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[date today] * * My new poems here to date: 1,140 * *

riverwriterThe new look  includes an illustration of our island from a postcard dated 1914

Here is a plug for a Forum that I run: Zeugma, an internationally subscribed Forum for poets, and related to the renowned Zeugma lists.

Over time, I have taken my own advice and compiled a collection of my favourite poems from this site. I did this by clicking on the “Favourite this post” link above each poem that I like a lot. If you are a subscriber, your list is stored in the site database. If you are not a subscriber, the list is stored on your computer in a cookie, which deletes your list if you delete the cookie. All lists are private; even I can’t access any but my own. If you do have a list, I would be pleased to hear about it. Cheers.

“Popular Posts”  I am amazed to discover that some of my posts have been viewed multiple tens of thousands of times in the past four years, since I enabled the counter. (see column to the right).

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Review: SVTC’s Camelot

Review: SVTC's Camelot

For community theatre, Seaway Valley Theatre Company typically has an ambitious  schedule of five productions per year. Spamalot, this year’s big musical — “A new musical *lovingly* ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail” finished its five performances in two weeks run last Saturday night at Aultsville Theatre in Cornwall, Ontario.

Over the years, since its split from Glen Productions, SVTC has developed an astonishingly talented core of performers, many of whom have backgrounds with considerable theatrical training and experience. The dedication of these performers and production staff has given the community many remarkable productions including 2013’s stunning production of Chicago (which I saw) and 2014’s Les Miserables (which I did not attend because I could not put myself through Hugo’s downer story again.)

2015’s Spamalot was a refreshing choice, with its roots firmly planted in the tradition of outrageous modern British comedy. There was something in this show to offend just about everyone who wanted to be put upon, from gay marriage to politics to Jews in show business.

It also provided the template for some remarkable individual performances.

One of the grand traditions of comedy is the interplay between the zany character(s) and the sane one: think of Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello (Who’s on First?), Burns and Allen, or more recently, Bob Newhart who typically plays the only sane character in his universe. In Spamalot, that character is sweet, sane King Arthur, played by Monty Python’s Graham Chapman in the film, and here by professional voice-over artist, Cornwall’s Jamie Carr. The whole point here is nuanced subtlety, and Carr nailed it. It would be so easy to play King Arthur over the top for shrill laughs. But Carr, whose zany side could easily have spilled over, craftily held back and let the wit of the script carry the audience along. Carr surprised us (and possibly himself) by singing the role superbly — but should that surprise anyone, considering his roots?

Just when I think I have an idea of what Lacie Petrynka is capable of doing on stage, she upsets my applecart with a nuclear explosion. Petrynka’s astounding vocal pyrotechnics were no surprise; but her impeccable comic timing, dynamic stage presence, and switching rapidly from Barbra Streisand to Liza Minnelli to Amy Adams to Ethel Merman and, well, herself — okay, I admit I am searching for superlatives: brava!

I am certain that when Director Leslie Ellam found Jamie Carr standing before her at auditions, she must have felt like the Spaniards viewing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Perhaps young newcomer Thomas Mooney struck her in much the same way. Like Carr, and many of the principals in this production, Mooney is the full thing: perfect comic timing, the ability to react without going over the top, the ability to listen to the lines as if for the first time, and the ability to play coconut halves in perfect rhythm — okay, they didn’t all play coconuts. Carr and Mooney worked together like peaches and cream: Carr projected the sweet calm humour of a King who is totally commanding a roller coaster flying off the tracks; Mooney was his perfect foil, part helpless Merlin and part mute political advisor. The chemistry was delicious.

Paul Aubin in the role of the cowardly Robin (there is an allusion there somewhere) really hit his pace during the cunningly outrageous “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”, a song in stunning contrast to his poignant “Cellophane Man” in Chicago, two years ago on the same stage.

It is difficult not to watch Ray Nevill when he is on stage: he is always animated, and his face is a choric character all by itself. Nevill projects a character whom, we suspect, is on a wild ride on a very high wire in a tempest partially of his own making.

