Voices in my Head

The launch of my new poetry book, Jeopardy, last night in Charlottetown was one of the loveliest occasions of my life. Not because I was centre stage for an hour, but because of all the amazing and cherished people who were there and with whom I could share the moment – from the people I’ve known since my first season on PEI thirty-five years ago, to those I’ve come to know this past year. The occasion was so wonderful because I could thank them for enriching my life and my writing with their own efforts and achievements, their inspiring contributions to the community, their life stories, their great hearts, minds, and spirits. I also thank those people who couldn’t be there and sent me kind messages.

My grandfather who raised me loved to say that “he’d pulled himself up by the bootstraps.” (How many of you heard that one?) And there’s a good deal of truth that we have to take responsibility for pulling our boots on. But he was also a devoted union man and stressed solidarity and cooperation. As did my grandmother, raised in her parents’ logging camps, daughter of rugged individualists, but who made it clear that lumberjacks didn’t get fed and trees weren’t felled and milled without everyone working together, learning from and relying on each other.

As I read poems from my book last evening, and looked around the room, I saw all these people I’ve learned from, about life and about writing. People who, in their various ways, helped provide substance and lift and sparkle to the poems. The atoms of their experience and knowledge bonding with the atoms of mine in that magical way that helps generate the molecules of art…or science, or community service, and any other acts of creation. And we’re all creators, in diverse forms, drawing for our creations on the lives, stories, experience, knowledge, and spirit of those we respect, admire, love.

As I read my poems last evening, I could hear the resonances of others’ voices, those both in the room, and those far away in place and time. I’m speaking not only of friends whose books I have read, but friends (non-writers as well as writers) to whom I have listened, with whom I’ve communed.

book launch picMaking poetry can feel and look like such a solitary, individualistic act – compared to making music, theatre, dance. Really, though, the poems arise and cohere from so many sources, so many voices, lives, stories. My paternal grandfather as a soldier in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. My Egyptian students in a Cairo university. The ghosts of prisoners and soldiers at the penal colony in Tasmania. The voices of Adam and Eve in that mythic Garden and early women astronomers and a nurse-therapist in an eating disorder treatment centre and Lucy Maud Montgomery time-travelling to Confederation Centre of the Arts in 2018. I think of and deeply thank all the friends and family, all the mentors, who have been teaching me over the years how to listen for and to those voices, and how to filter and shape them through my consciousness and the poetic craft.

And, of course, I thank Terrilee Bulger, the fabulous publisher of Acorn Press and co-publisher of Nimbus Press. And Dr. Laurie Brinklow, founder of Acorn, and master copy-editor. And Newfoundland-Nova Scotian artist Geoff Butler for the cover image and for all his vital artwork, which can be viewed in his books The Art of War and Our Own Little World. And Matt Reid for the cover design. And the masterful Jay Ruzesky – a superb writer, professor, and editor – for editing this book. (Do secure a copy of his latest book, a travel memoir, In Antarctica: an Amundsen Pilgrimage.) And I thank Dr. Brent MacLaine for his wonderful introduction last evening. If you haven’t read his poetry, please do so. Every one of his books is a treasure.

A special thanks to The Bookmark in Charlottetown, our great independent bookstore, and a big hug to Lori, Dan, Marlene, and their staff. And thanks to Peter and Nancy Richards, wonder workers of The Buzz, to Dave Atkinson, research publicist at UPEI, and to CBC Radio and Mainstreet host Angela Walker. And to Dr. George Deitz, my freshman English professor at San Francisco State College, who advised me to drop out of university and write full-time. I obviously didn’t heed his advice, but his ability to see something redeemable in my callow verse and sophomoric prose did help me, eventually, to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work.

Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to my wife, my companion, Lee Ellen Pottie, for, well, everything. Her love of me. The love she shares with and gives to so many people. Her love of life’s richness and beauty, and, too, of those struggles, those heartaches, that are an inevitable part of life’s fruitfulness and bounty. My gratitude, specifically, for her support of my writing, her encouragement, her faith in the written word and in poetry, and her astute, wise, and relentless editorial acumen.

If you would like a copy of Jeopardy, and you’re on PEI, contact The Bookmark in Charlottetown. Or your independent bookstores elsewhere.

Thank you!