Presentation on theme: "Alden Albert Nowlan January 25, 1933 – June 27, 1983 Canadian poet, novelist, playwright and journalist."— Presentation transcript:
Alden Albert Nowlan January 25, 1933 – June 27, 1983 Canadian poet, novelist, playwright and journalist
Early Life Alden Nowlan’s mother-to-be finds herself “in trouble” (as appears in Nowlan’s poem, It’s Good to be Here), but becoming a mom at the age of fourteen is never an easy task, especially when the father of her baby is a hard-drinking man, twice her age. Later, his mom abandons her little boy and his baby sister, Harriet. They are left to be raised by their father and paternal grandmother, Emma Jane Nowlan, in Stanley, Nova Scotia. Education is not given a priority in such a poverty-stricken rural area, so after completing four grades, Nowlan begins to work at a local sawmill. He was a reader from an early age, reading everything he could from the Bible to a newspaper. Nowlan, later, begins a weekly pilgrimage of twenty-three kilometres to the library in Windsor for a supply of books; his life is enriched.
Adult Life Alden Nowlan learns of a position at The Observer, a newspaper, in Hartland, New Brunswick. He writes a letter claiming that he has completed school, is twenty, and has worked for a newspaper for one year, all of which is untrue. He lands the job in 1952 under false pretences. In addition to his work at the paper, he begins to write poems and stories, submitting them to magazines. His first poems were published by Fiddlehead in Fredericton. In 1963, he marries Claudine, a typesetter from the office, and adopts her son, John. At this time, he is now well established in journalism and accepts the position of night editor at the Saint John Telegraph Journal, working until he begins a fight with throat cancer in 1966. Alden Nowlan becomes the writer-in-residence for the University of New Brunswick and makes his home at 676 Windsor Street in Fredericton from 1968 until the time of his death in 1983.
Alden Nowlan’s early life as a child wasn’t easy but it didn’t harden him. He shares his wisdom, “The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”
Accomplishments, Awards and Recognitions Nowlan’s collection Bread, Wine and Salt is published in 1967 and earns him the prestigious Governor General’s Award for Poetry. He also is awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his poetry. Alden Nowlan is honoured to be writer-in-residence at UNB, 1968 – 1983. In the 1970s, Nowlan meets Walter Learning and the two collaborate on play scripts Frankenstein, The Dollar Woman and The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca.
Sample Poem One ALL DOWN THE MORNING All down the morning, women sprinkled crumbs Of musty laughter, watching Janice Smith In brazen languor smear her husband’s lips With public kisses, while he glared or blushed. And when the Sunday village itched in church, They thought of Janice, hot as Babylon, Who lured her Jimmie to the porch and bared His people’s blanket-buried secrecies. Or dancing to the snarl of feline strings, Each Friday at the school, they leered at jokes That made obscenities of her taut breasts Against her startled husband’s sweating suit. For she was city-bred and unaware That love was bordered by the rumpled quilts And children bred from duty as the soil Was ploughed to hide the seed and not for joy. So taunted by harsh laughter, half-ashamed, Enraged with rum and manhood late one night, And shouting like betrayal, Jim came home To bruise his knuckles on her shameless face.
Analysed Poem One AUNT JANE Aunt Jane, of whom I dreamed the nights it thundered, was dead at ninety, buried at a hundred. We kept her corpse a decade, hid upstairs, where it ate porridge, slept and said its prayers. And every night before I went to bed they took me in to worship with the dead. Christ Lord, if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my body take.
Analysis of Poem One In Aunt Jane, Alden Nowlan reflects on death. Aunt Jane, though still alive, has been “dead” for a decade. The poem is written in two stanzas of four lines each, with lines one and two rhyming, then lines three and four rhyming, i.e. an aa bb end- rhyme scheme. The thunder, as pathetic fallacy, sets the mood. Nowlan hyperbolizes her body by calling it a “corpse,” even though she is still living. He uses the pronoun “it” instead of using “she” and “her.” The reader’s ear is drawn to the hard sound of “ka,” the use of consonance, in “corpse” and “decade.” It is particularly effective when Nowlan alludes to the age-old children’s bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep; / I pray thee Lord my soul to keep. / If I should die before I wake, / I pray thee Lord my soul to take.” However, Nowlan adapts the prayer, “I pray thee Lord my body take” to emphasize his theme. Just being alive isn’t living. This poem, a succinct two verses, resonates with us. During the week before exams, a neighbour shared a little about her grandmother, that her grandmother had had a very debilitating stroke eight years ago, and has not spoken or moved since. She is tube-fed and rotated every two hours to minimize bed sores. We, then, found ourselves revisiting our experiences with our grandfathers’ deaths and began to see their speedy departures as blessings. In Aunt Jane, Alden Nowlan affirms our thoughts.
