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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Milt as Elder and Shaman for People's Poetry Tribe

Milt as Elder and Shaman for the Tribe of People’s Poetry

Chris Faiers
(note: this anecdote has been send to Terry Barker for possible inclusion and/or reference in a book Barker is editing on the life and poetry of Milton Acorn)

Towards the end of Milt’s life I believe he matured into the overlapping roles of poetry tribal elder and shaman. James Deahl has noted that Ted Plantos came to this realization of what Canadian poets are – a tribe. Milt’s friends from that time well remember his repetitive rants – perhaps a holdover from his political and polemicist days – rants, or more accurately, constantly repeated lectures on Zulu warriors, anti-abortion and especially ravens and Milt’s newfound ability to converse with them. I fondly remember his impromptu lectures as the wisdom sharing of an elder and a shaman-in-the-making.

In the brief week or two that Milt shared my little house on
Rhodes Avenue
in Toronto – he joked that we were Rhodes scholars – "raven knowing" was my favourite lesson from the master poet.

One sunny afternoon Milt and I walked to nearby Ashbridges Bay – a landscaped landfill
at the western edge of the beautiful Beaches. We perched on a small ridge, the long expanse of white beaches and boardwalk on our left, Lake Ontario’s shades of blue and green completing the vista. Milt jovially insisted on calling the lake an ocean, it reminded him so strongly of his native Prince Edward Island, and he soon would repeat our afternoon, Island bound for his final days, perched on a sand dune above true salt water.

A flock of ravens perched in the hardwood park, noisy above the picnickers and couples on colourful beach blankets. Milt cocked his head to listen closely, and insisted I do the same. ‘We can learn a lot from the ravens, listen to them’. Decades later I realize that a wise elder was instructing me, and frequently on my daily hikes here in ‘Purdy Country’ on the edge of the Canadian Shield, I encounter ravens and crows. I have learned to listen, and some experiences I’ve had with the bird clan, especially owls and crows, are undoubtedly encounters with the shamanic realm.

Milt ‘taught’ the way Zen master Thich Thong Tri, “Thay”, of nearby Zen Forest monastery, ‘teaches’. Sit quietly, observe, lose your ‘self’ in nature while maintaining focused awareness. Milt mastered the art of written and oral poetry, and he was simultaneously learning and mentoring the adept’s skills of direct knowledge transmission at the end of his life. It is an incredible honour to have lived in the presence of such supportive and wise elders and shaman as Milt and Thay. Our little orb is increasingly desperate for more such beings to evolve and manifest.

* revised April 14, 2011 - reflecting on the upcoming celebration of Milt and Joe Wallace at Cafe Taste in Toronto

“You Growing”

By Milton Acorn

You growing and your thought threading
The delicate strength of your focus
Out of a clamour of voices
Demanding faces and noises
Apart from me but vivid
As when I kissed you and chuckled

Wherever you are be fearless
And wherever I am I hope to know
You’re moving vivid beyond me
So I grow by the strength
Of you fighting for yourself, many selves
Your life, many lives, your people    


Conrad DiDiodato said...

Fabulous post and tribute, Chris!

Milton Acorn is a poet I've promised myself to spend more time on (Are you aware of any collected poems editions of Acorn I can purchase? And the same goes for Ted Plantos)Our best poets in Canada have always been our "elders and shamans" (Purdy, P.K.Page, Layton, etc)You're right: "Our little orb is increasingly desperate for more such beings to evolve and manifest."

Katherine L. Gordon is a also shaman whose poetry inspires & enlightens: I enjoy (and treasure) all my meetings & correspondences with her.

Chris Faiers/cricket said...

Glad you enjoyed the memoir, Conrad. I hope to post the second half soon - later that aft I 'lost' Milt!

My favourite Milt book is still "More Poems for People", perhaps because it always evokes those crazy times in the Canadian Liberation Movement when Milt & I were comrades. Milt published a lot of smaller collections during his life, and the best person to get recommendations from re 'collecteds' is his longtime friend and editor, poet James Deahl. Deahl is also a good source for info on Ted Plantos.

Both Milt & Ted were good friends of mine, and both of them attended parties at my little house
on Rhodes Ave. in TO. But I'm not a scholar, & my forays into visiting my friends collections are as haphazard & scattered as their books are on my shelves : )

With luck, maybe we can get James Deahl to add some comments on your blog or mine (hint, hint, there Jim)
peace & poetry power!
p.s. yes, Katherine Gordon is a VERY powerful shaman/poet of the spiritual realm (& one mean politikal poet from time to time as well)