Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 28, 2017

Are Books Dead?

 

This question about the future of reading arises now because of an essay by Scottish fiction writer Ewan Morrison entitled “Are books dead and can authors survive?”

Morrison goes on to explain: “”E-books and e-publishing will mean the end of the ‘writer’ as  a profession.  He argues that every information stream that has become digitized has inexorably slid toward free no-charge access. We’ve seen it happen with music, we’ve seen it happen with movies, and even with long-distance telephone calls.

In other words, the public now demands its media to be free.

I must admit in my own case, I read fewer and fewer books.  Instead I read upwards of half a dozen newspapers a day including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Montreal Gazette, the Globe and Mail and the Irish Times.  I read the last to keep abreast of the dreadful Catholic sex abuse crisis in Ireland.

However, I do belong to a book club.  We meet once a month in each other’s home, have a lively discussion and enjoy refreshments.  Our last book was a biography of  Pierre Trudeau.  Our next book will be a biography of Lucy Maude Montgomery.

What was the last book you read?  Are you reading anything now?

Is reading in decline?

Are books dead?

What do you think?

PITSTOP

March 22, 2017

pit-stop-oct1

Right-wing talk show hosts feed anger to their followers

For many years, I have spent part of the summer with close friends in Maine. As a good many Montrealers know, Maine offers a cornucopia of goodies in the summer – ocean swimming (cool-ish), blueberries (pricey), up-scale scenery (the George Bush estate) and lobster (along with champagne, in my view, both vastly overrated.)

As for me, a long-time political junkie, when I’m not playing golf near Old Orchard Beach (once a frequent haunt of René Lévesque) or watching the Red Sox on television, I’m twiddling the dial looking for political talk shows.

Rush Limbaugh is at the top of the list for several reasons. Limbaugh is an entertainer and a good one. But he violates most of the rules I tried to follow when I hosted a Montreal talk show, first on radio, then television. Rush is the center of his show. His callers are just disembodied props. Unless their opinions coincide with his, he has little time for them. Rush uses his callers like cigarette butts: to light up another harangue of his own.

Many of Limbaugh’s views are outrageous. He wants US President Barack Obama to fail. He says again and again that Canada’s health system kills people and is socialism at its worst. He forthrightly advances his view that Sarah Palin, George Bush in a skirt, would make a fine president in 2012, when Obama must be defeated or the Republic will fall.

When I first began to listen to Limbaugh, especially on the car radio, I often had to stop the car for fear of driving off the road in a rage. I believed then that Limbaugh was an ignorant racist who spent most of his time whipping his huge audience (20 million) into a frenzy of hatred.

But I no longer think that. I now believe Limbaugh (and the legions of other right-wing, conservative talk show hosts) are not creating hatred, they are tapping into hatred that is already there. That is the most remarkable thing about the United States this summer, the scary amount of anger and hatred stalking the land. This phenomenon is most visible on the Fox News network, not in its treatment of news (the network has some very able and balanced commentators, like Chris Wallace, the son of Mike Wallace) but in the talk show hosts that take over, mostly in the evening.

You need a strong stomach to watch these people (my wife leaves the room when I turn on Fox.) There are four of them, unleashed by Fox every night like a quartet of Doberman pinschers, snapping and snarling at all things democratic and liberal.

First there is Glen Beck, followed by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren. You need to hear Beck to believe him. He is a teetotaller whose commentaries are so dyspeptic that he seems to be suffering a dry drunk. He charges that Obama is a racist and says his government reeks of the excesses of Nazi Germany.

Bill O’Reilly is a smoother operator than Beck and he has the ratings to prove it. But O’Reilly’s treatment of many of his guests is simply appalling. After inviting them to come on, O’Reilly proceeds to bully and berate them so that the viewer, who already knows what O’Reilly thinks, has no idea what the guest thinks.

When O’Reilly had on an informed Catholic nun who supported Obama’s health care plan and tried to show how it related to Catholic social doctrine, O’Reilly cut her off and bounced her the way Ted Tevan did with his radio callers years ago in Montreal.

Sean Hannity is the poor man’s Bill O’Reilly, and not nearly as well informed as his master. I have not heard Hannity say a positive thing about Obama since he was elected eight months ago. Hannity’s idea of deep analysis is to keep throwing Rev. Wright’s name around; his idea of penetrating questioning is to state his own opinion (“I think Obama is a dangerous radical”) and ask his guests if they agree with him. They invariably do, because most of the guests on these programs are chosen precisely because they hold the same rigid conservative views as the hosts.

Which brings us to Greta Van Susteren. For a lawyer who spent time in the criminal courts, Greta’s questions are about as crisp as wet spaghetti. My guess is that this is because she often does not understand the issue under discussion. She spends much of her time criticizing people in Congress because they do not carefully read bills, like the current thousand page health bill. Apparently Van Susteren does not realize that it is the broad thrust of bills that are voted on, not the minute legal niceties.

So there you have it – Fox’s big four. Yet whatever weaknesses they have, apparently they are cleaning up in the ratings. Why is that? Because night after night, they cater to the anger and rage that is boiling over out there in TV land.

What is the source of this anger and hatred? If Rush Limbaugh and the Fox quartet don’t create this anger, then where does it come from? It comes, I am convinced, from changes in the country that neither Fox nor Limbaugh can control and may not even understand. But they can read the writing on the wall. Before mid-century, the conservative yahoos who make up the Fox audience will be a minority in their own country. They are losing their place in the sun. They look at the White House and they see the first black president. They look at the Supreme Court and they see the first Latin woman.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. They are confused. They are angry. Limbaugh and Fox give voice to their anger and that may well be a good thing. But the game is up and they know it.

The Senior Times Sept. 2009

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 21, 2017

Because spring has arrived, here is a poem translated to English from the Irish language.

Anois teacht an tEarraigh

Spring is now coming

Now with the springtime
The days will grow longer
And after St. Bride’s day’
My sail I’ll let go
I put my mind to it,
And I never will linger
Till I find myself back
In the County Mayo.

In Clare of Morris family
I will be the first night
and in the Wall on the side below it
I will begin to drink
to Maghs Woods I shall go
until I shall make a months visit there
two miles close
to the Mouth of the Big Ford.

I swear
that my heart rises up
as the wind rises up
or as the fog lifts
when I think about Ceara
or about Gaileang on the lower side of it
about Sceathach an Mhíle
or about the plains of Mayo.

Cill Liadain is the town
where everything grows
there are blackberries and raspberries there
and every sort of fruit
and were I to be standing
in the center of my people
age would depart from me
and I would be again young.

There is always wheat and oats
growing barley and flax there
rye in branch there
flower-bread and meat
the folks who make moonshine
without a licence selling it there
the pride of the country
playing and drinking.

There is sowing and plowing
and fertilizing without manure
and it’s many the thing there
of which I have not yet spoken
kilns and mills
working without rest there
with hardly any talk about a pennys rent
or about nothing of that sort.

 

 

Written by the famous Irish language poet, Antaine Ó Raifteirí.

PIT STOP

March 16, 2017

Pit Stop - Oct

What language debate? Blog comments reflect a peaceful Quebec.

About three years ago I began blogging. This means I got myself an address on the Internet (anyone can do this in three easy steps) and started to post daily comments.

The major themes of these comments usually involve politics, morality and religion. I usually put these comments in the form of a question: Is Michael Ignatieff ready to be prime minister? Should lesbians conceive children? Is religion a hoax?

The records for my blog show that about 300 people check it out every day. But fewer than five per cent actually leave comments on my original postings. The most comments I ever had was 90 on whether Dr. Morgentaler should have received the Order of Canada.

I have had comments from as nearby as my neighbors in Westmount and as far away as South Korea and Latvia. The comments are generally informed and civil even when they deal with contentious subjects. Two of the most contentious are the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the language tensions in Quebec.

Because of the PQ’s language policies, one of my blogmates left the province and moved to the United States. He is still bitter and whenever Quebec comes up on my blog he makes no bones about his contempt for the province.

I bring this up now, not because I think this expatriate is typical of Quebecers on the language issue. The point is, I think he is atypical.

As Hubert Bach recently pointed out in a comprehensive article in The Gazette, there are signs all over the place that language peace has broken out in Quebec. One current example of that was the banning of two anglo bands from a Fête Nationale concert. Several artists in the sovereignist camp spoke out in protest. As a result, the two anglo bands participated in the concert. What a change that is from the time there were fights in the street about the Eaton’s apostrophe.

What seems to have replaced the bitterness in the language war of the late ’70s and ’80s is a realization that the accommodation between the two groups is working well for both. The French are more secure in their majority. The English are more comfortable as a minority.

This language peace is visible in the two national holidays that begin our summer. In both the Fête Nationale and Canada Day there is more fun and less politics. Instead of two duelling communities there is a sense of welcome all over the province.

Just imagine if Howard Galganov were to return from his exile in Ontario and tried his old game of fanning animosities. I don’t think he’d get far. That kind of demagoguery just doesn’t cut it here any more. There are, of course, a small group of angryphones remaining in the province, but they operate on the political fringes and are largely irrelevant.

Having said all that, the PQ option of separation for Quebecers is still on the books. PQ leader Pauline Marois has been doing her best to inject some life into that option. She has outlined a program to chip away at the federal system in the province by fighting to take various powers back from Ottawa, specifically in cultural affairs.

No sooner had Marois outlined her program than former premier Parizeau weighed in. Wouldn’t you know it. Parizeau has become a kind of frenchified Colonel Blimp. He told Marois she might provoke crises with Ottawa on a series of contentious issues.This would put the sovereignist troops on their metal.

So what happens? A few days after Parizeau’s ill-chosen remarks, the PQ was shut out in two by-elections, one of which they thought they could win.

Now we can take a break from politics at least until Labour Day. There are no constitutional questions buzzing around Ottawa, no referendums on the horizon in Quebec.

The Gazette caught the mood in a recent editorial on June 26: “Look around the world. There might be no place anywhere that manages diversity-in-unity as well as Quebec-inCanada. Where is it as easy to understand that there’s no need to choose between one sense of belonging and the other? In fact we do so well that we really need two days – or even the whole week in between – to celebrate how lucky we are.”

 Have a great summer.

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 14, 2017

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How in the world did Polly Noble, a bubbly little girl with freckles, born just outside Dromore in January 1837, live to become the subject of a biography more than a century later in Toronto.

It was on her father’s farm, an old Coach Road between Dromore and Enniskillen, that Polly spent an idyllic two years with her parents, George and Jane Noble.  Then disaster struck.  On January 6, 1839, the Big Wind rose out of the sea and swept across Ireland, wailing like a thousand banshees.  It flattened whole villages, burned down farm houses, and finally killed her father.  It changed Polly’s life forever.

Two years later, Polly’s mother, Jane, married William Fleming, the handsome widower across the road at Bridgewater Farm.  Soon Polly began to walk back and forth the mile or so to the one-room school run in Dromore by the Kildare Society.

But she also found time to plant potatoes, milk the cows, look after the goats, pull flax, chase the hens and run bare-foot in the meadows.

Then disaster struck again.  The potato crop failed and famine and typhus threatened Bridgewater Farm.  Like thousands of others the Fleming decided they must escape.

They packed what they could and traveled by horse and cart to Londonderry/Derry, drinking in their last views of the green fields and hills of Ireland.  On the 14th of May, 1847, along with four hundred and eighteen other passengers, they boarded the three-masted sailing ship Sesostris.

After an appalling voyage, during which some of the passengers, including Polly’s darling little brother and sister died, they docked at Grosse-Ile, the quarantine station on the St-Lawrence River, about an hour from Quebec.  After three years in Montreal,  where she met her future husband, Polly was now ready for her next adventure in a vast unknown land called Canada.  Her destiny would be linked with a dozen children who had called their mothers, one of them a future mayor of Toronto.

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 7, 2017

The Blackbird of Derrycairn

by Austin Clarke

The Blackbird of Derrycairn by Austin Clarke. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top

Is whistling and the sun is brighter
Than God’s own shadow in the cup now!
Forget the hour-bell. Mournful matins
Will sound, Patric, as well at nightfall.

Faintly through mist of broken water
Fionn heard my melody in Norway.
He found the forest track, he brought back
This beak to gild the branch and tell, there,
Why men must welcome in the daylight.

He loved the breeze that warns the black grouse,
The shouts of gillies in the morning
When packs are counted and the swans cloud
Loch Erne, but more than all those voices
My throat rejoicing from the hawthorn.

In little cells behind a cashel,
Patric, no handbell gives a glad sound.
But knowledge is found among the branches.
Listen! That song that shakes my feathers
Will thong the leather of your satchels.

The poem is about the dominance the Catholic church held over the government in Ireland.

PIT STOP

March 2, 2017

Here’s Neil with his column in the Senior Times

Pit Stop

Look to Northern Ireland for a way to peace in Middle East

The recent outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland seemed at first like a black cloud threatening the fragile peace process. Until the silver lining appeared.

What happened after two British soldiers and an Irish policeman were murdered by a discredited IRA dissident group is almost unimaginable. The forces that had been at each other’s throats for decades came together to publicly denounce the killings.

Thousands of people, Catholic and Protestant alike, took to the streets to express their outrage and abhorrence. And the republican splinter groups who have claimed responsibility have been roundly condemned by the mainstream republican organization, Sinn Fein. Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive, stood shoulder to shoulder with the protestant first minister, Peter Robinson, to condemn the killings: “We were elected to lead and, through democratic institutions, deliver for everyone throughout the community. We will not allow a tiny mindless minority to set our political agenda or divert us.”

McGuinness called those responsible “traitors to Ireland” and urged Catholics to cooperate with police in catching the culprits. Such an unambiguous display of support for the Northern Ireland Police Service from the leadership of Sinn Fein is unprecedented. As the London journal The Tablet wrote: “Twenty years ago they would have been plotting the killing of soldiers and policemen themselves.”

Those responsible for the bloodshed plainly intended to destroy the power-sharing structure of the Assembly at Stormont and escalate sectarian tensions across the community. However, the response from politicians and even more importantly from ordinary citizens, who took to the streets in significant numbers at short notice to support vigils and peace rallies, made clear that any attempt to turn back the clock on the peace process would not be tolerated.

These public displays were followed by the unprecedented image of Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists attending the funeral of Stephen Carroll, the murdered Ulster police officer. In a highly personal address at the end of the service, in the presence of Carroll’s widow, the head of the Police Service, Sir Hugh Orde, told her:

“He will not be forgotten, Kate. I promise you. My staff and officers will not forget what he did. I know the community will not forget what he did.”

The hard fact is there will be no united Ireland for the foreseeable future. But the blinkered IRA dissidents refuse to recognize that. They first demonstrated their hostility to the peace process when they planted a car bomb in Omagh in August 1998 that killed 29 people in the main shopping street. (I walked on this street in a trip to Ulster a couple of years ago. The Omagh blast is still fresh in the minds of the citizens there).

Undeterred by the hostile reaction, pockets of disgruntled republican activists throughout Northern Ireland vowed to defy majority public opinion, re-arm and revive “physical force” republicanism as the traditional and only effective means they could see of ever achieving a united Ireland.

For a time there was nothing much more than propaganda stunts with armed, hooded figures on manoeuvres in remote Irish boglands. From time to time police on both sides of the border intercepted arms and explosives in transit to a planned atrocity. The dissidents suspected that the mainstream IRA was double-crossing them by infiltrating its own people into their ranks to betray them.

But several well-planned ambushes over a year ago, in which police officers were wounded, underlined the growing dissident threat. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde warned that the dissidents were intent on killing a police officer, a grim prophecy that has now been fulfilled.

Still, tragic as the killings were, what remains is the virtual universal condemnation of them in Ulster by the ordinary people and their elected leaders. Remember these same leaders had been fighting each other for decades. Now they are united for peace, an extraordinary accomplishment and a way forward for others.

It is no coincidence that U.S. President Barack Obama chose as his new envoy to the Middle East the very man who played a large role in bringing the warring Irish factions together in the Good Friday Agreement. Former democratic senator George Mitchell now brings his negotiating skills, honed in Ulster, to building peace between Israel and the Palestinians, whose enmity is perhaps the most dangerous in the world.

But the peace process in Ulster is a paradigm for a similar development in the Middle East. There are dissimilarities of course, but if the hard men in Ulster can unite for peace, so can those other warring factions – the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The peace process in Ulster points a way to peace in the Middle East.

The Senior Times

Pit Stop April 2009

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

February 14, 2017

A passage from the book  Neil McKenty Live! 

McKenty’s Two-Rule Golf School.

”Keep it simple, stupid!”  Imagine if those four words were applied to the golf swing.  It would revolutionize the game.  Since I left my television show 12 years ago, I have been trying to master the golf swing.  Let’s face it, the swing has more rules than a monastery: bend your elbows, incline your knees, swivel your hips, flex your ankle, equalize tour weight, overlap your fingers, and address the ball.  In trying to keep all this straight, the danger is you begin to hallucinate.  You wake up in the middle of the night yelling ”Fore” and you haven’t even hit the ball.

Is there any way to get a handle on this jumble, any way to ”keep it simple, stupid?”  As a matter of fact I think there is.  It came to me the other day at Meadowbrook where I try to play several days a week.  Of course all golfers have their own theories about the golf swing.  For what it is worth, here’s mine.  It seems to me you can reduce all these rules and regulations to two.  One relates to the head, the other to the feet.  Keep it down and don’t move.  Simple, but not easy.  How can I tell if I’ve moved my head during my golf swing?  Simple again.  The ball dribbles along the fairway like water dribbling from a garden hose that’s lost its pressure.  Whereas if I keep my head steady the ball arcs gracefully into the air every single time.  So it’s not your elbows or your wrists or your knees.  It’s the head, stupid.  And I would argue that if you don’t move your head, you are halfway to a good golf game.  So do I keep my head still.  Not every time.  But often enough to keep me coming back.

After the head there’s the feet.  What about them?  Move them.  The exact opposite of what you do with the head.  To be more precise, you don’t exactly move the feet.  What you do is move your weight from one foot to the other, and in the process, both feet move in different ways.  So how exactly does this work?

When I address the ball I try to keep mu weight evenly on both feet.  Then on my back swing I try to move most of my weight from my front foot to my back foot.  And on my follow through I try to move the weight from my back foot to my front foot.  I don’t often do it correctly bu I try.  In going from back to front, the rear foot pivots so that the end of the swing you are standing on your rear toes facing the target.  So, it’s true that both feet move in different ways.  But the purpose of the whole exercise is to move or transfer the weight.  Again, simple, but not easy.  The fact is that most of the time I can’t manage it.

How can I tell if I have moved my feet (transferred my weight) correctly?  I can tell every time.  If I haven’t, the swing has no power and the ball won’t go far.  It’s ike a gun the has lost its charge.  The bullet has no velocity.

So, to resume.  If I move my feet, I get distance.  If I don’t move my head, I get height.  If you have both height and distance you are a long way toward an enjoyable golf game  Just for the record, I have this other idiosyncrasy that makes my game still more enjoyable.  I don’t count.  So instead of logging a triple bogey from the last hole, each hole for me is a fresh start.  And believe me, I don’t need to count to tell whether my swing is working or not.

If you are a golfer you may disagree with my diagnosis of the golf swing.  But you have got to admit, it’s simple.  And if I could find a partner, I think we could make some money.  We’d start the Two Rule Golf School.  ”Don’t move your head, move your feet.”  We couldn’t lose, could we?

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

February 7, 2017

Here is a poem from Thomas Gray, Catharine’s favorite.

Elegy written in a country of Churchyard.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault,
f Memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Yet even these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by the unlettered muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?
On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of nature cries,
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires.
For thee, who mindful of the unhonoured dead
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely Contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,
Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.
There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or crossed in hopeless love.
One morn I missed him on the customed hill,
Along the heath and near his favorite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;
The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou can’st read) the lay,
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.’
The Epitaph
Here rests his head upon the lap of earth
A youth to fortune and to fame unknown.
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy marked him for her own.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven (’twas all he wished) a friend.
No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.
What is your favorite poem?
Have you ever written a poem?

MCKENTY: A MAN OF ALL SEASONS

January 25, 2017

 

 

As long as he could remember, Neil McKenty was interested in writing. A teacher in grade school gave him a key piece of advice: “Find something to write about.” And he did.

At 9, he won his first oratorical contest, no doubt helped by his mother, Irene, a talented teacher.

His father, Arthur, owned a hardware store in the small town of Hastings, Ontario.

At 15, Neil signed on as a stringer for the Peterborough Examiner whose editor was Robertson Davies. He covered village council meetings, sports events, accidents, runaway horses, lawn bowling and Sunday afternoon teas. He was paid 10 cents a column inch.

He and his cousin bought an old Dodge car for $30, patched the leaky gas tank with bubble gum and put a big sign marked PRESS on the windshield. He learned about politics, prices and world affairs while sitting with the farmers on bales of twine around the glowing pot-bellied stove in front of nail kegs in his dad’s hardware store.

While studying with the Jesuits, he got one a master’s degree in history and another in communications from the University of Michigan.

In 1967, his biography of controversial Ontario premier Mitch Hepburn won the centennial prize for best biography.

I met Neil on a Toronto dance floor in 1971. At the time, he was finishing a three-year stint with the Foster Foundation, working with the Kennedys and Brian O’Neill of the National Hockey League to bring the Special Olympics to Canada.

He was looking for a new challenge. He found it.

Two weeks after our honeymoon, we moved lock, stock and barrel to Montreal.

Neil did his first editorial at CJAD hardly knowing where Peel and Ste. Catherine were.

With one part-time paycheck and no car, we explored this fascinating city by bus in all kinds of weather.

One bitter January day, we were waiting on a street corner near the Botanical Garden.

We decided then and there you had to join the Montreal winter or freeze to death, so we bought skis for $49 a pair at Eaton’s and slithered around Angrignon Park.

A member of the Laurentian Lodge Ski Club took pity on us and the result was some memorable friendships, including Jackrabbit Johannsen, and a book, Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club, which Neil turned into a best-seller.

By Catharine McKenty

For the Senior Times 2012