David Blaikie is a journalist and writer who wrote for Truro Daily News, The Canadian Press, The Toronto Star and Reuters. He worked 18 years in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. His Farewell to Coney Island, won the 2011 Tree Reading Series chapbook award. He has three chapbooks and this is his first full collection.
What draws me to the writer: A discerning ear, carefully considering, kind, well-read and well-spoken, David can astutely hone in on the core of a story and of the unsaid.
About the book:
“Sixty-three poems ride simultaneously wild, free and gentle in tis book of confessionary spirit that exudes history, involvement, search, blood sin, deeds and aspirations”
In the 70s, Lowertown (now the ByWard Market) still had the feel of early Canada, loggers who danced and drowned on log booms, nuns and prime ministers who tramped its streets. Across the river lay the city of Hull (known today as Gatineau), an enclave of wild night life, thanks to liquor laws that let bars stay open until three a.m., two hours later than the Ontario side. A little further east sprawled the working-class neighbourhood of Eastview (now Vanier) which also teemed with night life. I embraced it all, the grit and grime, the French and Victorian architecture, the bars, the taverns, the all-night diners and hotels with creaking beds.
La Petite Auberge
for a while I went most nightsp. 18
to La Petite Auberge
behind Hotel Duvernay a place where regulars liked to go
and bartenders lingered off shift
it has a small red light
over the door
that hardly glowed at
all even in winter
when snow tumbled thick
and lay white along the alley
I got busted one night
by the drug squad there
they came flying in like hoodlums
slammed me against the wall
and rifled my pockets
for contraband, just itching
to show who was in charge
I was still sober
and had nothing on me
but I swore at a constable
and he didn’t take to that.
PP: This is a book I’ve looked forward to having in my hand for years, having got a sneak peak of an earlier version four years ago. I have to say I love the footnotes at the end, like Easter Eggs. You mention Ferlinghetti’s title of Coney Island. Was he a big early impact as well as Patrick Lane and Alden Nowlan and others mentioned?
DB: The poems changed over time, and several others were added, though the collection remains a portrait of Lowertown at the time, as a place and as a metaphor. Life opens at certain moments and newness gushes in. Lowertown felt that way at the time. The footnotes at the end of the book reflect my instincts to document things, perhaps unnecessarily so. Yes, Ferlinghetti was an early influence. Place names have power, and Coney Island sang in my imagination, and led me to read the Beat poets, especially Kerouac, whose words were raw. He made the continent shiver in On the Road.
I discovered Alden Nowlan when I worked with The Canadian Press in New Brunswick. He was the night news editor at Telegraph-Journal and had just won the Governor General’s Award for Bread, Wine and Salt. CP had a desk at the time inside the Telegraph newsroom, and I worked the night shift. I bought Alden’s poetry at a little bookstore on King Street, which was also where I discovered Patrick Lane. Their poems were graphic, brimming with life, rooted in the heart of working Canada. Alden was from rural Nova Scotia, as I was. I grew up in a sawmill family. And Lane’s poetry included the brutal realism of sawmill life in the interior of British Columbia.
PP: In your “on writing” you say nothing clarifies the path between mind and body so well as walking, which you do for an hour a day. Do you find yourself more editing the rhythm, jogging loose old memories or making room for new insights as you walk outside? Is there a season for each or all seasons for all?
DB: It’s mysterious, the effect that walking seems to have on writing. Currents flow and thoughts take wing. An hour a day seems right for me. But it’s very loose and random. Occasionally, I will stop and jot down a phrase. Mostly, though, I just sense a stirring within, things taking root somehow. Shaping those currents into poems, coaxing them out, is another matter. It takes effort, discipline and craft. To me, poetry rises from the sub-conscious but it’s nothing without craft. The world is awash in bad poetry.
PP: Your poems vividly show the places and times. Is there another period and place forthcoming poems are clustering around?
DB: Maybe. A Season in Lowertown is very much of time and place. My first chapbook was as well. It told the story of my mother’s illness and passing in the 1980s. She was among the unlucky folk who received tainted blood and died of AIDS, a disease profoundly misunderstood at the time. When my sisters could no longer care for her, no nursing home would accept her. The poems were vignettes that, taken together, told her story. The same approach would fit other experiences in life – my athletic years of marathon and ultramarathon running, alcoholism, a long association I had with a meditation cult, or either of my two careers, 25 years in journalism, and 21 years after that in the labour movement of Canada. Who knows? Poetry has its own compass, so I’m not sure.