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.

Wednesday Workshop: Writing from Inside


Writing from Inside
Wednesday Workshop
07 March 2018

Crave More: I hate those words.  I always choose a cart with the shop’s name on the handle. I can handle that. I can’t handle a shopping cart that screams Crave More at me every time I stoop down and place another item in the wire grid. If stores were honest they would write Think More and Crave Less on their shopping cart handles. But I bet that would quickly cut into profits.

Anyway, there I was, in LaLaLand, leaning on my cart, still half asleep, when this ghost drifted towards me. “Help me,” it said. “I’m hungry. I need food.” I woke up from my dream, looked at the ghost, tall, skeletal thin, cavernous eyes and cheekbones protruding, grey face drawn with shame. The single word “Sorry” came automatically to my lips. Then I too felt shame. I looked at him again. “I only carry plastic.” The excuse limped heavily across the air between. I saw something in his eyes, I knew not what, and I turned away.

In my mind, I added 120 lb of muscle to the scarecrow frame. Took forty years away. Filled his body with joy and pride, not shame, and remembered how he played the game, hard and fast, but true. I ran my hand through the card index of former players that I coached and knew: their moves, and attributes, the way they played the game, their stronger / weaker side, their playing strengths, their weaknesses. I remembered him holding up the Champion’s Cup. But I couldn’t remember his name.

I pushed the cart all over the store in a frantic search for him. He was nowhere to be seen. I went to the ATM and took out cash. I could hand it to him. I could tell him he had dropped it. I went through a thousand scenes. I could invite him to the snack bar. I could tell him to buy what he needed and follow me to the  check out lane. A single opportunity. One chance. That’s all we get. Miss it, and we blow the championship. Take it, and we win the game.


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.”

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’ …”


Identity: Wednesday Workshop



Wednesday Workshop

5 July 2017

Today’s workshop settles on the question of identity, loss of identity, and the attempt to recover any form of cultural identity that one feels one has lost. These questions are particularly important in the current age when so many differences are so easily erased. Language, culture, identity, music … they are all tied closely together.

The search for identity runs parallel to the search for the poetic voice (or the writing voice) that is so unique to each good writer. In fact, one can distinguish between good writers and lesser writers merely on the basis of voice. Lesser writers rarely establish a distinct voice while good writers usually have voices that are uniquely their own.

What to do we mean by voice? When we read Shakespeare or Miguel de Cervantes we know almost immediately whose work we are reading. The same is true of the great musicians. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, all have sequences and styles that are individual to them, as do Scarlatti, Brassens, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Gilles Vigneault, Edith Butler … their style, their voice is established. We listen to them and we know who they are.

Cultural identity is also very important. It is tied into language, childhood beliefs, fairy tales, myths, the basic culture that we receive as children. When we all listen to the same radio stations, or download the same ITunes, or watch the same TV programs with their infinity of ad nauseam advertisements, then we are socially engineered to be the same or, if not the same, remarkably similar within a series of very limited and extremely limiting patterns. When we establish our own identities, — and this is always difficult both for people who have had their culture taken from them and for immigrants, or the children of immigrants, who want to retain their culture at the same time as they blend in and fit in socially — then at the same time we develop our own voices.

When I hear the poetry of Lorca, of Antonio Machado, of Miguel de Unamuno, of Octavio Paz, of Dylan Thomas, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of Wilfred Owen, I hear their very distinctive voices and recognize their individual styles and the cultural / poetic identities that they have established. The goal that we, as writers, are aiming for is to establish our own style, our own voice. To do this, we must listen to ourselves and discover how we think and how we feel. Then we must listen to others of our own generation. We must make comparisons and establish what we do differently, why we are different, what forms our differences … our own individual voice may come from speech rhythms, from language usage, from the establishment of a certain form of narrative, from the use of imagery or metaphor … there are so many different ways in which we are, each of us, different … or capable of being perceived as different.

When we write often enough and frequently enough, we at last begin to recognize those words, those phrases, those rhythms, those ideas, that are ours and nobody else’s. This is when we start to discover our own voices and our own personalities. It is a goal worth striving for … step by step … poco a poco … little by little … and a step forward everyday … until we grow into the type of writer or poet, fully established (or establishing), that we were always meant to be.

It is never easy to capture oneself and place oneself on the page in readable form. It’s a bit like trying to draw Picasso’s blue vase using only one blue pencil: not easy. It’s much easier to take a selfie with a flashy cell-phone.  Cell-phone selfies are easy, but verbal selfies are what we are seeking for. They take much longer to ‘produce’ and it is only when we finally achieve them, that we realize how difficult they are to actually achieve. But remember, read and re-read my earlier postings: don’t give up; don’t get off the bus!


