Monday, September 04, 2006


Someday I'd like to print out a poem and just leave it alone.

I'm trying to find 10 poems to send George for a workshop/reunion next month in Vancouver, which means I have revisions going off like firecrackers.

I'm musing about writing and guilt. As I sit here, sorting though files, both digital and physical, looking for poems I've written in the last year since spending a riveting week at VSW in July 2005 working with George Bowering and the most wonderfully creative, zany bunch of poets you'd ever want to sip wine with, and I'm thinking how it's September already and I've agreed to have at least 3 book projects done in time for Christmas and they all involve a little (?) editing as I go, and shouldn't I be doing that instead of fiddling around with these poems? I call myself a poet, yet I feel guilty for practicing my craft, and practicing the craft of poetry does not only mean WRITING the damn things, it means agonizing over whether "a" should be "the", and do I want a comma here or a semi-colon, and that's just a start.

Am I nuts? I suspect, from talking to other writers, I'm not alone in this. Writing is such a mysterious thing, to me, anyway. When I'm in the famous flow, it's wonderful. I know I'm doing the write thing (heh; unintentionally not misspelled), I can barely get the words down fast enough, whether I'm clacking the keyboard or trying to spear a poem with a pen. When I'm not in flow, which is more often the case, it's like trying to push words through glass with a worm.

I expect it's the capitalist mentality that's so ingrained and so hard to shake. I mean, it's not like you get paid a whole lot of cash for a poem as a rule, usually not more than enough to buy a few more legal pads and a latte or two, so how can the act of producing a poem possibly be worthwhile? But I still believe poetry is as important as it ever was. That a few deftly crafted words can leave the most disparate group of folk nodding sagely and surruptitiously wiping their eyes amazes, but doesn't surprise me. I've seen it happen many times.

The other day my mother brought out a hard-cover book bound in burgandy bookcloth, with "JK" embossed just above a roundish white stain. I didn't know what book it was, at first, but I knew I knew it. Turns out JK is John Kieran, who compiled the work in this 1942 copyrighted Doubleday, Doran and Company copy of Poems I Remember. Inside is my mother's name, and it's signed "With love, Jean, Xmas 1947" and under that Jean has written "Old Favorites." Below that, in pencil, in printing I hardly recognize as my own, it says "Little Boy Blue" 509.

I don't have to look to see what the poem is, and I remember the day I wrote that. I was listening to CBC Radio, I was about 9 or 10, probably, and they played a version of Eugene Field's poem set to music. I cried as I listened—sobbed, as I recall—and then went looking in my parents' wonderfully comprehensive collection of books to see if I could find a copy of it. I did, on page 509 of Poems I Remember. I loved that poem so much I memorized it and can still recite it, although I usually can't get through it without choking up.

Little Boy Blue
by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
"And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue---
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place---
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.

And here's an interesting Canlit footnote about that book, and who gave it to my mom. Jean was a roommate and good friend of my mom's when they were all young and living and working in Vancouver. They, along with Jean's sister, Betty, shared a basement apartment on 7th near Sasamat. At the time, Betty was dating Pierre Berton, who, says Mom, was tall and skinny and had red hair, and who used to have to duck in order to enter the low-ceilinged apartment. Mom was working at Western Music and would take the streetcar to work, and often Pierre was on the same bus, going to work at the Vancouver News Herald. Betty eventually dropped Pierre (something about him talking too much), and he ended up marrying Janet, who was at one time Betty's cousin Bob's girlfriend.

Back to my current dilemma, trying to find 10 poems to send George. I guess it's okay to take the time, huh? I think that little girl who listened to CBC Radio and ended up falling in love with a poem would think so.

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