to liberate color…
to make it serve
both as form …
…and as content.”
“I don’t always know what it means …”
… but I know it means something.”
to liberate color…
to make it serve
both as form …
…and as content.”
“I don’t always know what it means …”
… but I know it means something.”
Outside my window
rain blown sideways
surgical the wind
uprooting the weakest
flattening the strong
rages the storm
Who am I
the one who abhorred thee
who now adores thee
and kneels before thee
in grief and pain
Death’s Dance before me
each street filled
with skeletal horrors
bare bones dancing
naked beneath a star-
‘No thought is born in me
which has not “Death”
engraved upon it.’
all the dustbins
dancing down the street
trying to achieve
a spring time copulation
to create more dustbins
you can’t have a revolution
dustbin … dustbins … dirty
a sadistic way to look at
basket-bins full of sawdust
heading between potholes
a right St. Vitus’s Dance
him sitting next to me
knitting a new red cap
to place upon
the old dictionary
on Gibraltar’s Rock so fair
this square in Paris
Place de la Bastille
where tumbrils rattle
Old Moll in a Moll’s Cap
at a Goblin Party
afraid of mushrooms
scared of toadstools
Writing Memories 1
Saint John Free Public Library
10 March 2019
Subtitle: Thoughts and exercises on the role of memory as we grow and age.
Remember: we are not just writers, we are re-writers.
crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
will not stay still. (T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton)
That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
a periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
with words and meanings. (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)
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. (T. S. Eliot, East Coker)
As promised, I will present here, over the next week, my thoughts and comments on the writing workshop that took place in Saint John on Sunday, 10 March 2019. The workshop began with the above words from T. S. Eliot. They can be used for contemplation about the difficult art and craft of writing. They can also be used as prompts from which writers can develop their own creative and poetic philosophy. There is more indeed, much more, than the simple splashing of ink upon the page. Yet we all begin with that first splash of ink, that first letter drawn with finger from the computer keyboard, or thumbed on the I-Pad.
Where do writers go next? That is the question. In this workshop, with its series of thematically linked writing models and prompts, I will try and answer some of those questions. More important, perhaps, all participants will have time to think, time to write, and time to read what they have written to a sympathetic audience.
The workshop’s structure is simple: five modules of 30 minutes each. After the third module, there will be a ten minute break. The last two modules will be followed by a question and answer session that can be prolonged for as long as participants wish.
Alas, I am not familiar with the writers in this group and therefore have not prepared individual exercises for each person’s needs. Forgive me for this lapse. What I have done is to draw up some generic hints and some typical models from which participants are free to select what suits them best. But first some notes on the writing you will be asked to do.
Suggestions for the writing exercise included in each module:
Write a prose memoir, just reminiscing.
Use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person narrative.
Choose 6-12 words from the reading and expand on them using associative fields.
Write from an image or a metaphor.
Journal style: automatic writing, but try to select the gems.
Letter style: write to a friend.
Since I am unfamiliar with you as individual writers, here are four generic writing levels. Choose one and write from within that level. By all means work your way through the levels, if you wish to do so, one level per module.
Beginning Writers: Just write, using the prompts to help you get your own words and experiences and memories on the page. Don’t be afraid to ask me, or more experienced writers in the room, for help.
Intermediate Writers 1: Try and concentrate on writing about one or two senses within each exercise.
Intermediate Writers 2: Try and combine two or three senses within each exercise.
Advanced Writers: Use the prompts as you will and concentrate on imagery, metaphors, letting the language doing the work, and combining or mixing the senses. Also, please share your experiences (positive and negative) with other writers in each mini-group.
Reading and discussion:
NB Change tables and seek new people in mini-groups after each module. Ideal size of mini-groups is 3-4 people.
We need to learn how to share, and how to accept very diverse opinions, some of which may be good and some of which may be bad.
Don’t just talk to old friends: discover and make new ones.
Listen to the comments and accept them or reject them after you have thought about them. Don’t argue. Don’t explain. Don’t defend your writing. Just listen and see how others read and see and understand your work.
As you read and listen, learn from the other writers, how they write, how they read, how they express themselves.
We are all in search of our own very personal and elusive voice: you won’t find your voice unless you use it. Remember: use it or lose it.
Invitation and Reminder:
By all means comment on this workshop and its modules. Module 1, with some polishing and though, will appear tomorrow.
