The Hermit Poet

December 6, 2006

Travelling with a Shovel

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:55 pm

The past couple of days I’ve been driving around Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows with a shovel and a bag of kitty litter.  It’s for a job — really.

I get paid to remove ice and snow from the areas around postal boxes.  Usually these are residential areas, often tucked away in some nook where snow plows rarely go or the sun never shines directly.  Some boxes sit on large cement pads and merely need some ice cleared off and something put down for traction.  Others are set in more forested areas, surrounded by gravel or occasionally just plain dirt.  Some of the more urban ones are unfortunately located where water gathers or where the plows pile excess snow.  Occasionally the boxes are already clear — thanks to the warming weather lately — but are cut off from easy access by high snow berms left by cars and plows.

I spent most of the day clearing the spaces around the postal boxes out in Maple Ridge.  It’s beautiful country out there.  The roads turn.  The afternoon light filters through the trees.  There are deep rich greens everywhere mixed with still clean white snow.  In the evening, driving through Pitt Meadows by the airport, the fog rolled in giving an eerie feel to the journey.  At one point I drove through a dark forest past a graveyard, glanced at the shovel in back seat, and wondered if I were breaking some ancient rule.
While I don’t think I’ll stick with this part-time job, I’m grateful to have had a few days to work with my hands.  Something about physical labor is good for me from time to time.  Especially after so much mental and emotional stress lately with exams and PhD applications.  Sometimes it is good to just be a body and a simple tool — something more raw and more real than any other type of machine.

Yes, somehow I’ve arrived at Seamus Heaney’s poem, Digging, and through it perhaps a renewal in the desire to write.  I’m not certain if I’ve had writer’s block, or merely have taken a rest while my brain explores other things.  I can feel new poems coming, some of them already forming  like the slow pearls I hope they will be .  Grown one layer of lustre at a time, I want them to achieve that deep glow.

December 4, 2006

First Books in My Collection

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:42 pm

I’ve been updating my records on and have compiled a list of all the first books of poetry in my collection.  Not certain if anyone else is interested, but I have 95 first books of poetry.  You can check out the list here.

One interesting find in the collection was a first edition copy of Frances Itani’s first book of poetry (limited print run of 600) which I picked up at a used bookstore in Glendale for $5 and apparently is now worth $75+.  Itani in recent years has shifted to writing fiction and gained international recognition a few years ago for her novel, Deafening.  The book, No Other Lodgings, features a rather unassuming white cover with a black ink landscape drawing.  On the back cover is a picture of the poet, much younger in 1978.  There are no blurbs or author’s bio, just a note that it had been published Fiddlehead Books and that Itani was grateful for a Canada Council of the Arts grant.  Inside, the poetry is lean, but compelling.  Ink drawings show up occasionally as if to reflect aspects of the narrative — because there is a narrative thread which holds each section together.  The poems revolve around two moments — a past moment concerned with the wartime internment of her grandparents, and a present moment concerned with the revisiting of places and people.

December 1, 2006

Update on My Father’s Condition

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 6:17 pm

This just in from my mother — the neurologists have finished their review of all the MRIs and have changed their initial diagnosis:

My father does not have ALS.

What does he have? That’s the real question. They suggest it’s one of the following three (excuse my lousy non-medical paraphrase):

  1. something is attacking the membrane that covers the nerves (treatable with recovery in the long run)
  2. some sort of inoperable tumor in the spinal cord (but so far this hasn’t shown up on the scans – it would at least be potentially treatable with chemotherapy)
  3. a genetic defect which causes a disintegratation of the nerve covering (treatable, but not reversible).

But in any case, all three offer a brighter outlook than ALS — there’s at least something that can be done regardless of the final diagnosis.

Needless to say, we as a family are very very grateful for all the thoughts, wishes, and prayers of our friends, extended family, colleagues, and fellow bloggers. It’s not over yet, but your strength and warm feelings have been a great blessing to us.

Now, I suspect someone will have to break the news to my father that if he doesn’t have ALS, he won’t be able to keep that really nice lift-recliner that’s on loan from the ALS Society of BC… we all have to make sacrifices.

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