Residency: Thursday Thoughts


Thursday Thoughts
29 June 2017

I would not have applied for the residency at KIRA had I not have been encouraged to do so by my writing group friends and by a friendly voice on the Kingsbrae phone.

I was surprised to receive notification of my acceptance. It arrived on 2 March 2017. On 3 March 2017, I started to peruse the Kingsbrae web page and make the first drafts of poems that I would later complete on site.

The Red Room:
I was lodged in The Red Room in the KIRA Residence and I had a small desk at a window overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay. I spent a whole month looking out of that window and writing at that desk … or was it the other way round?

Community Commitments:
These were multiple, but they were always art orientated and therefore most enjoyable. They included working with school children, attending various unveilings and openings, and being present in our studios and discussing our art with visitors. On 26 June we had an exhibition in which each one of us either showed our work or produced a live performance.

Evening Salons:
Most evenings we had a literary / artistic salon in which we discussed various aspects of our art. These lasted two to three hours and some were summarized while others were video-taped. These quick-fire exchanges provided a backbone to our daily work.

There was time for local trips and we travelled, individually or in groups, to many places including Deer Island, Passamaquoddy, Campobello, St. Stephen, New River Beach, Holt’s Point, Greenlaw’s Mountain, Jarea, Minister’s Island, Ile Ste. Croix, and several other locations. The photographic records enabled us to build our creativity.

Artistic Development:
This was individual to each of us, but we all remarked on a widening of our perspectives, a new commitment to narrative and theme, and a broadening of our artistic horizons.

Returning Home:
On my return home, I turned to my everyday life in which art, in my case writing, was of secondary, not primary, importance. The need to cook, to shop, to do normal household duties suddenly conflicted, once again, with my need to be a writer.

24/7 is indeed a cliché. But for 28 days it became the pattern of my writing life. It was indeed a fertile time. I wrote some 100 poems, 25% of which will be rejected, with a possible thematic structure and three revisions already completed. Sooner or later, I will produce a book about this experience..

This type of time commitment turns us from budding /artists into the real thing. We must strive to re-create these last 28 days in what remains of our creative lives. There can be no lesser or secondary choice, if we are to be serious about our art.

The Journey:
If we wish to travel from Halifax to Vancouver by bus, we must make several decisions.
1. We cannot get off at Moncton.
2. We cannot get off at Montreal, nor at Toronto.
3. Winnipeg, Regina, and Calgary are beautiful; but we mustn’t get off the bus.
4. If we do, we will never get to Vancouver.

Art is a life-time journey: don’t get off the bus.


Winning not Whining!

Winning not Whining:
For Al

To be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Judgement by Committee:


The committee gathers and sorts through the evidence: whatever will they find? Piece by piece, they sift the data. Some take it to great heights and drop it on the rocks to see how fragile it is. Will it break like a clam or a mussel released at the sea-side? Others use the Christmas Cracker technique. For this you need two judges: each holds an end, and both tug as hard as they can. When the evidence rips apart, then the opinion of the one with the larger segment of the manuscript holds good. They take care to avoid the cracker-jack bang in case the item is explosive, but more often than not it is good, solid fodder for thought, endless thought, and the longer they think, the more the liquids flow and more good food goes down, and the more their camaraderie strengthens. Finally, when all the energy is spent and the manuscripts are reduced to tiny shreds, a winner appears. If the last fragment of evidence is still large enough to be read, this is then showcased and the winner is announced. That is why those precious manuscripts are never returned and that’s why competitors should always send a copy, because the original, especially when dropped from a great height or caught by the explosion of cracker-jack, might be lost in the tidal wave of anguish that sweeps the sea-shore clean.

“What is the definition of a camel?”
“It’s a horse designed by a committee.”

Anonymous, or Aristotle, I don’t know who said it first; but it’s very true. And manuscript selection by committee can bring about some interesting selections. On several occasions I have received the damning note: “We really liked this: but one person on the committee said they didn’t like how you used this word …    (insert word in blank space after dots).”
Judgement by committee is judgement by consensus … and, as the TV game-show host so often repeats: “… And the survey says …”

There is only one way to deal with committee decisions in a writing competition: lots of laughter, a large pinch of salt, and water off a duck’s back.

Judgement by a single judge

This is probably much better than judgement by a married judge who will always pick his partner’s work, if it has been submitted. With only one judge circumstances change and the chances of winning operate under different rules. Imagine that one judge as a Great Blue Heron standing in tidal water, beak poised, incoming tide, and the manuscripts swimming past. Some swim too fast, some too slow; some are too heavy and sink to the bottom; some are too light and float to the top. But look, the judge is tense, the perfect manuscript at the perfect depth glistens silver beneath the surface then … swift jab of the judge’s beak and we have a winner … and the judge holds it aloft to glisten in the sunlight while the losers swim happily away to survive as honorable mentions or silent witnesses that can be entered in another competition on another, perhaps happier day, when they can be judged by a committee of Great Blue Herons.


It’s not always easy to be a good loser. However, as you swim freely away from the Great Blue Heron (GBH) remember you have avoided Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) and that may be better than you think for: “It’s often good to not be a winner: you might end up as the judge’s dinner.”

And if you win? IMG_0130.JPG

And if you win? Well, the judge (or the judges if you survived the survey), was very good, very intelligent, very hard-working, and just perfect; in fact, the very model of a wise old bird who knew just what it was looking for, and found it.

And as for the winner: “The winner, he was a wise old bird. The more he spoke, the less he heard. The less he spoke, the more he heard. There never was such a wise old bird.” (Anonymous or Aristotle)