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Children & Poetry

Here is my summation of Alison Sutherland's review of my book Catalogue (Summer):

It seems that to some it's a crime

to write a kid's story in rhyme.

If Plath couldn't do it,

no wonder you blew it.

and children will hate it, big time.

Actually, despite (or perhaps because of) the silliness of the verse, children don't hate it.

Sheila Dalton

I take exception to Alison Sutherland's condescending and whining comments concerning Sheila Dalton's book Catalogue. First of all, Dalton is a poet in her own right with many poems having appeared in Canadian literary magazines over the past ten years and Blowing Holes in the Everyday, a poetry collection published by HMS Press in 1993. Secondly, I assume Sutherland's comment that "most children find versification a barrier to enjoyable reading" is based on her own personal observation. After fifteen years of reading my own books to children in schools across Canada, I would emphatically state the opposite. Young children adore rhyme and combined with such whimsical illustrations as Kim LaFave's in Catalogue, I can imagine them sitting awe-inspired by the parade of cats that unfold. Lastly, Dalton's editor was so pleased with her first Doubleday picture book, Doggerel, they asked her to write this one.

Linda Hutsell-Manning

Cobourg, Ontario

Why, oh, why, is Alison Sutherland so critical of Sheila Dalton's picture book, Catalogue? Sutherland's statement that "most children find versification a barrier to enjoyable reading" is sweeping. Dalton's book targets the picture book crowd (pre-schoolers to kindergartners). These children tend to be listeners rather than readers and children actually find versification a boon to enjoyable listening, as Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and Margaret Wise Brown have proven. As for the comment that singulars and plurals have been coupled, it is the effect on the ear that matters and in Catalogue this combination works. Sutherland does state that there is "nothing gruesomely wrong" with Dalton's verse. "Gruesome" is an unusual choice of adjective within this context. Finally, a picture book without pictures is not a picture book. A picture book review without Kim LaFave's whimsical illustrations is not a well-rounded review.

Laurie Ross

Alison Sutherland replies: I admit to being condescending sometimes. To my shame, I am even occasionally contemptuous. But I never whine.

I reiterate my observation that children do not enjoy verse to anything like the degree that adults assume that they will. Further, I maintain that children usually find it actively off-putting, especially when done poorly. Even when it is splendid, they rarely seek it out. They skip the verses in Tolkien. They ignore the interlude poems in The Jungle Book. Beautiful illustrations will entrance them, of course; Nichola Baley springs to mind, or opulent versions of nursery rhymes or A Child's Garden of Verses. Occasionally an older child (usually a girl in Grade Five) will begin to explore poetry, but the book on her bedside table is usually an older anthology like Walter de la Mare's Come Hither rather than Dennis Lee's Garbage Delight.

Children do, however, often "adore" verse when mediated through an adult who adores it too. This magazine's editor remembers having The Lays of Ancient Rome read to him by his father. Our neighbours' children love Lewis Carroll's nonsense verse because of family reading sessions. A wonderful Grade One teacher and colleague of mine has awakened in her class a taste for Sean O'Huigan's Scary Poems for Rotten Kids. Another uses Shel Silverstein and his recorded readings from his own dark-humoured work. My cousins and I have fond memories of an uncle's passion for Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young, though we never read them on our own until we had children ourselves and wanted to give them the same happy memories. In all the public and school libraries in which I have worked, I have never had a child ask for the poetry section unless a project had been assigned, or I had book-talked it up, or they were looking for a book someone had read to them that they wished to experience again.

I suspect that the enthusiasm for her verses that Ms. Hutsell-Manning has observed is to a large extent simply a reflection of her own enjoyment (and the fact that children generally love author visits-not entirely because they are getting a break from Math class). A truer test of their enthusiasm would be whether they read it on their own, asked for it unprompted, and told their friends about it. And whether children who had not met Ms. Hutsell-Manning or been told about her work seized it with delight and said, "Oh goody! I adore poetry!"