Cat & Janies
Everybody needs a cat to keep them honest. Dogs are cynics. Cats, on the other paw, are born manipulators. Princess Squiffy, seen here, is intent on the red squirrel that is eating seed just to the left, outside of the picture. PS is trying to hypnotize it, draw it close. If it comes near she will pounce and scare the ‘bejabers’ out of the poor squirrel.
Behind the cat are three blossoms from Clare’s geranium collection. Clare salvages the best geraniums each fall, re-pots them, and keeps them indoors throughout the winter. They bring us joy and color whenever they blossom and are as bright as male cardinals against the snow. We have a pair of cardinals who visit regularly, but hungry, prowling neighborhood pussy cats are often on patrol, so the cardinals are very wary and do not hang around for long. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t mind the blood red reflection of the geraniums on the snow. I am adverse to the blood-red of real blood.
Speaking of which, as I grow old and my skin becomes drier and more like parchment, I find I cut myself much more easily than I used to. This morning I pumped gas into the car. The air was cold, my hands were cold, my skin was taut. I noticed nothing until I got inside the gas station to pay. I had blood all over my hands from a half-inch crack in the skin of my right index finger. I do not know how it happened. But there it was. The young girl in the gas station was excellent and cleaned and patched me up in no time at all. She was very nice to me. I felt lucky. So I bought three lottery tickets. Within five days we’ll find out whether I was lucky or not.
It’s wonderful to be around young people. So much bounce, so much energy. So much joie de vivre. Mind you, our granddaughter wears us out in no time at all. I guess I’ve earned peace, rest, comfort, and relatively easy living in my retirement, mon âge d’or, just like Princess Squiffy. She’s a house cat, incidentally. She can look at that bountiful banquet of squirrel and bird, but she cannot reach out and touch. She can merely make the window rattle as she charges the sliding door. She reminds me of the Pelican, whose beak can hold more than her belly can. Except in her case, especially with the birds, it’s more like her eyes behold more than her belly can. Whatever I do, I don’t want a kitty smorgasborg, nor do I want to turn the bird feeder into a pussy cat feeder.
Speaking of pussy cats and how they belong in houses, here’s one of my favorite short poems from Guillaume Apollinaire: Le chat (1911).
Je souhaite dans ma maison :
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.
I searched for the text online, as I had mislaid my own collection of his poetry. By the
way, Apollinaire is one of the few poets (English, French, Spanish, or Other), whose
poems I did not give away during the ‘Grand Clean Out’. The little drop down offered to
translate this page for me and, for once, I clicked it. Here’s their rendition of the poem.
I wish in my house:
A woman having her reason,
A cat passing among the books,
Friends in any season
Without which I can not live.
Now all I need to ‘make my day’ is a poem about Geraniums, and I know exactly where to find one.
As the inscription on the old Roman sundial announced: Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. And, of course, the sundial is right. When the skies are cloudy and the rain and snow are falling, the sundial sleeps and refrains from marking the passage of time. But when the sun prances brightly through those heavenly meadows and casts shadows across the numbers on the clock, then the sundial counts the hours, precisely because they are happy.
I try to do the same. I try to avoid the shadows that are cast across our planet and I try not to count them. Alas, like the grains of sand on the beach and the countless stars in the sky, they are innumerable, though the latter are being named, numbered, and counted, much to their chagrin. Who wants to be called Welsh by foreigners, with all the negative connotations they associate with the epithet, when our real name is Cymraeg? And no, we don’t live in Wales, we live in Cymru, or better still, in Canada when we (e)migrate. Canada: I wonder what the real name is for this huge and wonderful land? And what about the local indigenous peoples? I can accept that they are First Nations. No problem. But who are our hosts and neighbors when they call themselves Wolastoqiyik (or Maliseet) and we call them Aboriginals (or worse)?
What’s in a name? North, South, East, West … simple, eh? How about Upstream, Downstream, Away from the River, Towards the river? Think names of the months, names of the days of the week. Now think guidance, think signposts, think culture, think separate cultures, think different ways of living, think different ways of life. Think possessive pronouns: my book, my house, my cat, my dog, my son, my daughter, my Wifi, my wife. Or as le grand Charles de Gaulle expressed it, in Le Canard enchaîné: “Ma France, mon coup de frappe, mon Europe … mon Dieu.” Maybe we would be better off without possessive adjectives. But then …
“Taffy was a Welshman,
Taffy was a thief,
Taffy came to our house
and stole a leg of beef.”
