Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Al Purdy A-Frame Residency : Call for Applications


The A-frame house at the edge of Roblin Lake was built in 1957 by Al Purdy and his wife Eurithe, who had set aside $1200 dollars from CBC radio plays Al had written in Montreal. They bought a piece of land and a load of used buildings material from a structure being torn down in Belleville, then set to work, building from architect’s plans ordered from a popular magazine. As Al made clear in his autobiography, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, in the first years they endured fierce cold and poverty and worry. “But Roblin Lake in summer, planting seeds and watching things grow; doing a marathon swim across the lake while Eurithe accompanied me in a rowboat; working at the house, making it grow into something that nearly matched the structure already in your mind. Owls came by night, whoo-whooing in a row of cedars above the house; blue herons stalked our shallows; muskrats splashed the shoreline; and I wrote poems.” At 39 Al was a little known poet, still publishing what he later decided was bad poetry. He called a book from that period The Crafte So Long to Lerne. But he and Eurithe hung on, and in the following years, Al’s poetry took a new turn and his reputation began to grow. In 1965 he won the Governor-General’s Award for The Cariboo Horses.
            Many of Al Purdy’s best-known poems were written in Ameliasburgh, a lot of them derived from the history and geography of the village. He lived in the A-frame house—which was gradually improved and expanded—for many years, and he spent at least part of every year at Ameliasburgh until his death in 2000. He and Eurithe were always warm and welcoming to writers who came to visit, and dozens—some would say  hundreds—did. There is surely no house in Canada so strongly connected with an important poet and his literary community.
            The Purdy house is now the site of the A-Frame Residency Program, under which writers are offered a time and place to work in a location that is attractive and of historic significance. Each year between mid-April and mid-November the house will be open for the residency. Writers who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents may apply for a term of two to twelve weeks. The residency will be open to all writers, but preference will be given to poetry and poetry projects. Each year the Selection Committee will also consider proposals for a one to four week project in critical writing about Canadian poetry and will be open to unusual and creative ideas for residencies.
            While the primary aim of the A-Frame is to provide writers with time and space to concentrate on their projects, the residency also gives them the opportunity to interact with the community. As part of the residency plan writers are encouraged to develop a community-based project. Such projects should provide the opportunity for writers to interact with the local community but should not require more than one or two days of the writer’s time over a four-week period. Katherine Leyton’s project was How Pedestrian. Katherine travelled the community with a video camera and asked people to read Purdy poems. She also had friends and other writers visit, and recorded their readings. The recordings were posted to her blog and a final performance was held in Rednersville at Active Arts Studio.
            One possibility would be to invite other writers and artists to visit, develop a performance event that could be staged at the Townhall in Ameliasbugh. Writers are encouraged to be innovative about the community project aspect of the application.
Travel to Ameliasburgh will be paid.[1] Those awarded the residency will be given a stipend of $650 dollars ($500 honorarium and $150 travel) a week[2] while living in the A-frame, and will be free to spend their time on their writing. Residents will be expected to participate in one public event for each four weeks of their stay, or complete a community-based project as noted above—the event could be a reading, lecture, workshop, an event in a local school or some other literary activity—and to consider other reasonable requests. These events will take place in one of the larger communities nearby, Picton, Belleville, Kingston. Residents will be offered a temporary library card for the excellent library at Queen’s University in Kingston, where many of Al Purdy’s papers are held. Those awarded a residency will be asked to donate at least one copy of one of their books to the Residency Library at the A-frame. Writers in residence will also be encouraged to make themselves known at the Purdy Library in Ameliasburgh and to donate a book. They may also wish to discuss with the local liaison the possibility of working with local schools.

Applications should include:
A brief professional curriculum vitae (max. 2 pages)
 A plan for your residency at the A-frame (max. 2 pages)
A letter of reference (if desired by the candidate)
A 10-20 page sample of recent writing. 
Community-based project, if one is being proposed (1 page)
Applications should consider “Why the A-frame?” and “Why now?”

