Apr 192013

Back from epic, marathon reading and interview trip to Ontario. Arrived in an ice storm. Gorgeous reading events hosted by Ian Bell (his father was my Grade 11 history teacher) and John B. Lee (multiple publications on NC). NC Contributing Editor Sydney Lea was there and I managed to get a photo of him looking like God at the reading in Highgate. Also my very first book publisher, Marty Gervais. The mix of music (Ian Bell and the amazing Michael Schatte) and literary reading was surprisingly entertaining. People paid money to come. Doing two events back to back with a long car ride in between (with stops to visit memorials for famous forgotten Canadian poets and to cast an eye on John B. Lee’s ancestral farm) made me feel like I was on tour with a troupe of actors.

Sunday, I had brunch with the Jernigans, Kim who used to edit The New Quarterly, and Amanda, the poet, and her husband, the photographer John Haney (both Amanda and John have appeared on NC). This was all the more remarkable since they had not had electricity since Thursday (the ice storm). Then I drove to Waterloo to see Jonah and also Dwight and Kathy Storring (Dwight published a play on NC; their son Nathan has an essay here).

Do you get the impression that there are secret NC cells planted all over (you know, mostly so I can travel without paying for food)?

The photo below was taken by Zach Melnick during the War of 1812 documentary interview he did with me on Thursday in the farmhouse living room.



DG being interviewed at the farm, photo by Zach Melnick


Sydney Lea reading in Highgate, Saturday evening

Michael Schatte compilation, on tour with us he performed solo


Possum I found in a den by the pond at the back of the farm


You can hear the dog whimpering next to me. Notice the feet. I once raised a young opossum, called Snuffy, at first I kept him in a fleece-lined leather glove (approximating a mother’s pouch, I thought). My friend Bruce Hiscock did a drawing which hangs in the house. When he seemed big enough, we let Snuffy go in the woods. My great-grandfather was an amateur poet who called himself “Possum” and kept a stuffed opossum in his store. I published an essay about him in The New Quarterly a couple of years ago. More information than you need, right?



First flowers, Coltsfoot


My father once planted a small field with Scotch pine to sell as Christmas trees. As he once observed, they kind of got away from him.


Daffodils in the woods. There are patches all through the woods, planted by DG’s mother.


The farm buildings from the east.





Dog investigating possum den




Geese by the pond


Laneway. To the right, a spruce windbreak. To the left, a field of oak and white pine planted over 15 years ago for eventual harvest.

Mar 132013


Ground still frozen, huge trucks ferrying in loads of fertilizer. The tractor is just there for colour and to make nice circles in the snow. Old farming joke: Contrary to popular belief, plants don’t get nutrients from the soil. The soil is just to hold the plant down and then you pour fertilizer on it. These fields will be planted with canteloupes.




The next day it thaws. A pile of irrigation pipes sinking into a field of melt water.


The swamp at the back of the farm is the headwaters of a creek that eventually flows into Lake Erie, twenty miles away. This is precisely where the creek begins.


Cedar trees in a copse dg’s father used to call Hernando’s Hideaway (his reasons remain obscure but mysteriously romantic).




Wild turkey tracks, not to be confused with chickens (see below).


Chickens. Reminded DG of Culebra.


Sick chicken sleeping by the dishwasher in the farm kitchen. (The chicken’s name is Annette.) The chicken has moved into the house. It is like the pioneer days when people and farm animals lived together.

Chickens haunt dg’s dreams.


Mar 012013


DG working on his new book at Brava Beach, Culebra. Beach attire includes $6 bathing suit purchased at Zeller’s in Simcoe, Ontario, circa 2003. Note snorkel gear, coconuts, palm frond lean-to. On this trip, dg was introduced to three major life-changing innovations: mojitos, snorkeling & mojitos.


Brava Beach


Brava Beach


Resaca Beach


Susie’s Restaurant with outside bar at far left. Next to the bar is the driveway to a gas station behind the restaurant. Then the canal. The driveway is usually crowded with cars till 6pm. At 6pm the gas station closes and the bar opens.


Feral cat, one of many that hang out in front of Susie’s Restaurant. There were cats everywhere, cats and feral chickens. Deep in the woods there were chickens.


 Five cats outside of Susie’s. See the eyes.


Rooster under the table at Zaco’s Tacos where dg drank mojitos in the afternoon.


Milka’s, one of the island grocery stores, also liquor store and valuable source of Häagen Dazs ice cream after mojitos at Dinghy Dock.


A sign of the times.


The old San Idelfonso graveyard, still in use. San Ildefonso was the original island village, but the American Navy moved all the people out to Dewey when the island became a Naval training station.




Canal that runs from one side of the island to the other. This is looking east toward the ferry dock and the town square.


