Another Lifetime Ago: A Textbook Author (1978-2010)

‘There’s nothing half so real in life as the things you’ve done,” she whispered, ‘inexorably, unalterably done.’–Margaret Ayer Barnes

Hard to believe I wrote 28 student textbooks and 22 teacher’s guides in a span of 38 years of publications for senior high ELA students, the totality of which went platinum (1 million sold) back in 2014. Amazingly, I still continue to receive royalties from these books in 2020. I am not aware of any other ELA authors (all grades) in Canada exceeding these numbers. It is also quite possible that the total number of my educational book publications exceeds that of any other subject area author in Canada.

(1978: Edmonton’s Glen Kirkland and RD–the educational author duo starting out, in a basement I had just finished myself;2nd pic: 1980s; we would eventually go on to present workshops across Canada and became well-known in the national senior ELA teacher community; I should add that we first met in an evening grad ED CI class of 3 people at U of A; the basis for the series evolved out one of our assignments; when we decided to publish something based on this project, we, at first, considered our textbook-prof as a go-to, but he had stolen someone else’s project for a book not his own, so we tried a small T.O. publisher Methuen, instead, who turned us down, saying it was too expensive for them–they subsequently went under after this, coincidentally; Gage signed on to do the series in a hotel room at the Macdonald in Edmonton.)

(1980, Gage, for grades 9-10: The first book of a new series for general/nonacademic students which introduced relevant thematic literature to these courses and streams; I have my first-ever textbook-published poem, “Fall” in this one.)

(we were fortunate to have, as our illustrator, Frank Newfeld, who did half of the visuals and the covers for the first series; much later, I thanked Frank for what he contributed to this successful project and he signed a copy of his book, Type, for me)

(1981, Gage, for grade 11)

(1981, Gage, for grade 12: a second of my poems, a found poem satirizing advertising appeared in it; this was also the first time we experienced censorship–NL did not authorize this one because of Morley Callaghan’s “A Sick Call”; their response was “Priests don’t lie”; another story, Hugh Garner’s “The Yellow Sweater” also raised some politically incorrect eyebrows for its subject matter–a man picking up a teenage hitch-hiking girl.)

(1984: Harcourt, for grade 11, but it also got used in 10 or 12; there were too many T.O. lunch-hour cocktail-snobs who moved in at Gage and we took our next book elsewhere when they told us “we’d never publish it with anyone but us”; so we stuck to our guns and went to Harcourt who greedily latched onto what became the poetry book of the 1980s and they published what we wrote and edited as is, no changes; this was the beginning of a long harmonious, profitable relationship with them; incidentally, IP includes my poem about a city traffic accident)

(1986: Gage–the thematic book of essays for grade 11-12 in the 1980s; we amicably got what we wanted with this one for Gage)

(1987, Harcourt, a thematic anthology of short stories: widely used in Canada, especially AB, BC, MB, and NS; sold 20,000 copies out of the gate to BC as did IS 2; I suggested the story illustrators)

(1987: Harcourt: both anthologies were the beginning of a long positive relationship with editor Lydia Lou Fletcher)

(1990, Gage: the revised series did well across Canada; Gage left us alone again for this one; got used in grades 9-10)

(1990, Gage: used in grade 11)

(1990, Gage, for grade 12; the Connections series had become legendary)

(1993, Harcourt–so what about a story anthology for gr. 12; publisher-friend Murray Lamb, who died tragically, took us up on this one)

(1995, Harcourt: as school budgets dried up, we did a cool anthology on the theme of choices; one of our least successful books)






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Days of Dylan Thomas

Early this morning, I went back in time to a 1955 Argo (UK) LP (now on CD) that I first encountered 53 years ago in my first year of university in 1967 at the formative age of 18, which forever marked me and set me on the road to becoming a writer, a poet, an English teacher, and confirmed lover of language and literature. It was an album of the great Welsh actor Richard Burton passionately and sensitively reading 15 poems by Wales’ greatest poet Dylan Thomas.

Now, as then, I was still moved by Burton’s memorable, powerful voice, and by Thomas’s cascading individual words, phrases, and lines. Every word matters and has a melodious punch; this is probably the height of aural poetry in the history of English poetry. Burton’s voice savours each word and he sometimes rolls across the lines he recites them like musical compositions. This is easily the best album Burton ever recorded; an homage and labour to his favorite poet and drinking companion. (He was buried with a copy of Thomas’s Collected Poems.)

The standouts, as then, remain for me: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (one of several reflections on the passing of Time here), “A Winter’s Tale” ( a wondrous erotic love poem to end all love poems), “The hand that signed the paper” (a concise last word about dictators and tyrants), “Fern Hill” (Thomas’s classic poem about childhood and Time), “The Hunchback in the Park” (the ultimate outsider poem), “I see the boys of summer” (an erotic tribute to young maledom), “Do not go gentle into that good night” (the punny elegy to his dying father), and “And death shall have no dominion” (his Donne-ian final word on Death).

This time listening, many of the other selections stood out and spoke to me, as if I was hearing them for the first time, especially “The Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait” (an old fishermen homage), “Deaths and Entrances” (with its emphasis on birth), and “Poem in October” (as he took stock at 30 of his brief, tragic life).

In “A Winter’s Tale” and “Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait”, I think we are hearing a poetry and love of language that equals some of the best of Shakespeare. I am glad I got to go back to this album and a key moment in my life as I was setting directions and purpose to life-long commitments that have never since vanished even unto this day. I will always be grateful I stumbled across this album in a record bin of a small ‘hip’ record store (a place, incidentally where I also encountered a rare Allen Ginsberg LP recorded with his father live in England which introduced me to Beat poetry).

There is also, left to discover for newcomers, the effective readings by Thomas himself on CD now: the poetry readings,

(the two remarkably prescient ladies who started Caedmon Records and subsequently preserved the work of Thomas and many works and voices of other famous U.S. and U.K. writers)

(a must-own for serious Thomas fans: 11 LPs converted to CDs containing:)

his Christmas staple “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”

(also in a very good film adaptation on DVD),

and Under Milk Wood (also recorded and filmed by Burton).

Then there is the poetry of Thomas himself and the delight of reading his poems on the printed page in Collected Poems.

Some other recommended Dylan books:

Dylan was a lover of language and careful craft which can be seen here in one of his many word lists he used when composing:

And, lest we forget, he influenced many other artists and poets including the following Nobel Prize-winning guy who chose to rechristen himself at the beginning of his career after the Welsh poet.


As an extra here, I’ve included my own homage to Richard Burton which I wrote in the 1980s.


“Stars go out when actors die.”

More Henry than we ever knew,
your haunted blue eyes
looking skyward
from a father’s coal-pit,
calling for forgiveness or fame
with an omnipotent voice.

Smile curled on cynic’s lips:
the failed cherubim.
Ever-hungry for spirits and song,
you took New York by storm
inverting mirrors to Hamlet’s soul
and made us weep to hear
your too too sullied flesh
melt and thaw unresolved
in a whorl of late night
carousing with buds and Liz.

Flushed with fever and wit,
you abdicated the playhouse throne
and found success
as hollow as Hollywood.
Pockmarked and stiff,
you sleep-walked through
a plethora of dire scripts,
mocking your right to rule
with a vigorous impotence.

Having at last to live
with your self–
a gaunt shadow of greatness
and unkind reflection.
Too late, you must have grieved,
like brother Dylan, the sun lost
in its dark inexorable flight.

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What Most People Have Learned from The Virus:

Personal health and survival are fundamentally core.
You’re either healthy and here. Or not.

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Revisiting “Classics Illustrated” Part II

For the most part, the Classics Illustrated comic covers appealed to boy readers’ piqued curiosity and invited questions like “What the heck is goin’ on here?”, making kids plunk down their 15 cents (regular comics cost 10) to find out.

(How did this lucky stiff  find so much treasure?)

(Why is this man being guillotined?)

(Why is this knight charging a windmill with a happy face?)


(Why is there a monster-ghost behind this chemist?)


Issue # 15–both versions, were politically incorrect today (toward blacks) and I’ve not shown it.


(why is this guy whipping the other guys on a ship?)

(why is this monster uprooting trees and being struck by lightning? Is he Frankenstein?–the old classic confusion)

(who is this couple and why are they in this situation? Politically incorrect today, women characters in CI were generally assigned limited roles, often adventure-story damsels in distress.)

(what exciting stuff will happen to these town-folk as a volcano explodes in the background?)

(will this man get away from the villagers throwing spears at him, trying to kill him?)

(why is this crazy woman attending this church service?)

(why are these two rough-looking kids pounding each other to a pulp?)

(why is this man being threatened with being shot?)

(why is the man on the horse being pointed at by a man about to be hanged?)

(does the unsuspecting man see the giant octopus? Will his knife protect him?)

(who is the ghost-woman? What will she do next?)

(why is the man holding a baby on a make-shift raft? How did they get there?)

(what does the title have to do with the illustration?)

(what does the black tulip in the pot have to do with the beating in the jail cell?)

(what is going on here? What will happen next?)

(what does the noose have to do with the men and the title?)

(why is the man imagining a floating dagger?)

(why is this woman submissively and adoringly clutching this man? Political incorrect today.)

(how do the primitive sea monsters relate to the title and story?)

(when and where is this taking place? What is the crisis?)

(what is happening here? My favorite cover when I was a kid.)

(why is the man invisible? Another of my favorite covers)

(what do the train and man on the horse have to do with the title?)

(why is a giant hen making off with a boy?)

(where is this scene taking place? What does the devil have to do with the title? This BTW was actually a draft of the cover released accidentally much to the chagrin of the illustrator.)