Successful applications will be asked to submit a grant proposal to the Canada Council for the Arts for matched funding for the residency, and travel expenses. A final report is due three to six months after the residency is complete.

Applicants should propose alternate residency dates if possible.

Five hard copies of the application and the accompanying material should be sent to:
Jean Baird
The Al Purdy A-frame Association
4542 West 10th Ave.,
Vancouver BC V6R 2J1

Electronic copies of the same files should be emailed to Please send one email with all documents and a subject line that includes your name and “2018 residency application.”
Any questions can be addressed to
Applications for residencies from July 2018 to end of June 2019 will close on October 20, 2017—mailed materials must be postmarked October 20, 2017 or before. Electronic copies must be received by 4 p.m PT. If you wait until the last day—October 20, 2017—to mail your hard copies please send by courier.

[1] Pending successful CC and OAC funding
[2] Pending successful fundraising

Thursday, September 07, 2017

On Writing #139 : Dennis James Sweeney

On Staring, Obsessing, Getting Stuck
Dennis James Sweeney

For a long time I was nothing if not disciplined, partially due to the fact that people give me a lot of writing manuals. They all said: write, keep writing, and after that continue to write. It's the only way to get good. Or Malcolm Gladwell: 10,000 hours. I heard what they were saying. Grace and inspiration do not substitute for regular sessions of hard, attentive work.

I am still disciplined. I still make the hours to sit down and write. But I used to make words that entire time, type and type and type. I would end up with book manuscripts, piles of short stories I didn't know what to do with. At first, I sent them all out. (I apologize to the editors.) I revised these stories and books, I was serious about them, but they lacked something. I wasn't obsessing. I wasn't driving myself crazy. I was treating the writing like a product, which needs a certain amount of work and is done.

In other words, I didn't care. I cared; I wrote the story, I got inside its characters, I worked on every sentence and every line. But I didn't care so much that I would walk twenty miles barefoot through the snow to bring it to an editor's door. I took the manuals' advice about rejections too. When something got rejected, I shrugged. There was plenty more writing where that came from.

In the last year or so I have begun to understand the importance of waiting with a piece. Of considering it, reconsidering it, obsessing over it, allowing it cycles of staleness and freshness and hopelessness and resurrection. The writing of mine that I am most excited about is the writing that I have simply stared at for a long time, doing little aside from invest it with a kind of psychic energy. Not much changes on the page. A comma, move this section after that. But I feel an intentionality build in the pieces I spend this kind of time with, a solidness that earlier work didn't have.

When these manuscripts are rejected, I have trouble taking it in stride. Emotional investment, as it turns out, causes pain.

The easy thing would be to say that this pain is worth it, given the associated joys. I'm not sure this is the case. I would be a better, happier person if I didn't feel the need to write. But I do, and in responding to that need I have to remind myself over and over that there is something more than typing and revising, a spirit hovering between and around those two processes and buoying them. I've heard other writers say not-writing is a form of writing. Gestation is part of the process. But having written, and staying stuck to what's written, is another form of writing I wish I'd known about earlier on. It's unhealthy, not nearly as Buddhist as I strive to be, but that stuckness often feels like a saving grace. With it, the writing ferments. It begins to become something.

Dennis James Sweeney's hybrid fictions have appeared in The Collagist, Crazyhorse, Five Points, Indiana Review, and Passages North, among others. He is the Small Press Editor of Entropy, the recipient of an MFA from Oregon State University, and a recent Fulbright fellow in Malta. Originally from Cincinnati, he lives in Colorado, where he is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Denver.

