The Hermit Poet

November 28, 2006

By Xom, These People Need Help…

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 5:24 pm

Ok — I’m still planning to do a write-up of the East Vancouver Cultural Crawl / Festival I attended over the weekend, but I couldn’t resist posting this latest craigslist find in the meantime. Buried in the Creative Gigs section was an ad for a costumer for a movie. While the job ad itself was pretty mundane, the link to the movie promotion site was much more entertaining.

I mean, who can’t love a movie called Xom: Intergalactic Vampire Hunter — it’s bound to have everything you want, right?The poster reads:

He came across the universe to battle the forces of evil. One alien and his robot assistant against… a planet of VAMPIRES.

I can feel the dramatic tension building here. And it’s hard not to love the honesty in advertising — it must take guts to describe your own movie in this way:

It is ultra low budget and requires part time/off hours participation. The film’s finance is currently around new car prices. We do not expect to seek additional funding beyond the possibility of small investors

Hmm.. budget around the price of a new car. They did add the following update though:

(update October 2006: We have received interest in this production from a local production company, indicating that when we can demonstrate that we know what we are doing, they would be willing to provide additional funding/resources).

Sounds promising indeed.

Interested in helping out? They’re still looking for someone to play the title role:

Costume requires a performer approx 6 ‘6 and thin.


November 26, 2006

Studying for the GRE Literature

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:58 pm

I’m taking the GRE Literature on Saturday and gearing up for my last bit of cramming and review. If you’re planning on taking it in the near future or sometime next year, you might want to check out the following online resources:

  1. GRE Literature in English Test Preparation – this is a nice compilation and evaluation of all the online and print resources
  2. Vade Mecum – thorough examination of likely texts to be covered, broken up by period. has bios and frequently tested quotes
  3. GRE Recommended Reading List – a breakdown of which texts have appeared most often on the GRE Literature
  4. How to Master the Literature GRE (Skylar Hamilton Burris) – a decent look at how to focus your studying to maximum effectiveness
  5. Literary Resources – also from Skylar Burris, an even more valuable set of timelines, critical writing, and summaries related to the various periods of English literature.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list — but the advice that each of the above is sound. In fact, I really wish I had found a couple of these earlier. The Vade Mecum site is an excellent way to review things in an organized fashion.

We’ll see how it all plays out, but for now I’m not expecting much — just a score that’s better than the ones I’ve been getting on the practice tests.

November 23, 2006

Happy Turkey Day to My American Friends

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 4:38 pm

Hope you’re all doing well south of the border!  I’m thankful for my friends down south and hope to rejoin them soon.

In Canada, things have been rather uneventful.  I took care of some car stuff this morning.  Studied some more for the GRE Literature.  Worked on a few applications for teaching positions (local Continuing Education types of things) and sent those out.  And will return to my studying shortly.

Not terribly exciting, but it’s a necessary monotony.

Been raining here and wil probably stay damp for a while.  It’s Vancouver after all.

November 19, 2006

Shooting Myself in the Foot

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 8:15 pm

I apparently missed the fine print on most of the PhD programs I had intended on applying to for next Fall. It seems that my GRE Literature scores will arrive too late (January 3rd) for my applications to be considered (most have moved to a December 15th or January 1st deadline).

This unfortunately drops me out of the running of the programs I felt I had the best chance with (or least the strongest desire to explore): University of Southern California (USC), University of Houston, and University of Utah.

What remains are the ones I know little about: University of Denver, University of North Texas, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. From what I’ve read, University of Denver’s program seems quite intriguing and a good fit overall for what I want. University of North Texas and University of Nebraska-Lincoln are both home to fine literary journals, so if that’s any indication of things, they might also be good places to explore.

The foreign language requirement at most of these schools is a bit worrisome to me. Whereas most people will fill it with Spanish, French or German, I’m stuck with my intermediate Mandarin and a bad memory for characters (I used to know 2700 characters, now I might have 700 still in my head, and most on slow recall). Proving fluency or competency usually requires either a timed translation exercise of an unfamiliar text or a written exam where you are asked to read a text in that language and write critically about that text in the same language. Which, given the complexity of academic Chinese, is not an easy task unless you’ve spent 4-5 years working on it.

