Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US

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Registration advising for Spring 2011


[If you’re not one of my more than 40 student advisees, please ignore this post]

Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, November 16, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check  UVM’s registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Spring classes.

I’m setting aside enough 15 minute appointments over the next week or so to meet with all of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the spring semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2011, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate.

If you’re a student in my TAP class, you don’t need to sign up for one of these advising times. Please see me during Wednesday’s special advising session.

Keep reading after the break for further details and to choose your appointment time.


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November 9, 2010   Comments Off on Registration advising for Spring 2011

Douglas Coupland’s vision of the near future

Douglas Coupland’s been getting a lot of media coverage for his Massey lecture “Player One: What is To Become of Us?” which he’s currently in the process of delivering across Canada.  The CBC has produced this short trailer for Player One, which is, I would assume, the first trailer ever produced for a Massey lecture. After watching that, check out this interesting (and funny) interview about Player One between Coupland and a journalist from the Ottawa Citizen.

Coupland’s also been getting people talking with two recent pieces published in The Globe and Mail, the first “A Glossary of New Terms for a Messed-Up Future” and, the second, “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years.”  Listen to this interview about the latter piece that Coupland did this week with NPR’s All Things Considered.

As you’ll see from my blog for English 180, my students (and I) have really enjoyed reading and discussing Coupland’s novel The Gum Thief. I’m really looking forward to getting ahold of Player One later this week and to hearing the Massey lectures once they’re available online.

October 18, 2010   Comments Off on Douglas Coupland’s vision of the near future

UVM’s annual Ottawa trip


Students at Parliament HIll

For over a half century, UVM students have been participating in our annual Ottawa field trip. Students from UVM courses on Canada this semester and students from the Canadian Politics class at St. Michael’s College will be headed to Ottawa for three days. During our stay, we’ll attend Question Period, meet with Members of Parliament, tour the House of Commons, visit the Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery, and attend an Ottawa 67s game. Students will also have ample time to explore and experience Ottawa on their own.

Needless to say, this trip is a huge amount of work for me and the three other faculty involved.  It is also, however, our favourite event of the year, by far. Most students tell me years later that this trip was their favourite experience during their entire four years at UVM. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to take my students there each year.

Here is the full itinerary for this year’s trip:

Thursday, October 21:

• Depart from south side of Waterman Building (College Street) at 7:00 AM sharp. Participants will arrive no later than 6:45 in order to assure a prompt departure, because Parliament won’t wait for us (and we won’t wait for you). Students ought to be dressed for Parliament (i.e. “business attire” -jackets and ties for men) because there is no time/place to change once we are on the bus. We will plan on arriving at St. Michael’s at 7:05 to pick up the St. Mike’s group.

• Brief lunch at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa before walking over to Parliament.

• Walk to Parliament for tours and to go up the Peace Tower and view the Memorial Chamber (if time allows).  Tours for Massell students (Group A) are at 12:15.  Tours for Ayres and Martin students (Group B) are at 12:30.

• 2:00-3:00: Attend Question Period

• 3:00-4:30: Meet with MPs in room 209 West Block.

• Group photo outside of Parliament.

• 5:30: Quick group meeting after checking in at the Lord Elgin.

• Dinner on your own.

photo by Jarvis Chen

Friday, October 22:

• Breakfast on your own.

• 9:00-3:30: Tours of the Grand Hall and Canada Hall at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and tour of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada.  Group A will report to Lord Elgin lobby by 8:45 AM and bus will leave for Museum of Civilization at 9:00 (9:30 tour).  Group B will report to Lord Elgin lobby by 9:15 AM and bus will leave for Museum of Civilization at 9:30 (10:00 tour).

• Lunch on your own at Museum of Civilization before heading to National Gallery.  Group A and B leave for National Gallery at 12:30 PM (1:00 tour).

• 3:30: Both buses leave National Gallery for Carleton University.

• 4:00-6:00: Author reading and reception with Richard Harrison

• 6:45: Bus leaves for hockey game, Ottawa 67s vs. the Brampton Battalion at Ottawa Civic Centre.