Monday, September 04, 2017


for William Pittman Lett (1819-1892)

September 9, 2017 : 12:30pm
James Bartleman Archives and Library Materials Centre
100 Tallwood Drive, at Woodroffe Avenue, Ottawa

Mayor Jim Watson, Councillor Rick Chiarelli, Centrepointe Community Association President Ron Benn, William Pittman Lett III, Ottawa Chief Archivist Paul Henry and Ottawa City Clerk Rick O’Connor

Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke
Ottawa Poet Laureate Andrée Lacelle
Ottawa Poet Laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers
Susan McMaster
Armand Garnet Ruffo

Friday, September 01, 2017

We Who Are About To Die : O Mayeux

O Mayeux ( is an artist and linguist.

Where are you now?
a monastery on Lesbos, island home of Sappho

What are you reading?
last night: The Adults in the Room by Yannis Varoufakis

this morning: Anne Carson's translations of the Sappho fragments ; Julian Talamantez Brolaski's 'Of Mongrelitude' ; poetry-in-progress by my partners-in-crime Tanner Menard ( and Jack Westmore. we send each other fresh poems most days.

What have you discovered lately?
a secret spot to stargaze with just the sounds of grass

Where do you write?

in my mind ; a desk in the sun ; old receipts ; phone ; notebook beside the bed (for dreamt poetry)

What are you working on?
putting the finishing touches to a chapbook of poems in English and Louisiana Creole, an endangered language which is the topic of my doctoral research and also my own heritage language

Have you anything forthcoming?
a couple of poems, including one in 'Strange Horizons'. it's very exciting to be published in a journal you have been reading for a long time. speculative/sci-fi/fantasy poetry is seducing me and more and more every day. i am also thrilled that my first full-length collection--'Artefacts', a computer-generated asemic cycle--will be published this autumn by Michael Jacobson's Post-Asemic Press (

What would you rather be doing?
really couldn't think of anything at all


SEVERAL MOVED COLOR                       

40°38′13.4292" N
74°4′36.84" W

A several moved color, wrestled
to the ground color and taken ri
ghtly tightly at the neck with grip

At this moment cervically an interr
uption: gentle convex-forward arch
jugularly decided violently garroted

As if by law a just complete occlusion
of the carotid arteries, call up skyward,
remembrance of the market at Badagry

Appeal to authority that it might descend
and find a sense when callous shades cut
at each other: urbanized, raw & jealously

Attack attack attack the walls and raise
the bloodied flag, the flag which looks
down starry-eyed from high as a kite

Allow streets to heave with sweaty
misunderstood or bad-mannered
bodies to rut against the Column

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On Writing #138 : Lauren B. Davis

Lauren B. Davis

Recently, a student told me she was too scatterbrained to write her novel without help, and that she needed someone to crack the whip, set deadlines, help her focus, etc.  She said she needed an editor or a partner, or both.

This isn't the first time I've heard that sort of thing from writing students. Maybe such people are better suited to journalism, which thrives on deadlines; or writing assigned articles, where the subject matter and the word count are predetermined.  Not easy to get such work these days, of course. I wish I could wave a magic wand and give emerging writers more discipline and focus, or that I had an address book full of the names of editors just waiting to help unpublished writers write their first books, but I can't, and I don't.

