weir 2

Apologia pro vita mea
(for Ana)

          Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and I re-read the first story. I was soon dabbing my eyes with a tissue and blowing my nose.

This morning, I want to destroy everything I have written. I know I don’t possess the verbal and emotional genius of the great writers and I sense that I cannot write like them. Graduate school taught me to be passive, not active, and to write impersonally, choking every emotion when I write. Academia also taught me how to kiss and how to run away with my thirty silver pence. “Never challenge the status quo,” my professors told me. “Learn the rules and disobey them at your peril.”

But here, in this private space where I create and re-create, there are no rules. The enemy is not clear any more and the fight is not one of black against white. It is rather a choice between diminishing shades of grey, and all cats are grey in the gathering dark that storms against my closing mind. Should I destroy all my writing? I won’t be the first to do so; nor would I be the last. And I won’t be the first or the last to destroy myself either. Intellectual, academic, and creative suicide: as total as the suicide of the flesh.

I carry on my back the names of those who have gone on before me as if they were a pile of heavy stones packed into a rucksack that I carry up a steep hill, day after day, only to find myself, next morning, starting at the bottom once again. But this is not the point: the point is that if I cannot write like the great writers, how can I write?

I think of Mikhail Bakhtin and his cronotopos, man’s dialog with his time and his place. I have no roots, no memories, and that is where my stories must start: in the loss of self, the loss of place, the loss of everything. I was uprooted at an early age, soon lost my foundations, and only survival mattered.

I look at the first page of one of my manuscripts. My writing manifesto is clear before me: “And this is how I remember my childhood,” I read. “Flashes of fragmented memory frozen like those black and white publicity photos I saw as a child in the local cinema. If I hold the scene long enough in my mind, it flourishes and the figures speak and come back to life.”

I am aware of the words of T. S. Eliot that “every attempt / is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure / because one has only learnt to get the better of words / for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which / one is no longer disposed to say it” (East Coker).

Are these stories an exercise in creativity or are they a remembrance of things past? How accurate is memory? Do we recall things just as they happened? Or do we weave new fancies? In other words, are my inner photographs real photographs or have they already been tinted and tainted by the heavy hand of creativity and falseness?

The truth is that I can no longer tell fact from fiction. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, rather, something that I just imagined. And perhaps every word of it is true.

I no longer know.



Portraits by Velásquez

 Velásquez sought asylum in Canada.
He set up his studio on the shore at Glace Bay.

He photographed short, stunted people
miners who worked underground
mining Cape Breton coal.

He waited while they shook or coughed,
had patience till they were still, then click.
When he had captured their spirits,
he blew up their photos to NHL size.

Slack jaws, puffy eyes:
“Man’s greatest sin
is having been born,”
one sighs.

Another seeks himself
through inner darkness.
He probes dark galleries
with Davy Lamps for eyes.
He finds no gold,
just seams of coal
that cling and clot his lungs.

Velásquez waits
for his cough to stop
and click he’s got him.
Sally Ann Second Hand clothes
lay siege to his tortured flesh.

“Life is a snap,”
Velásquez cries.
“And every photograph
a lie.”

Plagiary: Wednesday Workshop


Wednesday Workshop
9 August 2017

No, plagiary has nothing to do with the plague, though it might do in certain circumstances, especially if a plagiarist is plagued by lawsuits from others who think that the thief has benefitted financially or unfairly from the theft.

What is plagiary? The Merriam-Webster dictionary suggests the following, and I quote, with references:

Plagiarius, the Latin source of “plagiary,” literally means “kidnapper.” “Plagiarius” has its roots in the noun “plagium,” meaning both “kidnapping” and “the netting of game,” and ultimately in the noun plaga, meaning “net.” The literal sense of “plagiarius” was adopted into English; in the 17th and early 18th century, a kidnapper might be referred to as a “plagiary,” and, in the legalese of the time, kidnapping was “plagium.” But “plagiarius” also had a couple of figurative meanings – “seducer” and “literary thief.” It is the latter that has made the most enduring contribution to the English language. A “plagiary” could also be one who commits literary theft (now usually referred to as a “plagiarist”) or the act or product of such theft (now, more commonly, “plagiarism”).