Hall of the First Nations, Museum of Civilization. Photo by Jarvis Chen

Saturday, October 23:

• Breakfast on your own. Morning free for shopping, sightseeing, touring, etc.

• Check out of Lord Elgin by 12:30 PM.

• 1:00: Buses depart from Lord Elgin. Arrive in Burlington around 5:00 PM.




Crossing the border: A passport, passport card, or enhanced driver’s license is now required to cross the US-Canadian border.  Students will need to present such documentation before boarding the bus.

Dress Code: Dress is “business attire” Thursday, and “neat and clean” Friday. In general, pack for chilly weather.

Money and Food: We will provide refreshments at the Carleton reception and vouchers for concession food at the hockey game.  $75 – 100US should cover other meals. We strongly suggest that students exchange at least some of this at a local Burlington bank (including the Chittenden bank inside the Davis Center) before October 21.   You may want to bring a few snacks.

Ground Rules: Attendance and participation at all scheduled activities is required. “Downtime” is your own. Be very aware that your conduct and actions represent UVM, St. Mike’s, Vermont, and the USA. We expect and require nothing but the most respectful and responsible behavior while you are on the trip.

Students who violate the UVM or St. Mike’s student codes of conduct during the trip will be asked to leave the trip and return home by their own means. We have done this before and will not hesitate to do it again. These incidents have been incredibly rare in the over fifty-year history of this trip. The students from Vermont have a stellar reputation with the Lord Elgin Hotel, the House of Commons, and every other institution we visit. Each year, our students are recognized as being great ambassadors for the United States. You do not want to be the person who breaks our very successful record in Ottawa. If you do, we may just feed you to this giant spider at the National Gallery…



October 3, 2010   Comments Off on UVM’s annual Ottawa trip

Two great hockey writers appearing in Burlington this weekend


The Canadian Studies Program and the Dept. of English are hosting the visit of two award-winning Canadian writers later this week. Stephen Brunt is Canada’s preeminent sports journalist and the author of several bestselling books, including the critically acclaimed Searching for Bobby Orr (2006). Randall Maggs is the author of Night Work: the Sawchuk Poems (2008), one of the most talked-about books of Canadian poetry in recent memory. While I will be the first to tell you that hockey is only a small part of Canada and Canadian literature, these writers are some of the finest to have ever written about the sport. Their visit will be a great treat for our students, whether they are interested in hockey or not. This event will be of special interest to students taking writing courses in poetry and non-fiction or in Canadian Studies.

On Friday, both writers will read from their work, discuss the significance of three of its most important figures (Orr, Gretzky, and Sawchuk), and offer their thoughts on the place of hockey in Canadian and American culture. Their Friday visit will be followed by a reading at the Burlington Book Festival on Saturday at 4 PM. Books by Brunt and Maggs will be available for sale at each event.

When and where:
(EVENT #1) Friday, Sept 24th 4:00 PM, 108 Lafayette Building, U of Vermont
(EVENT #2) Saturday, Sept. 25th 4:00 – 5:00 PM, Burlington Book Festival, Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center (intersection of Lake and College St.)

Open to all members of the public. Maggs and Brunt will be signing books after each event.

Sponsored by the University of Vermont Canadian Studies Program and Department of English, with funding from the Government of Canada and the James and Mary Brigham Buckham Fund.

For more information, contact Dr. Paul Martin, Dept. of English 656.8451

Brunt and Maggs poster small.jpg
Author bios:

Stephen Brunt, a columnist at the Globe and Mail, is Canada’s premier sportswriter and commentator. About his most recent book, Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed, the Montreal Gazette wrote “Long the consensus pick as Canada’s best sportswriter, Brunt has probably earned the right to be called one of our best writers, period.” His previous book, the #1 national bestselling Searching for Bobby Orr, was called “not only one of the best hockey books ever, but a book that transcends hockey” by the Edmonton Journal. Brunt is also the author of Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In; The Way it Looks from Here: Contemporary Canadian Writing on Sports; Mean Business: The Rise and Fall of Shawn O’Sullivan; Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story and Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and in Winterhouse Brook, Newfoundland.

