Barbara Nickel

Illustrations by Gillian Newland (http://gilliannewland.com/)

The Mozart Girl

The Mozart Girl is here! This is a reissue by Second Story Press of Barbara’s children’s novel The Secret Wish of Nannerl Mozart. A new title and cover but the same story of the famous composer’s talented older sister for a new generation of young readers.

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Corona #8 (Cover)

Since last week’s post marked the end of the traditional seven-sonnet crown, this corona has become mutant.

Here is the latest poem first, to save you from scrolling down through all of the sonnets each week. The whole crown-in-process follows for those who wish to read it.

I invite you in. 

Corona #8 (Cover)

Said he felt numb. Translated, speaking through a mask,
her husband said he’d caught it too, and, speaking
through a mask, my husband in the parking lot pokes
a swab into a patient’s nose, and, fumbling with his mask,
his father plants the beans,
his hair white with silver, his mask handsewn, patterned with yellow chicks and pale
green fish, he stoops to sow the kale,
adjusts his mask, kneeling, leaning.

Kids on bikes but mostly quiet on our street.
Our grass, our hair is clipped, the rose climbs
almost in ordinary time,
it pricks my thumb for blooms, it’s sweet

before: ho-hum, we’re getting on a plane,
on our way to—(nothing will be the same).


Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

(April 18, 2020)

Corona #4 (News)

A beaver dived into the running stream
that became river, estuary, strait, a sea
that made a mist that hid a strain that came to be
the news—old news. It replicates, like rhyme,
with slight changes: a home is hit, old people
die. And then it’s him. Almost a century,
from Hamilton by way of Sicily
and then it’s him. A nurse’s phone took people

to his side. FaceTime: maybe my uncle
heard my violin. Alone he was
and wasn’t. It was him. Amid the chaos
of the news I heard the news that he
died. Turned on the news. Care home, virus.
That body on the gurney could be his.

(April 25, 2020)

Corona #5 (Until)

That body on the gurney could be his,
his body’s journey to an urn the sun
will warm until—until. Not soon
the service. Gather not, until. Selfish,
you wish a crowded ship, haircuts, a trip
across the border or those olden days
you’d have a person over. This is a phase
you tell yourself, beating the overripe
bananas into bread, shaping a poem
into the closet where you write, the lines
contained by laundry, a slight desk, aligned
by rules of close and far; windowless home.
Most are at home. Where is the unveil,
a way we can be us again until—

(May 2, 2020)

Corona #6 (Doctor)

A way we can be us again until
we can be us again depends on a curve
she worried early into flattening (her
pause; the track on her cheek for the frail,
the numbers weighing, unsleeping her,
delivered without fail, in measured tones
what can’t be measured; for even one,
in even tones, how evenly she suffers).

Suffering sales. I watch the antics
of her southern foil (unlikely foil
but still) and, equally, the circles
under her eyes, wonder if as a girl she ever picked
a dandelion globe and surged to blow it to the wind—
stopped herself, cupped it with her hand.

(May 11, 2020)

Corona #7 (Lack)

Stopped herself. Cupped it with her hand.
I mean from crying out. I mean she hid
her finger black from work. I made
that up with facts from the report but our ground
beef she picked for bones is true. And that she died
from you know what a day after officials said
her plant was safe. Condolences not said
until the news revealed the lack and the lie.

The sky above the Taj Mahal is blue.
The Louvre emptier for all the life it’s held.
Great halls are vast with music never heard.
And vast the time I haven’t spent with you.

Her husband works there too, when asked
said he felt numb (translated, speaking through a mask).

(May 17, 2020)

Corona #8 (Cover)

Said he felt numb. Translated, speaking through a mask,
her husband said he’d caught it too, and, speaking
through a mask, my husband in the parking lot pokes
a swab into a patient’s nose, and, fumbling with his mask,
his father plants the beans,
his hair white with silver, his mask handsewn, patterned with yellow chicks and pale
green fish, he stoops to sow the kale,
adjusts his mask, kneeling, leaning.

Kids on bikes but mostly quiet on our street.
Our grass, our hair is clipped, the rose climbs
almost in ordinary time,
it pricks my thumb for blooms, it’s sweet

before: ho-hum, we’re getting on a plane,
on our way to—(nothing will be the same).

