On Cosmopolitanism, the Social Writer, and the Ways We Should Move Around Us.

For those that follow me on social media, you realize that I’ve been a poet on the go the last few months. I am one of those blessed writers that gets to travel for their work and as such I’ve gotten an excellent opportunity to meet writers in communities from Chicago to Pelee Island to Ottawa to Toronto. Learning to see the world from the window seats of turboprops and the places that artists convene in their communities has done much to improve my worldview of writing as a global community. One with so many shared and similar experiences that in total honesty we as writers should never feel that alone in the world. But that loneliness starts in our own home communities. We find connection in way we move through the world and how we connect those that too move through it.

Perhaps this is a note of encouragement. The last thing we need to do as artists is tell each other that we need to get out more, do more to see the world around us, connect with those that we keep promising to do more with, to actually talk in person. Our world must be bigger than the computer and telephone screens that hold us hostage. Bridges and understanding are built by talking and meeting with others in our profession and our passions. This is the public side of being a writer that finds an unbalanced portion of our lives. The encouragement comes as this, put down what you choose to write with, ignore the your word counts or deadlines, and go to the spaces in your communities where artists go to display their work.

I recall on the many Saturday mornings I spent speaking with the late Don Belton, him speaking of the seminal importance of living a cosmopolitan life. Of course, often this was do in talking about famous Left Bank Paris or contemporary spaces such as New York or Philly, but it unfolded to discuss the way it worked at Indiana University and Bloomington, IN at the time. That cosmopolitan aspect of our writing community and that exceptional Hoosier town is something that has influenced me profoundly to this day. It shows in my work as a poet and as a publisher. It it is the direction that I feel we should all be moving in.

I currently live in a mid-size Canadian city that is renowned for its multiculturalism and its factories. I’ve generally seen these two things as mutually exclusive if only because people here orbit in their own small clusters and don’t bother to cross lines of interests or groups. Line work creates exhaustion in its moving pieces. Windsor is often referred to a huge small town because of the unwillingness of folks to move between groups and social circles. There is an unwillingness to leave the immediate social circles and likely because of that I tend to see the same handful of people at the same events week after week and year after year. Not that I don’t love many of those folks and look forward to seeing them. But we need more. We need to be more inclusive. And I’ve seen how this works in the places I’ve been.

Understand that newcomers are welcome. This fact is central to all of creation. That is one of Windsor’s real gifts. The community welcomes many into the shared physical body of the city. But it falls flat after that. At least on the artistic level and in many ways on the social level. Traveling as a poet means you see the way other communities come together, across cultural, social, and economic strata to make a bigger more diverse and welcoming community. The type of social interactions that drive artists and their work, to let them know that their is support outside of their virtual or remote social networks. Nothing is more empowering that a well attended art show, book launch, or even open mic. A city of our size, should not struggle to get more than a dozen attendees to our various events. Rather than proclaiming we are not bigger places like Chicago or Toronto, we should be ourselves. Grow our community within and change it in simple acts. Attend those functions that support your craft or your passion, support your friends and family that are artists, put down your smart phones, turn off your television and venture out to help us craft the cosmopolitan and supportive communities we laud other places for being.

With Each Word We Move Closer to Decolonized Voices

Understand that part and parcel of looking towards building a healthy relationship with First Peoples and settler governments we must start with words, names, and symbols. For ten of thousands of years people have moved about the land, come to understand it in way that is both spiritual and physical, and have developed names and histories that stem from those experiences. These are not lost, but they are and have been repressed by subsequent colonial ideas and governments. Coming to this knowledge has been a critical development to both me as a writer and me as Lenape. As one of the most longstanding colonized portions of Three-Fires territory, our area is sorely in need of settler motions to actual reconciliation actions. Naming is important as our the symbols they use to depict us.

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Still our fires burn upon the land.