That said, I’ll still be applying for a Stegner Fellowship (and really crossing my fingers this time) — which may be the best thing I can hope for now.

Not ruling out teaching positions either, despite the fierce competition.

November 16, 2006

Good With Words, But Losing My Grip on Numbers

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 7:58 pm

That’s the verdict after completing the GRE this afternoon.  I managed to maintain the same very nice Verbal score I had 7 years ago, but due to some poor time management and senility scuttled my chances at a great Math score (it’s still quite respectable, just not as good as before when I was still a math brain).  Actually, I’m surprised I still had a decent Math score after being forced to guess the last 12 questions due to time!  Oh well, guess the first part of the test really is worth more.

I can breathe a little easier now — but will need to start studying again for the Literature exam (ack).

Time to relax a little tonight.

November 15, 2006

New Issue of Boxcar Poetry Review is Up

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:25 pm

I shirked my study time for the GRE and finished laying out the November issue of Boxcar Poetry Review — a little foolish perhaps, but I can’t stand missing deadlines.

The November issue features:

Poetry: Theresa Boyar, Jared Carter, George David Clark, Jack Conway, Iris Dunkle, Ann Wood Fuller, Evelyn A. Lauer, Matt Merritt, Corey Mesler, Sally Molini, Matthew Olzmann, and Brian Simoneau

Review: Kathryn Maris’ The Book of Jobs reviewed by Greg Santos

Interview: Kate Northrop and Alexander Long compare notes on being first book poets (Part 1 of 2)

Photography: Arthur Westover (more great images)

Check it out here

General Foolishness, Captain Poor Planning, Lieutenant Procrastination

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 3:04 pm

I’m juggling my preparations for tomorrow’s GRE, taking care of the finishing touches on the new issue of Boxcar Poetry Review, and sending out a job application for a teaching position at UC Santa Cruz.

Oh well, there’s still time today and tomorrow morning. Thankfully I’ve been studying and reviewing for the last month or so. I’ll spend tonight doing practice exams and rest up.

There’s a possibility that I’ll just have to wait until tomorrow night before putting up the new issue of Boxcar Poetry Review — I’d rather be on time, but we’ll see how things work out.  Hopefully the Boxcar readership will forgive a day delay if I have to wait on it.

November 14, 2006

More Updates / Poetry News / GRE

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:48 pm

From Penticton

My father’s condition has stabilized somewhat this past week. His speech is still slowing, but his attitude is much more upbeat this week, largely in part to all the supportive emails and visits he’s received recently. He’s talking again about working on one of his book projects — a book on researching female ancestry. For those who aren’t familiar with my father, he has spent most of his life actively involved in family and local history as a professional genealogist and lecturer. Over the years he has established a wide network of friends and colleagues and is a well-known authority on many genealogical topics of research. So it’s definitely a good thing for him to be working on and something many people have been looking forward to seeing.

Poetry News

Just received word earlier today that three more poems have been accepted and will be appearing in the upcoming issue of The Drunken Boat. Look forward to seeing “How the World Fits Together,” “The Memory Theatre,” and “In the Long Dream of Exile.”

Also received my contributor’s copies of Crab Orchard Review in the mail today. I was also pleasantly surprised to find poems from fellow Kundiman friends and faculty, Marlon Esguerra, Jee Leong Koh, and Jon Pineda; also poems from my old poetry professor Lance Larsen from BYU; and work from Erin Elizabeth Smith, a Boxcar Poetry Review contributor.


My old GRE scores have expired, so I’ll be taking the GRE again on Thursday. Still have the GRE Literature to take care of on December 2. Not terribly excited about taking these exams, but am confident that I’ll do well on the GRE (based on my last scores) and hopefully passable on the GRE Literature.

