Blog #1: Introduction and modest hope for this

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hi there and a hearty welcome to my blog.  I hope I am going to have some fun here over the next few years.

You’ll have to forgive a woodenness in me at the outset here: I haven’t done this before and a certain amount of self-consciousness might be the price of that until I catch my breath so that speaking here might be as natural as breathing. I sure hope so.

I retired from Okanagan College in the spring of 2011, exactly seven years ago.  Though I miss the teaching enormously, and especially that magical, hilarious exchange that can happen in Creative Writing classes in particular, I have loved the opportunity retirement has given me to live as I once did at The University of Alberta in the late sixties, and York University in the early seventies: to live as a grad student, reading whenever and whomever I liked and pursuing writers and ideas the way you do when you are occupying that lucky and privileged life of focus and undistracted pursuit. Holy moly, I feel lucky that way. I have these long talks about art with my wife, Jude Clarke, who is a painter, and I have rhythmic contact, too,  with some of the best young writers in Canada who all, coincidentally, live in the Okanagan Valley, too:  Natalie Appleton, Hannah Calder, Jason Dewinetz, Kerry Gilbert, Francie Greenslade, Michael Griffin, Alix Hawley, Mary Ellen Holland, Nancy Holmes, Sean Johnston, Sharon Josephson, Jake Kennedy, Steve Lattey, Craig McLuckie, Kevin McPherson Eckoff, Laisha Rosnau, Michael V. Smith and Sharon Thesen. How lucky can I be?

Since 2011 I have begun to pursue the work of a number of writers I simply hadn’t had the chance to pursue before. Many of these writers grew out of close conversations about aesthetics and poetics that I had the luck to experience with the writer Jake Kennedy.  We worked on a book about aesthetics together over a three year period and in the course of that work I began to follow some of the voices that kept surfacing.  Over time the following writers caught my ear and I began to explore their voices quite carefully: Paul Auster, John Burnside, Lydia Davis, Bernard MacLaverty, Thomas Merton, Pierre Michon, Herta Muller, Eileen Myles, Georges Perec, Per Petterson, Marilynne Robinson, W.G. Sebald, Mark Slouka, Patti Smith and Sean Virgo.

What I would like to do here in this blog is set up a vibrant but relaxed way for me to think out loud about these and other, newer voices in literature.  I might have the chance to review books that intrigue me, or simply wrestle with ideas re: style and substance in contemporary writing, maybe especially, in time, Canadian writing. It will keep me off the streets, a good thing for everyone.  I think I’m going to start by posting a review I wrote a few years back for ARC magazine.  They had asked me to review Tom Wayman’s latest book of poems, Dirty Snow, published by Harbour Publishing in 2012.  Of course, that is NOT Tom’s latest book now; in fact, he is just launching a new book of essays on writing and literature this week called, If You’re Not Free At Work, Where Are You Free? (Guernica, 2018).  But my review of Dirty Snow  first appeared in Arc in 2013 as a 250 word distillation of a 2000 word review. I guess I felt the distillation was just too much exactly that, so a good place to start here might be to simply post the whole damn thing now for the first time.

My review of Tom Wayman’s Dirty Snow will be Blog #2.  After this start, my intent will be to post a Blog every month.  Wish me luck.  And please feel free to join in, to argue, to correct etc etc. And just as a farewell note here, I would like to thank both Sean Johnston and Kerry Gilbert for encouraging me toward this blog form.   Each of them, quite evilly I suspect, hoped I might drift toward the rant. I suspect I might be more reasonable than that.  At the start.

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