Milton Acorn, “The Fights”

  1. In the first stanza of this poem why does Acorn refer to a “gillettes width” rather than a razor’s width? How do the connotations differ? Which suggests the more personal image?
  2. Explain the phrase “a rude brush-cut to the chin/tucks on brain safe under another.” (Note that the word “rude” here means rough or simple, rather than impolite.) How does this add to the impression of the fighter as a human being?
  3. Throughout the poem Acorn is concerned with the effect of the fights on the mind inside the boxer’s target – the human being inside the trained fighter. How does the contrast between the TV picture and the actual fight contribute to this idea?
  4. In the first stanza Acorn likens the brain of the fighter to a coconut set up as a target in a carnival game. Who has the best chance of winning in a carnival game? The player? The promoter? The coconut? Do the players have a fair chance? How does this parallel his concept of the fights in stanza three?
  5. Acorn pictures the fighter, finally, as a jerky bum/humming with a gentleness less than human.” Is this another way of suggesting that boxing is a brutalizing sport? Would the effect have been the same if Acorn had used the term “brutalizing”?
  6. “We need something of its nature, but not this,” Acorn concludes. What aspect of the fights is he suggesting that we need?

Writing Activity #2

  1. Imagine that a friend who frequently finds himself or herself left out of social activities has asked you to explain why. You want to be helpful. Write a personal letter explaining, as tactfully as possible, what it is that makes your friend an outsider. OR
  2. In a well organized and carefully written essay of about 350 words, discuss the topic “Conformity: Who Needs It?” Your essay should identify three areas in which you (or people in general) are pressured into doing things that are distasteful, boring, harmful, or undesirable or some other reason.

Duncan Campbell Scott, “The Desjardins”

  1. What is foreshadowing? Can you find some examples of foreshadowing in this story?
  2. How do you react to the situation of the Desjardins? What details does Scott include that affect you emotionally?
  3. What does Philippe mean when he says, “It is hard, but there is only one thing to do.” What is the one thing? Why?
  4. This story is written by the same man who wrote “The Forsaken.” What do the two selections suggest to you about the author’s character and interests? Can you see any similarity between the old woman in “The Forsaken” and the brother and sister in “The Desjardins”?

Al Purdy, “Lament for the Dorsets”

  1. Purdy suggests two possible causes for the destruction of the Dorsets. What are they? Was the disappearance for the Dorsets inevitable?
  2. What similarities does Purdy suggest between the Dorsets and modern man? Does modern man have similar interests and reactions? In what ways do the two cultures differ?
  3. Were the Dorsets victims of progress? How would you define progress?
  4. Why do you suppose Purdy chose a swan as a subject for Kudluk’s carving? Does the swan suggest qualities of Kudluk’s mind that would not be suggested by a polar bear or a walrus or a seal? In what sense does one of Kudluk’s thoughts turn to ivory?
  5. What meaning does “After 600 years/the ivory thought/ is still warm” suggest to you? In what sense do the Dorsets still live?
  6. In one well-written paragraph explain why Purdy “laments” the passing of the Dorsets.

Eli Mandel, “Houdini”

  1. Who was Houdini?
  2. The poem suggests a parallel between Houdini and the poet. Why did Houdini continually bind himself? What is it that binds the poet?
  3. Examine the diction (word choice) of the poem. How does Mandel suggest a parallel between the tools used by Houdini and those used by the poet? In what sense are the poet and Houdini motivated by the same compulsion? Can you suggest a double meaning for “like that mannered style, his formal suit”?
  4. The words “escape, escape . . . there’s no way out” spoken by the “manacles, cells, handcuffs” and other chains that bind him, challenged Houdini to struggle to free his body. What is it that the poet struggles to free? In what sense are trunks metaphors?
  5. In what sense are the crowds of spectators “bound”? Why do they sigh? Can you equate the crowds before whom Houdini performs with the public for which the poet writes?

Writing Activity #1

Find several colour pictures of Canadian scenes such as those available on scenic calendars.

Write two descriptive paragraphs, using as a subject one of the scenic pictures or a remembered scene from your own experience.

  • In the first paragraph use a completely objective approach to your description. Your purpose should be to enable the reader to picture the scene. You should avoid using any language that would provide atmosphere to the scene or in any way influence the reader’s attitude to it.
  • In the second paragraph use a subjective approach, choosing language to create associations in the mind of the reader–associations that will make the scene appear attractive, unattractive, gloomy, threatening, peaceful, barren, or however you wish.

Phyllis Webb, “Fantasia on Christian’s Diary”

Be sure to read carefully the introductory information to this poem.

  1. What is a fantasy? Whose fantasy is described in this poem? Christian’s? The poet’s? Both?
  2. The poem suggests the wanderings of Christian’s mind in the period of privation preceding his death. Can you distinguish the realistic aspects of his thoughts from the fantasy?

F. R. Scott, “Trans Canada” and “W. L. M. K.”

  1. “Trans Canada” is a poem of metaphors. Scott begins by likening the sky, during the ascent of the plane, to a waterfall and later to a “pool of space.” Identify and explain the other metaphors that he uses throughout the poem.
  2. “This frontier, too, is ours.” What frontier? How has the plane altered our life style? Our attitude to nature and to the world around us?
  3. Scott was one of the founders of the C.C.F. party – forerunner of the present N.D.P. Do his political views appear in his estimation of King’s contribution to Canada?
  4. In much of his poetry, Scott is a lively and frequently satirical critic of Canadian life, Canadian political figures, Canadian politics. This trend of thought is obvious in “W.L.M.K.” To what extent is it also apparent in “Trans Canada”?

Charles G. D. Roberts, “The Tantramar Revisited” and “The Peafields”

The Tantramar marshes near Sackville, New Brunswick, consist of an area of swampy land protected from the sea by old Acadian dikes. The land is fertile hayland, filled with wildlife.

Both of these poems are descriptions of what the poet sees, but the picture he paints is warmly personal and reflects both the atmosphere of the scene and the poet’s relationship with it. Examine the diction and pay particular attention to the connotations of the words he uses. Consider the figures of speech, the sensory appeal, the slow-moving rhythm. Discuss the way in which these devices combine to create mood and atmosphere for each poem.