Michael DeWolfe, whether he is playing a lead character or a supporting character is always fully there, with a hint of danger and a comic delight.

Cameron MacPhee‘s languid, lush portrayal of the desperate “princess” Fred, longing for his prince to rescue him was a comic masterpiece.

Allison Main (also one of the show’s producers) was a hoot as a mustachioed knight; the Laker Girls to a woman were all gorgeous and fun to watch; the ensemble and solo singing all through the show was dynamic and appealing; crowds of people swirled around in beautiful synchronisation and in support of the intentions of each scene.

I have seen Leslie Ellam at work as a director previously, and I know that, although she has a carefully thought out approach for what she wants to happen, she is very sensitive to a performer’s needs; and it shows in the way that this show compiled into a very funny mass, just the way it had to. Not only did the show come together as a lovely comic piece in just the way that Eric Idle and company intended, but it also allowed for the individual strengths of the performers to come through.

There were a few things that needed some work. The orchestra frequently was problematic. Like music itself, a musical needs pace. The pace of the show often dragged at orchestra cues or set changes or entrances, culminating in a show that ran about 20 minutes too long. The show’s beginning on Friday night was bedeviled by a vaguely unsettling overture, spotlight miscues, very loud microphone pops in Arthur’s first scene. Those microphones taped to faces are distracting. I really wonder if this cast of powerful voices needed anything more than some discrete stage miking. Another concern is that through all the months of rehearsal leading up to the show, they were not wearing these microphones. That really flies in the face of good rehearsal practice. Nothing like throwing in a major change for opening night to rev up the anxiety levels.

SVTC is a popular Cornwall institution, just as Glen Productions was in its time, and Cornwall Operatic Society before that; now, more than ever, the talent is available to produce very high quality musicals, but if the production quality does not improve, the overall product could very well falter as audiences fall away. I suggest that the company improve its technical capabilities by seeking professional coaching. It worked for the theatre community in the 70s, and could certainly help now.

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Letter: Does Cornwall Need an Arts Coordinator?


Arts Coordinator


Does Cornwall Need an

“Arts Culture Coordinator”? 


A letter published in the Standard-Freeholder

January 19, 2015

Note: I wrote this letter to add some perspective to the issue that Councillor Brock Frost presented to City Council, that Council should investigate the Feasibility of hiring an “Arts Culture Coordinator”


The last paragraph, which appears here, was deleted by the Standard-Freeholder.


I am posting the letter here in PDF format to keep the paragraphs distinct. To enlarge, click the magnifier in the upper left corner of the letter.


Douglas Hill

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After the three hour drive south down desultory highway 11,
during which, dazed from cigarette smoke and gasoline fumes
and making a thousand comments about virgin mouse fur
and wondering if we were there yet and giggling and whining
until we were ready to throw up but not on the upholstery
and finally feasting through the car window on wild cherries
we picked from the scraggy tree leaning over the gravel shoulder
while Momma found a discrete bush well out of sight
but not to far nor too difficult to reach in open-toed sandals,

we finally arrived at the top of the escarpment. Far below
sprawled the tree-clad city of North Bay, and beyond that,
glorious sparkling Lake Nippissing with its shallow sandbanks
beach cabins, sun and islands drifting on the far horizon:
heaven on a con-your-parents-for-everything-you-can-get bun.


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Perhaps Poseidon
had wielded it
like a magic wand
under the sea.

Three worn,
steel tines
curved to a common
cylindrical base
that gripped
a weathered
worn old pole
long enough
to grab the dock
with the bent tine.

He used to spear
mud pouts
in fresh spring
when dandelions
bloomed along the shore.

Now he was as dead
as Poseidon
and although
he could never
hold pitch
to sing out
over the waves
the trident
could still
sing of him
for his great
grand children.

Whose eyes
grew wide
as we sang
his mighty
silly deeds.



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The handle of the vacuum cleaner
hung on his hand like
the ring in a bull’s nose.

