Robert Burns: of Mice & Men

Ode to a Mouse (Photo courtesy Guiseppe Martini on Unsplash)

During her presentation, Linda McGregor read four poems by Robert Burns — in Scottish dialect — while we followed her English translation: words so familiar and so foreign! “Address to a Haggis,” “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” “Ode to a Mouse” and Ode to a Louse”. Quaint…

… but it’s satire, and speaks to us over two centuries later! Coincidentally, “Ode to a Louse” was quoted in the next morning’s Calgary Herald (October 31, 2018, p. A15) under the headline, “Who will act to end America’s gun insanity? Moral authority shattered,” writes Terrence J. Downey. Here it is, but using Linda’s translation:

Oh if only God would give us the gift

Of seeing ourselves as others see us!

It would free us from many a blunder

And silly notions.

Translation by Linda McGregor

Robert Burns was a master of humour and satire. We could get no better presenter of this writer than Linda, who as a child spoke Burns’ own “Geordie language” and was told, “Speak English!” when she moved to Aberdeen. Wearing a Scottish scarf and with a gleam in her eye, Linda started her talk by dispensing with myths, such as:

1. There is undue focus on Robert Burns’ sex life. He was not responsible for a population increase in Scotland. He was survived by only three sons (of 13 children.)
2. He did not die a pauper or of venereal disease but of natural causes due to severe poverty in childhood.
3. He was not a prodigious drinker: He couldn’t hold his liquor so pretended to be drunk.
4. Not every Scottish song was written by Burns!

Intrigued to read more?

Linda recommends reading How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman.

Aristophanes: Farce & Satire

Masks portraying Greek tragedy/comedy
Buskin & Sock

For her presentation on November 20, Anne Tingle took us back in time to the Golden Age of ancient Greece, and the plays of Aristophanes.

After an engrossing explanation of Aristophanes and his times, Anne surprised many of us with a Reader’s Theatre. Contrary to Greek times, she had assembled an all-female cast (several of our members and a guest) to read parts of Lysistrata, her favourite Aristophanes’ play. Hilarity ensued!

Anne disclosed she was using a turn-of-the-century (i.e. circa 1900) translation for the (relative) comfort of her readers and audience. A 2005 translation was apparently even racier! What a “reveal!” More laughs!

Cultures have changed, but how recognisable are human characteristics, despite a span of 2400+ years!

Aristophanes used satire and farce to highlight the need for peace, order and good government. Although there is no evidence he had influence politically, his artistic influence is incredible, and his plays are still performed.

CLICK HERE for Anne’s Presentation Summary

Emily Carr

“Writing is a splendid sorter of… feelings, better even than paint.”

Emily Carr

This past April during our season of “favourite authors”, Lyn Koltutsky revealed the literary side of the now-iconic Canadian artist Emily Carr. Lyn’s talk was interspersed with views of old photographs and stunning paintings. Emily Carr’s talents as an artist went largely unrecognised during a lifetime of sorrow, poverty and many challenges. In spite of — or perhaps because of — her life journey, she shines as a true “original”: adventurous, confident, quirky and complex. Her literary and artistic accomplishments seem even more astounding! 

Carr’s first book Klee Wyck, a collection of short stories, wasn’t published until 1941 near the end of her life when her painting career had ended due to a heart attack. Nonetheless, it won the Governor General’s Award for Literature that year! The two subsequent books published in her lifetime, The Book of Small (1942) and The House of All Sorts (1944) were “autobiographical” but she used creative licence which created somewhat of a myth of Emily Carr. Four more books were published posthumously.


Nora Ephron launches our Humour, Irony and Satire Season!

Note: Regretfully, Calgary’s poorly-timed, record-breaking dump of snow on Oct 2nd caused us to postpone Mary’s presentation, “The Evolution of Humor & Its Role in Society & Literature. 

Neon sign on wall "all you need is lol"

Our season to Laugh Out Loud!
Photo by Kah Lok Leong on Unsplash

Welcome to CWLC’s Season of LOL!

Della Mae Wood started her presentation by showing us her notes, done in pencil on yellow lined paper. This is now a tradition of hers, ever since preparing an earlier club presentation on John Steinbeck, in the manner of John Steinbeck who always wrote this way!

Like Steinbeck, using traditional writing tools did not hamper Della Mae’s creativity. She launched our season of humor, irony and satire by talking about Nora Ephron, “a feminist with a funny bone”, who chronicled every aspect of being a woman in our times with hilarious acuity.

Nora Ephron produced an extensive body of work as journalist, novelist, essayist, playwright and screenwriter (e.g. When Harry Met Sally; Julie and Julia.) Della Mae shared some of her favorite passages, and the double-whammy of Ephron’s sharp insight and humor! Two of Della Mae’s favorites are: I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing. Ephron’s publisher, in consultation with the author, celebrated her body of work with a compilation, The Most of Nora Ephron.

Della Mae’s summary delves into so much more about this author, whose own life is a story in itself! Please read on…


Tony Hillerman and the Native American Southwest

Photo of SE Utah landscape

On the edge, near Moab, Utah

Anne-Marie Duma is very fond of the land and culture of the native people in the American Southwest and learned much through Tony Hillerman’s books while on an archeological dig. One of many reasons to appreciate the Navaho, Hopi and Zuni cultures is that people build beauty into everything that they do. For our presentation, Anne-Marie wore some pieces of beautiful native turquoise and silver jewelry.

Born in 1925 in Ohio, Tony Hillerman came from a poor family. As a result, he was schooled with Native Americans. In World War II he was wounded in the D-Day landing. A journalist friend of his mother, having seen letters sent home from the war,  encouraged him to pursue writing and he later got a degree in journalism.

Tony Hillerman has been recognized with numerous prestigious literary awards. However, the fact that his novels are part of the Navaho curriculum is perhaps the most outstanding recognition of the truth of his fiction.

Anne-Marie mentioned a few favorites: The Blessing Way (the first book from his Leaphorn and Chee series) and A Thief of Time, a later book in the series.

Read Anne-Marie’s presentation here.

Jane Urquhart: One of the best, but underrated, Canadian authors

By John Carter in 2010,
Wikimedia Commons, CC by 2.5

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in adding Jane Urquhart to my reading list, after attending Sandra’s presentation to CWLC on March 20th!

Using fascinating images to illustrate her talk, Sandra shared her admiration of the author’s mastery of sense of place and characterizations. Sandra revealed common themes interwoven through Jane Urquhart’s body of work.


I was left with the strong impression that Jane Urquhart’s works help readers “live” history, in the way only good historical fiction can. It will help us better preserve our past and understand who we were and who we are. I can hardly wait to read one of her novels this Fall!

Please read Sandra’s Presentation Summary for a lot more!