On The Handmade (Part 1): Qs and a response by Phil Hall

It’s been said that the hand-written letter is becoming lost to us, or that for many of us, it has already disappeared. I’ve heard too that longhand itself is no longer being taught in our schools. The physical nature of our hands is quickly adapting for work within the new digital realm. Small wonder that the word ‘digit’ experienced sematic drift; its emphasis of meaning shifted from ‘finger’ to the infinite zeros and ones of programming code. Our fingers came first; then we counted them. (Ah, but now, I’ve got your digits in my I-phone.)

Resurrecting Past Seasons

A note written for a Pedlar Press panel held last fall in St. John’s, NFLD, and in tardy response to a query from Robert Kroetsch:

I have a crush on Robert Kroetsch. I’ve had this crush for a very long time, and still do, and I’m disappointed with myself that I couldn’t properly answer the one question he asked me six years ago, in a dark country bar full of writers, in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. He asked if I wrote ‘political poetry’—in part, because I live in Ottawa and have a proximity to a wellspring of material, the politicos themselves, and that it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t bring socio-political issues to my work. I answered him by saying that I thought all poetry is political, that writing itself is an activist act. I’d heard that somewhere. (Hadn’t I?)

Hello, my name is Diane! (Part 2)

Some say that exposure helps dissipate the stress for people with performance anxiety—that old adage which claims the more you do the one thing that provokes fear in you, the easier it gets to manage it. It’s battleground language, emphasising success or failure in the individual. Are you strong enough? Confront and conquer your demon and your demon goes away. For some of us, for me, this idea isn’t true. I wish it were true. For years, in different ways, I’ve had several public engagements—exposures—and have found no relief. Sorry to say. But we anxious types do learn to develop crutches where and as we can, the classic healthy and unhealthy ones.

Hello, my name is Diane!

Well, no. It’s not. But this is what happens when I get nervous—the wrong words leave my mouth. I blurt statements I don’t believe. I say things that are incredibly, obviously erroneous and false. Many times, even within the most simple of friendly conversations, I’m unable to say anything at all. But I did say that though—“Hello, my name is Diane”—to a warm and approachable Diane, the real Diane, a writer from Alberta who had just introduced herself, fittingly and correctly, to me. This was in 2008 at the Banff Centre. A group of writers were meeting, eight of us to each round table, for our first dinner and stress-free conversation. I walked in, sat down beside Diane, and, cringingly, that’s how our conversation began. Good god, I thought. I’m an idiot.

Few permanent wounds

By far the great majority of the people who go through even the severest depression survive it, and live ever afterward at least as happily as their unaffilicted counterparts. Save for the awfulness of certain memories it leaves, acute depression inflicts few permanent wounds. There is a Sisyphean torment in the fact that a great number—as many as half—of those who are devastated once will be struck again; depression has the habit of recurrence. But most victims live through even these relapses, often coping better because they have become psychologically tuned by past experience to deal with the ogre.

Invisible damage

  I’m an addict. There’s no way to know what I will do. Most of the time I don’t know what to expect from myself. I have lots of evidence that proves this.
  While drinking, in the morning, on waking up, remorse already eating away at me like rot, I would beg. I would beg and plead for a good day. I would promise my god, your god, the gods of worlds, and all the godless world that I would not drink.
  I would be drunk by the end of the day.
  This is why I don’t know the end.
  Do I stay sober?
  Oh, how would I know? I’m still here. But how can I be sure of anything else?

  —Jowita Bydlowska, Drunk Mom

Still illegitimate

In this first-person novel I’m working on now, I told myself I wouldn’t write about clothes, I wouldn’t write about vanity, I wouldn’t write about depression, and I wouldn’t write about feminism, because these are all the things that I kind of got taken to task for in Heroines. And I find in my next book, which is called Switzerland, I’m doing all this more intensely, but in framing it as a novel, I’m allowed to play more with the unreliable or heightened narrator, that was already present in Heroines. It was Cocteau who said: “Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like—then cultivate it.


  I have entered middle age.
  I am overweight, and I live with a little dog and two cats. I have been alone for more than seven years.
  I keep a journal, as Jenny Craig suggests, about what I eat and how I feel about the things I eat: it is emotionally exhausting.
  The entries include the following sad arcana:
  —The delicious white border of a bad steak, what the sea leaves when it drags its waves back.
  —Fat, as yellow as custard, but sweeter than that. I touch and caramelize my glowing flesh.
  —The livid red marks that jag like lightning below my stomach are a fire I cannot extinguish.
  I have let myself go….

Craving a talent not my own

Those who work in London are all either going down with flu, recovering from flu or in the grip of flu—even though most of the people going down with flu, recovering from flu or in the grip of flu don’t have flu at all. What they’re actually suffering from is verbal inflation because no one says they have a cold any more, it’s always flu. If people have a cold they say they have flu; if they say they have a cold it means there’s nothing wrong with them. Flu and cold are becoming interchangeable. We say flu when we mean cold but we say flu when we mean flu because no one wants to say they have pneumonia when all they’ve got is flu because if you say you have pneumonia people might think you have AIDS.

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Tim Prior

This spring, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer's Craft class conducted interviews with Canadian poets as part of a class project. The interviews will be posted on The Great Canadian Writer's Craft page on Open Book throughout June and July. In this interview, poet Tim Prior speaks with student Fox Mitchell.

Hey Mr. Prior,

Nice meeting you, in a way. I’m very glad that I could interview you. I think your poetry is great. It provokes a lot of deep, sharp imagery when I read it. So, I’m Fox Mitchell. A high school student. That’s really it. So far. Here we go.

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