I’ve attended three conferences around writing in less than two months, each one quite different and each one valuable, but now I’m definitely conferenced out! The most recent one, the annual meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) in Vancouver last week, was full of practical matters: writing and publishing as enterprise, if you like. It’s a union, after all, so not surprising that advocacy and worker rights, protection, compensation, and assistance would be high on the agenda, and not surprising either that there would be sessions loaded with help on navigating the new world of publishing (which I posted about at my author blog), or that there would be a great deal of emotion in the room at times, or that one might leave energized or overwhelmed or tired, but more likely all three simultaneously. And especially tired, perhaps, if one was a rookie at the annual meeting, as I was, and finding my way into a new community.
But then, the Margaret Laurence lecture, Thursday evening, given this year by poet, novelist, and essayist Dionne Brand! And for that hour, away from all that is necessary to our work, off and away to what is most necessary, really, remembering the words that are our daily work and feeling such profound refreshment from another writer.
And now I should tell you what she said, right? This is harder to give forward, I’m afraid. It was billed a lecture, yes, and I had my notebook open and I wrote down “what is withheld is on the left hand page” early on but that was about the extent of my notetaking, for it was poetry in prose that we heard and Brand speaking of her life, and the writer’s, and there was a “clerk” of the left hand page in dialogue with “the author.” We laughed with her over the young man who told her she wrote “like a man” and the meetings of the communist party that bored but drew her. Over and over, she took us to the spot on the top of a small hill with a yellow house and hedge of vivid bloom down the street and the moment she realized she would leave that place in Trinidad where she was growing up. There was narrative through the piece, but mostly poetry and a sense of knowing, and the way it grows.
I hope the lecture will be published at some point and then I can hear it again, and others will too. In the meanwhile, from Brand’s book A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, this:
Writing is an act of desire, as is reading. Why does someone enclose a set of apprehensions within a book? Why does someone else open that book if not because of the act of wanting to be wanted, to be understood, to be seen, to be loved?
It seems to me that Brand laid out desire in her 11 versos, and that we had come with our longings too, and that we were given some understanding, seeing, and love by her gift. And I trust by our listening and the standing ovation we gave her at the end, she also heard it back.