?” The former bristles my inner Mary Poppins, who feels no desire to explain. And the latter isn’t easy to answer — I’m an explorer, and like most writers and artists, what I make is drawn from the stone soup of all I’ve absorbed and experienced. Today was a day of synchronicity, in which the following and refreshed my own sense of:
“Frequently I am confronted by people who say they do not understand, the *meaning* of a poem. Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out. ‘Poetry,’ said Coleridge, ‘gives most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood. Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.’ Meaning is of the intellect; poetry is more physical. Most of us have read a poem that has made the hair on the back of our necks stand up: we may have asked ourselves, ‘Why have mere words had such a physical effect?’ The answer, wrote Housman, ‘is because these words are poetry, and find their way to something in us which is obscure and latent, something older than the present organization of our nature.'” – Susan Musgrave
“Architects are renaissance persons. They are experts in none of the many intricate and detailed aspects of creating the built environment for humankind. Their expertise is in choosing, coordinating, and integrating the means to create a physical environment which satisfies the complex needs of the material and spiritual life of human beings. It is a role not much recognized in a highly materialistic world full of experts who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.” – Stig Harvor, in Ontario Association of Architects’ journal Perspectives
“Tolstoy wrote in his diary: ‘… our entire life, if spent unconsciously, is as if it had never been’ … We live as if covered with rubber. We need to restore the world for ourselves … To this end, in order to make an object into a fact of broad art, it has to be extracted from the quantity of facts of life … Art takes everything as its material.” – Viktor Shklovsky in Literature and Cinematography
Fashioning an answer to “what do you do?” isn’t as important as striving to just DO it.
September 24, 2010
Not literally. Figuratively. Sort of. What I mean is, I consider all those days of struggling against the literal current of time, doubt, frustration, discouragement, distraction, and all that other useless flotsam that impedes progress. Thing is, there’s no real choice but to keep swimming. Quitting isn’t an option; you’re wa-a-ay out in the middle of this ocean now, committed to the distance. Going under isn’t an option either, because, face it, you LIKE swimming. You like the feeling of being immersed in language, thought, images. You like how sometimes you get swept along and hours slip by unnoticed. You like the solitude of the task. Mostly. Occasionally you rediscover you’re not alone at all. Familiar faces of writer friends appeared alongside a few nights ago. We exchanged news, stories, suggestions, grumbles, commiseration, and firm “keep going”s, understanding the challenges ahead despite the miles already put behind us, and laugh at all the ups and downs shared in this stubborn ocean. We parted again, slow to relinquish the brief camaraderie, but more prepared for the next head-down stretch. The swimming will be somehow easier, for a while anyway. No doubt the current will see fit to bring us together again. Until that time, we go our own way, each of us reaching out to pull in another handful of elusive.
September 16, 2010
The project is done. Well, nearly. After months (nay, years) spent on the writing of the poem sequence, the reflecting, revisiting, pausing, rethinking, revising (it was originally commissioned for a chapbook), then the sketching, false starts and abandoned efforts to take it into the visual, the RE-revisiting, the mocking-up on the computer, the trial and error and retrial with materials and assembly, the procrastination, the summer spent sweating over not being able to work on it, the DIY printer repair (all those electronic-jigsaw-puzzle pieces spread out in order of disassembly around the kitchen), the unfortunate results with methyl cellulose experimentation (it’s a paper-pulp-based glue), the treks to haul home heavy glass clip-frames, a whole lot of watercolour paper and some train schedules, and finally, three solid weeks of nose-to-the-bloody-grindstone, it’s done… if you don’t count photographing it all, writing the artist statement, designing the booklet, etc. I have no weekends. No vacation. No break. Not really. Imagination’s wheel turns as constant as Earth’s. But once the show is installed, I might indulge in a nap.
June 4, 2010
What Makes Poetry?
Montreal poet Robyn Sarah writes:
“I [look] for poetry that is poetry before it is anything else – whatever its subject matter, style or form. I like poems that have lasting resonance, that invite re-reading and reading aloud, that balance sound with sense, and that go beyond mere personal biography or the topicalities of the day to evoke universal human questions and emotions. I look for honesty in poetry. I look for language that is original, surprising, playful, yet also disciplined. I look for poems that rise above their own surface ‘aboutness’ to a higher plane, whether of metaphor, myth, or sheer melody – poems that deliver truth beautifully and beauty truthfully. In short, the values I look for in contemporary poetry are the same ones that have allowed great poems to survive centuries and to transcend languages and cultures.”
December 15, 2009
When the creative engine needs a refuel, a reader’s response to new poems (featured in Gloom Cupboard) — “cryptic, thought-provoking, startling and … puzzling; wonderfully dark and beautifully written” — is a gift of another 10,000 miles. Cheers, wherever you are.
Except in the case of reviewing a book, where reading to provide a critique is the task at hand, there’s no good reason to waste time on writing that doesn’t earn and maintain your attention. My rule of thumb has become this – if it doesn’t tilt your perspective, if its language doesn’t re-calibrate your ear, if it doesn’t contain soul enough to replenish your own, then forget it. Demand better. Reach for the next book.
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