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  1. #1
    Mr RonPrice Ron Price's Avatar
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    Alice munro

    She and I are into different stuff….

    Part 1:

    A Canadian, Alice Munro now 82, won the Nobel Prize for Literature last week, on 10 October 2013, as the autumn season was adding its richest colours to many places in Canada.1Like the Australian Patrick White, who has been the only Australianever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Munro is the only Canadian to ever have won that coveted award.Saul Bellow, the 1976 prize winner, lived in Quebec until he was nearly 10 but, then, he and his family moved to Chicago; he has always been typically seen as an American writer with much of his work set in that third most populous city in the USA.

    White’s novels are epic. They possess a psychological narrative art which introduced the Australian continent into world literature. I remember teaching one of White’s novels back in the early 1990s when I was a lecturer in English literature in western Australia.

    Munro, though, is not a novelist. She’s into short stories, and has been since her teens back in the 1940s. These were the years just after I was born, and not far from Huron country in Ontario where Munro started her life. It also looks like she will end it there sometime in the next few years whether she continues writing or not.

    Part 2:

    Munro has been frequently omitted from conventional lists of the greatest writers of her age. This is due, perhaps, to her chosen form, the short story, as well as the apparent narrowness of her literary palette. Most of her works explore the warp and weft of small-town life in western Ontario. Fans praise her ability to express, in brutally honed sentences, not just the nature of small human hardships and dilemmas, but the very feeling of living within them. The world hardly needs to be introduced to small town life, though, in Ontario or anywhere else.

    ColmToíbin(1955-), theIrish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet, described one of Munro’s stories as "tough, tough, but yet written using sentences of the most ordinary kind, and constructed with slow Chekhovian care".Readers unfamiliar with Chekhov, or with Alice Munro’s work, can now buy her collections of short stories which book-stores will be marketing with some zeal in the weeks ahead.

    It’s not small town life that will excite and please readers. Rather, it is the fact that Munro’s writing is a great example of the writer who illuminates universal themes by writing about the seemingly small and particular. Most people’s lives deal with the small and the particular. Increasingly, though, people are inhabiting a universal, a planetizing, a globalizing, world seen through the lens of the print and electronic media. But peoples’ lives are still lived, for the most part, in a small, small place of family and friends, job and local interests.

    “Her traditional-seeming stories are anything but,” wrote one reviewer.“She’ll shift multiple points of view or time schemes — hair-raisingly complicated stuff — not to show off formally but to find a means of packing her stories with maximum density. She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.”

    Part 3:

    The only short-stories I remember reading were in high school. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, and then spent many years in other small towns in: other parts of Ontario, in the Canadian Arctic and in several states of Australia.

    The Swedish Academy said it picked the 82-year-old author—known for her easy-to-read writing style charting the struggles and moral conflicts of everyday characters in rural Ontario—because she is the "master of the contemporary short story." Fellow Canadian writer and much more well-known, Margaret Atwood, said of Munro in her introduction to a collection of Munro's stories: "The wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together: this is Alice Munro."

    Part 4:

    After her 20 year marriage ended in 1972 when she was 40, Munro moved back to Ontario, remarried and continued to set most of her stories in the small-town environs of Huron County, which she says caused her the ''level of irritation'' she needed for writing.Huron county is in the southwest part of Ontario. The county seat is Goderich, also the county's largest settlement.

    I remember going to Goderich back in the 1950s to a youth camp organized by one of the denominations of Protestantism. It was during the hottest part of a Canadian summer.I had become more interested in the Baha’i Faith at the time, and this Faith still holds my allegiance. I never joined the folds of any one of the many sects and denominations of that major branch of Christianity. I don’t recall ever going to Huron county again after that summer. Oh, and just for the record, Munro says that her religion is “fiction.”

    Part 5:

    My life has been so very different from Munro’s. My first marriage of 8 years ended in 1973 when I was 29. That was the year Patrick White won the Nobel Prize. I was living in South Australia at the time and teaching high school. I then moved on to Tasmania, and remarried in 1975. I had moved to Australia from Canada when I was 26. Munro got divorced that same year.

