Archive for the ‘Canadian Literature’ Category

A Potter Of Plans

May 29, 2009

Every good song must come to an end
Even as I beg for the notes to carry on
It’s only the sound of your voice
That keeps me moving forward from day to day
When the music settles
As snow on the porch
I stumble backwards into my head
And the senseless shame
With layers of sorrow
Crowd me again as if I am alone
I walk to the record player
Slide the needle back
So I can listen again to my love
Spinning your words and rhymes

Peter Snow

The Notes

Today is an exciting day at The Alder Fork.  My first publication, Potter of Plans Poems About Canada, has just arrived in hard copy form.  If you would like a copy drop me a line at, or you can get it at by clicking the link on the sidebar.  At the link you will also find a 15 page preview of the book so you can get a sense of it before buying.  Very shortly I will be launching a store at to sell the books and my albums.  Once again the book is $10 plus shipping if you don’t  live within drop off distance.


May 26, 2009

See my ghost, see my ghost.


Weighty Ghost

That song is fantastic, please download it.

Despite a windy, cold, and soon to be rainy day, the thought of summer is alive around here.  A time for hiking, camping, gardening, outdoor sports, and reading on the deck.  One of my favourite writers, Alice Munro, won the Man Booker International Prize this week.  Unlike the yearly Man Booker Prize the biennial international award recognizes an author for outstanding contributions to literature, not a specific work.  This is the third time the award has been given and Munro beat out such accomplished authors as E.L. Doctorow and Antonio Tabucchi. It’s worth noting that Margaret Atwood was nominated for each of the first two awards (2005, 2007) but failed to win. She was not nominated this year.

Alice Munro is from Wingham, Ontario, and won a Governor General’s Award with her first published work.  She is primarily known for working in the short story genre.  For more info about this incredible Canadian talent visit her Random House page.

I was inspired recently by a discussion about the state of television.  The commentators concluded that TV producers have more or less run out of new ideas.  I often wonder if our various artistic endeavours will run out of innovative techniques.  Have we pushed art, music, theatre, tv, and film to a point that future changes will be modifcation rather than innovation?  I don’t have an answer to this question but it’s worth thinking about. I suppose the biggest wildcard factor is technology.  Since we can’t predict what machines and computerized devices will be available, it’s hard to say where the boundaries will be. We can only hope that our great great grand children will still admire our creations, and that they will be able to develop their own style.

After Many Years

May 19, 2009

Your eyes do not deceive you, there is indeed a link to my new book over on the sidebar.  Potter of Plans: Poems About Canada is a collection of my poems about this country. Some have appeared on this very blog in recent weeks, and there are many more in the book. You can order it through that link, or if you know me I can get you a copy when the first ones arrive in a couple of weeks.

I have long wanted to do this, and The Alder Fork has given me the confidence and ability to do so.  The collection represents the sum of my poetry from the last 6 months.  Obviously, I have rejected some of my output in order to put the best material in the book.  I have been quite pleased with what my imagination has come up with lately.

In honour of this auspicious occasion I offer you yet one more poem from this collection:

Short Note of Thanksgiving

It’s the colour I remember most
You used it
In all of the paintings you sold me
I wish
I wish I could buy more
But money
Is always tight around here
My fault?
Not with this economy
But really
The paintings were lovely
Thank you

A Short Piece

April 28, 2009

A poem from an upcoming collection:

Mail Order Surprise

They say I bribed the shopkeeper
To sell it to me at half the price
“There’s no way, you could buy it
Not on your salary”
I said, “How do you know
What I make in a month
And quality is worth it”
Why would I tell them my secret?
That the Italians had it
On special
Because they don’t know the value
Of a space heater
In Pickle Lake
In January

All This? For $2.50?

January 15, 2009

Force, the inertial tugs and pulls a two-dimensional being experiences when he tries to walk a straight line in three-dimensional space.

Bernhard Riemann

Quoted in

A Small Dog Barking and Other Stories

By Robert Strandquist

If you read yesterday’s post about an ecology of peace and are waiting for more, don’t worry it’s coming, just not today.  I promise it will be soon.

