Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Book Launch

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Literature

AD copy

I will be hosting a book launch for my short novel, Nostalgia.

My good friends, Ken Turner and Glen Hammond, will also be launching their collection of short stories.

If you’re in the area, come on out for coffee and enjoy some live readings and live music!

Ken Turner – Old Habits and Other Stories
Glen Hammond – A Little Piece of Eternity
(Both available on Amazon)

Foul Language

Posted: November 4, 2014 in Education, Literature

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I can’t wrap my head around literature that is banned in schools, but that’s just me. I mean, there is a line somewhere, but if you examine the list of commonly banned novels, the list is quite silly. For instance, The Great GatsbyThe Catcher in the Rye1984Lord of the Flies, and Of Mice and Men constantly find themselves in the top 10. Is it the love story of The Great Gatsby that upsets people? The violence in Lord of the Flies? The unceasing use of the n-word in Of Mice and Men? Surely we can all agree that Fifty Shades of Grey can be left off the curriculum…

When I read Lord of the Flies with my class (grade 10’s) – or have them read – we can make it through the majority of the novel without a hiccup. Unfortunately, Golding uses chapter 11 as a way of giving his reader unnecessary insight into the character of ‘Piggy.’ When Piggy is arguing with boys from a different tribe, he is trying to convince them that it’s better to be civil than uncivil if they want to survive and be rescued from their deserted island. He asks: “Which is better – to be a pack of painted niggers like you are or to be sensible like Ralph is?” (Golding, 199). Yikes. I always read through those lines with ease (always feeling internally uncomfortable), but students will always hesitate reading the word. Golding throws us a curve ball – it took us 11 of 12 chapters to realize that Piggy’s a racist? What I tell my students is that it signals Piggy’s downfall from a once-intelligent being to a marginalized and mentally-weak child. His racism comes through with his frustrations with the rest of the boys. The foul language here serves a purpose – though, arguably unnecessary.

The blatant racism in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men serves an obvious purpose too – it’s simply a commentary on the time period (1930’s). It doesn’t make the language any less uncomfortable, but Steinbeck is presenting a very real depiction of life during this time. I will go ahead and assume that Steinbeck wasn’t willing to hold back on the racism simply to ensure that his novel would be read with high levels of comfort… In fact, Curley’s wife threatens Crooks (only Black character in the novel) that she could have him “strung on a tree so easy…” It’s supposed to make the reader uneasy.

Sheltering these students from these words doesn’t help them, it hinders their understanding. Instead of teaching these students how the language conveys meaning, we simply allow them to miss out on the classic entirely – that’s a shame. Perhaps the worry is that students become desensitized to the language, but I’ll tell you from experience, reading Jim be referred to as “nigger Jim” throughout the majority of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn’t any less uncomfortable in the end than it is in the beginning…take my word for it.

Re-Release of “Nostalgia”

Posted: October 22, 2014 in Literature

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I have re-released a copy of my short novel, Nostalgia.

It is available on Amazon for only $9.99CLICK HERE

The Fall of Icarus

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Literature

New Cover

In 2015, I will be releasing a collection of short stories.
I have always been intrigued by the myth of Icarus – the boy who flew too close to the sun with wings of feathers and wax.

Are we all destined to fall?
We have been given a life and we are in way over our heads.

When now the boy, whose childish thoughts aspire,
To loftier aims, and make him ramble higher,
Grown wild and wanton, more embolden’d flies
Far from his guide, and soars among the skies.
The soft’ning wax, that felt a nearer sun,
Dissolv’d apace, and soon began to run.
The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes,
His feathers gone, no longer air he takes:
Oh! Father, Father, as he strove to cry,
Down to the sea he tumbled from on high,
And found his fate; yet still subsists by fame,
Among those waters that retain his name.

