Sunday, April 7, 2013

telling stories

I belong to an online writing group where my friend Evi introduced me to book spine poetry. The concept is quite simple: take a look at the book titles on your shelves and see is you can turn them into a poem. This was just way too cool an exercise to resist so I quickly went to my shelves and put one together.

memory man
telling tales
in another place, not here
of the awakening
the origin of species.

I played with other book titles such as Just Kids, Factory Lives and Eating India which unexpectantly became a political comment of current manufacturing practices. Yet the poem of a memory man conjured up images appealing to the writer in me. Writers, I think, are naturally drawn to oral storytellers.

Memory man, in this instance, reminds me of oral storytellers who, around fires, divulged stories about a community’s past. Storytellers of Africa from what I understand were memory men capable of reciting long histories of their people dating back centuries.According to one memory man I listened to the tradition usually fell to women. I’ve been fascinated by this ability since I first read of it as a teen in the novel Roots by Alex Haley. I used to be involved in theatre and know how hard it can be to learn a few lines of script and so its difficult for me to imagine learning the entire history of a people.

I sometimes go to Around Town Tellers here in town. Once a month the group gets together for an evening of storytelling. A session begins with a gathering song and then the storytelling begins. An evening spent this way really connects with a time of communal living when stories were the main source of entertainment. These nights of story create a sense of belonging to something old and rather grand.

Odd that I should think of African tellers before even thinking about our First Nations people who are also marvelous storytellers. I won't try and relate them here, I could not do them justice, but I do urge you to search them out.This land is ripe with story. 

After I wrote the book spine poem, my son and I went for a walk around Piper’s lagoon. The little jut of land, according to my son, looks like a large animal crouched in the waves, ready at any moment to get up and walk away. I agree with him and it would make a good story in itself. From the rock bluffs in this area, one can view clear across to the mainland and the Coastal Mountains. I think of a time before European arrival and I imagine the people living here looking across the waters and creating stories of another place. 

The Snuneymuxw did travel the waters to the Fraser River on the mainland. Looking at the sea I envision those large cedar canoes paddled through the choppy waves and marvel how brave and adventurous those first people were. They traveled across to gather supplies for the winter but I’m sure the power of story was also a strong motivator to cross the straight yearly. They shared stories with others about what was behind those mountains or in the northern climes or south past the peak of Mount Baker. They shared stories about the origin of species and of awakenings.

When it comes to the power of stories, no matter where or how we live, we are not so very different. Our stories reflect our past, our knowledge and most of all our humanity.
small native flowers called Easter Lilies bloom in abundance at Piper's Lagoon this time of year

Through the spry green tangle of forest floor
canopied of Garry oak, Arbutus
mangled by ever blowing breezes
elusive blooms hover over root, moss, Oregon grape
reside as elfin dwellers on ragged bluffs, ocean side
sea winds shuffle their pristine petal skirts
little nothings jigging a sea shanty
to ever changing trios of banjo bellied gulls

I am intruder
unnecessary giant
among magic folk

old woman of the woods
is watching too
piper of the lagoon

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