Saturday, April 29, 2006

Reader's Diary #80- Fred Sedgwick: How To Write Poetry (p. 16)


How To Write Poetry is written as a text book. There are exercises spread throughout designed to get the student writing, thinking about word choice, and so forth. I've been doing some of these and I've been enjoying them to some extent (it remains to be seen if they'll improve my writing ability).

In one particular exercise Sedgwick suggests making a list of 6 words that you currently like, and a second list of words you currently dislike. I had a tough time doing this activity, it's not something I've thought about. It was much easier to come up with words I didn't like. For my list, see comments below. Feel free to submit your own.

As Sedgwick goes on to talk about the importance of words, he seems really hung up on etymology - word origins. From the little bit of etymology I've been exposed to, I find it interesting and I can understand how it's become such a hobby for some people. However, I fear Sedgwick overemphasizes its importance in the writing of poems. If the reader is unfamiliar with the etymology of a word, how effective is it? I would suggest that if the word has connotations in the modern world in addition to interesting etymology then it could be a good choice. Readers could get something from the word through its modern implications, and should s/he delve deeper, be rewarded even more. But without the modern connotations, it's probably pointless except to etymologists and cruciverbalists.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Reader's Diary #79- Jean M. Auel: The Plains Of Passage (ch. 20, up to p. 340)


I'm trying my best to salvage something from this book and I think I may have managed. I've been at a couple of reading workshops lately and it was stressed MANY times about how important it is to make reading meaningful to children, make it connect to them some how. That makes a lot of sense because as adult readers we take it for granted how many such connections we make during a read through of just about anything.

What I'm salvaging from this book, what I'm appreciating, is the connections it's making me think about. First, comfort and aboriginal peoples. As anyone who's followed this site, or who is acquainted with me knows, I lived in Nunavut for four years. I learned more about the Inuit in that amount of time than I had ever known before, and this book makes me think again about some of their history. When you consider that I met people(granted they were the older people) that were actually born in igloos, it's not all that long ago. Then consider that the characters in Plains of Passage were based on people that lived about 35 000 years ago. It's amazing how the Inuit shared a lot of characteristics with their lifestyle (i.e., relying on hunting, living in tents, living nomadically, using thrown weapons, etc) until so recently (relatively speaking). It also made me think once again about my contemporary and I guess, eurocentric view of comfort. I remember being blown away watching the Tuktu videos that people lived liked that at one time. Not only that, but people were happy doing so! I'm not much of a camper, let alone spending my entire life living in the cold, hunting for myself, preparing my own clothing, and so on. I'd deteriorate into a puddle of frozen sobs if I had to fend for myself that way and be so uncomfortable for the rest of my life. But that's where the Tuktu videos and Plains of Passage get interesting- comfort never seems to be an issue. I guess, if you've never had a Serta, how would you know? (Not an endorsement for Serta).

The way the Cro-magnons view the Neanderthals in The Plains of Passage made me think of the way white people used to view Beothuks. Just like the Cro-magnons refer to the Neanderthals as flatheads and consider them animals, white people considered the Beothuks savages, heathens and so on. Interesting in The Plains of Passage, the Neanderthals aren't shown to put the Cro-magnons below them. Instead of considering them animals as well, they refer to them simply as "the Others" and avoid them out of fear. I've often heard stories (for what they're worth) of natives throughout history fearing white people and considering them evil, even magical, but like in Auel's book, I haven't heard accounts of them calling white people "savage" or referring to them in any way animalistic. With the horrific things they've had done to them, maybe they valued animals too much to insult them with such a comparison.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reader's Diary #78- Fred Sedgwick: How To Write Poetry (up to the end of the introduction)


This is the first time I've read a "how-to" book. And let's face it, I'm not reading about "How To Make Armchairs in The Renaissance Style" here, I'm reading about poetry.

When it comes to writing poetry, I've probably committed every sin there is. I wrote a lot, before actually reading a lot. How does one know what poetry is, if one doesn't read some first? One doesn't. I'm not saying everything I wrote then didn't have it's value (I can use it a reference of bad poetry, for instance), but I had developed this idea of what a good poem was almost entirely in my head (of course, it's impossible to go through life and not be exposed to some poetry from which we build our definitions). And so now, I read more poetry. In fact, I try to always be reading poetry. I don't mean in the 24-7 sense, but in the concurrent with anything else I'm reading sense.

But this is the first time I've gone the "How To" route. I'm not sure how it'll go. I'm not aiming to be the next Robert Burns after reading it, but if I can pick up a few tips, strategies and the like that will improve my game a bit, then great. Judging by the introduction, I think I will like Sedgwick's style. It's readable, written in everyday terms, and at times humourous. Best of all, it's given me pause for thought. When he writes about the toil needed in writing, he also advises that we put the poem away for increasingly long periods of time and keep coming back to it. I know this is a downfall of mine. At best, I tend to get a poem in my head, "toil" with it only for a night or two and then write it on my laptop. If I come back to it and substitute a word here or there and slightly rearrange punctuation, it's been a good day. I have a nasty habit though of countering what I feel might be a perfectionist attitude that "it'll never be perfect" with sometimes inappropriate justification of my work. I'll use the poem I wrote below as an example. After writing this triolet (and right away I'm guilty of rushing into a form I haven't had a lot of exposure to), I felt my rhymes were a little to juvenile (had, mad, dad, etc). But instead of doing something about them, I made up an excuse as to why they might work, i.e., a man is visiting his father and recounting days of arm-wrestling so juvenile rhymes might mirror his flashbacks into his youth. Likewise, I felt that "arm wrestling" sounds clumsy, but then rationalized it by thinking- it should be, arm wrestling is awkward. So you see the dilemma I work myself into? Would I be changing things for the sake of change? Or would I be keeping things the same because of senseless justifications? This is why I publish these on line from time to time- hoping to get any feedback that might help!

