Monday, June 26, 2017

The "Canada Bowl"

 The Gardiner Museum, located at 111 Queen's Park in Toronto is Canada's national ceramics museum.

The museum  houses an impressive collection of fine porcelain and ceramics that spans centuries and civilizations - from the Ancient Americas to modern and contemporary ceramics. 

On the first floor of the museum, by the entrance into the European Procelain of Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries Collection, the "Canada Bowl" is on display.

The "Canada Bowl" - front view 

 It is a Meissen porcelain bowl, manufactured around 1724-25, and painted by Johann Gregor Höroldt which depicts some of the earliest scenes of Canada on porcelain - according to the museum's presentation.

It is also one of the museum's most prized artifacts.

As noted in the presentation - the scenes on the "Canada Bowl" are inspired by engravings of Canadian clothing at that time  published by Carel Allard in 1695. 

The "Canada Bowl" - view from the back. 

On the same floor there is an interesting  collection of porcelain exhibits that bring to life other images of past centuries in Canada:

The Gardiner Museum is open on July 1st and the admission is free on this date - yet  another opportunity to celebrate Canada 150!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading - 2017

Telus Center for the Performing Arts, Koerner Hall, Toronto

Koerner Hall in Toronto has been the venue for the Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading in June 2017, as it has been the case in previous years.

            Canadian winner Jordan Abel (center) and International winner Alice Oswald (left)  arriving at the event.

For those interested to learn more about this prize,  here is the link to  -> The Griffin Poetry Prize website which contains a wealth of information.  

It indicates that The Griffin Poetry Prize is the world’s largest prize for a first edition single collection of poetry written in English.

Ushered in with trumpet sounds, heralds of a much aniticipated poetry gathering, the audience streamed in for a quick pause in the hallways, whose glass walls project outward into a verdoyant evening universe.

A glass of wine or champagne in hand, wandering off into the small balcony while quickly reading through this year's Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology - a fitting introduction to the readings. 

I was part of a cohort of spectators that received a free copy of 2017 The Griffin Poetry Prize anthology - and I would like to say 'Thank You" to the organizers for it.
(My copy has grown dog-ears and it will continue to do so.)

The first part of the readings was dedicated to the four international finalists:

Jane Mead
Donald Nicholson - Smith for the translation (from French) of the poetry of Abdellatif Laâbi 
Alice Oswald 
Denise Riley

After the intermission poet Frank Bidart was The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award. 

Then it was the turn of the three Canadian finalists to showcase their poems:

Jordan Abel
Hoa Nguyen
Sandra Riley

It was an animated evening, with a keen audience that  reacted to words and lines in the poems and to the overall dramatic effect of the performance. 

Here are a few lines from Injun, a book of poetry by the Canadian winner, Jordan Abel:

"he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean
he played english across the trails
where girls turned plum wild

garlic and strained words 
through the window of the night. "

- From Injun by Jordan Abel.

And here is a quote from Alice Oswald's book Falling Awake - the winner in the International category:

"This is the day the flies fall awake mid-sentence 
and lie stunned on the window-sill shaking with speeches
only it isn't speech it is trembling sections of puzzlement which 
break off suddenly as if the questioner had been shot 

this is one of those wordy days."

- From Flies by Alice Oswald. 

Somehow, after the reading,  it did not feel right to go straight home. 

Instead, I followed other fellow spectators,  walking east on Bloor St.  going gently into that good night. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jack pines, the poetry of Horace & three lessons learned

Jack pines are a common occurrence in landscapes that come into focus and then fade away. 

And their raggedy, weird solemnity was made famous in the  iconic painting "The Jack Pine" by Canadian painter Tom Thomson

On spring mornings, Jack pine shapes align well with Horace's verses Diffugere nives  (Ode VII, book IV).

Here is the beginning of this poem, a poem which for centuries has run havoc in the classical departments of universities around the globe:

"The snow has fled, grass is coming back to the fields 
and leaves to trees,
the earth is making its change. Rivers are going down
and flowing between the banks."

from Diffugere nevis by Horace  - in the translation of  David West.

Diffugere nevis is a poem of serenity and change.

It's also a poem that can be hugely motivating.

Here are three lessons that we can take away from it:

1. Everything changes either at a moment's  notice or in a more predictive pattern. 
Serenity and reflection help us understand change and deal with it. 
Reading poetry (of any ilk) enhances our ability to meditate. Through its intrinsic rhythm, poetry contributes to balance and creativity.
We are able to pace ourselves, gain inner elegance and lightheartedness.

2.  Everyone has limits
Understanding and accepting our limits frees us up from the pressure of everyday day life.
It makes us resilient. 
Be stubborn in the face of adversity, your detractors and your own limits - they make you stronger.

3. Mental toughness should be with us every second
Mental toughness is about clarity of purpose and the will to push forward. 
Reading poetry helps disconnect us from the extraneous and focus on the essential. 

- And yes, let's fit the jack pines somewhere in between.


Saturday, May 06, 2017

A Morning with Squirrels

A relaxing weekend morning.

Two close acquaintances drop by for coffee and share the following story, which I thought to translate.

The Parrot and the Squirrel - a fable by Mr. Jean de La Fontaine

A young parrot was talking more than a woman
and sometimes he was even more eloquent.
"The renegade," they whispered, "is sure to have a soul,
No doubt he can speak with his eyes."

Although his cackle was much admired
the parrot did not have the gift - so rare -
to be liked.
Everyone hated the parrot of the house.

An agile squirrel,
hopping and tumbling about
- almost a clever monkey -
made himself much loved by all,
including the marmot in the yard.

The parrot said:
"Dear fellow,
How do you go about being liked?"
"I beg you - tell me your secret."

The squirrel, who thought the parrot pathetic,
said wisely:

"My chatty friend,

I'm never feared,
I'm playful

- and always mute."

Credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 23, 2017

On The Bat's Back

My day was supposed to take on a well planned course.

But here it is - thanks to social media & compliments of Twitter - it is now going in a completely different direction. 

It's going "on the bat's back".

Checked Twitter this morning pour prendre l'air, as the French say - or in layman's terms - just to beat a bit around the virtual bushes and found out that #ShakespeareSunday is trending. 

It is Shakespeare's anniversary's today, as it has constantly been over the past 400 years this time of the why all the fuss that suddenly stirs me up?

Nothing material. 
Somewhere in between my organized list of to do's for the day and the focus needed, a truant disposition (Horatio's words in Hamlet) has inserted itself in my brain and viciously flooded it with these lines:

On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
(The Tempest, Act V. Scene I).

My chores and timelines for the day are beginning to fade. 

I am on the bat's back now.

Flying high.

Merrily, merrily. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Three Reasons for Reading Poetry in April

 April is National Poetry Month - so here are three reasons for reading poetry in the days ahead.

1. The Healing Power of Poetry

Poetry, can be argued, is the easiest form of art.

Its compact and tiny form encapsulates a powerful remedy - a basic and elevated emotion distilled from the unexpected encounter with a verse.

Emotions in turn  pry open a door to quick and effective learning. 

But what's to learn from a couple of words huddled together in four rows? 
Primarily, we learn about ourselves through a poetic event.

A poem speaks differently to each one of us because the emotions that build us up  -  or in some instances utterly destroy us - are unique to our own life and experiences. 

And the collected words with which we have just collided, provide us with a glimpse of who we are, of all the pain, joy and quirkiness of our emotional DNA for a fraction of a second, before swinging  the door shut tight again - and this time with a loud thud.

Ah, so frustrating!

Take for instance the following  stanza in one of Charles Baudelaire's poems: 

"Nature is a temple where from living pillars
confusing words emerge
Man ambles through the forests of symbols
Which observe him with familiar looks."

 - from Correspondences  by Charles Baudelaire. 

We are led, deceptively, through words that evoke a walk in a majestic forest into a confusing place, only to discover this may be a forest of symbols. 

It's now every man/or woman for himself/herself as the symbols observe us with knowing eyes. Those knowing eyes stare right into what hurts most.

This is the moment  we travel through the abyss of our understanding from which we have the chance to emerge renewed and in a lighter mood. 

Strong. Serene. 


2. Real vs. The Unreal 

The Unreal - whether we want to call it imagination, creativity, improvisation, fantasy, day-dreaming, inspiration, lack of focus or sheer enjoyment  - lives within us like an incurable disease.
We cannot rid ourselves of it.

The Unreal  is bad form, bad taste and, overall,  an embarrassment to society.
It has a tendency to manifest itself in the least desirable occasions, if left unchecked. 

Here is a romantic poet grappling with The Unreal:

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
    Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes, play on:
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd
   Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone"

- from Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats


Closer to home, The Unreal strikes back in a poem by Margaret Atwood:

"Is it too cold for you?
This is what your requested,
this ice, this crystal

wall this puzzle. You solve it."

- from Circe/Mud Poems by Margaret Atwood.

The best way to escape the clutches of The Unreal is to funnel it constantly through an outlet that enables one to return to a normal and productive life. 

Poetry -  short and sweet - sometimes -  is such a temporary outlet. 

3. Balance 

 The third  argument in favor of reading poetry: balance.

Balance, in its many facets, isn't easy to achieve but is a worthwhile goal.