Of course, this makes it all the more vital that people read poetry with children, encourage memorization, recite it on car trips, and so on. And that authors do superbly crafted work, so that the enjoyment and the sharing will have many nourishing ingredients, rather than be the equivalent of junk food.

Exit History

I am writing to express my concern with John Muggeridge's review of Whatever Happened to High School History? (March).

Muggeridge's review is little more than a rant against communism, socialism, Marxism, and feminism with very little reference to what Davis is actually discussing in his book. Whether or not one agrees with all Davis's opinions (I don't and said so in a review for another journal), there are many important aspects of Davis's research, but little of it is mentioned by Muggeridge. The book is especially timely given the recent decision of the Harris government to further decrease the study of history by eliminating a compulsory senior social science credit as part of its secondary school reform program.

Davis shows us how and why History was reduced from five compulsory courses-a "canon" or master narrative-to one course on "Contemporary Canada" in a decade. Statistics cited by Davis show that History as a percentage of all classes in high school declined by almost 60 percent in the years 1964 to 1982.

He attributes this decline in History to a number of causes, including the erosion of Canadian independence, the decline in faith in historical progress, the challenge from groups opposing a traditional Eurocentric viewpoint, the role of television in decreasing the need to teach loyalty to a set of values, and the global restructuring of capitalism.

History teachers themselves, who stressed the skills it can teach, and refused to experiment with a new blend of History and Sociology, contributed to the decline of the subject. Simultaneously, university historians wrote textbooks which "cooled out" history, and this dispassionate approach moved History farther away from the public and from students as well; it became a narrow specialty. As history lost its relevance to modern politics it became a minor option.

Again, one might take issue with these reasons for the decline of History in Ontario's schools, but Muggeridge gives your readers very little insight into Davis's views.

Davis also provides analyses of high school history texts which many of us studied and/or taught, and of journals such as The Canadian Journal of History & Social Science and The History & Social Science Teacher. The study of forty-six years of journals written for, and often by, history teachers, reminds us of the professionalism and passionate beliefs of these dedicated teachers. Davis, of course, finds ample evidence in these sources to support his thesis about the decline of History in our schools. Muggeridge ignores this entire aspect of the book.

The final three chapters-"Can High School History Rise Again?"-provide an analysis of how History came to be "fragmented" into the study of specific topics, at the expense of presenting students with "the big picture". During "sociology's time" History "is underground" and we must "find the pulse in the fragments".

Davis wishes to see, but is somewhat pessimistic about, a return of History to the centre of the curriculum, with a new historical overview or master narrative which is inclusive and forges a new history of Canada and the world for our students.

Bob Davis's book is relevant reading for all your readers who are teachers, parents, students, and educational administrators and for all those who continue to strive for a meaningful curriculum which meets the needs of all our students. The tragedy documented in this book is for both our students and our society; generations of our young people are losing their sense of identity, purpose, and political memory. Current efforts at "curriculum renewal" appear to compound the problem and continue to reduce History to a peripheral place in the curriculum.

Many parents and educators-who are not communists, socialists, Marxists, or feminists, and who aren't looking for a "dictatorship of the proletariat"-share the concerns about the marginalization of History that Bob Davis raises in this book. They deserve to get a fair review in your journal to help them decide if this is a book worth reading.

Peter Lipman


More in the Cave

There is a great deal more going on in Plato's Allegory of the Cave than what Henry Lackner presents in his review of Jay Newman's Inauthentic Culture & Its Critics (May). Since what is left out is crucial to the understanding, some of the things omitted must be noted.

The first words of Book VIII of The Republic introduce a comparison of "our nature in respect of education and its lack" with the experience of living in a cave.

The inhabitants of the cave are not simply passive victims of wicked manipulators. They are souls imprisoned in bodies. We may reject Plato's dualism (that is, his conviction concerning the psycho-physical constitution of our natures), but then we must give up following him when he directs us on the need to turn the entire soul towards the light beyond the cave. Plato is arguing that as long as we are chained in the world of physical forms, bodily passions, and unexamined ethical notions or beliefs, we cannot approach those definitions-the Ideas-by which distinctions are made and things as well as our human experience are seen for what they are.

