Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part one)

How things change, yet somehow, at heart, remain the same.

To make my point, this will be a roundabout story.

John Smyth, L.L.D., Poet Laureat & Engineer, continued

Continued from John Smyth, L.L.D., Poet Laureat & Engineer

The following is John Smyth’s preface to his poems, dated February 1, 1841. There is something wonderfully Toronto about Smyth.

John Smyth, L.L.D., Poet Laureat & Engineer

Noodling away from notes on style leads to a plea for personal style. Noodling in the library… that lair of arcane lore (in the rare book room is The New Found Worlde, or Antarctike, imprinted in London in 1568, “wherein is contained wonderful and strange things,” one of which is the first mention of this country in print: “Canada, before named Baccalos… this country discovered in oure time, first by Sebastian Babat…”); among my favourite pieces, a paragraph from Henry Scadding’s history of Toronto (1873), a description of one John Smyth, probably the city’s first published poet:

More on style (part three)

Continued from More on style (part two).

Morley said that what he wanted to achieve was No Style. He didn't want the reader to be aware of him as a writer writing. Others agreed that Morley certainly had no style; they said that he was bland, grey, toneless, and he was so because his language lacked metaphors, lacked similes. He had refused to turn his prose sentences on the language lathe. Was he, therefore, being perverse when he said that "words should be as transparent as glass, and every time a writer used a brilliant phrase to prove himself witty or clever he merely took the mind of the reader away from the object and directed it to himself; he became simply a performer." Was he flat-out wrong? Is metaphor necessary? Is simile necessary?

More on style (part two)

Continued from More on style (part one).

Morley, my father, put it at its most radical in his memoir, That Summer In Paris. He wrote:

More on style (part one)

More on style:

I had forgotten until I started to read a new, splendid, translation of Don Quixote (by P. A. Motteux) that this, the greatest of novels, begins - before the Master of la Mancha becomes Don Quixote - before he becomes a fake knight on a sway-backed nag - with the Master allowing himself to be suckered in by the worst kind of prose styles: obfuscation and the urge for ornamentation gone awry. As a consequence, his life will be as much fake as the prose he admires is fake.

Quixote quotes from books he has been reading, books marked by two styles:

a) "The reason of your unreasonable usage of my reason, does so enfeeble my reason, that I have reason to expostulate with your beauty."

Nods and winks

I was going to write a short note about style... but then I thought, No - I will keep any discussion of actual texts, actual writers for another time. Instead, I've gone back to my notebooks so that I can pass on something I wrote down several years ago...

There is a style that seeks to appear weighty, learned, refined... and above all, serious. At its worst, you find this style in the learned and scholarly journals. It is easy enough to heap scorn on such a style... all you have to do is quote it. More useful is to locate the thought that the learned pretentious man or woman was reaching for and then to restate it in the plain, pithy way of common speech, common wisdom, speech honed to a kind of folk poetry over the years.

Wragg is in custody (part three)

Continued from Wragg is in custody (part two).

Well, there you have it. I've been to the blog. Keep saying it: blog blog blog and pretty soon you'll feel that you have been blitzed by Wolf Blitzer, poor man, repeating over and over again his self-serving network slogan about the best news team on television, repeating over and over again in every other sentence the same word: now now now now (it is astonishing, the man is so transparently pleased at being pleased with being Wolf at his pleasure; which is, of course, the definition of kitsch as provided by Kundera).

Wragg is in custody (part two)

Continued from Wragg is in custody.

When I go about in my town, I read the architecture, the design and layout of things about me; it is a language, too. If it can be said that we are what we eat, then surely we are what we see day after day, hour after hour. Boosterisms and slogans to the eye, an architectural determination to please by saying nothing but that which pleases (architecture can also play politics), can be wearying, disheartening. When I stand and stare at the back or the south walls of our new opera house, I say to myself: Wragg should be in custody.

Wragg is in custody

Blog. I do not blog. I have never read a blog. When I hear the word blog, when I say it out loud I am reminded of a section in Matthew Arnold's essay, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." He has just quoted a certain Mr. Roebuck (a sloganeer, a kind of booster, a Professor Florida of his day) who has said, speaking of the Anglo-Saxon people, his fellow citizens...

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