Raven Chapbooks makes debut with islander’s work

David Haggart poetry collection first in series

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Acclaimed local poet Diana Hayes has a new project on the go now that her latest collection of words and images has been released. This time she is responsible for bringing another writer’s gifts to the world, through publication of work by Salt Spring poet David Haggart.

Haggart’s collection A Curious Happiness in Small Things is the very first title by Hayes’ new outfit, Raven Chapbooks. The publication brings to light a significant voice in the 70-year-old islander whose primary goal for many years has been to hone his practice to the point where he felt he could call himself a writer.

As Haggart explained during a phone interview, he has written some 500 poems in the past decade and has been serious about his writing since 1995, when he attended a workshop with the legendary west coast writer Patrick Lane. Lane told him the only way to become a writer was to keep writing, and he’s been following that advice ever since.

The poems published in A Curious Happiness in Small Things suggest the time was well spent. They have a spare beauty that echoes the northern landscape where Haggart spent many years working; his restrained style and well-placed words manage to conjure vivid images and to connect the reader to deeply emotional content without ever being flowery.

“I am a weary old tom — bent ears, one eye — curled around the ankles of giants,” Haggart writes in a tribute to some of his favorite poets, from Yeats to Cohen and Lane. The same poem contains a memorable observation of Margaret Atwood, “who could open letters with her wit.”

Haggart said he has many influences. Raymond Carver is his favourite American writer. He also enjoys Robert Bly and Charles Bukowski. He’s even been influenced by Zen poetry, in approach if not style.

“I think what I do is I work with what’s in front of me,” he said. “I don’t search for poems or try to find poems to write. The trick is to be present when there’s a poem in the room.”

Haggart doesn’t shy away from the darkness in his past. He is a former alcoholic who has been sober for 30 years, and he’s had a lifelong struggle with depression. He speaks to a psychiatrist twice a week. The poem Me and Ma – In Vino Veritas gives some indication of the deep hurts he carries with him.

Another look within comes in What the Mirror Said: “you’re not much of a thinker/ you’re more of a feeler/ you live on the wings of a moth/ you twitch in the light/ like someone in withdrawal.”

“For me to become a writer I had to look into the dark places. I had to deal with the demons. I think I go to a lot of places a lot of people don’t want to go,” Haggart said.

He’s enjoyed love and good friendships, as well, and these also come into his work. Haggart is extremely proud of his daughter, B.C. novelist Rebecca Hendry, and her two children. The reason he lives on Salt Spring is because of his friendship with Abraham Ruben, who gave him a good job in his sculpture studio after hard years in the Arctic.

Encouragement by Lane has been a huge impetus for carrying forward, while Hayes’ more recent support has been another boon. Haggart first connected with her at a writers’ soiree where he was invited to read some work. She told him his poems deserved to be published, and then made sure it happened.

“I did not want to get involved with sending off poems. I did not want to deal with rejection slips. I just wanted to write the best poems I could — that was my aim,” Haggart said. “I could not have done this without Diana.”

Haggart and Hayes worked hard to make the collection of 35 poems the best it could be, with her editorial eye helping him reflect on certain lines or even individual words. He has realized how valuable this was, and said he will always seek that type of input going forward.

Haggart is now working on putting together a full-sized book manuscript with 65 to 70 poems and says he is finally ready to face the rejection slips.

“You write alone and you spend a lot of time alone, but I’ve learned from this process that you don’t publish alone. You need a publisher to push your work,” said Haggart, who compares his usual personality to the bears he got to know up north. “I’ve come out of my cave, sniffed the air and found it to my liking. But I’m not getting ahead of myself. I would still refer to myself as an obscure poet, but an obscure poet who has learned some things over the past couple of years.”

No immediate launch event is planned due to COVID-19 considerations, but chapbooks will be available May 15 at island shops and by other means.

Contact diana@dianahayes.ca for more information.

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