Lynn Tait has been writing poetry for over 40 years. She was first published in a literary magazine when she was 15 but has not publicly referred to herself as a poet until this last decade. Although most of her poetry is free verse, she does like to work with other forms, especially erasure and glosa.
Tait is a member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS). Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals in Canada and the U.S., including the Windsor Review, Quills, Contemporary Verse 2, and in over 70 anthologies including Under the Mulberry Tree, published by Quattro Books and edited by James Deahl. She published a chapbook “Breaking Away” in 2002, a book: Encompass I in 2013 (with four other poets) and has currently completed two full-length poetry manuscripts.
Tait has served as an editor/compiler for a number of anthologies for The Ontario Poetry Society. She is also an award-winning photographer. Her photos have graced the covers of a number of poetry anthologies.
Challenging the Law of Superimposition
for Al Purdy
and I am angry remembering
remembering the song of flesh
to flesh and bone to bone
the loss is better – "Listening To Myself" by Al Purdy
I had no poem to write, nothing to offer,
though buried speechless in the same landscape
brought me closer to him.
In his place, my space, the land speaks –
childhood memories ingrained with visual clues.
After a 20 year absence, I walk through woods behind my house,
find my secret hideaways, the quarry, even the raspberry patch;
everything as I left it, only taller,
and I am angry remembering.
Too young. Too young
to travel, what seemed great distances alone.
Family car rides weaving through back-roads – Hastings,
Prince Edward County – it was all the same to me.
I was the Canadian Shield – a geological landmark that did not belong,
leaving chatter marks in places that should not exist,
a fossil even then, and when I reach his grave site
we enter a convergent boundary – two landmasses
remembering the song of flesh,
the lyric leaching out,
purple milk under my skin,
creeping towards each other
like his blue heron shifts along thin rivers,
closer and closer, flesh
to flesh and bone to bone.
Reading his poems now, swear I was at his side –
know his nurse log, have seen the golden apples
abandoned and white capped.
And though hear his Nature’s sighs and calls
and think of death often,
prefer to remember him hung over,
slumped over coffee in downtown Trenton
rather than a renewable resource.
The loss is better.
*law of superimposition: rule that in layer beds of rock oldest is deepest, younger closer to the surface
*convergent boundary: area where two landmasses or plates move toward one another,
*chatter marks: small curved abrasions on surface of glaciated rock caused by passage of glacier over it.
I am not man.
My words pass over
like a futile storm,
an angel over blood marked doors,
water over a duck.
I am not man's daughter.
My existence denied,
refused by the father
responsible for my being,
this lack of credibility clings,
a curse with a will of its own,
directs my dreams
even in sleep.
I am not man's friend.
Intimidating in my fierceness
with no place to go
I am a lion in a body frail
I have no mane to shake.
I am not heard
I am notquiet
I am here.
I step in my own ink
but leave no footprints.
Drowning in literary seas of poetic movements
lost within paper structures of learned responses
I’m living proof of feminine modernism,
though there's nothing grammatically correct to say about it.
Not tall enough to stand by my poetic convictions,
almost stepped on by all that womanly concern,
I have yet to discover my own importance,
confused as to why this is necessary.
Tell myself – cursed by geography,
a peasant caught within the confines of regionalism.
Watching others swim expertly through letters,
struggling to keep my head above the alphabet
I dog paddle past lists of poets most deserving
and wonder about the deciding factor.
How strangely prophetic walking through ink,
one’s prints blurred by the steady traffic of others.
Maybe tiny feet are best.
“Anonymous” moves from the opening stanza “I step in my own ink / but leave no footprints” to the final single-line stanza “Maybe tiny feet are best.”
As this question is asked in the context of a locally-compiled series of interviews with poets in “the Little London”, I wonder if you would say a few words about the importance of the humble but passionate poet, of the solo guitarist rather than the orchestra conductor, of the domain of poets whom, fine and ardent in their own right, may, perhaps, decline the canon, and finally find their position to be one of ascension rather than resignation.