Sedgwick, like a friend of mine revealed recently, is very anti-cliche. While I'm aware of them, I don't think I feel as strongly as they, and I know I'm guilty of using them. Looking back through this post for instance, I see "let's face it", "24-7", and "improve my game" to name but a few. I think it's a little hypocritical for Sedgwick to say that on the one hand "Poetry needs to written in current language" but then be so against cliches that are in fact, part of the current language. I look at them as fine in moderation and in poetry, if they're used in such a way that is advantageous to the poem. At least this is my justification for using the somewhat cliched "let him have his day" in my triolet poem. It's a cliche to me that seems like a realistic thought, that sums up the stakes of the arm-wrestling in a somewhat machismo way that people can (hopefully) relate to, and that freezes each "bout" or the man's current dilemma (whether or not to arm-wrestle his father) in a particular moment (i.e., "day"). Are my justifications valid? Or am I better and coming up with B.S. then I am at writing poems? I seriously don't know. Is this what is meant by "toil"?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Reader's Diary #77- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (FINISHED)

After finishing Braid and Shreve's In Fine Form I can honestly say that I got what I came for. First, I wanted some good poems to read. I found lots. There were of course some that I didn't enjoy, but if they all appealed to me, that would be amazing. And of course, there were probably some I'd enjoy after a few more reads. Second, I got exposure to forms I was unfamiliar with (I now love triolets). Third, I got a crash course in form poetry and terminology. I'm glad there won't be a test in it because I'd fail miserably, but it was nice to understand what made say a sestina, a sestina- even if my knowledge is only for the time being. I'm sure I'll come across the definitions again and maybe after multiple exposures they'll start to stick.

I gained a much deeper appreciation for form poetry and it made me alter my schema of form poems a little. I used to think form poetry was stuffier and too caught up in rules to be truly expressive. That's not true. Sometimes I think the "constraints" fosters creativity. And sometimes, I don't think they're constraints at all. Most of the poets in this collection gave the impression that they chose the form they chose because it fit their idea, in other words the form worked for the poem, not the other way around. For example, when Carole Glasser Langille chose a villanelle to write about the crows of Kentville, it was the perfect form. The repetition that the form requires works in a number of ways; it re-emphasizes the number of crows and how they are taking over, it shows the town's obsession with them, and it makes the whole situation that much more eerie. I also had the suspicion that form poetry was more difficult to write than free verse. And while there's no denying that when you see a form described as having a tercet AB1B2 followed by a quatrain abAB1 followed by a sestet abbAB1B2- it just looks daunting and not worth the trouble. However, when you are able to decipher the key elements, form poems have the advantage of using often time-tested meters and rhyming schemes that have proven themselves to be pleasing to the ear. I guess I'm saying that if a poem sticks to a known form, it might even be easier to convince someone it's well-written. Obviously that's not the entire story and other factors come into play; word choice, punctuation, etc, but the point can be made that when it comes to difficulty of writing, free verse and form poetry have their own unique challenges and advantages.

Another particular poem I feel the need to comment on is Christopher Wiseman's "Triolets For Ken". In these three triolets, there's a narrative being told by a man haunted by the tragic death of his friend who fell while climbing a cliff to collect seabirds' eggs. Why do I like this poem so much? I'm not sure. The poem itself is wonderfully written- on the surface level the story is easy to follow and intriguing; it opens with "Three times a year the nightmare comes again" What is the nightmare that haunts him? The poem grabs the reader from the get go. And like the villanelle I mentioned earlier, has repeating phrases that increase the eeriness and mimics the way the event comes back to haunt him. Even beyond the surface, the poem is magnificent. I love the symbolism with the eggs in the final triolet. If eggs bring to mind the beginning of life, than surely Ken's collecting of them is ominously mirrored by Nature's reclaiming of him. I could go on with aspects of the poem that make it great- but the biggest reason I like this poem so much is because I can relate. No, I didn't have a friend die tragically, but my cousin and I spent our childhood climbing the cliffs around the shores of Twillingate. In our adulthood, we've often remarked about the dangers we took for granted. Sure we had amazing fun and I wouldn't trade those memories for anything, but I guess as you get older your mortality sings louder and louder. This poem is for all of those who had mortality sing to them at a young age. And for those who are fortunate enough to appreciate that it didn't.

I'd like to close this post with a triolet that I've been working on. I'm a little concerned that its rhymes might be perceived as juvenile (though there's an argument to be made why that might be appropriate) and that it might have a bit too much sentimentality (one of my biggest beefs). Anyway, any comments- good or bad- would be appreciated-

Triolet for Dad

I will not arm wrestle my dad.
I will let him have his day.
So despite the dream I've had,
I will not arm wrestle my dad.
Since your father has gone mad
He remembers it as play.
I will not arm wrestle my dad,
He has had his day.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Reader's Diary #76- Jean M. Auel: The Plains of Passage (Ch 15, p.242)


"One day had blended into another with reassuring monotony..."

Okay, during the Canada Reads debates when John K. Samson defended the slightly broken structure of A Complicated Kindness by saying that it mirrored the central character's life, he may have been onto something. But while it works for Miriam Toews, the same cannot be said for Auel. The travels of Ayla and Jondalar are long, boring and repetitive- that's probably accurate of a lot of long journeys- that doesn't mean the novel should mimic that. 757 freakin' pages? Couldn't her editor have told her to trim this sucker down? For starters the first 242 pages should be cut. Same old, same old, page after insanely boring page! Even my critiques of the book are starting to repeat themselves. About a dozen times now Auel has picked up the pieces for a potential story and just when I get my hopes up that something might happen in the way of a plot, my hopes are crushed. What's that? Some strange people are coming towards them from across the river? Oh, they turned around. Seriously.