Randall Maggs is the author of two collections, Timely Departures (1994) and Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems (2008) and co-editor of two anthologies pairing Newfoundland and Canadian poems with those of Ireland. Night Work won the Kobzar Literary Award, 2008 Winterset Award, the 2009 E.J. Pratt Poetry Award and was a Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2008. Maggs is artistic director of Newfoundland’s March Hare festival of music and literature and has just retired from teaching literature at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University, Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems is a hockey saga, wrapping the game’s story in the “intense, moody, contradictory” character of Terry Sawchuk, one of its greatest goalies. In compact, conversational poems that build into a narrative long poem, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems follows the tragic trajectory of the life and work of Terry Sawchuk, dark driven genius of a goalie who survived twenty tough seasons in an era of inadequate upper-body equipment and no player representation. The book is illustrated with photographs mirroring the text, depicting key moments in the career of Terry Sawchuk, his exploits and his agony.

September 20, 2010   Comments Off on Two great hockey writers appearing in Burlington this weekend

Ballet, baseball, and the bucket list

I can’t reveal many of the details at the moment, but a recent opportunity nearly saw us moving back to Alberta by the end of the summer. This experience led me to think about all the empty checkboxes on our family’s long list of things we’ve wanted to do and see since we moved to New England in 2003. The long summers of research and extra teaching combined with camps and activities for kids have made it difficult to do much more than a weekend of camping here and there over the last 7 or so years. But what would happen if we did have to leave soon? How many things would we regret never having done while we were here?

These thoughts were clearly in my mind on Thursday when I was reminded that my daughter had signed up for a field trip with her ballet school. She had a single ticket to go see the New York City Ballet in Saratoga Springs this weekend. We’d literally just walked in the door from three days of camping when I got the call from her ballet teacher wondering if E. still planned to attend the performance. In typical Paul Martin fashion, I saw this as a sign. I came up with an impractical, if not outlandish plan that would see my kids and I heading to Saratoga Springs, attending the performance together, staying overnight, and then driving an additional 90 minutes or so to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, my wife had to work today, so she stayed behind. I wish it weren’t a solo trip, but we both agreed that this was a great chance to do these things for the kids. So, I write to you now from an airport hotel in Albany, which was the cheapest and best place I could find on such short notice. The kids are long passed out and I’m stepping away from a late night work session to write this post which has been dying to get out of me all day. Tomorrow, we’re on to the Hall of Fame, but that’s less in my mind still than what I saw this afternoon.

I can honestly say that the part of the trip that comes closest to filling one of my own lifelong dreams was to see the NYC Ballet for the first time. Today was the final day of their annual residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and it was great to have the chance to join my daughter there, but also to bring my eight year-old son, who loved the performance nearly as much as my daughter and me.  Although I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the crowd at the otherwise lovely Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the performance exceeded my own high expectations. The company’s program today was mainly focused on some of the many Ballanchine works in their repertory, including the quite lovely Walpurgisnacht Ballet. The piece that was really stunning, however, that jolted the audience to their feet as soon as it was over, was Christopher Wheeldon‘s piece “After the Rain.” Set to some amazing music by Arvo Pärt, the piece featured a powerful and touching pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and her partner that brought the somewhat restless crowd to a complete standstill. The beauty and emotion of that pas de deux was unforgettable and left many people around me wiping tears from their eyes when it was over. It’s all too rare, sadly, that we can experience the power of art in as visceral a way as this.

I’m not sure why I’m writing about my experiences today in such detail. This seems more like a diary entry than anything else I’ve written before on this blog. Perhaps it’s because the last few weeks have taught me a lot about the importance of seizing the moment and of trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as one can. This nearly resulted in a huge life change a couple of weeks ago in Alberta. Rather than being as disappointed as I probably should be that I didn’t get the job, though, I can’t help but feeling empowered and recharged by experience of taking such a bold step and having it nearly work out for me.

My experience in Alberta taught me a lot about academia, too. Academia allows us to develop many great and interesting skills and then sets many restrictive parameters around what we are supposed to see as meaningful applications of that knowledge. It works to persuade us that our audience is and always should be the small number of fellow specialists in our field. If we attempt to reach wider audiences our work is met with suspicion that we are somehow less serious about our field than those who play by these rules. Academia has something utterly at stake in persuading us that it is the only place where we can truly apply all that we’ve learned. Having seen that my work and skills have value outside of academia, I no longer buy this. I’m increasingly persuaded that our education system is outmoded, completely out of touch, and thoroughly ineffective compared to what it could be if we started to pay more attention to these questions.