– The story of Icarus (Ovid’s Metamorphoses)

Poetry: The Lost Art

Posted: March 14, 2014 in Humanity, Literature

I was at the staffroom lunch table on my prep trying to type out a poem – some ideas came to mind and I never pass on an opportunity to get some ideas out. Some colleagues soon joined me when I remarked that typing a poem on my computer at a lunch table in a staffroom seemed…odd. It wasn’t in a candle-lit room, with a feather-pen, and paper (one vision) or with a journal, a pencil, and sitting up against a tree out in nature (other vision). Who says I can’t be at a lunch table? That’s just it though, isn’t it? This is where poetry has arrived. Really? Ew. In all honesty, I don’t think poetry has to be written/typed in one room or another…but, poetry has changed.

When I teach poetry to my students, they always ask why it’s not popular anymore. My response: Poetry used to be a form of rebellion – it was a way to voice an opinion regarding social issues like politics or religion, or it was a way to communicate one’s thoughts regarding love, death, and all of those other themes of life. So, why use poetry anymore when we can tweet, update our status’ minute-by-minute, blog, or even create a personal website? Where does poetry fit in the many mediums available to us now?

Poetry is meant to be felt and blah blah blah, but I teach poetry very methodically; not on a scale like Robin Williams pokes fun at in Dead Poet’s Society, just…methodically. I teach students how to locate literary techniques and how locating them can help in understanding the poem. We also examine the poet, the title, and the time period to see if those can lead us to a better understanding of the content. They do, in most cases.

Joshua Block, author of the blog post (Re)Creating Poets, says that one of the ways to engage students with poetry is to encourage students to read poems aloud and respond creatively. I wholeheartedly agree, yet this can be difficult when some students simply want to be told the meaning of the poem and are unwilling to take the time to figure it out on their own.  I do, however, ask them to bring in poetry of their own choosing (self-authored or other), which may also include song lyrics. In some cases, students can explain why they’ve selected the piece, while others cannot get past “I just like it.” Are we becoming lazy (as I’ve suggested in a previous post) or is it that poetry is simply unappealing because we all have a voice?

At the very least, teaching poetry challenges students to think in a different way and connect in a way that only poetry and art can inspire.

Poetry is not turning a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have a personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.  – T.S. Eliot (playwright/publisher/literary critic)

Portrait of a Dead Girl – by Dmitri Lee

There’s lots in the eyes that are looking,
There’s much in the heart of the mind.
But if ever the eyes stop looking,
She’d ne’er be a lover of mine.

A face that is now made of canvas,
And lips that no longer taste wine.
My chances, my chances, my chances,
Are off on the clouds floating by.

A frame that is detached, dull, and dead,
I shake with fright and desire.
With Romeo’s soul I am lead,
And down on this world wreck’d of fire.

She watches until I descend there,
And back in a moment or two.
To fight ‘gainst the demons that dwell there,
Then garnish her darkening hue.

But all love’s lost when love starts to peel,
Through this I’m entirely sure.
I will descend, back on my heels,
Then hung on the wall next to her.

Why Teach Shakespeare?

Posted: February 25, 2014 in Education, Literature

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Most English literature teachers will tell you they like Shakespeare…the honest ones will tell you they love Shakespeare…and the ones trying to be unconventional and hip will tell you he’s overrated. Pfft. I love him…well…his work.

As far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare is to English literature as keys are to a car – one is used to drive the other (pun intended). The first and, perhaps, most obvious reason as to why Shakespeare is taught in schools (still) is because of his themes. His themes consist of: love, lust, hatred, greed, power, trickery/disguise, happiness, death, loyalty, friendship, marriage, justice, murder, suffering, and companionship – all of which are still prevalent in our world today and will continue to be themes present in our world tomorrow and for centuries more. There is the argument, however, that newer and more contemporary playwrights are not only easier to understand, but tackle those same themes in a more contemporary way. True. However, if you’re an avid reader of my posts, you’ll know my feeling on this…contemporary doesn’t equate to better. With that being said, the students at my school do read Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman…so…that’s good.