The canal photo above was taken from the bridge. See the dinghies docked just left of centre at the bottom? That’s a restaurant called Dinghy Dock. Dinner starts at 6pm. You eat right next to the water and huge tarpon gather under floodlights in case someone throws them food. At 7pm Bulldog bats started swooping over the water, fishing with their feet. Amazing to watch. Good place to sit and drink mojitos before wandering home to bed.


Dinghy Dock Restaurant


El Eden Restaurant.


Feral cats at the food kiosks at Flamenco Beach. There is a sign at the entrance to the beach that reads NO PETS. But there are chickens and cats all over the place.


Great breakfast and lunch. The owner has a friendly dog, too. One morning when dg was missing his dog, the restaurant dog came and lay down on his foot.


Vibra Verde dog, a friend to authors and a shrewd manuscript critic.


A vicious wild cat, ready to pounce and viciously maul something, viciously.


Another extremely vicious cat. This one rubbed up against dg’s legs and dg briefly thought about bringing it home in his luggage.


Road side horses. Moderately vicious.


Dewey from Resaca Mountain.


Tamarindo Beach


Land crab






DG, thinking about mojitos, Resaca Beach. Wearing his ultra-cool Lake George Arts Project Bands ‘n Beans t-shirt. Shorts by Ralph Lauren (purchased economically at the Lake George outlet store). Watch, a Casio Illuminator.  Note the vast crowds on this extremely crowded beach.


Our tracks. Resaca Beach. This place should be avoided because of the crowds.

—Photos by dg and mf


Nov 252012

On Lawrencetown Beach north of Halifax, NS. Note that dg is wearing his trademark heirloom baseball cap purchased in Venice during the 2008 VCFA residency in Slovenia. Also camouflage cargo pants purchased at Walmart.


Apologies for being somewhat absent from the pages of NC. I’ve been on a reading trip to the East Coast, traveling by car with the dog. Stopped in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I stayed with Mark Jarman in his grand house facing the Saint John River (on land once owned, yes, by that famous American patriot Benedict Arnold). NC Senior Editor R. W. Gray also lives in that house. And that night we three went out to the Lunar Rogue Pub and met up with Gerard Beirne, thus four, amazingly, four real NC contributors sat at the same table. Next day I moved on to Halifax to stay with my son Jacob, another NC contributor. Jacob took me for steaks at the Henry House the first night after which considerable Ballantine’s Scotch was consumed with Jacob and his roommate Sebastian Ennis (who introduced me to the work of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy). I got obsessed with the Dingle Tower, a monument across the Northwest Arm from Jacob’s apartment and thus a salient feature in the landscape out my window. (Needless to say I am sparing you 99% of the photos I happened to take. I spent the driving time listening to Chekhov stories and lectures on the history of Ancient Greece and taking pictures through the car windows and the rearview mirror, a practice worse than operating a cell phone or texting while driving, I think.) One morning I had coffee with Ian Colford at the Dalhousie University Club — you will no doubt recall his contributions to the magazine. Last Monday morning I back-tracked to Sackville, New Brunswick, stayed two days and gave brilliant readings at Mount Allison University and the Université de Moncton. The U de Moncton English Department faculty took me out to dinner (Prince Edward Island scallops) at the Tide & Boar (a so-called gastropub; the name is a pun on the nearby Bay of Fundy’s famous tidal bore) on Main Street. My host in Sackville was Professor Christl Verduyn, a Canadianist of considerable scholarly accomplishment who has written some very intelligent essays about my work; had dinner with Christl and her husband, Mount Allison University President Robert Campbell, at Joey’s on York Street where the waitress announced to us that she was pregnant (this was a first for me, and, in case you want to know, her best friend is pregnant simultaneously). Then I rushed back to Hampton, New Hampshire, for Thanksgiving and more beach walks. Lucy blotted her copybook  by assaulting every dog she met. Apparently, she takes exception to New Hampshire dogs. This goes right up there with her insane hatred of small blond children under the age of four.

I tell you this in part so that you know real people write the things you read on these pages; one can occasionally even talk to them in person.



Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, NB. Just a few doors down from Mark Anthony Jarman’s house and not to be confused with the Lunar Rogue Pub.

Mark Anthony Jarman taking a picture of dg reflected in the passenger window of the car, or what writers do when they have time on their hands. You can sense the shade of Benedict Arnold. Fredericton, NB

Jacob & Lucy at Lawrencetown Beach, NS

Same as above

Cranberry Lake from the Bluffs Wilderness Trail west of Halifax, NS

Dingle Tower across the Northwest Arm from Jacob’s apartment, Halifax, NS

North of Halifax, heading for the TransCanada Highway, fog and hoarfrost. This photo was taken one-handed while driving at 65 m.p.h. I don’t know if that counts as some kind of record. I might have had a cup of coffee in the other hand, and I know I was listening to a lecture on Archaic Greece.

