Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Poet Father - by Hannah Sward

Daughter Hannah with Anthony... Los Angeles...

Editing an ongoing series of essays on Literary Friendship, "Writers Friendship, Writers Enmity," for Web Del Sol / Perihelion (James Houston on Raymond Carver; Lola Haskins; Tony Barnstone...) thought, with some trepidation, I'd invite my daughter Hannah to contribute her thoughts on what it was like having as father... a writer... so, expanding the scope of "Writers Friendship" from what it's like for one writer to sustain a friendship with another, say, to sustaining a relationship with a family member, a daughter no less, who is herself a writer--and a good one!

Okay, here we go...

"My Poet Father," she writes (and I'm including Hannah's essay with her permission):

"The first sounds I remember are of an Olympia portable typewriter. My father clicking away. To this day, I find myself comforted by that sound.

Me, two years old, falling asleep to the rhythm, the vibrations of his voice as he recited his poems at poetry readings, half asleep in a papoose on my father’s back. I remember the vibration of my father’s voice as he recited …

I have many feelings about growing up the daughter of a poet. I cannot separate my father from the poet, the poet from my father. I envy his life. I want my life to be just as interesting. The stories my mother has shared with me of all the young women fawning over my father, coming over to our house, one by one going up to his study in our big old Victorian house in Oak Bay, Victoria, British Columbia. The stories my father himself has told me. Arriving late to a reading he was giving at The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Only hours earlier having been hit by a car. Still bleeding from the head, bandaged, dizzy, (briefly) an amnesiac, he arrives to read, auditorium filled with starry eyed students –

My father the poet, his life rich with stories I have both lived and not lived, he is my hero. I romanticize his life and the life I have lived growing up with him. The frequent visits to Earle Birney’s home with his much younger, beautiful wife in Toronto. My first meeting with Margaret Atwood, she hovering over me like a medicine woman as I lay sick in my red, wrought iron bed on Algonquin Island (Toronto Island) in the cold of winter. Or, his CBC radio interview in Montreal with Leonard Cohen in the early eighties.

“Why can’t I go, dad?” I ask. “Why can’t I go with you to meet Leonard?”

Growing up there were many places I wanted to go with my father. There’s a line in one of his poems,


"Where do people go when they go to sleep? /

I envy them. I want to go there too.

I am outside of them, married to them.

Nightgown, wife's gown, women that you look at,

Beside them--I knock on their shoulder blades, /

Ask to be let in. It is forbidden. /

But you’re my wife, I say. There is no reply.

Arms around her, I caress her wings."

And I, as a child, and later as the adult, I knock on his shoulder blades, ask to be let in... "But you’re my father," I say. This is the life I wanted to avoid. Now I find myself living it. Even as a kid, the life of a writer is too painful, too lonely. But at the same time many lives in one. The life of a poet’s daughter is at once rich, but it is also lonely. The dreamer, the drifter, the life of a poet, the life of poet’s daughter . . .

*first published in The Paris Review... reprinted in dad's Collected Poems.


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My first meeting with Margaret Atwood, she hovering over me like a medicine woman as I lay sick in my red, wrought iron bed on Algonquin Island (Toronto Island) in the cold of winter. Or, his CBC radio interview in Montreal with Leonard Cohen in the early eighties.
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