Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — April 2007

Ondaatje and Atwood in the news

First off, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero (currently in stock and ready to ship from Northwest Passages, by the way) since the moment I heard it was coming out. I now have a copy of the Canadian edition in my hands (it doesn’t get released in the US for another month) and just need a bit of free time to get started. I can hardly wait!

There’s been lots of press and reviews in the last few weeks about the new book, and I expect we’ll see a lot more in the US in the coming months. As usual, Aritha Van Herk’s review is as much a pleasure to read as the books she discusses:

A lesser writer might strive to unite these characters, but Ondaatje refuses such obvious resolutions, and instead simply presents the lamellate of their lives. The method of this segmented novel is archeological, revealing itself in fragments and between the lines. The multiple strands of the story are never insistent or chronological; any causal tyranny is stifled. Nor is this a tripartite story, but a slow fanning through the shale of memory and connection, the characters encountering other lovers and lives. “With memory, with the reflection of an echo, a gate opens both ways. We can circle time.”

Collage is the novel’s central metaphor. Anna ventures, “Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.”

Such poetic measure is one reason why the reader is content to pace these pages slowly. Ondaatje’s imagistic prowess flavours every line. Yet — and here is his true power — the style is modest rather than flamboyant. Wonderfully, its purity means that the narrative explains little, simply shows the characters living through their moments and within their own skins. Although the attentive reader will delight in every sentence, will revel in the vividly original language and narrative approach, Divisadero refuses the aggrandizement of pyrotechnics. By virtue of that reserve, the novel accomplishes an intimacy that is extraordinary, nakedly beautiful.

There’s a nice audio interview with Michael up at the M&S site here.

If I had more time, money, and childcare, I’d be in Montreal this weekend hearing him read as part of the incredible Blue Metropolis writing festival.


Margaret Atwood has also been in the news a lot of late and some of this attention is due to her upcoming appearance at the Blue Met festival where she will be receiving the festival’s Grand Prix this year.

She’s also been quite outspoken about the lack of support for the arts coming from the current Tory government in Canada, saying that the feds are out to ‘squash the arts.’ I really like that about Ms. Atwood, as she knows that these statements have more of an impact coming from someone of her international stature.

She’s also been talking about Oryx and Crake a bit recently in The Guardian. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s a book that’s seeming all the more prescient every day. There’s a good podcast of her discussion of the book here.

April 27, 2007   No Comments

Media coverage and the Virginia Tech tragedy

Like many people, I was really disappointed to see the mainstream American news last night fill hour after hour of screentime with the image and words of the man who murdered so many earlier this week.

I thought that we all had learned our lesson years ago and would have decided against giving someone all the publicity they craved and more. Yes, we all want to understand the actions of the killer, but how could we lose our focus on the victims in just a day? And how could anyone possibly think that showing those pictures over and over again while they pore over the man’s incoherent ramblings would be of help to anyone except future copycat killers? NBC, to my mind, set a new and remarkably dangerous precedent this week in irresponsible reporting and I’m glad to see some of the victims now refusing to speak to them in response.

I was very glad to see that some media outlets have taken a higher line than NBC, CNN, and others by choosing not to show any of the pictures or footage. If you’re reading this, please take a minute to read this editorial from the Editor-in-chief of CBC News. Definitely read the whole article, but here’s a brief excerpt that I thought says it all:

On its evening newscast, NBC ran several minutes of excerpts, and this video has been rebroadcast by a multitude of other networks. At the CBC, we debated the issue throughout the evening and made the decision that we would not broadcast any video or audio of this bizarre collection. On CBC Television, Radio and, we would report the essence of what the killer was saying, but not do what he so clearly hoped all media would do. To decide otherwise – in our view -would be to risk copycat killings. Speaking personally, I have long admired NBC News and I am sure my admiration of their journalists will endure. But I think their handling of these tapes was a mistake. As I watched them last night, sickened as I’m sure most viewers were, I imagined what kind of impact this broadcast would have on similarly deranged people. In horrific but real ways, this is their 15 seconds of fame. I had this awful and sad feeling that there were parents watching these excerpts on NBC who were unaware they they will lose their children in some future copycat killing triggered by these broadcasts.

April 19, 2007   No Comments

Wow… the day has finally come…. The Tragically Hip are in town!

This might be something that only Canadians can truly understand, but you would not believe how excited I am to see The Tragically Hip on Tuesday night at Higher Ground.

The Hip are a Canadian institution, but for far more than simply making great music. Already inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the band’s lyrics touch on everything from hockey to Canadian history to Canadian literature and their sound captures in some way the essence of the entire country. More than any other Canadian band, they’ve built a huge national following while maintaining a rich, yet down-to-earth connection with the people and the landscape. They are poetry, they are passion, they are the puck in the net as Team Canada scores the winning goal. If that sounds hyperbolic, so be it; it’s hard to talk about them any other way. Explaining the significance of the Hip in Canada to an American audience is almost like trying to explain Don Cherry to them. I’ve tried and failed at the latter, by the way.

For me, the errant Canuck, it just takes a few bars of At the Hundredth Meridian, Fireworks, or Yer Not The Ocean (among many, many others) to make me feel at home no matter where I am. The new album, World Container, is brilliant, by the way, and has only recently been released here in the US.