I want to divert your attention from serious matters today and talk about something I enjoy, used bookstores and thrift stores.  I should start by saying that I prefer to buy my clothes new, so I’m not usually found among the clothing racks at Value Village.  I do , however, like to get cheap books, records, and even tapes!  Plus I never know when I’ll find a wacky instrument to add to the collection and use on an album.  This is on my mind because of the tapes I mentioned the other day, and my recent visit to the Neighbour to Neighbour Used Bookstore where I picked up several Can Lit classics, by such renowned authors as Robertson Davies and Gabrielle Roy.  When I was in Waterloo I used to frequent Old Goat Books even if the people there kind of scared me. I know I have a loyal readership, and some transients who wander in periodically. I’d love to hear about your favourite little bookshops and thrift stores from coast to coast.

Another random thing happened today. I was flipping channels between periods of the Thrasher-Senators game, and I discoverd Sting singing opera.  A piece from Don Giovanni to be more precise.  He was sharing a duet with Angela Gheorghiu of Là ci darem la mano. What I found most interesting, beisdes the odd choice of having Sting do opera, was the vast difference in the quality of the vocal performance between the two.  Sting sounded good, as he usually does, but as soon as Gheorghiu opened her mouth it was obvious she sings on a different plane.  It’s just a reminder that what is popularly considered as the standard for musical ability generally lacks behind those who are truly the best.  I still recommend checking out the performance here.

Don’t Forget to Write

January 11, 2009

I met my old lover on the street last night, she seemed so glad to see me I just smiled, and we talked about some old times and we drank ourselves some beer, still crazy after all these years.

Paul Simon

Still Crazy After All These Years

It’s hard to believe that Paul Simon is so old now.  He once sang about being 21 years old, and was still a young man when he wrote the song quoted above.  I have included it because it is a clue to the topic of Monday’s podcast. You’ll just have to listen to find out. Mr. Simon has always been a hero of mine. His songwriting is unsurpassed. I consider him the model for how to make great music. I don’t directly copy his style, but I look at his willingness to expand his musical vision and embrace other ideas to improve his own songwriting.  He is also capable of capturing a feeling, a mood, or a scene in his lyrics in an authentic and dynamic way.  Hearing a Paul Simon penned song means genuinely stepping into the experience of another person to live their life for a few moments.  He maintains a thread of wit and satire in many of his songs, from the social commentary of A Most Peculiar Man and Keep the Customer Satisfied to the pop culture critique of A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert Macnamara’d Into Submission) or the bitter You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies.  Although his career has waned in recent years he is a songwriter and performer who will continue to influence others as long as the radio keeps playing Sound of Silence and Cecilia.

With the snow falling again here in Hamilton, for perhaps the twentieth time this year, I am using this post to remind you of an important event. Namely the first ever The Alder Fork From Worst to First Poetry Contest. All the gory details can be found here. In the spirit of providing you with inspiration I am including the following poem. It is called Letters and tells the tale of two lovers separated by war.  It is from a collection of poems about life in Canada. Enjoy.


You begged me to stay here
To forget my heroic dreams
Because love was more important
But I didn’t believe you
I was a man
I had a mission
I had honour
I am proud and I believe
That I cannot fail
And now I have
Not only my nation
Not only my comrades
Not only my self
But most painfully you
As we stood alone
Counting the hours
While you cried and insisted
I promised
That I was a man
Who would return to you
Because I was wise
And I was strong
And my faith and my pride
Would carry me far
But it did not
And for that I am sorry

I begged you to stay
To give up on your dreams
For our love was important
Enough to forget pride
I was a girl
I had no secrets
I was innocent but not naïve
I did not suffer
And now I have
Not only for loss
Not only for love
Not only for me
But for you
I can see all your life
No longer before you
I once cried and insisted
I now sit alone
You didn’t come back to me
I was your life
But you followed your dream
You stayed with your faith
But it took all your strength
Stole it away from you
Left you with nothing
I should’ve tried harder
And for that I am sorry

Hurry Hard

January 6, 2009

It’s forty-two pounds of polished granite, beveled on the belly and a handle a human being can hold. And it may have no practical purpose in itself but it is a repository of human possibility and if it’s handled just right, it will exact a kind of poetry.

Chris Cutter

Men With Brooms

Men With Brooms is a challenging film. Not in the sense that it raises questions, or provokes thought, but rather that it angers and disappoints many people.  Filmmakers in Canada question how this film received so much support from funding sources when theirs do not. Curling fans may wonder how the first big curling movie managed to mess up some details, and to use an absurd event (exploding rocks) as a climax.  But it is at that point that I, as a former competitive curler and longtime fan, find the most endearing quality of the film.  Curling is a goofy, unusual and strange sport. Can anyone honestly say that an activity that involves granite rocks, brooms, circles on ice, and a high level of friendly camaraderie (even at the highest competitive level) is anything but funny?  Certainly many people take curling seriously, even I did at one time, but ultimately it is a fun diversion from the seriousness of life.  I have known people who lost the ability to truly enjoy the game, yet even they would drink you under the table if you beat them and be laughing by the end of the evening.  So it seems fitting that the first film about the sport would be so odd, so cheesy, and so absurd that no one would really know what to think about it.

