The Interview with Chad Norman Page 2
by Anthony Watkins
BTS: On to maybe more serious questions. A Room in Pisa, 1820, is this a poem about a painting that exists, or exists only in your mind? Or is it a painting from the Shelley household?
CN: The poem, A Room In Pisa, 1820, is from my manuscript, Squall: Poems In The Voice Of Mary Shelley, a work which delves into poems being memories, in which Mary remembers her short life with Percy, while on the beach where his body was cremated. I took her there because it still isn’t absolutely proven she ever attended that grim happening. But I felt it was important for her to go there and begin to remember. All of the poems open with a two-line description of her at different spots on the beach or in the nearby bay, including with the black box which has been said to have contained Percy’s ashes. So, the poem is not about a painting, it is about an actual room Mary stayed in during a time in Pisa, 1820. As the poem reveals, it wasn’t a pleasant stay. I lived, ate, slept, and read everything I could on and by her, but most of all carried her within me for many years while writing those poems - call it obsession or, perhaps, possession, she still inhabits me today. The manuscript will be published Spring 2020 by Guernica Editions, here in Canada.
BTS: I see you have won, among other awards, the Gwendolyn MacEwen Memorial. What do you know of her writing? Would you say there is a connection between you and her besides both being considered good writers from Canada? Did you know her? I confess I had not previously heard of her, due to my sadly Ameri-centric exposure to modern poetry..
CN: Dear Gwen. I am happy you mention her and the award. I won it a long time ago, 1994. At the time it was an annual award but fairly new, I believe I was the second one to win it. However the funding source for the cash prize vanished, as did the award up until a few years ago when it became available again. Her writing is unique as it is mythical in ways, and very visceral too. The themes she tackled were and remain educational, by this I mean to read her poems one always comes out taught in some way, at least it is so for me. She began writing and publishing very young, and knew some fame, if one wants to call winning awards and making her way in a very male dominated scene fame, in a brief lifetime. As for any connection between us I would say it would have to be we follow our muses willingly, and attempt to help other poets whenever possible. No, I didn’t know her, but when I won the award I was taken out to dinner by her sister, Carol, Carol’s son and his wife, and then kept up with Carol for years through hand-written letters. Gwen is definitely one the major poets from the generation before, which included Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, and one of my other favourites, John Newlove, to begin with if one wishes to enjoy some the rich Canadian modern poetry. I am staring at the photo of Gwen I have up above my desk...thanks for letting me smile at her once again.
BTS: Do you find that Nova Scotia has its own poetry? Is there a voice to the region, say like maybe Southern, or Bay area New England? I mean, of course every poet has their own voice, but does your geographic center come through your writing? If so, how?
CN: Nova Scotia has its own poetry, that’s for sure, and a lengthy history I may add. The region is very generous to its poets I would say, through being beside the sea, and with all the history connected to it, and also the connection to the Acadians and the Expulsion, as well as our direct connection to Scottish and Irish histories. But there is another voice to the region that is the economy, and how it has had to adapt so often throughout the years, with the loss of a huge fishing industry as well as the logging situation, and of course the farming/milk industry which I was a part of when a boy and young teenager working with my family on our dairy farm. My 2013 collection, Masstown, comments on those years through a celebration of my grandparents. Fortunately, there have been poets in the past who have written about and captured the histories/industries I mention. It is a small province, but there still is a lot of poetry being written about the land, what it still offers in regard to wildlife, birds, and medicine for the soul. Nova Scotia has had a profound influence on me, and I would say yes, definitely my geographic center comes through in my writing, again appearing in my 2015 collection, Learning To Settle Down, which I have referred to as my “Truro poems”, where I comment on being a homeowner after renting for years, as well as my return to being a gardener, and how I was able to follow gladly my generous muse, Awe, at that time. I also believe that center, as you refer to it, comes through when I read my poems aloud, because my Maritime accent has returned.
BTS: I have read several of your poems and am struck by how autobiographical they seem. Are they? I know poets who write very much in the first-person narrative but don’t tell their own stories. I have a hard time imagining the little boy in the boat with his father being anyone other than you?
CN: It has always been my intention to tell my story, my life-story, while I am alive. So, yes, there is an autobiographical thread in my poems. But I have written as others too, which has been wise, to know other than only writing about what one knows...to be out there on the limb where mystery and the unknown can find you. My latest manuscript, The Black Rum Poems, which I am finishing up at the moment, features a deliberate usage of what I call “the infamous I”, and I found it very freeing after having not referred to myself that way, meaning referring to self as “he”, “him”, “the man”, and “that fellow” in the past. It has been very fascinating to observe oneself as another person, looking from the outside, and to be deeply within oneself and observe from that vantage point. And, yes, that little boy in the boat with his father and other men is certainly me, this taken from my poem, Ringbridge Lake, featured in the latest issue of Stand Magazine (for men who give a damn).