I’m not sure I can picture myself as part of a poetic canon, but I’m certainly passionate and I try to remain humble, but I’m not silly about it. I’ve been publishing poems yearly here and there since 1976. I’ve written some fine poems. Though I don’t do it as often as I should, I have a wonderful success rate for publishing in magazines and journals, given I don’t submit my work very often. My work is frequently reprinted. I enjoy the challenge of my poems, limited space and the editor(s) who may or may not have heard of me. There is no ego involved, I’m not physically present – it’s not about me – it’s the poem. I love that. A full length book – I would certainly get and already have the support of many poets, nation-wide who look forward to my first book. It’s never been a do or die endeavor, for me.
I’m a person who is a Poet. I don’t need to qualify Poet with adjectives. I’m not interested in making up an image for myself to weasel into the “literary community”. I’m either accepted or not. I have nothing to prove. If ever accepted as such, it would be a lovely and I hope I’d remain humbled by the honour, as is being the featured poet at the London Open Mic.
Both “Cassandra Reborn” and “Anonymous” ring with manifesto –– perhaps with womanifesto, if you will.
In the former, you powerfully write:
this lack of credibility clings,
a curse with a will of its own,
directs my dreams
even in sleep.”
I am a lion in a body frail
I have no mane to shake.
I am not heard
I am notquiet
I am here.”
I’ll note that “Cassandra Reborn” was published (2007) in Arms Like Ladders: The Eloquent She, that poetry is perhaps the most distilled and pungent mode of engaging this question, and nonetheless ask you to address your experience of this society as a poet, as a thinker, and as a woman.
Both poems were written many years ago. Cassandra had a different, much sadder ending, as I matured, I changed it. I use to dream I’d warn people of danger, and they’d rush towards that danger in droves.
I don’t think being a woman has really stopped me from doing anything. I’ve certainly had other women give me grief. I’m a rather opinionated person, and lack patience. I have no time for pretense and have no respect for people who mess with my head, or can’t be straight with me. They exhaust me. I’m a woman under 5 feet tall. If I was taller I KNOW I would have more credibility. I’m learning there are great advantages to being under-estimated. You get to witness big egos at work. I’m learning it gives one a certain amount of freedom. I’m no stranger to physical or mental pain. I’ve know mistreatment, loss, oppression and sudden life changes from an early age. I’ve had great blessings, wonderful adventures and I’m always learning something new. Though an introvert, I find people fascinating.
As a person and a poet – it has been and still is an uphill battle, I’ve occupied many rooms, put on many hats, Society has taught me I can’t please everybody. I’m very cautious about persons who say they don’t care what people think. It’s one thing to do what you think is right for yourself, but to say you don’t care, that is scary stuff. People, who yap about caring for others beyond themselves or being spiritual, seldom are, or they have an agenda. They’d act it, not talk about it, if truly altruistic. Real connections to people and the world around me are difficult, but well worth it. I don’t have to try to find the good in people; they will show me what they are made of by and by, so I assume they are, unless shown otherwise.
I’ve been blessed with having amazing relationships with animals and nature in general. Travel is always a positive learning experience. You learn just how powerful and deadly your environment can be.. And of course the death of our son – you are never the same. Memories of his personality and his heart help me immensely, as does my faith. Poetry may not change the world, but it can be memorable, it can make people feel connected, especially if written with heart and soul. Poems are more than just words.
Relatedly, we find the lines: “Drowning in literary seas of poetic movements / lost within paper structures of learned responses / I’m living proof of feminine modernism, / though there’s nothing grammatically correct to say about it.”
(I kind of hate to use this word, but) elaborate, if you will, upon the question of “learned responses” –– what they mean, what they negate –– and upon any historical/poetic movements which have nonetheless inspired or influenced you and your approach to the old and holy page.
“Anonymous” was inspired by seeing an advertisement for a women’s’ poetry conference based on feminine modernism poetics; then a long list of nearly every modern woman poet alive; the whole thing sounded like a good-old-girls club. It’s tough enough trying to get some notice locally. Who decides who should be recognized in a particular poetic canon? Does it matter?
I believe I’ve been inspired or influenced by most historical/poetic movements, however briefly. Some I’ve taken with a grain of salt, some not, as all poets do. I read a lot of poetry and critical essays and reviews on poetry and poetics. But again I don’t write to please a particular movement, but I do like labels for such things. It gives you an idea of what to toss out and what to embrace. Labeling or classifying poetic movements or poetic types: Metaphysical, Confessional, Imagist, aids me in understanding, technique, content and the private history of the times. It helps make sense of poetry historically, presently and gives one an idea where poetry may or not be headed.
