Fear

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A List of Fears
(exercise: tick all that apply)

of failure
of success
of inadequacy
of being caught short
of being found out
of the blank page
of revealing intimate details
of feeling stupid
of typos or punctuation or bad grammar
of presumption
of being laughed at
of new things or old things
of something borrowed
of new topics or new methods
of research or hard work or perfection
of rejection or dejection or ejection
of losing yourself or finding yourself
of caring or not caring
of the unknown or the unknowable
of peer pressure
of speaking out loud
of being unable to write like …
of being wrong or right
of political or social consequences
of free speech
of hurting others
of being misunderstood or understood
of large or small audiences
of clothing or mechanical failure
of starting or finishing or writer’s block
of having nothing to say
of having nothing worthwhile to say

fear of fear

Commentary:
Last Saturday, in Quispamsis, I facilitated a two hour workshop on things that writers fear. I began with a list of all the things that I have feared at various times during my writing career. This morning, I turned, with great trepidation, those fears into the list poem I reproduce above.  If you wish to discuss any of these fears, or add other fears of your own to the list, and remember, this is a list of writers’ fears, then please do so. I will be happy to enter into a dialog.
As for the fear of feeling stupid, I often offer this small piece of advice. It has been known to comfort those who actually have a fear of feeling stupid. (1) buy a small fluffy toy, preferably a Teddy Bear, that will fit into your pocket or purse. (2) christen that small fluffy toy with the name of Stupid. (3) you carry Stupid around with you all day knowing that you can put your hand in your pocket or purse and feel Stupid all day and nobody is going to know or care.
The moral of the story is this: when you can laugh at your fears, you fear them no more. And remember: you can stop feeling Stupid whenever you want to.

Wednesday Workshop: Recycling

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Wednesday Workshop
09 May 2018

Recycling 1

“You never know when you might need it,” my

grandfather said, finger-nails cracking red-
waxed parcel string. Bright sealing wax rained down
on the tablecloth, covering it with hard,
scarlet chips, wax cracked, tight knots emerging.
One by one, my grandfather first loosened
them, then sought the string’s free end, following
it along its snaking way from knot to
knot. Like Theseus following his twine
through the labyrinth below the palace, my
grandfather mused, hesitated, followed
the clues given him by the knotter’s mind.
Set free from its parceled knots and lashings,
he looped the string around his fingers and
tied the twine into a tight bow that he
stowed away for future use. Reef knots, slip
knots, sheep-shanks, bowlines, bowlines-on-the-bight,
he showed me how to tie them all. He taught
me too how to never tie granny knots.
“Never cut string with a knife: untie knots,”
strict his advice and followed still today.

Recycling 2

finger-nails
cracking red-waxed
parcel string

sealing wax rained down
staining snow white tablecloth
wax cracked
hard scarlet flakes
tight knots emerging
loosened

now seek the string’s
free end
then follow it
the way it snakes
linking knot to knot

muse
hesitate
unknot
the mind of she who tied

set free these
parceled knots and lashings
loop string around fingers
tie tight the twine

a child’s bow
to be stored
for future use

Recycling
Haiku 1
[7/11/7]

string yields blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread to lead through the parcel’s labyrinth
open now the magic box

Recycling
Haiku 2
[5/7/5]

blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread through the labyrinth
open now the box

Commentary:
There are many ways to recycle. All are valid. Some are more valid than others.

Downsizing

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Downsizing

a double sword
this clearing out
of odds and ends

the library diminishing
book by book
so many memories
slipped between the covers
dust-bound now
yet springing so quickly
back to life

sorrowful not sweet
these multiple partings
from people I will never see again
save in my dreams

I think of book burnings
so many heroes
going up in flames
fire their beginnings
fire their ends

fire the means of forging
the Omega and Alpha
of the book world
that surrounds us

fire encircling us
death’s bone fires
consuming us
outside and in

Be Leaf

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Be Leaf

An autumn leaf,
brown crisp flaked from a tree,
floats breeze-blown
into my mind’s-eye corner
and settles down to sleep.

