Thursday, October 30, 2008

Advice for Writers

Last Friday at the "Power of the Pen" awards for teenage writers, the assembled young authors and wannabes were addressed by Dana Robbins, the current editor of the Hamilton Spectator. In his speech he stressed a number of simple ways to help oneself develop as a writer. They are almost identical with the advice I press on younger poets. He urged them to follow these actions:

Write. No matter what, no matter how good or bad, satifying or not, by putting words down in an order determined by yourself you become a writer. Write fiction, non-fiction, letters, emails. Keep a journal. Blog.

Read. Read anything you can; you are not doing this to learn anything specific, but to keep yourself immersed in the written word. You may want to read in your favourite category, be it poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or other, but be sure to spend just as much time and effort on the others. Read what you don't care for. Read newspapers, tabloid mags, cereal boxes but read. Even the bad stuff. Tell yourself "I can do better than that!" and then do it.

Observe. The world you live in provides the basis for your thoughts and ideas, and therefore your writings. If you close your eyes and mind, you deny yourself much of the life you should be living. Watch people. Watch the intricacies of nature as things grow and change. Observe the details. These will become the subjects and objects of your written sentences.

Robbins presented several more but these were the three most important to my experience. It never hurts to reiterate them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Public Reading

About half a dozen members of the Tower Poetry Society spent several hours yesterday at the Chapters book store in Ancaster. We manned a table just inside the main doors, offering information and copies of some of our recent issues of TOWERpoetry for sale. A microphone and seating was provided on the raised area toward the back where most of us took the opportunity to read for the bookstore patrons.
The seats were not filled with a rapt audience with open ears and eyes and mouths. There was no thundering rush of people to instantly embrace the marvelous things offered. Much to the contrary. But then, what can you expect? This is poetry.
The question, as always, arose. Why do we do this? Why do we offer our art, our craft, our selves, to the disinterested? The answer is always the same: poets are part of the community and should not hide or be hidden from that community. We are not a secret society, safeguarding esoteric knowledge the common people can not understand.
However we do it: by public reading, by publishing in books or periodicals, by broadcasting using whatever medium suits, by one-on-one presentations or discussions, we keep poetry alive and relevant. In this way it will remain that fundamental part of civilization it has always been.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I workshopped that poem posted before at Tower and received comments both public and private that made me see the poem with a new clarity. After some serious consideration, I decided not to revise it editorially but to rewrite it. The poem as it now exists is a different entity, the sort of difference as between an Angus and a Holstein: they're both cows, both serve their purpose, but are quite separate in their identities. So, I think, are the two versions of the poem. My Angus poem wasn't producing the results I aimed for; perhaps the Holstein will.

And perhaps this is a poem in the making itself.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Under Construction

Here is a poem under construction. I workshopped it recently and got some good feedback, matters that I can see now but couldn't identify at first because I was too close to the poem.
It was suggested that the elements in the second stanza were muddled, unclear; that the distinction between the imagined (you) and the fantasized (I) in the third stanza could be sharpened. I'll try to do that, but don't promise to publish the rewrite here.


We sit on a bench overlooking the harbor.
Your eyes have lost focus,
your mouth seems to be elsewhere.
Have you ever, you say, considered
traveling by water.
I see your muscles twinge under your shirt
in empathy with the young oarsmen
before us driving their sculls.

I have not, I answer carefully
not sharing this picture of you in my mind:
you in a rowboat, frantic and lost,
by Atlantic waves overwhelmed.
Even a sail on your mast could not last.

Better to take it like me, I suppose.
Long wooden staff and a hefty back pack
and one foot in front of the other.
Straight as the gull lines over the water;
at Ireland, turn right toward Spain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I woke up this morning 'under the weather' as they say: stuffed sinuses, runny nose, a bit of a dry cough. The thing is, my cough reminded me of a strange sound I had heard early one summer morning when the smog turned the sky a gray-tan colour and the sun a bloody red. I had to dig up the haiku I wrote then and put aside.

a new smog alert
..........the rising sun is greeted a coughing crow

Somehow this one fell into an automatic 5-7-5 form. I don't usually write that way; Japanese ideograms are not equal to English syllables. The art in English language haiku is to convey all that needs to be conveyed in as few words as possible, to keep to the spirit of haiku rather than labour under the restrictions of form.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Frost on the Windshield

I woke up this morning, looked out, and saw a good layer of frost on the cars in the street. When I opened the door to test the temperature, the usually inquisitive cat scurried away, so I closed it immediately. Still in that limerick mode from a few days ago, this came about:

This bright autumn morning our Joe's
felt the frost in his fingers and toes.
He inspected his yard 'n'
the plants in his garden
and found that his freesias had froze.

A little silly, I know. Hope it made you chuckle.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Used Books

Speaking of used books (as we were), one of my favourite ways to waste a little time no matter where is to get lost among the wares in a used book store. You get the nicest surprises sometimes. (But it hurts a little when you find your own work, not used but second hand, and in almost pristine condition.) But I digress.

At the most recent used book sale of the HPL, I came across a small vollume of E. B. Browning's SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGESE. There is a name blacked out on the inside of the front cover; the cover is cracked at the front of the spine. That's all that is wrong with it.

It is chocolate brown in color with gold lettering. It was published in New York by Avenel Books with no date given and an unattributed introductory note.

Each sonnet appears on a left page with the facing page carrying an illustration (black and white) by one Fred A. Mayer. They look very much like scissor cuttings and probably are.

This little volume has found a place in my library and my heart.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I recently purchased a collection of limericks from a second hand book store and that set me thinking about the old form again and why I enjoy it.

Personally, I believe the limerick should follow the form as strictly as possible: the lines 3 feet, 3 feet, 2 feet, 2 feet, 3 feet; the rhyme scheme a a b b a. The best have a surprise twist toward the end (usually in the last line) and are salacious, naughty without being downright pornographic.

Here is a recent one of mine:

A handsome young fellow who chose
to board with a lady named Rose
was still quite surprised
when before his eyes
she teasingly stripped off her clothes.

Hope you enjoy!