Taffy: a generic name for the Welsh. Any male person from Wales is automatically a Taffy from the moment he opens his mouth and speaks with anything like a Welsh accent. Taffy, from the River Taff that flows through Cardiff, aka Caer Dydd, the fort on the Dydd. There are many rivers in Wales, many regions. Men from the Isle of Mona, Llanberis, Caernarfon, Brecon, Abertawe, Aberavon, Castell Nedd, Caerfryddin, Pen-y-pont, Caer Isca, Usk, Cas Newydd, Pen-y-Bryn, Sgetti, Uplands, Trebanog, Llanelli, Llanfairpwllgwyngilldrawbwllchllantiisilioggogogoch, Cwm Parc, Trebanoc Cwmbwrla, Cwmrhyddiceirw … Taffies one and all, even if they were born miles away from the River Taff and rarely visited Cardiff, the very name of the river and the city anathema to them.
I once had a friend, a very good friend, or so I thought, educated in Harrow, Oxford, secret member of the ultra-secretive, fabulously expensive, well-endowed and super-privileged, ultra-elite Bullingdon Club. He had a triple barreled name of course: Somerset-Trilby-Frisbee or something like that, I forget now. Whenever I arrived at a reunion or a meeting, he would greet me with a bullhorn, bullfrog chorus that reached into the far corners of the room: “Lock up the silver spoons, the Welsh have arrived.”
Humor? His laughter would rock the rafters and shake the room once more. Racism? What racism is there in mocking the Welsh when you are English? Bigotry? No man with a three part surname, an English public school background, and a list of ancestors longer than your arm could possible be a bigot. Idiot? He was very intelligent, slightly unbalanced, and totally oblivious to any social norm or indignity, unless he was the threatened person, and watch out for vicious mousetraps if you made him the butt of your own humor and he took umbrage at the slight. Criminal? No way: the Welsh were always the criminals, for back in the legendary mists of time they had stolen a leg of beef and now they were here to steal the precious plastic spoons and knives and forks that masqueraded as silver …
… what’s really in a name? What’s in a grey day or a blue day? What’s in a cloudy day or a sunny day? What’s in our hearts when we denigrate our friends and doubly degrade our enemies and those we declare to be our enemies, sometimes on a gut feeling or a whim? Horas non numero nisi serenas … Time to look on the bright side, to walk on the sunny side of the street, to reject the shadow and live in the sunshine. Time, in fact, to turn the whole day into a succession of Happy Hours. Study the cartoon above. Now that is a portrait of someone who really enjoys a Happy Hour. And not a glass or a bottle in sight.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Truth and Lies or Verisimilitude
05 April 2017
Miguel de Cervantes comes at truth and lies from a slightly different angle than most of us. In Don Quixote, he writes of verisimilitude (verosimilitud in Spanish) and defines it in this way: “Tanto la mentira es mejor cuanto más parece verdadera” — The lie is so much better when it appears to be true.
Cervantes extends verisimilitude into perspectivism when an object, for example, the shaving bowl that turns into Mambrino’s helmet, is seen from different angles to represent different things.
Thus Sancho sees a barber’s bowl while Don Quixote sees a warrior’s helmet, specifically that of Mambrino. As Cervantes demonstrates, when both aspects can be held to be true, we are no longer dealing with a direct opposition, truth (barber’s bowl) versus fiction (Mambrino’s helmet). In fact we are dealing with a new reality, that of the basin which doubles as a helmet and the helmet that doubles as a basin. The compromise, in Cervantes’s Spanish, is to invent a new word, a new world, that of the baciyelmo, the first half of which is the basin (baci-) and the second half of which is the helmet (-yelmo). This blends two appearances together to form a new fictional reality upon which the protagonists can agree.
I like to think that this is what we are all doing when we write, forming a new fictional reality to create a new world. We do this when we combine our memories and our imaginations to create new truths. Perhaps it is the fuzziness around the edges, rather than true clarity, that allows us to penetrate the mist of meaning and come up with the new words and worlds.
For example, some men like facial hair and some men don’t.
I was invited to play an acting role in the local film co-op and the art director asked me to grow a specific type of mustache, something I had never ever done previously. I didn’t want to do it and was faced by a dictat “do it or you don’t get the role”. The AD was a good friend, so I did it. I grew a mustache.