    Munro published her first story in 1950 at the age of 19. I was only six back in 1950. She knew she wanted to be a writer just about from the word go. A writer’s life hasonly grown slowly on me, by sensible and insensible degrees, from my teens and 20s into to my mid-50s when I took an early retirement at the age of 55 from the teaching profession, and a 50 year student-working life: 1949 to 1999.

    Part 6:

    I read novels at high school, and very occasionally over the decades, especially historical fiction. I taught them in the late 1980s and early 1990s in my role as a literature teacher in Australia. The rest of my 60 year reading life from1953 to 2013, has been as a student-and-teacher, lecturer and tutor, writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger, journalist and scholar, among many other roles and statuses over my 70 years in the lifespan.

    Reading novels and short stories has always been at the periphery of my intellectual life, a life filled with the social sciences, autobiography and biography, as well as the physical, biological and applied sciences.-Ron Price with thanks to 1several major newspapers for their reviews of Munro’s writing and her life.

    Part 7:

    I hardly knew you, Alice.
    We shared life in a small
    town in Ontario, and we’ve
    both written a great deal, eh?

    But that is just about where
    this comparison of our two
    lives ends.What can I say,
    Alice? Congratulations are
    certainly in order, but you’ll
    never know me as much as I
    know you. You are rich and
    famous, & I am one of many
    millions of ‘also-rans’ in that
    literary world which we both
    sharein such different ways.

    I wish you well as you go on to
    finish your life before entering
    that hole from which none of us
    everreturns, where one writes no
    more…..Finish your work, Alice,
    surely there is more to say and do?1

    The roll will soon be called-up
    yonder, for me too, Alice, for me
    too, but without fame andwealth,
    & none of the famed short-stories.

    I’minto a whole lot of other stuff
    that will keep me busy until that
    last syllable of my recorded days.

    1 Munro said in an interview after she received the Nobel Prize that she may just keep on writing, but she was not sure. After 70 years of writing she had expressed the desire to stop.

    Ron Price
    Since Alice Munro is in an interview tonight with Margaret Atwood, so I have been informed on my Facebook page this evening(23/1/'14), I will post some pieces I wrote on Margaret Atwood.-Ron Price, Australia

    Part 1:

    Margaret Atwood, famous Canadian writer, said in an interview in 1978: “I began writing at the age of 5, but there was a dark period between the ages of 8 and 16 when I didn't write. I started again at 16. And have no idea why, but writing was suddenly the only thing I wanted to do.” My life-narrative, my life-experience, with writing was very different from Atwood’s. I did not have the feeling that writing was “the only thing I wanted to do” until at least 1992, and insensibly and increasingly until I retired from teaching in 1999. By then I was 55.

    Atwood also made the comment that "in North America people have a somewhat romantic notion….about what an author is." "They think of "writing" not as something you do but as something you are," she went on to say. "The writer is seen as "expressing" herself; therefore, her books must be autobiographical. If the book was seen as something made, like a pot, we probably wouldn't have this difficulty.” As a North American, and until the age of 25 a resident of Canada, I hold some of this romantic view. As a person who has lived more than half his life in the Antipodes I see my writing a little like a pot, but only a little.

    Part 2:

    Atwood went on to say: “My parents were great readers. They didn't encourage me to become a writer, exactly, but they gave me a more important kind of support; that is, they expected me to make use of my intelligence and abilities, but they did not pressure me(and I paraphrase) in any particular direction. My mother was rather exceptional in this respect from what I can tell from the experiences of other young people my own age. Remember that all this was taking place in the 1950's, when marriage was seen as the only desirable goal and parents pushed their kids this way and that.” This could very well describe my parents. My mother, like Atwood’s, was a very lively person who would rather read poetry than scrub floors. My father scrubbed a lot of floors and did many things in life I scarcely appreciated back then. -Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood in “Margaret Atwood: Poet,” Joyce Carol Oats, New York Times on the Web, May 21st 1978.

    I am absolutely dependent on the details
    of the material world to make a space for
    my prose-poetry to move in & around in.

    It's dangerous to lift a statement out of
    context, out of my poem, and take it as
    my view, the poet’s view. The cultural
    attitudes in poems are not invented by
    poets; they’re reflections of something
    the poet sees in the society around him.

