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It's his book, but he didn't write a word

Alumnus, author and volunteer, Derek Beaulieu

Three-time alumnus Derek Beaulieu challenges the rules of writing we've grown up with. 

It's his book, but he didn't write a word. 

And although it’s called How to Write, you won’t find instructions, easy steps or a cheat sheet to writing in its 70 pages either.

What you will find is words and sentences borrowed from others and strung together to create a brand new narrative.

Author Derek Beaulieu, BA’96, MA’04, BEd’08, says this type of writing leaves a lot to the reader. And although visual arts and musical mash-ups are common –think Eminem’s Sing for the Moment, which features a semi-cover of Aerosmith’s 1973 hit, Dream On–writing isn’t quite on board with this idea, especially without attribution to the original author.

In How to Write, Beaulieu mined other writer’s texts much like a DJ searches for beats. Once he finds a motif he fancies, the “beat” is isolated and remixed in a way which creates a new text. In each of the ten short fictions in How to Write, Beaulieu has stolen as little as a series of isolated words, enough to both create something new and an uncanny echo of the original.

“In an academic setting, if we have students that steal information, that’s plagiarism and they get thrown out. But if a DJ samples a beat and puts it in his music to create a fantastic new sound, we don’t charge him with plagiarism.” Building upon what’s been done happens constantly in the visual arts, with the exception of writing.

Derek’s first job, which he kept while in school, was as a draftsperson in Calgary’s oil and gas industry, and not as far removed from his writing career as it may seem.

“It was a summer job that developed into a nine-year career,” he says. “It was actually a creative job, representing a three-dimensional world in two-dimensions on paper.” Derek recounts his career path until now: from the conservative industry of oil and gas industry, through the arts and over to education. He’s been a high school teacher with the Calgary Board of Education for two years and aside from writing, he’s also an editor and volunteer.

Three degrees and long-standing dedication to Calgary’s writing community are evidence that Derek is captivated by words. “Writing is often seen as something that anyone can do. Poetry faces this too. But what happens when we start challenging our preconceptions around writing and ourselves as authors?”

Derek’s visual poetry, made with single letters and numbers, is a fundamental way of looking at language and a departure from familiar forms of poetry.

Made entirely with letraset, it utilizes a tool made obsolete by advances of technology. “Since letraset is no longer being used for its original intent, this is where artists can come in,” he says. Several of Derek’s pieces have been bought by private collectors, he’s also shown his work internationally and Red Fox Press in the west of Ireland recently printed a collection of his visual poetry.

From September to June, Derek is a high school teacher in Calgary. Last year his grade 12 class studied only works by Calgary authors under age 45. “It broke down barriers about the creation of literature, that it’s created by people they could never meet,” says Derek of those literature choices.

If he’s not teaching, writing books or creating visual poetry, you’ll probably find Derek contributing to the Calgary writing community in some other way. He volunteers daily and contributes to local magazines including dandelion, Nōd and Filling Station. Derek also runs his own press, no press, and organizes readings around the city.

When asked why he called his press, no press, Derek says he wanted to get away from the sense of having a boss, so, “no hassle, no problem, no ISBN numbers, no press.” His first press, housepress, is archived at Simon Fraser University.

Erin Mason