try to find someone who teaches it

One student, named Hughes (I think), had moved to West Seattle from Oklahoma. One had to be unusually ingratiating and aggressive to find friends among the little snobs who banded together at West Seattle High. I suppose that's standard for a high school. Hughes was shy, a stranger, just one of many of the 2,000 students passing through, unnoticed, lonely, and probably miserable.

One day he read aloud a theme he had written—we had to read our work along to get credit. It was a true story about an evening some older boys had taken him to a whorehouse. He had been fourteen at the time, and he was candid about his fears, his attempts to appear courageous and confident to the older boys, his eventual panic and running away. We were a bit apprehensive when he finished. That story could have gotten him thrown out of most classes in the school. McKensie broke the silence with applause. She raved approval, and we realized we had just heard a special moment in a person's life, offered in honesty and generosity, and we better damn well appreciate it. It may have been the most important lesson I ever learned, maybe the most important lesson one can teach. You are someone and you have a right to your life. Too simple? Already covered by the Constitution? Try to find someone who teaches it. Try to find a student who knows it so well he or she doesn't need it confirmed.

- Richard Hugo, in his essay "In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes" from The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.


the effrontery to get in the way of all that thinking

When I read some academic writing I marvel that as common and everyday as language is, it would have the effrontery to get in the way of all that thinking. I've seen sentences that defy comprehension written by people with doctorates in English from our best universities. So have you. And I doubt that academic writing will improve until academics believe Valéry, who said he couldn't think of anything worse than being right. In much academic writing, clarity runs a poor second to invulnerability.

- Richard Hugo, in his essay "In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes" from The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.



No semicolons. Semicolons indicate relationships that only idiots need defined by punctuation. Besides, they are ugly.

- Richard Hugo, in his essay "Nuts and Bolts" from The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing.


the distinction between prêt-à-porter and haute couture

Jason Guriel: It occurs to me that the non-practitioners — i.e. actual readers — would love [A.E.] Stallings as well as Alexandra Oliver, Bruce Taylor, Robyn Sarah, Amanda Jernigan. These poets make it look easy, which is what makes them so readable.

Michael Lista: The poetry world is so like the fashion world that way, isn’t it? Trend-driven and often emptily stylish. The only difference is that at least fashion recognizes and makes the distinction between prêt-à-porter and haute couture, a line that for all intents and purposes is the bottom line. People buy and wear and live in the former, and only marvel curiously at the latter. Poets like Oliver and Stallings and Taylor and Sarah are prêt-à-porter; the problem is that no one but designers are buying.

- Michael Lista, in conversation with Jason Guriel about his new book The Scarborough and not being here to make friends, over at Maisonneuve. You can read the whole thing here.


to not repeat the struggles is to admit defeat

Having worked hard, we must continue to work hard. To not repeat the struggles is to admit defeat.

This is the rural philosophy. Our past struggles become noble as we move further away from them and to repeat them is to persist: against impossible odds that no one is keeping track of, against snow, against everything. Since we cannot progress, through repetition we become ennobled experts in getting by. Sit quietly in any roadside diner along any small highway in Ontario and you’ll hear people speak proudly of sacrifice and near-failures that are, likely, actual failures. That’s how we survive.

From that struggle comes a deep desire to find meaning and beauty, here in what Purdy calls “the country of our defeat.” Canada’s rural poor (and even some of its rural rich) make condolences to ourselves. Where something must be fought for, failure is an abstract; success is fleeting and seasonal, and so the only true success comes with good, old-fashioned hard work. The pain in our lower back is rewarded by the way the corn looks blowing in a certain warm wind; the furrowing in autumn made worthwhile when we spot a distant smattering of colour in the valleys (and by the whisky stashed away in a drawer in the barn, or kitchen, or desk, or dresser).

- Drew Gough, discussing Al Purdy, the A-frame, and the country north of Belleville in his essay "Looking for Al Purdy" over at Maissoneuve. You can read the whole thing here.

And speaking of Purdy, get ready Vancouver...


September Dead Poets Lineup Announced

The next Dead Poets Reading Series event will take place at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on September 14th, 2014, from 3-5 PM. It will feature:

Don Bailey (1942 - 2003), read by Shannon Rayne
Earle Birney (1904 - 1995), read by Kate Braid
Celia Dropkin (1887 - 1956), read by Faith Jones
Zbigniew Herbert (1924 - 1998), read by Zoe Landale
Gertrude Stein (1874 - 1946), read by Kayla Czaga

It should be a fantastic reading. Attendance is free, and the reading will start on time - so don't arrive on "poetry time." You can get more information on the DPRS website.

I hope to see you there!


great fiction is not written in places where reality is 'far in'

Ngwatilo Mawiyoo: Do you remember [the] story that appeared in the newspapers a few years ago about how a man survived being eaten by a python? I heard about it because the Concerned Kenyan Writers group discussed the story. I think it was Binyavanga who half seriously concluded that it’s no wonder fiction seems irrelevant in Kenya, since reality itself is so far out! With your fiction writer hat on, what do you think is the work or potential of fiction in Kenya?

Billy Kahora: Reality is not only far out in Kenya. It is far out in Mpumalanga, Western Virginia, North New Zealand, Chenai, Chernobyl. Do you know how many people survive being eaten by anacondas in South America?

Great fiction is not written in places where reality is 'far in'. Fiction is written in places where people have a grasp on language (both written and oral) that is highly relevant to the material conditions of the society they live in. It’s written in places that have a storytelling tradition that has internalized that society's culture and economy within the same language(s).

Great fiction happens in places where those languages and storytelling traditions can be streamlined into today's primarily capitalist and modern world, and the publishing offshoots and all the technical processes and mechanisms that come with it.

Stories are a prerequisite of humanity. Whether a society can convert story into a genre, industry, system under its prevailing cultural and economic conditions is what counts in its production of fiction. And Kenya, according to me, struggles in these three conditions to create a serious fiction industry that is sustainable and ongoing. We will continue doing piecemeal things for a while and making excuses as we go along till we address those three primary things.

- Billy Kahora, managing editor of Kenya's leading literary institution, Kwani?, in conversataion with Ngwatilo Mawiyoo over at One Ghana, One Voice. You can read the whole thing here.


the world out of which poetry first came to me

As Northrop Frye says, many writers compose in such a way that they are filling out a rhythm, one internally heard in advance of the words that will come to comprise it. Such rhythms tend to bubble up out of deep wells. In an interview in the current issue of Canadian Notes & Queries, Michael Harris says that his taste in poetry is in no small measure a function of the Scottish speech- and song-rhythms he absorbed from his father, while young.

I tend to feel that the form of a poem (and when I say ‘a poem,’ I really mean, ‘one of my poems’ — this is a personal, not a general, prescription) should be aurally implicit: a listener should be able to ‘hear’ the shape of a poem, in the absence of any typographical cues. (Not all of my poems work this way, but many of them do.) I suppose this means that I am in some way, at root, an oral poet — for all that I love the look of words on a page, the shapes of letters, words, and stanzas.

And I should say that I am drawn to rhyme and meter for reasons mnemonic as well as aesthetic: I like to make poems that a reader (or the writer) can carry around in her mind — poems that can go back into the world of recitation, out of which, it seems, poetry first came to me.

- Luke Hathaway (formerly Amanda Jernigan), in conversation with Susan Gillis on her Concrete & River blog. You can read the whole thing here.