    Yeats once said that solitary imagination
    makes and unmakes mankind and even
    the world itself, for does not the 'eye alter
    all'?.......Poetry is one of those things that
    can't ever be quite pinned down, but still
    I do a lot of pinning…...I’ve been pinning
    for years, and I’ll be pinning for years.(1)

    (1) Much of this prose-poem is taken from this interview published in The New York Times seven months before I left Ballarat for Tasmania, and exchanged a good teaching job for the dole.

    Ron Price
    28/5/’06 to 26/5/’13.

    Section 1:

    Margaret Atwood(1939- ) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She graduated from high school in Toronto the year I entered my last year of primary school in Burlington just 30 miles away: 1957. We are both war-babies, or members of what some social scientists call the silent generation(1919-1945). Atwood was always about 5 years ahead of me since she was born at the start of the war, while I was born toward that war's end.

    Considered by one generational descriptor as “cautious, unimaginative and withdrawn,” members of our generation, the war-babies, grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s at a time of social conformity and, “looking for a type of rebirth.”(1) They needed a cause. Both Atwood and I only fit some aspects of this generation descriptor. We both needed a cause. For me, during the years 1953 to 1959, it became the Baha’i Faith. I've been a Baha'i now for 55 years(1959-2014). Atwood is one of Canada’s most successful writers with more than a dozen volumes of poetry and 20 volumes of prose to her credit.

    Section 2:

    Atwood got her M.A. in 1962 in literature, the same year I finished my last year of hometown baseball, entered my last year of high school, and began my travelling-pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community in the small town of Dundas Ontario at the heart of Ontario's Golden Horseshoe. As my teaching career developed from primary, to secondary, to post-secondary levels, and as I traveled and worked from town to town in both Canada and Australia, in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Atwood published book after book. She was catapulted to celebrity status in 1972, the first year I left Canada. That year I began living in Australia as an international pioneer from Canada, the year I helped establish the first locally elected Baha’i assembly in the steel-port city of Whyalla South Australia, and in western and central Australia outside of the capital cities.

    Her book: "Survival" provided for Canadians like myself a wonderful insight into Canadian literature and into our very sense of identity.(2) -Ron Price with thanks to (1)M. Nowak and D.T. Miller, The Fifties: The Way We Really Were, Doubleday & Co. Inc., N.Y. 1977, p.18; and (2) Joyce Carol Oates, “Margaret Atwood’s Tale,” The New York Review of Books, 2 November 2006.

    Yes, Margaret Atwood, I liked
    your characterization and your
    leitmotifs of Canadians about a
    sense of survival….not triumph
    or victory, like the Americans,
    and not about those who made it….
    but those who made-it-back……

    I made it back, Margaret, from a
    Baffin Island crash: ‘here I stand’
    as Martin Luther said about half a
    millennium ago at the outset of a
    Protestant-German Reformation.1

    1 Luther is sometimes quoted as saying: "Here I stand. I can do no other". Recent scholars consider the evidence for these words to be unreliable, since they were inserted before "May God help me" only in later versions of the speech and not recorded in witness accounts of the proceedings. -Richard Marius, Luther, Quartet, London, 1975, p.155.

    Ron Price
    8/1/’12 to 26/5/’13.

    The writer, the poet, is an observer, a witness, and such observations are the air they breathe. The poem, the writing, is a vehicle, for their human responsibility. It is a form of testament, a form of eye-witness account, an I-witnessing. The overall opus can often be said to comprise one story. For Margaret Atwood it is what she calls the story of the disaster which is the world.(1) For Ron Price it is what he now calls, after more than half a century of writing, Pioneering Over Five Epochs. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Margaret Atwood in Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987, p.17.

    Yes, Margaret, there is pain, tragedy,
    disaster, fatigue, fear and loathing in
    this Age of Transition, and this eve of
    destruction, in which I’ve played my
    part. I’ve told it as I’ve seen it in all
    these poems, Margaret, in this border
    country, this half light, and this new
    generation of dawnbreaking, in this
    burgeoning world of the dazzling &
    the this waiting world.

