Wednesday Workshop: Preparing a Public Reading


Wednesday Workshop
Preparing a Public Reading
21 March 2018

Preparation is all important. You cannot prepare enough.

First question: how long do you have? Your reading must be tailored to your time frame. Our local open mic sessions are composed of 3 minute slots. I choose poems or prose passages that can be read in 2 minutes to 2 and a half minutes. Time passes very quickly at the podium. Well-prepared, you will not over-run your time. Read your piece out loud and time it. If you can record it, do so. Listen to it as you read it. Do you feel comfortable with it? If so, go ahead with the reading. If you feel uncomfortable, or awkward, if you feel that the piece isn’t right, then choose another piece. Comfort is everything. Familiarity with reading the piece and with listening to your own voice will be of great comfort to you. You will step up there knowing you can do it, not wondering if you can do it.

Second question: are you familiar with the room and the mechanics of the room? If so, no problem. If not, take the time to visit the space in which you will read. Attend an earlier session. Visit one afternoon when nobody is there. It is easier to read in a familiar place than an unfamiliar one. Check out the room in advance. The mechanics are also important. How many will be in the audience? Will you need a microphone? Will you be expected to project your own natural speaking voice? Is there a podium? A reading table? Will you be sitting or standing?  Knowing this in advance reduces nerves and gives you practical answers and takes away both nerves and the fear of the unknown. Mechanics are important. Familiarize yourself with the mic. Is there an assistant to help? Think height and adjustment and remember, if you start your reading with necessary adjustments, this will take time out of your reading. Always leave that little extra space.

Third question: Is someone introducing you or are you expected to introduce yourself? If the former, your reading time will start when you start to speak. If the latter, your reading time will start when you start to speak. If you are doing your own introduction, then write it out in advance and read it out in advance. Treat it like a part of reading and include it in your reading time. Whatever you don’t, don’t start by explaining what you are going to read: this wastes time. Your work should speak for itself. If you are very confident, you can ad lib, but this takes precious time away from your reading space.  If you are not confident, then stick to your text, and plan and time your text in advance.

Fourth question: how will you choose your text? My suggestion is that you apply to your choice of text exactly the techniques that you use when writing and revising your text. (a) which chapter pleases you most? (b) you must feel joy: which sections give you the most joy? (c) which words, which sequences spark joy? I would also ask whether you want to read a single long text or a sequence of smaller texts. That is your choice. Again, comfort is the key word. If you are not comfortable reading out the F word in public, do not choose a passage that is filled with F words: your discomfort will transfer to the audience. Select a couple of passages, read them out loud, time them … then concentrate on one passage (longer) or a contrasting or complementary set of passages (shorter).

Example: Last Sunday, I was gifted a twenty minute reading slot. I chose six short pieces of prose that formed two distinct but complementary sequences. The total reading time was 17 mins and 30 secs. I was introduced, then read. I did some ad libs (I always do, sorry). I shuffled feet and pages. Total time of the videoed sequence 23 minutes, of which the intro, my slow arrival, and my initial sorting took about 3 mins. And yes, I was nervous. You could see my hands shaking and the pages waving up and down! I knew the audience, and I knew there was a possibility that young children might be present. They weren’t. So I read my F-word story … and yes, it’s full of F-words. I had another story, much gentler, in reserve. Just in case. If you are an experienced reader, you can respond to the audience and change at the last second. If you are not, stick to the plan.

Wednesday Workshop: Editing Plus

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Editing Plus
Wednesday Workshop
14 March 2018

We all need a second pair of eyes whether we are editing our own work or when we edit the work of others. Clearly,  there are several levels (layers is also a good word) at which editing can place.

1. Self-editing: I think we are better off creating the work first and editing it afterwards. However, whether we like it or not, self-editing, and even self-censorship, often takes place during the act of creation as we shuffle sentences, change words, and search for appropriate metaphors. Finish the first draft. When the piece has been drafted, we can look at editing it. I very much like the idea of going to an unfamiliar place so that we re-read in an unfamiliar setting. If familiarity breeds contempt, then unfamiliarity can often breed better editing. That is why I like to leave pieces fallow for a while, before returning to them.

2. Self-editing: One of the best forms of self-editing for me is publishing work on my blog or reading it at an open mic session. When I publish on my blog, I think of the offering, be it prose, poetry, memoir, or criticism, in terms of the ‘other’, those other eyes that will read it. When I read at an open mic session, I think of the people who will hear my spoken word. In both cases, I usually make changes in response to the audience and the perceived audience. Sometimes I make these changes as I read … realizing as I speak my offering that certain phrases are better said in a different fashion or left out altogether. Open Mic readings: I always read my offering aloud and time it before I read in public. Viva Voce is the best way, in my opinion, to catch errors in rhythm and to improve word usage.