The equality of opinions and desires in the cave is central to Plato's criticism of democracy. The lawmakers must always be acting as do the sophists, giving the people what they want, be it good or bad. Perhaps what television portrays is authentically democratic. No programme survives without mass appeal, confirmed by the ratings.

Modern critics may try to combine a sort of Platonic sociology with modern physiology, biochemistry, et al., in a word, empiricism, but they can only do this by discarding what Plato means by "our nature". Anyone who has not grasped that has not understood what Plato is putting forth in the comparison of the twilight psychological state of imaginings and conjecture, with the darkness in the cave, where your values are no better than my values or anybody else's.

We cannot extrapolate from Plato any social or political principles while ignoring what Lackner/Newman leave aside. Nor can we use the language of the existentialists and the worldly philosophers as if it were equivalent to Plato's. "Authentic" is not the same as "the real". "Total immersion training" may have an up-to-date ring to it but it does not call for that engagement of the passions without which education is sterile. There are no words in Plato for "cultural products", unless one counts ta mousika, works inspired by the Muses.

Life in the cave is easy enough to describe. Getting out of it is the problem. We cannot move from the world of sense-perception to that of the intelligible if we cling to the methods of the empirical sciences. By placing the Allegory of the Line before the Allegory of the Cave Plato gives us a map of the route he is taking.

The illustration accompanying the review is amusing but, alas, Plato gives us no hope of cavorting naked in the sun. Those who have arduously struggled out now face the painful necessity of returning to the cave, where they will be ridiculed and scorned.

Nita Graham


Davey's Claim

Keith Garebian complains that "one of the biggest problems" he has with Frank Davey is "his half-truths and exaggerations" ("Where are These Voices Coming From?", Summer), citing Davey's "grand claim" vis--vis "the history of the word `postmodernism' in Canadian literature".

For the record, Garebian half-truthfully conveys the context in which Davey frames his putative grand claim:

"I, `Frank Davey'-to make the self-distancing gesture which Stephen Scobie suggests lies `at the very centre of contemporary writing and theory' (1985, 68), and which Linda Hutcheon argues underlies `the postmodern view of representation as a matter of construction' (1989, 41), helped begin the history of the word `postmodern' in Canadian literature by deploying it in 1973 as one of the organizing concepts of the guidebook I was undertaking on Canadian writing since 1960, published the next year as From There to Here.." (Canadian Literary Power)

Further, I was a student of Frank Davey's at York University in 1972; at that time, he indeed acquainted yours truly with the word "postmodernism".

Naturally, even then, I argued with Davey over its meaning and remember clearly asking him, during one seminar that unforgettable term when Paul Henderson scored his historic game-winner, if the word wasn't something of a misnomer, since, in my opinion, what he had described sounded more like "contramodernism".

Judith Fitzgerald

The Beautiful Downtown Middle of Nowhere, ON

IMF Dictates

Louis Pauly's Who Elected the Bankers? avoids the direct accusations implied by its title. Considering the effects that the dictates of the World Bank, the IMF, and the bond rating agencies have had upon the lives of millions of vulnerable people, Matthew Davis's vague review (Summer) of Pauly's book isn't easy to justify.

Both Pauly and Davis claim that the IMF "cannot dictate the internal policies of states". The Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) imposed by the World Bank and the IMF on debtor nations usually demand, for instance, a shift from domestic food production to cash crops that will be exported to satisfy the wants of people in places like Canada. Health care, education, and civil service jobs are other victims. The results, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, include the loss of national sovereignty, countless deaths from disease and malnutrition and the horrifying riots in Indonesia that I have just heard about on the morning news. The SAPs are "needed" because of the high interest rates on the original loans to unstable countries. They are designed to assure that governments will, in future, accept policies friendly to international finance. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) has been the latest major development in this programme of arm-twisting-and its initial defeat in Paris is a heartening indication of levels of public awareness not obvious in the writing of Pauly or Davis. Who Elected the Bankers? can only be adequately addressed by facing such threats to democracy and human rights without flinching.

