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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Leslie Darlene Jackson (Webb) 1949 - 2017

Leslie Jackson

Original Innocence

the instinct of survival
born so strong in some
reaching out and haunting
reminding me of origins

I can not make a move
without the memory of
childhood rising up and
flaunting her intuitive
emotions before me

each decision
infiltrated with time
barring intellect from
reigning surpreme

Leslie Webb
from her chapbook Original Innocence 
1988, Unfinished Monument Press

Leslie floated into the heart of the Toronto poetry scene at one of the first meetings of the Canadian Poetry Association. The meeting was held on Bloor Steet in one of the meeting rooms of The Bloor Street United Church. Strains from the recently founded music group, Tafelmusik, floated into the room with Leslie. Leslie was a glittering butterfly, among the self-consciously drab and introverted gathering of poets.

The year was 1986, and Milton Acorn, one of Canada's foremost poets, had just died. Gwendolyn MacEwen, Milton's one-time wife and also a recipient of Canada's top literary award, The Governor General's Award for Poetry, was shyly hanging out by the coffee machine. I like to think they met at this gathering, although I don't know for certain. When I informed philosopher and poetry scene eminence grise Terry Barker about Leslie's passing, he shared fond memories of Leslie reading a tribute poem at the El Mocambo memorial reading for Milton Acorn.

Leslie had landed smack in the middle of the scene, fresh from success as a television cable host and interviewer. Perhaps interviewing artists in a wide variety of fields had encouraged Leslie to pursue her interest in writing poetry. Leslie had already appeared in a number of community theatre productions and had enjoyed some successes with smaller parts in major Hollywood movies. I remember accompanying her on one such all night shoot on Yonge Street. Movie star Burt Reynolds was the director, and Yonge Street had been flooded by  fire hoses to give an atmosphere of recent rainfall. Leslie was in her glory during the shoot, despite staying up all night for just a few moments in the camera's glare. Around this time she also appeared in the Tom Cruise movie, "Cocktail".

The mid to late 1980s were happy and busy years for Leslie, and she thrived on what were literally overlapping creative roles as a poet and an actress. She introduced me to the Toronto theatre scene, and I saw several productions with her, including "A Christmas Carol" in which her husband, Gord, starred, and the English farce, "Key for Two", featuring her friend Dolly.

A number of Toronto poets befriended Leslie, and several encouraged her writing. Among these was populist poet Ted Plantos, sometimes called 'The Cabbagetown Kid', for his role in publishing other poets and in organizing poetry readings. Leslie had other fans, among these were the self-proclaimed 'Dark-Eyed Bard', Tom Crane, and Rick Kroll. Leslie shared an interest in astrology and psychology with both.

Of course I recognized Leslie's talents as a poet, and in 1988 I published her chapbook, "Original Innocence", with my small press, Unfinished Monument. Her poetry was well received, and almost three decades later her poems are as poignant and strong as when she first wrote, read and published them. Her occasionally harsh depictions of family life and societal indifference are now more mainstream than when she first presented them. In hindsight she was a cutting edge poet, who never received her full due as a Canadian poet.

I remember a fall walk with Leslie in the park at Ashbridge's Bay. As we rounded a turn on the path, a small bush seemed to be on colourful fire. Thousands of migrating monarch butterflies were resting before their flight across Lake Ontario. Ever since, whenever I walk in Ashbridge's Bay, or see a fluttering monarch, I think of Leslie and her vulnerable, but beautiful, spirit.

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