Three more poems appearing

I was pleased -very pleased- to learn this evening that three of my poems will be appearing soon at The Black Lion journal. The pieces are entitled “North Providence Deli,” “Scenes from my father’s Rhode Island” and “Ladies Auxiliary.” The poems are each about what you might call my imagining of my own parents’ pasts. When the poems appear, I will post a link here.

 

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The literature of Southeast Michigan & Southwestern Ontario

I would be delighted to put together a Socratic discussion on the fiction, plays and poetry of the Southeast Michigan and Southwestern Ontario region; that belt running from Ann Arbor-Flint-Detroit-Monroe-Port Huron across the Detroit and St. Clair rivers through Windsor, Sarnia, Dresden, Chatham, London and out to Woodstock, Tilsonburg and Brantford.

The region has produced some truly outstanding writers of fiction, poetry and plays including Jeffrey Eugenides, Alice Munro, James Reaney, Joyce Carol Oates, Marge Piercy, Philip Levine, Harriette Arnow, Elmore Leonard, Sara Jeannette Duncan to name only a handful.

 

 

Episode 10 of ‘Talking to Canadians’

I am very pleased to present Episode 10 of ‘Talking to Canadians’ which is my interview with Leslie Pidlubny. This episode is entitled: “I like people.”

Leslie is a person who wears many different hats. She is an employee of the London Public Library; she is involved in animal rescue; she is an entrepreneur; she is also a collector of artwork, a bricoleur and someone who specializes in the rehoming of family heirlooms.

Ryan O’Connor and I opted for the title “I like people” because this statement (which is Leslie’s) captures the enthusiasm, humanity and gusto with which my guest pursues her many personal and professional projects. She is someone who has a passion for life, for the intricacies and textures of our world and, above all, for the stories that people and objects carry with them.

I call Leslie a bricoleur because she has the refined eye of the turn-of-the-century rag picker who could find gems in the most unlikely or overlooked places. She sees the stories and vested emotions that are embedded in people and in the things they part with -both voluntarily and involuntarily. She is also someone who is loathe to see anyone, any animal or any thing as disposable.

It was a vivifying experience to sit down and talk with her. I hope you tune in to our conversation: https://ryanoconnor.ca/talkingtocanadians/2017/8/21/talking-to-canadians-episode-10-i-like-people

Languages of Mastery

Languages of Mastery

In my years in the classroom I have heard many math teachers talk about facing math phobia in their students. It starts early and seems to grow worse as the years pass. By the time students reach high school -and often earlier- they are convinced that they cannot do math. A couple of years ago I was buying produce at the Western Fair Farmer’s Market and the vendor gave me incorrect change. I noted the error and she said: “Sorry, I’m a former liberal arts major.” I was struck by this since making change is a simple form of arithmetic, one of the basic building blocks of early math.

I certainly experienced math phobia when I was in school; I always preferred the liberal arts to the hard sciences even though I have abiding interests in biology, architecture, astronomy, geography and meteorology. But this is my point: math became disconnected from the subjects that interested me and the wonder I felt (and feel) at the world.

The reasons for my misperception that I “couldn’t do math” were twofold. First, math was harder for me than other subjects and I assumed that since it was harder, that was an indication that I possessed an intellectual weakness. (Where did this self-deprecation come from?) Second, I attended a high school where several of my math teachers essentially told me that I couldn’t do it. They were impatient with me when I didn’t catch on to a concept “quickly enough.” Needless to say, I became discouraged and when faced with math I frequently shut down.

I mention math because I think it is a source of fear for many adults. But then again, so is writing. How many adults have I known who have said that they never learned how to write or avoided doing so at all costs? In fact, I know many adults who are petrified by writing, especially because it is something that requires peer review and criticism. My father, who is a scientist, once told me that when he first started writing scientific papers it was a terrible struggle for him because throughout his years of medical school and undergraduate work in pre-Med, he seldom had to do any formal writing. It was stinging for him to receive drafts of his articles sent back to him dripping with red ink.

I often encounter students who are just beginning the process of learning how to write. They are young, energetic and imaginative. And yet, when I ask many of them to apply their imagination to writing they freeze up. When I say: “Write about anything! Let your imagination run wild!” They are frightened and don’t want to do it. I admit, it caught me by surprise that a group so young would already have fears about even creative writing.