Sackville Wildfowl Sanctuary, Sackville, NB

North Hampton Beach, NH

Jenness Beach, NH

North Hampton Beach, NH. I could tell you this is me surfing, but you wouldn’t believe me.

Consulting with my editor, Odirone Point, NH

Jul 132012

Drove to the farm in Ontario with younger son and dog yesterday, in time for an evening walk around the place. Fields of melons, tomatoes and corn. A coyote den. I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures but everything is very dry, soil like white powder, the unirrigated crops looking decimated with patches of withered or non-existent plants. Even the weeds are drying up. We have irrigation so the issue is not so pressing.



Jul 252011

Here’s Jean Glover, dg’s mother, reciting Sir Walter Scott’s poem “Breathes there the man with soul so dead…,” actually an excerpt from “The Lay of the Last Minstrel.” This is unrehearsed and you can hear the refrigerator whirring in the background as well as assorted whining dogs who, apparently, cannot abide the poem (everybody’s a critic). We were sitting in her kitchen, on the family farm in Ontario. She rides a stationary bike most days over the winter and memorizes poems while she’s riding. Scott is a favourite because her great-grandfather (or is it great-great…?) was raised by Scott who, seeing the boy playing in the street one day, discovered his widowed mother and offered to pay for the boy’s education. The family story is that Scott was writing his novel Rob Roy at the time. The boy and his brother were in and out of the Scott house as they grew and later Scott paid for them to go on the Grand Tour (somewhere there is a diary of this). The boy eventually succeeded to some family money and owned slaves and a plantation on the island of Cariacou. As soon as the British government offered to buy the slaves and free them, he sold up and moved to Canada. His daughter Anne married Daniel Abiel McCall. And their daughter Sarah married John Brock. And their daughter Kathleen was Jean’s mother. I give you the stripped down version of the story—we are a family that carries some history in its genes. And thus Scott comes easily to her mind. There is some Scott silver somewhere in the house, passed down through the family. In the video, Jean is just shy of her 90th birthday.




Here’s the poem:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

—Sir Walter Scott

Oct 262010

lieutenant-colonel-john-mccraeThe first poem I can recall, aside from nursery rhymes, was a rondeau written by a Canadian artillery officer (and medical doctor), John McCrae, in 1915. It’s also the first poem I ever memorized. I can still remember the words written on the blackboard. This was a different world. We still sang God Save the Queen before classes started and recited the Lord’s Prayer, and there was always a Union Jack and a picture of the Queen prominently displayed. And every November there would be men or women in blue blazers and berets at the bank door in Waterford with trays of poppies. I remember being very proud of myself for memorizing the poem. And on Remembrance Day, we were all (brothers & parents) going to town for the ceremony at the cenotaph. We stopped to pick up an elderly neighbour who lived alone in a little house at the edge of our farm. He was a retired teacher and classicist, living quietly with his books. I was sitting in the backseat with my father and brothers and cheerfully began to rattle off the poem in a boyish singsong. My father gave my arm a squeeze and shushed me and whispered: “Not now. His son died in the war.” I shut up, confused, suddenly aware, acutely aware, that literature isn’t just words on a page but somehow rooted in our personal lives, in our deepest feelings about love, loss and death. I think it hadn’t occurred to me before that people actually died in the war. I didn’t, of course, know the poem was a rondeau, but the form itself has sunk deep into my brain. McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, a university town about 50 miles from where I grew up. He had fought with the Canadian artillery in the Boer War but spent his civilian years as a pathologist in Montreal. When the First World War broke out, he went back into the artillery. He was still with the guns when he wrote the poem (the story goes that he wrote it sitting in an ambulance after watching a friend die). But soon after he was called to hospital duty where he subsequently died of pneumonia at the age of 45.


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Jul 112010

The Robot Cafe, Port Dover, Ontario

DG writing from The Robot Cafe in Port Dover, Ontario, next door to the Hobo Java CD and guitar shop on Main Street. A live middleaged band playing mid-afternoon to an audience of three teenage girls (one dressed like a boy with a surfer haircut and a boy’s bathing suit, one pretty hefty in a zebra stripe dress) who between sets get up and sing “I’m A Little Teapot” into the microphone. Scifi movie posters on the walls. They Came from Outer Space. Tobor the Great. Girls in bikinis and tshirts walking in off the beach. This is Fred Eaglesmith‘s hometown. They are selling his CDs at the counter. Jonah is trying to repair a music website, but the wifi  is inadequate. We could have been watching the (yawn) World Cup. I imagine you can tell from this that dg won’t be posting much for a few days. Have fun on your own–don’t get into trouble without me. dg