I was really happy to learn that my first poetry professor, Christopher Levenson, is on the short list for the Governor General's Award for poetry. It's his book Night Vision, which I have yet to read.
I kind of didn't know there was such a thing as a creative writing class when I saw Chris's introductory workshop in poetry among the offerings at Carleton while I was there studying Journalism in the first half of the 90s. It was a class that changed my life in many ways, like a great workshop should, and like I hope some of my own classes do. Some of that has nothing to do with the teacher, really -- the kind of engagement you get from the students and how they work together and continue to work together after the workshop is over, that's often luck. But you had to submit a portfolio to get into Chris's class, which I don't think anyone does anymore at the level.
However it happened, there were a number of people in that class who would push me and encourage me and give me new poets to admire from their own group of books (that's the thing that was marvelous, really -- that all these people read on their own, outside of courses, and found poets to love and to hate and sometimes to imitate and then reject later).
Though Chris was above us in ability and erudition, he was like us in that his enthusiasm had not dampened, it seemed. This stuff, even in an undergraduate introductory class, mattered to him. I remember visiting his office and being encouraged by the clutter and amazed that he could pull a photocopy of a poem relevant to our discussion immediately from a stack of papers somehow.
He started me taking my work seriously and then I fell in with a great group of people and I can't remember all of their names, but Craig Carpenter, Jim Larwill, Warren Fulton, Malcolm Todd, and Rocco, I remember. I think they're all still working and reading,
Then suddenly one time in Vancouver he appeared at a reading I gave from my first book of poetry, and joined me for a drink with a J-School friend who now works as an editor, and one of my first creative writing students from Vernon, who studies now at SFU, I think.
It's enough to make a man sentimental. It really is beautiful to see him shortlisted for this award and remember what he started in my own life. His workshop led to my next workshop, one taught by Tom Henighan and Rick Taylor on short fiction, the form that has become my favourite. I met Jeff Ross there, and was introduced to the work of Par Lagkervist and Tobias Wolff.
Jeff and I would argue until closing time at the pub after class, and to meet someone who cares so much about writing and literature to talk so long and so passionately, it was amazing. It was a thing I didn't know would become rare in my life once I left school. I miss it.
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