Joanne Arnott

Joanne Arnott edits poetry for Event Magazine

An excerpt from “Cruising the Notorious Other Self, a Long Poem” was included in issue 30 of The Puritan, guest-edited by Katherena Vermette (poetry) and Doretta Lau (fiction).

Dogged love. Faithful companion. These are the things that I value, it seems, when we crack through the veneer of dailiness and glimpse inside the forbidden zones of being.

I am a single parent: overworked, twice-bitten. A few weeks before I wrote this poem, I went to a poetry reading in Vancouver, enjoyed the libations a little overmuch, and left without paying. I missed my transfer point and the suburban bus carried on without me. I found myself far from home, wandering about in the middle of the night, trying to parse out correct bus routes with a beer-addled processor. The next day, abasement: finding out who covered my tab, profuse thanks and abject apologies, offers to repay.

A week later, cold-sober in the afternoon, I suffered a similar mental glitch: I failed to transfer buses at the appointed stop, and came to awareness some thirty minutes further along, just outside of my favourite guitar shop, Rufus Guitars. I hadn’t been there in a decade. As it happens, Rufus was the name of a dog who lived with us in rural Manitoba, at a time when there were very few women in our lives. In life, as in poetry, twice is a theme, and I had a few questions for myself.

A single mother who embodies a motherless child, eluding the homeward journey. Desire for musical replenishment, perhaps, for songful release, for re-engagement with the friends and instruments of childhood. Desire, anyway, and a little optimism, within the accretions of life.

The title of the poem was created by Garry Gottfriedson and Paul Seesequasis, at the request of Janet Rogers. The venue for the creation and presentation of the poem was the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, a few weeks after my embarrassing late night wandering. The project was called Wish Come True Writers Challenge, presented by Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast, as part of the Talking Stick Festival (February 27, 2012).

I was one of about a dozen writer-participants.

Gathering to write with others, far from the usual-usual and same-same of life, was the first step in cracking the veneer. Having the title dictated by another—a saucy playful topic to write to—was the next: Cruising the Notorious Other Self. Each word was fragrant with possibilities. Who is this other self who redirects my travel plans? What is she looking for? Delving further: who is this notorious other self, within the self of another person I am trying to know? Are we safe with ourselves, with one another, or is over-responsible and alone really the best way to go?

The “wish” realized by the challenge: time to write, and, for some of us, a clean and quiet place in which to do so. We gathered early in the day, a topic was drawn at random from those collected, and we dispersed within the centre to write. We reunited for lunch, returned and dispersed for more writing and polishing of the work. We dispersed again for supper, and gathered once more, in the theatre this time, to present our newly-generated works to a large and enthusiastic audience.

The presentations were wildly diverse, gently humorous, and deeply satisfying. I was relieved to know that other poets focussed in on dogs, as I had; the standard of love in adult life being strongly linked to childhood. Others wrote about trees, ravens, fire. I wrote about dogs, grumpy relations, the flow of life, and love.

Joanne Arnott is a Métis/mixed-blood writer, editor, blogger, and arts activist. She has nine published books in three genres. Recent poetry includes Halfling Spring: an internet romance (Kegedonce, 2014)—shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award—and A Night for the Lady (Ronsdale 2013). She is Poetry Editor for Event Magazine.

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