One thing did peak my interest (maybe because I was looking so hard for anything that might help me keep my eyes open) was the mention of reed wolves. These wolves lived in trees on a floating island of reeds (which in itself reminded me of the floating island in Life of Pi). The whole idea of such creatures seemed so bizarre, yet most of her other details seem to "revolve" around fact- so did such an animal exist? Does it still? Some people seem to think that perhaps this was a Northern variant of a golden jackal that went extinct, but I can't find anything about jackals past or present climbing trees. According to JungleWalk, gray foxes are the only canines that can climb trees. So now I have no idea, but for a second Auel had intrigued me. If anyone does know where Auel got her information, could you let me know? I'm mildly interested.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Reader's Diary #75- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Triolet)

When Al Purdy's collection of poems lost out in the latest Canada Reads, I went all preachy and basically said that it was Canada's own fault that poetry isn't more widely accepted- it certainly wasn't the fault of the poets themselves. Then I went and read Sharon Thesen's "The Broken Cup" and... well, some poets are to blame.

Now I'm not saying I'm the world's smartest man, but I do have a couple university degrees under my belt and if I can't understand some of Thesen's vocabulary, what kind-of supereducated group was she writing for? It's not that I feel I should know every word in every poem. I'm not against looking up a word or two here or there. Heck, it might even increase my "Increase Your Word Power" score in the next Reader's Digest. Case in point: "Bits of prosody fall near..." Bits of what? According to Wikipedia, it's something to do with speech patterns in linguistics, or metrical patterns in poetry. "Big holes through obdurate patterns..." Oh, obdurate patterns. Say what? According to FreeDictionary.com, "obdurate" has something to do with "stubbornness". Then there's "bardos" and "comfrey" and I just don't want to increase my vocab that much, especially when I'm trying to enjoy a poem. Likewise there's such high-falootin' phrases as "Like certain music/ refuses transcendence" and "fatal tedium". That last one just about sums up the whole poem for me.

Fortunately, along comes a wonderful poem by Steven Heighton entitled "Blackjack". This is certainly not the stereotypical poem topic. Heighton is even courteous enough to acknowledge that perhaps not everyone is familiar with the game and before the poem begins, he gives the definitions of "hit" and "stand" as they pertain to the game. But even though the poem isn't bogged down with overly academic words, it is no less intelligent (I'd argue that it's more so). I know that a lot of poets, because of their job, might have a larger vocabulary- afterall, words are their bread and butter. But if they're only going to choose other poets as their audience, there's no right to complain when people like Scott Thompson run away from it. Heighton's "Blackjack" poem, like Purdy's poems, shoot for a larger audience and in my opinion, are better for it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Canada Reads - Day Five

All hail Miriam Toews and her domination of Canada Reads 2006! Congratulations to Ms. Toews and her book A Complicated Kindness. I mistakenly got my hopes up and thought Purdy had a chance- oh well. If this year's Canada Reads has taught me anything it's that I absolutely SUCK at predictions. One final shot at it though...tomorrow's 6-49 numbers will be 1-2-3-4-5-6.

Seriously though, I'm spent. I hardly have a thing left to say about A Complicated Kindness. Maybe I'll read it again some time. See if I'll perchance see what all the fuss is about the second time around. Maybe for next year's Canada Reads Championship. By the way, if the CBC happens to read this: you're welcome. I'm kidding. It was an obvious idea, I guess. Though I can see now why they didn't use my poll suggestion (see comments in Canada Reads - Day Four below).

One final comment about Purdy's Rooms For Rent though- and I hope this doesn't come across as sour grapes (or as I like to call them: Nelofer Berries)- one of the most common things I've heard this year is that Rooms For Rent wouldn't be accessible to the masses because it's poetry. I agree that poetry isn't accessible to the masses, but I see that as a problem; a problem more with us as a nation than with the poems themselves. And I don't see running away from it as much of a solution. The only way people will ever begin to appreciate poetry is to actually read it! I'm not aiming for everyone in the country to start wearing berets and smoking cigarillos at the local coffee shop- but poetry has got to be the most overlooked genre in literature, and I'm sure more people would like it if they gave it a chance. Anyways, not to worry, I'll burn my soap box after tonight's posting- even I'm a little nauseated by this rant.

All in all, I've been happy with another year's Canada Reads. I've yet to have my favourite book come out on top, but I'm usually okay with the outcome (this year is no exception). I've enjoyed all the discussions (both on the air and in the blogosphere). It'll probably go down as one of the cattiest shows they've ever had, but I love that each year is different than the last. I'll have post-Canada Reads blues for the next little while but before you know it, I'll be back blogging about Jean Auel or some other crap. Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. (Yuck)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Canada Reads - Day Four

Wow. After I first read Three Day Road I was convinced that it would win Canada Reads. It's not that it was my favourite (that would be Rooms For Rent), it's just that it seemed like a perfect fit for Canada Reads. Guess you can't make assumptions about one panel based on previous ones.

And how about that Nelofer? Ouch. I've ragged on her a lot in my last few posts but even I felt sorry for her today. All that animosity. Then again, she brought a lot of it on herself. I would like to advocate a little for Three Day Road though, since she did such an awful job of it. It's a great book. Forget that you might learn something- just read it for the enjoyment of a good book. Forget about stereotypes and the fact that war is ugly (really?), it's a good book. It's fast paced, full of interesting characters, and entertains (possibly while even making you think).