What joy to lie there
forgotten by the madcap
rush of televised folly,
false news filmed, fake news
hustled and bustled
by a burgeoning wind of change.

No science now, no truth,
no facts, no knowledge,
just news, fake news, false news,
the word pack shuffled and reshuffled,
each verbal insult dealt and redealt,
true falsehoods peddled
by tinker men and tailors who stitch
words to meanings,
while the real truth
lies dead and safely buried:

a leaf among leaves, lying forlorn,
forgotten beneath autumn trees.

Dog Daze

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Dog Daze

 the sad dog hounds me
sends me spinning
sets me back on my heels
makes me chase my tail
and snap at shadows
as they ghost
through my mind

memories deceive
desperate I lap
at licks of false hope
a shifting salt field
that increases my thirst

driving me on and on
deeper into ragged clouds
and the storm that lays waste
to the dog daze of my mind

Wednesday Workshop: Balancing the Books

 

15 May 2002 Pre-Rimouski 035

Wednesday Workshop
25 April 2018
Balancing the Books

Two days ago, I wrote the following lines to one of the writing groups of which I am a member.
“Today, 23 April 2018, is World Book Day. We not only celebrate the world of books, but also the death date of three great authors. Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, and the Inca Garcilasso de la Vega. Three great writers, two continents, two languages, three if you include the Quechua from which the Inca Garcilasso translated his Comentarios Reales. The Inca Garcilasso didn’t actually translate the Comentarios Reales, for the originals were part of an oral tradition in a culture that lacked handwriting. Hence they were never written down. His mother was an Incan Princess and his father a conquistador. His mother kept the Incan culture and memories alive and it was from the oral traditions of his family (one side of it) that the Comentarios Reales were born. It was recognized in its day as one of the greatest books to come from one of the first outstanding writers with indigenous roots. Hence his place on the pedestal alongside the other two greats. All three died on 23 April 1613, the same date, but not the same day. Two different calendars were present in Europe: the old Julian and the more modern Gregorian … same date, but thirteen days apart.”
I knew long ago that I did not have the strength and stamina to make a living as a professional writer. I knew too that I could not put my beloved and my family through the strain of maybe, or maybe not, surviving financially on a creative writer’s income. I wanted to be an artistic writer, a poet above all, art for art’s sake, not just a commercial writer, writing adverts for a living, or pandering to the lusts of the baying evening newspaper crowd.
In order to support and care for my family I had to make money and balance the books. Rather than writing full time, therefore, I chose a career in academia. My career as an academic led to 90 research articles, mainly in my specialized field of Golden Age Spanish Literature, 70 book reviews, the publication, in book form, of part of my doctoral thesis, and an online bibliography, prepared initially thanks to the loving care of my beloved, and now turned, thanks to the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick, into a searchable data base.

