Casto Prize 2018 Winner Sara Nason
I come from the middle of the woods, which is not an overstatement. I grew up in very very very rural New Brunswick down a basically dirt road. I lived a very sheltered-from-humans childhood, I would say, Until very recently I had never lever left New Brunswick. I think my roots in this province and my absorption into always being here affects a lot of my feelings when I write about locations and the outside love.
Love poetry, I also write prose. When I write prose it's usually short stories. I don't think I've ever finished a long piece. But I'd also like to get into writing children's books. I also draw, I watercolor, I sketch. and I do online drawing with a tablet. I think something that would be really nice someday would be to combine a cute poem for kids and draw illustrations for it. That's one of my dreams, one of my goals in life.
I think the fact that I currently work at a bookstore in the kids' section has reignited the want for writing a kids' book. Children's books coming out now are so beautiful — not just aesthetically pleasing but, a lot of them are so heartfelt — I read them in the kids' section and I'm like, wow.
I am going into my fourth year. Sociology is my passion. I'm honouring in sociology and I'm also majoring in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Not everyone would be proud of this but I'm very proud of this because Creative Writing/English and Sociology are so important to me. After first year I have only taken Sociology and English courses.
I only have a year left so I should probably get on figuring out what I want to do with my life. I'm trying to choose between becoming an elementary school teacher or I'm going to continue on and get a Master's in Sociology. I have no idea where I'll be next year and it's terrifying.
The first draft of "hiraeth" was for Advanced Poetry Workshop here at STU with Kathleen McConnell. The theme of the week was to write a glossa. Stanzas are supposed to be 10 lines long — mine are nine lines long but I changed it up a little bit. I found "Ghazal For Her Voice" by J.P. Howard quite coincidentally.
Even now it's hard to describe how I was feeling when I created the poem. I know what I wanted to try and convey, but I'm a person who has a hard time conveying my feelings anyway. I have a really fractured relationship with memories of my childhood — the younger the worse. Not necessarily because of offense, but for some strange reason I have a really hard time knowing what's real and what's false. Because of how easily memories decay and how often we can create false memories within ourselves, I struggle sometimes with things that I'm sure happened, but I'm also quite certain I just thought they happened. And now my memories of home I mixed into my brain and it's really hard for my to pinpoint ones that really affect me that I'm certain are real. When you think of that, and you combine that with the concept of home, like warmth and what you picture of a home a child grows up in, it's hard.
I drew on my grandmother and my mother. This "she" in the poem is like an entity that is both my mum and my grandmother. We're addresssing a single person throughout the poem, a metaphorical version. That was largely because growing up my mother was a stay-at-home mom and my grandmother lived with us. And even when she moved out she lived next door, basically. I was very close to them both but I also had very tenuous relationships with them, especially the older I got and the more I learned about the world and about their place in the world. Combining that with memories I'm not sure I can formally address to them makes for a confusing relationship with one's past.
Both my nanny and my mum were green thumbs, loved the outdoors and adored birds. Not necessarily bird-watching, but making bird feeders, carving little wooden steps for birds. They would buy bird feed with every grocery order. Think of a mother figure standing at the kitchen window right above the sink looking to a bunch of bird feeders, and she's talking to the birds while she washes dishes. I knew one thing that I could use to ground the poem are birds. I tried to include a form of birds in every stanza whether that was as simple as mentioning a type of bird as ambiguous as mentioning feathers. That's real, that's something that is tangible. I remember birds like I remember my mum and my nanny. I wasn't trying to focus on specific events and ideas. I was more trying to put down feelings and emotions, especially what I felt with this ambiguous problem. I wanted to impression the reader to feel certain emotions that I feel when I look back on memories of home.
Something that definitely soaked into there was this melancholy which you get at the end of almost every stanza. It's in part due to the fact that I have a problem writing happy poems. Not in a my-life-is-sad-and-this-is-awful sort of way — which is valid; if you want write poems about how the world is awful, power to you — but just this feeling of a slow creep of dread and sadness and regret that you can't wash away. It soaks you and it comes out in everything you write, and that's what happens with my poems. But I've learned to embrace it, and now I'm just working with what I have.
My nanny actually passed away last month. She was very old and it was something we were preparing for, but it was still very sad, obviously. It seemed addedly sad that it happened around the same time I found out about the award. I actually read a bit of the poem at the funeral. Kathy Mac talked a few times in out class about how it's very strange that in times of grief even people who don't like poetry or don't think that they like poetry, or think they know nothing about it or have never written are almost drawn to it. It's a way to express a lot of feelings you can't express in any other medium.
Life is a circle, weaved
around fragments of her voice.
I keep entering an empty room;
drawn to the memory of her voice.
“Ghazal For Her Voice,” JP Howard
i hear her voice in just echos now,
tiny taps on a birdfeeder reverberations –
or in coughs late at night. except when i find crows
looming on the couch dancing in dew,
no shoes, never crochet or prick blood
thin thread cleaved, from flowers in bloom.
just two rods; dirt sticks between
two snakes. her craters in my fingers,
life is a circle, weaved. i keep entering an empty room.
cooking in vanilla- the still air tastes
splattered apron, no sash. of gingersnap cookies:
whistling with chickadees, burnt.
careful of barefeet i grasp at crumbs,
on sawdust floor. follow the oblivion path.
no choice ears filled with feathers,
to mid-morning movement. steps tilted downward –
the squirrels scatter shaking, shivering,
around fragments of her voice. drawn to the memory of her voice.
Used with permission of the author.
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