Feathered Kangaroo

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This is a photo of a Feathered Kangaroo
water hopping on PEI, Canada.

Feathered Kangaroo!

A long time ago, still wrapped in the stifling chrysalis of academia, a friend of mine tried to flutter her immanent butterfly wings by making a joke at a very serious conference. She was delivering a paper on one of my favorite Spanish poets, in which she examined the sundry variants of a sonnet that the poet first wrote in 1603, then re-wrote in 1613, revised again in 1627-28, and revised a couple more times before its final revision in 1643, about two years before his death (1645).

At the end of her paper, she was caught off-balance when faced by an apparently serious question from the audience “Did the poet make any more revisions after 1645?” In an effort at humor, she replied, “Well, actually, no. But when they were carrying his body to the church for the funeral, he popped his head out of the coffin and proclaimed in a loud voice ‘Hell, no, I won’t go. I haven’t finished revising the poem yet.’”

This off-hand academic pseudo-joke was greeted with a babble of excited voices and an elderly fellow scholar clapped his hands, exclaimed “Wonderful!” and, in the ensuing silence, asked her what documentary evidence she had for this astonishing revelation, hitherto unknown to the academic world. If she was off-balance before, she was clearly reeling at this stage: a punch-drunk amateur academic swaying before the hypnotic fists of Dr. Muhamad Ali. She smiled sweetly, said she would produce the proper evidence at the appropriate time, and left the podium.

Later, sharing drinky-poos with some fellow scholars, I listened to her as she made excuses for her strange sense of humor and I smiled as explained the situation to them. They were not amused. “You, madam, are an acknowledged expert in your field,” one of them told her. “Your fellow academics trust you and believe you when you make such statements. You must be very careful about what you say.”

Feahered Kangaroo, indeed, water-hopping on PEI!

Now I must make an apology on my own behalf. Alas, if you read the blog item I posted recently, you might be puzzled by the Gazunda tree. I am forced to admit there is no such thing, to the best of my knowledge, as a Gazunda tree, not in the main square in Oaxaca, nor anywhere else in the world. Of course, when it rains people have been known to go under certain trees to use them as an umbrella and thus to take shelter from the rain, but this is the full extent of the origin of the name: the tourist or the golfer or the walker or whatever goes under (say it fast — Gazunda) the tree when it rains. There is nothing more to the Gazunda tree than that little joke.

And this brings us to a really serious series of questions: how do we know things are true? How do we establish the truth of a statement? Why do we believe some people and not others, some facts and not others? How do we choose between a series of alternate truths all of them presented as factual realities when, in actual fact, not all of them are true? This leads us on to the basic foundations on which our knowledge is built: how do we distinguish between scientifically established facts, and hearsay, and gossip if we are ignorant of basic scientific knowledge and principles?

To this we must add the triple increases that threaten us. These are (1) the increase in the availability of real scientific knowledge that bombards us every day with fresh facts and new information; (2) the increase in sources of information and the easy access to those sources; (3) the fact that many of these sources, far too many in my opinion, present us with a fictional or heavily biased version of a pseudo- or alternate truth. And yes, in light of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, we are indeed entitled to question the existence and indeed the very meaning of these words: alternate truths.

These considerations seem modern and up to date, but of course they are not. They can be found in Miguel de Cervantes’s novel, Don Quixote (Part One, 1605, and Part Two 1615). They are present throughout the meta-theater created by playwrights like Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), who set similar dilemmas of truth and fiction in, for example, his play La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream) as well as in the twelve plays he wrote based on Cervantes’s masterpiece. They are also present in the writings of some of the philosophers of the day. This is exemplified in the following passage that comes, I think, from René Descartes:

“There is no earth, no heaven, no extended body, no magnitude, no place and that nonetheless I perceive these things and they seem good to me. And this is the most harrowing possibility of all, that our world is commanded by a deity who deceives humanity and we cannot avoid being misled for there may be systematic deception and then all is lost. And even the most reliable information is dubious, for we may be faced with an evil genius who is deceiving us and then there can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.”

“There can be no reassurance in the foundations of our knowledge.” These are chilling words and present us with the unfortunate fact that unless we ourselves, each one of us, to the best of our abilities search out the absolute truth about all we hear, say, and do, we are indeed lost and we must wander in the dark with no light to guide us. ‘A sad life this, when beneath the axe, we have no time to check our facts.’ So: hie thee to Wikipedia, or Google the infamous Feathered Kangaroo. Or you can take my photo and the words accompanying it for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The choice, my friends, is yours.

“Don’t Get Off the Bus!” Wednesday Workshop

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“Don’t Get Off The Bus!”
Wednesday Workshop
Wednesday 14 June 2017

Journal: Roger Moore had the honor and pleasure of addressing the artists in residence at KIRA / Kingsbrae last night. He gave a brief biography of himself then stated that he did not consider himself to be a poet, the honor of the name is too high. He is, he stated, above all a writer. He began writing poetry at an early age, but was always put off by the lack of understanding shown by his contemporaries. Such slogans as “He’s a poet, but he doesn’t know it,” chanted endlessly, made him hide his poetic talent. In 1962, however, in his last year in school, he entered the Stroud International Festival for Religious Drama and the Arts and won first prize for a sonnet he wrote for that competition. This confirmed , in his own mind, that he could write and he continued to do so.