The critical essays of Carmine Starnino, David Solway, Anita Lahey, Jason Guriel and Zachariah Wells, teach and inspire me. I also enjoy Jeffrey Donaldson, who is a much “kinder” essayist and reviewer. Non-Canadians Tony Hoagland, Jane Hirshfield, James Longenbach’s series of books, keep me focused and I recently finished 2 books of essays by Edward Hirsch. I was sad when they ended. Though I do learn from all these essayists, I really just enjoy reading their work and I’m interested in what they have to say.
I wonder whether you identify will Bill Bissett’s phonetic rendering of the English language, his use, for example, of “kontinuitee” for ‘continuity’, “memoreez” for ‘memories’, or “reveeld” for ‘revealed’.
No. But I’ve heard Bill read and we have chewed gum together.
Upon the publication of The New Romans –– an anthology of “the thoughts of 40 prominent writers” –– a conversation between the CBC’s Bill McNeil and the book’s editor Al Purdy took place in September 1968.
Asked by McNeil whether the book was anti-American, Purdy said: “It is, and it isn’t. Writers can say anything they like. Some of them said they didn’t like the U.S. in very pungent terms; others are very favourable to the U.S, and therefore you can see a mirror of anything you like in that book.”
He goes on: “Farley Mowat, for instance, said some quite nasty things about the U.S. My own particular opinion rather goes along with him. He quoted John Foster Dulles. ‘There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation: one is to gain control of its people by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.’
“That’s,” says Purdy, “John Foster Dulles. I kind of go along with Mowat.”
It seems Canadian identity, perhaps quite sharply today, is one part a definition in opposition to, or contrast with, America.
Where do you stand on this point? Does Canadian identity demand consideration of our neighbours to the south?
I am not familiar with the book or its contents, so do not feel qualified to make a comment, or give an opinion. We are different countries, different political systems. As well, 1968 – times were different.
In the same interview, Purdy says: “I can’t imagine, for instance, Canadians, who are a rather –– what are they? –– a slow, gentle, thoughtful –– not thoughtful, so much –– people attacking another country. This just isn’t possible to my mind. However, when we look at our particular Indian [sic] problem and... the possibility that Quebec is going to form another nation, well, we’re a nation in our own kind of turmoil.”
Lynn, you write, “In his place, my space, the land speaks - / childhood memories ingrained with visual clues.”
Now Purdy famously engaged the settler-indigenous question in Canada, “the theft that founds this country,” as Tim Lilburn puts it.
I wonder if you would say a few words about being Canadian, about the legacy of Canadian letters, and about how your nationality informs your work as both a poet and a human being. (And I’ll add that the documentary Al Purdy Was Here will be shown in London this year as part of the Words Festival.)
I saw Al Purdy Was Here at the Sarnia library this year. Rhonda Melanson and I were pleased to read an Al Purdy poem each, before the film. I think the audience enjoyed the documentary.
20 years ago I would not have thought my nationality informed or influenced my poetry. I think as I get older, that is changing. I’m attempting to be more descriptive in my work. My national, regional and local environment changed and was quite diverse growing up. I spent the 1st 9 years of my in a part of Toronto – Willowdale. I lived in an apartment building, coal heated. Large lawns, parks, and a creek beside it, but could hear the traffic of Sheppard, Kenneth, and Yonge Street. I went to day camp from the time I was 5, in heavily-wooded, quiet areas of Toronto. I learned to appreciate nature, put up large tents, use a hatchet, dig a moat, put together objects using string and twine, build and start fires, teepee and log cabin style – in Toronto of all places.
In 65 I moved to an Air Force base in Trenton Ontario. Fields, woods, quarries, rivers, bays, lakes, rock formations – nature all around me, as well as trains and planes. A dream region for geography teachers – Al Purdy’s country - A great place to live. To this day there are still trees, paths and woods I remember, and can find. Centennial Year 1967 – I was quite moved by it. It was an extremely busy and exciting year. One I will never forget. I was very active in sports, church and school choirs. I spent years playing street hockey. I lived on the base during the War Measures Act. As kids and teenagers, we were used to seeing automatic rifles, pistols and military maneuvers. Toronto and Hastings/Prince Edward County, so diverse, gave me a sense of Canadian landscape and a mixture of both town and county.