We're down to Rooms For Rent and A Complicated Kindness. Was strategic voting in play as Thompson suggested? Hmmm. I would have thought so but after listening to the panelists bicker, I'm not so sure. Like Musgrave said it's impressive that a book of poetry made it this far anyways. And while Canada Reads fans certainly don't make up a large fraction of the Canadian population, I've heard it said before that mere exposure of the book on the program DOES greatly increase it's sales. If it didn't, do you think places like Amazon would have entire sections devoted to it?

Scott Thompson, while he's not in support of the book I'd like to win, has probably been the best panelist they've ever had on the show. He's been witty and has raised some interesting points throughout the show. Today he even raised some good questions about poetry. For instance, after Susan Musgrave read from the Al Purdy poem "A Handful of Earth" Scott asked what made it a poem, not just a good sentence with different punctuation and different placement on the page. While I think he answered his own question to some extent- it's more of the dialogue that I want from Canada Reads. Likewise, I think I agree with him when he says a poem has no business being longer than a page (and I LOVE poetry). In defence of poetry today, Musgrave said that a good poem, or even a line from a poem, can change your life and/or your way of thinking. I agree, but I think her assessment of it is too grandiose. Good poetry, like good fiction, can change your life. But I think it's more subtle and slow than that. It's more like continental shifting than a violent earthquake, basically reshaping who we are over time. Anyone looking for the one poem, or one book, or whatever that's going to change the way they see the world, or change their life in some profound way, just as easily could look to a cult, get-rich-quick scheme or fad diet for a "solution" to their life's woes.

That brings me to A Complicated Kindness. Maybe I should read this book again. I enjoyed it the first time around but listening to the importance people seem to want to put on it, I feel like I've missed something. Like today when Samson and others were talking about the way it spoke of oppressive societies, I thought they were exaggerating Toews emphasis on that aspect of the Mennonite culture. To me the setting felt more incidental than that. The whole book feels incidental to me. But again, it is a good book. Just probably not as good as some people would suggest. While the setting might be unique, the story itself isn't.

Predictions?

Susan Musgrave: A Complicated Kindness
Scott Thompson: Rooms For Rent
John Samson: Rooms For Rent (despite his love for poetry, I doubt he'll pull a Justin Trudeau on us)
Maureen McTeer: A Complicated Kindness
Nelofer Pazira: A Complicated Kindness

If things fall this way, I'll be one happy camper. Nelofer is the wild card tomorrow- having voted against both of these books before, but maybe Bill Richardson's appeal to book sales will sway her more against A Complicated Kindness. McTeer could fall the other way too. In the first episode she spoke of her love of poetry, but today she said she was beginning to value humour more. For some reason, people are neglecting to talk about the comedy in Rooms For Rent. I challenge anyone to read Purdy's "The Drunk Tank" and tell me it's not funny.

(On a side note, they printed one of my letters to Canada Reads today. Usually people misspell "Mutford". The CBC on the other hand, misspelled "John" as "Jim"- thinking of Grania's hubby, I wonder?)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Canada Reads - Day Three

Undoubtedly, this has been the best day in this year's Canada Reads debates so far. And not just because Deafening was eliminated- though that was a plus. Today, everyone seemed more energized and vocal- even Nelofer had a good point or two.

Though I did feel like screaming at Nelofer when she revealed she had voted against Rooms For Rent again. It wasn't surprising at all, but her logic is just plain goofy. Basically she argued that it wasn't something Canadians could learn about themselves through, it didn't have the history lesson that Three Day Road had. Please. Rooms For Rent has Canadiana coming out its whazoo. It certainly has more than A Complicated Kindness.

But Nelofer did shine (or so I thought) when she defended Three Day Road against those who (predictably) argued that the characters were too stereotyped. I found those charges a little ridiculous and hypocritical. Musgrave I believe it was (it's hard to tell over the radio) agreed with the stereotype comments and said they were too serious when all the native people she knows have "the best" sense of humour. Three Day Road revolved around three Cree characters. Just three. You know what? I've met plenty of native people who had absolutely no sense of humour. So the fact that's there's three in this book who are a little on the serious side, is entirely plausible. It's almost as if Musgrave was arguing that it's okay to stereotype as long as it's a good stereotype. And as for any negative stereotypes (specifically, the "scalping" seemed to be an issue) some people DO FIT STEREOTYPES! Like Thompson said, it was brave of Boyden to not shy away from something just because it may not be politically correct. I hate to have it said that an author couldn't write a "stupid Newfoundlander" into a book just because someone might be offended. Some of us are stupid. Not all, but some. All the politically correct laws in the world can't change reality.

Finally they discussed A Complicated Kindness. Twenty-five minutes into the show and I thought they were going to overlook it again! But then they did and I'm convinced it'll be in the final two. Samson's defending it, Thompson and Musgrave seemed to think it was funny (it did have its moments) and even McTeer who tried to out it earlier had nice things to say. I hope I don't sound like a broken record- but it was not THAT good. It was just okay. But as long as Deafening doesn't win, I'm content with whatever takes it.

Predictions for tomorrow? That's a tough one. But this is what I think will play out:

Nelofer Pazira- Rooms For Rent
Maureen McTeer- A Complicated Kindness
Susan Musgrave- Three Day Road
Scott Thompson- Rooms For Rent
John K. Samson- Three Day Road

And with another tie, the deciding vote will go to McTeer who'll vote off Three Day Road. I was convinced before this contest started that Three Day Road would walk away with it, but after listening to today's discussion I'm no longer convinced. Though looking at the Canada Reads "Answer This" poll on their website, the majority of its listeners will be disappointed.

