This December I spent a few mornings in Detroit. This took me to the Packard Plant, the Brewster Recreation Complex, and The Avalon, the neatest cafe in the city. One morning was spent with photographers; the other with a cellist from the Michigan Opera Theatre.
I haven’t been in a parade since I was 10. That year, it was in May, and it was the May Day “Blue Army” parade on Ouellette Avenue. I was an altar boy at a Catholic Church in Riverside, Ont. (now part of Windsor). The bishop of London was there to bless us. Hundreds of altar boys, nuns, priests, Knights of Columbus members, all marching in the faith. We were the answer to the May Day parades in Moscow. Or so we were told. It was the 1950s. We feared an attack by the Russians. Any day.
And so I was thinking of this as I was asked to be in yet another parade. This time as an adult. This time for Santa Claus. I was there as the Poet Laureate. I stood in the cold waiting for the white 2008 Mustang driven by 22-year-old Holly, a dental assistant in Windsor. It was such a relief slipping into the seats of her car, the heater full blast to warm my cold feet.
I was so amazed at the crowds along Ouellette Avenue. And I recognized so many people. This was spectacular. So well worth doing.
The other day, I went back to 167 Ferry Street, now former home of The Windsor Star. (The Star has moved to the old Palace Theatre building) I wanted to walk through the empty newspaper office where I worked. I wanted to see the old Crabtree Press that was installed there in 1954. I fondly remember its thundering presence. I felt compelled as Poet Laureate of Windsor to write about this place of storytelling in Windsor’s history. I felt compelled to share these images in photographs and words.
The Ghost Road is my latest book. The stories in this new title are like the “ghost road” itself that sits in the middle of an Essex County field. This old strip of asphalt is long forgotten of those heady years when dragsters used this to race other daredevils behind the wheel. In this book, you will find the forgotten tales of Windsor that involve devastating tornadoes, explosions at the riverfront with a symphony orchestra, 19th century race riots, the stories of murderers, assassins, faith healers, sports legends. I launched this new book at Biblioasis on Wyandotte Street East in Windsor. These photos were taken by the talented Emily Buta of Windsor. Take a look at what you missed. But if you are interested, I will be reading at Elias Deli Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. Food and drink and books will be there. Welcome Emily Buta and her masterful photography:
This past fall, poets laureate came from across the country at my invitation as Windsor’s first poet laureate to do a reading at Willistead Manor, a place that had been built by the Walker family in old Walkerville. Joey Acott, a Windsor videographer, interviewed these poets, and filmed Marty Gervais at the reading. The reading was sponsored and arranged by the Cultural Affairs Office of the City of Windsor.
I knew nothing about this book until I saw a poster for it — one that writer and book designer Kate Hargreaves dropped off to me at the University of Windsor. She slid it under my door when I was away. I saw the title: DREAMING OF LOST AMERICA, published by Guernica Editions. The office that I am in at the university is adjacent to the one McNamara used. On the other side of me was another giant in our literature down in this part of southwestern Ontario. That was John Ditzky. I have known Gene since the late 1960s when he published some of my poems in The Windsor Review magazine, a journal he started well over 40 years ago. I was a brash, young know-it-all poet, eager to share stories with the world. Gene gave me that opportunity in publishing my work. I am not sure why. I am not sure if it was my writing. I am not sure if it was something said that seemed convincing, but he took the time to listen, to read what I was writing, to encourage me. Friday night (yesterday) was pretty special. I haven’t seen Gene for quite some time. But he has this new book, and this was his launch at Biblioasis on Wyandotte Street here in Windsor. My daughter, Elise, who studied American Lit with McNamara, joined me. She didn’t want to miss the reading. She brought along Lucien, my 20-month grandson who devoured cookies with both hands at the back of the room and kept flipping open books. It was like old times when I used to bring my daughter to all my readings. She grew up among poets and artists, and so this was familiar territory. (And once when she was in McNamara’s American Lit class she wore a t-shirt with Walt Whitman’s image on the front, and Gene recognized the shirt because he had made these and sold them at the first Art in the Park that was held in Windsor. My daughter hadn’t known that — she had inherited the t-shirt from my drawer.) This book — Gene’s 16th collection — brings back a lot of these associations. He is a writer with a clear and profound vision of what is important, a master at fashioning the “story” behind the poem, and making it live in the imagination. Check out this book. The words sing and the images come alive on the page. Below is a photograph I took of Gene at the reading held at Biblioasis.
The class reaction. Overall, the class thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Poetry came alive as they were provided with the opportunity to study the works and then witness the poet provide the reading. Furthermore, the chance to connect with them and ask them questions about their poem and their experience writing provided them with a solid foundation for their own writing.