National Poetry Month: Local Writers on their Favourite Poems
April is National Poetry Month. In celebration of that I contacted several influential literary figures in the area and had them recommend their favourite poems and/or poems that have inspired them or affected them in a way so as to make those poems memorable and worthy of sharing.
The response was fantastic, so I will just jump right into it.
Rolli is a novellist, cartoonist and poet from Regina. His work can be found regularly in the Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest, among others. He has published a whole bunch of books, including a couple filled with poems, so he knows a thing or two about the topic.
"I fell instantly in love with poetry as a bored twelve-year-old, when I read Edgar Allan Poe's "Ulalume". Its music, mystery, its magic cast a spell that changed the flow of my life forever. I'm not a prosaic person, so prosaic poetry holds no interest for me. "Ulalume" remains my favourite poem. There's nothing like it."
"Ulalume" deals with the loss of a lover and it's one of many popular poems written by Edgar Allan Poe, who is one of history's most well known poets. I mean, who doesn't know "Quoth the Raven, nevermore"?
Brenda Schmidt is a writer, a painter and a birdwatcher. She lives in Creighton and is the writer of three books. You couldn't really find anyone more suited to comment on poetry than her, as she is Saskatchewan's official government appointed Poet Laureate.
"My favourite poem by far is Our Sullen Art by the late Anne Szumigalski" she said, adding that Szumigalski "spent much of her life in Saskatchewan, and was and continues to be an important figure in Canadian literature. This poem, which somehow captures the magic of the writing process and the way poems arise from our close attention to place, grows in significance and depth each time I read it."
In "Our Sullen Art", poetry is personified as a small boy. A poem about poetry. The perfect poem for National Poetry month.
Terri Bosner was the lady who recited a poem at Moose Jaw City Council, prior to Mayor Tolmie declaring April National Poetry Month in the city.
Bosner is a published author and spoken word performer who moved from the Sunshine Coast of BC to Moose Jaw in June, 2016. She has also been known to dabble in stand-up comedy. She has also headlined events Performers Café events for the Festival of Words.
She was more interested in talking about Charles Bukowski, the massively influential counter-culture icon and her personal favourite poet because "through Bukowksi I learned to tell my truth" she said "even when it doesn't look good on me."
"Bukowski's work is filled with sage advice on living and writing" she said. "He writes about the beauty and brutality of life in a way that I can relate to" she said, "and he reminds me to have a sense of humour when dealing with the challenges of life. Reading Bukowski's poetry helps me remember that in the confusion and chaos of daily living, I get to decide how to look at the world.
Ted Dyck is the Vice Chair of the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, the editor of Transitions Magazine in Red Deer and the writer of five books of poetry. He suggests reading "On a Friend's Escape From Drowning" by George Barker
"Barker's poem was recommended to me in the mid 60s by a Russo-Canadian friend named Jim in Minneapolis, when I first considered writing poetry" Dyck said. "I met Jim one night in the Triangle Bar just off the campus of the University of Minnesota where I was studying mathematics and he was organizing poetry readings. I went to a reading, said to myself, “I can do that,” and returned to the Triangle. No Jim; but after the bar closed I took an early breakfast in a diner of the type that catered to university students, and Jim appeared as if by magic. He saw me, staggered his way to my table just as the waitress was serving me, sat down across from me, reached over and slid my plate to his spot, said, “I’ll have that,” and fell face forward into my ham and eggs."
Jim suggested he read a number of poets and poems, but it was George Barker's "On a Friend's Escape From Drowning" that has stayed with him all this time.
"Perhaps the finest poem I have ever read" Dyck admits.
Garret DeLaurier is a singer and a songwriter, formerly of Lords Kitchner. He recommended a whole book. Steven Yenser's The Fire in All Things.
About the poems he said, "I have to read them over and over again to fully understand what he's saying. But when I do, it is very insightful and beautiful. It's very dense and rich."
Yenser was a poet and a literary critic from Kansas. The Fire in All Things won the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets.
Dustan Hlady, singer-songwriter in Friend Friend, filmmaker and formerly the leader of the NDP for Moose Jaw, recommmended "Danse Ruse" by William Carlos Williams.
"It's just a lot of relatable truth in a short poem. It paints a picture of Williams, in the early morning, dancing naked in a mirror, singing to himself:
"I am lonely, lonely/ I was born to be lonely/ I am best so"
"He is faced with the truth of the loneliness that is so essential to the human condition it can't be fixed or offset by a nice house in the country, a family or money. His response is to rejoice in his loneliness; to laugh at the pointlessness of the universe; to dance naked in a mirror and sing. What else can we do?"
MacKenzie Hamon is the Marketing Manager at Coteau Books, one of the province's most prolific publishers of poetry.
She recommended "Con Game" by Louise Bernice Halfe. "the collection is incredible, but this poem in particular, in my own opinion, is one of the most powerful in the book and that I've read. It takes you directly into the very real experience many young indigenous people experienced during their time at residential schools."
"Con Game" was published in her 2016 collection Burning in this Midnight Dream.
Jordan Varey is a Moose Javian who named his son after the poet Wendell Berry. He recommended Berry's" Manifest: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front".
"I just love the way the poem makes you feel" he said. "You can't accomplish that with prose. The poem speaks to some of my frustrations with the modern industrialized world"
Even Angie Abdou, the famed Prairie fiction novellist, known for The Bone Cage and In Case I Go recommended a poem. "I just love this - and love Lorna Crozier in general" she said, sharing a video of Lorna reading "My Last Erotic Poem"; a comedic take on the sex lives of the elderly.
Lorna Crozier is a poet from Swift Current who is now the Head Chair in the writing department at the University of Victoria. She won 1992's Governor's General Award and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She writes about Eroticism; as you will no doubt learn if you watch the video below:
Melanie McFarlane, another board member at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words and author of There Once Were Stars, recommended Ellen Hopkins's "Flirtin' with the Monster", which is wonderfully brief.
"Life was good
for a little while"
Even I, Nick Murray, the compiler of these poems, decided to comment on my favourite as well. It wasn't easy. I couldn't choose between two. So I will mention both. This is the power I have.
Jay Ruzesky's "Sergei Krikalev on the Space Station Mir" from his collection, Painting the Yellow House Blue. This one gives me a strange feeling inside my heart when I read it. It's both heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time. The poem is about a man on space station, thinking about his love, who is so far away.
The second poem I wish to recommend comes from Pablo Neruda's book "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair". Neruda is one of the all-time great poets and his love poems are his specialty. I don't imagine he struggled finding love.
"Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky"
It's National Poetry Month. What is your favourite poem?