A life in poetry leads to major collection

Imagine the shock last summer when the same writer won both first and second prize in PRISM's inaugural poetry contest. Yes it's true, poetry can shock from time to time. Some people even find it exciting.

Imagine the shock last summer when the same writer won both first and second prize in PRISM’s inaugural poetry contest.

Yes it’s true, poetry can shock from time to time.

Some people even find it exciting.

And PRISM’s editors and other Canadian poetry lovers were likely doubly surprised when they discovered that this writer was from the Yukon.

Whitehorse poet Michael Eden Reynolds has been impressing readers here and Outside for quite a few years now.

So it’s about time that his writing be collected into a book.

Reynolds will be launching his first book of poetry, Slant Room, tomorrow at the Old Fire Hall.

Reynolds can’t really say when it was that he first discovered poetry or began to consider himself a bard.

“On some level, it’s something I’ve always done,” he said.

As early as Grade 2, Reynolds was writing poems to perform in front of his classmates.

What Teddy Bears Dread, which doesn’t appear in Slant Room, unfortunately, was about a kid blaming his stuffed bear for his fear of the dark.

When Reynolds turned 17, he got a guitar and spent the next five years trying to set his writing to music, with mixed results.

“My desire to say something outstripped my ability to play music,” he said.

He met his wife Jenny, also a writer and poet, and she helped nudge him back towards the written word.

In the mid-‘90s, Reynolds decided that he would like to get his poems published.

But it would take the rest of the 1990s to accomplish that feat.

Eventually, he published a poem in the Fiddlehead, one of Canada’s longest-running literary journals.

And things took off from there.

Getting Slant Room published was an equally long and drawn-out process and the manuscript was rejected numerous times.

“In hindsight, I’m glad that it was rejected,” said Reynolds.

“It forced me to go back over it and it’s a better book now then it would have been if it had been published four years ago when I first started sending out the manuscript.”

A passion for words seems to run in Reynolds’ family.

Besides his writer wife, there’s Reynolds’ older brother, who teaches English as a foreign language and helped edit the new book.

And poetry was very important to Reynolds’ grandfather, who left a few small volumes of poetry behind for his grandson to read.

Even Reynolds’ son, Syth, seems to have the bug.

In the poem Soundtrack to the Moment of Your Birth, Reynolds recalls his son’s first encounter with snow.

He depicts his son, perched at the window, looking out at the newly white yard, and rolling a new word around in his mouth like candy – snow.

“The world is an amazing place and kids are good at identifying that,” said Reynolds.

In this same poem, which celebrates the coming generation, Reynolds also looks back to the past.

“This is someone else’s dream you’re in, though the rustworn tune’s familiar as he carries your old bones through town – through streets your eyes have never seen,” Reynolds writes.

“Piggyback he carries you, your tired feet dangle in their heavy leather shoes.”

This section of the poem is based on a dream that Reynolds once had, shortly after his grandfather’s death.

He dreamt he was carrying his grandfather, piggybacking him in fact, and showing him around town.

Reynolds is still carrying his grandfather’s love of poetry to this day.

Even though he has lived in Whitehorse for the past 14 years, he doesn’t believe that his poems are very influenced by the Yukon.

However, like in an old drafty house, the cold of the Yukon winter seems to always find its way in.

Nearly every poem in the book has at least one mention of frost or snow.

For example, the poem A-frame, which was anthologized in The Best of Canadian Poetry in English 2008, describes the discovery of a makeshift shelter in the bush near Reynolds’ home.

In the end of the poem, as happens at the end of many days in the North, “the evening air gives way to snow.”

However, if you don’t particularly relish the idea of reading about the joys of the living in the subarctic while suffering through them yourself, Slant Room also ventures off into the tropics from time to time.

In Ho Fa Hotel: On the malady of travel, Reynolds describes a lodging that will feel familiar to anyone that’s travelled in the developing world.

It’s an empty, dilapidated hotel where the days kind of evaporate away in a feverishly hot mist.

And in The Grocery List, a simple visit to the store spirals into a hallucinatory trip to a crab-combed beach.

The Grocery List is part of Reynold’s sonnet suite Fugue, which makes up the end of the book.

Each of the 17 parts of this long poem is based on some sort of modern object, things that one day will no longer be modern and will become antiquated.

Like our possessions, all of us will one day become antiquated, said Reynolds.

“I sort of expect there will be a time when humans are not on the Earth anymore, not at the rate we’re going.”

Reynolds will be launching Slant Room at the Old Fire Hall on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m.

He’ll give a short reading at 6 p.m.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com

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