Canadians are, of course, being served similar medicine through "our national debt", service cuts, and the "gradual erosion of those things to which one feels primary devotion" noted by Davis. The spoonfuls of sugar to help all this go down with the electorate are pop culture and the potent appeals to fear and greed promoted by the debt collectors and our media chains. It didn't seem so clear at the time, but long before the collapse of Communism, the limits to democracy were being developed much closer to home. The action at our chartered banks and at our food banks provides a warning that no responsible citizen can afford to ignore.

Brian Turner


Why No Photos

Doug Gibson, publisher of McClelland & Stewart, advises authors to make "Blame your publisher" their first line of defence whenever problems arise. I've taken that advice perhaps more than he realizes. But reviewer Mike Fitz-James (April) should leave the blaming to authors. He's quite wrong to invent the charge that M&S refused to "stump up a few sawbucks" to illustrate my recent book 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal.

It was my own choice to leave the photos out. As he noted, the words in the book demonstrate that the confederation-makers of the 1860s were-surprise!-a rather subtle and diverse bunch, certainly more diverse than the premiers who have tried to inflict constitutions on us in recent years. But the stiff, posed photographs that exist of the "fathers of confederation" mostly reinforce our stereotype of them as expressionless and identical. Pictures do lie, and lousy pictures, like a reviewer's sloppy guesswork, can undermine a thousand words.

Christopher Moore


George Woodcock

Reading Douglas Fetherling's The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock, reviewed in your May issue, got my memory working.

In the summer of 1959, I was living in Carl Klinck's house in London, teaching summer school at the University of Western Ontario. There, in early August the first issue of Canadian Literature arrived, a landmark event for me and for all of the hardy pioneers who were then teaching our own authors. There weren't many of us in those days, and we usually combined Canadian with American-AmCan it was called, too often with scorn, sometimes with appreciation. But at Western it was a very popular course and had already been so for a decade, since 1947 when Klinck moved to London from Waterloo Lutheran College and established it firmly on the postwar curriculum.

I can still recapture some of the intense satisfaction the first issue gave me that evening. It was splendidly designed, with high-quality cream pages and an elegant typeface. From that time on, every issue lent dignity to our often slighted field. From the very beginning George Woodcock's plan, to establish a broad-based literary quarterly instead of a narrowly academic publication, was realized. In Volume I, Number 1, there were articles by an eclectic group which included A.J.M. Smith on Duncan Campbell Scott, Frank Watt on Ralph Connor, and Hugo McPherson on Gabrielle Roy.

Forty years on, Douglas Fetherling's biography of Woodcock testifies to that publication as one part of a huge lifetime's work, whose instigator/author was for decades our reigning "man of our letters". Even more important for all those of us in the field in any capacity, as writers, critics, poets, scholars, or interested readers, was the constant sense of Woodcock's presence among us, always available for counsel or simply for conversation. He was a great correspondent. Many of us who were at the beginning of our careers back then were charmed by his brief but pithy answers to our hesitant questions, and many of us were also immensely flattered to be suddenly asked to review for him. I remember, for instance, demurring about one such assignment, only to be told brusquely, but kindly, that of course I was up to the challenge. He began Canadian Literature without a ready-made stable of reviewers, or even readers; he soon evolved both and with them an early generation of Canadian literature enthusiasts who were forever loyal to the creative vision of his enterprise.

By the mid-60s, our field was at the threshold of consolidation and would surge forward, keeping time with Centennial enthusiasm and the yeasty nationalism that was so much a part of the late '60s and early '70s. By the early '70s we had even begun to develop specialties within the field: at York, for instance, we shortly had courses exclusively in fiction and poetry as well as a large and popular course offering a survey of both genres. Though Canadian Literature held its place, and still does, as the senior journal in the field, by the early '70s John Moss, David Arnason, and Robert Sorfleet had initiated the Journal of Canadian Fiction and through the decade a spate of publications followed. These were indeed the "golden years", but none of us were likely to forget that it was Woodcock's faith and initiative that set the ball rolling. His acceptance of the first academic article I wrote, "Happily Ever After: Women in Canadian Fiction", remains as much of a high spot in my memory as Canadian Literature itself.