He attended Bristol University from 1963-1966, studying Spanish (Honours) and French. While at Bristol he published some 30 poems with the university’s literary review, the Nonesuch Magazine. He also wrote a weekly column in the student newspaper reporting on cross-country running in winter and athletics in summer. He began an MA in the University of Toronto in 1966 (completed in 1967) and decided to stay in Canada and work for his PhD (17th Century Spanish poetry). His encounters with the Toronto literary circles were not satisfactory and he realized that neither his style nor his subject matter were suited to the CanLit of the Canadian art scene. He hid again until 1977 when Fred Cogswell published Last Year in Paradise, Roger’s first poetry book, in the Fiddlehead Poetry Book series. By now, Roger had completed his doctoral thesis and published Towards A Chronology of Quevedo’s Poetry with York Press in 1976. From 1973-1977 Roger was first the Editorial Assistant and then the Assistant Editor of the International Fiction Review (University of New Brunswick). This position allowed him (a) to revise the submissions of writers whose first language was not English; (b) to translate articles from Spanish to English; and (c) to himself submit articles and reviews to the magazine. One of his first translations was of an article by Enrique Anderson Imbert, the Argentinian writer. Roger’s academic writing and editing is a different story and will be told at another time.

In 1979, Roger took his first workshops in creative writing at St. Thomas University  with Norman Levine, the Canadian Short Story writer. Norman Levine inspired Roger with a new taste for creative writing and he started writing short stories at this stage. He also started attending the Maritime Writers’ Workshops at UNB working with Patrick Lane, Susan Musgrave, Richard Lemm (twice) and Erine Moure. Roger was now submitting regularly to Canadian Literary magazines and his poetry was published first in Poetry Toronto (by bpnichol),  and then in Poetry Canada Review, The Fiddlehead, ARC, Ariel, the Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly, and in some twenty other Canadian literary magazines. In 1986, his second poetry collection, Broken Ghosts, was published by Goose Lane (Fredericton). Roger’s mother died in 1987 and his father followed in 1989. The poems he wrote at this stage were collected together and were awarded the Alfred G. Bailey Award for Poetry by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick in 1989. A second collection again won the Bailey in 1994, but neither of these collections were considered worthy of  publication by the multiple Canadian presses to which Roger sent them.

In 1991, Roger was the Atlantic Provinces Director for the League of Canadian Poets. He started, with JoAnne Elder, the Writes of Spring at St. Thomas University, and this continued for three years. The Writes of Spring was designed as a gender balanced, language balanced reading event in which eight poets participated. The reading group consisted of four men and four women, four of whom were Francophones and four Anglophones. These bilingual readings gave a wonderful insight into the poetry that was being written at the time within the province of New Brunswick. Roger started self-publishing his poetry in limited edition chapbooks at this time and gave his works to the participants and audiences in this series. He published six chapbooks this way: Idlewood, In the Art Gallery, Daffodils, Secret Garden, Iberian Interludes, and On Being Welsh.

In 1999, Roger chaired the third Atlantic Association of Universities’ Teaching Showcase at St. Thomas University. He edited the proceedings with Denise Nevo and they were published by Mount Saint Vincent University Press. Denise suggested that Roger might publish his poetry with MSVU and declared herself willing to edit and publish any work he might care to submit. This most fruitful collaboration with a wonderful lady who was also an outstanding editor allowed Roger to publish six more poetry books between 2000 and 2012, namely, Sun and Moon (Poems from Oaxaca), Though Lovers Be Lost, Fundy Lines (Prose Poems), At The Edge of Obsidian, Obsidian 22, and Monkey Temple. Roger continued publishing chapbooks and Dewi Sant (with the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society) and M Press of Ireland were among those that appeared, while Land of Rocks and Saints (Poems from Avila) was published by Nashwaak Press (Stuart Donovan) in 2008.

2015 saw three books appear in print: Stepping Stones (in collaboration with David Brewer of Rabbittown Press), Systematic Deception (in collaboration with Randi Drake of Ottawa), and Triage, his last poetry chapbook. In August 2016, John Sutherland, a member of one of Roger’s writing groups, introduced him to CreateSpace / Amazon / Kindle, and since then eleven books have been published online: Monkey Temple, Though Lovers Be Lost, Bistro, Sun and Moon, Obsidian’s Edge, The Empress of Ireland, All About Angels, Avila (Cantos y santos y ciudad de la Santa), Iberian Interludes, A Cancer Chronicle, and Nobody’s Child. Bistro (Flash Fiction), Avila (in Spanish), A Cancer Chronicle, and Nobody’s Child (short stories) are new, while the other seven titles have all been expanded and revised. Bistro was one of three finalists (and the only independently published book) in the New Brunswick book Awards (prose fiction) in 2016 (results announced, May 2017).

This Wednesday Workshop / KIRA Artist’s Report has two concealed messages. The first is that writing, like all creative activities, is a long apprenticeship (in the words of Fred Cogswell). The second is that if you want to travel from Halifax to Vancouver, you must stay on the bus. Quite simply, if you get off at Fredericton or Quebec City, Or Montreal or Toronto, and if you stay in one of those cities and don’t get back on the bus, you’ll never arrive at Vancouver. So: writers young and old … stay on that bus. Persist with your work. Never give up your dream. Never give in. Looking back from the vast old age of seventy-three, I realize now how easy it would have been to admit defeat and stop writing at so many stages of my writing career. I kept going and I encourage, nay URGE, any writer / creative artist reading this either to stay on that bus or to climb back on board. Quite simply, the world needs us and the world needs our poems, our paintings, our sculptures, our music, our encaustics,  and our stories.

Apologia

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Kingsbrae 5.2
5 June 2017

Apologia

Late last night, I opened Alistair Macleod’s book The Lost Salt Taste 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 wouldn’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.