Tag Archives: writing

Two poems just published

I’m pleased to see two of my poems reach print.

mccutcheon_existere2016pic1. “Here Is Where”:

Existere, the long-running literary journal based at York University, has published my poem “Here Is Where Was” in its current Spring-Summer issue (35.2). The poem appears without its Works Cited list: I know poems tend not to attach such things; and I guess the editors get to make that call; and I’ve read some compelling arguments, like David Shield’s, for borrowing without citing. But, unreconstructed scholar that I am, I still feel obliged to cite credit where it’s due:

“Here Is Where” Works Cited

  • Brand, Dionne. No Language is Neutral. Coach House P, 1990, p. 22.
  • Frye, Northrop. “Conclusion to the First Edition of Literary History of Canada” (1965). Northrop Frye on Canada, vol. 12, edited by Jean O’Grady and David Staines, U of Toronto P, 2003, p. 346.
  • Johnston, Basil. The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway. Minnesota Historical Society P, 2001, p. 221.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-8-50-38-am2. “Lunar Sonata”:

Tigershark is a small-press British e-zine that publishes theme-based issues by subscription. My poem “Lunar Sonata” appears in Tigershark 11, the science and technology issue. “Lunar Sonata” is a cento, a found poem composed wholly of selected excerpts from a news article, “Audio recordings document ‘weird music’ heard by Apollo astronauts on far side of moon,” by Lee Speigel; his story ran in the Huffington Post on Feb. 20, 2016.
Issues of Tigershark can be requested by emailing the editor, DS Davidson, at tigersharkpublishing@hotmail.co.uk.

Just published: “The DJ as Critic”

ESC-DJarticle_collage“The DJ as Critic”: my article in the latest issue of English Studies In Canada. Seeing work reach print never gets old, but the design of ESC is always exceptional, from typeface to pull-quotes.
This issue also features work by national treasures like Diana Brydon, Susan Brown, George Elliott Clarke, Smaro Kamboureli & Len Findlay, to name just a few…so I’m thrilled my words get to rub paper shoulders with such a Who’s Who of Canadian literature and literary studies.

This article is presently available only in the print edition of ESC; I will update this post when the article becomes available online.

UPDATE: This issue of ESC is now digitally available via Project Muse. The article is at this link, available to Project Muse users (i.e. postsecondary students and faculty). If you don’t have Project Muse access, but want a copy, just e-mail me a request for it. (That’s one way fair dealing works.) Eventually it will be openly accessible at ESC‘s website, but not for another year or so.

#NaHaiWriMo Day One

February is “National Haiku Writing Month,” or #NaHaiWriMo on social media. The project, like haiku itself, seems straightforward but is deeply subtle: write a haiku each day this month. The event is based at this Facebook page.

My first foray, below, tries to meet all the criteria of organizer M.D. Welch’s checklist, which, like his other articles on haiku, is helpful and illuminating. (Personally I like the challenge of strict syllabic form, but will experiment with loosening up.)

in the bare-branched bush

sparrows hush as you pass: chilled

kids near a cop car

Morrison’s moving essay in Hook & Eye reflects on December 6, 1989

Social media scholar Aimée Morrison (@digiwonk) reflects on the terror and traumatic fallout of the events of December 6, 1989:

“In December 1989, I learned that even in Canada, you could get killed. For being a smart woman. For being a smart woman at school, studying science.”

Read the rest: “Can’t remember, can’t forget: what happened in 1989.”


The Main Thing Students in Literary Studies Need to Understand: “Talk About the Writing”

In this post I want to try to explain, as clearly as I can, two things: 1) the proper focus of academic essays on literature (or other cultural texts, like plays or songs); and 2) how to achieve that focus in essays of comparison and contrast among two or more texts.

1. In your essays, talk about the writing.

The proper subject of an essay in literary criticism (here meaning criticism of any textual form) is the writing: the text as a composition of significant elements of form and style. (The analysis of how these elements work together to achieve artistic effects and cultural functions is what we call close reading, and it’s the core methodology, the critical practice of literary studies.) It’s a common mistake for students new to English studies to treat a text like a “window” rather than a “painting,” as U Penn’s Prof Jack Lynch puts it, in his excellent, short guide to Getting an A on an English Paper – a guide that I would advise as an absolute must-read for every student in English literary studies.

in an English paper, don’t talk about the “real world.” Talk about the writing … don’t assume literature is a transparent window that shows us the real world — it’s not something we can reliably look through. Often it’s more like a painting than a window, and instead of looking through it we should learn to look at it. … this doesn’t mean you can’t be interested in the real world behind the text. … Just remember that you don’t have any direct access to that real world, only representations of it. Never lose sight of that fact.

If an English paper is about these representations, then its thesis is the reader’s interpretation – that is, your interpretation – of how a given play constructs these representations, using dramatic techniques, literary devices, and other elements of form. Lynch describes some of these elements at http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/EngPaper/close.html – for instance, diction, word order, metaphors. The seven-point list of categories of dramatic form posted for Athabasca University’s Engl 303 world drama course assignment in scene analysis assignment is another useful catalogue of dramatic techniques; I’ve also posted a similar list of Categories for Textual Analysis of works in various media, including drama.

2. Compare texts, then, on grounds of common elements of form.

The key to writing effective English essays of comparison and contrast lies in identifying which such dramatic techniques or elements of literary form furnish the most interesting or distinctive grounds on which to compare two plays, and thereby to argue your own distinctive interpretation of these plays.

As well as “writing about the ‘real world’,” another error common among students new to comparative criticism in particular is not comparing plays directly with each other, but rather discussing how each addresses the student’s chosen theme or thesis. So an essay making that kind of error might argue something to the effect that two plays both represent an identified theme, and discuss how each one does so separately from the other, without considering what elements of form they might have in common. (Essays like this also tend to stay focused on “real world” type content – characters’ actions and events, as though they’re things that happen, not scripted constructions composed to convey specific artistic and cultural effects.) Instead, a stronger essay of comparison and contrast might argue that two given plays compare or contrast in their representation of a given theme – through the uses of two or three different dramatic techniques and/or elements of literary form that each uses in a way that’s significantly similar to or different from how the other does.

Further reference

More about integrating the grounds of comparison for an essay of comparison and contrast is at this page I’ve created in the Landing, Athabasca U’s social network.

And if you’re still unsure about the whole “talk about the writing” thing, I’ve blogged more extensively about it.

And, lastly, in another blog post, I detail four specific steps to practice the close reading of texts, in order to focus on how they’re written and the implications of that writing.

Writing desk vs. workstation: a productivity experiment

Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts.
– Nietzsche, quoted in Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

I am going to try reorganizing my office desk around pen and paper, to see whether that retro-fit might boost productivity. For as long as I’ve been in academia – well, for as long as my work station has revolved around word processing – I have organized my desk and work space around the computer. Now that computers are both a) ubiquitously mobile and b) designed for multitasking maximum distraction, I’m curious to discover whether re-orienting my work space around old-fashioned writing, reading, and telephony can do anything for productivity (and attention control).

Here’s my office desk’s “Before” pic (showing it behaving itself better than usual on the clutter front):

The hunch has come to me more or less out of the blue (this particular blue being exasperation with chronic and electronics-heavy desk clutter). But I am also partly motivated by the current debates on attention as dwindling resource, and on how to get more writing done. And while security isn’t a primary motivation (or not more so than usual, despite recent intelligence exposes), I am fascinated by the related retro-media news that the Kremlin has decided to abandon computers and return to typewriters, to mitigate against hacking and preserve more secure record-keeping.

Anyway. Here’s what the workspace looks like now.

A few of the electronics are still hanging around – the printer makes a convenient bookend – but the focal point is now a writing pad, not a computer.

We’ll see how this goes.