Archive for July, 2008

The shade of blue (pencils)

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

In September, 1989, I was invited to a writers conference up in Grande Prairie. It was the first time I’d been the ‘expert’ at a Blue Pencil Café, where beginning writers bring a sample of their work for critiquing. It keeps you humble…

… I feel so for these people bringing their work for review. With women writers in particular, there is that narrowing and reddening of the eyes that presages tears. You are putting so much of your ego, yourself, on the line.

One lady, a Mennonite woman in a round cap, in her mid-sixties, wrote a lot of greeting-card verse. It had the merit of being reasonably scanned and well-rhymed, but it was platitude after platitude. I pointed out how, in some poems, she might have escaped the general and got down to the particular. And she too, a woman older than my mother, had that verge-of-tears intensity in her eyes as she would say, “Yes, I see what you’re getting at.” In fact, I think she did see – but whether she can translate that into her writing, I don’t know.

Then she showed me a little book of stories that she had written, which had been printed and illustrated by some Mennonite organization. The illustrations were quite charming. She told me that the printer had recently called her to say they’d run out of copies and could they reprint?

Over 10,000 copies of these little books are floating around! I thought wryly that’s she’s probably been read by far more people than will ever read me, the ‘expert.’ So who am I to say that platitudes don’t give people pleasure?

It reminds me of something that Granny used to send us from time to time – a yearly collection of sentimental verses and anecdotes called The Friendship Book of Francis Gay.  The rhymes were gentle generalities and yet people seemed to find them a source of satisfaction and inspiration. Not unlike a contemporary version of the same genre I found in the book store recently. It was a collection of sayings, one for each day of the year – a banal best seller.

If I’m feeling smug, I think that these versifiers have a blind spot for language – that they’re like colour-blind people trying to paint a picture. But maybe I’m the one who is colour-blind, unable to see why a particular shade of blue that seems ordinary to me is so ravishing to others.

Journal entry, October 1, 1989

Masonic Temple Poetry Event – Aug 7, 2-3 p.m.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Alice will join some of Edmonton’s favourite poets as they read original works, as well as those of legendary Freemason poet, Robbie Burns.

It’s part of “Doors Open Alberta” — an celebration of the city’s architectural heritage. The Masonic Temple itself was built in 1911, based on a “Gothic Revival” design by Edmonton architect William Blakey. The building is located on 100th Avenue just west of 103 Street.

Blogs and Moral Dilemmas

Friday, July 25th, 2008

How quickly you run into moral dilemmas.


When I had this bright idea of mining old letters and journals for blog entries, I was going to copy them verbatim. They’d be an absolutely unchanged record of who I was and what I was thinking.


Then I started re-typing that first one, below, about Williams Lake. I felt a little squirmy about the bright young thing I’d been and her arch prose. But what the heck – I kept going until I came to one part that described some of the street people, the ‘troopers’ of Williams Lake, who were mostly Aboriginal.


I couldn’t make myself put it in. It wasn’t meant to be mean. But it was off-hand, insensitive, essentially ignorant. I had never met a Native person in all my years in Toronto. When I thought it was romantic to find myself in ‘cowboys and Indians’ territory, I hadn’t a clue.


So I left that bit out. And since then, I’ve been questioning my motives. Was it to avoid hurting people carelessly with words? Or was it so that you wouldn’t think the worse of me? I’d like to think it was for the first reason, it’s probably more for the second. Maybe it’s just a case of two different interests landing on the same decision.


The other question is – what will I do next time I run into the same kind of dilemma?  I don’t know.

Alice at the Fringe

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

We are taking The Office Tower Tales to the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival!

Office Tower TalesTwo talented actors, Amy Berger and Michele Brown, will join the author to bring the words to life. They’ll perform two different excerpts on alternate days throughout the Fringe, during lunch-length shows at the Strathcona Library.

Details here

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