We must continue to find it problematic that this amalgamation of settler towns that has become Windsor, Ontario does so much to celebrate one of the few Indigenous folks that didn’t live here. As I write this, the city government is bus in the final stages of installing a statue to honour the great Pan-Indian Confederacy leader Tecumseh in the old Sandwich Town part of the city. To say nothing of the fact that Tecumseh can’t be depicted alone, but rather with this government “handler” General Issac Brock in bronze, this I’ve viewed as an unwillingness to come to terms with the Indigenous presence, both historically and contemporarily, on this land. Tecumseh is not from this area, he never called the region of Windsor home, likely he saw it as battlefield only to help him and his achieve independence from colonial governments. Yet here we are with the only visible presence of an Indigenous community on this side of the river being erected to celebrate local Indigenous cultures and heritage. Basically this follows the path of name a couple of roads after First Nations and throw up a statue to an outsider to illustrate the proud cultural history here and city hall declares a moral victory of sorts. All of this despite the fact that the second fire of the Midewin was ignited here, the Three-Fires Confederacy began on land claimed by the city, and for tens of thousands years people have called this area home before a bunch of Europeans showed up little over three hundred years ago and said none of that mattered. Waawiiyaatanong our words for this place matter because every other outlet of our connection to this place have been attacked and erased by successive waves of colonial-minded governments. And sadly, it is an ongoing process.

 

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Know this map. Understand these names.

I say this because in a great deal of my recent work I’ve been focusing on instilling astronger decolonialized voice, something that doesn’t simply repeat past traumas, and can serve as a rally point to reclaim our spaces from those that have tried for centuries to erase us from them. As a writer, I’ve often started with the land and built out from that point to craft a consciousness to talk about our experiences on the land. It is a bit of old John Wadland’s Canadian Studies classes at Trent University that still haunts me to this day. Haunts in every positive way imaginable and it is a manner of looking at the world that jives with being Lenape on Turtle Island. We must know that all things of importance stem from the land because we are an equal, if unruly part of creation. We cannot exist without it, through water and air and the various ways that creation nurtures us, we come to understand ourselves in terms of our physical world. Our history, our land, our words are all intertwined in ways that make us either struggle or thrive. The land matters. It teaches us everything we need know about our existence. It teaches us how to speak of our place upon it.

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Pontiac speaks at council

It is important to take in one’s surroundings, understand the language and symbols being used to express our history, and find a manner in which we can turn our environment into an inclusive and nurturing place for all it’s inhabitants. Language matters. Our history and our words arise from our experience upon the land. And such is the case with a place like Waawiiyaatanong, This is an important word for us all to know. It should be spoken by those that now seek to claim their Indigenous heritage, here, Speak it often, because Windsor and Detroit and all the names for the counties and suburbs are words that seek to erase everything that came before and place only the borders and ideas of our settler present before us need be challenged. Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior with a Lenape prophet, would have understood this. It is why they fought Harrison for control of the land that is now Indiana, it is why they joined the British to fight the Americans. The manner in which one names the world reflects the understanding they have of it, the frame that they seek to understand creation it. Frameworks build understanding. They help us to know creation better, live more within its means.

Know this: that when a statue to a Shawnee leader not from Waawiiyaatanong goes up and the mayor of your city directs folks to a museum rather than a celebration of contemporary Indigenous artists, vendors, and residents for National Indigenous Awareness day that culture genocide is a learned habit. It is also practiced, as there are now plaques to Chief Joseph White, the great warrior Pontiac, the Odawa village directly east of downtown. All acknowledges here are seemingly done for the political strengthening of settler ways. Writers and artists and non-Indigenous residents must come to understand the way the land and spaces have been called and who has lived and continues to live upon them. There are those around us with the knowledge and care of traditional histories and names. Getting names right is important for respect, sadly I’ve rarely seen this from our local intelligentsia/academics, and we must as peoples of the land, those with ancestors millennia old here, must begin to insist in inclusion of our physical and ancestral birthright and to be heard by sequestered academics and clueless politicians. We must continue to speak in the terms the generations before colonization taught us, free our world from the colonial violence of half-true histories, colonializer-driven agenda holders, and pry open a space for us in areas like Waawiiyaatanong cut up by settler borders and fueled by ignorant half-truths to keep their the mythology of the lost or civilized Indian in place.

