Eatonia’s William Wardill has been writing stories and poems for decades, and now the veteran historian, writer, diviner, and small-town Saskatchewan aficionado has penned his “swan song” collection of poetry, Muskrat Ramble, which includes previously published work, photographs, and, interestingly, brief, conversational-style introductions to many of the poems. The “almost autobiographical” and fictional poems (with “roots in reality”) are straightforward narrative tributes to people, places, and pre-Facebook ways of life long behind us now. Readers will appreciate the poems’ preambles: reading them is akin to hearing a writer present his or her work at a public reading. Many readers (including yours truly) will also appreciate the larger-than-usual print.
Wardill has lived a rich life across his nine decades. He stretches back to his boyhood re: acknowledgement of an Alsask teacher for helping him to realize “that a little boy who liked to arrange words in patterns, paint pictures, and sing songs could be as useful in the world as the little boy who excelled in athletic competitions.” At the other end of his life, in a poem titled “Homo Emeritus,” he reflects that “Now there is time for peaceful nights/and waking dreams and building airy mansions/out of moonbeams.”
The collection includes Wardill’s first published poem: it appeared in Western People, a now long-gone supplement to The Western Producer, and is a tribute to a father and his trunk full of “Perfumed pipes and shaving soap/and polish for his patent leather shoes.” The sense of longing is almost palpable. The poet writes of a wish to stand with the man “to watch the stout, black steamships eating blacker coal,/and lesser craft with sea-rimed sails, and, all around, the white gulls wheeling.” A beautiful tribute to a man whose “span was over long ago.” Other tribute poems include “Consolidation No. 2165, 1913-1961,” about a steam locomotive, which stands out both for its details and for its touching personification of the train: “And they say as she passes a fallen-down village/where the station is missing and the people are gone,/her chime whistle wails in a loud, sobbing torment,/like the voice of a soul that can never go home.”
Many of the poems contain rhyming and repeated phrases, like song lyrics, and a few poems, ie: “By the River in the Winter, 1881” and “By the River in the Winter, 1885”), are dialogue poems. I felt the strongest piece was “In the Dugout, 1917,” which is presented as a letter from a Canadian soldier to “My dearest Clara.” In this visceral poem we read “Over the top is the sickly sweet smell of unburied/bodies. Over the top are the screams.”
A fine example of the poet’s range appears in “Nice Feed o’ Nice Cockles,” in which the poet emulates the working class vernacular of folks in County Durham: “You’re yammerin’ o’ war. Will. Now the war’s/done./Our folks are all safe now at ‘ome, everyone one.”
This diverse, reflective “swan song” would be lovely to read beneath a summer sky, back “against a sun-warmed boulder.”
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM