Gary Hyland is a
Saskatchewan teacher, writer, activist,
consultant and editor. In 1993, he was short-listed for
the National Magazine Gold Medal Poetry Award, and he has
won numerous prizes in the Saskatchewan Writers Guild annual
competitions, including major poetry manuscript awards
in 1991 and 1995.
Part I. The Usual Things
He has published two chapbooks and four full-length books
of poetry-- Just Off Main (Thistledown, 1982), Street of
Dreams (Coteau Books, 1984), After Atlantis (Thistledown,
1991), and White Crane Spreads Wings (Coteau Books, 1996).
He has co-edited the humour anthologies 100% Cracked Wheat,
and 200% Cracked Wheat and the poetry collections Number
One Northern and A Sudden Radiance.
Known as an activist and builder, Hyland was a founding
member of CJUS-FM radio (Saskatoon), Thunder Creek
Co-op/Coteau Books, the Moose Jaw Community Hockey School,
Moose Jaw Rink Action Committee, Sage Hill Writing
Experience, ArtSchool Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan
Festival of Words and Moose Jaw Arts in Motion. He
continues to serve on the executives of the last three
and also the boards of Saskatchewan Film and Video
Development Corporation and the City of Moose Jaw
Ad Hoc Committee for a Cultural Centre.
His work has appeared in such anthologies as The New
Canadian Poets (Dennis Lee, ed., 1985), Garden Varieties
(League of Canadian Poets, 1988), Literature of the
Americas (University of Hawaii, 1997), Vintage 93,
Vintage 95 and Vintage 99 (League of Canadian Poets
competition finalists) and The Power of Poetry
(Universal Publishing, Australia, 1997) as well as
CBC radio, and journals such as Prism International,
Grain, Capilano Review, CVII, Prairie Fire, New
Quarterly, Canadian Forum, and Canadian Literature.
He has made two appearances on Basic Black, CBC radio.
He has been a high school English teacher and a creative
writing instructor for Palliser Campus (SIAST), the
Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts and the Prairie
Winds Writers' Conference at Custer, South Dakota.
He was the recipient of a Hilroy Fellowship for
innovative teaching practices, the Marshall McLuhan
Distinguished Teacher Award for quality teaching
and contributions to the profession, the Joe Duffy
Memorial Award for excellence in teaching English
and the SaskCulture Volunteer Award. He resides in
his birthplace of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he
was named Poet Laureate (with Robert Currie) in 1991
and Citizen of the Year in 1998. He works as an
organizer with four arts groups, columnist and
freelance writer, editor and sessional lecturer
for the University of Regina.
Part II: A Documentary in 22 Shots
A Child Who Will Fish [from (Muse)letters, League of Canadian Poets, 1996]
"There is always going to be a child who will fish a book out of the garbage heap."
— Joseph Brodsky
The letter from the editor asks "who or what influenced, or influences, your writing of poetry?" Although you would rather be trolling through poems, you begin a list that crawls down the margin, nearly fills the reverse side. Who and what hasn't influenced you? Where does it stop? Where do you begin?
The wooden pillars on the front porch of the house have recently been painted white. I hold a pencil awkwardly, feel the urge to cover those flat surfaces with the kind of evenly-spaced ripples in my mother's letters to my aunts. From knee-level to as high as I can reach at four, I wear that lead out creating a sea of unreadable waves. An epic on the theme of defiance. The critical response to my first literary effort is a spanking.
In his mail Mr. Pomoski discovers the third edition of The Home Street Clarion. He puts all else aside to read the latest on his neighbours. The paper is standard stationery folded to make four sides, each painstakingly printed with ballpoint in two columns, broken by headlines, stick-figure cartoons, the usual box with a four-line poem about someone's dog. No editor on the masthead but he knows this is the work of the lad next door, the boy who bounces a ball off his shed. Mrs. Kempel, Mrs. Saigeon and Mr. Roga receive the three other near-identical copies. This issue features a front page story about Mr. and Mrs. Lipschki belonging to a nudist colony, authenticated by Billy Lipschki who has shown the reporter dozens of photographs of his parents, pot-bellied and sagging on boulders. The struggling artist encounters censorship via his posterior. It is the last edition of the paper.