    This is the not-yet-arrived, the not
    here yet world, the dream and the
    reality, the beginnings, chrysalis-like,
    the endless repetition, & the hearing
    of the story and its meaning again &
    again until it has dried out your soul
    inside of despair’s bleached skull, as
    Roger White put it a lifetime-long-ago.

    Of course, there’s a flip-side, Margaret;
    one of vision, of hope, where one can
    just about taste the fragrances, rich &
    deep, with meaning. And now, a place
    where the light of the countenance of
    God shines before me like a beacon in(1)
    the night, the long night to the end......

    (1) Baha’u’llah, The Tablet of Carmel.

    Ron Price
    13/2/’99 to 26/5/’13.

    Margaret Atwood, Canadian author, explained how she wrote a series of poems that became The Journals of Susanna Moodie.(1) “They came as separate poems and I had no idea when I began that I was going to end up with a book of that size. It wasn’t planned that way. I wrote twelve at first and stopped and thought, "you know, this is just short of a long short poem, twelve short poems, that’s it." And then I started writing more of them but I didn’t know where it was going. I don’t write books of poetry as books. I don’t write them like novels.”(2)

    My poetry was similar to Atwood’s in terms of the process of writing. My pieces too “came as separate poems and I had no idea when I began that I was going to end up with a book” or books of poems the size or the extent to which I now have. “It wasn’t planned that way;” I wrote some 200 poems until the age of 47; of these I kept about 170. That’s about 5 poems a year from adolescence, the age of 13, to 47--35 years—or a poem every 75 days. Not exactly prolific. “And then I started writing more of them” in 1992. “But I didn’t know where it was going.” In the years 1992 to 2014 I wrote more than 7000 poems. “I don’t write books of poetry as books. I don’t write them like novels.” I write a batch of about 100 and put them in a plastic binding and give them to some Baha’i group.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Oxford UP, Toronto, 1970; and (2) Margaret Atwood in Graeme Gibson, Eleven Canadian Novelists, Anansi, Toronto, 1972, p.164.

    This is no novel but there’s
    a central character, a story,
    a set of ideas, a philosophy,
    a serendipitous arrangement,
    sequentially ordered with pattern
    and images in a clear, an especially
    modern, sensibility, millions of words.

    There’s a darker side to this persona;
    this self in society and its exploration
    is part of the trip, the journey through
    a complex society and a new religion,
    a series of coming to terms with people,
    jobs, self, religion, the land, change---
    as a tempest sweeps the face of the earth
    in unpredictable, unprecedented ways.

    After seeing little meaning in my world
    around me at the start of my pioneering
    journey in ’62, slowly, a union, vision,
    past, present and future fell before my
    eyes, insinuating, unobtrusive, wonder,
    awe, the foundation of the poetic me(1)
    in a poem that is never finished and
    helps me fulfill in my life His trust.(2)

    (1) D. H. Lawrence quoted in The Psychic Mariner: A Reading of the Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Tom Marshall, Heinemann, London, 1970, p.3. 2 Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, p.1

    Ron Price
    18/9/'05 to 23/1/'14.

    Yesterday, while reading in the Launceston library, I read some of a biography of Margaret Atwood. On the front page it read: "Never trust biographies. Too many events in a man's life are invisible, as unknown to others as our dreams." The autobiographer, on the other hand, can tell of these invisible events and of his dreams and, to that extent, autobiographies are potentially more trustworthy. My autobiography, spread over several genres, certainly tells of this invisible world, as best I can. It is my hope that it provides, not only a more trustworthy document but one that is a pleasure to read.-Ron Price with thanks to Anne Michaels in Margaret Atwood: A Biography, Nathalie Cooke, Ecw Press, Toronto, 1998, p.5

    We need to feel we understand
    the world we live in, making
    sense of these our days with
    a persuasive portrait of who
    we are as people and what
    our lives are or should be about---

    Can that life be recorded here?
    Is this philosophico-religious
    vision of reality, with answers
    and values to live by, enough?

    This need, for some, is a cry of(1)
    anguish; for others there seems
    to be no cry at all, just endless
    entertainment, having fun, and
    going through the job-family-&
    leisure life until it all stops.....