BTS: I saw an event mentioned several places, RiverWords. You organize this? What is it? When and where? How did you start it? and maybe a better question is why?
CN: Yes, I host and arrange RiverWords: Poetry & Music Festival. It takes place each year here in Truro, in the middle of July, at a wonderful local park with an amphitheatre and gazebo for a stage. The main reason I put it together is to showcase local talent: poets and musicians who are from Nova Scotia, or may have a strong connection to the province. I bring together both younger and older guests, that way each can enjoy where they may be on their paths, down it a-ways or right at the beginning. We also help out our local food bank. I started it because I saw a brand new park which looked very lonely, and I am so happy I did because our audience grows each year, and the town here has been generous enough to award the festival a grant for a number of years. And, speaking of years, this will be our 7th this coming July!
BTS: And, as always I ask, what have I not asked that I should have?
CN: Perhaps I could briefly mention I am a poet who believes in touring, being out in the world sharing the poems. In October of 2016 I was invited by the Nordic Assn. for Canadian Studies, to speak on Canadian Poetry, and read from my collections, in Denmark and Sweden. And for this year, I have been invited by the Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Edinburgh, to do the same with a join event at the Scottish Poetry Library. And like I did for the Nordic tour, I have also fleshed out the UK visit with events that happen at other universities in Ireland and Wales, as well as cafes, bookshops, and libraries in all three countries. Another opportunity to go internationally with my poems, something at this point now that I just turned 59 I am so grateful for, as well as being able to take my wife and son with me, adding to their lives in so many ways.
BTS: Where can readers find a link to your books?
CN: There are links to my books at Black Moss Press, Mosaic Press, or write to me at email@example.com, for a signed copy.
Three of Chad Norman’s poems:
A ROOM IN PISA, 1820
Mary napping in grass by the sea;
a small sealed box under one hand
My Pisan moon grew
in night-shadows on the wall
as the dually-sired girl I was
sat wryly open-thighed,
exposing my eager whitened cleft,
done with the dark red drop
found on the chair, by the fingers
I knew I needed to taste.
When I scanned the scraping branch,
slowly tasting my inner time,
the open breath-dressed window
held the pleasant glowing room,
while the night taught the mind
how to recall each nail's creak.
No woman knew those rare notes
as she, that Mary, enlivened by quiet.
Words that I wrote saw nothing,
my favourite dress back in place
on the cool floor where two feet touched:
Casa Frassi, a new home for that room,
where our circle rested above the Arno
& I saw Exile in a corner with webs,
elated, crouched by the keyhole's crest
my finger traced after each noon rang.
Songs of tired men rose from the river
to swirl within the wind of night,
as the blonde curtains shared both
I knew chuckle & cheer, unlike any
other moments my image was insignia
for the mirror finally less fulgent,
the sable face stoked by a smile
grown fitful, alone like a fire.
Inland gulls brought the hour dawn began,
wings full, as night left for the light
old tales tried to describe--one ray
claimed the one clean pane--a portal
I kept for the sun, my eyes, the game
my finger's shadow
in that bright circle on the bed.
One brief joy I craved in private.
As I tapped the coals of that night
the scalding poker caught the grate,
a freak instant in the manner of music
caressed my receptive palm, loudly,
active while the room held a height
the keen day kindly fell from,
a cue to undress in the new heat,
stand bare, marvelled by a mood's rite.
AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB
I know why
Dylan Thomas drank
the 18 whiskeys
and had already
all he wanted
it was like
SOMETHING ABOUT A VISIT TO THE S.P.C.A.
If ever a family agreed on a choice, to choose
to be larger, , to make an addition, a family if ever
ready to be, a choice, ready to add to the bills,
ready to make a move regardless of how much,
ready to be a family agreed to add to itself,
the price of gas no matter,
the price of a pet no matter,
the price of a choice no matter,
the price of being a Being who cares
enough to agree on a choice, to choose
to be a family ready to rescue a cat, a pet,
a reason to be a family hoping to enlarge,
hoping to be a family ready to say a pet
can enlarge us, can be the reason to rescue,
can be what the family requires to hope,
can be the discussion in the car before stopping
outside the little building where a few people
give themselves for the safety of animals
they believe are just as alive as themselves,
just a few people who adore pets, adore the day
they see others begin a day to open a choice
all agree will enhance their lives, and say
after their eyes unlock a cage, and their
hands first touch the chosen white fur
and openly gasp to themselves,
"There is nothing like..." – or perhaps better said,
thankfully – " There is something about a visit
to the S.P.C.A.!"
March 20, 2014