It was the worst mustache you have (n)ever seen and trust me you can be glad you didn’t see it (but you can see it on the film, except I’m not telling you the name of the film). Anyway, when the final words “It’s a wrap” were called, late one Sunday night, my beloved was waiting on the doorstep with a razor and a shaving brush. “Off with it,” she said. And I’ve never grown another whisker since.
Is this a true memory or a coloring of the facts? You’ll never know. What is true is that the art director was amazed at the refusal of many males to grow facial hair.
Spanish proverb: “Both man and bear: each more beautiful with more hair / ¡El hombre y el oso: más peludo, más hermoso!”
The film in which I played the role of a domineering theater director was a New Brunswick short (15 minutes). It’s called Misdirection (and is available from the NB Film Co-op). It’s a totally amateur production and was enormous fun to make.
In retrospect, the mustache actually didn’t look too bad … but there’s a very evil glint in my eyes in a couple of scenes. The DoP was using a shoulder held camera and did some great close-ups. I was trying to avoid looking at the camera, but he was so close that I was staring down the lens a couple of times.
More on body hair: I was coaching at the Canada Games one year (once upon a time, a long time ago, in another life) and was moved to investigate the howls of merriment that were emerging late at night from one of the bathrooms in the residence we were all sharing.
I did so to discover, after hammering at the door and demanding entry, that five or so girls were devoting their attention and their razor blades to removing all the body hair of one of our male swimmers so that he could slip through the water with less friction.
It wasn’t exactly a Brazilian Wax, but it was a gazillion laughs: death by a thousand cuts. I am sure the scars slowed the swimmer down. This was a long time ago, incidentally, when the world was young.
Truth or Fiction? Verisimilitude? The closer the lie is to the truth, the more convincing it is. Ask Cervantes: he should know.
At 10:00 AM today, Saturday, April 1, 2017, Donald Trump, the President of the USA, will sign an Executive Order reversing Galileo’s theory that the Earth moves round the Sun. As of 11:00 AM, thanks to the President, the Sun will once again move around the earth as, in the words of an unnamed source who wishes to remain anonymous, “it always has.”
Late last night the President tweeted:
Earth moves round sun? Fake News. Obama inspired scientist was wrong. SO SAD.
In addition, the President will be setting up two Commissions of Inquiry. The first will be ordered to investigate and establish the Flat Earth Phenomenon.
The President tweeted:
Obama and the Democrats are RWONG. VERY SAD. The Earths Flat. Any one can see that. Look out youre window. SO SAD.
An unnamed source said: “We have known this for a long time. Just waiting for the right moment to announce it. April 1 before mid-day felt good.”
In a third tweet, early this morning, the President asserted:
Just seen sun rise out of sea. Heading for Mar-a-Lago right now. Earth not moving. Have eyes. Can see.
The second Commission of Inquiry will look into the establishment of Coal-fired Space Travel.
Coal-fired space ships. An America Frst American First. Make America Great Again.
An unnamed source stated that “The President said he would put American miners back to work. And he’s a man of his word. Think how much coal it will take to send a space ship into space. Great President. He’ll Make America Great Again. Coal is so clean and so cheap. Democrats under Obama wasted so much money. So Sad.”
At the time of going to press, White House official staff were unavailable for comment.
Raw Poetry @ Corked
Sunday, 15 January, 2017
Poetry readings: some poets are meant to be listened to, while others are meant to be written to. Listening to Nicole Godwin and R. W. Gray, I came up with these two very raw poems; by very raw poems, I mean written and read this afternoon at the poetry readings.
Meurtriers et victimes.
brings to both
a long, dark path
leading to goblins
at the garden’s foot:
madness and death.
Comment: Nicole was in Iraq and saw things that have stayed with her ever since. I highly recommend her poetry book, Warcries, from which she read today.
My poems are drawn from my life,
not from the lives of others.
I live my words,
drawing them wriggling
through the holes
punched by others in my flesh.
so many cars
slithering in the freshet
melt of tarmac
and stilted flesh.
so many ships,
Comment: Rob’s opening words clicked with my own experiences and I joined right in. I highly recommend his book of short stories, Crisp, from which he read today.
Raw Poems: I wrote them down as they came to me. No revision. No second thoughts. As yet, no ‘oh dears’!