My grandfather, Arthur Stringer, was a successful and prolific writer of novels, poems and plays. There is too much to summarize here, but he is known as the first Canadian poet to use free verse. I have always felt a connection with him, mainly on a spiritual level. Thus, my poem, which includes indented quotations from his Open Water, published in 1914:
for Arthur Stringer (1874-1950)
To-day I am sick of it all,
This silent and orderly empty life,
And I feel savage again!
Arthur speaks from the stern portrait
in my father's den: profile, white hair,
pipe, curling smoke against muted
leather bound books. Swaths of paint,
patches of canvas texture his skin.
He does not look at me.
I want to sit down with my soul and talk straight out,
I want to make peace with myself,
And say what I have to say,
While there is still time!
Reaches across that gulf, my silent father
a remote echo of his father, from his books:
mysteries, sleepless men wandering the city,
spies exposing spies, a woman loving rough
life on the Canadian prairie, gun runners.
Irish dialect poems. Bold for him in 1914,
God knows that I've tinkled and jingled and strummed,
That I've piped it and jigged it until I'm fair sick of the game . . ..
I cannot remember his voice telling stories
when I sat, six years old, at his tobacco
leather chair. Only the pauses as he hung
details in the plot and pipe smell:
the bear, the fire, the little boy lost
in the woods. Arthur speaks from just
behind my shoulder as I poise at my desk
to take it all down. David, he says,
and that is all I need. Remember me.
His voice flexes, surprising:
And deep beneath my music,
There's a strong man stirs in me;
There's a ghost of blood and granite
Coffined in this madness . . ..
place your pipe in the polished stone ashtray,
rise from the canvas, turn to me. David.
Let's head north. Take our legs, lungs,
a pen. Into the steadfast North, the North
that is dark and tender. You clasp my shoulder.
Our shadows leave the room, get our gear
together, and head out. Desk bound,
we make for open water.
And now, Kim and I are again heading for open water . . ..