3. BETA Readers: Many of my friends use BETA readers, trusted friends who read and criticize their work in early format. I like this idea, but I trust very few readers. Those I do trust are often too busy with their own writing to have time for consistent BETA reading.  Trust is a key issue here. If you have a good, tried and trusted BETA reader, shower them with gifts, buy them presents, keep them by your side.

4. Copy Editing: This comes at several levels that vary from the friend who corrects the occasional error, to the copy editor who fine combs your work and corrects grammar, accuracy, and punctuation. Good copy editors rarely work for free. However, it is well worth while to prepare a manuscript with great care, and some cost, before sending it away, especially to a professional publishing house. Again, trust is an important issue here.

5. Structural Editing: The editor who can deal competently with structural issues is both rare and priceless. We often see and hear how brutal editing can be, both on the writer and the text. While structural editing  can be destructive, both to the text and the writer, if well done, it can be very constructive. I think of Ezra Pound’s notes and changes to Eliot’s Waste Land as an example of exemplary editing. There are many others.

6. Editing and Publishing: I know of authors whose first books were edited heavily by the presses that published them. I also know that in some cases they never published again and in other cases they were frozen into a ‘what will the editor say mode’ that disabled their creativity enormously. Editing can be destructive as well as constructive. Alas, if we want that elusive publication, sometimes our professional editors give us very little choice. Publish or Perish + Change OR Else = an uncomfortable situation in the course of which the original wok can change shape in ways the author cannot control. This is doubly true if the writer belongs to the Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth school. And remember, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder who just happens to be editing and then offering to publish your work.

This is an interesting topic and there is so much more to say. I hope I haven’t wasted too much of your time with this.
waiting for the snow to arrive,
in Island View.

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.”




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.”




Waxing gibbous:
gibberish to most, or jabberwocky.
How now the moonraker
dragging the village pond for gold,
or the witch on her ducking-stool
accepted by God if she drowns,
but burned alive if she survives
and the Omnipotent rejects her?

Words rise and fall like trout to flies.
In words, out words, taboo words,
code words, the ebb and flow words
that see conversational tides
rising and falling, waning gibbous
beneath a failing lexicon, sacrificed
at the altar of barbaric speech to appease
the new gods and falsify the old:
nuance, shades of meaning, language,
meta-language, para-language,
raised, a supercilious eyebrow,
that lip curled in the snort of a sneer.

Really? Wednesday Workshop


Wednesday Workshop
19 July 2017

“Steevie K says adverbs are out. You shouldn’t use anything ending in -ly.”
“No. -ly words are banned. They’re as bad as Anglo-Saxon four letter words.”
“That’s folly, surely?”
“No. It’s an absolute from the best of all writers. You do agree, don’t you?”
“Oh, absolutely, in a sort of writerly fashion. I’ll leave all my -ly words on the trolley.”
“Are you being facetious?”
“Absolutely not. Clearly, Steevie K obviously has a point. Totally too many -ly words in use. Well, usually, anyway.”
“What’s more he says that people in general and writers in particular should avoid adverbs.”
“Funnily enough, I actually feel the same way, relatively speaking, particularly nowadays.”
“But you use them all the time.”
“Only in July, when there are comparatively few alternatives.”
“You know, Steevie K counts the number of times people use the -ly word.”
“Surely not? But then, he must truly be thoroughly committed to the extermination of …”
“… words ending in -ly. Of course he is.”
“I bet he lovingly caresses his dictionary as he peruses the -ly section while scratching his belly.”
“There is no -ly section.”
“You are lying, surely?”
“No. Anyway, that’s ly-, not -ly, and ly- is not a letter , it’s a combination of letters. Do you understand?”
“Truly I do. I get on swimmingly with this. All of it, actually.”
“All of it?”
“Totally. I always wondered why they said ‘jello’ not ‘jelly’.”
“Those with the smelly yellow-belly, of course.”
“I’ll report you to the Steevie K thought-police.”
“Surely you wouldn’t do that, not really, that’s not particularly nice?
“Really and truly.”
“Verily, I say unto you: ‘Oh shut up, you falsely bloated, heavily spotted yellow-bellied sapsucker’ …”