In the 70’s – suburb and city living in Richmond Hill, downtown Toronto and finally Sarnia, a city with many parks, woods and nature areas. I’ve had some magnificent Canadian experiences, explored some unforgettable Canadian places and have wonderful memories steeped in the beauty of nature, conversing with the landscape, animals, so I’m sure at some point my poetry will reflect that, much of it – still too personal for me to write about.
Al Purdy, Earle Birney, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, Anne Carson, Gary Geddes, Jordan Abel, Michael Crummey, Larissa Lai, Rita Wong, Bill Bissett, Robyn Sarah, Lorna Crozier, Karen Solie, Don McKay, George Elliott Clarke, Patrick Lane, Margaret Avison, Jan Zwicky, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Irving Layton, Dennis Lee, Jane Urquhart, F.R. Scott, A.M. Klein, Phyllis Webb, John McCrae.
Who’s your pleasure?
Purdy, Atwood, Crummey, Sarah, Crozier, Don McKay, I read.
Big Karen Solie, Patrick Lane fan. John B. Lee. I try to keep up with John’s work.
I read more poets not on this list – Canadian and American. I never have just a couple of books on the go. More like 15 plus – that’s just hard copy. There are usually 5 – 10 poetry books at any given time on my Kindle. In my own Sarnia group, there are 3 very diverse poets that stand out – for the time being, not part of a “canon”: Rhonda Melanson, Joseph Farina and Grace Vermeer.
James Deahl has been a positive poetic force in Sarnia the last few years. I’m very familiar with his work. We also have an amazing presence of Italian-Canadian poets in the area. I could spend quite some time discussing their work. Interesting – what made you choose this particular list of people?
In the context of this exchange, I wanted to get a sense of how you felt about such an assemblage –– which I feel is fairly representative of the Canadian canon –– and evoke from you the names among those titans whom have resonated with you.
But perhaps this was an unnecessarily-limited selection of writers. (If I was asked about my poetic influences –– though I revere Lane, Birney, Carson, among others –– I wouldn't want to be confined to Canucks.)
So allow me to ask you a final, forked question: which few writers, artists, and thinkers have most profoundly resonated with you and/or most informed your work; and discuss, if you would, the Italian-Canadian poets in the area whom you mention.
The Bible. Camille Paglia. Don’t agree with all she has to say but definitely influenced by her. Anne Lamott is another writer that has affected me deeply. I’m a bit of a sap – so Dylan Thomas and some of e.e. cummings. Patrick Lane and George Elliot Clark have both influenced my work directly, mainly because I have been on 3 and 4-day workshops with them. Karen Solie as I mentioned before. John B. Lee writes in a way that inspires me to no end, and try to emulate, but alas, so far have failed. Mary Oliver and Billy Collins are also influences.
Artists- Lawren Harris, Picasso and was pleased to recently see a exhibit of Jamie and Andrew Wyeth in Madrid that resonated with me. There are artists from Tucson Arizona we were so taken with we bought prints back home. This October my husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Raynes Roberts – an amazing, talented man with an interesting art history. He took us through a private tour of his exhibit “Illumination” Portraits of Canadian Literature, exquisite works of hand-engraved crystal depicting his responses to Canadian literary stories, and poems.
I’m finding I’m becoming more influenced or awed not necessarily by the work per se, of writers and artists, but the person behind the work and the motivation. Edward Hirsch’s book Poet’s Choice was a real eye-opener regarding the driving force and lives of international poets, many previously unknown to me.
You asked me to elaborate on the Italian/Sicilian-Canadian poets. I have the pleasure of knowing a number of writers in and around the area that have immigrated from or who had parents immigrate from Italy and Sicily. Heartfelt, straight-forward, their writings are directly about or responses to deeply personal events, personalities and life stories involving family, friends, neighbourhoods and self. Their works, whether prose or poetry, are steeped in culture, heritage and personal history. They write with great sadness, great courage, honesty and humour. I always feel as if I am looking through a window into their homes or sitting at their kitchen tables. I’ve read and have the privilege of knowing and working with Joseph Farina, Delia De Santis, Venera Fazio, and from the Windsor area, Salvador Ala. There are too many to mention.