Reason #2: Like I said, one cannot study English literature (or the English language for that matter) without studying Shakespeare. He was one of the biggest influences on the English language. He experimented with blank verse, created new words and phrases still used today, and is even responsible for helping to standardize the English language.

By the 1590’s, blank verse had caught on with some of the best new writers in London…The words and sounds coming from the stage were new and thrilling to Shakespeare’s audience. England was falling in love with its own language…The grammar books and dictionaries that finally fixed the “rules” of English did not appear until after Shakespeare’s death…Politically, the country also grew in power and pride. (Hamlet. Barron’s Educational Series, 2002. 11-12).

Reason #3: Northrop Frye states in his work, The Educated Imagination, that the best works in English literature have already been created – Frye states this in reference to Shakespeare. In other words, someone may come along and write a play as good as King Lear, but never better. If that’s the case, there’s no sense in wasting time…if we have the best, then study the best.

Ever used these phrases? 1. A sorry sight, 2. Come what may, 3. Good riddance, 4. Send him packing (ladies?), 5. In a pickle, 6. Love is blind, 7. Wear your heart on your sleeve, 8. Seen better days, 9. In stitches, 10. Didn’t sleep a wink. Well, you can thank Shakespeare for those. Hey, ever told a knock knock joke? You can thank him for that too.

Fantasy and the Literary Canon

Posted: February 18, 2014 in Literature

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*an artist rendering of Hermione, Harry, and Ron from Harry Potter*

I have spent much of my life reading fiction novels. I’ve come to realize the importance of the classics or, more specifically, the novels that fall under the category of the “literary canon.” These novels harbour innumerable reasons as to why they are so important to one’s life. Northrop Frye tackles this in his lecture (The Educated Imagination), as he tries to explain what role (if any) literature plays in our religious, social, and political life.

Through my encounters with the classics, I have ignored the fantasy genre (along with many others). Admittedly, I know very little about fantasy except that many recent movies are based off novels of this genre – I don’t think I have to list them. I do know that these fantasy novels don’t make it under the umbrella of the “literary canon.” So, I asked one of my best friends (author of the blog, The Truth About Life and Running) to teach me. My driving question was simple: What is so appealing about the fantasy genre? Not only did I buy his response, I have a new-found appreciation for the genre.

I am going to try and expel his response in as brilliant a manner as he expelled it to me:

Fantasy very much follows a simplistic yet structured plot. He argues that fantasy actually has very little to do with the mystical (dragons, magic, wizards, etc) and more to do with reality than is often credited for. There are common plot lines that seem to make their way into the majority of fantasy epics: 1. The young/naive protagonist – he finds himself taken out of his ordinary world and thrust into a world of adventure against the forces of evil. He references Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings), and Harry Potter. He also references Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), but that was a film…trying to keep this central to literature. 2. The mentor – he comes out of nowhere to help our protagonist and is completely devoted to him. He references Gandalf (Lord of the Rings) and Dumbledore (Harry Potter). The mentors usually die in sacrifice for the betterment of the protagonist. 3. Friends – the protagonist finds friends that help in his venture and stick with the protagonist even after the mentor is gone. In other words, very seldom is the adventure a lone one. 4. The betrayer – this character sets the group back, usually out of jealousy. He references Boromir (Lord of the Rings) and the younger brother seduced by the White Witch (Narnia). 5. The villain – this character rarely manifests themselves in human form. He references Sauron (Lord of the Rings) and Voldemort (Harry Potter).

He goes on to discuss the endings of such novels (usually a battle of some sort), as well as the hero’s return home. Though the references are mostly from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, the idea is that this genre follows a very simplistic yet structured plot. Arguably, one could pick up a fantasy epic and expect the aforementioned characteristics. Frye states, “If you pick up a detective story, you may not know until the last page who done it, but you always know, before you start reading, exactly the kind of thing that’s going to happen.” (Frye, Northrop. The Educated Imagination).