Inspiration for my chapbook

dove imprint captain tenneal at flickr

(Photo by Captain Tenneal at Flickr)

I’ve decided to put together a book of poetry, inspired by and dedicated to my Uncle Peter and his wife Nellie McClung (granddaughter of the Canadian suffragette). They were creatives (poets, amongst other things) now both deceased.

I think of them more and more the older I get because – well, forgive me if I sound callous (I mean this as the highest compliment) but they were the quintessential ‘crazy’ poets.

Both were afflicted with Schizophrenia and met at Riverview in the 1970’s.¬†They did their thing because they had to.

Or because they didn’t have much else. Or because it was everything.

How do we describe the need to create? 

When I was younger and they were alive, I didn’t get their poetry, their relationship. But now I do-at least a little bit more. I wish that I could write with them.

I dug up a couple of their own publications and did a little Google search. It’s difficult to find something that is Nellie ‘Lillian’ rather than ‘Letitia’ McClung, the latter being the famous suffragette and Nellie’s grandmother.

I did find this little dedication to Nellie from the SPCA. She didn’t have much, but she left some of that to the animals – pretty cool. And her obituary here.

I found my own ‘Raindrop,’ Peter’s paper stapled book of Haikus.

At the back is a poem from Nellie to Peter. I think it’s a lovely and strange snippet of their lives together, a set of simple moments that was really so much more.

Sonnet for Peter

I hung my poem
about Ireland
out the window
to dry for you
(you lying pale & wan
in your hospital bed)
& soon the gannet & kestrel
small sparrows in twos & threes
alighted at your window
& pecked at the words
& you said it was good
excitement in your voice
“The birdies are here.”
on the phone

not knowing what to do
with my simple poems
I came each day
and pinned my latest poem
with clothes pins
on a wire across your window

I thought of Chekhov’s story we shared
of the man who goes to visit
a hospital patient, & describes
the view out the window, to the enthusiasm
of the patient, the next visitor
saying there was only a brick wall

& again of Li Po who put his poems
in lighted candled paper boats

and sent them out to sea in the dark.

~ Nellie McClung