Arleen Paré, 2018 writer-in-residence
In August, the McLoughlin Gardens Society welcomed Victoria poet Arleen Paré as our 2018 writer-in-residence. During her residency, Arleen met with local writers to discuss their work. She also gave a one-day workshop on the topic of “The Habit of Art” and one afternoon at the Courtenay Library, she read from her poetry and prose collections.
An Interview with Arleen Paré
MGS: What project were you working on while in residence at the McLoughlin Gardens?
Arleen: While I lived at McLoughlin Gardens last August, for which I am entirely grateful, I worked steadily on a new project that I am currently calling First. This is a book-length collection of poetry that tracks my relationship with my first best friend though childhood into the fifty years I lost track of her altogether, and then into finding her again just down the street. The collection also includes questions about the origins of the cosmos, and Nancy Drew. I was fortunate enough to have the digital inspiration of Toronto poet and teacher Hoa Nuygen, who provided a poetry course based on the writings of Gertrude Stein and Emily Dickenson. This course was a poetic challenge for me, a new way to write poetry, and I loved it. I was able to add over fifteen poems to this new collection.
MGS: What was your writing routine while you were staying at the cottage?
Arleen: I avoid routine in my writing life like the plague (how’s that for a cliché?). I love to have routine in my daily life, but not in writing, that would make it too much like work. I don’t think of writing as work. I worked for decades in government bureaucracy, which was routine and discipline enough for at least three lifetimes. Now I write whenever I can, which is easy enough because I love writing almost as much as I love my children. I am a devoted writer; I take enormous pleasure from writing. Nothing about writing is work for me.
When I wrote at the McLoughlin Gardens, which was constant but sporadic, I perched on a kitchen chair at the little wooden table in the main floor bedroom. I moved the table so that it stood beside the large wardrobe with the figure of Mercury painted on the door. A beauty. I didn’t look out a window, though the views were exquisite. I looked into the south-facing wall, which was white. I used two cushions on the chair. Sometimes I used notes from the night before when I would have woken up with a poem bumping around in my head.
MGS: What did you learn from meeting with local writers to discuss their work?
Arleen: I loved working with the local writers. They were most delightful, curious, kind, and generous in their approach to me. They listened carefully and asked good questions. What I learned from them and from working with such a diverse collection of writers was the beauty of the individual writer, how each writer has their own way of expression and of learning, how important it is to respect that.
MGS: What tips would you give someone who is setting up a writing retreat at home?
Arleen: Set the retreat for a defined period of time, for a weekend or for a week. Clear the decks, both socially and physically. Tidy up a bit. Load your printer with paper. Make sure you have access to a good dictionary, a good thesaurus, any research books you may need or want. Eat simply. Keep a notebook by your bed.
MGS: Thank you!
Nova Scotia poet and writer, Anne Simpson, arrived in the spring of 2016 to be our first writer-in-residence. Winner of the Griffin Prize in poetry, as well as several other literary awards, Anne met with local writers at the library in Courtenay to offer consultation on their work. She also gave an evening class in poetry and two fiction workshops.
Local writers and poets expressed their appreciation for Anne's presence:
"Anne [was] exceptionally generous with her time and programming. Not every writer in residence would offer an array of courses and private meetings. We were very lucky to have Anne, and I hope she will come back, also to Hornby Island. Good luck in your deliberations for a new writer in residence, and my sincere thanks to the McLoughlin Foundation." Cornelia Hoogland
"[At Anne's fiction workshop] I learned how to get right to the action of the story so as to avoid too much preamble. I also learned that my real experiences are far more unique and interesting than I supposed and that I just have to provide enough background so that the reader understands what is actually happening in the story, context, environment, characters.
One amazing thing is that it was free and to be able to learn from a professional writer free of charge is quite a boon. Anne’s style of teaching I found a great combination of hands on, covering essential information yet being spontaneous enough to elicit valuable information from the participants. At the same time she was disciplined about keeping us on point." C. R. Wells, workshop participantIn
Envelope of Summer
Shiny-backed crow, pecking in gravel,
rose-tinted peony, the bride’s skirts,
turtle in the culvert, crooked elbow in the trunk
of the young beech. Elderberry, bedecked
with scarlet, with Chinese ornaments. Rolled up
fields across the estuary, tide over rock, once, twice, and again
the single grey heron, a monk observing
fish glimmer in eelgrass. Dignitaries,
on perches of dead spruce, scan the crowd. A yellow-gold
gaze, far-seeing. Poplars turn silver-backed leaves, turn them
this way and that. A robin’s query. An onshore breeze
puckers the tablecloth of water. Here, the guests,
having gathered, having
settled. Faint scent of bayberry. The robin
again. A hush—