In addition to my normal course load, I also committed to twenty-five years of unpaid, voluntary overload teaching. I did this in order to maintain a small, understaffed program in a tiny Maritime university. I also had a long-term coaching career (Rugby) at club, provincial, regional, and national levels, and a commitment, at various times, to various editorial positions in 14 local, regional, national and international journals. My creative writing career has understandably suffered because of this commitment to research, teaching, editing, and coaching. In spite of that, while researching and teaching full-time, I was still able, with the help of family and friends, to publish 10 poetry books, 11 poetry chapbooks, 12 short stories and 130 plus poems in 20 Canadian (and other) journals. There was very little money in any this, other than my salary as a tenured professor, and I know only too well that to have been a full time, creative writer and to have maintained a house and a family without recourse to a second career would have been impossible.
Now that I have retired from university teaching, I can finally engage full time in creative writing. In my part-time creative writing career, maintained while I worked in academia, I kept a journal and made sure I spent at least one hour a day writing creatively, even if I had to get up early to do so. This resulted in a couple of poetry books with small presses and later a series of self-published poetry books that doubled with various festivals and other writing sequences. My poetry books never sold well, and there is very little money in poetry anyway, so when I started self-publishing, I determined to give my books away to friends and well-wishers who were interested in what I was writing. In retirement, I discovered CreateSpace and I now have thirteen books up on Amazon and Kindle. However, I am a writer and an academic, not a salesman and a marketing manager. As a result, I haven’t marketed myself and no, I haven’t sold many books. Self-promotion does not appear to be my strong point.
Last year, as Canada reached it’s 150th birthday, a birthday that ignores the fact that the country has existed for much longer than 150 years and that our indigenous people have lived here for 10,000 years or more, without any spectacular celebrations, questions were asked to selected writers about our Canadian Culture. What do we love most about Canadian Culture, was one such question. I gave the following brief answer: “Canadian Culture allows a person like myself, born in Wales, and speaking English, French and Spanish, to live and write in Canada about Wales, England, France, Mexico, Spain, and my adopted homeland. However, the literary and cultural industry boasts of our international character while almost totally ignoring me and writers like me. Those who guard the gates of the literary world ignore the self-published (often referring to us as adherents to what they term the ‘vanity press’) and they constantly belittle and put down those who have not progressed in the ways that they, as literary gate-keepers, find acceptable.”
Do I care? Of course I care. That is why I am writing this and why I will continue to write. Will anyone read this and take any notice? I doubt it. Will anyone take any action as a result of this tiny pebble cast into a Great Canadian Lake? I really, really doubt it. I can see the shoulder shrugging now as the eye-brows raise themselves slightly and the reject piles beckon. Will literary Canada keep staring at its own belly button and congratulating itself on its wonderful cultural opportunities for self-expression in writing? I guess it will. Will things change for artists on the periphery, for struggling artists, for artists like myself who with great difficulty have fought throughout their lives to continue with their creative writing while balancing the family books? I doubt it very, very much indeed.
But I am here, as others are here. Together, we have a voice. I would like it to become a  very powerful voice. This voice has long been side-lined by the literary establishment and the institutions. But we are many. And I too have a dream: it is that one day, we independent publishers, we self-publishers, will raise up our voices, and one day we will be heard.

Movie rights to a sonnet

Balloon lady

Movie rights to a sonnet

Meg Sorick wrote on my blog yesterday and suggested that poetry had flown out of our world.  Here are her words: “Poets used to be rock stars. And not that I feel like poetry has fallen from popularity, because Lord knows it’s all over the place in social media and the blogging world. But I cannot think of one famous contemporary poet. And I’m not talking about famous people who also write poetry. How did that happen?”

Meg’s is a very acute observation. My reply follows. I have changed it slightly from my reply on yesterday’s blog, expanding and annotating it.

“You raise a series of major questions, Meg, ones I have been thinking about for a long time. What is poetry? Has it vanished from our contemporary world? Is poetry as important as it was? If not, why not?”

I will begin with one of my favorite jokes. I made it as an author and a poet: ‘I cannot wait to be offered the movie rights for one of my sonnets.’ Movie rights to a sonnet: beautiful. I love it.

Baltasar Gracián, writing in Seventeenth Century Spain, penned the following: “Lo bueno, breve, dos veces bueno.” What is good and brief is twice as good.

I quote Baltasar Gracián for several reasons. Above all, what he wrote in the 1600’s is still true today. Perhaps, in this age of tweets, twitter, and sound bytes, it is more relevant than ever. Poetry: keep it short. Keep it brief. I would add one more piece of advice: make it memorable.

The rhetorical tools of poetry have never really changed. Reduced to their minima, they are metaphor, witticisms, snappy word plays, repetition, rhyme, rhythm, brevity, and cutting, memorable discourse.

Today, this is the language of advertisement, sound byte, twitter, tweets, labeling. Poetry hasn’t vanished: it has descended to its lowest common rhetorical denominators and today it serves a different purpose.

