From the poet’s heart

Love let­ters re­veal Canadian writ­ers’ pas­sion, power of words

Ottawa Citizen - - BOOKS - PETER ROBB

Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Let­ters of Canadian Po­ets Edited by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes Goose Lane Edi­tions, 430 pages

In hon­our of Valen­tine’s Day, here are three ex­cerpts of of­fer­ings of love by three Canadian writ­ers. Th­ese ap­pear in the col­lec­tion from Where the Nights Are Twice As Long, pub­lished by Goose Lane Edi­tions:


Dear Mary Lee, Well, my ar­rival in Toronto was hardly aus­pi­cious, and I started to get the feel­ing that I re­ally hadn’t come any­where in the past six years since I ar­rived be­fore. It turns out that my Gramma is stay­ing up at the lake all sum­mer and didn’t get my mes­sage. I don’t know yet whether I’m go­ing to be able to get hold of what­ever you sent me at her place. I phoned the David­sons’ place, and they were just leav­ing on hol­i­days, so I walked down here to Ruth & Ken’s even though I was get­ting no an­swer on the tele­phone. (I got a num­ber for John who lives out by the York cam­pus and hasn’t been heard from for quite a while, but he wasn’t home — I’m try­ing to lo­cate him now.) When I got here the house was dark and I fig­ured they’d gone away for the week­end too. But the neigh­bours across the street had heard about me in pass­ing and took me in, gave me tea & sand­wiches, phoned Ken’s dad & found out they had just gone out for the evening. They ar­rived about mid­night. Grampa New­ton is stay­ing with them, Craig sleeps in the dining room and I’m down­stairs; so there are still prob­lems about find­ing a place to stay — ex­cept that I have no money to speak of — es­pe­cially if I still owe $10 on the course. There is the chance I can get un­cle Lloyd to un­lock Gramma’s mail for me.

Well (this seems to do as well as in­den­ta­tion open­ing para­graphs) I just phoned John who is stay­ing at his par­ents’ while they’re away and he says I can go up there and drive his fa­ther’s car to the school. That sounds — I don’t know about that but in any case I’ll go up there now and talk to him, prob­a­bly stay there tonight. I’ll write you some more tonight and to­mor­row and maybe get this straight­ened away.

Well then, this is Sun­day night. Since the above I’ve talked to you on the phone, and it was such a re­lief to hear you that I’m sorry now I didn’t talk longer. My phone para­noia some­how in­creases though with the dis­tance — an­other of my ir­ra­tional tics. Lis­ten, if you’ll write and tell me when you’ll be home — and what time I can phone you again at the end of the week.

There’s some­thing I want to say in this space, but it’s an empti­ness where there’s usu­ally a hug.

All of a sud­den I feel some­how de­feated; as though I’m launched on a battle with less than half my forces. Please send some morale sup­port. I’m sure I’ll feel bet­ter about to­mor­row — un­less my works are the first to be dis­cussed and then set aside as fin­ished with. I’m go­ing to go to sleep now, that will help. And I’m cer­tain that it’s not go­ing to be a battle to­mor­row — ex­cept if I have to fight the traf­fic four times ev­ery day, the pace could be a de­ple­tion in­stead of an ex­hil­a­ra­tion.

Well, it’s go­ing to be ex­haust­ing, I know that. Good night.

I am drift­ing be­tween four walls — such a fee­ble space cap­sule — sta­tion­ary — amid the pass­ing crowded void. My mes­sage to you is weak — as a ra­dio beam at the far end of the band — late at night — scat­tered in the strato­sphere. We lo­cate one an­other only by tri­an­gu­la­tion — on the sur­face of the moon. But we see never the same moon — a pale spot among half-lit build­ings — a face sadly twisted — the re­flec­tor of dis­jointed sig­nals. And the moon — who is he — but an in­dif­fer­ent glow upon us — caught in the teem­ing ac­tion — of a drop — say­ing noth­ing — only — stop — there is time — there is room — there is nowhere — else to go. The moon­light rests — on the roofs of fran­tic cars — strung out — along the high­way out — of sight — rests — on the quiv­er­ing an­ten­nae — serene — as on the rolling wa­ter of a lake — say­ing noth­ing.

Sorry to give you some­thing so heavy — like an an­chor — but that is all I seem to be able to ar­tic­u­late of my feel­ings. The rest is some­thing like a void, a glow, a hug that is not there.

Say that the noth­ing the moon says is what I want to say to you — that hug ar­tic­u­lated the only way it can be. Does that make it an aus­pi­cious moon, or only an aching one? (Here I am stay­ing up all night again, but with not you to come to. Drop it for now. Look at the moon.) You know “I love you” in a way “that” doesn’t say. Love Colin

Colin Morton was born in Ottawa in 1948. He is a poet and fic­tion writer and in the 1980s was a mem­ber of a po­etry per­for­mance group that toured Canada. Morton has pub­lished more than 10 books of po­etry, re­viewed books ex­ten­sively and pub­lished es­says. His fic­tion book The Lo­cal Clus­ter (2008) was short­listed for an Ottawa Book Award in 2009.


When I first laid eyes on you, you seemed so el­e­gant (it was your coiffed hair). You re­minded me of Mrs. Whit­tle from el­e­men­tary school, whose white blouses I ad­mired as a school­boy.

For you, I ached and burned. Did you hear the crackle of my fire?

All at once, in an in­stant, I de­sired for you to let me be your rea­son why; to hal­low me with your em­brace, con­se­crate me with your smile, sanc­tify me with your touch.

At first dis­ori­ented, I soon be­came dis­il­lu­sioned. Af­ter that first week of my wish­ful imag­in­ing, your true colours were vividly dis­played, and my bliss­ful hal­lu­ci­na­tions dis­si­pated like morn­ing dew.

Par­don me; I thought you were some­one else.

Post Scrip­tum: Why weren’t you that per­son?

Bran­don Mar­lon is a play­wright and poet in Ottawa. He stud­ied at the Amer­i­can Academy of Dra­matic Arts in New York, the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto and the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria. His po­etry has been pub­lished widely in Canada, the U.S.A., and Is­rael. Mar­lon’s two po­etry col­lec­tions are In­spi­ra­tions of Is­rael: Po­etry for a Land and Peo­ple (2008) and Judean Dreams (2009). His play, The Bleed­ing Sea­son, won the Canadian Jewish Play­writ­ing Prize in 2007.


Dear Men­tor/Tor­men­tor This One’s for you O Men Tore Tore Men Tore: Men tore My art Not my heart, Pull ease, Pull lease. I imp Lore You too Cease and De­sist De sir­ing To Con Core Mon coeur. It’s not For rent For good Nest Ache. Till next we Meet, we part, Yr Penn pal.

Penn Kemp was born in Strathroy, Ont., in 1944. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a nov­el­ist, es­say­ist and poet, she is a sound poet and mul­ti­me­dia per­former. She stud­ied at the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern On­tario, re­ceiv­ing de­grees in English and ed­u­ca­tion. She be­came the first poet lau­re­ate for Lon­don, Ont., in 2010. She has pub­lished more than 20 books of po­etry and re­leased 10 CDs. In 200910 she was writer in res­i­dence at the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern On­tario.


‘Sorry to give you some­thing so heavy — like an an­chor — but that is all I seem to be able to ar­tic­u­late of my feel­ings. The rest is some­thing like a void, a glow, a hug that is not there,’ Colin Morton in 1972 to Ottawa writer Mary Lee Bragg.

‘For you, I ached and burned. Did you hear the crackle of my fire?’ Ottawa writer Bran­don Mar­lon said in a 2013 let­ter to an un­known valen­tine.

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