I was nervous, clutching a big manila envelope
My “portfolio”, an important-sounding word
For my carefully clipped travel articles &
a 12 page rice paper fable self-published in Kathmandu
for this interview to a writing school
where a famous poet and film-maker sat
& the poet asked after looking at my course list
‘Are you going to take a poetry class?’
& I blurted out, “Oh no!”
“I like a beginning, a middle & an end to things!”
There was a swift exchange of glances.
I exchanged feet.
“I mean I hear voices…”
The whites of the film-maker’s eyes showed
More quick glances, I believe ‘nervous glances’
Would be an accurate adverb & verb combo here
I was to learn excessive use of spritely adverbs
& gluey adjectives were bad things
& that in itself was a good thing to learn
So we all got through the interview
Fred & Colin eventually forgave me my gaucherie
& I now read poetry as a mental palate cleanser
A spiritual guide to streamline the language clumps
In my brain, in my tired mental muscles
I now love writing poetry too, yes! it’s true!
Poetry is the best broom to use after well-trodden dusty prose footprints
Making those feet hop to an Alexandrine couplet or two
A minuet for the cliche-ridden fiction writer
Or a Sicilian septet, a Japanese mondo or a Bengali payar
Keeps us paragraph writers on our toes, nimble, you might say
& I would know nothing of these poetic forms
Would never have met so many talented ALIVE people
Until this narrow, green valley in a city with beautiful old buildings
Had it not been for this multi-disciplinary-
This inter-disciplinary arts academy of sorts
This appendage to big universities based elsewhere
& we blossomed with minimal interference
From elsewhere until the boom was lowered January 5, 1984
But let that go.
This is the place where Clark Blaise sighed
& smiled and said, “Well, you’re a writer.”
Which was the first time anyone had ever said that.
He may as well have said, “You have my deepest sympathies.”
But here I wrote like the wind
I wrote a song and young Stephen Fearing sang it with me
I wrote plays and young Nicola Harwood acted in them
I wrote stories and still swap them for first readings
With Jeff George & Paulette Jiles, the best beta-readers ever.
We learned from working writers, our teachers
Where to send these stories & lo, many were published
Stories which became radio broadcasts and another on Bravo TV
Stories which found homes in textbooks & anthologies
Stories which became books, my books
When the very word Winnipeg in a story thrilled me
In Grade 11 in Fort St John BC because until then
I had not knowingly encountered a Canadian story except
For David by Earle Birney
In my entire impoverished high school English education
Never mind that I am not paid for the use of my own words now
In English final exams or Canadian classrooms
Let that go, too, just for now.
I would not know much about any of this, most likely
Had I not come here to unlearn after a social sciences B.A.
& teacher’s certificate from a big university elsewhere
Here was the place & here were the people &
Here we’ve returned to flourish, our poems & plays & paintings & stories
& music & sculptures to nourish
Our creative genes all a-bubble like our hot-springs
So I went back North to address a graduating class
& I said, channelling Clark Blaise perhaps:
If we choose to work at what we love, we will love our work for the rest of our lives with no regrets, learning from our mistakes, accepting them, working smarter, moving forward. That’s my strategy and I’m sticking to it. This is not to say that I don’t wish all of you a steady and substantial income for your talents rather than the minor feast and famine situation I’ve gotten myself into, don’t get me wrong! But if you have to leave your heart at home to earn cold, hard cash in a workplace where you feel unsafe and devalued, where you are paid to do work you find ethically reprehensible, find a way to work with others to organize change for the better, not just for yourself but for everyone else too, especially those more vulnerable than you are. Be open to the possibilities and the choices you have in every situation, always.
This pinko political stuff made the College principal
Wiggle in his hard chair but that’s okay.
It is not our job to make people comfy & cozy
Except for our bedtime stories.
I blame DTUC for all of this. Thank you all, very, very much!