Back to Horace

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During the pandemic lockdowns, I heard a lot of people bemoan their inability to travel; on vacation, to visit relatives, to shop, or just to get out of their homes and see new places. People felt isolated, some went stir-crazy. We are a not merely a culture easily bored with staying in one place: our entire species has wanderlust. Two millennia ago, the poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus — aka Horace — wrote a letter (Epistle I.XI) to his peripatetic friend, … click below for more!

The Science Fiction of Robert Frost

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Robert Frost was a great American poet, and I’ve enjoyed many of his poems over the decades I’ve been reading poetry. Some are a tad bucolic for my taste, but many also plumb the depths of human emotions so succinctly as to make Frost more universal than simply American. But while he never wrote any science fiction, his words have been used in that genre. Recently I came across a verse in one of Ben Bova’s more recent scifi novels … click below for more!

Ars Poetica

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Horace’s Ars Poetica, or the Art of Poetry, was written as a 476-line poem in a letter to his friend, the Roman senator  Lucius Calpurnius Piso (Lucius) and his two sons, around 19 BCE. It was known for a time as the “Epistle to the Pisos” until 95CE when the critic  Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) called it the Ars Poetica in his a twelve-volume textbook on rhetoric, the Institutio Oratoria. The name stuck. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) was popular during … click below for more!

Kerouac’s Haikus

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Haiku is like a razor blade: small, light, but yet strong and incredibly sharp. Haiku says “Look over there!” and then smacks you from the other side. Haiku is the neutron star of poetry: stunning density combined with astounding brightness. Haiku swims in a sea of metaphor, darting like quick, bright fish among the forest of words. Haiku has a formal definition: “an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively. It … click below for more!

Musings on Poets and Poetry

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For me, reading the American literary critic, Harold Bloom, is often like wading in molasses. Intellectual molasses, to be sure, but slow going nonetheless. His writing is thick with difficult ideas and difficult words. Bloom’s historical reach, his knowledge and his understanding of the tapestry of literature far outstrip mine, so I find myself scuttling to the Net or other books on my shelf for collateral references, for critical commentary, and often to the dictionary. Bloom’s commentaries and essays are … click below for more!

The Sounds of Winter

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To the tune of Sounds of Silence, with apologies to Paul Simon… Hello, winter, my old friend I have a bone to pick, again Because a snowplow softly creeping Passed my house while I was sleeping My driveway’s blocked and I’m shovelling again My back’s in pain I curse these days of winter. Every day we play this game. Digging out then filled again. The snow drifts reach up unto my knees Beneath the heavy snow my pipes do freeze … click below for more!

Baby, It’s Politically Correct Outside…

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I must have travelled to another universe because when I awoke, the world had gone mad. Radio stations were pulling a popular, rather over-played, 74-year-old, playful holiday song because some folks thought it was about rape. Sexual assault. Or at least non-consensual sex. The media was full of Chicken Littles screaming that the cultural sky was falling if radio stations continued to play it. The song was subject of weighty opinions on editorial pages. What is going on in this strange, … click below for more!

Relevant poetry

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I was standing in a bookstore in downtown Toronto a couple of weeks back, and opened The Essential Ginsberg, a collection of poems, songs and other writing by the late Allen Ginsberg, he of Howl fame*. I open the book at random and read the opening Ginsberg’s poem, Capital Air, which starts: I don’t like the government where I live I don’t like dictatorship of the Rich I don’t like bureaucrats telling me what to eat I don’t like Police … click below for more!

Found in translation

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Language translation fascinates me. It’s a mix of language skill, art, interpretation, science and, apparently, divination. Maybe even magic. Going from one language into another is far from a simple step of swapping words in dictionary manner – Flaubert’s le mot juste. Any fool can do that. Hell, even Google can. A single word can be a fulcrum, and the decision to use one word instead of another can utterly change the meaning. I wrote about this in The Municipal … click below for more!

Does poetry make things happen in 2018?

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I was thinking about how little poets seem to matter to modern political administrations. Maybe to modern society as a whole. Their light has, it seems, been waning for several decades as our collective attention shifts. I was thinking about what an odd, awkward fit it would be for a poet to be invited to today’s anti-literacy White House. Would he or she have to start each conversation with the question “Have you read…” dreading the answer would be a … click below for more!

Collingwood’s first post-literate council

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At the Corporate & Community Services standing committee meeting this week, the committee discussed the Art on the Street festival, its operation and management to be taken over by the BIA. That’s probably a good thing because any affinity to culture and cultural events at the council table evaporated early this term. A cup of yogurt has more culture in it than The Block has. The whole ‘cultural economy’ thing and all the benefits that cultural tourism can bring has … click below for more!

Albert and the Lion

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There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool, That’s noted for fresh-air and fun, And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom Went there with young Albert, their son. A grand little lad was their Albert All dressed in his best; quite a swell ‘E’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle The finest that Woolworth’s could sell. So begins the poem, The Lion and Albert, written by Marriott Edgar. I first read it in the book pictured on the right: a book that … click below for more!

Auden, Trump and poetry

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There’s a poem by W. H. Auden (1907-73) going the internet rounds these days with suggestions of Auden’s prescience towards the latest American president and contemporary politics. It’s a powerful piece, but the bad news for conspiracy theorists is that Auden was a poet, not a prophet. A good poet, even a great poet, mind you, but not one to predict much of anything outside the local reaches of the human heart. Yes, yes, I know: it’s unusual, perhaps bordering … click below for more!

The vulgar crowd

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Profanum vulgus. The vulgar crowd. Not, however, as you might suspect, an apt description of the remaining few supporters of The Block that rules Collingwood Council. While perhaps appropriately described, to me that small handful are better described as naïve, gullible and even intellectually vulnerable, moreso than merely vulgar. But that’s not what this post is about. Odi profanum volgus et arceo. The words open the first ode in Horace’s third book (Carminum Liber Tertius): I shun the profane crowd. … click below for more!

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