Here is my rendition of a French poem by the French philosopher and writer Voltaire  (from

It  may help with achieving balance if you are a jilted lover. 

For context: Voltaire was in love with the marchioness du Châtelet  who was a gifted mathematician, physicist and a philosopher herself.

Hard to believe, yet true -  the  ingrate marchioness eventually dumped Voltaire for the mathematician Maupertuis

The following ensues: 

To the Marquise of Châtelet

       by Voltaire

So now a hundred new beautiful things
Will fix your brilliant mind - 
You are giving up the sparks
of my mildly crazed words
for immortal lights,

and the sublime Maupertuis
will wipe out my trifling drafts.

I'm neither upset nor surprised;
A true spirit is in love
With the eternal truths:

But what are these truths?
What is their use and prize?

The touch of a scientist whose
bright and firm intellect
will describe the canopy above
and with a deft hand will
lift the veil of tumultuous skies.

But without the secret hum 
that makes you delirious in love
those  teachings 
will be lessons in futile charm. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Two days in Mexico City

Traveller's palm/Parabola of movement is a poem by Octavio Paz. It's a  short, graphic poem, published in 1968 and some of its lines go like this (all caps):


                                                   WHERE I CAME FROM WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

All good questions that may come to mind, say, on a day when your plane is on approach to a busy airport.

But no, none of Octavio Paz's poems were humming in my ears on the descent to Mexico City.

I was pinned to my chair, pounded into the ground (so to speak) in fascination and mild fear by a vision unlike any other.

Was this a cloud, now becoming visible in the airplane's window? 

Were the sketch-like lines a fantasy of the cumulonimbus formations, or...was it something else, more ominous and more forbidding in its nature?

It was a ginormous and overwhelming volcano that stretched from heaven to earth, in off-white tones, dwarfing everything under the sun.

Popocatepetl - Credit and copyright: Photo By PopoAmeca2.JPG: AlejandroLinaresGarciaderivative work: Ricraider (talk)by ricraider - PopoAmeca2.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Its name came naturally to me, although the enormity of the mountain (standing 17,802 ft) was anything but.

This was my introduction to Mexico City.

As my plane landed, it dawned on me that for the next few days, while in Mexico City, in the proximity of Popocatepetl, I would be yet another humble prey for the Aztec gods. 

Cannon fodder  (avant-la-lettre as it were) to them.

Colourful, cheerful, imaginative - that's how the city whisked by in the car windows:

My short time there was spent in Santa Fe, an area of the city that boasts shiny new buildings, not far from the Avenida de los Poetas (the avenue of poets).

"The crackling of the last embers
in the grass: stubborn insects.
Over the yellow meadows,
the glass footsteps of autumn.

A fortuitous meeting of reflections,
an ephemeral bird
enters the foliage of these letters."

(Octavio Paz - A Draft of Shadows)

My traveller's palm and parabolas of movement may have seized on such reflections while my journey drew to an end.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Archer! Of Arrows in Shadows of Nottigham Castle


Lurking in the shadow of the walls at Nottingham Castle, Robin Hood's statue upholds the legend of the masterful archer and his merry men.

It is a place where legend and history cross paths, and within the strong pull of the castle wall, it's every man (or tourist, maybe)  for him/herself as imaginary arrows whizz by.

Caught between modernity and medieval times, the verses of a poet from another time and space, fit the bill here:

"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight."

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - The Arrow and the Song)

But let's stroll over into the castle, past the gate.

Intra muros - the former ramparts of the medieval bailey have given way to a place of a recollection where an ununiformed archer inhabits a peaceful garden.

The proverbial "straw man",  which I thought was left behind at corporate meetings back home, greets me in the guise of a warrior armed with a bow and arrow.

Now upwards into the mystery of the middle bailey:

 Finally at the top of the castle, I am rewarded with what the French call une vue imprenable,  a stunning view, but as well a view of something that cannot be conquered....the very definition of these castle walls towering over the adjoining grounds.

 As I make my way at the top castle, another surprising encounter, this time, face to face with Lord Byron:

Speaking of is a Byronic rendition of a poking wound:

"But ever and anon of griefs subdued
There comes a token like a scorpion's sting,
Scarce seen, but with fresh  bitterness imbued;
And slight withall may be the things which bring
Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
Aside for ever: it maybe a sound -
A tone of music - summer's eve's or spring -
A flower - the wind - the ocean - which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound;"

(Lord George Gordon Byron - Childe Harold`s Pilgrimage - XXIII)

And it is all downhill from here, past the Ducal Mansion and back out of Nottingham's castle gates and the slightly melancholic tone of music Lord Byron alludes to follows me around...

...or is it yet another arrow cut loose by the enigmatic Robin Hood?

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