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Friday, October 15, 2010

Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs Conference, October 8

We began our second day listening to a vibrant, provocative plenary given by Aritha van Herk. Fortunately, this will be published by Wascana Review (http://www.wascanareview.ca/index.php/Wascana)because I can't possibly do justice to her playfulness, her gift with metaphor, her literary allusions, her intriguing digressions.

Like Hollingshead, van Herk noted that "Writing has entered into dalliance with 'the market,'" and suggested that we need to admit our complicity with the creation of this market. But noting that she'd become an author and teacher because she wanted to find a way to read for a living, she has suggested that creative writers should want, first, to be readers. I suspect van Herk is always thinking about her teaching and about her students, but she doesn't grouse about the literacy of the younger generation, saying instead that "the young have to find a way to immerse themselves."

As someone who has published her first novel and is at work on a second, I find I read differently. At sixty, and an academic for many of those years, I can figure out fairly quickly where the core of the text lies, how it prompts me to think about and query the world. But my new questions, ones I feel a need to record in a reading journal, are about how the text works to draw in the reader and create the "continuous dream" that John Gardner so convincingly wrote about. Writerly reading requires a complete immersion in the act of reading, a almost ecstatic engagement with the words on the page in order to allow the created world to rise up before you like a verbal hologram.

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