Before I close this post, I'd like to point out that while I've been VERY harsh at times against Deafening, it was far from the worse book I've ever read. In fact, it's not even my least favourite Canada Reads selection of all time. That dubious honour would have to go to Hubert Acquin's The Next Episode, which even won the title in 2003. My favourite from all the years is Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams from the same year. What has been your all time least favourite Canada Reads selection? Favourite? If you need a recap of books you can follow the links here:
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Canada Reads - Day Two

On today's Canada Reads episode, apparently they voted off two books: Cocksure by Mordecai Richler, and A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. Not really, of course. It was just Cocksure, but from the lack of talk about A Complicated Kindness you'd swear it had been eliminated as well. Hats off to Samson for sneaking his choice through.

Speaking of A Complicated Kindness, I remember enjoying the book when I read it a year ago. It was a pleasant read, sometimes humourous, sometimes emotional and usually entertaining. Yet for all that, whenever I hear someone sing its praises I start to dislike the book. It's a good summer read maybe, but it's not that great. Why it runs away with awards and accolades is beyond me. Personally, I like books that resonate with me after I've finished it. This didn't.

Cocksure on the other hand, did resonate. While it wouldn't have been my choice out of this years books, I'm sorry to see it go this early. I understand that McTeer would be taken aback by the way children are used in this story. I was too. But I also understand that that was the point! Should comedy always be comfortable? Of course not, otherwise we'd be stuck watching Full House reruns (shudder).

Nelofer voted against Rooms For Rent today, claiming that she liked poetry. If she liked it so dang much, she'd have no problem defending it against novels. As Samson said, poetry shouldn't be marginalized. Nelofer also made a silly comment that most Canadians know Al Purdy but Boyden could use the exposure from a Canada Reads win. While many Canadians may have heard of Purdy, most Canadians haven't read Al Purdy. We're a country of poetry-phobes. Boyden's book is a great piece of fiction, I'm not denying that, but just as many (if not more) people could enjoy Rooms For Rent if they'd only give it half a chance.

Anyone following my predictions of this year's Canada Reads debate can see that Miss Cleo I am not. But nonetheless I'll take a stab at it again and guess that Deafening will be eliminated tomorrow. Samson seems to be against it, Musgrave has been silent about it for the most part except to say yesterday that she finds the violence in it (and Three Day Road) a bit too graphic, and here's where I get a little anxious, I think (hope) that Thompson votes against Deafening this time around instead of sticking to the Rooms For Rent vote he tried today. If he doesn't switch camps (he DID acknowledge a couple of jokes in Rooms For Rent today), that means there'd be another tie (Nelofer seems to be bent on getting Rooms For Rent voted off) and the deciding vote would fall to McTeer. Oh no. McTeer was actually in support of Purdy's book before, but she's not going to vote off her own book! Yikes.

My fingers are crossed. Scott Thompson PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE vote off Deafening tomorrow!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Canada Reads - Day One

Great first show. Though I think I've misjudged Nelofer's abilities. I've been saying all along that Three-Day Road would probably win, and after the preview show last week, it seemed that others thought Nelofer was the most prepared, at least according to the poll results on the "Answer This" section of the Canada Reads website.

But after today (unless this is her strategy) she doesn't seem like the great defender we all thought she'd be. She defended the book as a learning tool, which is always a mistake when defending a piece of fiction. As John K. Samson said in so many words, learning through a piece of fiction should be incidental, not the drive behind reading it in the first place.

Each year there's always a panelist who makes you think "what the heck book were they reading?". Olivia Chow remains the ultimate example of this from the time she tried to claim that Oryx and Crake was a love story. Say what?! This year's nominees for the Olivia Chow "What book were YOU reading?" Award are Nelofer Pazira who made similar claims of love in Three-Day Road and John K. Samson who twisted himself into a pretzel trying to find trans-Canadian themes in A Complicated Kindness.

Listening to today's show, I'm a little more hopeful that Rooms For Rent might actually win. John K. Samson and Maureen McTeer both spoke favourably about it today, Samson even went as far as saying that if his book doesn't win, he wants Rooms For Rent to take it. This is great, especially since Thompson didn't seem to like it (despite my earlier prediction that he'd be the only hope for this book- why can't he find the humour in these poems?) and since Musgrave is defending it with an unfortunate "Canadian identity" argument that the country seems to be growing tired of.

But seeing as I love to make predictions, this is what I think will happen tomorrow:

Nelofer: Deafening
Thompson: Deafening
Samson: Deafening
McTeer: Cocksure
Musgrave: Deafening

So Deafening goes silent tomorrow. I know this goes against my earlier prediction that A Complicated Kindness would be the first to go, but there just didn't seem to be any discussion of it today. That said, while there were some positive things said about Deafening today, I get the feeling people were trying not to alienate McTeer as they were vying for her support later this week.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Poetry Challenge

I've long been a fan of rj's writing challenges, and while I hope I'm not accused of stealing his idea, I'd like to throw out my own.

Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve's In Fine Form has inspired me to try and create my own form. Bear with me as I try to explain the rhyme/ repetition scheme:

A .... B

C ... a
C1... a

D ... c
D1... c
D2... c

E ... d
E1... d
E2... d
E3... d

B2 ... e

* Capitals indicate words and their number of repetitions, lowercase indicates rhymes. Please excuse my sloppy, amateur notation. Hopefully this poem will provide an example of what I mean:

We were born on waxy steel-

Leaves soaked fast and made our tea
Leaves below our tepid sea

Up and down the liquid weaves
Up our lunches fights and heaves
Up the snow falls by the reeves.

First and last my dirty cup
First the whine of filthy pup
First I smoke and then erupt
First chance I get and I corrupt

-Steel it melted, ‘fore it burst.


(Note: Five stanzas of lengths 1-2-3-4-1. I've also made an attempt at my own meter. I've tried to put the emphasis on the first and every second syllable following. For example, the first line "We were born on waxy steel" should read "We were born on waxy steel." I'm not sure if this meter has a name, but if anyone knows could you let me know?

There’s a grammatical error in line 5, but along with the snow falling "by the reeves", I've tried to give it a Newfoundland sound.

Anyway, the complications of such a form will probably scare people off, but if I have made it clear and you're feeling brave, please give my form a shot. Don't worry about the meter, if you'd rather, you could just attempt a poem based on the rhyme/ repetition scheme. Heck, adjust as much as you like.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Reader's Diary #74- Jean M. Auel: The Plains of Passage (up to 115)


Yawn. Can you believe I'm up to p. 115 and we're still reliving the first three books? Aside from a flood and a couple of Auel's patented sex-by-numbers scenes (note to Auel: Stop using the term "manhood" to refer to a penis), there's very little story line.

Something I've noticed in this novel that I haven't noticed in her previous ones, are the references to modern times. For example, Auel mentions"gigantic cave lions, up to twice the size of their later southern descendants..." or "...aurochs, the splendid wild forerunners of herds of placid domestic cattle..." I'm not sure if I just hadn't noticed before, or if such acknowledgements of the reader's time are new to this novel. In either case, I find such references distracting and they take me away from the setting. In such a weak novel, I really don't need help losing my focus.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Reader's Diary #73- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Sestina)

I've been a little critical of Braid and Shreve's selections lately, mostly due to what I feel is an over-abundance of exceptions to specific form criteria. However, I would like to get it on record that for the most part I am happy with their choices. What impresses me most is the variety. Alongside such classic poets as Pratt, Purdy, Cohen and Nowlan, they have quite a lot of younger, more contemporary poets and I think this is necessary to see where form poetry is headed. For instance, Anita Lahey, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Joe Denham were all born in the 70s (and since I was too, I'm calling them young). There's even a few poets from the 80s, such as David Reibetanz and Jodi A. Shaw. I'm also impressed with representations from aboriginal peoples, such as Aua (an Inuk poet), and Gregory Scofield (a Cree poet). Other cultures have contributions as well, such as Thuong Vuong-Riddick and Kuldip Gill. Such a country as ours, with as much diversity as we have, deserves a book like this.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Canada Reads - Review of the Preview

If you want to know how big a fan I am of Canada Reads, know this: I downloaded the preview from the Canada Reads site. And while this mightn't seem impressive, also know that it's a 46 minute mp3 and I have dial-up.

It was an entertaining show. Scott Thompson was funnier than I remembered. There were some interesting clips: Maureen McTeer talking with Francis Itani, Susan Musgrave getting advice from Donna Morrissey, and so forth. But in the long run, it hasn't changed my predictions at all.

Panelist John Samson, seems to be taking advice from Jim Cuddy and trying to not appear like much of a threat. But this laying low bit is probably not going to work again, it's already been done and so, the others will probably not fall for it. At least I hope not. If they do, then my prediction of it being the first to go will be way off. It could go to the final two- but there's no way in hell A Complicated Kindness will win. It and Deafening are the two longshots for sure.

Speaking of Deafening, did anyone else get the impression that Itani is as nutty as wing-nut Annie Proulx?

I'd also like to comment on Donna Morrissey's advice to Susan Musgrave; while I get a kick out of Morrissey, her advice was pointless. I felt last year that the panelists voted for Rockbound despite Morrissey's defence (it's a great book, her defence was not). So I think Musgrave is best to follow her own strategy rather than rely on Morrissey's "vote with your heart" comment. Not that it will matter anyhow. Three Day Road is going to win. Especially now that Scott Thompson has revealed that he sort of has a thing for Nelofer - well, as much a thing as a gay guy could I guess. I thought Thompson could be the swing vote for Rooms For Rent, but I guess that's out now.

Finally, speaking of Thompson, I fear he's not going to be taken seriously. I also think that he's going to be defending the book on issues that won't be relevant to the discussion. In the preview, he seemed to be hung up on how humourous the book is. I think we'll find that the other panelists won't disagree with him on this point, but Thompson will still focus only on that point, instead of the books other merits.

We'll soon see!!!!!!!

(Or hear anyway- the show won't be televised this year. Hmmfff.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reader's Diary #72- Jean M. Auel: Plains of Passage (up to p. 50)


There's a very good chance that if you dig through your parents' closet you'll come across Clan of the Cave Bear, the first in Jean. M. Auel's Earth's Children series. For some reason the baby boomers seem drawn to these books and I had to try and find out why.

For those of you who haven't read any of these books, I'll fill you in; after an earthquake, a 5-year old cro-magnon girl winds up being raised by Neanderthal, some of whom take to her and some of whom despise her. Eventually she is banished from the clan and finds more of her own people who also have mixed reactions to her quirks. Then she falls in love, has a lot of detailed (but very scripted) sex and travels around meeting others, and discovering materials and ways of life that I think we're supposed to believe could have lead us to where we, as a civilization, are today.

Like most books and movies, Auel seems to have difficulty maintaining the quality beyond the first. I found Clan of the Cave Bear interesting and unique, a great piece of historical fiction. Valley of the Horses had to be written because the story didn't feel finished without knowing if Ayla could survive among her own kind again, but it began to wane when Auel seemed to be creating some sort of super-woman who accomplished way too much for one individual. The Mammoth Hunters was just unnecessary and silly. It amounted to little more than a love story and was poorly written. That was probably reason I've held off this long to read the fourth (and a fifth, The Shelters of Stone, has been written as well.) But (when it comes to reading) I'm insanely stubborn and am determined to see this thing through to its end.