 

Upon where the Red Cedar meets the Grand: Lansing and Views of Rooted Americana

Lansing Station at Dusk
Swallows chant creation songs above the old train station. Photo by D.A. Lockhart

At the heart of Michigan, along the water course of the Grand and Red Cedar rivers, in the territory of the Anishinabek nation I come to the settler home built by Cadillacs, car parts, and politicians. Long fallow factories, the quiet of a place when workers return totheir distance homes, and sleepy possibility that lies ahead in lazy seasons fills the air between buildings and classic wood homes. In it, there rests an American heart that I have not seen since Indianapolis and that I have not felt since Dan Wakefield’s city novel Going All the Way. Cool late spring nights still find an emptying of spectators from amateur baseball and the electric light on mid-rise office buildings and fresh pre-fabricated condos sing triumphant beneath the scaffolding of the nearby capital dome. This is the Americana that one finds in the determined literature of the region. Yet from Pere Marquette street this is a place that hums with a different energy than anything felt in more middling places like Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. I’ve come here to speak about writing at a symposium.
Here, the opposite side of the Medicine Line and the gentile aspects of French ancestors and British Colonial rule find a home that we don’t often feel elsewhere. Detroit a mere hour and a half by automobile away is a different beast now. Transformed by waves of southern migrations, that city is a grand northern dirty industrial city with a collard green and ham hock heart. While the French is there in name, like roadside markers to what has past, history and a powerful sense of self has changed for Detroit. It is the transformative monster of culture and people in this state. It carved an identity through its will from the production line to Motown to Techno, Detroit has come to sing Michigan to the world. Yet, as is often the case with a place the size of Michigan, the song is not all inclusive. It sings for itself and for the present, if not the future. It is proudly alive and ever-moving forward. For that, more than three centuries in, it is worth singing about. Detroit is its own entity. Lansing something else.

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Even the elevator knows where it is. Photo by author.

The experience of the peoples beyond the cone of life in its southwestern corner is relatively different. There is a rooted organic aspect to it where the rich past pours through, spills its banks, and fills the roadways, alleyways, neighbourhoods, and parks with every moment of what passed before it. In Lansing, one can still feel the traditional peoples upon the land. One can feel denim clad and Nike shoe padded feet along the sidewalks of streets like Sparrow, Larch, or Kalamazoo. Cargo trains bray into the night with the same abandon as coyotes in the right light. For purpose, for attention, for the simple reason that their being calls for it. To the end that this inland city lacks a brashness, it falls more to tradition, more to the place that birthed than the place others could dream it to be.
In that organic self, it does feel oddly utopic. There is a surging wave of total modern Americanism that has yet to crash here and in the still before something that might never come, is the idea that homes and living are cheap, and ambitions have little to do with leaving, more to carry on something better than they were left with. Lansing and its place on Anishinabek land speaks in way I haven’t heard or felt since Indy. Although it is an additive speech, one that includes a people not entirely forcibly scraped from their land. It is quieter here, without the traffic it feels by large measure more organic, more at peace with itself. Perhaps I felt this is my younger days when I seemed to idolize this region. The medicine in this country agrees with me in a way that might go beyond what I believed to be my history, beyond my cognitive ability to have read it in my youth. There is something overly recognizably here that I feel I have yet to grasp. Know that in this place the settlers now call Lansing, that is a peace and rootedness that the automotive state often misses with its highway lifestyle. Here is the stillness amongst the change, the steady trickle of inland rivers as they merge and move through a land that rejects the names placed upon it, seeks only to entice the roots of those that walk upon it.

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Grand River flows past downtown Lansing

 

 

 

This Rock Shall Shake Forth the Better Year

4aea1ee76207e9d93e4a1f439030cdbbTime to reach out from the wintry basement perch of this writer. We’ve all cleared out from 2017 and all of creation around here feels cleansed from the meteor a few weeks back. Nothing like a giant rock blowing up above you to clear out the bad funk left from a year a lot of folks plain up struggled with. Can’t say unequivocally that the space rock helped us all. But below ground, right here in Waawiyaataanong (or maybe right across from it still trying to figure that out), things feel shifted. Shifted in what seems to be mostly the right way.

