This Dark Place That Made Us: Stories about home should be celebrated around the globe
For anyone who has never visited the Miramichi region, it’s a wild, gorgeous place. I lived in Miramichi—a part of the city then called Chatham—for a year when I was young.
My father was in the military and we lived on the old air force base. It was the year my father was diagnosed with cancer. I was mostly too young to know about cancer, or death, but I remember vividly the shadowy ravine behind my school, the giant flinty boulders and the wide, propulsive river we drove across to get to Newcastle.
I thought a lot about rural New Brunswick reading Wild Green Light, the new poetry collaboration between David Adams Richards and Margo Wheaton. Anyone who has read Richards knows he has built an admirable, award-winning career exploring and transcribing the reality of New Brunswickers who have often gotten the short end of the stick in the dog-eat-dog world of global capitalism, but who still manage to find dignity, mercy and meaning in their lives.
The dark heart of nostalgia beats through this new collection—featuring twenty lyric poems by Richards and a series of ghazals by Wheaton: decaying country homes, raucous kitchen tables, rambling rivers, dark woods like the kind I knew as a boy. These are poems that look back over the shoulder, a mourning for what’s been lost: childhood, dreams, forests, mentors and beloved matriarchs like Wheaton’s grandmother.
We live in an age where we believe ourselves to be untethered to time and space. We’re citizens of a virtual commons, where the oligarchies of Big Tech control the minutiae of our lives, much as the lumber barons and coal company overlords did in decades past. Amidst this shrinking psychic space, what does regional literature—the rooted, complex worlds spun in poems like those in Wild Green Light—offer us today?
First, these seemingly insular poems, with their testaments to local seasons, their homage to the “wild and forgotten river,” their references to Escuminac and Neguac, remind us that despite our nomadic qualities and virtual longings, our lives are inherently local. While our day jobs in Sydney or Summerside might connect us with customers and consumers the world over, at night we wander streets and trade gossip with folks close to home. When we find ourselves leaving—as any Maritimer who has headed Out West or to Toronto or Beijing for work will tell you, “travelling all my life,” as Richards says in one poem—we dream of oceans and bays, islands and tidelines.
Our imaginations are fed by mysteries laid down in our blood from these dark places that made us. And while demographers tell us that many parts of our region are emptying, dreams are still dreamt and tears still wept right here on the edge of the world.
We forget the magical quality of our local lives and literatures at our own peril. In an interview with Image Journal a few years ago, speaking of his obsession with writing about his corner of New Brunswick, Richards said:
I think because it is the world as much as any other place—just as much as Saint Petersburg or Mississippi or London or Paris. In fact, all people are regional, no matter how cosmopolitan they believe they are—and all people are in some sense cosmopolitan.
And if there’s a truth to this golden age of Netflix, it’s that there’s a hunger now more than ever for authentic local stories. For literature that holds up a mirror to who we are and shares this vision confidently with the world.
The poems in Wild Green Light, in all their luscious darkness, their longing and mourning, speak to us not because they’re from anywhere, but because they’re from right here. There’s no reason for the stories we tell about this place we live and love not to be celebrated around the globe.
By so deeply inhabiting and translating a world that’s full of its particular strangeness, its taut textures and plainspoken beauty, Richards and Wheaton prove this for us, poem after intricate poem.