Trump, for example, is a magnificent poet. He relabels and reclassifies the world in oh-so-memorable epithets according to his own world-view and self-interpretation. As a destroyer and re-creator of language, he is magnificent. We may not like him. We may not always understand him, but we doubt and mock, to our peril, his poetic abilities and his abilities to create narrative and myth in sharp, memorable language.

Rap and hip-hop have also revitalized and politicized language. Poetry is not dead: it has taken to the street where it blends with twitter and tweet. Poetry is not dead: it is regenerating.

Poetry, in our contemporary world, has lost many things. Above all it has lost what the academic critics call The Grand Myth or the Grand Narrative. In The Great Code, Northrop Frye’s book on literature and the bible, the Canadian critic shows how English literature is dependent on the bible. The bible: a code, a poetic language spoken by all great poets. I would suggest that we have now lost that great code and we are no longer bound, in poetry at least, by biblical conventions.

We can say the same of other great codes, The Elizabethan World Picture, The Great Chain of Being, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Courtly Love … codes come and go. They wander the hillsides like lost sheep. They migrate like people.

Migrate like people: a lucky phrase, plucked from the air, yet oh so true. Migrants, emigrants, immigrants: displaced people, we wander the physical world, each with our own set of cultural baggage. Dissatisfied people: we have left one place to travel to another and are unhappy in both. And remember, there are regional migrants, workplace migrants, weather migrants … wanderers all, they have no time to put down roots, to settle into a code of culture.

Ut populi, poesis / as people, so poetry: fragmented poetry, poetry linked to the intensely personal, poetry that reaches out to friend and family but does not extend to a universal code of language, culture, or being … in our current world, how could it?

We few, we happy few, we band of siblings, we cultured poets … we are the forgotten voices of the ivory tower, of an ivy-league academia. We have become immersed in the past, in our own navel-gazing, in the never-never land of things that probably never were and definitely will never again be.

Sitting at our computers, at our desks, at our kitchen tables, we will never connect with the rhythms of the street, of the soup kitchen, of poverty, of bag-ladies, of old men sitting outside the supermarket, their Tim Hortons cups in their hands, hoping for, begging for money. Migrants we may be, but migrating from where, to where, and why? Is my migration similar to your migration? I very much doubt it. Yet, in one way or another, each of us is a migrant. And all migrants pack their own bags carrying with them their memories, their myths, and all too often their native language.

You want poetry? Get out among the gente perduta, the lost people, the garbage cans, the back alleys, the panhandlers. Mix with the migrants. Stand for an hour at the traffic lights with your hand held out to stopped cars whose drivers roll up the windows, lock all the doors, hold their noses, and look the other way.

The nymphs and shepherds of our inner cities wear garbage bags to keep out the rain. They panhandle. They sleep at night in cardboard castles. They lodge in shop doorways. They sleep, poor shepherds and shepherdesses, on park benches. They shoot themselves full of dope with shared, blunt needles. They smoke dope. Drink alcohol from shared bottles. They fight so as not to share that one remaining bottle that they call their own.

Poetry is the voice of the deprived, of the indigenous, of the migrant, of the once-rich toppled from their jobs and left to drown in the gutter. Poetry is the voice of the left out, the abandoned, the depressed, the oppressed. It is the rust of the rust belt, the grind of locked gears, the language of muddled, mixed-up fears.

Poetry uses the same devices as it always did. As it always will. Like water, it flows. It seeks its own levels. It wears away stone. It rises to drown us. It carries our verbal arks, our cultural arks, our Noah’s arks, and it bears us, each and every one of us, into our dreams, out of our dreams, into our realities, into the worlds it creates for us, into the dreams it allows us to dream, into the realities of our everyday nightmares.

Poetry is the rediscovery of ourselves, our voices, our language. Poetry is what gives meaning to our lives, all of our lives. It is what makes us, even now, sit up, and listen, and learn, and live.