    (1) Ayn Rand's philosophy

    Ron Price
    7/11/'01 to 23/1/'14.

    Price’s poetic meanderings, his immersion in the process of defining his journey, is partly his way of discovering his past, his childhood, his ancestral roots, his psycho-history; partly his way of defining his identity, his complex personality, his many selves and what composed them; partly his way of giving form and substance to a religious conviction that had, in one way or another, consumed his life and given it meaning; and partly his way of giving expression to the relativity and multiplicity of truth’s many-coloured glass. -Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood in Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987.

    Yes, Margaret, they defy classification:
    men, women, ideas: gray, complicated,
    multidimensional, like everything else.
    Yet, we classify the ambiguous, the
    inexact, the passionate waters, the
    incorrigibly murky rivers of our days.

    We strive for precision with our
    fastidiousness and our disposition
    to overcome the casual. With our
    logic, our science and our desire
    to sanitize our art we assault the
    endless ambiguity and create our
    necessary universal definitions!!

    In the end, though, we are left
    with the subtle, the allusive, the
    figurative, the nuances, the ironic,
    the ambivalent, the handmaiden
    of mysticism, a savoring of mystery:
    ambiguity, the promoter of community
    in our quest for meaning, our quest
    beyond the univocal into a thousand
    faces, a thousand voices, a thousand eyes.

    Ron Price
    13 February 1999

    The novelists Iris Murdoch and Margaret Atwood1 say that people need secrets. They are a right and proper part of being human. The world today is obsessed with not having secrets, with letting it all hang out, with telling it all. These novelists argue that someone with no secrets is an impossibility. Beginning, perhaps, with St. Augustine, but certainly with the diarist Samuel Pepys in 1659-1669,2 we find men and women who loved themselves and from a fullness of their knowledge they felt a love for others. They were curious about the world; with their eyes and ears wide open they observed the world. With a genuine and sometimes superficial gregariousness Pepys hid his secret, self-obsessed, hermetic existence, the place where he wrote for himself in such a delightfully frank way with a special zest to tell it all and with fresh observational details and a less than deep analysis. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Helen Elliott, "The Sting in the Tale," The Australian: The Review, 3 March 2001, pp.4-5 and 2 Robert Louis Stevenson, "Modern History Sourcebook," Samuel Pepys, 1886.

    You can't tell it all:
    that's plain to see.
    Not everything can
    be disclosed.
    It's better to keep it in
    sometimes, the wise course,
    the sensible middle,
    a question of timing,
    suited to the ears,
    the sane line.

    I've said this before.
    I don't tell it all;
    I keep some back,
    just about all the time,
    in poems and in life.

    Ron Price
    3 March 2001
    end of document
    Last edited by Ron Price; 01-23-2014 at 06:58 AM. Reason: to correct the paragraphing
    Ron Price is a Canadian who has been living in Australia for 42 years(in 2013). He is married to a Tasmanian and has been for 37 years after 8 years in a first marriage. At the age of 69 he now spends most of his time as an author and writer, poet and publisher. editor and researcher, online blogger, essayist, journalist and engaging in independent scholarship. He has been associated with the Baha'i Faith for 60 years and a member for 53

  2. #2
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    Aug 2009
    To (mostly) get away from Alice Munro's small town vibe try reading "The View From Castle Rock". This is a superb account of her ancestors, starting in 18th century Scotland, ending in the present day. It escapes the small town for much of the time, including an account of a difficult journey by sailing ship worthy of William Golding. It's form is very interesting; it's written as a series of connected short stories/essays that build up into something like a novel or an autobiography. After this I read her Everyman collection of selected short stories, which wasn't such an exciting read, the stories are (mostly) interesting, all are well written, but all are "small town". By the end I was getting a "same old" feeling. Also, it feels repetitive and disjointed; disjointed (perhaps) because each story is ripped from a connected sequence of stories, repetitive (perhaps) because she goes over the same circumstances from different angles in different collections. So it may be better to start, and stick with, the original collections rather than a selection. "The View From Castle Rock" is certainly worth a purchase IMHO.
    Last edited by mal4mac; 01-23-2014 at 07:33 AM.

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