When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or so the saying goes.
In Christopher Wheeler’s case, it’s more like, “When life gives you a pandemic, write poetry.”
Wheeler is currently working on putting a second book of poetry and photograhs together, a collection he’ll title Within Walking Distance.
His first book — A Parade of Dreams — was self-published in October 2020 and marked the completion of a lifelong goal.
“I wanted to write a book for years,” he said in an April 20 interview, recalling his childhood years producing his own magazines for his family.
As an adult, he noted, the routines of daily life took over – working to pay the mortgage and parenting his two kids – leaving little time to focus his writing into a published collection.
That is until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
By that time, both his kids had grown and left home and Wheeler was working as an on-call guide at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.
“There were a number of months where we basically weren’t working, and I went home and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should do something’,” he said.
Around the same time, he hurt his back and spent about six weeks mainly lying in bed.
‘I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to do something’ and I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ So I started writing poetry again,” he said.
The next few months marked a creative period for Wheeler. As he noted, there are times when it’s difficult to come up with much of anything creatively no matter how hard one tries.
Maybe it was because of his back injury or the pandemic, but for him the creative juices were flowing in those first months of the pandemic.
“It was incredible,” he said. “And I was really excited.”
The highlight of his day was coming up with a piece he was excited about and having his wife read it.
“So I wrote all these poems, and I decided to put some money into self-publishing. Everything just came together.”
At the same time, Wheeler was re-reading some of his older pieces and editing a few of his favourites.
A Parade of Dreams was published that fall.
“I was really pleased with the result,” he said.
The book takes the reader through 10 styles, some that tell a story through rhyme (The Ballad of Black Powder Max), others that share Wheeler’s thoughts through free verse (Defining the World), and still others that describe the seasons through Haiku (Winter Part 1, Winter Part 2, Summer, Fall, Spring).
Accompanying the poetry are photographs that fit the poems — seasonal scenes, familiar sites around Whitehorse and more.
His writing draws from his life experience, which has seen him study in a variety of fields — teaching, fine arts, engineering and computer studies — and take on jobs that made use of those skills over the years.
Wheeler recalled it was after graduation he studied power engineering at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and he started working shift work as a steam engineer, “which meant I wasn’t meeting any girls.”
School seemed like a good solution to his social issue so he decided to blindly stick a pin in a map and go wherever the pin landed, opting for art school, something he had always enjoyed at F.H. Collins Secondary School, where Ted Harrison was teaching at that time.
For three years, Wheeler attended Fanshawe College in London, Ont., returning to the Yukon each summer for work, earning a diploma of fine arts. It’s a time he still looks back on at having a major influence on his life.
“I met people at art school that I felt very comfortable around because they were very non-judgmental, open to almost anyone or anything,” he said.
A poem he wrote when he was in art school — DADADADADADADAdadadadadadada — is featured in A Parade of Dreams. It’s a piece he wrote for fun one night while settling into a new apartment. Over the years, he’s come back and made edits.
“It’s the oldest poem in this book, although it’s really nonsense poetry,” he said.
Wheeler also believes growing up in the Yukon at that time in the late 1970s had a unique influence on him and his writing.
It was a time, he said, when the Colourful Five Per Cent were still visible, the city had a lot of character and there was still a feeling that this was the last frontier.
Some of his poetry is influenced from his years growing up in the territory and the likes of Robert Service.
Wheeler has been pleased with the response to his first book of poetry. He was especially thrilled when sales on Amazon put A Parade of Dreams next to a Margaret Atwood collection of poems. Those sales had him nearly falling out of his chair, Wheeler said, adding there was probably a good reason for those figures.
“I think the truth is that probably all of the people that I knew bought a copy on the same week,” he said. “And Canadian poetry, when you get right down to it, doesn’t sell that many copies.
“It was still awesome.”
As he continues working on a second book, Wheeler said he has more than 100 new poems in “various stages of completion” along with his large collection of photography that will be used for his next collection.
“I love nature and hiking and getting out there with my camera and recording the beauty that’s all around us,” he said, noting the need for nature as it provides the freedom many crave and that’s something he hopes comes through in his photography and writing.
Wheeler said the focus for his next book is around finding meaning in life where you are.
“You don’t need to travel, you don’t need diversions to entertain yourself,” he said. “There’s more to life.”
COVID-19 has highlighted that there is a cost to a fast, global lifestyle.
“We need to start looking towards our homes, our families, our communities, and trying to find meaning close to home,” he said.
While Wheeler was pleased with his first self-published work and may ultimately pursue self-publication for Within Walking Distance, he said he is considering looking for a publisher as he continues working on poetry and photographs for the book.
“It’s not cheap to do,” he said of self-publishing. “I didn’t and I don’t expect to make back the money that I put into this. But my reason d’etre isn’t to make money, it’s to express something that’s important to me.”
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org