This is a poem by my friend Dave Margoshes, also a short story writer (also someone I could depend on for Best Canadian Stories in the decade of my editorship). Dave lives in Saskatchewan which is a province I used to visit a lot–those lovely summer residencies at Fort San (a retired tuberculosis hospital turned into a summer arts centre–some details from the place made it into a story of mine called “A Piece of the True Cross”) in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley. Every morning we were awakened by the call of bag pipes wafting over the dry hills. But he knows Vermont well, having been a guest at the Vermont Studio Center.
“Becoming a writer” is one of the poems in my collection The Horse Knows the Way, which came out last fall (from Buschek Books in Ottawa). The poem was sparked by something I read or heard – I thought by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – to the effect that “Everything I needed as a writer I had acquired by the time I was six.” In fact, I used that quote, or what I thought may have only been a paraphrase, as an epigram to the poem, and it appeared that way in The Queen’s Quarterly. Later, as I was preparing for the publication of The Horse Knows the Way, I was unable to verify the quote – now I have no idea from whence it came – and dropped the epigram. The poem, and an explanation like this about the epigram, appeared later in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2009, from Tightrope Books in Toronto. So I owe Marquez – or someone – a debt of gratitude.
Becoming a writer
What could be easier than learning to write?
Novels, poems, fables with and without morals,
they’re all within you, in the heart, the head,
the bowel, the tip of the pen a diviner’s rod.
Reach inside and there they are, the people
one knows, their scandalous comments,
the silly things they do, the unforgettable feeling
of a wet eyelash on your burning cheek.
This moment, that, an eruption of violence,
a glancing away, the grandest of entrances,
the telling gesture, the banal and the beautiful,
all conspire with feeling and passion to transport,
to deliver, to inspire. Story emerges
from this cocoon, a crystalline moment, epiphanies
flashing like lightbulbs above the heads
of cartoon characters. All this within you
where you least expect it, not so much in the head
as under the arms, glistening with sweat, stinking
with the knowledge of the body, the writer
neither practitioner nor artisan but miner, digging
within himself for riches unimagined, for salt.