Sunday, January 28, 2018

RIP Rosaleen Dickson

Surveying the sad state of affairs that's dominating the news in Canadian writing circles these days, it's easy to forget the good and valuable things that make participation in this often dysfunctional sphere worthwhile.
Almost eight years ago, The Porcupine's Quill published The Essential Kenneth Leslie, a book I edited which brought a substantial selection of Leslie's work back into print for the first time since the late '70s.
In the process of working on that book, I got to know Leslie's daughter, Rosaleen Dickson, and her daughter, Elizabeth Dickson, who was working on a biography of her grandfather. It was easy to see that Rosaleen had inherited several of her father's remarkable qualities: charisma, wit, rhetorical flair, leadership and pro-social political commitment.
One of the great joys of my literary life was having Rosaleen and Elizabeth attend the Ottawa launch of the book. At that event, John MacDonald took this wonderful candid photo of me and Rosaleen in conversation.
I learned from John the other day that Rosaleen had died, age 96. Elizabeth told me that, while her mother was physically infirm in the last year of her life, her radiant brilliance never dimmed. This obituary notice gives some indication of what an exemplary life she led.
Seems appropriate to conclude with one of her father's poems:

I must have peace, must have it undisturbed,
quiet and deep, must have it in my soul,
deep in my soul. But let no noise be curbed,
let every restless thing escape control
and find its freedom in its own sweet groove!
Let eagles storm the sky, let the worm creep,
let all things move the way that they must move,
but let me rest awhile and let me sleep!
And do not chide me for my weary eyes,
nor scold because my hands have lost their grip.
Some arrows they have aimed still climb the skies,
some hands shall not for get their comradeship.
I must have sleep and leave the quickened clay
to answer if sleep bring another day!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wells and Lebowitz, Best of the Best

A bit late with this "news," but hey, I haven't posted anything since February, apparently, so I'm sure no one's keeping track anymore...

This year, Tightrope Books has published, for the 10th anniversary of their Best Canadian Poetry in English series, a selection of 90 poems from the previous nine years. Molly Peacock and Anita Lahey have kindly included my poem "One and One" and excerpts from Rachel's Cottonopolis sequence. We recently got our contributors' copies and there are many other fine works included, no surprise.

This poem of mine has proven to be quite successful, as poems go, which is further proof that there can be no formula for writing "good poetry." As I said when I first posted it on CLM, I'm at a loss to account for where it came from or what, precisely, it might mean. Its cycling syntax and basic diction seem to have broken the Poetry Assessor machine, which scored the "One and One" at 9.4, which, I was told by the person running the Poetry Assessor's Twitter account, is--or was at the time--the highest recorded score for any poem run through the Assessor's software. FWIW, caveat emptor, etc.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Commentary on "Waypoints" recital

I just came across an unfortunately lukewarm review of last month's recital. But hey, no press is bad press, etc. I have an obvious bias, but I don't really hear any "Broadwayish" elements in the composition. Ah well.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Toronto performance of "Waypoints" song cycle

If you're in Toronto during the day tomorrow, I hope you will attend the latest performance of the song cycle "Waypoints," lyrics by yours truly, scored by Erik Ross, sung by Phillip Addis, accompanied on piano by Emily  Hamper.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I read The Dark Is Rising to my son.
Outside, the dark has risen with passionate
intensity and weak light contends to gain
conviction. The falcon veers back late,
alights upon her master's sleeve; rooks
gather and agglutinate; an unseasonal
skein of geese thrums south, wing-
beats synced to distant drums. Meanwhile
the centre holds. And holds. And mutters
its appeasing song: We are better
than this, we will not be brought low, we must
save our strength for the fights that matter
most. But the darkness is upon us, son,
and throngs midwinter's gibbous moon.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Don Coles, on rhyme

If that search for the rhyming sound to end your line with, that clink that locks the rhyme in, isn't a true search, i.e. if it doesn't send the shaft down to the deepest level this poem you're working on can live at, deeper than you could have reached without this self-imposed rhyme-search, then you stopped digging too soon, you accepted a word merely because it rhymed, it simply slid into place without making anything new happen; and if this occurs even twice, no, even once, your poem's probably already dead in the water, it's already, flottaison blême et ravie, lost to human sight.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Due Process

I haven't said a lot about the ongoing FUBAR of Steven Galloway's firing from UBC. I haven't said much because I'm not that invested in what is euphemistically known as the "literary community" and, frankly, because I don't know much about the case. Nobody except those involved does--for mostly very good reasons. Like the law. Near-perfect ignorance, of course, hasn't stopped a lot of other people from having strong opinions about how things have gone down. And then, a horribly misconceived letter started circulating, signed by all manner of CanLit luminaries, who, despite knowing next-to-nothing, thought that it was incumbent on them to grease the wheels of justice. Unacknowledged legislators, antennae of the race, etc. When it was pointed out by other writers that this anonymously authored letter was markedly biassed towards Galloway and threw his accusers under the bus, a number of writers, horrified that they had been blindly duped into condoning rape culture (because they are apparently not so good at reading, even though they do it for a living), scrambled to remove their names from the letter. Others, including Margaret Atwood, who is looking more and more like Signal and less and less like Noise, have dug in their heels.

One thing I do know about this matter is that Mr. Galloway's dismissal is the subject of a grievance being pursued by his union. This is what due process looks like in a unionized workplace. I know, because I'm a shop steward in my union local (Unifor 4005) and I write a LOT of grievances, for matters both minor and grave. (These days, I write more grievances than anything else, unfortunately. I could tell you some stories. Except I can't. Because it's private information and all.) It's not a perfect process and it can take a godawfully long time for the grievance procedure to resolve anything, but if/when employer and union fail to work things out on their own, the matter will go before an independent arbitrator, who will render an impartial, and binding, judgment. In my experience, arbitrators get it right far more than they get it wrong. This is because they weigh all available facts and arguments in a detached and rational manner. And they get it right far more often, I guarantee you, than dozens of self-righteous writers flailing about rhetorically.

Yesterday, I came across a rare beam of light, in the form of a Facebook post by a writer named Dorothy Palmer. She says pretty much all that needs to be said about this shitshow.