Retired one week
and already he was
half way down
the main staircase
vacuuming the blood
red carpet runner.

If she knew, Rita,
his ex-secretary,
would be staring
The news would drop
like a stone into
a reflecting pond.
Was he making his
own coffee too?

How many treads?
only fourteen?
It seemed like fifty.
He descended another step
and began a clumsy Veronica
with the cleaner’s hose.

He turned off the howling machine
sought the contemplative
silence of the stairs
knelt, placed a figurative
gold coin in the dust before him
Kissed it, dedicated
the blood of the afternoon
to the mantilla of his lady.

Wasn’t retirement about
doing what you wanted
when you wanted?
He wanted to sip cool sangria.
He wanted to sail the Spanish Main
He did not want to be the
amateur matador in a corrida,
but he had no choice:
he had chosen this.

He had planned
all his working life
for retirement.
And this was it?
Vacuuming the stairs
before he changed into
the suit of lights
for his own retirement party.

Usually such parties were
surprises or so he had thought.
The only surprise about this was
the vacuuming part.
And the dusting part
And the silverware cleaning.
Pray for a quick death
he thought, in the afternoon.

Who would have thought
retirement would make
tear him like a horn
goring a passing cape.
He shuddered
he knew something
was going to have to change
and deep in his heart
he knew it would be he.


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Stone on Stone

Far below the surface
at depths that rock
could metaphor clouds
and their village
a remembered sky home
they moiled for gold.

The daily fall to work
of one hundred and eighty
men in the double-decker car
down the mile-deep shaft
took minutes rapid
openings to upper drifts
seventy-five metres
every three seconds
for too many minutes
until the hoist operator
up top
saw the marker
and the hoist slowed
and knees took three Gs
and the cable stretched
and the car rose
to pass then settle down to
to the forty-five hundred foot
level where they crossed to the
next hoist down
to eighty-three hundred

Then they left the lighted
landing and headed into the
drift to the stope.

Far along the drift
without the lamps
on their hard hats
dark was so absolute
eyes would be unnecessary.

On the day in question
the rookie was to scale
his first stope
Sven showed him
how to grasp the long scaling bar
and use it to jab into
the freshly blasted stope
and chip loose rock
from wall and overhang
so they could muck safely.

He chipped and scaled
for a half hour
dropping several tons
of rubble to the floor
finally he turned to
old Sven, who was watching
and said “It’s ready.”

Sven stood
reached for the bar, and tapped
the overhang a few paces
from where they stood.

a rock the size of a small
appeared before them
with a slam
that shook the rookie
for fifty years.

“Not quite,” said Sven,
and the rookie scaled
for another hour
on the day in question.


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That’s me at twelve, missing a tooth: such a naive young girl.
It was taken in calmer times, before my father put up the fence;
You can see all the way to the dacha on the hill behind me.
Here’s a picture of my boys. No, that’s Vladimir;
he was so small as a child. But he’s bigger than Arseniy now.
And he takes advantage of it. Would you care for some borscht?

Pardon, what? An explosion? Goodness gracious, no.
It’s just the boys playing upstairs. They’re so rough!
You’d almost think they were killing each other.
Excuse me; I’ll just be a moment.

Vlad, are you standing on your brother’s face again?
Well, I warned you: you’ll have to go outside and play.
Inside the palings, not on them. No. I told you before:
it’s too dangerous; they are too sharp and he could —
Vladimir, you remember what happened to the dog.

Such silly boys! So full of life. They must try everything.
But your tea is getting cold; can I warm it up?
Oh, he experimented with the dog and a pointed stick
and learned a lesson the hard way. Really?
Well he impaled — one moment, please.

Will you behave? Your new tutor is just —
If you do not behave, I’ll tell your father:
and he`ll cut off your allowance; then you`ll be sorry.

Where were we? Oh, yes: so you can start on Monday?
You know, brothers can play nicely if
you are firm; otherwise, they try to get away
with murder. See? Already they have quieted down.
Have some borscht; it will put colour in your cheeks.


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