Sample Poem Two IN THE HAINSVILLE CEMETERY Not all these stones belong to death. Here and there you read something Like John Andrew Talbot, 1885 – 1955 Mary, his wife, 1887 – and on decoration day Mary will come here and put a jam jar of water and tulips on her own grave. The Talbots are people who make the beds before breakfast and set the breakfast table every night before they go to bed.
Discussion Poem WARREN PRYOR When every pencil meant a sacrifice his parents boarded him at school in town, slaving to free him from the stony fields, the meagre acreage that bore them down. They blushed with pride when, at his graduation, they watched him picking up the slender scroll, his passport from the years of brutal toil and lonely patience in a barren hole. When he went in the Bank their cups ran over. They marvelled how he wore a milk-white shirt work days and jeans on Sundays. He was saved from their thistle-strewn farm and its red dirt. And he said nothing. Hard and serious like a young bear inside his teller’s cage, his axe-hewn hands upon the paper bills aching with empty strength and throttled rage.
Discussion Questions 1.How can our parents prepare us for a future when we ourselves often do not know what we want to do? 2.Is formal education always a good thing? 3.In giving a child a foundation, education is one of the cornerstones. Freedom to follow his/her own heart upon completion is essential. To what degree should parents scrimp and save to educate their child? How would you feel as a parent if you sacrificed supremely only to find your child “remained on the farm?” 4.Prior to the 1960s, rural children attended one-room school houses in New Brunswick, with opportunity to receive a Grade 8 education. For many, that was the end of their schooling. Envision yourself as one of these teens. What would you do?
Sample Poem Three BRITAIN STREET Saint John, New Brunswick This is a street at war. The smallest children battle with clubs till the blood comes, shout “fuck you!” like a rallying cry - while mothers shriek from doorsteps and windows as though the very names of their young were curses: “Brian! Marlene! Damn you! God damn you!” or waddle into the street to beat their own with switches: “I’ll teach you, Brian! I’ll teach you, God damn you!” On this street, even the dogs would rather fight than eat. I have lived here nine months and in all that time have never once heard a gentle word spoken. I like to tell myself that is only because gentle words are whispered and harsh words shouted.
Analysed Poem Two He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded, a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band that was met at the door by a child in a man’s body who asked them, “Are you the surprise they promised us?”
It’s Ryan’s Fancy, Dermot on guitar, Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whistle. In the eyes of this audience, they’re everybody who has ever appeared on TV. I’ve been telling lies to a boy who cried because his favourite detective hadn’t come with us; I said he had sent his love and, no, I didn’t think he’d mind if I signed his name to a scrap of paper: when the boy took it, he said, “Nobody will ever get this away from me,” in the voice, more hopeless than defiant, of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places have been discovered, used to having objects snatched out of his hands. Weeks from now I’ll send him another autograph, this one genuine in the sense of having been signed by somebody on the same payroll as the star. Then I’ll feel less ashamed. Now everyone is singing, “Old MacDonald had a farm,” and I don’t know what to do
about the young woman (I call her a woman because she’s twenty-five at least, but think of her as a little girl, she plays that part so well, having known no other), about the young woman who sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder. It’s nine o’clock in the morning, not an hour for music. And, at the best of times, I’m uncomfortable in situations where I’m ignorant of the accepted etiquette: it’s one thing to jump a fence, quite another thing to blunder into one in the dark. I look around me for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress. They’re all busy elsewhere. “Hold me,” she whispers. “Hold me.”