The fact that we get to see these guys in two days at a small club here, while fans in Canada have just been turning out in droves to see them play in arenas, explains what a treat we’re in for in Burlington. On my way into the office this afternoon, I saw what I’m certain was their bus across the street waiting at the light. Before I knew it I was waving frantically out the window at them! With luck, none of my students were also waiting at the light…. ahem.

More to come on the Hip’s visit to Burlington and my thoughts on their place in Canadian culture.

April 15, 2007   1 Comment

Just another day at the Canada/US border, or bratwurst bandits be warned

From this story on the CBC news:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is getting a pat on the back from Alberta RCMP for helping to nab a pair of Canadians suspected in a pepperoni theft.

Redcliff RCMP officers answered a break-in call at Premium Sausage, a shop in the village of Seven Persons in southern Alberta near Medicine Hat Thursday morning.

The culprits had allegedly smashed down the door and stolen a “large quantity” of beef jerky, sausage and pepperoni.

Police said they found a stolen truck with the meat inside at a campground in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, near the U.S. border. But the suspects had fled on foot

At about 3 p.m., they arrested two teenagers in a wooded area about 50 kilometres from the U.S. border with the help of an American aircraft with an infrared camera.

Ottawa granted permission to let the plane join the hunt, said Const. Bruce McDonald.

RCMP said they also got help from the Medicine Hat police, Cypress County, conservation officers, and concerned citizens to collar the sausage suspects.

Sausage suspects? What about Bratwurst bandits? Pepperoni pilferers? Ham hijackers?

April 14, 2007   No Comments

Professor Gutman goes to Washington

An inspiring article on my colleague Huck Gutman in UVM’s The View today. I miss his enthusiasm around the department these days… Like my Dad, Huck’s too busy having fun to even dream of “retirement.” That’s a great lesson for all of us.

Gutman has altruistic goals for his work in Washington, to be sure — “I love the sense that we might actually change the world” for the better, he says — but more personal forces are also at work. While many of the colleagues he began teaching with are winding down, Gutman is not remotely ready for retirement.

“This is a chance to grow, to move onward with your life,” he says. With any luck, he’ll return to teaching in a year or two “more vibrant, with a renewed sense of how wonderful” being a college professor can be. To make his point, he paraphrases a favorite line from Normal Mailer: “A law of life is that we all have to grow or pay more for staying the same.”

April 11, 2007   No Comments

The end of the line for the 2006-07 Oilers

So who do I cheer for now that the regular season is over?

My second favourite team, Montreal, is out too.

I did live in Calgary for a year…. but, no, still can’t do that.

Ottawa? Hmmmm….

Vancouver?! Uhhhhh…. no.

I think it’s down to the Penguins or the Islanders….

As Roy MacGregor points out today, you might even be able to argue that the Penguins are as close to being “Canada’s team” as anyone else out there.

But no “American” team is quite so star-struck “Canadian,” however, as the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The main roster has 15 Canadian-born players and four legitimate stars: the league’s 19-year-old scoring king, Sidney Crosby, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts and another teenage sensation, Jordan Staal. They also have several young comers, including goaltender Marc-André Fleury of Sorel, Que.

They’re also coached by a Canadian (Michel Therrien) and owned by a Canadian (Mario Lemieux).

They’ve been insolvent, saved from bankruptcy, been on the verge of moving and, currently, with a new rink on the horizon, have fingers and sticks crossed that it all somehow works out.

I mean, what could be more Canadian?

Then again, it’s hard not to cheer for any team that has Ryan Smyth. It would be hard not to argue that Edmonton that trading Smyth was the fatal blow to the Oilers this season. One also can’t ignore the incredible injury problems that gutted the team, especially over the last half of the season.

Caught this tribute to Smyth on YouTube today. This really says it all….

April 10, 2007   No Comments

For my students

Michael Leddy, whose blog Orange Crate Art is well worth reading regularly, also write a great monthly column on writing at His most recent column on “How to Punctuate a Sentence” is something you all should read. Mastering proper punctuation is a must for you at this stage, especially if you’re an English major. If you’re unclear about how to use commas or semicolons, there’s no better time in your life than right now to figure those out once and for all.

I also recommend Leddy’s columns on “How to unstuff a sentence,” Granularity for students, and “Beware of Thesaurus.” The latter is especially helpful. Take, for instance, how he ends the article:

What student-writers need to realize is that it’s not ornate vocabulary or word-substitution that makes good writing. Clarity, concision, and organization are far more important in engaging and persuading a reader to find merit in what you’re saying. If you’re tempted to use the thesaurus the next time you’re working on an essay, consider what is about to happen to this sentence:

If you’re lured to utilize the thesaurus on the subsequent occasion you’re toiling on a treatise, mull over what just transpired to this stretch.

April 10, 2007   No Comments

April 9, 1917

Today’s the 90th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, perhaps the most important battle in Canadian military history.

Lots of media coverage going on about this in Canada, but here are a few links from the CBC site for some great current and past coverage.

April 9, 2007   No Comments

From today’s NY Post

Satan started the play by squishing Paul Martin [in] the right corner

(an auspicious start to my birthday, wouldn’t you say?)

April 9, 2007   1 Comment

More advising times added

If you scroll down to my Advising entry from a few days ago, you’ll see that I’ve just added more advising times for April 9 and 10. If you’d like to make an appointment, please e-mail me and I’ll add you to the list.

April 5, 2007   No Comments