"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, April 26, 2010

by Andrew Sant

Toy Marvel Stove

On a bedroom wall in the house where Elizabeth Bishop lived as a child hangs a framed poem – on linen paper – that I wrote several months ago. It is about my visit to that house in Great Village in April 2006. The bedroom was little Elizabeth’s.

Let me briefly explain how this came about. Great Village is a long way from where I normally live in Australia. But that April I got lucky. While on a speedy reading tour of the Maritime Provinces – wonderful new territory for me – I met the Halifax-based poet, Brian Bartlett. Our conversation must have drifted to matters relating to EB, especially her relationship with Nova Scotia. I had realised that in all likelihood I might never again be as close to Great Village as I was then but had not entertained the possibility, on this hurried tour, of visiting it, let alone gaining entry to EB’s grandparents’ house. Brian explained how this could be done.

As it happened, in a few days I was to join – via public transport – a couple of Canadian poets, David Manicom and David O’Meara, for a reading in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I learned they had a go-anywhere car which would next take the three of us back to Halifax. Great Village, I’d heard, my eyes widening, would be accessible along the way. Good companions, the two Davids didn’t require any persuading to make the detour. It was such a wonderful thing for me to be in places I’d never previously conceived of visiting that I felt I bore a disproportionate amount of the excitement. I hoped to see a moose somewhere but my luck didn’t extend that far.

The weather was changeable the afternoon we arrived in Great Village. I remember this because I waited for the sun to make its various appearances, through openings in the clouds, to take my photographs. It was drizzling when we arrived, sunny when we left. The three of us were shown into the house by Meredith and Robert Layton, holders of the key and with whom I’d previously made contact. The poem, which I called ‘Marvel’ gives some idea of the intensity of the experience. Here it is:

Unexpectedly, one morning, I’m being driven fast
to Great Village, Nova Scotia, where as a kid
Elizabeth Bishop lived – went into the clapboard house,
went up to the little room where she slept, or tried to,
the sleep of a nascent poet. While, downstairs,
her grandparents snoozed by the Little Marvel Stove.
Now forever gone! I looked down at the narrow bed,
up at the skylight right above it, home
of the travelling Milky Way, while nearby roamed
– or soon would – the moose she’d see from a bus
and, with a trans-continental pen, take a
modest twenty years to make, suddenly, marvellous.

Why I wrote the little poem when I did, I don’t know. I suppose poems find you rather than you find them. The circumstance was unique: I was enjoying a few glasses of wine one evening when I jotted it down. It’s the only poem I’ve written while drinking alcohol. I emailed it some time later to Sandra Barry – who I’d met in Montreal where she explained her connection with the house – and it was her generous idea that it be placed on the bedroom wall. When I recall that it is there, I also recall the overwhelming surprise and delight I experienced on reading Sandra’s reply. Could a poem ever have found a more suitable home?

Andrew Sant

Andrew Sant is an English-born Australian poet. He is the author of eleven collections of poetry, including Tremors, New & Selected Poems (Black Pepper, 2004) and Fuel (Black Pepper, 2009).

Website: www.blackpepperpublishing.com

No comments:

Post a Comment