Monday, 26 December 2011


The more I understand my own writing practice, the more I'm grateful for the first three words (after a colon) of W.C.Williams' Paterson: "a local pride". The closer we attend to the local--a landscape, a socio-political context, a history, an interior system--the wider our work will reach.
Lots of artists have worked out (of) their own local. In the case of Williams, it was the New Jersey city of Paterson, his lifelong local, which spreads behind his hilltop perch in the photo opposite the title page in my edition of |Paterson. In the case of Vancouver photographer Fred Herzog, it's "Granville Street from Granville Street", "CPR Pier & Marine Building", "Hastings at Columbia 2" and so on.
My son Tom's an artistic guy--an improviser, sketch comedy writer, performer and producer who in many ways digs the local in Vancouver. He and I caught a Herzog show in Vancouver last year, and I thought he'd like Fred Herzog Photographs for Christmas. The grit and colour aesthetics of it, the reading of an entire world in a pair of orange cars on Powell or a tableau of real estate ads. I ordered the book for him.
So there we were yesterday, Christmas morning. Tom handed me a present the size of a large box of chocolates, weight of a tray of drinks. I had no idea what it was until I got to the cover--a wide view of an Asian couple about to cross Alexander Street in Vancouver--of Fred Herzog Photographs.
A gorgeous book. Thanks, Tom!

Monday, 19 December 2011

I Case Anyone Asks Me About My Teachers

I guess I go way back with teachers. Mrs. Campbell, in grade 1, drew a chalk circle an inch above my nose-height and made me stand there with my nose stuck in it. I forget what I'd done but could make something up, I suppose (I'd slugged Betsy Benny in the shoulder). I've told that story before, but no one has ever believed me. Not sure that I would myself.
Miss S. in grade 2 was a babe, no other way to put it (could again make something up: her first name was Rose). When we got to the classroom the night of the Christmas concert, we found a new phonics workbook on every desk, and the desks themselves renewed.
And so on through the grades. Skip ahead to grade 9 and Mrs. K, another babe, who lived in the same decade as her students, it seemed, which made her coolest by far.
I remember Mrs. Cohen at U of C music ed class, asking us to make noise and record it and compose with it. I reached back, don't know what made me do it, to the back panel of an electric piano, one of seven or eight in the row behind mine. I rubbed along, pulling a groan louder than the other noises. For her, that was a good thing. She was a serious creative spirit

Thursday, 15 December 2011

"Steps to Writing a Fresh Expository Essay"

Avoid excessive words and ideas.
This sentence is very long.
Make note of any rampant thoughts.

Take a seat and form these thoughts.
Do not hesitate to get into the simplest of things in a magnified manner.
Do not say, "Sally ran away."

Instead say, "Sally turned on her heels and bolted."
Nix the clutter.
Drug dependency is never good, even for a writer.

Your cat, dog, hampster, infantile sister or brother will do nicely as long as they cannot talk.
Be an artist.
Feeling ashamed while expressing our thoughts will turn into our fatal wound.

For someone to be a dipstick means that they were dipped in a pool of idiocy.
If you notice an impressive sentence, why not write one just like it?
Say as little as possible, while suggesting as much as possible.

Now the cart is groaning.
Pick up a pen or pencil, simple as that.
Take full advantage of your reader.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


One of my students wrote sentence composure instead of sentence composition.

When thinking about how they read or write, some students don't know what words to use. But they don't mind the attempt.

Discoveries abound. For some students it doesn't take much, just an invitation.

Some students have realized that if they can't get beyond terms like deeper meaning and line-by-line they haven't thought hard enough.

Some students disclosed, in cautious tones, they might switch majors to English.

The more they learn to write, the fewer words they use.