Creativity: Thursday Thoughts


Thursday Thoughts
Kingsbrae 15.1

15 June 2017

The KIRA experience has been very kind to me. It has enabled me to spend time writing and thinking without the necessity of worrying about the daily rituals and necessities of everyday life. In addition, the daily conversations with the other artists in residence have kept my mind focused on the process of creation and this has allowed me to study how I am creating. As many on this blog have noticed, I have been very productive during this residency, and there are several reasons for it. I would like to share some thoughts and ideas with you.

Journal: On 2 March 2017, I received an e-mail telling me that I had been accepted for the arts residency at Kingsbrae. As most of you know, I keep a journal and write in it every day. On 3 March 2017, I started my Kingsbrae poetry sequence. I began by reading the entirety of the Kingsbrae web page and then watched the Kingsbrae Garden videos online. Then I began jotting down in my journal poems and snippets of poems, creative thoughts, metaphors, images,  and ideas. By the time I came to Kingsbrae, I had 90 proto-poems in place. Since they were taken from photos and videos, and were not written in situ, I saw them as prototypes, rather than as the real thing.

The Journal as Poetic Quarry: I look on the journal as a poetic quarry. It contains many stones, some tiny, some larger, some useless, and some very precious indeed. One part of my poetic journey here at Kingsbrae is to go back over these stones, turn them over one by one, discarding the dross, and concentrating on the precious material that has lain there waiting to be re-discovered. Now that I am on site, it is easier to distinguish between those essential words, the ones that really count, and the lesser words, the ones that can be dismissed. This sifting process needs time and thought, and that is exactly what the residency has given me. Writing tip: keep a journal. Mark in red those passages that contain seeds of poetry, images, metaphors, rhythms etc. Return to them when you have the time to do so. Time and space are essential: a time in which to work and a space in which to work. Without these two things , we are lost as writers. ‘I don’t have time,’ you think. Ask yourself: ‘what is more important than a little time each day, spent on yourself and your writing?’ As writers, we MUST indulge ourselves with those two little gifts, time and space. An hour a day is more than enough: find that hour, use it. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is enough to keep us ticking over: if we can’t find that ten minute space, then we are unfortunate indeed.

The Revision Process: As I develop as a writer (and believe me, I am still developing), I realize that the ability to recognize good writing is one of the most important skills that we possess. Re-reading is one thing. Distinguishing the great (oh yes, there are great thoughts and metaphors in those journals), from the good, from the average, from the futile and meaningless is a key skill. All of us have wasted precious time on an idea that just didn’t work. We have worried at it like a dog at an old bone, drooling, gnawing away, growling at ourselves and the bone, getting no nourishment. Leave those ‘dead’ ideas, those ‘dead’ metaphors. Move on to the good ones asap. Our writing time is precious: don’t waste it. Learn to recognize the good and workable from the lesser writings that waste our time.

The Creative Process: “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” This is the first line of one of W. H. Davies’s poems. The Kingsbrae Residency has given me time to stand and stare. It has also given me time to sit and stare. Emptying myself of the daily drudge, I have been able to allow light and inspiration to enter my mind and fill me with creativity. I have discovered that there are ways to do this: meditation, an open mind, an emptiness within that slowly fills, and, above all, carpe diem, the ability to recognize that moment and seize it and exploit it. None of the above is unique to me. If we are at all creative, we are all faced with a simple choice: to develop our creativity or to let it wither. Most of us are too ‘busy’, in the worst sense of the word, to allow ourselves the time we need to create. This is a process we must reverse. We must return to self time, thinking time, emptiness time, metaphoric creative time.

The Value of Art: The modern corporate businessman’s mind is of the type that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. As a result, we have the tendency, as artists, to fall into the ‘price’ mold rather than the ‘value’ mold. If we do not stop and think, if we do not find the time to create, if we do not search for the absolute values that are represented by our art and our creativity, then we count the pennies, add up the costs, and look at the price. Nobody said art was facile. Nobody said that creating the time and space in which we could create would be easy. This residency has convinced me of one thing: that without that time and space, we are nothing but drones, workers, lifeless puppets, going through the motions as other people pull the strings, lacking the spiritual wherewithal … We must stand up for creativity, for being different, for doing things differently, for being ourselves. We must stop being digitalized consumers and become, or continue to be, active, thinking creators. The world needs creativity and art. It needs people who stop and think. It needs people who think differently. It needs artists and creators. It needs us. What we do as artists and creators is precious and valuable. Never doubt it. Never forget it.