I’m coming to the end of my time here in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. I’m cherishing every sky I see, from the picture windows of the big glassed-in lounge, or on my twice daily walks on the long road. The skies are something I will miss when I return to Ontario later this week. It almost feels as if you are inside a ‘sky globe’ of some sort. The sky envelops you here. The clouds shift with the weather, making shadows on the fields below. I’m also going to miss the dragonflies on the road, even though I don’t like insects. I remember reading somewhere that dragonflies are symbols of transformation, and I can say that is true of this ten-day experience with other writers at Sage Hill.
What makes the place work so well? I think it’s largely due to the hard work of the Executive Director, Philip Adams, who shepherds people into Regina when they need things like toothbrushes and deodorant, or takes clutches of writers to see the Mary Pratt exhibit, knowing that even writers need breaks. He also, though, stays in touch with each writer, making each one feel that their work is worthy, valued, and important. Sometimes, as solitary creative people, writers need that reassurance. He often offers a quick, kind word to let them know that someone understands that drive to create, even if others (sometimes those who love and know us best back home) may not.
What I’ve found most amazing during my time here at St. Michael’s Retreat is that writers are similar souls with big brains. We sit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, always learning something new about what others are working on in different workshops. I haven’t had this much stimulating conversation with people, regarding writing, in a very very long time. By the end of the afternoon, people are yawning, their brains loaded up with new ideas for their writing. They’re also really very interesting people, are excellent story tellers (of course!), and they are so funny! I love it! :)
I feel very lucky to have been able to work with some great poets this week. Under the guidance of Ken Babstock, who has a keen eye for poetry, I’ve worked most closely with Dawn Kresan, Kathleen Wall, Margaret Hollingsworth, Bernadette Wagner, and Kevin Wesaquate. We’ve had one-on-one consultations with Ken, which have really made me see my work with new eyes, and then we’ve workshopped our poems as a group. What I’ve learned has a lot to do with editing and revision. I’ve begun to feel less attached to the poem, to sit back in an observational manner and let the poem tell me what it needs, or wants, to tell me. I also question it. I’ve begun to question why I’m doing the things I do, in terms of how and why I fashion my poems. I’ve honed in on image and line length, pushing at my own poetic wall. Evolving. It’s what I came here to do.
There are other great faculty members here at Sage Hill this week. Larry Hill, Helen Humphreys, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, and Denise Chong, along with our poet-guru, Ken, have given so much of themselves. They’ve read endless pages of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction, pushed at all of us to go deeper and get better. The sign on the banner says “Sage Hill Writing: Helping Good Writers Write Better.” It’s done that for me.
At the end of each night of readings, Philip says “Now, go write better tomorrow.” I’m going to take that phrase with me when I return home to Sudbury on Thursday, reminding myself of my commitment to my own writing. I’m going to be sure to carve out time every day to write, read, or think about poetry. I may be a teacher, but I’m a writer and poet first. I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher, I don’t think, if I didn’t take the time to feed my own creative work. I like to think, anyway, that my work as a poet and writer enhances my work as an English teacher. That’s my hope, to be sure.
I’ve met some fabulous people here these last days, and I’m going to miss them. At home, I don’t often get a chance to “speak writing” with kindred spirits. Here, well, it’s been a buffet of writers. I’m going to miss conversations about the structure of sestinas, or the way metaphor works, or how to best title a piece. I hope to see at least some of these writers again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll know they’ve made an imprint on my heart, as has Sage Hill.
….and for this part of Saskatchewan, the Qu’Appelle Valley, well, what can I say? Its land, spirit, people, and skies have marked me. I know I’ll be back someday. It’s inevitable. If I could, I would write the prairies a love song…and try to find a tick-free hill from which to sing it loudly.
For now, I’ll work on revising another poem, gaze out at the valley, watching that collie across the way herd cattle from one hill to another. For today and tomorrow, at least, I’ll breathe Saskatchewan in.