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International Reflective Writing


Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is Canada's most eminent novelist and poet, and also writes short stories, critical studies, screenplays, radio scripts and books for children, her works having been translated into over 30 languages. Her reviews and critical articles have appeared in various eminent magazines and she has also edited many books, including The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (1983) and, with Robert Weaver, The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English(1986). She has been a full-time writer since 1972, first teaching English, then holding a variety of academic posts and writer residencies. She was President of the Writers Union of Canada from 1981-1982 and President of PEN, Canada from 1984-1986.

She is perhaps best known, however, for her novels, in which she creates strong, often enigmatic, women characters and excels in telling open-ended stories, while dissecting contemporary urban life and sexual politics. Her first novel was The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who cannot eat and feels that she is being eaten. This was followed by: Surfacing (1973), which deals with a woman's investigation into her father's disappearance; Lady Oracle (1977); Life Before Man (1980); Bodily Harm (1982), the story of Rennie Wilford, a young journalist recuperating on a Caribbean island; and The Handmaid's Tale (1986), a futuristic novel describing a woman's struggle to break free from her role. Her latest novels have been: Cat's Eye (1989), dealing with the subject of bullying among young girls; The Robber Bride (1993); Alias Grace (1996), the tale of a woman who is convicted for her involvement in two murders about which she claims to have no memory; The Blind Assassin (2000), a multi-layered family memoir; and Oryx and Crake (2003), a vision of a scientific dystopia, which was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.
died American literature--among other things--at Radcliffe and Harvard in the 1960s. She is the author of 11 novels. 

The essay that follows also appeared in The Nation.


A Letter to America

Globe and Mail (Toronto) Friday, March 28, 2003 - Page A17

Dear America:

This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.

Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows -- Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.

You wrote some of my favourite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in Little Women, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.

You were Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, you were Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, you were Lillian Gish in Night of the Hunter. You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.

You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: that gave you self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.

We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbours: In many cases -- mine, for instance -- you are also our blood relations, our colleagues, and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel. Romans, but aren't Romans -- peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?

Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?

This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother -- from a New England background -- was confronted with an unsavoury topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.

But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.

I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been -- taking the long view – an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.

You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.

You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.

You are torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.

If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.

The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.

More information:


Penn Kemp

Penn Kemp, Canadian poet, playwright, novelist, shares the richness of her experience through her unique use of word, sound, imagery and symbolism. As a sound poet and workshop leader, Penn has performed in arts festivals around the world, giving readings and workshops, often as writer in residence.

Born in Strathroy, Ontario, and raised in London, Penn has spent much of her life in Ontario, including nine years on Toronto Island. However, an intrigue with ancient mythology has taken her on extensive journeys to Europe, North Africa, Mexico, South America and India. Ms. Kemp received an Honours degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Western Ontario (1966) and a high school teacher's certificate. She taught English for three years in Timmins and North York, till 1970. Since then, she has been an active participant in Ontario schools, performing her poetry and plays as well as giving class workshops for students and teachers. She has also read and given workshops at several hundred venues across the continent. In 1988, she was awarded an O.G.S. scholarship to complete her M.Ed. at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her 1989 thesis was on creativity: "Invenio: The Source of a Biography in Mythology."  

A Poem for Peace in Two Voices

Calm came clear
of cloud
early one morning           Calm come clear
before things started                of cloud

Calm came at noon           Calm come
A cardinal perched                clear
on black bough                     of cloud
in blazing sun.

Calm came at night           Calm come clear
stretching as cats do,                             of cloud
constant stretch and change.

Forsythia brightened           Calm come clear
as the house slept.             of cloud

Now calm come           Now calm come
in the face of             clear of
brawl                                        cloud

©2003, Penn Kemp


Alden Nowlan

Alden Nowlan left school before graduating and during his adolescent years worked at a variety of jobs, all of them menial, manual, or both. He was a pulp cutter, a farmhand, a sawmill worker, a night watchman, a ditch digger and a logger. Primarily self-educated, he later went on to work as a newspaperman, and published poetry, plays, short stories, and novels. 

Born on January 25, 1933 at Windsor, Novia Scotia, he is widely recognized as one of the most important poets to appear in Canada in the last thirty years. His poetry collection Bread, Wine and Salt won the Governor’s General award in 1967. Much of his work reflects his regional roots and an affection for the ordinary people. He died in Fredericton June 27, 1983.



