Just leaving Edmonton last night, starting and finishing Stan Dragland’s Journeys Through Bookland (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1984). Dragland, of course, reads in Ottawa (through the TREE Reading Series) the same weekend I arrive by train into Toronto from Winnipeg; how does it always work that way? I haven’t heard or met him yet; even a few years ago, a legendary reading at Carleton University by the now-late poet Robert Creeley. Apparently Chris Turnbull has a recording of it, but hasn’t loaned me a copy yet.
From Dragland’s Journeys, a section that references my Glengarry County, writing:
Now the rat scrabbles around over our heads and we exchange different smiles than we did when we thought it was a squirrel. The dog and cat don’t seem interested. Should we do something? There’s disease, after all, and there’s a story I read in Greg Curnoe’s Coke Book of the time ‘at the pipeline warehouse a guy killed a rat. He stepped on it. Guts oozing out of the right eye. The guy was scared, he was carrying it out of the place and it pulled itself up and bit at him, grabbing the fur at its sides with its claws to lift itself.’Is this a story from Don McKay, when he was still in London, teaching at the University of Western Ontario? That family cabin near Williamstown, written in so many places and so many times by McKay and even Jan Zwicky, there and here. Written too by his first wife, Jean McKay, I wonder? When we read at the same Windsor Festival of the Book a couple of years back, she said she had an unpublished short story referencing the Lancaster Chip Truck that I still haven’t seen. I still can’t find copies of any of her books. Why is that? Why haven’t I written her yet to ask?
But there’s also what a friend says in a letter: “Ron’s brother took the year off once to think it all over by himself at the family farm through the winter with only a Quebec heater (later a little oil stove) for heat. It was pretty isolated there. The only people he saw were the old next door neighbours. He had a rat in the attic who became his friend and it’d come down and chat with him in the evenings, and we got pretty excited because he looked like he was living deep enough to catch onto a rhythm or two. I had a lovely little paper maché goddess I made out of newspapers and stuff (you may have seen the picture) and I sent it to Bill for Christmas and his rat ate it. All except the candle that was stuck in its tail.’
The farmhouse of the rat and goddess is near Williamstown, Ontario. The letter came from London, Souwesto (the term for Southwestern Ontario that Greg Curnoe heard on CHLO radio and, not without irony, adopted) and so did the pipeline warehouse story. The squirrel-become-rat lives with us this winter on a farm near Bellrock, Ontario. We were brought up in Alberta, but we leave the rat alone. (p 24-25)
Later on in the same book, Dragland talking about the painter Norval Morrisseau, who recently had the most magnificent retrospective at the National Gallery in Ottawa, the same one I saw with Lea Graham and my lovely daughter, Kate. Does everything connect to everything else?
How many years ago, my eventual ex-wife so very frustrated with me, saying how I never saw just how everything did connect with everything else; I so completely understand her now (at least that part). I know now just how little I knew then; I know now just how less I have understood since.
Started reading Robert Kroetsch's What the Crow Said (1998), part of the reissue series from the University of Alberta Press. I read it through Alberta to the Saskatchewan border; read it into Saskatchewan and in toward Manitoba; read it all the way to Winnipeg. I know I'd read Completed Field Notes (2002) before; I know I'd read Words of My Roaring (2000) and The Studhorse Man (2004). Realized around 10pm or so that I'd even read this one before, and also on the same damn train. The card game that lasted for weeks gave it away, suddenly making me aware that I'd not only read the novel before (possibly back in 1999 or 2000), but that I possibly even have a signed copy of the damn thing on a bookshelf at home. The University of Alberta Press really need to reissue some more of his novels... or maybe he should just write up another one?
Did I mention Sheila Watson? [see my review of her biography here] The U of A always makes me think of the late great writer Sheila Watson; Ann-Marie who suggested I read The Double Hook when we were till in high school (back in the 1850s). Sheila Watson, who taught at the U of A; her desk is still there, in one of the offices in the english department, with a small plaque. Go see if you can find it. You already know you have to read her novel, and everything else of hers you can get your hands on... (not that there was a huge bunch...)
Slept sitting up; slept in these clothes. What will Cooley find when he gets me, an hour lost somewhere during the unspoken story of Saskatchewan night? The hours I picked up at baggage claim, Vancouver airport. Am I losing or simply putting them back where they originally belonged?
I accidentally started what might be a "sex at thirty-eight" poem last night; even though I am a year and a half away. We already know every edit is a lie, is every poem a lie as well?
Why do I get so ahead of myself? Why am I in such a hurry? Why am I in such a hurry to start a poem that might take me two years to finish?
Two deer on the wild prairie, running endlessly away from the come and gone train.
Is it too late to ask them what province I'm in?
Later on, Portage la Prairie; finally, I am at the centre of Canada...