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By Louise Carson


The Montréal Review, November 2011




First let me tell you what I'm not referring to.

I'm not referring to that section of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey where poets, playwrights and writers from Chaucer to Hughes are buried or commemorated under plaques or white marble busts.

Perhaps one of the best comments on the meaninglessness of Poets' Corner are these words from Samuel Wesley's eighteenth century epitaph for poet Samuel Butler (1612-1680).

The poet's fate is here in emblem shown,

He asked for bread, and he received a stone.

Neither am I referring to the metaphorical position taken by th poets in Margaret Atwood's poem "The Poets Hang On" (The Door, McClelland and Stewart, 2007).

We pass them on the road

standing there with their begging bowls,

an ancient custom.

It would appear then that the Poets' Corners I'm rejecting are cold and lonely places where you go shortly after or just before you die.

Interestingly though, both the Westminster Abbey administrators and Atwood have placed the poets together with other poets and it is this community (a mostly warm one) which makes writing poetry possible and bearable for me.

I remember a few years back, after reading two or three poems as part of a charity function/annual general meeting, my flush of embarassment at being addressed unsmilingly and with a slight sneer as 'Madame Poetess' by one of the organization's officials. I was alone you see, and they thought they could pick me off.

Truly I write the poetry alone on my couch or as I walk or drive or, rarely, at the desk in my bedroom where I type and file and ponder the business of poetry.

But it is at the workshops, meetings and readings where I share my work with other poets and receive either tactful silence, enthusiastic response, or, more usually, helpful suggestions on how to revise, that I grow as a writer.

Let me give you two examples.

When I realized that Hudson's Storyfest was including a poetry slam in its lineup in the fall of 2007 and that anyone could stand up and read their poetry there, I became excited.

A few months after my fiftieth birthday my writing had imposed itself on me in a new and violent fashion. I could not stop writing. As in the beginning of any love affair, there was passion. And of course I wanted to tell people, my friends and family, about my passion. But most of them were strangely indifferent and certainly didn't want to read my efforts.

So Storyfest's first poetry slam had sensational timing as far as I was concerned. I went, I read, I listened; and I joined the Greenwood Poets as a founding member. Ta da! First contact with the poetry community.

One poetry group led to another a little further afield. Twigs and Leaves is a spoken word event presented in Sainte Anne de Bellevue once a month. Here I tried out more risky material: word play, singing, blacker humour; and here I read a story I'd left unfinished, unsure of its quality or interest for anyone other than myself.

When the story was praised and people asked for a conclusion, I was inspired to write for three weeks, rest for two, then bring it to a tearful (me, not the story) conclusion, aware that I'd experienced something special and new: that fulfillment that comes from beginning, developing and ending something you think is good.

I read the finished episodes and poems (for the piece is a hybrid) at Twigs' monthly events, found a publisher there (Broken Rules Press) and am now the delighted author of my first book.

"Rope, A Tale told in Prose and Verse" is set in the eighteenth century and concerns one Deasil Widdy as he falls into and out of the occupation of hangman in a small village somewhere in the Borderlands between England and Scotland.

The character's name inspired the book. I had been thinking about the words deasil and widdy after I'd studied their origins in the dictionary and from that humble beginning the imagination caught fire and produced a plot, minor characters and the psychology to drive the whole thing.

But if I'd stayed in the poets' corner of my mind, of my couch, or even of the first writing group, the story would never have made it out into the world and for that I give thanks to the poets in my corner.

As Atwood says as she nears the end of "The Poets Hang On"

They know something, though.

They do know something.

Simultaneously realists and idealists, poets know to keep going.


Louise Carson's work has appeared in Event, FreeFall, Our Times, Other Voices, CV2, Cahoots, Jones Av., Montreal Serai, Poetry-Quebec, The Nashwaak Review and poetsagainstwar.ca. Her first book is Rope, A Tale told in Prose and Verse (Broken Rules Press, Sainte Anne de Bellevue, 2011).


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