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2021: The Year of Poetry

January 4, 2021

Perhaps fittingly, the poem that started me down the path of loving poetry was Pablo Neruda’s “Poetry”. Or maybe I have led myself to believe this; to retroact my life into something more aesthetic—like some curated social media personality. Still, I distinctly remember reading Neruda’s poem in high school and then rereading it aloud, sinking into the words

Here is the poem in full if you are interested.

I began to read more poetry, thinking (in my pretentious high school fashion) that I was walking in Neruda’s footsteps—that poetry had arrived in my life and I would discover the universe. I looked at the lines,

 

and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure

nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open

And I thought “I want to do that.” And I wrote my own first faint line and discovered—nothing. Poetry would have to be something I appreciated from afar.

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In Defence of the Short Story

November 16, 2020

As we are about halfway through a month dedicated to writing novels, I thought this would be a fine time to talk about short stories. My inability to chase trends aside, what prompts today’s topic is the latest winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Souvankham Thammavongsa for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. Thammavongsa’s win marks the fifth time a short story collection has won the top prize for Canadian fiction in its twenty-six years of existence. Accounting for the split winners in 2000, 18% of the winners are short story collections. Compare this to the Man Booker prize, which has expanded its eligibility to any longform fiction written in English and published in the UK. This prize has never been awarded to a short story collection. There was one short story collection added to the shortlist in 1980: written by Canada’s Alice Munro. I mention this to illustrate a few points. First, in the upper tiers of the literary world, the novel is put on a higher pedestal than the short story collection. Second, it might be said that Canada recognizes short stories compared to the wider literary world.

What is a short story?

Let’s start with what it isn’t. A miniature novel. A condensed novel. Part of a larger work. A short story has as much relation to a novel as a poem does. I stress this because there are many who dismiss the short story as a lesser novel, lacking character development and gripping plot twists. (Read More…)


The Writer’s Pantry: A surprising sentence

September 21, 2020

Linked from: Classical Archives. *the oboe solo referred to below occurs at 4:18 of this recording.

I love Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Sure, the seventh may be more emblematic of his genius, and the ninth may be more ambitious, but I place the fifth towards the top of my favourites when it comes to classical music. Yes, I love the bombast of the opening four “knocks”, the variations on a theme of the second movement, and the heroic fanfare of the finale—but the moment (and it is a moment) that stands out for me is about sixty-percent through the first movement when the piece stops for a short, simple oboe solo.

There is nothing special about the solo, although I have seen and read think pieces about how it represents the dying Soul subsumed by the Universe, or perhaps the last clear sound Beethoven’s ears heard as his hearing declined. I’ll leave these creators (and you should you choose) to ponder the sometimes dense symbolism that is Romantic music; what I find fascinating about the fragment of a solo is that it surprises me. I don’t care how many times I listen to the piece, I always manage to forget about it until it occurs and then I stop whatever I’m doing or thinking and, for the (approximately) 12 seconds I listen. It is out of place, yet not random, for Beethoven lays the groundwork for the solo earlier. It is a perfectly placed surprise that is worthy of attention but does not detract from or derail the movement.

A good piece of writing should contain an oboe solo, in some form.

 

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September: Art, Culture, Change

September 7, 2020

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun.

John Keats. “To Autumn”

Claude Monet. Autumn Effect at Argenteuil

Forget those hot, sunny, summer days. Forget the snow-capped tress of winter. In my opinion, the best time of year is September. The early morning dew, the cool nights and warm days, and the leaves—those yellows, oranges, and reds along the sidewalks like frightened footprints scurrying into fog. The fog, shrinking the world around you until every few steps is a step into the unknown…

True, this experience is geographically dependent, and I am showing my northern hemisphere bias (I admit that I have a hard time conceiving how the inverted world below the equator works.), but I am not the only one who indulges in this transformative month. (Read More…)


Back to School: a writing routine in the age of uncertainty

August 24, 2020

Depending on where you live, students have begun to return to school, or will in the next few weeks.

It is clear that this back-to-school season is different from past years.

It is clear that this classic Staples commercial is more tone-deaf than usual in 2020.

It is clear that there is a heightened sense of anxiety among many who work in a school, have a child in school, or attend school.

Photo Credit: David Shoykhet

I want to start by acknowledging these anxieties and sympathize with those who are feeling the added stress. Still, in this post I will shift the focus from the “back to” aspect of this time to “school” — where, regardless of how classrooms are set up or whether students attend in person or online, learning will take place. This post covers how to start the year off encouraging students to write. (Read More…)


The Writer’s Pantry: Inspiration and Ideas

August 10, 2020

Last time, we established the need for a writing community. Now it is time to start writing. You are inspired? You have an idea? Excellent. But you are not done the pre-writing stage yet.

Inspiration is the raw ingredient, not the finished product

Photo credit: Erin Waynick

Put up your hand if you have ever eaten raw cookie dough. Now look around and feel ridiculous for having a hand raised. If you are one of the few who have never indulged, I commend your Zen-like restraint. (Read More…)


The Not-So-Solitary Art of Writing: the importance of writing communities

July 27, 2020

As this is the first official post for a project that I hope will build into a community, let’s start with the idea of a writing community.

Picture it – 2 a.m. on a windless summer night. A “writer” is in his backyard with his laptop working on what he believes will be a classic novel. He will go to school the next day and, between yawning, brag about being up at 2 a.m. writing. He will read stories of Emily Dickinson, J.D Salinger, and Thomas Pynchon, romanticizing the life of a recluse author: those mysterious figures whose work surpassed them.

Why did I idealize this lifestyle? Somehow, when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I absorbed the notion that writing is a solitary art, that in order to be truly great, I had to disconnect myself from the world, retreat to a cabin in the woods, and just… write.

Sixteen Years Later.

It is March 2020, and I, like much of the world, was forced into isolation. (Read More…)


Start Your Story Here: An Introduction

Dear Reader,

Welcome to “Start Your Story Here”: a bi-weekly blog for writers and writing enthusiasts of all types.

Why “Start Your Story Here”?

Writers are perpetual beginners. Whether you are writing your first paragraph, or you are Margaret Atwood (hello Ms. Atwood, I’m sorry I haven’t read The Testaments yet), or anywhere else on your journey, you are a beginner. (Read More…)