Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

bcallaghan's blog

Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part four)

Continued from Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part three).

Final blog....

So what is the point?

Well, not long ago a man...an icon, a legend, a very special figure in the world of Canadian writing, died. His name: Robert Weaver. Of course, I looked to see what would be written about him, what would be said, how he would be valued at the moment of passing. As I recall, the Globe, with its serious but I thought modest piece, was a day late.

Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part three)

Continued from Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part two)

Two years later, when I was up for tenure at York University, the professors preparing my file, sent copies of all my political writing in the Telegram... about French Canada, the emergence of Trudeau, the middle east, etc.... to three professors at the University of Toronto, one an historian and two political scientists, for evaluation. They wrote back saying pretty much the same thing; they had had no idea I was writing such fine stuff... one even used the word brilliant... two confessed they couldn't explain why they hadn't known about my work, but one (who wrote regularly in the Star), spoke for all of them, or so it seemed to me. "I have not read and do not," he said, "read the Telegram on principle."

Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part two)

Continued from Everything changes. Nothing changes. (part one)

Now to the point.

One afternoon, the woman responsible for sending out review copies for Random House phoned me to explain that she could not continue to send me any more books. Why, I asked, flabbergasted.

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.

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