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As Canadian as Possible… under the circumstances
Posted: August 17th, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
Posted: July 18th, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
I can’t reveal many of the details at the moment, but a recent opportunity nearly saw us moving back to Alberta by the end of the summer. This experience led me to think about all the empty checkboxes on our family’s long list of things we’ve wanted to do and see since we moved to New England in 2003. The long summers of research and extra teaching combined with camps and activities for kids have made it difficult to do much more than a weekend of camping here and there over the last 7 or so years. But what would happen if we did have to leave soon? How many things would we regret never having done while we were here?
These thoughts were clearly in my mind on Thursday when I was reminded that my daughter had signed up for a field trip with her ballet school. She had a single ticket to go see the New York City Ballet in Saratoga Springs this weekend. We’d literally just walked in the door from three days of camping when I got the call from her ballet teacher wondering if E. still planned to attend the performance. In typical Paul Martin fashion, I saw this as a sign. I came up with an impractical, if not outlandish plan that would see my kids and I heading to Saratoga Springs, attending the performance together, staying overnight, and then driving an additional 90 minutes or so to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, my wife had to work today, so she stayed behind. I wish it weren’t a solo trip, but we both agreed that this was a great chance to do these things for the kids. So, I write to you now from an airport hotel in Albany, which was the cheapest and best place I could find on such short notice. The kids are long passed out and I’m stepping away from a late night work session to write this post which has been dying to get out of me all day. Tomorrow, we’re on to the Hall of Fame, but that’s less in my mind still than what I saw this afternoon.
I can honestly say that the part of the trip that comes closest to filling one of my own lifelong dreams was to see the NYC Ballet for the first time. Today was the final day of their annual residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and it was great to have the chance to join my daughter there, but also to bring my eight year-old son, who loved the performance nearly as much as my daughter and me. Although I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the crowd at the otherwise lovely Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the performance exceeded my own high expectations. The company’s program today was mainly focused on some of the many Ballanchine works in their repertory, including the quite lovely Walpurgisnacht Ballet. The piece that was really stunning, however, that jolted the audience to their feet as soon as it was over, was Christopher Wheeldon‘s piece “After the Rain.” Set to some amazing music by Arvo Pärt, the piece featured a powerful and touching pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and her partner that brought the somewhat restless crowd to a complete standstill. The beauty and emotion of that pas de deux was unforgettable and left many people around me wiping tears from their eyes when it was over. It’s all too rare, sadly, that we can experience the power of art in as visceral a way as this.
I’m not sure why I’m writing about my experiences today in such detail. This seems more like a diary entry than anything else I’ve written before on this blog. Perhaps it’s because the last few weeks have taught me a lot about the importance of seizing the moment and of trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as one can. This nearly resulted in a huge life change a couple of weeks ago in Alberta. Rather than being as disappointed as I probably should be that I didn’t get the job, though, I can’t help but feeling empowered and recharged by experience of taking such a bold step and having it nearly work out for me.
My experience in Alberta taught me a lot about academia, too. Academia allows us to develop many great and interesting skills and then sets many restrictive parameters around what we are supposed to see as meaningful applications of that knowledge. It works to persuade us that our audience is and always should be the small number of fellow specialists in our field. If we attempt to reach wider audiences our work is met with suspicion that we are somehow less serious about our field than those who play by these rules. Academia has something utterly at stake in persuading us that it is the only place where we can truly apply all that we’ve learned. Having seen that my work and skills have value outside of academia, I no longer buy this. I’m increasingly persuaded that our education system is outmoded, completely out of touch, and thoroughly ineffective compared to what it could be if we started to pay more attention to these questions.
I guess I can now cross saying that out loud right off my list. There’s lots more to say, of course, but that will have to wait for a while.
Posted: March 30th, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, April 6 at 7:00 AM, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check the UVM Registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Spring classes.
I’m setting aside enough 15 minute appointments over the next several days or so to meet with all 40 of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the fall semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2011, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate. At the very least, you should carefully review your CATS report to see if you’re on track to graduate.
Keep reading after the break for further details and to choose your appointment time.
Posted: March 29th, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
A friend of mine (@readywriting) posted a link to this picture on Twitter the other day. It’s a picture of President Obama reviewing a speech on healthcare that he would deliver to a joint session of Congress. Since seeing this photo, I’ve returned to it many times. I’ve shown it to my classes and e-mailed it to fellow professors. Today, I feel like e-mailing it to the writer of each and every student essay I read from the huge pile I have in front of me.
The speech before the edits isn’t bad at all, I told my students. The version President Obama had in front of him, I would assume, had already been through many drafts. Look, though, at how the editing the President has done has made it even stronger. Yes, the President was planning on reading these words to the entire country and people will go back and reread this speech later. What’s most striking to me, though, is that President Obama didn’t stop until it was the best it could be. It’s unlikely that anyone would have been unsatisfied with the earlier speech – except him.
To my students I say this: I realize that you’re writing an essay for me that you may intend to forget about shortly after writing it. It is not going to change the world, and it will not be read by millions of other people. But that’s not the point; that’s not the only reason Obama edited his speech so carefully. Imagine how much better your essays could be if you took the time to try to express your ideas more clearly, more succinctly, more persuasively. I might not even perceive the difference you made from one edit to the next, but you will.
I’ve read some excellent essays in this current bunch, but there’s not one that couldn’t have benefited from careful editing. Perhaps, in the future, instead of giving handouts or talking about editing, I’ll just refer them to this photo. It really does say it all.
Posted: February 24th, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
Posted: February 2nd, 2010 by Paul W. Martin
Here’s the description for the new online course I’ve just proposed on hockey in Canadian literature. I hope to offer this in August through UVM’s Continuing Education Program. There are, of course, lots of books I could talk about in this course. It could easily be a year-long class! If I get the go-ahead to offer this course, I’ll post more details here.
“Hero of the Play”: Hockey in Canadian Literature
While hockey is undoubtedly a quintessential part of Canadian identity, it is mostly absent from Canadian fiction and poetry until the publication of Roch Carrier’s celebrated short story “The Hockey Sweater” in 1978. Over the last thirty years, however, hockey has proven to become a rich source of inspiration for some of Canada’s best writers of fiction and poetry.
In this intensive two-credit online course we will read and discuss some of the most important fiction and poetry about hockey to emerge during this period. We will also spend time considering the extensive connections between hockey and Canada’s national identity, which is reflected in everything from the ubiquitous outdoor rinks in nearly every neighborhood across the country to the presence of a passage from “The Hockey Sweater” on the back of Canada’s five-dollar bill. While this is certainly a course for fans of the game, it is also designed to be a course for those fascinated by the intersections between literature and culture. Some knowledge of hockey and Canada will be helpful but is not essential in any way to one’s enjoyment of this course.
Reading list will include: Hero of the Play, by Richard Harrison; “The Hockey Sweater,” by Roch Carrier; Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, by Randall Maggs; King Leary, by Paul Quarrington; and Twenty Miles, by Cara Hedley.
Posted: November 18th, 2009 by Paul W. Martin
This is a great new movement aiming to spread compassion around the world. We all could use more of that, couldn’t we?
On February 28, 2008 Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people have contributed to the process so that on November 12, 2009 the Charter was unveiled to the world.
Posted: November 13th, 2009 by Paul W. Martin
Fall registration begins for Seniors on Tuesday, November 17, and opens up for everyone else gradually over that week. Make sure to check the UVM Registration schedule to see when you may begin registering for Spring classes.
I’m setting aside enough 15 minute appointments over the next week or so to meet with all 50 of my advisees. I’ll be available to answer any advising questions and to help review your choice of courses for the fall semester. If you’ll be a senior planning on graduating in spring 2010, you should definitely come to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate.
Keep reading after the break for further details and to choose your appointment time.
Posted: November 10th, 2009 by Paul W. Martin
POETRY READING BY RANDALL MAGGS
Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems is a hockey saga, wrapping the game‚s story in the “intense, moody,
contradictory” character of Terry Sawchuk, one of its greatest goalies. In compact, conversational poems
that build into a narrative long poem, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems follows the tragic trajectory of
the life and work of Terry Sawchuk, dark driven genius of a goalie who survived twenty tough seasons
in an era of inadequate upper-body equipment and no player representation. The book is illustrated
with photographs mirroring the text, depicting key moments in the career of Terry Sawchuk, his
exploits and his agony.
“Through his marvelous, moving poetry, Randall Maggs gets closer than any biographer to the heart of
the darkest, most troubled figure in the history of the national game. This may be the truest hockey
book ever written. It reaches a level untouched by conventional sports literature… His Sawchuk is real.”
- Stephen Brunt, Globe and Mail columnist and Canada‚s premier sportswriter and commentator
For more information about the reading, please contact
Paul Martin, Dept of English
The following articles will give you more information about Randall Maggs and his work:
http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Poetry inspires poetry page/2198813/story.html
Posted: November 9th, 2009 by Paul W. Martin
Below you’ll find the latest newsletter from Northwest Passages. Closing down our beloved site after 14 years is hard, but necessary for us. There are lots of good books for sale at our site right now, so make sure to check it out.
NWP moves on
Greetings from Northwest Passages. I know that it has been a long time since you have heard from us, but I’m writing today with important news. As of December 31, 2009, Rob Stocks, Sarah Bagshaw, and I will no longer be in the business of selling books. Northwest Passages will cease operation at the end of this year.
This decision has been coming for some time and probably should have been made a long time ago. We’ve loved much of what we’ve done at NWP and have had a hard time letting go of our passion for selling and promoting Canadian literature. With the directions our lives and careers have taken in recent years, not to mention the changes to the landscape of publishing and bookselling in Canada, we feel it is time for us to close our store.
We are very grateful to all those of you who have supported us over the 14 years our site has been online. This newsletter’s editorial talks in more detail about our history, but suffice it to say that we have loved working with so many great authors, publishers, distributors, and, most important, customers from across Canada and around the world. Northwest Passages never made us anything close to enough money for us to even consider this a part-time job, but the site did help
Although we have stopped bringing in new books, we still have a considerable inventory of fine Canadian books that we are hoping to clear out by the end of this year. If you’ve supported us in the past, we hope that you will take some time to look through our inventory. Any of these books would make great Christmas gifts for your loved ones or excellent additions to your own personal library of Canadian fiction, poetry, drama, and literary criticism.
To see which books we have in stock, just go to our website at http://www.nwpassages.com You can either go genre by genre and see what’s “in stock now” or head right to the “On Sale” heading on our site. Either way, you’ll discover many great works of Canadian fiction, poetry, drama, and literary criticism at excellent prices.
The future of Northwest Passages?
Over the next seven weeks, Northwest Passages will be clearing out all of its inventory and preparing to close down our retail operation. We will, however, entertain any offers from parties interested in taking over Northwest Passages and carrying it on into the future. As mentioned below, with Twitter and blogs and espresso book machines these days, perhaps someone might want to take this established brand and bring it back to life in a new form. We’ll definitely be willing to talk to anyone who’s interested. If this interests you, please contact Paul directly at paul — at — nwpassages.com
Passages: 14 years of Canadian Literature Online
In the fall of 1995, my best friend Rob Stocks and I came up with an idea that, for better worse, would go on to be part of our lives for the best part of fourteen years. Rob, an early Internet entrepreneur in the days long before this would become a common term, and I, a grad student just starting a PhD program in Comparative Literature, thought we might be able to combine our interests and expertise to create an online bookstore. What would make this online bookstore unique was that it would focus solely on Canadian literature. In the years since, we have put thousands of hours of work into our business and have helped sell thousands of Canadian books to readers around the world. Much of this work has been done by Sarah Bagshaw, who for years now has been the heart and soul of NWP.
When the Northwest Passages website went live in the summer of 1996, Amazon.com was still a new enterprise that many doubted would ever be capable of turning a profit. Although there was no Canadian equivalent to Amazon whatsoever, but Rob and I didn’t have much interest in the “everything for everyone” approach to bookselling online. We envisioned that the Internet could become home to a multiplicity of niche booksellers who could provide both a deep selection of an online store and the knowledgeable customer service of an independent bookseller. Northwest Passages would target the valuable and, still to this day, underserved market of Canadian literature.
In the early days of Northwest Passages, many people in the publishing industry viewed us great suspicion. As crazy as this might sound today, it sometimes took me weeks to persuade certain publishers that putting a picture of a book’s cover up on our website would neither violate copyright nor anger the book’s author. While publishers gradually warmed to my argument that this was no different than putting a copy of the book in a store’s front window, they were clearly unprepared at that time for the massive changes that the internet would soon bring to bookselling and publishing. When we launched, many publishers did not even have websites and none had any people on staff devoted to online marketing of any sort. Furthermore, most publishers were either unable or unwilling to provide us with digital data of any sort. Many of the early book covers and book descriptions that still exist in our database were all painstakingly scanned or entered by hand.
One of the things at the heart of our early vision of Northwest Passages that long set us apart from other online stores of any sort was that we wanted our site to be as much of an information resource as it was a retail store. Ultimately, as the three of us will readily admit, Northwest Passages was always more successful as a hub for information about Canadian books than it was as a store. At its peak, Northwest Passages saw thousands of different visitors accessing our site each month and over 1000 readers subscribed to our newsletter, The Compass. At the same time, however, we never sold enough books to pay even one of us a salary that would enable us to look after the store full-time. Because we held limited inventory and brought in books as people ordered them, it was very difficult for us to compete with the behemoth online bookstores (Amazon.ca and Chapters-Indigo) or local stores where you can walk in a find a book within a few minutes. The lure of immediacy was hard for us to overcome in the minds of our customers.
Where we did succeed commercially was mostly in sales to customers outside of Canada. Accustomed to moderate to long shipping times for purchases made by mail or online, these clients were more than willing to wait a few weeks for a book to arrive. More important, they appreciated having a bookseller like Sarah who was eager to help them obtain the books they wanted and who would keep them apprised of the latest Canadian releases and literary news. We also did well selling course books for Canadian literature courses taught everywhere from Australia to Italy. These customers especially will feel the loss of Northwest Passages acutely.
Looking back at what we began 14 years ago, it’s clear that Northwest Passages was ahead of its time. In some small ways, perhaps, we helped push some Canadian publishers on to the Internet more quickly than they might have otherwise done. With the technologies that surround us today such as Twitter, blogs, ebook readers, and Espresso Book Machines, I can’t help but wish sometimes that we were starting out again today with the same youthful energy and enthusiasm Rob and I shared in those early days of the Internet. We are once again at the dawn of a new and exciting era for publishing and bookselling in this country that will require us to start thinking in new and innovative ways about what it is that we do.
Over fourteen years, our lives have grown in rich and wonderful ways. So too has publishing and the selling of books. Today, Rob, Sarah, and I are ready to leave Northwest Passages behind and to go our separate ways. With his company ideaLEVER, Rob continues to innovate in the world of ecommerce and content management. Sarah, who has really kept NWP running for much of the last decade, has taken her expertise as one of the best booksellers around to KidsBooks in Vancouver. I, as many of you know, am now in the US teaching Canadian literature at the University of Vermont and directing its Canadian Studies Program.
We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received from family and friends, publishers and authors, professors and students. Most of all, we want to thank our incredibly loyal customers, some of whom have stuck with us since our first days online. It has been our great pleasure to get to know so many interesting people from all corners of the world.
Canadian literature, as we have seen firsthand, continues to have a wide international audience. We have been honoured to have helped readers everywhere get their hands on thousands of Canadian books.
On behalf of Rob, Sarah, and myself, thank you again for all of your support.
October 20, 2009