You’ve got to get the sense that Canlit is nice solid spin at this point. And yes, we’ve all heard the analogy of the dumpster fire. I’d like to imagine there are things we’d like to save from Canlit. So knocking it around for bit to clean out of the bad elements might be the way I want to look at it. It’s likely the librarian in me. Regardless, the fact that in bending and yelling back bad things at those outside of it let’s me know things are changing. This is perhaps the first good thing of the year. It should make a lot of us at least a little happier on the path before us all.

The next thing to be mentioned of course is the new work for the year. I can’t control the publisher side of my work, but suffice it to say a new manuscript is being floated around out there by me. “The Gravel Lot that was Montana” marks my third complete collection and is an exploration Montana and Detroit, or my time in those places anyways. Good number of the pieces are in some fine journals out there. Look at the Journal Publications page if you want to see the latest in that way. Time will show us where this one could land, but I’ll keep you posted. It is also a fine thing to have work done.

And what sort of writer would one be without projects? Two new poetry projects have received generous support from the Ontario Arts Council. “Go Down Odawa Way” is a poetry collection that looks into the history of Windsor-Detroit through an Indigenous lens.  One that looks at history that stretches back to the Second Fire. This is a history longer than the three centuries of settler history. Very early stages of this one, but interested in the way this shapes the way I look at my neck of creation.

Also receiving funding is “Bearmen Descend Upon Gimli.” This is a novel-in-poems and follows the story of a mythic curling bonspiel in Manitoba. The whole thing becomes a meeting point for a lot of Canada’s cultures and becomes a meditation on the role of sport and competition in that meeting point. The focus is through the multiple First Nations comprised Bearmen rink. It has roots going back a bit and is a lot closer to completion than “Go Down Odawa Way.”

Go into the now, newer year, and know that the meteor above this part of the Three-Fires Confederacy territory shook the earth enough to clean things up a bit. What settles we can’t control. But for the immediate future, it’s better and arcing positive.

To Find Oneself With a Poet: A Brief Review of Andre Narbonne’s You Were Here

YouWereHereYou Were Here
Andre Narbonne
72 pages
Flat Singles Press (2017)

It is often said that poetry done right is one part memory, one part experience. Narbonne’s debut collection of poetry affords us this type of poetry, straddling the lines of a shared world and the very internal emotional way one experiences that world. This collection unfolds from the premise offered in its title, You Were Here.  These profoundly personal pieces explore the pathways that a life takes from childhood to adulthood and the moments that fill that journey. While you could say that place always matters in work, and it often does here, whether it be Mountain Road, Wasaga Beach, or the Detroit River, these are physical spaces that are explored primarily though the poetic self. The moments and events revealed in their lines and images leave the reader with sense of living in that moment, feeling what the poet had, traveling the line of memory that places you in the world. The places in this collection while they may carry names we recognize are strongly those of Narbonne’s. He builds a world and shares it.

The primacy of placing the person in the image is laid out clear in the poem “At Kakabeka Falls” as after a vivid mediation on the physicality of the space before him “the road curled into hills blasted into shape,/scored Precambrian walls, open roofs, pulling the horizon close.” we hear the mother call out “It’s not a picture without someone in it.” And so it is with these poems that we not only see the world that carries Narbonne’s poetic lens, but we feel it too. The need to hurry home before a lightning storm opens up the day, the act of losing oneself in the middle of a question by a stranger on riverfront path, or the smell of lilac that cordoned off a childhood home from the outside world, all of these are profoundly personal moments that the reader, too, experiences.  The mean only so much as they mean to the poet. It is proximity that affords the best of this collection. We are never alone in the world we come to know in You Were Here.

This is because the poet draws us in close, let’s us feel what he feels, holds our hand, wraps it around our shoulder. As Narbonne brings us closer to his world, he draws us into the manner he feels and sees his daughter’s artwork. “My daughter’s scribbles are the tectonics of a new work/pushing coastal mountains/onto my wall” We not only see the world in which those mountains exist, but feel them rise, sense that our world is shaken by the simplicity of the moment, the sheer importance of witnessing what we have just witnessed. We not only see the drawing, but we feel it too. We know both its form and the sentiment it leaves us with. The poetic world of Narbonne is a gift he offers the reader in totality. You will know the places his senses have touched, feel the manner in which those places and people have shaped those senses, and you will feel as though you too know the speaker of these pieces not in the physical sense, but also in the way the person must appear in the photo. This is a strong debut for Narbonne, leaves us hopeful to return his world, share all that must follow the final image and memory of the book.

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Adherents to the Lyrics of the Places We’ve Lived: Notes on the Second Book.

So today it is. This is official release date for my second poetry collection, This City at the Crossroads. This is that moment where the writer rejoices, embraces the idea that their work has been brought forth to the world, and all the toil behind it is officially brought from the private shadow into the public eye. While a good number of pieces have appeared in small magazines throughout the years, here is the totality of the thought behind that work. As this book begins to make it’s rounds to bookshops, libraries, and most importantly readers’ hands, I thought it important to speak to some aspects of the work.

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The Garage Next Door in Irvington

I used Carl Sandburg as a starting point to speak of a vibrant, beautiful city I once called home. Starting points are critical in explorations. If we understand that writing is an act of discovery, the process of writing this collection meant that I actively sought to discover the nature of the city and people in question. But it also meant that I actively sought to discover who am or who I was in the time I lived there. The starting point for this work comes after Big Medicine comes to Erie, but predates my return to Three-Fires Territory. The soul of the work arises from writing I did in the second floor office in the original urban farmhouse right across from the 400-year old Kyle Oak in the heart of Irvington. While revisions came years later, the soul remains. And the discovery is both personal and public. The launch of This City at the Crossroads marks the close of the chapter of this discovery.

 

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Author at his beloved Indiana Pacers game

This work is different than the other projects I’ve been putting myself to task on, recently. It’s different because it comes from a different place, a different time, and to some extent a different person. The measures by which I explore the events and places, and by which I had measured myself, were more fundamentally tied up with how to be both an American and a Hoosier. In the long run, I was neither. Perhaps no more than we are ever what labels are applied to us. But it was distance from those places and people and events that made writing and finishing this work happen. I would like to point out the great Montana poet and teacher Richard Hugo is absolutely correct in his notion of distance from the poetic triggering subject as a key to liberating the poet enough to write a poem. Or at least a truthful poem. That was the case with This City at the Crossroads. I love and miss Indy to large extent. In that longing and unrequited love came this book and the poems within it.

And I am returning to the places that the poems in this collection come from. A short book tour through the Hoosier Heartland means that I get to revisit a life and people and places that I moved away from. It will be a task of refamiliarizing to the places I once called home. And in that process, I will likely witness that we have both fundamentally changed. That is the impermanent nature of existence, change. There is beauty in it. What we have in this second collection is a snapshot of what it was to be me as the poetic I, wandering around Central Indiana, trying to hustle a life together, and figure out what kind of change Creator had me geared up for. Beauty is different things at different times. It exists only in the moment that it must.

I carry Indiana with me, make no mistake. Out of that I want share that part of me with those around me in the home and place that I know I belong to. Creation is a massive and wonderful place, that when we fill ourselves with love and understanding, we must celebrate. Such is the case even with the things we must leave behind because they aren’t meant for us. That is what this collection is. It is a gift to readers and those that haunt its pages, a not-so subtle reminder that origins and histories have beating hearts. Be sure to visit with me as I make my way to reading this collection around Indiana, Michigan, and Ontario. Pick up a copy (through this site or through your local bookstore) and experience these stories and songs with me. Let me share this part of creation with you.

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Author with the bust of Washington Irving, the Indianapolis east side neighbourhood’s namesake, at the crossroads of Irvington. 

 

The Small Books at the Heart of Literature Today.

Let me start by saying that summer is well upon us in the border region. It also goes without saying that the summer brings with it baseball both grand and small and all those memories that go with such a storied game. Sure, I grew up on Major League baseball with the Detroit Tigers just across the river from me. But I also spent the better part of three seasons watching triple A farm baseball in Indianapolis. When the heat ratchets up and the early part of the baseball season settles into a steady pattern of games and sunshine and humidity, it is my time at Victory Field in Indianapolis I find myself thinking of. There were few things better than baseball at the farm team level. The prices were right, the game still felt approachable, and the talent for the most part just as engaging as any big-league game I’ve watched over the years. There was something charming about watching players develop and rehab, time to witness players play outside of the pressure cooker of Major League baseball.

chapbookimageNot surprisingly, as a writer and publisher I see baseball as a top-notch analogy for the craft of writing. Just like every ballplayer, writers need the opportunity to hone and development their craft. They require a stage to perform and practice at being the things they believe they should be as a writer. This is everything from the craft of the individual pieces to the marketing and design of the almighty book. Farm teams are where ballplayers develop into their game. So surely, their is a farm team aspect to writing. You can say that is the case with small magazines. But there is surely a tier above that that allows for writers to practice the art of the book itself.

Enter the mighty chapbook, that little wonder of a book that has been with writers and readers for the better part of four or five centuries. Once peddled by travelling merchants on the cheap to the places they found along their routes, these little books opened up their readers to the world outside with stories, poetry, and information beyond their everyday. They were tools of discovery for their readers and a means of making a living for their producers. Here was small scale publishing in its infancy. Times have changed and as such so has the chapbook itself.  And in that change has come the formative place for writers and their craft.

Truthfully, their must have been a good amount of effort placed in learning and developing one’s craft before one arrives at the chapbook. Typically individual pieces are experimented on in small magazines and even occasionally broadsheets. This operates just like a ballplayer doesn’t begin in triple A baseball. The modern day equivalent of the chapbook marks the moment in many writers careers that they are up-coming. They play the role of triple A baseball farm teams. These publishers and the work they do provides for a critical aspect of the writer’s development. It enables them to shine in terms of organizing their materials into a collection, to develop a following for a relatively cheap by in (consider the average cost of a chapbook), and they allow for the writer to develop a sense of how to sell something more than a single piece.

The chapbook is more than just a developmental tool for early career writers. They alsochapbook provide a unique tool for the more established writers. Like the baseball farm team, the chapbook enables older players to play with new forms and aspects of their game in a little less of the limelight. The small books with the typically tiny print runs and more concern about design and content over public sales creates space for writers to move in different directions. They are place that every writer can be relatively free of audience anxiety and more apt to push the limits of their skill, vision, and craft. Without the farm team there are no professionals. That I would argue is the case for and about the mighty chapbook.

If you haven’t recently I implore you to do so. This means as both a writer and a reader. There are numerous great chapbook publishers all over the Turtle Island. Many of them are staffed by some of the best editors and writers currently at work in the field. In them you will find the future of the field from both established and emerging voices. There is a depth to the writing world that runs deep below the trade-book surface. If you are interested in specific presses to look at feel free to comment to the post or contact me via social media. Enjoy the season before us.

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Vallum Chapbooks, one of the finest Chapbook publishers on Turtle Island.

May This Rock be Truth: Thoughts on the Newest Project

One of the best things with having completed a MFA is that you generally exit the program with more work than you would ever have thought likely to use. Truthfully, much of it can be left behind. But there are other bits, the stuff that marked a turn perhaps in the everyday often written under pressure to be workshop safe stuff. This is the work that one often returns to. It is the stuff that should not be left behind. It has roots that are true and could easily bear fruit in your future. With this in mind, one must see that this is work that has, at this point, been given years to sit and mature and perhaps move in a certain more fresh direction. The roots are there but the flowers and sprouts need to be given space. These are pieces that have not been worked at in any specific or concrete way, but rather left to simmer in the way of a good slow-cooked meal. One such project was one that I had first presented to a workshop class on mythology led Maura Stanton.

The Bearmen Descend on Gimli project started as ten poems that began to explore the story of a mythic curling bonspiel on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.  In terms of personal approach to my work, I believe it marked a turn towards my Canadian and Indigineous roots and pulled me to the place where I feel my writing has landed me. Interestingly enough, it was also the first project in which I received the worst blow-back from a workshop member about the work. The work has questioned by a single member of the workshop (privileged suburbanite to be honest that has since stopped writing and publishing) claiming that she couldn’t see who the hell would care about Indians curling in Canada.  So much for the safe spaces of a workshop, but most us likely knew that to be the case. The work was well received by many of the fellow workshop folks and the instructor, but you know that comments like that sting and resonate over the years. Perhaps they are the reason why the poems and project were left to simmer.

With the confidence of a book under my belt, a completed MFA, and several grants for both my poetry and fiction, I finally resurrected the work in recent months. It’s much different, to be honest, than the first drafts presented in that workshop. But the essence is still there, the portion that said individual had taken issue with, the direction that my writing and life has taken. It is now a novel in poems and embraces much of the contemporary Indigineous experiences in North America that I might have been unaware of at the time of the workshop, but find myself living day-to-day in Canada. This story involves the way that sport (curling in this case) can be used to bring cultures together and declare for each of them a sense of not just survival but a hope and path for something much much more. This is a lot, yes, and perhaps not as concrete as I would like to use in a blog post. I used that early work, sketched out some improved pieces, and submitted the work to the granting system here in Ontario. Bearmen Descend on Gimli as a proposed body of work has received my personal largest number of recommendations from the Ontario Arts Council Writer’s Reserve program and has most definitely received a green light to finish it. This is a clear signal on a long path that should see a completed manuscript sometime in the next two years. But, it is a success beyond the sometime small-minded nature of folks that come to inhabit writing workshops.

What of all this? I generally think that this says that if you keep your belief in your work and ignore the haters and empty advice of mean-spirited workshop folks that you can and often do end doing well. But also says use their words against them, propel your work to where it needs to be, prove that their words are wrong and mean-spirited. Writing on the professional level is a long-game, it takes time to get to the places you need and want it to get to. Remain strong and push hard during that game. There is a great distance to go with finishing this Bearman manuscript. But if anything, the process that has led to this moment indicates the path that writers must embark upon and the confidence and patience they must have to bring a manuscript to the places it can be.

First Spring Sprouts Bring Thoughts of Creation

Simple thing to say is that they first day of spring marks a point of great relief among those with propensity to believe January and February are simply the annual darkness that we all must endure. And we’ve reached it, that great moment of relief. Yet for those who, like the Mrs., have been busy starting the residents of our garden for the upcoming season the change of season launches genuine happiness upon looking at the sprouts that have begun punching through their starter cells. Their emergence tells us something more, reminds of the world around us. They are a happiness that finds it roots in both the past and the future. It is about being able to see more than just what is right around you in the present. Everything is cyclical.

We’ve been here before. I mean not just in the earlier days back in Indiana where we first grew our home gardens, but also something deeper, something in the blood. It is something that reminds us that as we do the things we do, we do them because of the

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‘Fog” by Jarle Refsnes

very  elements that we are made up of.  We are meant to tend to Creation. The sprouts are here before us because we are doing that which we should be. And it says more, mainly that we are resilient.Tending to creation reminds of us of what our ancestors, near and far did. It connects us to an act beyond the skirmishes we fight each day. They are what survival looks like in the long term. Remind us that we’ve always been strong, always pushed back against the dark and cold that the movement of time will leave us with. Our past must be measured by some degree of success because we are here to speak about it, because we know of this act. And the emergence of these first sprouts ties all this together about our past. We must feel joy with their arrival.  They bring with them the knowledge that not everything is always cold and dark.

For that same line of thought we must know of that which lies ahead of us. A season of warmth, one of growth, and the knowledge that spending time working upon the land will soon be here. We shall emerge too. The sprouts will grow into plants and the warmth and sun will carry us back into the seasons before us, fertile with everything that these sprouts can and should become. We are engaged in creation, we are part of it, we move forward toward in. It is nature to us and beyond the time that we are surrounded with. Creation reminds us much in the early sprouts of a garden. That in spite of the cold and dark that will inevitably be visited upon us there will a rising, a greening, a renewal.

Lost in the Hoosier Heartland: Notes from the Desk of D.A. Lockhart

I’ve been thinking and working a great deal in the realm of Indiana, getting lost in the Hoosier Heartland if you will. Perhaps it came from the great darkness that seemed to have gripped onto the river narrows since the start of the year. That darkness brought on the need to day dream about warm, brighter places. Our time in Indiana was definitely defined by warm summer nights, hazy with firework smoke, and the thickness of air that comes with a lushness of land. Spending my first few years as a real adult complete with home ownership landed us on the east side of Indianapolis for the first three years of this decade. With that time came the sort of indelible mark that comes with such a time in one’s life. What is honestly more Midwestern pastoral than Indiana? What drives a poet and a writer more than the manner that memory serves to us the places we’ve inhabited?