I guess I can now cross saying that out loud right off my list. There’s lots more to say, of course, but that will have to wait for a while.

July 18, 2010   No Comments

Registration for fall 2010

Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, April 6 at 7:00 AM, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check the UVM Registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Spring classes.

I’m setting aside enough 15 minute appointments over the next several days or so to meet with all 40 of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the fall semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2011, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate. At the very least, you should carefully review your CATS report to see if you’re on track to graduate.

Keep reading after the break for further details and to choose your appointment time.

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March 30, 2010   No Comments



A friend of mine (@readywriting) posted a link to this picture on Twitter the other day. It’s a picture of President Obama reviewing a speech on healthcare that he would deliver to a joint session of Congress. Since seeing this photo, I’ve returned to it many times. I’ve shown it to my classes and e-mailed it to fellow professors. Today, I feel like e-mailing it to the writer of each and every student essay I read from the huge pile I have in front of me.

The speech before the edits isn’t bad at all, I told my students. The version President Obama had in front of him, I would assume, had already been through many drafts. Look, though, at how the editing the President has done has made it even stronger. Yes, the President was planning on reading these words to the entire country and people will go back and reread this speech later. What’s most striking to me, though, is that President Obama didn’t stop until it was the best it could be. It’s unlikely that anyone would have been unsatisfied with the earlier speech – except him.

To my students I say this: I realize that you’re writing an essay for me that you may intend to forget about shortly after writing it. It is not going to change the world, and it will not be read by millions of other people. But that’s not the point; that’s not the only reason Obama edited his speech so carefully. Imagine how much better your essays could be if you took the time to try to express your ideas more clearly, more succinctly, more persuasively. I might not even perceive the difference you made from one edit to the next, but you will.

I’ve read some excellent essays in this current bunch, but there’s not one that couldn’t have benefited from careful editing. Perhaps, in the future, instead of giving handouts or talking about editing, I’ll just refer them to this photo. It really does say it all.

March 29, 2010   No Comments

This is what my students will be learning to sing next fall

February 24, 2010   1 Comment

Hockey in Canadian literature

Here’s the description for the new online course I’ve just proposed on hockey in Canadian literature. I hope to offer this in August through UVM’s Continuing Education Program. There are, of course, lots of books I could talk about in this course. It could easily be a year-long class! If I get the go-ahead to offer this course, I’ll post more details here.

“Hero of the Play”: Hockey in Canadian Literature

While hockey is undoubtedly a quintessential part of Canadian identity, it is mostly absent from Canadian fiction and poetry until the publication of Roch Carrier’s celebrated short story “The Hockey Sweater” in 1978. Over the last thirty years, however, hockey has proven to become a rich source of inspiration for some of Canada’s best writers of fiction and poetry.

In this intensive two-credit online course we will read and discuss some of the most important fiction and poetry about hockey to emerge during this period. We will also spend time considering the extensive connections between hockey and Canada’s national identity, which is reflected in everything from the ubiquitous outdoor rinks in nearly every neighborhood across the country to the presence of a passage from “The Hockey Sweater” on the back of Canada’s five-dollar bill. While this is certainly a course for fans of the game, it is also designed to be a course for those fascinated by the intersections between literature and culture. Some knowledge of hockey and Canada will be helpful but is not essential in any way to one’s enjoyment of this course.

Reading list will include: Hero of the Play, by Richard Harrison; “The Hockey Sweater,” by Roch Carrier; Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, by Randall Maggs; King Leary, by Paul Quarrington; and Twenty Miles, by Cara Hedley.

February 2, 2010   2 Comments

The Charter for Compassion

This is a great new movement aiming to spread compassion around the world. We all could use more of that, couldn’t we?

On February 28, 2008 Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people have contributed to the process so that on November 12, 2009 the Charter was unveiled to the world.

November 18, 2009   No Comments