Every year during this holiday season, I’m on a quest to recapture the spontaneous joy it gave my childhood. The excitement of concerts, the crystal silence of snowy fields on dark nights, the festive dinner at my grandparents’ home, the thrill of “Jap” oranges and a new dress, the quiet sense of wonder. Last year it hit me—an unanticipated swell of pure “Joy in the World.”
Can you even create joy, a “sudden passionate happiness with an overtone of something more”?
I try. By putting up a real tree. Decorating it with playdough ornaments Lynn made in kindergarten, paper angels from a student, a needlepoint candle crafted by cousin Lynn half a century ago. Making fruitcake. Entertaining family and friends. Attending the VSO’s concert with a group. Having the Christmas breakfast of my childhood: grapefruit, sausages, toast and tomatoes. Creating culinary traditions of our own: smoked salmon on Christmas-tree shaped toast; tourtière before listening to Alan Maitland’s The Shepherd on Christmas Eve; Campari citrus sorbet after the turkey…
Last year at this time Magellan and I were planning our spring trip to Newfoundland with stopovers in Halifax to see Clare, our granddaughter. “All of your presents have something to do with your trip,” Clare announced on her call with us on Christmas day, instructing me to leave a small, flat gift to the last.
Do you know the Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton?
I didn’t until opening Clare’s gift, Waste Ground, a precious book published and handbound by Running the Goat and Broadsides in Tors Cove, NL.
Each of the poems are miniature tales about a plant, weed or flower that grows on The Rock.
Plants with a frisky nature that come alive with Mary’s knack for wordsmithing and rhythm.
From Daisy: “your throwaway/love calculator.”
A Stinging Nettle begins: “Burn, baby, burn.”
And from Hops: “rheumy-eyed, belching.”
In a note tucked inside the book, Clare quoted from a review of Waste Ground: “In this 13-poem sequence, acclaimed poet Mary Dalton celebrates some of the over-looked and under-loved plants that bless Newfoundland and Labrador’s landscape. Joe Pye weed, nettles, hops, parsley: seldom are such homely plants so beautifully sung. There’s sauce and sparkle to these poems rooted in Dalton’s love of plants and her fascination with the folk lore and local use that has grown up around them.”
We’re in the hands of an expert here. With assonance like “a cool hand on wounds” from Goldenrod. And consonance like this in Sorrel: “sourpuss/summoner of grimaces.”
There are no throw-away words in Waste Ground; each one sprouts the poem to life.
In your heyday a nurse—
No Miss Prim even then:
You’d get the golden stream
On the go. Heigh-ho.
It’s your night self
Ravishes: sphere of mist,
I was overcome, grateful with an intensity of emotion imagining the time Clare had invested in discovering this poet, finding this long-out-of-print book and buying it for me.
Seeing Waste Ground on our bookshelf at the top of the stairs still fills me with a tenderness indistinguishable from joy, a feeling we sincerely wish will find you all this holiday season.
Mary Dalton. Memorial University. Mary Dalton is the author of numerous books of poetry. Merrybegot won the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Award and produced as an audiobook. Red Ledger was short-listed for both the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award and was named a Top Book of the Year by The Globe and Mail. Running the Goat and Broadsides has published four small books of Mary’s poetry: Waste Ground, Merrybegot ( a chapbook featuring selections from the book of the same title), Between You and the Weather and Cock of the Walk. Mary’s poetry has been widely anthologized in Canada, Ireland, England, Belgium and in the US where it has been studied at Princeton, Columbia and Harvard. She also writes essays and reviews, some that have been collected in her book Edge (2015).
Mary lives in St. John’s, where for many years she taught in the Department of English at Memorial University. She was an editor and co-publisher of the literary magazine TickleAce and an editor of the interdisciplinary journal Newfoundland Studies. Mary has mentored poets at Banff Centre and at Piper’s Frith in Newfoundland. She was also the founding director of the SPARKS Literary Festival, held annually in St. John’s, and named the city’s poet laureate in 2019.
Running the Goat and Broadsides. Watch for a blog about this incredible Newfoundland shop that we visited in June.
Scott, Peter J. and Black, Dorothy. Wildflowers of Newfoundland and Labrador. Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s: Boulder Publications, 2008. A wonderful field guide with superb coloured drawings and articulate writing. I found a copy secondhand dedicated “To Ann” from “Paul & Catherine.”