On the occasion of my son Caley’s fifteenth birthday, I presented him with a finely crafted ash, cherry, butternut, and basswood laminated paddle. A beauty to hold in the hands, with its pear shaped grip and slender oval shaft. A beauty to feel knifing through still water or carving a turn through surf. It was the first paddle he could call his own, and replaced the cracked, duct-taped, far-too-long, thick-shafted, hand-me-down that he had managed with, somehow, as he learned his paddling skills. Just as the paddle was a layup of various woods selected for strength, flexibility, and aesthetic appeal, so too the canoeing experiences we had shared bound us together: running fully loaded through Blue Chute on the French, getting caught in a storm in the Barron Canyon, setting up camp on our favourite island on the Madawaska. These river trips, father and son kneeling for hours together in a canoe, also prompted the creation of a poem for that birthday, offered in celebration of his coming of age.
“From the Bow” became a tribute piece, learned by heart, which found full expression through oral performance. With paddle in hand, I added actual strokes, matched in a choreography of sorts, to the delivery of the words. The piece, first said for that memorable birthday, soon made its way into poetry readings and even onto the stage at the opening of The River Run Centre in Guelph, and at the unveiling of The Canoe sculpture in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. It also became a campfire poem, with the blade of the paddle gleaming in the pale yellow light and the words rising above crackling splits of oak.
It was around one such campfire that another idea made its way into the current. Caley and I have been long-time participants in R. Murray Schafer’s collaborative production “The Wolf Project”, an eight day mythological music-drama that unfolds with remarkable pageantry each summer in the wilds of The Haliburton Forest. Access is by canoe and portage trail. Participants camp, make music, perform poetry, dance and tell stories while living out imaginary mythological lives, with the intention of transforming their own. “The Wolf Project” is part of a larger Schafer conception: Patria and The Theatre of Confluence, which draws its metaphor from river terminology and suggests the flowing together of all the arts. I had often performed my poem “From the Bow” at one of our nightly campfires, but I began to consider more fully the notion of confluence: What if the poem were set to music? What if Murray could do one of his magnificent hand drawn scores?
Well, it remained an idea. And only that for some time. Until another confluence of outside inspiration and initiative: The Waterloo Arts Fund, a new arts funding organization in Waterloo Region with the aim “to make art happen”. On the basis of that motto I applied and found support for the collaboration. The music is specifically written for clarinettist Tilly Kooyman, who was largely responsible for introducing me to Murray and The Wolf Project some fifteen years ago. Here then, with my appreciation to all those involved, is “From the Bow” alongside Murray’s hand drawn musical notation with its fluidity of movement and visual suggestion.
And Caley? The poem tells the story of his river journey.