As a side note, some filming took place at a club I played at many times as a youth. My junior team won the Ross Macdonald junior bonspiel at the Glanford Curling Club every time we entered it. We considered it a birthright to eat our pizza, pick our prizes and celebrate on one weekend in Mount Hope every year.  So to see Paul Gross et al. sliding out of those hacks was a nostalgia trip for me, even though when the film was made I was still playing in the area. The “Golden Broom” championship is considered a big deal to the characters in the movie, but I think the film acknowledges that it really isn’t as big as it’s made out to be.  Much like the Ross Macdonald, the “Golden Broom” is largest in the minds of the players and the local community. Beyond that only a handful of people would really care.  Much like Slap Shot, Men With Brooms is capturing an undercurrent of the popular sports landscape.  The ridiculous outfits of the Butte team, and the goofy intonations of the announcer emphasize this fact.

Why am I devoting a thousand words to a movie so long after it came out? Well for one I just saw it on TV again, and I think after a number of viewings I finally get what the film means to me as a curler, fan, and someone who reflects on Canadian culture. Better sports movies have been made on everything from football to hockey to bowling.  Apparently there has even been a better curling movie made in Japan. But I think if you want to know about what curling is, you should ask the people who play it most (over 1 million players a year) and play it best (more championships than are worth mentioning).  I am hopeful there will be another curling movie and that it will capture the essence of the tradition, passion, and glory of the sport. It will get the small details right, and dispose of cheap laughs, silly sub plots, and drug references.  Until then we are left with Men With Brooms, which, upon further inspection, represents many of the things that makes curling unique.  People wearing ugly sweaters and weird track suits, brooms on ice, banging cowbells and jingling bells, the Brier Patch, and “good curling.” above all else it represents the experience of the average curler, who heads to the rink once a week to meet friends, engage in playful banter, throw a few rocks, and hit the lounge afterward.  A curling game lasts two hours, but a curling evening lasts many more.  That is the heart of the sport, and I think, the heart of this movie. Whether it was the intention of the filmmakers or not is irrelevant. I don’t think they could’ve tackled curling in Canada without stumbling into an absurd and beautiful world.

This Book is a Cookbook, How Do You Explain That?

December 30, 2008

Religious peoples and people who get elected to their jobs always take the world deadly serious. They never guess that by being so serious they make most people laugh at them.

Silas Ermineskin


W.P. Kinsella’s The Fencepost Chronicles

W.P. Kinsella is one of my favourite authors. I have read a number of his works and enjoyed every single one.  I am just finishing The Fencepost Chronicles and the mixture of wit, satire, and magic is a perfect way to spend a few hours.  He has a way of taking ordinary situations and transforming them into mystical and unbelievable stories.  He makes a really good point in the quote above through the guise of an Alberta Cree writer who observes a fundamentalist Christian book burning.  That particular story (one of 13 in the book) satirizes both religious fanatics and politicians, but in a very endearing manner. Indeed, the entire book reflects a worldview that is slightly askew from the ordinary: a 400lb medicine woman takes over as goalie and covers the entire net, two fish-out-of–water natives have a late night chat with the queen in Buckingham Palace, spending a night inside a caribou on a cultural exchange, and a host of other hilarious and outlandish stories.  Obviously, I am quite fond of this book and would recommend checking it out (most likely at your local library since it was first published in 1986).

The Fencepost Chronicles paints Canadian politicians and their religious counterparts as too serious and proud.  Of course it is intended to be satirical but it is also sincere.  It leads me to a question, would the world be a better place if “important” people didn’t take it so seriously.  On one hand, having doctors, social workers, and even politicians focusing their attention on social problems in a serious manner is important. On the other, by getting worked up about many things they probably exaserbate otherwise harmless situations.  I have to admit that I often get worked up about trivial items, and even sometimes take myself way too seriously to the point of heightening my sense of self-importance. Most of life is ridiculous and hilarious.  If I lived my life like the characters in The Fencepost Chronicles I’d have an eternal smile. Of course I would also be a career petty criminal and an alcoholic.  Probably not worth the trade. My point today is that the world needs more laughter and magic.