Thursday, April 30, 2009

An odd sort of anniversary

And I don't think it's even exactly the right date.

Still, it seems that it took most of last spring for the Dear Man and I to accomplish our kitchen reno. For a longer time than I really want to remember, it was a mess.

I know that we were definitely in and using it all by the end of April last year. Since today's the last day of the month, I'm happy to celebrate the space -- the place where
so much eating and good talk occurs -- the spot that truly is the heart of our home. Even the area where I spend so much of my time, at the sink in front of this lovely window.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weird science?

Okay, this is just plain bizarre. While I'm not admitting to having done a lot of research, it’s come to my attention that good sex can bring amazing relief for congested sinuses.

I thought the idea would be too crazy for googling, but it turns out it isn’t. Apparently, others (all right, just a few) have made this observation.

Whatever, it sure beats taking meds. Most of those just make me feel zombified.

Here’s to all of us breathing a lot more easily!

Friday, April 24, 2009

BC Book and Magazine Week

Last night's group reading at the Cafe Montmartre was just one of the events celebrating this year's BC Book and Magazine Week.

Part of a tour of Main Street literary venues, this was another in the series of readings celebrating Rocksalt, the 2008 anthology of work by BC poets.

Hosting the evening was poet Trevor Carolan. His intros were refreshing -- not the usual 'read-from-the-back-cover' bios. His remarks indicated he actually knew each poet or at least his/her work. Great job, Trevor. Thank you!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poetry Planet, a Celebration of Earth Day

That series of pools is just one component of the Mission Leisure Centre. And it was there that Marion Quednau and I were part of a Poetry Planet event, celebrating both National Poetry Month and Earth Day.

Added attractions included an Earth Day poem from Janet Vickers and readings from two students in Marion's Peer-10 after-school program at the Rec Centre. Victoria read a poem she'd written called "Why Girls Are Greener Than Boys" -- a piece that did exactly what a good poem should -- it made all of us think.

The other young reader was Cade, who presented (complete with poster) a chanted slam about "Norm the Platypus", an amazing trash-busting critter.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Verse Map of Vancouver

A gorgeous new book was launched last night, the finishing touch to George McWhirter's two-year tenure as Vancouver's first Poet Laureate.

Last spring, McWhirter sent out a call for poems specific to locations in the city. A lot of people must have responded, as the book, A Verse Map of Vancouver, contains poems by 92 poets. But what makes the book even more spectacular is that each poem has its own page and is accompanied by a full colour photo of the site depicted in the poem.

I felt both pleased and honoured to be able to read my poem (about the Lee Building at Broadway and Main) as part of this fabulous event.

In addition to launching the anthology, the evening served to honour one of Canada's greatest poets, Al Purdy. Officially 'Al Purdy Day', April 21st is the day Purdy died, back in 2000. There's a campaign on to raise funds to save his home in Ontario so that it might be used by authors for writing retreats.

I was lucky and managed to click just as the 'main attractions' were putting their signatures onto the first copy of the book, the one likely destined for the special collection section of Vancouver Public Library. That's George McWhirter in the centre, with Derek von Essen, the book's photographer and designer, waiting for his turn to sign. At left is Paul Whitney, City Librarian (aka, head) of VPL.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Workshop with Mary Novik at VPL

Each year, the Writers’ Trust of Canada sponsors a writing workshop at the Vancouver Public Library. These are open to the public and free of charge, requiring only registration in advance.

Last year, they brought in playwright Dennis Foon. This spring’s presenter was Mary Novik, author of the award-winning novel, Conceit. Her topic was ‘Re-Imagining the Past’ and focused on incorporating history into fiction. Considering that participants’ work dealt with history from the 13th century to the 1990s, leading the session took a lot of skill and grace.

Participants’ work also varied in genres. Several sounded like straight-up memoirs, others seemed more documentary in style, one was even a combination of narrative poetry interspersed with short fiction. There were ‘heritage heroes’ and a complicated-sounding treatment of First Nations symbology. The one that sounded most heartfelt was the story told through the eyes of six-year-old girl at residential school, a girl who, as its author said, “…didn’t have her own mind…” because of where she was.

One of the best aspects of the workshop was that we had to be prepared to talk about our work-in-progress. This meant I had to put together a ‘pitch’ for the book I’m working on. After having heard the others’ two-minute presentations of theirs, I’m not sure I did mine quite right. Still, this was a very useful learning point from the class – and it was good to be reminded that others, even those who seem confident about their writing, can be frustrated or stalled in their work.

After a short break, Mary made a presentation based on things she’s learned through her own experience as a writer. She dealt with topics ranging from “How much research is enough? (or, too much?” to “Which has priority in your story, truth or art?”
She answered questions and was so generous with her time, she even suggested we join her after the session for further conversation and time for networking.

The photo shows Mary relaxing at the bistro. Not pictured is the surrounding throng of admirers, the rest of us would-be successful novelists.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I was there

On Friday I was welcomed to the remarkable Holly School. My job there? To present new ways of looking at poetry to a class of Grade Sixes.

I gave the students a small project to work on, answered questions and shared poems by many writers. I was even allowed to give input on a couple of student poems that had been sent to me in advance of the class – little tweaks, like adding sensory images to strengthen the work.

One of the most exciting parts of the day came when the class was suggesting ways that poetry is different from other kinds of writing. As they offered ideas, I was recording them on the board. And then there was this, the topper: It has language that makes you say ‘mmmm’.

This visit was part of the Federation of B.C. Writers’ Off-the-Page program. Through that plan, writers are paid to work with students in schools. But really, this day paid me in ways richer than money.