Wish me luck — I’m hoping to that by next fall I’ll be back in the US somewhere starting my PhD in Creative Writing or English Literature.

November 9, 2006

Considering the Path Ahead

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:25 pm

I’ve found it difficult lately to post. Partly out of a certain lethargy that creeps in when facing another week of job and PhD applications, and partly out of recent changes that are happening in my family.

My father is now in the hospital in Penticton indefinitely. He was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), but has been suffering from its effects for the past 8 months. If you’re not familiar with ALS, it’s a vicious disease that shuts down nerves and muscles throughout the body, eventually stopping the lungs and heart. The last thing to go is the brain — your mental capacity is retained through the whole process. In a sense, you become a prisoner in a body that no longer functions. Typically most ALS patients live 3-5 years from the time of their diagnosis, but in my father’s case the symptoms are advancing far faster than normal. Most likely he will be gone in a year or less, perhaps as quickly as a few weeks or a month.

As a family, we’re coping reasonably well. It’s hard on all of us, but in a way we’ve been prepared for a while. My father suffers a variety of other health problems (Addison’s disease, diabetes, low blood pressure, and obesity) — he has always told us that he would probably die early. And, in a sense this awareness of his mortality has haunted me from the time of his father’s death over ten years ago. When I talked to him then, I recall feeling strongly that one day I would be the one dealing with my father’s death. Thankfully we’ve had a great relationship and friendship through the years — and this is something that I am grateful for. As you might have noticed, my father was often the first to comment on my posts, occasionally to call something into question or force me to reconsider, but usually to let me know that he liked what he was reading. I miss these comments already — being hospital-bound, my father no longer has access to the internet and his hand mobility is fading. For the time being, I make tripsback to Penticton (a 5 hour drive) and visit him in the hospital on weekends. He can still speak, but is noticeably slower and more slurred.

At times like this, I am grateful that I come from a strong religious and spiritual background. I am thankful for the peace I find in a belief in the eternal nature of the family and that relationships forged here can continue on in the hereafter. I will be sad to see him go, but know that he will not be far away.

He is lucky, or perhaps better said, blessed to be in Penticton – his hometown. He still has many friends in the area and they have been there at every step. Their support means a great deal to the family and especially to my father. And he is not facing these trials alone — he found out recently that his best friend Wilson is also dying, suffering from an inoperable cancer of the esophaugus. The two of them have had a number of conversations now and I think that it has been good for both of them. When the path ahead appears dark, it is good to have a friend by your side.

How am I doing? There’s a part of me that has felt this day coming for a long time. Arguably almost 70% or more of my poetry is in some way a pre-emptive elegy for my father. I have dealing with the threat of his passing for years. Still, when it suddenly looms so close, it seems surreal and I alternate between calm acceptance and a deep sadness. Over the years my father and I have become close friends. He has been a faithful reader and supporter of my poetry. He has given me sound advice and the occasional kick in the pants to get me going. I hear from many people that he has always bragged about me and been proud of what I am doing as a writer and a teacher. And so now, as we face this impending separation, it becomes more and more apparent just how much his presence has meant to me.

Looking over my poetry, I realize as well that my father has become more than just my father — he has become in some sense a representation of myself. A shadow sometimes. An avatar to explore my world from a distance. A third person to examine myself. Even after he has passed on, he will remain close to me in my writing and teaching — whatever I write and wherever I go. His presence in my writing keeps me honest, even as I change and grow and move on to wherever this poetry and this life carry me.

In a world where so many writers and artists have struggled with their fathers, I am grateful that I have had a father who was open-minded enough to accept and encourage my love of language and poetry. In fact, when I announced that I was leaving my career as a computer games programmer, my father’s first comment was “Welcome back to the fold!”

For now we are learning to laugh and enjoy the time we have. Yes, there will be sorrow, but there should also be room for happiness — for the blessing of this life together and the times which we can continue to carry with us, as well as the hope of the life in the world beyond. There are good memories still to be made. Regardless of where the road leads, there is no need to walk it alone.