Saskatchewan Poetry

Essay by NyratCollege, UndergraduateA, January 2006

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Poetry provides insight into life; it takes minor details and explores them under a beautifully intricate microscope. Poets provide universal insight, but it is their local environment from which they derive their themes and images. Saskatchewan poetry is about us: our land, our people, and our innate connection with it. Therefore, the province's poetry is personal: it speaks to us in our everyday language with images that define our province and themes that evoke recessed emotions. These aspects will be discussed, as well as form and symbols, as an introduction to Saskatchewan poetry.

It is a common misconception that "good" poetry is complex with fruitful words and hidden meanings. The language in Saskatchewan poetry is often simple; nevertheless, it is effective in conveying messages to the reader. This is evident in Sorestad's "Girl in the Black Lounge Chair." The title itself reflects its simplistic and straightforward dialect. The poem is literally about a girl in a lounge chair as she opens a letter presumably from a loved one.

In spite of its simplicity, it is extremely touching. It emphasizes the importance of the little things in life: "her smile...[and] these small moments," as well as the regret implicit in his statement "[there are] so many letters I should have written".

The simplicity of Saskatchewanian poetic language is also highlighted in "Sunday Mornings, Dad and I". The poem consists of a mere six words and title, yet it goes "a

long way to convey a human relationship" (Hill). The essence of the father-son relationship is successively captured in the singular line and reinforced by the poem's form, which resembles waves of relaxing heat.

Form is simply another means for the poet to communicate with us. As a student unfamiliar with poetry, it might seem inconsequential, but - like all the decisions poets make in their writing - it is a deliberate choice. Typically, it is a visual way to emphasize, reinforce and/or organize a poem's context. For example, Burkhart structured "Scrabble" in such a way that the length of the stanzas coincides perfectly with the narrator's decreasing vision: the stanzas get successively smaller as her eyes no longer "see as they once did," thus reinforcing its theme. Similarly, Crozier structured "Summer's End, Saskatchewan" to ensure that the poem's intensity would be sustained by a single, continuous stanza. Had the poem been visually interrupted, it would have weakened its impact. Other poems are formatted not to reflect the nature of the poem, but rather to emphasize the individual components. The strict pattern of "Because you are Beautiful" clearly distinguishes and separates each "secret.".

As humans, we are susceptible to feeling helpless. Although the poets have different approaches to it, this feeling is a common theme in Saskatchewan literature. Currie explores the theme of helplessness through a child, Yarrow. He successively contrasts Mr. Pollard's authority with Yarrow's in "In Deep Trouble": Mr. Pollard fiercely warned Yarrow about "what he'd do if [he] didn't move and what would happen when he did," thus forcing Yarrow to have minimal control over his actions and choices. Children are usually defenseless against adults, but only until they grow up. In "Children of Drought," the helplessness one family feels is passed on for generations, never yielding. The domineering influence of the drought is highlighted by the voice of the third generation: "Our thirties. And we've regressed to their depression. Bruised by their ways, their myths" (Hyland) - after all these years, they are still trapped in the poverty-driven cycle.

Authors typically write about what they are familiar with; therefore, the settings in Saskatchewan poems are predisposed to the province's influence. Many of the poems' locations are derived directly from Saskatchewan's geography. This, aided with history, accounts for the setting of "Fish Creek - From the Ravine" (Morrissey), an 1885 battle that took place near the Saskatchewan River Although some poems' settings are fictional, the influence of the author's experience in Saskatchewan is still hard to disregard. Traces of it often exist, as in Currie's experience of creating the fictional town of Magpie. Its small-town nature is comparable and likely inspired by his hometown, Moose Jaw (www.coteaubooks.com/curriebio.htm).

The settings in Saskatchewan poetry explore various features that define our province, such as farms, creeks, forests, homes, and wheat fields. Saskatchewan images account for more than the setting. They are the inspiration for many of the poems' symbols as well. The connotations associated with entering the car in "A Few Words for January" are derived from Saskatchewan's extremely harsh weather conditions; it symbolises the dread that we feel when we are forced to leave our warm houses and enter the bitter cold. This is emphasized by its juxtapositions between life and death: a fetus leaving the secure womb, and the decision "to go off life-support" (Carpenter). Another Saskatchewan-inspired symbol is Yarrow's name in Currie's series of poems. Derived from the wild Saskatchewan daisy, Yarrow, the choice of his name is a reference to the boy's uncultivated nature. Thus, the familiarity that we share with Saskatchewan strengthens our understanding of its literature.

There is a strong connection between the Saskatchewan land and its people. Our poets express this through an intense interrelationship: they use elements of the earth to describe passionate emotions (Lundy), and elements of blazing love to describe the environment (Hyland). The connection poets share with the land nurtures their poetic creativity. Similarly, the land deepens our understanding of Saskatchewan poetry. Grassland poets attempt to understand the world through what they are exposed to, our land and our people. The poetry inspires people universally, but if feels as if it is personally written for us, like a whisper in our ear, because we too know the secrets of the prairies.