After the class, I was met on the playground by children playing skipping-rope games. When the slapping of the rope triggered my own memories, they listened as I chanted: "Down in the valley where the green grass grows, there stands 'whoever', sweet as a rose. She sang, she sang, she sang so sweet…"

After that, a group of girls wanted me to watch while they presented a dance for me.

And then, after all that rousing activity, a girl shyly presented herself, asking if I would mind listening to her play the theme from Titanic on her recorder. While its sad notes flew into the spring air, I couldn’t help it, my eyes filled with tears, remembering my own grandfather who’d travelled steerage on another steaming ship. Really, what a lovely way to close out a beautiful visit to a wonder-filled place.

Friday, April 17, 2009

They're heeeere...

If you want to say today's title 'correctly', you'll have to turn your mind back to Poltergeist.

It's also likely you'll need to double-click on the vehicle in the centre of the image to see them, as my camera's zoom capabilities aren't on a par with theirs. (The car is out in the road beyond the parking lot, facing right. The sign above it seems serendipitously placed.)

Still, I'm pleased that I managed to click even this much -- when the local newspaper reported on Google's team visiting to take its famous Street View shots, they didn't have a pic. It was kind of a fluke that I caught them uptown, just after they'd come around the corner. I guess you might call them a gaggle of Googlers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Today is the halfway mark in National Poetry Month. Depending on whether you love poetry or not, I suppose there's a question that leads from that -- along the lines of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.

The other day, the postman brought this loveliest of greetings -- a postcard from Sandy Shreve with a poem from her latest book, Suddenly, So Much, on it.

The poem's story is of a cormorant who's flown in from the sea to fish in a city lake. There, " this park where we unleash our dogs" is this seabird. Haven't all of us, at one time or another, found ourselves in situations (and not always by choice) where we've been in a place outside our usual boundaries? Whether we've been brave enough to do as this cormorant -- "...he bares his breast" is probably quite another matter.

When it comes to the poem's form, it proves to be an interesting variation on a palindrome -- quite an accomplishment for a work of poetry.

Sandy's website shows off more versions of the postcard poems. You can even learn how to buy some to send for your own poetry project.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What's the reason...

for dyeing Easter eggs? Aside from the fact that it's fun and they're pretty...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Happy 40th Birthday to the Internet?

I don't think it was a late April Fool story, but I'm sure having a hard time tracking down any back-up.

I caught the beginning of 'Q' this morning on CBC. Jian Ghomeshi was doing one of his 'serious' intros (one of the thoughtful-sounding ones with the Moby music in the background). He explained that today is the 40th birthday of the Internet, the first day a typed message was composed for what was then still a brand-new dream.

I have to take my hat off to his researchers at the CBC. All the stories I found speak only of October 29, 1969 as the day the first message ('lo') was sent. Still, I did find a lot of cool stuff about the history of the Internet.

The story I liked best of all told about Len Kleinrock, a guy who grew up loving comic books (didn't we all?) and built a crystal radio set. From a crystal radio to the Internet, a pretty impressive leap. Once upon a time, I think I had one of these. I'm pretty sure it was marketed as a 'rocket radio' -- for its shape, vaguely vibratorish. There were no batteries or dials. It just plucked radio from the air and sent it into an earpiece for personal tunes. Great for lying in bed and listening to rock and roll when I was supposed to be asleep.

And if the Internet really doesn't qualify as turning 40 today, I found a football player who does. Happy 40th, Ricky Watters!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Writing a Poem (in 48 hours)

That might not sound like a terrible challenge, but when you're given a list of 10 words that have to appear in the poem, the task becomes somewhat more difficult.

The Canadian magazine, CV2, has been setting just that challenge every spring. I've participated in the event since 2002, when I was travelling in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia and had to find a cybercafe to get the 10 words!

This year's batch of words is: parlour, effervescent, kumquat, noxious, sink, quagmire, gradation, improvise, freak, dial.

Over the years, they’ve tightened up the rules. No longer am I allowed to make 'freakish' out of freak. 'Sinker' instead of sink is now verboten.

I have a few more hours (until 10 p.m. my time zone) to finish and submit my work. In the meantime, I'll do my best not to freak, even if I do feel like I might sink into a quagmire of noxious verse....

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Solidarity with women in Afghanistan

Amazing. Even Steve Harper has spoken out against the changes to laws in Afghanistan.

For my part, a poem, published previously in a publication called Writing for our Lives.

Learning to think about leaving

You are scissors
I am paper
learning to be stone
A surprise when I read in the paper that day
a crime against the law for
a man to rape his wife
all those nights you'd wake me
two a.m. again
bade me open wide
it's your duty don't you know
alarm clock indeed
no clock needed for alarm.

Next day when you went out
to buy yourself some smokes
how I grabbed the scissors,
dug through the recycling
found the story, real;
cut around its black and white
something like a square
leaving just enough white edge
something to hang on to.

When I served the supper, meatballs in sauce
arranged over a bed of rice, salad on the side
how you held the plate, then turned
it upside down, laid it neat and flat upon the table.
I recall your smirk, how it held
the children's big eyes.

A stone grows deep inside me
hot and cold I never know
when it might be I will leave,
but hoping every day, I look
out the window for signs:

bird in the tree
rises through leaves, carrying
a song packed sideways in its throat
a sharpened cry
it circles
and heads out over the sea.

Friday, April 03, 2009

National Poetry Month arrives in White Rock

To help celebrate National Poetry Month, Nova Scotia writer Brian Bartlett has flown in from Halifax.

He spent the afternoon leading a workshop at a local elementary school. He gave individual help to every writer there. Clearly, his visit was an exciting part of the students' Friday afternoon.

Tonight he'll be reading at Pelican Rouge Coffee House, where I suspect the audience will be somewhat less rambunctious. I'm looking forward to hearing which pieces from The Watchmaker's Table he chooses to share with us.