A poet dies.
Is it dust to dust and that’s it? Or is there such a thing as a lasting legacy? What can we learn in the aftermath of an art-committed life?
Does a life have meaning?
…this is my right
to chronicle the meaning of these vast plains
in a geography of blood
making them live.
Suknaski’s Wood Mountain Poems has been described as a “timeless classic of Canadian literature”.
The memorial service meant a 1500 mile journey to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, but never mind. Nor am I a poet, but never mind that, either. I would forever regret missing the celebration of this beloved artist’s life.
“He spoke of himself in the lower case.”
“He always spoke of eternal things,”
A dozen people stood up at Suknaski’s memorial to savour his memory. A portrait emerged of a loner, fierce and sincere, demanding but above all, generous.
Meeting Andy, he’d enquire, “What are you reading? What are you writing?” He cut to the chase. He would examine you over his tinted aviator glasses. I’d had the pleasure, myself.
Years ago, I shot a National Film Board documentary about Suknaski. I remember that stare. Yikes! No, he wasn’t finding faults, it was worse than that! Andy was looking for the best.
He seemed to be taking responsibility for the enlightenment of those he lived among.
“Knowing Andy, I got a sense of what it was like to live the life of a poet.”
Suknaski was an influence to be reckoned with. People such as Andy, their “look” can arrest your belief system. I’m telling you, there’s nothing more compelling than the threat of disillusionment. Nothing more frightening.
“Andy ignited a vision, another reality than the one we’re living in.”
Speaker after speaker supported the notion that Suknaski had infected them with a higher vision, a higher reality.
“He gave me my voice by sharing his.”
We heard how Andy’s mother would encourage him into respectability: “Why you not marry nice Ukrainian girl?” And Andy would just stroke his beard and think of another poem.
The Hounds of Heaven were all over Suknaski, herding him toward the dark heart of his own story. Part of him vanished in that darkness, and he found himself unable to write any further.
Suknaski’s life, though dark in many ways, was a light to many writers who considered him “the poetic voice of a generation”. One speaker summed up Suknaski’s legacy like this:
“What we do for ourselves dies with us; what we do for others lives on.”
I should sign off, but before I do, tell me…
What’s the meaning of a life if not the contribution we make to…not to ourselves, nothing to do with “me”…but to the progress of others. Dare I say, the evolution of the species?
The meaning of a life must concern the whole of life. Mustn’t it?
Andy’s voice, passion, goodwill and generosity have informed a cadre of new poets. Andy has raised the bar. Higher is always more truthful. Isn’t it?
If the meaning of life isn’t a journey toward truth and the passion it inspires…what is it?
One last testifier makes Andy a promise:
“We will write about you as passionately as you wrote about us.”