From the above definition, we can conclude that plagiary is theft, the stealing of another person’s work, and, above all, the presenting of that work as if it belonged to the plagiarist. In other words, creators create: they are not meant to steal and misrepresent.

Does plagiary matter? Of course it does. By its very definition, theft, it is one of the Ten Commandments, and therefore something to be avoided: Thou shalt not steal. However, as with all things, the gravity of the crime depends very much upon the circumstances. In academia, where creativity and original thought is the ‘name of the game’, the theft of intellectual property is considered by the gatekeepers of the purity of knowledge to be a very serious offence. That is why so many universities so carefully define plagiary / plagiarism and place such stiff academic penalties on the plagiarists who offend. By extension, certain professions, such as journalism and science (in the broadest sense, the creation, protection, and distribution of knowledge) must hold to very strict rules on the subject of intellectual theft.

The article on plagiarism in Wikipedia [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism ] opens several horizons. It stresses that academia (with its spin off into scientific and industrial research) and journalism (with its theory of scooping) are the two biggest areas in which plagiarism is considered offensive. Plagiarism, the article stresses, more than anything else, is re-quoting other people’s material while claiming it as one’s own and without citing the sources from which it was taken. This quickly leads to the infringement of copyright and this is a much more serious and complicated legal matter, as the article points out.

As for literary and artistic plagiary, this is a very different kettle of fish as artists seem to borrow from each other in the most curious of ways. Molière, for example, proudly announced that, as for his artistic material, “Je le prends où je le trouve.” This roughly translates as “I take it from wherever I find it.” In his day and age, imitation was a favorite rhetorical device, and the imitation of other people’s work was considered more like flattery than theft. Miguel de Cervantes, in the Don Quixote, that most original of novels, took the first sortie of the famous and ingenious knight almost word for word from an earlier entremés (short play to be performed in the interval between the acts of a longer play) entitled El entremés de los romances. This is not so much ‘Homer nods’ as Homer ‘carries a gun and holds up a local bank’. Do we cry plagiary or imitatio when the similarities between the play and the novel’s opening are such that for a long time people attributed the Entremés de los romances to Cervantes and referred to it as his early work?

I follow the Spanish tradition and often use lines and words from other authors in my own work. However, I think that what I borrow is in most cases well enough known for it not to need quote marks, nor to need identifying. Though Lovers Be Lost and Broken Ghosts, two of my book titles, come directly from Dylan Thomas’s poetry. However, I quote the verses in the opening pages of each book and Dylan Thomas’s name is clearly attached to them. If, however, I write “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” … or “Rage, rage … ” against anything, I think personally that the attribution should be clear as should the literary dialog that I am starting within the text. Similarly, if I write that “July is the cruelest month, because we expect the sun and it is always raining”, then surely the reference to T. S. Eliot is clear as well, and so is the attribution and twisting of his ideas. I have used the phrase “Jack Pine Poems” before now, without referencing Milton Acorn, but most Canadian poets will be aware of the origin of the term without my writing “following in the footsteps of Milton Acorn and his Jack Pine Sonnets” ….

To further complicate the matter, plagiarism is a hydra, and its many heads may take a multitude of forms. Wikipedia suggests that there may well be a whole epidemic of what might be called ‘literary borrowings’ that verge on plagiarism; there is, for example, a touch of ‘literary theft’ about all of these: “plagiarism, literary theft, appropriation, incorporation, retelling, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, reprise, thematic variation, ironic retake, parody, imitation, stylistic theft, pastiches, collages, and deliberate assemblages.”

However, as the Wiki points out: “There is no rigorous and precise distinction between practices like imitation, stylistic plagiarism, copy, replica, and forgery. These appropriation procedures are the main axis of a literate culture, in which the tradition of the canonic past is being constantly rewritten.” The quote marks show that this list is lifted bodily from the Wikipedia article.

What I would underline most strongly is that “the canonic past is being constantly rewritten.” Literature is, to a large extent, a writer’s dialogue not only with (in my case) his own times, but also with the way other writers have seen the world and written about it. And not just written about it: think of the geometric expansion of oral literature. We hear so much, so much is repeated, words and phrases slip in and out of common usage. There is usually a prime over, an original author, but when a word r a phrase slips into what might be called ‘common usage’, then plagiarism takes a turn in a different direction.