I put my arm around her. “Hold me tighter.” I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect someone in authority to grab her or me; I can imagine this being remembered for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer publicly fondled the poor retarded girl. “Hold me,” she says again. What does it matter what anybody thinks? I put my other arm around her, rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children real children, and of how they say it, “Hold me,” and of a patient in a geriatric ward I once heard crying out to his mother, dead for half a century, “I’m frightened! Hold me!” and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy’s arms, of Frieda gripping Lawrence’s ankle until he sailed off in his Ship of Death.
It’s what we all want, in the end, to be held, merely to be held, to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips, for every touching is a kind of a kiss). Yes, it’s what we all want, in the end, not to be worshipped, not to be admired, not to be famous, not to be feared, not even to be loved, but simply to be held. She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her. We are brother and sister, father and daughter, mother and son, husband and wife. We are lovers. We are two human beings huddled together for a little while by the fire in the Ice Age, two hundred thousand years ago.
Analysis of Poem Two In Nowlan’s poem, He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded, a magazine writer accompanies a musical band to a school for mentally challenged adults and finds himself in an uncomfortable position when a “retarded woman” begs him to hold her. Through this experience, he realizes that “to be held” is the greatest need of mankind. The repetition of “To be...to be...to be” and “not to be...not to be...not to be...” forces the reader to realize this as well. When Alden Nowlan begins to consider this need to be held, he has the reader imagine an elderly patient in a geriatric ward, calling for his mom in apostrophe. Nowlan then allows “the beach at Dieppe” to be a synecdoche for the whole war. Here, soldiers would hold a fallen comrade. Nowlan then sneaks in an allusion when he has the reader or listener picture death as a ship with the use of a metaphor; he alludes to the “Ship of Death” which happens to be a poem by D.H. Lawrence. Verses six and seven are an aside to the story. Herein, Nowlan states his theme clearly, and the poem’s “story” leads the reader to conclude the same. Nowlan is so right; it is all we as mankind really want. This need is as old as old, dating back to the Ice Age (or before). We all know someone who is mentally challenged and are aware of their childlike- thinking and speech, so there’s immediate connection. We can put a face to the man who acts like a boy, to the woman who still is a little girl. We all know what it feels like to be in situations where we aren’t sure of the proper protocol, the “accepted etiquette.” We see ourselves as the “magazine writer” swallows his fear, his discomfort, and follows his heart, and hugs the girl, resting his chin in her hair. We both have witnessed that even in the face of tragedy or crisis, complete strangers will hold one another for comfort. We echo Robert Gibbs’ words as recorded in the Preface of Alden Nowlan Early Poems, “Nowlan [speaks] not only to us, but for us, as all great writers do.”
Sample Poem Four THIS IS WHAT I WANTED TO SIGN OFF WITH You know what I’m like when I’m sick: I’d sooner curse than cry. And people don’t often know what they’re saying in the end. Or I could die in my sleep. So I’ll say it now. Here it is. Don’t pay any attention if I don’t get it right when it’s for real. Blame that on terror and pain or the stuff they’re shooting into my veins. This is what I wanted to sign off with. Bend closer, listen, I love you.
Creative Poem IT’S GOOD TO BE HERE I’m in trouble, she said to him. That was the first time in history that anyone had ever spoken of me. It was 1932 when she was just fourteen years old and men like him worked all day for one stinking dollar. There’s quinine, she said. That’s bullshit, he told her. Then she cried and then for a long time neither of them said anything at all and then their voices kept rising until they were screaming at each other and then there was another long silence and then they began to talk very quietly and at last he said, well, I guess, we’ll just have to make the best of it. While I lay curled up, my heart beating, in the darkness inside her.
Works Cited Cook, Gregory M. One Heart, One Way Alden Nowlan: A Writer’s Life. Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia: Pottersfield Press, 2003. Gibbs, Robert, ed. Alden Nowlan Early Poems. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1983. Gibbs, Robert, ed. An Exchange of Gifts. Toronto, Ontario: Irwin Publishing, 1985. Howroyd, Stacy. Alden Nowlan: Writer and Poet. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Literacy Council of Fredericton, 1984. Lane, Patrick and Lorna Crozier, ed. Alden Nowlan Selected Poems. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1996. Toner, Patrick. If I Could Turn and Meet Myself The Life of Alden Nowlan. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Editions, 2000.