This return landed me with the essays to Scott Russell Sanders. Most specifically his 81qqgU2ol2Lcollection of essays in Writing from the Center has been speaking to where I’ve landed creatively. Sanders is a Hoosier transplant, but embraces his physical place and writing on Indiana. He does this great image painting of the physical state of the land, the mighty almost too lush and fertile place to live, and at the same time this rather polluted and somewhat degraded portion of land. There is an Edenic sense to the land. However that sense is complicated by a hard reality that in Indiana after God tried to kick everyone out, they instead stayed and kind of trashed the joint. It’s still beautiful and you still feel and see that beauty just beyond all the Chic-Fil-A wrappers, Marsh bags, and Keystone Light cans. You might call it a pastoral grittiness that works in the same fashion as the industrial grittiness matches Michigan’s character. I witnessed it, I lived it, and I came to love it almost revel in it. Sanders, I believe helped me to sum up those feelings a little better.

This mental return also found its way to Bluebeard by Vonnegut. Not as much associated 47c2c918237d58077916d30471f7ae53with the landscape of the great Hoosier state as Sanders, the work of Kurt Vonnegut finds its process of storytelling and the psyche of its characters from Vonnegut’s homeland. There is something decidedly Hoosier in his narration, the use of humour to deal with the traumatic, the devaluation of self, the clear sense that better days appear to be behind them. I would debate that the last point is less truth and more perception but that is given to a different sort of blog post that I’m not writing here. Vonnegut is one of the state’s greatest literary offspring and it is easy to see how Vonnegut as a writer reflects that pastoral grittiness that the Indiana landscape projects. The narrative structure reads as if it comes from the back country down home storyteller, the type of voice very much aware of itself and its audience, and willing to carve out all the necessary bits for both entertainment’s sake, but to also make a real point about the folks it speaks to. There is much to admire in the craft and much that other writers can take. But it, too, is a reflection of the place. One that I no doubt hope to capture in the work that this period of writing is hammering away at.

I was also very recently lucky enough to stumble across a copy of Susan Neville’s Indiana Winter. Although her short fiction work  tends to stray into the realm of non-51BzFLnDWBL._SX291_BO1,204,203,200_fiction in terms of sound and style, and the individual pieces in the work comprise a miscellany of genres, the connection points to the Hoosier landscape and culture are as strong as one comes across in recent times. I actually believe Neville’s work here does much to capture what both Sanders and Vonnegut do individually in their works (character and landscape) and stitch them together into an excellent well rounded vista of Hoosier life. The title story of the collection does one of the better jobs of stitching together the varied lives of those in the state in the very familiar setting of a rural house party. After all my time in Indiana, I must say the sense of rural plays a massive role of Hoosiers, even those living in Indianapolis. There just isn’t the remove from the land itself that you see at work in many other Midwestern or American cities. Indianapolis exists in spite of the fact that it is a major city and often tries to undo its sense of urbanity through design (think bike paths) and low rise development. The grittiness is there, its in the rundown buildings, the trash-strewn shorelines and roadsides, and within the characters themselves.

None of this says that Indiana doesn’t have its dark, violent, and often times problematic aspects. I experienced some of that and some of that forced me and my family north to Canada. However, I find that my time in Indiana left me with the vision of Indiana as that pastoral gritty version of Eden that maybe every writer should have. Out of this last few months has begun to re-emerge much of my work related to this place and people that writers like Sanders and Vonnegut and Neville talk about. Distant and darkness helps this process. A complete poetry manuscript will emerge later this year as a book (announcement is forthcoming) and individual pieces have been appearing throughout North America in small magazines over the past few years. I’m also finishing up some short fiction work set in the region, basically returning to my fiction writing roots first laid down in the great southern Indiana college town of Bloomington.  I believe that from the great bleak darkness that started off this year, I was brought inward to memory and find that warm pastoral place that acted as a light to carry forth my work. As a writer, I find that the most important thing you can do is get lost for a little bit. The guiding light of my Hoosier time is carry me forward into spring and what could be a year of Hoosier work.