Corona #7 (Lack)

 

“Literature is news that stays news.” (Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, 1934)

This week’s poem is written in response to one of those news stories that has stayed news by haunting me.

It’s a long way down by now, at the end of the ever-expanding crown.

I invite you in. 

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

(April 18, 2020)

Corona #4 (News)

A beaver dived into the running stream
that became river, estuary, strait, a sea
that made a mist that hid a strain that came to be
the news—old news. It replicates, like rhyme,
with slight changes: a home is hit, old people
die. And then it’s him. Almost a century,
from Hamilton by way of Sicily
and then it’s him. A nurse’s phone took people

to his side. FaceTime: maybe my uncle
heard my violin. Alone he was
and wasn’t. It was him. Amid the chaos
of the news I heard the news that he
died. Turned on the news. Care home, virus.
That body on the gurney could be his.

(April 25, 2020)

Corona #5 (Until)

That body on the gurney could be his,
his body’s journey to an urn the sun
will warm until—until. Not soon
the service. Gather not, until. Selfish,
you wish a crowded ship, haircuts, a trip
across the border or those olden days
you’d have a person over. This is a phase
you tell yourself, beating the overripe
bananas into bread, shaping a poem
into the closet where you write, the lines
contained by laundry, a slight desk, aligned
by rules of close and far; windowless home.
Most are at home. Where is the unveil,
a way we can be us again until—

(May 2, 2020)

Corona #6 (Doctor)

A way we can be us again until
we can be us again depends on a curve
she worried early into flattening (her
pause; the track on her cheek for the frail,
the numbers weighing, unsleeping her,
delivered without fail, in measured tones
what can’t be measured; for even one,
in even tones, how evenly she suffers).

Suffering sales. I watch the antics
of her southern foil (unlikely foil
but still) and, equally, the circles
under her eyes, wonder if as a girl she ever picked
a dandelion globe and surged to blow it to the wind—
stopped herself, cupped it with her hand.

(May 11, 2020)

Corona #7 (Lack)

Stopped herself. Cupped it with her hand.
I mean from crying out. I mean she hid
her finger black from work. I made
that up with facts from the report but our ground
beef she picked for bones is true. And that she died
from you know what a day after officials said
her plant was safe. Condolences not said
until the news revealed the lack and the lie.

The sky above the Taj Mahal is blue.
The Louvre emptier for all the life it’s held.
Great halls are vast with music never heard.
And vast the time I haven’t spent with you.

Her husband works there too, when asked
said he felt numb (translated, speaking through a mask).

Corona #6 (Doctor)

 

This week’s new sonnet, “Corona #6 (Doctor)”, is for Dr. Bonnie Henry.

In the hyperlink, I apologize for the annoying Volvo ad that precedes the video. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a “Skip Ad” option here.

Next week marks the seventh sonnet and the traditional end to a sonnet corona. But as I mentioned at the outset of this project, the end of the pandemic will determine the size of this corona (or chain, depending on how you look at it) so it doesn’t look as if the sonnets will be stopping anytime soon.

You’ll find the new one at the end.

I invite you in.

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

(April 18, 2020)

Corona #4 (News)

A beaver dived into the running stream
that became river, estuary, strait, a sea
that made a mist that hid a strain that came to be
the news—old news. It replicates, like rhyme,
with slight changes: a home is hit, old people
die. And then it’s him. Almost a century,
from Hamilton by way of Sicily
and then it’s him. A nurse’s phone took people

to his side. FaceTime: maybe my uncle
heard my violin. Alone he was
and wasn’t. It was him. Amid the chaos
of the news I heard the news that he
died. Turned on the news. Care home, virus.
That body on the gurney could be his.

(April 25, 2020)

Corona #5 (Until)

That body on the gurney could be his,
his body’s journey to an urn the sun
will warm until—until. Not soon
the service. Gather not, until. Selfish,
you wish a crowded ship, haircuts, a trip
across the border or those olden days
you’d have a person over. This is a phase
you tell yourself, beating the overripe
bananas into bread, shaping a poem
into the closet where you write, the lines
contained by laundry, a slight desk, aligned
by rules of close and far; windowless home.
Most are at home. Where is the unveil,
a way we can be us again until—

(May 2, 2020)

Corona #6 (Doctor)

A way we can be us again until
we can be us again depends on a curve
she worried early into flattening (her
pause; the track on her cheek for the frail,
the numbers weighing, unsleeping her,
delivered without fail, in measured tones
what can’t be measured; for even one,
in even tones, how evenly she suffers).

