Writing Activity #4

  1. Identify some person whom you admire because he or she has taken a firm stand on some issue and supported it in the face of strong opposition. You could choose as a subject someone you know personally, or a public figure. Write an essay characterizing this person and explain what it is you admire in him or her. OR
  2. Write an impassioned defense of some idea that you have proposed without success, but that you still feel is valid. The cause you support should be one that is generally unpopular. You may, if you like, treat this essay humorously, inventing a cause that is obviously indefensible and defending it with mock seriousness.

D. G. Jones, “Pastoral”

  1. So far in this unit we have looked at Jabez Harry Bowering, who strode through life planting his feet firmly on whatever obstacles he encountered, and Leonard Cohen, who asserts the validity of his own personal view of life. In both instances it is an individual human being who stands firm. What is the firm element in this poem by Jones?
  2. The elements in this poem are all a part of nature–the creek, the plants, water, rock, metals, the sky–until the jet is introduced at the end. Why is the jet appropriate as the only man-made object?

Leonard Cohen, “God is Alive”

  1. A number of ideas move through this poem, changing shape and repeating themselves and blending one into the other. What effect is produced (a) by the repetitions (b) by the frequent reversal of word order?
  2. The sentences in the poem are all short and the rhythm is abrupt and jerky, suggesting a collection of isolated thoughts rather than a logical development of a central theme. What does this device contribute to Cohen’s purpose?
  3. Notice the contrasting elements that appear and reappear in the poem: life and death; strength and weakness; sickness and healing. Is there any contrasting idea for God? For Magic?
  4. Identify as many of the biblical references as you can. What evidence of Cohen’s Jewish heritage can you find?
  5. The final sentence of the poem is noticeably longer than the other sentences. The poem begins and ends with the word “God.” Can you explain the purpose of these two devices?
  6. What does Cohen mean when he says that “mind itself is Magic coursing through the flesh, and flesh itself is Magic dancing on a clock, and time itself the Magic Length of God.” What does he mean by Magic? Why does he capitalize it?
  7. After reading the two poems by Cohen that are included in this unit, would you say that he is an individualist or a conformist? Traditional or innovative? Strong or weak?

Leonard Cohen, “I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries”

  1. In this poem Cohen lists a variety of things he has not done. What do these things have in common?
  2. Why do you think Cohen says that he has not done these particular things? What do people expect of a poet? Of a philosopher? Of a religious man? Cohen is a poet. Is he a philosopher? Religious?
  3. Notice that the final four lines of the poem are entirely positive in their outlook, contrasting sharply with the negative construction of the rest of the poem. How does Cohen feel about the things he does, in contrast to the things he does not do? Does he feel guilty? Apologetic? Smug? Satisfied?
  4. Suggest a theme for the poem.

George Bowering, “Grandfather”

  1. Notice that the poem is written without punctuation. What effect does this have on the movement of the poem? How is this appropriate to the life and character of Jabez Harry Bowering?
  2. Throughout the poem Bowering uses the ampersand (&) instead of writing out the word “and” in full. Can you suggest a reason for this?
  3. Bowering’s diction is important in creating atmosphere in this poem. What is the effect of such words as “strode,” “hacking,” “squared,” “snarled,” “blast,” struck,” “prodding”?
  4. Explain the image “six years on the road to Damascus till his eyes were blinded/with the blast of Christ.”
  5. Where and with whom did Bowering’s grandfather live for the four years between leaving home and sailing for Canada?
  6. What is ironic about the fact that the old man died in a Catholic hospital?
  7. Bearing in mind that he had just been “blinded by the blast of Christ” (become a “reborn” Christian), what do you think Jabez Bowering’s relations were with the sporting crowd and the “heathen Saturday nights’ of Brandon? (The Brandon Wheat Kings were a hockey team).
  8. Examine the tempo of the poem. The tempo is one of vigorous action, filled with explosive sounds – alliterated ps and bs and chs, suggesting belligerent attack. It builds to a climax with the rapid passage across the western provinces until “lord god almighty,” the second line of the vigorous hymn that has become the old man’s theme, suddenly doubles as the subject of the fatal word “struck.” From here to the end of the poem inactivity replaces activity; the alliterated ps and bs become obstacles rather than attacks, and only the remnants of the former vigour remain in the irascible proddings of the grandchildren. In the final line the firm ps and bs are replaced by elusive h and sh and wh sounds of “hospital sheets white as his hair” – airy insubstantial sounds suggesting the loosening of the old man’s grasp on life.
  9. What do you think Jabez Bowering’s relationship was with his wives, his children, and his grandchildren? Do you think George Bowering’s attitude to his grandfather has changed since the time in childhood when he was prodded by the old man’s crutches?

