Thursday Thoughts: An Old Song


Thursday Thoughts
8 March 2018

An old song

… an old song, words and tune wrapping themselves around your neck, a loose scarf, brilliant in the sunshine, and oh so warm, flapping as you walk the streets, and people see the scarf’s frayed ends waving in the wind, so they wave back at you, and then they see those same ends tucked back in your jacket, hugging you tight, a pair of arms borrowed from your lover, and oh the light in your eyes, and the sun picking out the gold spots in your hair, and all’s well with the world …

… or left, left, left, right, left … it’s a marching song and the world falls away as you walk to work or to play and every day is a new day with blood stirring and this call to arms, to alarms, to alarums, and everything up for grabs, and you, marching in tune to the tunes in your head and the words wrapped around you, warming you, comforting, as you sing and stride along …

… or maybe it’s a sad song, and there’s rain in the sky, small drops gathering, a heavy mist, or a light mizzle, and you walk as if through a cloud, and yet you are still dry and warm and comforted and the words wrap themselves round and round you, and yes, you are sad, but you are comforted, as if in a verbal comforter, and the sun breaks through and hugs you and the raindrops radiate the brilliance of that sunlight, winking off your tears, as they gather at leaf’s end and spread sun’s twinkle from the radiance of flowers …

… and today it’s a Nor’Easter … snow in the air … on the trees … on the ground … a steady accumulation … you know how its is … and a fire in the fireplace … warm heart … warm heart … no travel today … books and the computer beckon … a time to read and write … to remember the old ways … the old days … those memories … a warm scarf wrapped around the neck … and the comforter … comforted … and comforting … so much to wrap around you … so much to wrap your head around …




Red brick the universe,
red brick crumbled
sparrow crumbs now.

Red brick,
not lily-white limestone,
nor chalk,
white cliffs,
will tumble,
tugged down
by fierce tides

Red brick
and rough:
the builder’s hands,
life- lines fortified,
unfettered brick dust.

Red brick,
heart, liver, lungs:
red holes, not black,
where red roses

Red brick,
shattered into red
dust and this sun
a dwarf brick
shrinking in its

Red bricks:
their dust become
gas giants,
Saturn’s rings,
useless wooden wagons
drawn up
in second hand westerns.

The huff and the puff:
brick shit houses,
these red brick
universes, built to last
way beyond
those dreaming spires,
that failed, will fail,
and still fail to inspire.

“Here endeth
the second lesson:
Book of  Brick.”

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 [ ] 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.”

Battle Axe

IMG_0155 2

Battle Axe

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep scarring her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp teeth at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a Viking’s shield,
swung to keep stray dogs at bay.
At her hip, mace and pepper,
twin guns in separate holsters, ready
for Rotty,  cross-breed, and Pit Bull.

Wrapped in her coat of mail,
her eyes aflame, trigger finger twitching,
ever on the lookout for that one wild dog
to run the gauntlet of her gaze
and launch its all-out, mad dog attack.

Comment: I was disappointed with my earlier version(s) of this poem, entitled Mail Lady, and wanted a stronger, more forceful set of images that hinted at the perils of dog attacks on mail (and fe-mail [sic]) workers. This is the result.



Damnatus / Doomed

‘Poor poets of today: condemned to be nothing more than the dry dust of an unread doctoral thesis.’ They languish, empty headed, in dark rooms, those poets, hunched over their computers, waiting fr someone or something to fill up their heads. They hammer away at their keyboards, correcting their spelling with an  ever cautious spell-check. Intent on making their poems cryptic, they shrug off the sunshine, the beach, the flowers in the garden,  the cardinals, orange and red, who clamor at the feeder, and concentrate on abstract meanings, abstruse words, and twisted thought.

Phone calls go unanswered. Friends are left hanging on the vine to dry. These poets are worse than wallflowers at a dance or lemons out on a date as their crowded heads fill up with metaphors and myths that limp their unsteady ways onto screen and page. Oh pity the blisters on their fingers, the calluses that harden their fingertips to the delights of re-writing, again and again, for they are not real writers but real re-writers, and every thought is a skirmish with unreality, a pledge to continue their servitude to their life’s mission: the curdling of words and the nurdling of poetic thought. What better poetry is there than a hamburger for the hungry or a helping hand stretched out across a street to help a beggar in need … but there are neither burgers nor beggars in these un-windowed buildings, just the poverty of a poetry undiscoverable in its lack of lustre gloom..

Where is the graduate student, earnest, destined to be penniless, who will delve into the notebooks of these poets’ lives and dig out the thought-gems, the diamonds that will make everyone great, publisher and published, poet and practitioner of the uncritical art? Will someone not take that student by the hand and lead him to pastures green, or to the sea, to taste and test the blessed salt and the winds that will drive away the mind’s unwholesome fog and bring light and understanding that will un-cuff the wrists and heal the immortal wounds for, left untreated, they will bleed for all eternity?

Oh the bright bracelet of learning bound round the heart-bleed wrist. Oh the false knowledge gained, that leads poet and critic up and down the slippery garden path towards promotion, tenure, and a seat on the picket fence. Oh those grey human bodies chained to their wooden desks in a dusky library or transfixed on metal seats in academic meditation. Sit and watch while cobwebs sprout in the unused brain and the only certainty lies in footnotes and bibliographical entries that rise like a surging tide to flood the drowsing mind that craves more sleep.

What bright word, what metaphor dim, has poisoned the wit so it effortless moves into the serenity of contemplation? Look on this pathless sea of words, ye mighty, and despair. But take great care: for what if this sylvan warrior awakes, steps out of that figmented dream, sees the reality beyond the shadows, demands a proper challenge, a walk in the park, a vision of the grass that is so much greener on the other side where the administraitors gather and garnish paper and paperclips as they strive for the privilege of herding more and more slovens in their poetic pursuits?

Oh grant them more grants, these purloined poets. Gift them pure visions of things that never were and will never be. Never let them break away from their dissolute dreams that wrap their disadvantaged forms in the ignorance of mental slumber, half-sharpened pencils, and a box of blunt sharpeners..




Kingsbrae 21.3
21 June 2017

Wollemi Nobilis

To see you on this day,
the summer solstice,
when time and the sun
stand still,
is to recall you as relictus,
then to acclaim you
as Lazarus,
risen from the dead.

Your fossil footprints
walked for so long,
two hundred million years,
and you walked with them,
unknown, unrecognized,
lost in the wilderness.

What poverty in language:
we either describe you
in impossible scientific Latin
or else we reduce you
to a chocolate coco pops
breakfast cereal.

Hand-cuffed, chained,
your feet rooted within
this immobile crockery pot,
you will never leave us now.

You are your own solstice,
a stationary seed,
growing to adulthood,
sown in a circle
of never-ending time.

Comment: I have been trying since Sunday, 5 March 2017, to write this poem. But what are four months in the life of a seventy-three year old poet or a pine tree that was thought to have become extinct 200 million years ago. I do not have the words to express how I feel looking at this throwback to the time of the Dinosaurs. And maybe that is how this poem should start for it is, after all, Wordless Wednesday … “I do not have the words …” and thoughts, too, jam in the brain and refuse to cycle, let alone re-cycle. So, I’ll leave this poem for now. That said, I will probably come back to it. Meanwhile, do I ever feel so absolutely, totally, and completely inadequate.