When I started writing at eight, poems were precious treasures, like the starfish and sand dollars that I would dry on the balcony. At eight, I carefully wrote out my poem about a lizard with my recently learned penmanship on thick creamy paper. Then, I trimmed the paper edges into rounded shapes. Then, I glued the poem into my scrapbook. That I read the poem on a local radio show is a fact; my lived experience of this significant event? Forgotten.
Is a poem a treasure I carefully collect (and kill by my handling) and put on a shelf? Or, are poems grimy creatures, scratched, barely visible through the trees, words on a wild romp, scarily leaping and dashing, silhouetted against the twilight? Those are the poems that I want to meet, anyway.
Like many Canadian writers, I work in fits and starts, in and around work, family, and community. Sure, I write in my home office sometimes, but also fulfill tasks of my regular teaching job there. Sure, I write in cafes, shoulder to shoulder with other writers, members of the gig economy, and students of all kinds. Home life can be distracting. (This very morning, I already made the salad for dinner to get it off my mind.) Sure, I jot notes on my Memo application on my phone at odd moments and then email them to myself. I ignore my own emails because I am itching to do some other apparently better writing project of great scope and political importance that will require research (research is easier than writing). Sure, I even book into hotels where there is nothing else to do but meet myself trying to write, in the glow of a boring hotel lamp with its boring cylindrical white shade.
To be honest, I frequently and successfully write on the train, while commuting. Is it a sacred, hallowed writing space, encouraging reflection with its soft light, its view of nature out the window, a source of hot tea nearby, paper so beautiful, and a computer so magical and powerful that the words write themselves while I rest? No, no, and no.
But, I feel like an intrepid adventurer: stimulated, observant, and out in the dirt and gore of life. With the lurching and shunting of the train and the overlay of much racket, writing is difficult. I can barely hold onto my bag! I can’t hear myself think! But, at least I am agitated. Then, I am awake, alive, writing well and editing ruthlessly.
Yes, I yearn for a hallowed space and ample hours to be there, living the life of the mind. Who doesn’t want to be pampered with biscuits and Oolong tea while they ponder the very best word, the word that will hurt us and heal us? Why shouldn’t there be foxes gamboling across my meadow? I could turn them into a short, orange-tinged poem, a daily ode to wildlife.
But, the sacred writing space sounds like a privileged place. Though I relish it, it makes me uneasy. Who on this earth gets the peace and quiet and protected free speech to write what they want? I want to use my skewed, queered words like firebrands to make wild statements. I want to suffer the tension of urban life and the indignities of public transport. Let me honour, in my small ways, those writers the world over, who have nowhere special to go, but write nonetheless.
Deirdre Maultsaid has been published or has work upcoming in Canthius, CV2, Filling Station, Pif, Prairie Fire, the Puritan, and others. A lyrical biography of her father is available at White Wall Review.
Deirdre Maultsaid (she/her) is a queer writer living in Vancouver, Canada on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish People. She teaches at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. More information at www.deirdremaultsaid.com and @deirdmaultsaid