Michael Ondaatje, “Letters & Other Worlds”

  1. The title of this poem establishes its theme: the essential separation between the two worlds that the narrator’s father lived in – the world of his writings and the world of his unhappy daily life. (The word “letters” here is probably used to mean written materials.) What kind of world was the world of his writings?
  2. Ondaatje says that the father “hid that he had been where we were going.” What do you think he means by this? What was the relationship between father and son?
  3. “His early life was a terrifying comedy.” To whom was it terrifying? Himself? His wife? His family? To whom was it a comedy?
  4. What characteristic is suggested by the metaphor “He would rush into tunnels magnetized/by the white eye of trains”?
  5. What was the father’s occupation? Ondaatje suggests two incidents that were instrumental in bringing about Home Rule in Ceylon. How serious is he?
  6. What is the narrator’s attitude to his father. Does he condemn him? Is he sympathetic? Analytical?
  7. Can you explain what it was in the character and mentality of the father that led to his tragic life and death?

Irving Layton, “Shakespeare”

  1. In what way is the concept of Shakespeare like the idea of “God” or “Death” or “the start of the world”?
  2. The poem is divided into four stanzas. Can you briefly summarize the idea that is expressed in each stanza?
  3. How many of the quotations from Shakespeare can you identify?
  4. Layton sees Shakespeare as the poet’s “unclimbable mountain.” Can you suggest individuals who might be “unclimbable mountains” in other lines of endeavor? Are there any in your life?
  5. Do such unclimbable mountains tend to discourage or inspire people? Discuss.
  6. What is the tone of the poem? Is Layton angry? Amused? Discouraged? Envious? What reaction does he expect from the reader? Amusement? Sympathy?

Robert Kroetsch, “Poem of Albert Johnson”

  1. From whose point of view is this poem written? What is it about the fugitive that the hunters cannot forgive?
  2. The specific events of the manhunt are suggested in a very compressed form. How many of the events can you list? Compare you list with the events as they appear from reading of “The Naming of Albert Johnson” on page 504
  3. Kroetsch relies on diction and unexpected juxtaposition of words for much of his effect. What is suggested by “blood reason”? “red authority”? “baited their pride”?
  4. Examine the phrase “the brave running/by which he will become poet of survival/to our suburban pain/” What combinations of ideas are suggested? The word “survival” is obviously appropriate to Johnson’s flight. In what sense might he be a poet? Might his skill in eluding his pursuers be considered artistic?
  5. What is suggested by the words “suburban pain”? Is Kroetsch suggesting that the hunters, dependent on the city for survival, are out of place and less at home in the north than Johnson is? Is he suggesting that the general public, safe in their suburban homes, find the circumstances of the hunt painful? What were the odds against Johnson? What is the natural human reaction to the underdog? What was there in Johnson’s performance to inspire admiration?
  6. How is the incident in parenthesis at the end of the poem used to influence our attitude to the posse?
  7. In what way might Johnson be considered “the poet of our survival”? Is Kroetsch perhaps suggesting that the life of every individual is a fight for survival?

Margaret Avison, “In a Season of Unemployment”

  1. What contrasts does Avison suggest between nature and the structures placed upon it by the circumstances of life in a city?
  2. The title of the poem suggests that the man on the park bench is unemployed. How has “progress” contributed to his unemployment? Would he have something to do if he lived in a more primitive society?
  3. The astronaut in the newspaper story is separated from the world, disoriented, confined within a man-made structure, bound by his relation with the scientific world. How does this parallel the situation of the unemployed man?
  4. What is suggested by the quotation marks around the final word “smiling”?
  5. What do you think the theme of the poem is? Does it have something to do with what we call “progress,” and its effect on the freedom of the individual and the quality of human life?