Writer in Residence


By Barry Dempster

Over the course of the WIR experience, I’ve often used my morning writing time to work on that day’s blog. This is sacred time when I shut the door on all distractions, from phone calls to my cat Iris Belle’s whimpers. I need this time to find my focus; it has to be retrieved each morning. Everyday life might look, on the surface, fairly quiet, living in a small town, just my wife and I, but it ends up most days being fraught with freelance jobs, editorial work, classes to prepare, other people’s poems to find a way into and out of again. Then there are emails, bills to pay, housework, errands. I can only think as far as the next responsibility once I’ve left the holy space of my office. I cease being a poet and become a house owner, husband, citizen, editor, teacher, performer, etc.

So it’s been disconcerting to start the day with a blog instead of my usual routine of tuning in the poetry. It’s the same room, the monitor blank, notepads ready, a stack of poetry books beside my laptop. Even my good luck charm, a green, yellow and orange stuffed monkey named Clarence is sitting where he always has, gazing across the surface of the desk, ready to work his strange powers. But there isn’t a trace of new poetry in the air. Although deep, deep inside of me I’m aching to be alone again, on the surface it just feels like poetry has taken a much-deserved vacation. Or maybe it’s me who needs a break. Poetry has become a subject rather than a surrender.

Once I let time into my office, the timelessness that poetry demands in order to flourish completely disappears. There is no sense of wonder left at all. This could be a lawyer’s office (all the folders stacked in crooked piles), or a pastor’s (an angel mobile floats over my desk), or perhaps a zoologist (besides Clarence the monkey, there is also an owl, a bulldog and an alligator). It makes me realize that poetry travels light.

It will probably be a little hard for the first few days of May. I’ll enter the room as soon as I’m done with all my morning ablutions and sit down at my desk, trying to be nothing more than breath and a willingness to listen, really listen, to the words inside my head. I’ll blow on the angels once or twice and they’ll fly a little further toward the window. Time will still be present, but if I ignore it, a dream state will start creeping into the corners, slowly taking over. The poems will return with their serpentine enjambments, their gilded-caged stanzas, their melodious strings of words. How will I resist?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture and The Outside World, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. He is also Acquisitions Editor for Brick Books.

For more information about Invisible Dogs please visit the Bricks Books website.