Reflections on the unveiling of Northern Hues
by Christine G. Richardson
New Liskeard, September 8, 2001
[ED note Sept 2005: The Launch was co-sponsored by the Canadian Authors Association and White Mountain Publications. The 2002 Launch was held concurrent with the National Canadian Authors Association Conference July 6, 2002 in Sudbury. It is now tentatively scheduled for the first Saturday after Labour Day annually.]
"No problem," I lecture my reflection in the mirror, flourishing my concealer stick. "Relax and have fun -- that's what you came for."
In my fifty-some years of existence, I have taught school, led church services, even sung at music festivals. I have never read my poetry in a public place.
By the time I return my key to the reception desk of the Auberge Country Inn, the wind has tousled my carefully-combed hair. I drive to Walmart, hoping to buy a purse big enough to hide a hair brush. I find what I need in a "blow out special" bin. The price is just three dollars, but I spend another fifty on a sweat suit and two videos.
I park in front of FranChefco's Family Restaurant and load my new purse. My almost-new non-crinkling dress is already starting to wrinkle. Wallet . . . antihistamines, antacids and analgesics . . . copies of my poems, just in case . . . lipstick . . . tissues . . . hairbrush . . .notebook . . . three pens.
I march into the restaurant and sit down. Despite the fact that I have had no breakfast, I am not hungry.
"Are you with the writers?" the waitress asks as I nurse my third cup of coffee.
"Yes." I smile. "I guess I have that look, huh?"
I bite at a loose thread hanging from my sleeve, praying that the hem will stay up for just a few more hours. I feel lost and overdressed. I look around, searching for others like me, aspiring poets from the "P" zone.
Bathroom time. Why did I drink so much coffee? As I am brushing my hair, my nose glints in the harsh light. Its sunburned shine has triumphed over mattifying lotion, concealer, and powder. Should I get my war paint out of the car and try again? I decide to leave my nose untouched rather than face the wind again.
A few people have drifted into the Valley Room, just a few steps from the rest room door, and stand clustered near the doorway. I join them, introduce myself. The first person I meet announces proudly that she is Brian Beaudry's mother. For a nostalgic moment, I miss the affirming presence of my own mother, whose never-flagging pride in me, though mildly embarrassing at times, often lends me the courage to tackle unfamiliar challenges.
More people arrive. We begin to claim seats in the triple ring of chairs arranged in a semi-circle. The back seats fill up first, like church.
Deborah Ranchuk, the contest co-ordinator, enters stage right, through the outside door. I have not met her in person, but she is unmistakeable by her air of purposefulness and the large storage containers accompanying her.
"Christine!" she exclaims, grinning, leaning towards me over an empty chair in the front row. "I'm so glad to meet you! I feel like we're old friends."
"That why I had to come," I say. "I wanted to meet you."
"I hope you're not too disappointed," she says. I chuckle without telling her that I was having exactly the same thought.
As soon as everything is in place, Deborah takes the podium, holding up a copy of Northern Hues, and begins talking about the history of the contest. My fingers itch to fondle the chapbook, resplendent with a colour cover photo, but no one is allowed to peek until the winners are announced.
The formal portion of The Event begins precisely on time. The first place finisher, Wayne Brown of Dryden, is not among us. I am not surprised: Dryden is a day's drive west of Hearst, where I live.
Deborah reads the winning poem. I am still savouring its aftertaste when she announces that second place was awarded to "January Blues." My poem.
I am completely caught off guard. My fantasies have centered around meeting new people, perhaps even impressing them, and reading my poems with enough clarity and feeling to render them so transparent as to eliminate the need for further explanation. I must confess to meditating -- ever so briefly -- on the possibility of an honourable mention; however, I did not consider my craft advanced enough for the Big Three.
I stumble to the front, burbling, my mind blank. Deborah presents me with a large envelope containing my certificate, a copy of the book, a cheque, and other goodies to be examined at my leisure. I waste a minute or two trying to explain why I am not a man; or, more precisely, why I wrote from a man's point of view. A camera flashes before I start reading: a representative of the local media is recording the moment. Forgetting everything I practised, I read, remembering to smile when I reach the last stanza, inviting chuckles from the audience. I return to my place, wishing I had someone to hug.
The readings continue, interspersed with commentary by Deborah. The "P" postal code area belongs on the literary map of Canada, she tells us, because a lot of talented writers live here. It takes a only a few minutes before I start to believe her.
Five fellow poets are present: Brian Beaudry, who warns us that he may not be able to finish his reading dry-eyed; Yves Bourassa, who projects quiet intensity as he gives voice to the survivors of abuse; Emma von Keitz, who is eleven and loves French fries enough to write about them; Arthur Quesnel, whose smoothly proficient reading style matches his craftsmanship; and Richard Smith, who declines to read at all. Each distinctively individual; and yet, I recognize myself in each of them.
Afterwards, we nibble snacks and exchange autographs, "just in case." I chat with Deborah and Rosanne. I say my good-byes reluctantly and return to my car, clutching my envelope.
Like Robert Frost, I have miles to go before I sleep.
I'll be back.