“To borrow from one author is plagiary, to borrow from many is research,” as Oscar Wilde is rumored to have phrased it. As a result, what is considered to be a can of worms in academia, science, and journalism, may turn into an interesting and not necessarily a dishonest practice in the artistic world. How about the erotic cowboy novel that I am thinking of writing? I am going to call it Fifty Shades of Zane Grey … how many copyright laws am I breaking with that little joke? None, in my opinion, yet given a competent lawyer and two or more clients greedy for money, and virtually anything can be turned into a fertile battleground for legalistic dispute. Hopefully, the pitiful pennies that I own and the innocent and innocuous literary discourse that I exchange with other authors, many of them long dead, will not bring on a flurry of lawsuits.

“Where there’s muck, there’s money,” as a famous Yorkshire millionaire once said. So quit mucking about with even the possibility of plagiary, check your sources, and, if in any doubt at all, make sure that you add those quote marks and those references. And remember, it’s better to be safe than holding up your hand in court and saying “I’m very, very sorry, M’Lud.”




After eight years of retirement
I still have most of my books.
I keep them in the basement,
where no lights shine on the shelves.

Every day, when I come down to read,
I find more books than the day before.
I think they copulate in the dark.

At night, when I turn the lights off,
I can hear them all chattering,
and clattering away. At first, I thought
they were faking it, like human beings.

Now I am not so sure. What are they doing
as they lie there beneath their covers?

Books, a generic term:
I fear the dictionaries are worst,
lining things up in alphabetical order.
Then I wonder about the mysteries,
the philosophies, the religious tracts
that are hell-bent on controlling others,
but are notorious for not controlling themselves.

Whatever are they up to, I wonder,
as they rustle their pages and mutter
to each other on their shelves.

I have a collection of art books
with pictures of unclothed statues ,
not to mention real, naked people.
I am afraid to look at the photos.

Mont Blanc

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Mont Blanc
(for Chuck Bowie)

“But what is that stick-like thing
between notebooks and mouse?”

“That stick-thing by my mouse,
as you so elegantly phrase it,
is my Mont Blanc fountain pen.

It’s also a metaphor app.
You stick the blunt end in your ear
to wind up your brain,
then you carefully clean
the tip on a piece of paper.

If it leaves suitable marks,
you read them like Runes
and use them to create metaphors.

You can also use it to conduct music
or to take a thin, blue line for a walk.
It’s very useful for poets who don’t like
staring at computer screens, and with one
they rarely suffer from writer’s block.”

Return to KIRA: Thursday Thoughts


Return to KIRA
Thursday Thoughts
27 July 2017

“You cannot step in the same river twice,” according to Heraclitus. And he was perfectly correct. Yesterday I returned to KIRA. But it wasn’t the same. How could it have been?

Geoff, Hanna, and Cherry met me at the door. Geoff shook my hand, Hanna gave me a big hug, and Cherry pushed her wet nose into my crotch. Some things don’t change and one of them is a favorite doggy’s greeting. Mary sat at her desk just inside the door and she got a big hug too.

One Small Corner, the book that I wrote while at KIRA in June was in my hand. I had a signed copy for each of them. They also had a present for Clare and I: lunch at the Garden Café, courtesy of KIRA and a trip there on KIRA’s latest acquisition, a new golf cart, driven by Hanna. We were early for our lunch booking and Geoff suggested a quick tour of the gardens since Clare hadn’t seen them.

We all climbed into the Golf Cart, Mary and Hanna in front, and Geoff, Clare and I on the back seat, looking back as KIRA slowly vanished behind us. Another quote: “History,” said Marshall Macluhan, “is like looking at the past through the rear-view mirror of a rapidly advancing car.” This is a wonderful metaphor for my feelings at the time.

I had just met the young lady who had inherited my room, the Red Room, and my studio, #1. Neither the room nor the studio belonged to me anymore. They were now closed spaces, occupied by another. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t drive a spear through my still suffering heart. It did, however, underline that the waters of the stream had moved on and were not the same.

The gardens had changed too. Gone were the splendiferous rhododendrons of June, present were the multitudinous colors of Late July. The tiniest alpaca, born just before I left at the end of June, was now a sturdy one month old, larger and much more self-contained. Moe was a month older too as he sat on the roof of his shelter and nickered away at the world in general. Our lunch table was reserved for 12:30 and we would see them all later, parading on the lawn.