Responding to this, I have made it my mission to do with writing what I wish had been done for me with math: to connect the act of writing to the wonder of the world around us. Math and writing are languages; they are the most sophisticated tools we have to explore and express our questions, understanding and insights about the world around us. Math and writing are brilliant discoveries, tremendous technologies of personal expression and cognitive power; they are the
essential ingredients of exploration and experimental application. Why shouldn’t every child come out of their formal schooling with a love, appreciation and even formal mastery of both?

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Lament for the Present

A conversation with a student about the book Lament for a Nation by George Grant led me to pen this piece:

Lament for the Present: How a 52 year old book about Canada can help explain Trump

In 1965 George Grant, a McMaster University philosophy professor, published a short book destined to make him a CBC television personality and a figure of controversy in Canadian academe. That book, Lament for a Nation: the defeat of Canadian nationalism, argued that Canadian nationalism was dead, Canada’s sovereign existence was finished, and that modern life made political conservatism impossible. In a lyrical style marked by flights of outrage and sorrow, Lament proved a surprise bestseller and won Grant admirers and enemies alike.

It is unlikely that you will hear the name George Grant mentioned in a Conservative Party leadership debate or see him praised in print as an intellectual godfather of Canadian conservatism. The reason is simple: Grant was a political heretic: in Lament he argued that to be a true Canadian conservative the time had come to embrace socialism. Grant was able to espouse such apostasy because he was a moral critic of capitalism and believed socialism to be a conservative force capable of restraining private greed in the name of morality and public good. The preservation of communities and the guarding of traditional values required a reigning in of capitalism, so Grant accepted that a powerful State was necessary to impose economic planning and restrictive trade to curb the encroachment of American corporate and consumer capitalism. Just like today, these were not mainstream political positions in 1965, except perhaps within certain corners of the NDP.

In 2017, in this so called “age of Trump,” heterodoxy is all the rage in politics. Voters have demonstrated an appetite for unconventional -even renegade- politicians who do not tow the party line. In Lament for a Nation, Grant’s hero was one such pol: the controversial prairie populist Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a man who hailed from small town Saskatchewan, was reviled by the Press, alienated his own party’s leadership, and who prided himself on possessing a deep bond with the people of small town and rural Canada. He preferred the hustings and campaigning to policy-making and excelled at verbal spats. During his prime ministerial tenure, Diefenbaker remained an isolated figure in Ottawa who neither cultivated friendships nor socialized with diplomats, civil servants or dignitaries. This “Rogue Tory” and “Renegade in Power,” as he was called, even precipitated a diplomatic crisis with Washington when he balked at meeting Canada’s defence obligations under NORAD and NATO by allowing nuclear warheads installed atop Canada’s Bomarc missiles. George Grant admired this apparent willingness to “stand up to Washington,” and embraced Diefenbaker’s quixotic campaign to pull Canada away from American influence by renegotiating a powerful and independent British Commonwealth (not even Britain supported it).

But what is most relevant about Lament for a Nation is not Grant’s admiration for an odd duck prime minister, but his passionate disdain for Canada’s liberal elite. He accuses Canadian liberals in government, business, finance and the press of betraying Canadian sovereignty by pursuing closer financial, diplomatic, and military ties with the United States and by embracing an emerging global diplomatic and financial order led by Washington. Grant not only hated globalism, he believed that liberalism was the philosophy of global governance. If liberals succeeded in building this international order, it was only a matter of time before “the universal and homogeneous state” would take hold and destroy Canada and conservatism.

2017 is a time of existential fear among many voters in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Observers of contemporary politics have been treated to dire warnings about what globalism and global immigration will do to the culture and values of the West. These warnings have been laced with xenophobia, bombast, and racism. But beneath the rhetoric is an older fear of the influence of the cosmopolitan and foreign not limited to a populist fringe. George Grant, scion of one of Canada’s old imperialist families, expressed fear of the foreign better than most when he tied the fate of a morally traditional Canada to an emerging international cosmopolitan order that threatened the ability of smaller states to make laws and govern themselves according to their values. The time has come for Grant’s little book to be taken down from the shelf and read again. Grant’s readers may find that in this time of crisis, he has more insightful and trenchant things to say about globalism and illiberalism than the headline and prime time grabbing antics of politicians. Surprisingly, they may find that Canada has something to teach us all about contemporary American and European politics.

Jeremy Nathan Marks