So far, it's just blah (and I've got over 700 pages to go). Fifty pages in and it's little more than a recap of the previous books and a prehistoric botany lesson. I get it, Auel did a lot of research- that doesn't mean she can work it into a story gracefully. The plot is supposed to be revolving around Ayla and her partner Jondalar, and their travels back to Jondalar's tribe. They're being accompanied by a couple of horses and a wolf (all of which were domesticated by Ayla in previous books). I remember thinking during Clan that I liked how it was historical fiction (with some liberties taken I'm sure, but I'm not an anthropologist) yet it felt almost like a fantasy novel. I've yet to have that feeling with Plains of Passage. I've yet to have any feelings about this book other than boredom.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Reader's Diary #71- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to Palindrome)

Since I last blogged about this book I've covered four more forms: Ghazals, Glosas, Haikus (and Other Japanese Forms), and Incantations. I think the best approach for me to take is commenting on each specifically.

Ghazals: Thus far, this has probably been my least favourite section of the book. It's not that the form itself is faulty, but I do think Braid and Shreve chose poor representations. While I've commented before about their choosing of poems which are rough estimations of their true form, this is the first time I've had a problem with it. In previous forms, the exceptions were just that and the editors went out of their way to justify their choice. In the ghazal section however, almost none of the poems follow the criteria specified by Braid and Shreve themselves to be traditional ghazals. Some people might question why this is even relevant as long as the poems are good (and many here are), and they might have a point if that was my sole reason of picking up the collection. However, I was also looking to learn something about particular forms and to do that, I'd like to see accurate examples (with fewer exceptions).

Glosas: This was another form I was completely unaware of. And while I'm usually partial to shorter poems, I enjoyed these. Based on the scant offerings of definitions on the web, I'll assume many others don't know what they are either, so allow me to try and paraphrase Braid's and Shreve's definition; It's a poem that begins with four lines (i.e., a qautrain) from another poet's work, followed by four ten-line stanzas, each ending with a line from the quatrain quoted at the beginning. Got it? Furthermore, lines 6, 9 and 10 of each stanza are end-rhymed. What I like about this form is the interpretation of another's work. In the examples offered here, the glosas are used to do one of three things 1. Use the original poem to help express the new poem 2. Use the new poem to help express the old poem or 3. Create a sort of hybrid whereby both the new poem and the original are somehow joined to be more than the sum of their parts. And lest it seem like I'm biased towards the latter of the three, I think either reason is fine. The section is rather skewed towards P. K. Page however (no wonder she wrote the preface). But P. K. Page did write an entire collection of glosas entitled Hologram and seems to be the reigning queen of Canadian glosas; of the seven glosas compiled in In Fine Form one is from P. K. Page herself and three more open with quatrains from Page. My favourite in this section is by David Reibetanz entitled "Norberto Hernandez - Photographed Falling September Eleventh".

Haikus (And Other Japanese Forms): Haikus and (since I've been introduced to the form) tankas are probably my favourite forms of poetry to write. But, like most amateur poets I guess, I didn't quite know all there was to know about either form and may have been doing them "wrong"- not that I care too much; if they're good poems- they're good poems, if they're not- they're not, it's irrelevant to me how true to the form they are. However, if I'm going to call them "haikus" I should probably know what liberties I've taken. For example, we don't need to use the 5-7-5 syllable count as we've all learned in school; in English we can apparently use less. Likewise I hadn't heard of having a pause in both rhythm and grammar to divide haikus into two parts. Finally, while I have heard of traditional haikus attempting to unify nature and man, I didn't know that this is typically done through concrete images rather than abstractions such as similes or metaphors.

This section also discusses haibuns, tankas, rengas and senryus. Perhaps the most interesting poem in this entire section is Michael Redhill's "Haiku Monument For Washington, D. C." which is as much a concrete poem (or "picture poem") as it is a haiku.

For those who may be interested here's a haiku of my own:

We walk in rubbers
in mud in Spring, hand in hand-
Mittens left inside.

Incantations: I haven't heard poetry recited live and I have to admit I have an unfair schema of what such an occasion would look like that I've been trying to shake. So, when I came across this section of poems that Braid and Shreve themselves admit sound better when spoken aloud, I was skeptical. But I love being proven wrong and I loved this section. bp Nichol's "Turnips Are" and Theresa Kishkan's "Spell For A Daughter" are stand-outs to me.

(On an interesting side note, while looking for links for this post, I discovered this book had already been blogged about, it's from Sina Queyras whose "Tonight The Sky Is My Begging Bowl" was included in this book under the ghazal section.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Reader's Diary #70- Lisa Moore: Alligator (FINISHED)


I'm finished Alligator, and while I can still say I enjoyed it, my enthusiasm for it began to wane about 3/4 of the way through.

It was roughly around that point that Alligator started to reveal it's weak points. The biggest one being the increasingly implausible story lines. I gave credit to Moore earlier for portraying a very realistic version of St. John's. That was before the club scene with Colleen and Frank. Not that I lived on George Street (though I know people that literally did), but unless the bars there have changed dramatically since my university days, her bar scene was WAY over the top. Full frontal nudity and shrooms may have made appearances in some of the bars, but I doubt any bar was as overt with it as in this book.

And it's not just the setting that becomes unbelievable, some of the plots do as well. Especially with Colleen's trip to find the alligator victim. But I won't say any more for risk of spoiling the ending further.

I also found her choice of character perspectives a bit unnecessary. I was okay with chapters revolving around a core group of people; Colleen, Frank, Madeleine, Beverly, Valentin and maybe even Isobel, but when Moore started handing out chapters like gum in a carpool, I grew wary. It started with Mr. Duffy and then almost everyone that the main characters came in contact with got their own. Was it necessary for Loyola, the alligator guy, to get his own chapter? Or Kevin, a long time acquaintance of Frank? or even worse Carol, Frank's landlady? This same complaint ruined John Bemrose's the Island Walkers for me, and had the potential to do that here- except Alligator did have its saving graces.

I did enjoy the intertwining of these lives, I did enjoy her colourful way of describing scenes, and I enjoyed most of the characters (though I still feel that Valentin was too cliched). I also like that the choice of an alligator as a symbol in a book about Newfoundlanders has left me thinking. I'm sure the major theme in this book had something to do with trouble (or drama or danger- pick your noun). And even more specifically, I believe it had something to do with trouble that you seek versus trouble that finds you. But was it just a theme, or did this book have certain qualities of a parable? Many morals could be found here if one was so inclined. Personally, I could see a rather cynical message: there's plenty of trouble right here in front of us, you don't need to go an alligator farm to find it.

But I still think this novel should have been called Spanworms.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Freestyle Survey



I'm not sure that this counts for anything but CBC Radio's Freestyle is doing a survey to see how their male audience differs from their female audience in terms of favourite books.
I always have trouble picking favourites. It's pretty fluid for me and often just depends on the mood I'm in. However, there's a small handful that come to mind more often. But since the rules indicate that we can name just one, I'll suggest Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version. Though it's a tough call between that and Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Oh well, it's a pretty arbitrary ranking anyway.
What will you suggest (if any)? You can email your pick to freestyle@cbc.ca just make sure to put "My Best Book" in the subject line. It closes next Tuesday and the results will be revealed on Thursday (April 13).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Canada Reads Reminder

Just in case you haven't checked out the Canada Reads website, they are having a sneak peak of this year's debate airing this Monday on CBC Radio One. The actual debates are less than two weeks away (April 17-21st).

I've already made my predictions (Three-Day Road, though I'd prefer Rooms For Rent), who do you think will win? And who do you want to win?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Reader's Diary #69- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to p. 240)


When I blogged about point of view the other night, I had no idea I was stumbling onto something I now feel is crucial to this book, or at least to the Colleen character.

Just after discovering that Colleen was the only character written in first person, I realized that it was inconsistent. Moore started off writing Colleen in the first-person but in later chapters switched to the third, back to the first and so on. As I said in my comments in my last Alligator posting, I'm familiar with authors using the first person for teenagers, especially in coming-of-age stories because of the inherit self-centredness it implies. What Moore has done by fluctuating Colleen's character, and only Colleen's character, is to better represent what coming-of-age actually means. If all of the other adult characters are written in the third, Moore seems to be suggesting that Colleen is teetering on the edge of adulthood as well. Of course, this suggests an assumption that adulthood is more of a mindset than an age, and with that a second more cynical assumption that the adult mindset comes from understanding the pitfalls and evil in the world and one's role in it- unlike the earlier version of Colleen who did see evil, but only in a simplistic, black-and-white sort of way.

I'm a little unsure of Moore's choice of the third-person for Frank. While he is only two years older than Colleen, one could argue that his poverty, his mother's death, etc forced him into adulthood earlier and hence, the third-person perspective (if my above theory is correct). However, Frank is still very naive in matters of love and does not seem to have a mature view of relationships at all. Plus, Colleen was not without childhood pain herself.

Anyone else want to weigh in on why Colleen's point of view changes, or why Frank's doesn't?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Reader's Diary #68- Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve (editors): In Fine Form (up to "Sunday Water")


Why I like blogging
Why I like reading poetry
Why I like blogging about reading poetry :

Earlier today I had mentioned to a friend of mine that I wasn't fussy on the poems in this book. I wasn't able to put my finger on why exactly except to say that for the most part, they just weren't inspiring.

Then I came home and tried to figure out what to say about the book in today's blog. So, I looked back in search of just one poem that I could use to illustrate the collection's lack of lustre. But skimming back through, I found myself saying, "No, I like that, " "No, that's a good one," and so on. No shock here; it takes multiple readings of a poem to appreciate it. I try, try, try to discipline myself to take my time when reading poetry (I think I even bragged about how well I did just that in a particularly self-delusional posting a while back), but it takes maintaining a blog to keep me on track.

I can't decide on which particular poem to comment specifically on, so I'll just give a general These Are Poems I Like list (most of which come from the section of epigrams- which I have always known is a favourite form of mine- mostly due to their concise nature):

1. Christopher Wiseman's "April Elegy" (a couplet)
2. F. R. Scott's "Brebeuf and His Brethren" (an epigram)
3. Alden Nowlan's "Aunt Jane" (an epigram)
4. Dionne Brand's "21" from "Winter Epigrams"
5. Robin Skelton's "Night Piece"

(Under the Epigram section is the ubiquitous "You Fit Into Me" by Margaret Atwood- which must be one of the most overrated poems in Canadian history).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Reader's Diary #67- Lisa Moore: Alligator (up to 193)


I just finished reading an excellent Wikipedia article about point of view. Asides from adding another 50 books to my ever growing wishlist, it made me think about Alligator and the other books I've read recently. Most have definitely been written in the third person. Over the past year, the only exceptions I can think of have been Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Lisa Moore's Alligator, from what I understand, is written in the third person omniscient. Again, this seems to be a very popular choice amongst authors. But lack of originality aside, Moore does it well. I especially like how she handles symbolism. She seems to leave it up to the characters to decide what provides meaning to them. Frank for instance, seems to be focused on spanworms as omens. Sometimes I find authors make symbols out of something that in all honesty would be foreign or at the very least ignored by their characters. Moore seems to avoid such pitfalls.

I personally don't have a preference as to what point of view a story is told in. However, I am looking forward to reading another not in the third person- just to mix things up slightly. What about you- any preference? Any memorable books that aren't third person?