The gardens were fuller now than they were in June: more flowers, more blossoms, more color, more people, more children, more hazards for Hanna to slow for as we made our way back to the Garden Café, past the Sensitivity Garden and the Therapy Garden, past the Labyrinth and the Maze, past the Dutch Windmill, past all those magnificent sculptures … new sculptures had appeared … the blue piano wasn’t there earlier … this month’s artist had erected a new piece in the Secret Garden … change was all around me … and I viewed it from the backward-facing seat of a slowly advancing Golf Cart.

We had lunch in the shade beneath the apple tree. I looked around for Carlos, certain that he and his shadow were both close by … but I could hear no pipes. I spoke to Clare in Spanish, just to hear that language once again, but Carlos still didn’t appear. How could he? The river had flowed on and he was back with his family in Brazil.

Friends dropped in at the table to chat: Brad, Tim, Stefan, Mikah …lunch came and went speeded on by reminiscences and plans. After lunch, we visited the exhibition put on in the Garden Café by the latest group of resident artists. We admired the pencil drawings, loved the paper-maker and her art, and were wowed by the rug hooking and the photographs …

I thought of our own exhibition, held in the same place in June. We had our paintings, courtesy of Anne and Ruby, our sculptures, thanks to Elise, but the silence of July’s exhibition had been broken by the sounds of Carlos’s pipes and the viva voce reading of my own poetry. We were not a silent group, but a noisy, head-banging, drum-beating, piping, singing set of selfie-videophiles … the river had flowed on.

Ghosts of our voices clung to the back porch when we returned to KIRA. Hanna and Mary returned to their duties. Geoff, too, had things to accomplish. We met with two more of the new resident artists and complimented them on their skills. Then we slipped silently away to join the river of traffic that flowed down Water Street and up and away and back again to Island View.

Yes, I enjoyed myself. Yes, I will return again in August for I have promised to do that. But each trip will be different and no two trips will ever be the same, for old man river … well …he just keeps flowing along …


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Ay Ay Ayeres

Digging around in the photo files that I transferred from my old computer to my Google drive, I discovered this golden oldie composed of my words and Clare’s images. What a revelation: I had completely forgotten that this group of work existed. I’ll dig them out ne by one and post them from time to time. Ayer is the Spanish for yesterday, hier in French. The title “Ay! Ay! Ayeres!” with its multiple plays All our yesterdays and its reference to the old song “Ay, ay, ay, canta no llores” draws together a series of memories, some in the past and some in the future. ‘How can we have a memory in the future?’ you ask. By recognizing a present moment, or one that lies just ahead in a future that ill become soon enough a present, as one that has already occurred in the past, thus confirming the circularity of our lives and the idea that all time is time present, one of T. S. Eliot’s recurring themes.

Ocho Venado: Eight Deer is a central figure (war leader) in the Zouche-Nuttal, a pre-Columbian Mixtec Codex. He is the war leader in the Conquests recorded in the codex (circa 1050-1100).
Quesadillas: Oaxacan tortillas filled with cheese and flores de Calabaza, gourd flowers.
Reyes Magos: the three wise men or kings who visited the Christ Child on January 6, the traditional Spanish Christmas.
Murcielago: the bat and a symbol of death in Oaxacan mythology.
Nueve Viento: Nine Wind descends from heaven to separate the sky from earth and its waters. Nine Wind at Tule meeting with Cortes is mythical not historical, though the meeting of Cortes with the Mixtec chiefs (caciques) did happen.
Apoala: The Mixtec nation was born form a cave (sometimes a tree) in Apoala, Oaxaca.
Spinning the wheels in the snow: a reference to Jean Chretien and one of his famous images.

The piece is written in a surrealist style that mixes historical fact with creative writing. The distant past is recalled (1050-1100), then the middle past (1525-1530), and finally the present appears. This mixing of time and place (Mexico and Canada) is also related to the surrealist movement. Surrealism creates a dream world in which images float and change shape within a time-space conundrum where dream is more real than reality and creates its own new meanings that are individual to each reader.

Any comments on this rediscovered piece will be warmly welcomed.