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Revisiting “Classics Illustrated” Part I

These comics were around from the 1940s to about 1969. They were part of many North American boys’ lives from about ages 8 to 14. I experienced them personally from about 1958 to 1964 when I had a modest collection. Later, I revisited my youth and collected a copy of each of the 169 issues; in some cases, I also collected early alternate eds. if the early line-drawing issues were memorable (in the mid-’50s thereabouts, painted covers were used).

Reviewing my collection this weekend, a number of the old line-drawn issues struck me with their gruesomeness, excessive violence, and sensationalism. It’s hard to believe that these lurid issues were available to relatively young, unsuspecting kids, but eventually they went out of print. So a number of these covers would have been rated 14A minimally these days.

(the latter, a painted cover–obviously, CI’s more lurid covers changed after that)

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There Will Come Soft Rains

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in the tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

–Sara Teasdale

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The 20 Best Things I Never Said:

“I dwell in possibility.”
–Emily Dickinson

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”
–Walt Whitman

“We can never have enough of nature.”
–Henry David Thoreau

“You can never step in the same river twice.”

“Money is not required to buy one necessity of soul.”
–Henry David Thoreau

“Technology dominates us all, diminishing our freedom.”
–Dorothy McCall

“Common sense is very uncommon.”
–Horace Greeley

“An unexamined life is not worth living.”

“The goal of the journey is to discover yourself as consciousness.”
–Joseph Campbell

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”
–George Eliot

“A man can do all things if he will.”
–Leon Battista Alberti

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
–Rudyard Kipling

“Art serves to rinse out our eyes.”
–Karl Kraus

“Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.”
–Jean Anouilh

“Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life.”
–Tennessee Williams

“The stars are in one’s brain.”
–Bertrand Russell

“The quality of your happiness depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
–Marcus Aurelius

“If you want to be happy, be.”
–Leo Tolstoy

“The most exquisite pleasure is giving pleasure to others.”
–Jean de Bruyere

“There is only one happiness in life–to love and be loved.”
–George Sand

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Quotes by RD

(a splendid Victoria moment of being)

Life is one long near-death experience.

You haven’t, always, experienced everything.

Poetry remains the most conscious, concise, aesthetic use of language.

The quiet desperation of the multitudes is physical, mental, and soul-related.

Objects often have minds of their own and bounce away or out of where we intended to put them. Matter over mind, pure and simple.

Three every day basics are sleep, three healthy meals, and movement of different kinds.

If you must work, make sure you have freedom and control, and feel like you’re making an important contribution to others and society.

Nobody likes others telling them what to do or limiting their freedom of choices.

To thine Inner Child and sensibility be true.

Sensibility is where the deeper feelings, thoughts, and soul experiences reside.

No one can/should ever make your daily or important decisions for you.

Childhood is best experienced on its own natural terms without unnecessary intrusions and impositions by the grown-up and cynical worlds.

Imagination is the saving grace of inner sanctum in all creative persons.

Creation and love remain the best games in town.

A full life requires mastery of language, self-expression, and effective communication.

A good sleep and breakfast are the two most important factors for a successful day.

Every day requires the presence of permanence to withstand the daily changes and adaptations usually in response to others’ stupidity, laziness, and egotism.

A good day is when you accomplish something positive, discover new interesting information, have insights, and move forward in one ‘world’ or more.

Psychologically speaking, it is most important to be and accept yourself as you essentially, really are.

You can no longer rely on public education for yourself or your kids and must assume personal responsibility for it and whatever life-long learning.

Love is essentially doing for or sacrificing for someone else and putting that person on a par or ahead of yourself and your own life.

Friendship is unquestioning loyalty and support regardless of circumstance.

Knowing and accepting yourself is one of life’s main obligations.

Regularly, you must be nice to yourself since there are no guarantees that anyone else will. You must ‘put back in’ for yourself and learn something new each day. Otherwise, you’ll be depleted and run-down.

A life without music, poetry, books, or art is terribly limited.

The truly great movies or artistic movies cannot be found on Netflix. They are also more likely to be found before 2000 AD. Today’s movies are too coarse, loud, violent, stupid, predictable, limited, phoney, and dumbed-down.

Nature is the greater context in which we live our lives. Experiencing it is necessary for perspective and personal fulfillment.

Everyone and everything is limited in some way. That said, there are myriad possibilities and one can choose to transcend whatever limiting context.

Most people settle for less or the conventional and use others while ignoring the finer, deeper, higher stuff and soul matters.

Materialism and chasing money blind most Western people from deeper consciousness and self-actualized autonomous living.

The secret of happy old age is not being bored or being a burden to anyone else.

We are only here so long so we’d better experience fully each passing, non-refundable moment of life.

Governments are exercises in holding onto power and creating agenda-ed perceptions in the voting public.

Everyone has a right to experience sensation.

There are many times when God and imagination are one.

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Trump’s New Slogan/s:

Make America (Brain) Dead

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Jason Kenney:

Hands-down winner of the 2019-20 Heartless Big Brother Award. He is the worst Premier AB has ever had. A veritable evil tyrant w/o an iota of empathy, conscience, or mercy.

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