Ypres was a battle site in World War I in 1914, 1915, and 1917. In 1915 the Germans wanted to try chlorine (a toxic yellow gas) as a weapon and succeeded in taking considerable territory from the Allied salient. 

The age of Trumpets is passed, the banners hang 
Like dead crows, tattered and black, 
Rotting into nothingness on cathedral walls. 
In the crypt of St. Paul's I had all the wrong thoughts, 
Wondered if there was anything left of Nelson 
Or Wellington, and even wished 
I could pry open their tombs and look, 
Then was ashamed 
Of such morbid chilishness and almost afraid.

I know the picture is as much of a forgery 
As the Protocols of Zion, yet it outdistances 
More plausible fictions: newsreels, regimental histories, 
biographies of Earl Haig. 
It is always morning 
And the sky somehow manages to be red through the picture 
Is in black and white. 
There is a long road over flat country, 
Shell holes, the debris of houses, 
A gun carriage overturned in a field, 
The bodies of men and horses, 
But only a few of them and those 
Always neat and distant. 
The Moors are running 
Down the right side of the road. 
The Moors are running 
In their baggy pants and Santa Claus caps. 
The Moors are running. 
And their officers, 
Frenchmen who remember 
Alsace and Lorraine, 
Are running backwards in front of them, 
Waving their swords, trying to drive them back, 
At the dishonor of it all. 
The Moors are running.

And on the left side of the same road, 
The Canadians are marching 
In the opposite direction 
The Canadians are marching 
In English uniforms behind 
A piper playing "Scotland the Brave"

The Canadians are marching 
In impeccable formation, 
Every man in step. 
The Canadians are marching.

And I know this belongs 
With Lord Kitchener's moustache 
And old movies in which the Kaiser and his general staff 
Seem to run like the Keystone Kops.

The old man on television last night, 
A farmer or fisherman by the sound of him, 
Revisiting Vimy Ridge, and they asked him 
What it was like, and he said, 
There was water up to our middle, yes, 
And there was rats, and yes 
There was water up to our middles 
And rats, all right enough, 
And to tell the truth 
AFter the first three or four days 
I started to get a litte disgusted.

Oh, I know they were mercenaries 
In a war that hardly concerned us. 
I know all that 
Sometimes I'm not even sure that I have a country.

But I know that they stood there at Ypres 
The first time the Germans used gas, 
That they were almost the only troops 
In that section of the front 
Who did not break and run, 
Who held the line.

Perhaps they were too scared to run. 
Perhaps they didn't know any better. 
That is possible, they were so innocent, 
Those farmboys and mechanics, you have to only look 
At old pictures and see how they smiled 
perhaps they were too shy 
To walk out on anybody, even Death. 
Perhaps their only motivation 
Was a stubborn disinclination.

Private MacNally thinking: 
You squarehead sons of bitches, 
You want this God damned trench 
You're going to have to take it away from Billy MacNally 
Of the South end of St. John, New Brunswick 
And that's ridiculous too, and nothing 
On which too found a country 
It makes me feel good, knowing 
That in some obscure way 
They were connected with me 
And me with them.


Art Solomon

Dr. Art Solomon (1914 - 1997), was an Anishnabe (Ojibwe) elder and spiritual leader from Sudbury, Ontario. His native name was "Kesheyanakwan" (Fast Moving Cloud), and he was an author of several books, including Eating Bitterness: A Vision Beyond The Prison Walls. Dr. Solomon was a very strong activist among native peoples, especially the Ojibway. The Ojibway and the Chippewa are essentially the same tribe, the former being a term more widely used in Canada and the latter more widely used in the U.S.

Following is the "prayer" he penned in its entirety. Many refer to this as the "Grandfather Story.”

Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.

We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.

Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion, and honour
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.

However, a more common, and older, Ojibway Prayer runs like this:

Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
And whose breath gives life to everyone,
Hear me.

I come to you as one of your many children;
I am weak .... I am small ... I need your wisdom
and your strength.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunsets
Make my hands respect the things you have made.
And make my ears sharp so I may hear your voice.

Make me wise, so that I may understand what you
have taught my people and
The lessons you have hidden in each leaf
and each rock.

I ask for wisdom and strength
Not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able
to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me ever ready to come before you with
clean hands and a straight eye.
So as life fades away as a fading sunset.
My spirit may come to you without shame.

More about Art Solomon 

Art Solomon (1914-1997), Ojibway Elder, died at sunrise, Sunday, June 29th, in hospital in Sudbury Ontario. He and his wife Eva had been living with his daughters for the past three years. Eva died early this year.

It was in 1962 that the "fog was just lifting enough that he could see the Good Red Road" that he would follow for the rest of his life. In that journey he has never wavered, he has never compromised, never rested, never looked back. He knew what was the right thing and he did it. Art's decision was worse than unpopular. He was misunderstood, resented, criticized, scrutinized, harassed and rejected. "Of course, you were right" he would be told, followed by a stream of excuses and rationalizations about "being practical," "being unreasonable," "you can't go back" to the past. It would have been easier, of course, if Art has been born Kesheyanakwan instead of having to become one. His life has been an unfinished work in progress and Art has been its principle craftsman sculpturing the Creator's original material with the guidance of the Spirit Winds. All the original ingredients are still visible but his life shape today could not have been seen, if imagined, until he was well into middle age years. He evolved into someone else right before the disbelieving eyes of his family and friends who were not yet prepared to join Art on the path he was taking. The events of 1970 brought Native people into the nation's living rooms. Native crafts went into fancy galleries. Instant medicine men appeared on talk shows. Buckskin and beads became the high fashion.

Art Solomon was well placed to gain prestige, praise and prominence but he never change his pace or direction. He continued to utter unspeakable truths in bold terms. He did not want urban comforts preferring to be in the bush with the Creator's riches or in the prisons with the Creator's forgotten people. He went to the World Council of Churches who backed him to get the government o recognize Native Spirituality in the prisons. Art traveled with the White Roots of Peace and Four Arrows. He was a powerful teacher, an avid student. His wife Eva was always the fuel and he was the life.

Just by being himself Art created more than his share of enemies. Persons prepared to take only half measures felt criticized by his mere presence. Government people found him unsusceptible to the rewards offered to the native leaders willing to become "co-operative." Many native people considered Art a threat to their own "hard won progress" with the government, which he called the "beast." "Native people have to make gains on their own, not by having the government do it for them," said Art. He took the pain of it all in stride and just took the blows which unavoidably came. He insisted on pushing ahead where he knew he must go without regard to the personal sacrifices which he knew would be required.

To many Art had seemed to be a demanding teacher, unforgiving and uncompromising. Yet he never asked anyone to follow him. He held out truths rather than expectations. While he did not allow dodging the facts he insisted we all have choices. He had no imperatives, "What I have to say will hurt many ears, but I have to say it," he would say. That was his duty. You could do your own duty as you saw fit.

Kesheyanakwan had heard the Creator's instructions and he understood his responsibility to follow them the best he possibly could. He applied is free will to take and determine his direction and he turned to the Creation to sustain his energy. He had found it so simple to do that he must have pondered why anyone else does not do the same.

Source: …On the Passing of Elders:


Edward Zuber

Edward F. (Ted) Zuber was born in 1932 in Montreal. He first studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, attended Queens University (fine arts) and apprenticed to the religious painter Matthew Martirano.

At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Ted enlisted and became a parachutist with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. With the Battalion’s mission to Korea in 1952, he first saw action on 187 as “I” Rep to D coy. The unit’s next front line position, 355 or “Little Gibraltar” required an additional rifle company, and Zuber was transferred to this new “E” Coy as a Bren Gunner. The winter saw him back with H. Q. Company, this time as a sniper up on the “Hook” position. It was here that he suffered a grenade wound, after which he was evacuated to the Norwegian M.A.S.H. and the 25th Canadian Field Hospital.

Throughout his experience on the Korean Front, Zuber carried a sketch book to record the action around him. During which time he produced many drawings and maintained a detailed “Sketch diary”. These pictorial records of Canada’s Korean involvement are particularly valuable historically, because there was no official war artist assigned to Canada’s Korean experience. Thirteen paintings from Zuber’s “Korean War Memoirs ” are now in the collections of the Canadian War Museum.

When the Gulf War - Operation Friction began Ted was selected from among a field of over 30 artists, the Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artists Program (CAFCAP) to travel to Qatar with the Canadian Forces to capture the images and experiences of Canadian Service Men and Women. Rikki Cameron, Curator of Art at the Canadian War Museum says of Ted “Mr. Zuber has an international reputation for his war art, particularly for his depictions of Canadian participation in the Korean War.”

Ted served in the Gulf War Theatre from 21 January to 3 March 1991 as Canada’s Official War Artist. Temporarily commissioned in the rank of Captain, he was contracted under the CAFCAP to record the life and activities of Canadian Forces personnel in Operation Friction. His contract with DND, sponsored under the CAFCAP called for 10 sketches to be produced, he brought back 120 of them and six small paintings that he completed after one month in the active duty area. The six field paintings were purchased outright and Zuber was commissioned to do four finished paintings, one each to depict the activities of the Army, Navy, Air Force and 1 Canadian Field Hospital. “That’s when work really began,” Zuber says. “How was I to tell the whole story in only four pictures? Doing 400 would almost have been easier”. Ms. Cameron has gone on to say “I think Mr. Zuber is like a number of Canadian artists, he is better known outside of Canada than he is here.”

Ted, like those artists who served in earlier CAFCAP assignments, acted much like a war correspondent, incorporating into his art the feeling of the events around him as photography alone cannot accomplish. His endurance of the heat and dangers of the war zone have left a commemorative historic record of the men and women of the Canadian Forces who served in the Gulf.

More information:

Simon Carroll

Simon Carroll has had a long interest in the health research field, completing a Masters degree on the sociology of health systems change at Lancaster University, UK, and is continuing doctoral work on alternative approaches to assessing the effectiveness of complex health interventions. He co-lead a two-year research project in Birmingham, UK developing a model for assessing the effectiveness of a mental health promotion intervention by child psychotherapists. More recently he has worked closely with both the Health Canada Effectiveness of Community Interventions Project, and the North American Region of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education’s effectiveness project. He is currently the Research and Development Co-ordinator of the Community Health Promotion Research Centre, at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.


The Last Days of Love

This poem was written in February 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq. 
The sharp-eyed birds circle in the bleak desert heat, 
Far below, a mottled array of black and smoking warts 
stain the rolling, rippled tissue, 
and mark out the coming feast. 
‘Hawks’ they call them: 
a misnomer and slight on a gracious bird 
for such an ignoble pursuit. 
It feels like an enormous weight of thoughtlessness, 
a great building mass, devoid of empathy 
progressing irresistibly to its pitiless terminal. 
Is this finally that rough beast 
slouching toward its untimely birth? 
Beneath the petty squabbles of the older vultures, 
in the midst of their high-minded scavengery, 
lies a broken body. 
Not one being fought over; 
a long forgotten figure, 
curled up into a lonely, wistful repose, 
her alabaster sheen blemished in crimson fissures. 
For this sad and fading imago 
it has, again, been a slow, slow dying. 
As ever, we weep for it too late. 
The echo of future lament sounds 
as a distant thunder to our ears, 
while great men see only the coming of a new tide. 
To this faulty vision we must again uphold 
the ancient wisdom of the fool and the blind man: 
to know the dark secret of desire and where it leads; 
for the labyrinthine soul of man is built 
on an infinite pile of rotting corpses, 
and those passions the worst in us holds 
overflow the firm barriers of resolve. 
We must remove this curse. 
With some lost titanic will, and deep inward promise made, 
we begin, first as murmur, a great incantation. 
Like a rumbling Prometheus, fire in his eyes, 
starting to loosen his bounds. 
Let the new emperors hide 
behind the uniform of fear and terror; 
and let the pantomime warriors 
mumble their dank platitudes, 
as they lay waste to our language; 
a prelude to the more corporeal slaughter. 
Let them murder truth casually. 
For our voices will be heard: 
We will keep our wisdom and endurance, 
and in our gentleness and virtue, faith 
That hope will indeed create, 
a courage to “defy Power, which seems omnipotent”. 
From the bleakest times, though it seems impossible, 
we must find a space for an abiding charity, 
a stretching of the soul into a new skin; 
one the best part of us longs for deeply.


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