Now, with the publication of The Gentle Anarchist, Douglas Fetherling has given us the first biography of the scholar-gentleman, man-of-letters, philanthropist, traveller, to whom we all owe so much. As Fetherling knows so well, I am not alone in having only the sketchiest of ideas about the years of political and journalistic activism in England, before he and Inge made their fateful decision to move to Canada, married, and emigrated in 1948. He had been born in Canada, but taken back to England early, when his father's Canada adventure failed, and he had worked for a number of barren years as a clerk for the Great Western Railway. They were years barren in career interest and challenge only, for it was during this time that he became a busy and involved member of the yeasty, restless, political-journalistic London scene of the inter-war years. It was during this time that George Orwell's friendship became one of the benchmarks of his life, and it was during this time as well that he gradually became and declared himself an anarchist, and so became, when war broke out, a conscientious objector, working at various agricultural enterprises and, at the same time, planning, writing, editing, and distributing pamphlets and little magazines.

From the time of his arrival in Canada onward, the productiveness and variety of his life become part of our common heritage, but even so, it is with astonishment that I read this record of the myriad intellectual interests, the continuing dedication to the principles of anarchism, and the wonderfully varied achievements in literature, travel, and philanthropy. I knew-all his readers knew-of his work for Tibetans, the villages of India, and the Woodcock Trust for the benefit of needy Canadian writers. What few of us knew, I suspect, was the astounding success he and Inge had had over the years in their doggedly determined money-making efforts. Never paid much, his highest fee for Canadian Literature some $17,000, and always at the mercy of the many far-flung fees and royalties collectible for his myriad works, he and Inge in the end amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars-with the express and achieved purpose of giving it all away.

Nor did I and many others know the full story of his obsessive work habits, and how close they came to killing him when he suffered his first major heart attack in 1968. Fetherling writes a memorable paragraph about the euphoric prologue to his illness: "Freed from his mother's household at Marlow, freed from the life of a clerk in the railway, freed from the class, political, and romantic constraints of Britain itself, freed of the drudgery of a faded utopia on Vancouver Island and now in a state of virtual manumission from UBC as well, Woodcock was a writer gagging on fresh air, gulping it down faster than he could swallow, and working in a mad and exhilarating rush of adrenalin. [he] suffered a major heart attack at 3 a.m."

Henceforth he was forced into a lengthy convalescence, supervised by Inge, and into the permanent adoption of more or less "sensible" work habits, but his pace, for the rest of his eighty-two years continued to be breakneck by any standards that most of us would recognize. As well as months of travel, and a regular business correspondence that would have been a major burden to most of us, he always worked on several writing projects at once-and he published them in, finally, daunting array and with a large and diversified roster of publishers. I cannot begin to weave my way through the manifold writing and travelling projects that are mapped for us, but I do sincerely wish that Fetherling had been allowed to write a two-volume work, his original intention.

I have read very few biographies that deal with public and media reactions to their subjects' death, and absolutely none that match The Gentle Anarchist's prologue for insight and interest. "Woodcock & the Necrologists" is a triumph, as Fetherling leads us through the markedly different perspectives of Canadian, American, and British memorialists, giving the reader an excellent early warning of the challenge he faced: "to arbitrate between two views that are more conflicting than complementary, explaining the young British Woodcock to Canadians, explaining the older Canadian Woodcock to the British." It was a daunting challenge for Fetherling, now our ranking man of letters. I wish that his publishers had given him a more spacious mandate through which to record all the exceptionally fulfilled facets of this remarkable life.

Clara Thomas

Strathroy, Ont.


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