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.