Two things have come about as a direct result of the writer-in-residence position I held at the Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre. Both leave me thrilled and deeply touched.
The first, an invitation to participate as a guest poet at Creating in the Qu’Appelle, a 2.5 day creative writing workshop for youth, came as a surprise. When making arrangements to work in Lumsden High School during the residency, the Creative Writing teacher, Heather Winter, asked if I’d like to participate in the event. I’d heard about this fantastic writing camp for youth a few years ago in conversation with former Saskatchewan poet, Jennifer Still. A regular on faculty at C in the Q, she could not say enough about how wonderful it is! So I gave Heather an immediate YES!
Sanctioned, but not greatly publicized, by the Prairie Valley School Division, and funded by the school division, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, Coteau Books, Lumsden High School, and the Lumsden Cultural Council, this event saw 40 students from across the province come together for instruction and support in writing prose, poetry and songs. Along with Jennifer, three other artists served on the faculty. Chris Fisher, from Lumsden, provided expertise on writing fiction. Michelle Muir, a Toronto-based spoken word artist, covered performance art. And Little Miss Higgins, from Nokomis SK, was the singer/songwriter on faculty.
The faculty had done their work. I walked through the doors of the Dallas Valley Ranch Camp’s main entrance and felt the energy right away. It was electric! Dallas Valley sits on the edge of the Qu’Appelle Valley, that sacred land on which Saskatchewan writers have a bit of a tradition hanging out. The young people were on supper break, hanging around the tables talking and laughing. Some played card games. Others sat, feet up, taking it all in. In the main room downstairs, a few played guitars and sang, not a whole song, but part of one I didn’t recognize. Still, I had to stop myself from joining in with a descant line that called me. Everything I witnessed was strong evidence of a solid community in place. It felt, immediately, like a safe place to practice art.
And practice art they did! 30 individuals — students and some of the teacher support staff — took turns standing at the front of the room to present their work. I recognized a handful of the students as those I’d worked with in Heather’s classroom during the residency, some whose work I’d published in the chapbook, TALES FROM THE LAKE. Oh, there were some great lines, lines I wish I’d written! I also wish I’d had the good sense to write a few down for future reference. I was struck by the presentation skills of a few of the students, too. Courageous and fantastic presenters, they could give a few writers I know a lesson in presentation skills. Oh, and that song, when they put the whole thing together, well, it brought tears to my eyes. So beautiful!
I feared my talk and reading, in which I focused on my grandmother and land poems and an excerpt from my Wolverine Creek essay, would pale in comparison. But I gave it my all and hope that someone found something they needed in it. I started by inviting them to help me work through Notes Toward Goodbye: A Lullabye, which is a poem that’s becoming a song, I think. I asked them sing a chorus, “Rock me,” or give a bass line or echo words that I spoke. I liked the chorus, think I should have given more direction for the bass line — or more freedom — and loved their eagerness! It felt so good to be nurturing young writers; it always does.
Actually, it doesn’t matter what age the writers are. Any time I can encourage others in their writing, I try to do so. And that brings me to my second spin-off of the residency. A group of women regularly attended the classes I offered at the LMLCC. Last night, we had the first meeting of the writing group that formed as a result of it. Not only were we happy to see each other, visiting and laughing and sharing stories, but we also talked about writing and wrote. I think I may have an ice cream poem as a result. Another spin-off! The plan is to meet again in a month. And I’m looking forward to it because I’ll be at the beach, working on my writing, and wanting feedback on it, too.
One final thing, speaking of community… I attended the Creative NonFiction Collective’s Annual Conference and General Meeting at the Banff Centre last weekend. Because of the political nature of some of the material, I have posted my notes from it in a series of posts on my other blog, the regina mom.