Suffering sales. I watch the antics
of her southern foil (unlikely foil
but still) and, equally, the circles
under her eyes, wonder if as a girl she ever picked
a dandelion globe and surged to blow it to the wind—
stopped herself, cupped it with her hand.

 

Corona #5 (Until)

These days, I’m writing in the upstairs closet because my office has turned into a part-time telemedicine/virtual clinic for my husband and my kids need other spaces for school. I found myself reining in the last lines of this week’s sonnet to make it resemble my writing space, a gesture of isolation that raised some questions—how long before temporary arrangements become permanent? How long will the closet crown be?

You’ll find “Corona #5 (Until)” at the end of the chain—I invite you in.

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

(April 18, 2020)

Corona #4 (News)

A beaver dived into the running stream
that became river, estuary, strait, a sea
that made a mist that hid a strain that came to be
the news—old news. It replicates, like rhyme,
with slight changes: a home is hit, old people
die. And then it’s him. Almost a century,
from Hamilton by way of Sicily
and then it’s him. A nurse’s phone took people

to his side. FaceTime: maybe my uncle
heard my violin. Alone he was
and wasn’t. It was him. Amid the chaos
of the news I heard the news that he
died. Turned on the news. Care home, virus.
That body on the gurney could be his.

(April 25, 2020)

Corona #5 (Until)

That body on the gurney could be his,
his body’s journey to an urn the sun
will warm until—until. Not soon
the service. Gather not, until. Selfish,
you wish a crowded ship, haircuts, a trip
across the border or those olden days
you’d have a person over. This is a phase
you tell yourself, beating the overripe
bananas into bread, shaping a poem
into the closet where you write, the lines
contained by laundry, a slight desk, aligned
by rules of close and far; windowless home.
Most are at home. Where is the unveil,
a way we can be us again until—

Corona #4 (News)

It’s been a hard week in the news.

Today new light. New breath. New weather, music.

A sonnet. You’ll find “Corona #4 (News)” below the first three that I include so you can see how the crown has grown since I launched this project on March 30.

I invite you in.

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

(April 18, 2020)

Corona #4 (News)

A beaver dived into the running stream
that became river, estuary, strait, a sea
that made a mist that hid a strain that came to be
the news—old news. It replicates, like rhyme,
with slight changes: a home is hit, old people
die. And then it’s him. Almost a century,
from Hamilton by way of Sicily
and then it’s him. A nurse’s phone took people

to his side. FaceTime: maybe my uncle
heard my violin. Alone he was
and wasn’t. It was him. Amid the chaos
of the news I heard the news that he
died. Turned on the news. Care home, virus.
That body on the gurney could be his.

Corona #3 (Spring)

 

Yesterday in B.C., Dr. Bonnie Henry reported no new deaths in the last 24 hours, and no new outbreaks in care homes or correctional centres. She said our curve is flattening.

You’ll find the new Sonnet #3 (Spring) below the other two, both included again this week so you can see the way the crown (corona) has changed.

I invite you in.

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate (it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

(April 11, 2020)

Corona #3 (Spring)

Family conferring, twining twigs into a nest;
cherry, trillium, corona bloom
while a buffoon condemns the WHO; in Zoom,
inside, outside, in danger zones, the rest
battle the king of everywhere
who won’t allow a service for the dead
and sneaks noiseless into the lungs, is dread
on surfaces but strangely isn’t tearing

us apart; we will receive their surplus
masks, we are arriving at the ends
of paragraphs and meals; that wending
of the river the evening he surprised us—
dark swath, a log until it gleamed;
a beaver dived into the running stream.

 

 

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Since I launched this sonnet corona project a week ago, the rooster featured in the last line of the first sonnet has disappeared down the tracks to who knows where—maybe he made his way home. So I found another pecking creature in the Safeway parking lot to lead off Sonnet #2.

I’ve repeated last week’s sonnet and added this week’s after it so you can get a feel for the way the crown is taking shape and how the sonnets exist in relation to each other.

I invite you in.

 Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

(March 30, 2020)

Corona #2 (Safeway)

Pecking, oblivious,
the Safeway crows construct in blooming trees
what’s theirs. What’s ours? Try not to seize
the toilet paper please. One each. Whereas
this homeless guy and the queen (immaculate
in green) get less and more and more and less.
But take a look at Boris, the virus
doesn’t discriminate

(it does it does).

And how much Easter chocolate should I get?
And should I fill my cart until it’s filled?
Southeast of here a potter’s field is filled
and let me out of here, I want to get
into my car, in safety watch this blessed
family conferring, twining twigs into a nest.

 

Corona for a Corona

Corona #1 (And so)

And so begins its rule (google to see its crown
under a microscope). Infected prince.
Infected star. And so begins your cancelled
life (infected wife). And over there half-mast is flown
(they load the coffins into trucks). And so
begins shopping with gloves (your mother over
there and when you’ll get to her is never
maybe); talking in screens, and so and so—

And I lie awake with itchy hands.
And tenderize the meat with hammered blows.
And when we’ll meet and touch nobody knows.
And so we live by stats and rules and ands.

That rooster down the tracks
pecking, oblivious.

 

A crown of sonnets or sonnet corona—seven interlinked sonnets: the last line of the first sonnet is the first line of the second sonnet. The last line of the second sonnet is the first line of the third sonnet, and so on. When you get to the seventh sonnet, you make its last line the same as the first line of the first sonnet to form a circle, or crown, a perfect corona.

John Donne wrote the seven sonnets of La Corona in 1607. My project is to write a corona for these times, but with a difference in number. Every few days (or once a week depending on how they come), I’ll link another sonnet to the crown and in this way write the pandemic for as long as it lasts (my hunch is not seven).

One sonnet will touch or be with another the way we can’t right now. And so in the face of social isolation, in the midst of this ever-changing, life-changing virus—a corona for a corona. I invite you in.

 

 

Journey of a Journey

Scooping beech leaves from the bugleweed outside my office in the rain, I listened to a friend tell me about the English botanist Graham Thomas. On a trellis across the yard, his namesake rose had just been pruned. I planted it when we first moved to Yarrow; summer after summer its abundant blooms climb to my bedroom window. But I’d forgotten its name and that it was introduced to the world by the rose breeder David Austin, famous for crossing old roses with modern hybrid tea varieties.

Last month, nineteen days after that garden conversation, David Austin died at the age of 92 in his home in Shropshire County, England. There in his obituary in The New York Times is my rose with a caption: “Recognition was slow at first. But his fortunes changed significantly… when he introduced…this yellow climbing rose…”

Reading about Mr. Austin’s long journey, his patience and persistence, how he “had to ignore doubters who insisted that nobody would grow his old-but-new roses”, I’m reminded of another journey; my hand lands on a book with a cover of hedgerows curving down an English landscape. The hedgerows frame a narrow lane and bring to mind lines of a musical staff, an image just right for a memoir in music by the British-born, Canadian cellist Ian Hampton.

A few weeks ago, when Jan in 35 Pieces made the shortlist for the RBC Taylor Prize, in the midst of my surprise and delight, I thought of the book’s extraordinary journey. I’ve just checked my files. I wrote a response (seven single-spaced pages) to Ian’s first draft of this book on January 10, 2010. I remember reading that draft for the first time, often laughing out loud and at one point in the narrative, almost crying. I held a treasure trove of rare stories and writing about music, a journey, a life, in a distinct and memorable voice I wanted the world to hear.

What happened in the nine years between? Bins full of file folders manuscript-thick in my crawl space, notebooks stacked on office shelves and dozens of computer files tell only a small part of the story. As the manuscript’s editor, agent and advocate, I learned about what it takes to believe in a piece of writing. Many years into the process, after a long string of rejections (many brief and neutral, one long and scathing, one generous, kind and helpful), we were waiting to hear from our very last attempt, steeling ourselves for rejection, resolving to try self-publishing.

Enter an acceptance from that very last attempt, The Porcupine’s Quill, a most excellent and elegant press. Who required us—to accommodate their in-house press—to cut (gulp) about ninety manuscript pages in what resulted in a leaner, sharper volume. Who lovingly and beautifully incorporated Ian’s drawings. Who circulated, by post, hard copy proofs with colour-coded marks from a copy editor happy to enter into an extended e-mail correspondence about the placement of a single comma. Whose cream-coloured paper with the tiny ridges I love to feel under my finger.

After the launches, a few articles and interviews and only one brief online review, Jan was largely ignored. Not surprising—as a musician with a first book, Ian Hampton was unknown to CanLit, so I’m applauding the Taylor Prize jury for recognizing Jan on merit alone. I’m hoping because of the shortlisting, more readers might find pleasure in this book, like the following favourite bits and many others I used to read over the phone to my parents–

On Sir Neville Marriner: “Known to Jan and his colleagues as ‘Nev’, he always turns up to rehearsals smartly dressed, with a box containing a lunch that’s slightly higher up in the food chain than anyone else’s—a globe artichoke, a Belgian endive, kumquats.”

On Bach’s Cello Suites: “The rhythmic complications of the D Major Allemande are such that the cellist has to count sixteen to a bar. Anna Magdalena joined torrents of sixty-fourth notes with wavy lines that resemble the skies of a late Van Gogh painting.”

And the lovely last two sentences that I notice have remained almost unaltered from the very first draft: “In the small hours, at high tide, the freighter, now loading, will announce to its crew and the waiting tugs that it is about to sail halfway round the world. Its long, low horn will break the silence and anybody still awake, if they listen carefully, can follow its attenuating echo as it passes from nearby mountains to ones farther down the valley, disappearing into the Coastal Range.”

In the Mind of Trees

No clouds with fluffy brims, only this haze and eerie sun, bear scat full of cherry pits on the dyke where I run. About 600 wildfires are burning across British Columbia, a state of emergency. Even one forest lost means centuries turned to ash; I didn’t know an oak tree can take up to 1,000 years to grow. There’s this song by Jonathan Byrd I first heard last fall at a concert in a barn in Abbotsford. Trent Freeman performed it hauntingly; I knew I’d be looking up the words later to mull:

I was an oak tree. It took a thousand years to grow.
I’ve seen kingdoms come and go.
I’ve seen the losers turned to lords and back again.
I held the rebels when they hung them from my limbs.
When men of fortune cast their futures on the sea,
that’s when they came for me.

I was a slave ship under the standard of the cross
a hallelujah holocaust…

When cross rhymes with holocaust you know you’re in for a good song; line after line of “I Was An Oak Tree” surprised and moved me forward; in four short stanzas are worlds and the gaps between, death and transformation and “talk of freedom”… “out along the wild Cape Fear” and I want everyone I know to hear it:

In the mind of trees…Heinz Klassen’s River Walk: Winter is an astonishing 11 by 5.5 foot charcoal drawing of trees by the Vedder River.

He drew it last summer and fall in twelve smaller sections (which were later assembled with linen tape) out by the river in all kinds of weather. At first glance, you might think the bottom trees are reflections of those above but look again; Heinz actually drew two views, from the north side of the river and from the south. Rotate the drawing vertically and you’ve got a book of left and right facing trees with a river for a spine.

Last week, it took two men and a scissor lift to hang the piece in the lobby of the Chilliwack Cultural Centre where it’s part of a six-month exhibition.

Just a short walk from the Vedder, I’m writing this post in a studio designed by Heinz with meticulous hand-drawn plans.

In making the plans, Heinz considered the seasons and how they’d affect light in the studio at different times of day; amount of shade, and placement and size of windows for coolness in the summer. The studio with its extended eaves under the shade of a huge beech is a gift; he took my payment for his plans and passed it along to a family newly arrived in Canada from refugee camps. That’s typical of Heinz who died in his home in Yarrow nine months ago today, who I remember each time I escape from this heat wave and open the door; cross the threshold; deep quiet and cool and in certain kinds of light, the shadows of beech leaves moving across my desk.


Photo by Finn Longhurst

 

News

Barbara’s poem “The Milk River” is forthcoming in the Spring 2020 issue of The Fiddlehead.


Barbara’s poem “Essential Tremor” appeared in the March 2020 issue of The Walrus. 


The Mozart Girl has been selected by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre for the Fall 2019 Edition of Best Books for Kids and Teens.


Barbara’s A Boy Asked the Wind is one of 19 titles for children chosen by Reading Canada in anticipation of Canada’s upcoming Guest of Honour position at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.


A Boy Asked the Wind


Video by Shaw TV of Barbara presenting and talking about A Boy Asked the Wind:


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