What I can do is share some hard truths about writing:
  1. Only you can write your book.  Although editors and "first readers" can help you polish the finished product, unless you hire a ghost writer, no one is going to write your book for you.
  2. Discipline is required. If you can't crack your own whip over your own head and get your butt in front of a keyboard or blank page and learn your craft, focus and stick to it, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year...  well, see 1) above; no one is going to do it for you.
  3. Writers write.  We do it alone, mostly, although writing groups and/or creative writing programs can help us learn craft and give us, sometimes, useful feedback. Writers may talk about writing, they may read about writing, but that's secondary to their primary activity, which is the actual writing.
  4. Writers read.  I can't tell you how many students I have who say they want to be writers, but don't read.  I despair.
  5. There is no magic spell, or ritual that will make you into a Real Writer.  People always want to know, "What's your schedule?"  "What's your process?"  What they're asking is, "Tell me the secret..."  Okay, here's the secret: there's no secret.  Everyone finds their own way to the page.  There are as many methods and processes as there are writers.  Mine won't work for you.  Yours won't work for me. Meditation?  Tea?  Incense?  Candles?  Drawing a chalk circle around your desk and standing on one leg while reciting T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland? Sure, why not.  Try it.  Try anything, you never know what will work for you.  Ultimately, however, it's probably easier just to sit down and start typing.
  6. If you write for any reason other than that you love the process of writing, you'll be miserable.  Writing, the process of forming meaning from your experience in the world, is the only thing you can be sure of.  Everything else - publishing, reader response, critical response, financial success -- depends on outside forces beyond your control, no matter how relentlessly and masterfully you self-promote.  If being a writer is going to enhance your life, rather than make you psychotic, then your solace, your comfort, your joy, and your satisfaction must come from what happens when you sit in front of the blank page, not from what happens after you hand your manuscript over to an agent/editor/publisher/printer.
  7. Writing is a lonely business.  Even My Best Beloved, a man as supportive, kind and devoted as any in the history of time, has his own life and responsibilities and interests (as he should) and can't be expected to sit around gazing at me in adoration while I chase the muse.  I recommend getting a dog.  Being in relationship with a dog (or some other critter) is like being in relationship with one's own soul.  (But that's another essay, I suspect.)  Anyway, accept the solitude and find a way to deal with it.  Writers are not Nature's socialites.
  8. Writing is an inky fountain of frustration.  Then again, what worth doing isn't?  All great passions take patience, perseverance and a love of process.  There are a thousand false starts and dead ends and revisions upon revisions.  There are commas to be put in, and later that day, commas to be taken out again, as Oscar Wilde so famously said.  It can, and often does, take years to write a decent book.  If you don't like the idea of wrestling with the same angel for a very long (possibly dark) night of the soul, you might be better off doing something else.  But, if the idea of spending years deeply engaged in a single work appeals to you, pick up the pen and begin... and expect to begin again a hundred times before you're done.

"Fail Better" Samuel Beckett watching "Waiting for Godot," portrait by Tom Phillips (National Portrait Gallery, London)
  1. Starting a book doesn't mean you'll finish it.  I've started a dozen books that never made it to a hundred pages, and I've started I-don't-know-how-many short stories that never got finished.  Sure, you need to have enough discipline to stick with a good idea and craft it, shape it and polish it until it's done, but not every idea pans out.  Sometimes it takes a long time before you realize this.  But, since it's the practice of writing, rather than the destination of a best-seller list that's important, who cares? Samuel Beckett said, "Fail again.  Fail better."  Every paragraph I write is another part of the metaphorical forest of my soul which I'm exploring, and on that map, everything counts, even the little unfinished squiggly bits.
  2. Yes, you must understand grammar, and punctuation and spelling.  You can fracture the rules for effect, if your work is thus improved, but first I recommend what the rules are and why they exist.  Proper grammar, punctuation and spelling enables the writer to communicate effectively with the reader.  Butcher syntax accidentally, carelessly, and you are likely to confuse your reader, or make her snort in contempt.  Neither reaction encourages her to continue reading.  Okay, maybe you can make a mistake or two around proper use of "that" vs "which" without making it all a hopeless muddle, but you'd be surprised the damage a misplaced modifier can cause.  For a writer, learning the mechanics of writing is what learning about harmonics, syncopation and dissonance is for a musician.  Sure, you can play with these concepts, but only when you've mastered them can you manipulate them to the create the desired effects.
Still want to write?  Still think it's the path for you?  Good.  Then stop fiddling about on the web and get writing!

Lauren B. Davis is the author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD; THE RADIANT CITY; and THE STUBBORN SEASON, as well as two collections of short stories, AN UNREHEARSED DESIRE and RAT MEDICINE & OTHER UNLIKELY CURATIVES.  Her work has been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Rogers Writers Trust Prize. For more information, please visit her website at: