Canada has a new poet laureate

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george-elliott-clarkeIt was announced earlier in the week that Nova Scotia poet George Elliott Clarke has been appointed to the position of Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Clarke has been a force in Canadian poetry for quite a while now, and has obtained some notable honours, which include the William P. Hubbard Award reflecting his long contribution to race relations in Toronto, The Archibald Lampman Award, and the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for his collection Execution Poems. He’s also an Officer of the Order of Canada. I’m personally very pleased with the selection of Clarke to fulfill this official role.

I find it interesting that the position of poet laureate is a relatively new one for Canada. Of course, the United Kingdom is known for the title, having officially created the position in 1668 with the appointment of John Dryden as the first. The United States has had a national poet since 1937 with the appointment of Joseph Auslander. Canada has been behind the times in that our country waited until 2001 to create the position, even though there have been numerous poets of great quality and insight throughout our history. George Bowering, one of my favourite poets, was our first and there have been six others since, alternating between English and French language writers.

It brings a certain official recognition to the work of these poets and to poetry in general, which is to be lauded. I look forward to reading more of Clarke’s work in the future.

Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell

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220px-azincourt-final_lgAs an amateur medievalist (my undergrad degree included a major in Medieval Studies), I’ve maintained a healthy dose of historic reading in the last number of years. While most of this has focused on non-fiction that deals with the period, I have recently added some historical fiction as well, in this case Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell.

The book is set in the short period leading up to October 25, 1415, the date of the famous Battle of Agincourt. A modest English army under the command of King Henry V, composed mostly of longbow archers, defeated a much larger French force that contain heavily armoured men-at-arms and mounted knights. The history books record the day as a major victory for England and one certainly worthy of novelization.

The book follows Nicholas Hook, an archer who was outlawed for attacking a corrupt priest back in England. He escapes severe punishment by joining other archers in France, where he is on the losing side in the massacre of Soissons, where the English garrison of the city as well as many of the French denizens were savagely raped or killed by a French army. Hook survives, rescues Melisande (with whom he later falls in love) and ends up back in England where he joins the army of Henry V before the latter’s campaign into France begins.

Cornwell writes the story of Agincourt in a way that is accessible to those who are interested in history, but not in the depths of academia. While character development may not be the high point of the novel (some characters appear nearly one-sided, though Hook and a couple of the central characters are finely developed), Cornwell’s great strength is in his attention to detail when it comes to battles, equipment, machinery, weapons and vivid descriptions of the violence of war. His descriptions of the rape of French women at Soissons, or the gutting of French nobility with poleaxes at Agincourt, are hard-hitting and, at times, uncomfortable to read, but perfectly serve the author’s purpose. He also does a great job of capturing the day-to-day of medieval life and the logistics of military movement.

As a piece of historical fiction, I found this book incredibly enjoyable. For anyone with an interest in the medieval period, or if you are not too fussy on the magical elements of books like Game of Thrones, yet enjoy the setting, atmosphere and subject matter, this book is one that will be worth the time to read.

Recent Readings

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Signing books with Brian Bartlett at WOTS Halifax.

I had the pleasure of being invited to read at the Word on the Street festival in Halifax on Set. 19. It took place in  a lovely location (the new Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Rd). I read with Brian Bartlett and had a chance to chat to him afterwards while signing books. He’s an interesting poet and I picked up a copy of his Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar at the event and look forward to reading it when I get the time.

On Oct. 7, I was in Gander to read at an event for the Arts & Letters Awards. It is intended to raise awareness of the awards for potential senior and junior entrants, while showcasing some of the local talent and successes from recent years. I read two poems from my newest book, geo•logics, both of which had won awards in the last few years. Among the other readers was Matthew Williams, a student at the local high school. It is great to see young creative minds getting recognition for hard work and effort in poetry.

I’d like to thank those at Word on the Street and the Arts & Letters Awards for the opportunities to read at these events. They were well organized, attended, and I enjoyed myself immensely.

New Technology Used to Study Medieval Manuscripts

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As someone who has more than a passing interest in the Middle Ages, this article was an good read today. In Norway, there are scientists who are using high-tech tools to analyse medieval manuscripts. No, I don’t imagine the meaning of the text is being studied, so much as the physical details of its composition and what that means for the preservation of these books. With time exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors can degrade the contents of these artifacts, but through the use of hyperspectral imaging these risks are reduced. It also allows for quicker analysis. Interesting stuff.

Hyperspectral imaging has also been used to closely examine other forms of art, primarily paintings. In 2012, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch was analysed using this method. However, it has not been used to look at old manuscripts.

“The technique is quite effective for examining old manuscripts, and yields much better results than other methods. Whole pages can be scanned and analysed in a matter of minutes. Fragile documents are also protected from marks and rough handling,” says Catelli.