Posted on March 19, 2015
Local farmers were out selling fresh maple syrup at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. The place was packed with people, mostly families out enjoying a sunny March Break day. Located 1.5 hours west of Toronto, this is the largest year-round farmers’ market in Canada.
Along with some wonderful ready-to-eat foods like perogies, souvlaki, and apple fritters, you can find everything from handmade quilts to used vinyl records. I spent quite a bit of time perusing used books, finally getting the following copies to take home:
Posted on January 22, 2014
Posted on November 30, 2013
In Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry, Wendy Bishop states that “contemporary poets prefer rhyme that doesn’t call attention to itself; concrete, particular images; and conversational… language.” Since starting a course in contemporary poetry, I’ve been intrigued by Billy Collins’ poems. They epitomize the “unexpected phrases and strong sensory details” that Bishop includes in her characteristics of contemporary poetry.
See or hear Collins read his poems by clicking on the following links:
I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind’ Mice
Some Days (animated)
Walking Across the Atlantic (animated)
Now and Then (animated)
The Trouble With Poetry
Posted on October 27, 2013
The following stories are housed in Joyce Carol Oates’ book entitled Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers. You can read them online by clicking on the story titles.
“Aren’t You Happy For Me?” by Richard Bausch
An excellent example of how a story can be constructed using mainly dialogue. How would you react if your 22-year-old daughter phoned one day and said that she was engaged to a 63-year-old man?
“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner
Written in 1931, this is a dark and disturbing story about a white family’s reaction to the fears of their black servant, Nancy.
“In the American Society” by Gish Jen
Told from the point of view of a Chinese-American girl, this story looks at a family’s attempt to assimilate into American culture and sheds light on the immigrant experience.
“Father’s Last Escape” by Bruno Schulz
If you’re a fan of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, you’ll appreciate this story. In this story, the father turns into a crab which the mother later cooks for dinner.
“Borges and I” by Jorge Luis Borges
A short autobiographical work that looks at the private versus the personal self. It ends with the line, “I do not know which of us has written this page.”
Posted on May 28, 2013
I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time. Right now, Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life is sitting on my nightstand. It’s what I’m reading at home. Judy Fong Bates’ Midnight at the Dragon Café is in my bag. It gets read everywhere else, especially in my car as I wait for my daughter during her piano lessons and band practice.
Lee, a Korean-American writer, immigrated to the States in 1965. A Gesture Life weaves some heavy issues into the storytelling, including the treatment of Korean comfort women by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II – something the protagonist witnessed during his years of military service. Needless to say, it has a profound effect on him that lasts a lifetime.
Fong-Bates is a Chinese-Canadian writer. I’m only a couple of chapters into Midnight at the Dragon Café, which was recommended to me by a friend. The book was the 2011 One Book Community Read for the city of Toronto.
Posted on May 26, 2013
One of my goals this year was to read books by writers of Asian heritage, or to read more stories with protagonists of diverse backgrounds. I regret that growing up and all through these years, I haven’t made it a priority to expose myself to stories told in multicultural voices.
Through high school, university, and college curriculums, I have been exposed to a wealth of brilliant writers, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and many Canadian writers in between. I didn’t even stop to consider that all the stories I read were told from a Western perspective. This has had an interesting impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. I assume every character I read about is white unless told otherwise. I’m not alone. When I wrote ‘The boy ate an apple’ on the chalkboard and asked a classroom full of students, “What ethnicity was that boy?” All of them, even the black and Asian students responded, “white”.
As Canadian educators, writers, and readers, we need to do a better job of promoting diverse voices and experiences. It is 2013, yet the reading lists for Independent Study Projects in senior English classes haven’t changed much since the 80s when I was in high school. To throw in the odd book by a black or Asian writer to “modernize and update” the list isn’t enough.
I recently finished Frances Itani’s Requiem, a story about Bin, a Japanese Canadian struggling with loss on many levels. Although set in 1997, the story takes readers back to 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were interned, in what is one of Canada’s darkest periods in history.
Posted on April 4, 2013
Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
Organized and sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, Canada has acknowledged April as National Poetry Month since 1999. The United States introduced the idea in 1996. Great Britain celebrates October as their National Poetry Month.
Sometimes I struggle through a poem, lost in the words or its meaning. I love the freedom that comes with reading them. There are no right or wrong answers – there shouldn’t be. You can read a poem, and it is yours to interpret; yours to personalize. I love how some poems make me feel. Like music, they can provoke me to tears, to laughter. Or they can leave me thinking, reflecting. Sometimes, they even leave me confused and dazed.
A few of my favourites:
The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A haunting poem. Longfellow’s wife burned so badly when her dress caught on fire, she died shortly afterwards.
i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
One of the best love poems ever.
I Am in Need of Music by Elizabeth Bishop
And in honour of both National Poetry Month and the month of April:
Always Marry An April Girl by Ogden Nash
More on National Poetry Month:
Posted on January 31, 2013
Whether they are happy, dark, or ironic, I love twist endings. I stumbled onto “A Letter to God”, a short story by Gregorio Lopez Fuentes (translated by Donald A. Yates). It is about a poor farmer named Lencho who sadly loses his crops during a terrible hailstorm. Poor, but a man with strong faith, he writes to God and asks for money to help him get through the winter. The ending made me laugh out loud – it was so nutty. You can click on the story title to read it online.
It takes talent and good storytelling to create a twist ending that works. It can’t feel forced or heavy-handed to be effective.
Here are some links you might want to check out:
Posted on January 21, 2013
I love books where I feel connected with the main character, or when the character is someone whom I admire and want to root for. I recently saw Les Miserables again. Jean Valjean is an example of a character I both admire and feel tremendous sympathy for – a character almost impossible for me to forget.
There are several books and online resources that offer great advice, tips, and suggestions on how to create complex and compelling characters. One book title I’d like to pass along is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. It’s definitely worth checking out. Schmidt looks at several archetypes, both heroic and villainous, to explore character traits and behaviours. Her examples of memorable characters from books, movies, and T.V. are especially helpful in shaping our understanding of classic archetypes.
Also worth checking out: