Calling (Out) Canadian Content: An Introduction

I began this blog in an attempt to answer many of the questions that plague me as a writer: why do I write; what worth does art have; who wants to read poetry anymore? Creating this blog though, posed the same grueling questions. In creating this blog, I’ve no choice but to wrestle with them.

It has been said that poetry makes nothing happen; according to Al Purdy, poetry isn’t even worth some beer. Within Purdy’s poem lies the answer: poetry doesn’t hold weight, as a form of currency or otherwise. It is a piece of marginalia, even within the artistic sphere, often cast aside as “emotional”, “difficult” or my personal favourite: “too deep”.

As a Canadian poet, marginalization is a two-fold noose with which I nightly lie with.  Canada is a behemoth; an enormous country, but with a tiny voice that is drowned out by the ruckus of our Southern neighbours. For example, the depth of my own understanding of the American political system far outweighs that of my own. I choose to attribute this to media exposure instead of my own laziness, because Americanization has been an issue (all too generally speaking) since 1776. American business; American cars, magazines, foodstuffs; American art. You may have heard of Charles Bukowski, but it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of Al Purdy. Vonnegut or Hemingway, but not Thomas King.

I may have a sense of ego as a writer, but I am certainly not the first person to try and answer these questions or to deal with these issues. Canadian Literature is generally obsessed with the construction of Canadian identity. Many attempts, however, “float a canoe down Yonge Street” as it was once described to me. The focus on defining the Canadian creates something akin to the Canadian Olympic Ceremonies: we are defined by our clichés. Canada is the igloo, the beaver, the Mountie: in other words, marginalia. Writers write about what influences them, that much is no secret, but I believe that Canadian writing needs only be Canadian insofar as it is written by a Canadian. Perhaps place names reference Canadian places, or “Canadian” scenarios replace foreign ones, like the Calgary Stampede for Hemingway’s Running of the Bulls, but a poem that deals with the arctic and the sublime should not be considered “Canadian” any more than a poem that doesn’t deal with those topics should be excluded as “Un-Canadian”. Canadian Culture is much more than a collection of comical stereotypes held together with Maple Syrup. There are prominent Canadian literary figures like Atwood and Ondaatje, Mistry and Martel (among many others) that prove this and contribute to an engaging literary discourse just like their American and British counterparts. It is my goal as a Canadian writer to contribute to this discourse in a meaningful way.

Poetry as a medium has lasted longer than any other form of writing, so while I may not have a conclusive answer on poetry’s worth, I don’t think that I necessarily need one. Instead, my goal is to seek a new definition of poetry, or perhaps to revive an older one. I feel that poetry is altogether too passive more often than not. Poetry exists as a harbour for feelings, emotions, and sensations that are personal, beautiful, and “deep”. It is a bomb-shelter, built with walls of interpretation and “that’s your opinion”.

Personally, I think that’s bullshit. Penning non sequiturs doesn’t immediately make it poetry. I can spit in a cup and paint it, that doesn’t make it art. It has to have something to say—a voice, a message, an impetus. If there is no wind, there can be no waves; no rousing speech, no rewarding beer.

I do not wish to discredit the reader. There’s always something to be said for a reader’s interpretation, but the issue with modern society is its aversion to thinking about poetry. Poetry exists in the margins of thought, along with independent film-making and Starbucks coffee. Poetry sits back, waiting for someone to pay enough attention to make an interpretation, but it shouldn’t. Poetry should reach out and slap you in the face—draw in a reader’s attention in some way. Then, and only then, may he/she begin to make interpretations and contribute to the discussion (that much is syllogistic); perhaps some may even engage in poetic discourse themselves.

This blog’s sole purpose is to act as a conduit for a Canadian poetic voice—more specifically my voice — to provide that slap. I will post my own poems as well as criticism on Canadian writing, not unlike this post. Some posts will be about publishing opportunities and my own publishing attempts. My desire is to build, or to find a Canadian writing community. My current identity may limit my ability to accomplish these goals, but that won’t deter me from carrying out the necessary steps. In short, this blog will be about my own trials, tribulations, tirades, and triumphs within the Canadian authorial world.

So, with that, welcome to my blog. I hope that you enjoy reading it, or that you hate it. If nothing else, I hope that it inspires you to think about the issues I raise. Whether you agree or vehemently disagree and feel I have no place writing about these issues, I want to know what you think. That is why I write, creatively and academically: to discuss that which is most important to me — art.

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