Mrs. Graham runs the fish pond at the church bazaar. The boy pays his nickel and dangles the pole over a bed sheet. A yank on the line and he hoists the basket containing something heavy. He thinks it might be a ball glove. But, no, it's a book, a hard-covered, pictureless thing called A Book of Good Poems. He throws it at his laughing friend who says it's the same book his sister uses in grade eleven.
Kempels are the first on Home Street with a rooftop TV aerial. Unless his Mom wins one at bingo they'll never have TV, and he's read his comics ragged, so he picks up the stupid fish pond book. Nowhere worth a nickel.
Worse, several of the pages are blank where poems should be. A lousy defective book, but damn near the only one in the house. He reads: "The Pobble who had no toes/Had once as many as we." He reads: "Fear death?-to feel the fog in my throat,/The mist in my face." And: "On wan dark night on Lac St.Pierre/De win she blow, blow, blow." He reads until this stupid stuff ricochets in his head for weeks. He doesn't know which poets are major, which are minor. He is far too young to observe that the book has a traditionalist, anti-metaphysical, romantic bias.
It thrills him, the book, in ways that even Wonder Woman doesn't. There are hobo songs and spirituals, rhyming stuff and unrhyming stuff, wonderfully silly things and solemn things, lines as polished as pearl and rough-edged lines in dialect. And writers with weird multiple names-George Gordon Noel Lord Byron, James Elroy Flecker, Alfred Edward Housman, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Walter Savage Landor.
Eleven or twelve years old, I read "Kubla Khan" over and over for hours, intoxicated. From Xanadu did Coleridge, a stately, pleasing poem make me.
There is a poem entitled "To Alberta," that sounds like a gloopy hymn and. the opposite page is blank. He writes one draft of a real poem, "To Saskatchewan," transcribes it unchanged onto the page. It begins "Where wheat fields green blow in the wind/And hawks the heavens ride" and deteriorates from there. One by one he fills the blank pages of the book with masterpieces. His first poems and already he is in a volume with Frost, Yeats and Tennyson. Which of his two middle names should he adopt?
Later, the boy submits one of these poems to his grade seven teacher, and she selects it for display at the local exhibition. Entitled "The Wagon Train," it begins "The wagons creaked over the dusty tracks/The sun beat hot upon our backs./The women were weeping, the children were crying/The water was gone, the horses were dying." The resourceful pioneers eventually find an abandoned well and all are saved.
Over thirty years later, asked to comment on my influences, I cannot find A book of Good Poems, but I can recall stanzas and entire poems, though I never tried to memorize them.
By the lamplit stall I loitered, feasting my eyes
On colours ripe and rich for the heart's desire-
Tomatoes redder than Krakatoa's fire,
Oranges like old sunsets over Tyre,
And apples golden-green as the glades of Paradise.
Book points to book. The Ancient and Mediaeval World, my grade nine social studies text, asserts that an Italian named Dante Alighieri has written one of the greatest books of all time-The Divine Comedy. I love the title. I startle the librarian when I ask for it. The book turns out to be three books in one with two sizes of print: small and microscopic. All of it poetry. I'm amazed and apprehensive. Still, with this title it must be hilarious, so I squint through it in a month, footnotes and all. After twenty pages I know the jokes are beyond me, but there are compensations: how this guy with his buddy Virgil pursues this woman he loves from afar into the rings of hell with its beasts, fiends, exquisite tortures; the neat ways these guys botched their lives; the perfectly measured punishments; how Beatrice can be so beautiful, yet innocent and holy; and how Dante keeps topping himself with wilder and wilder descriptions of light in heaven. Descriptions of light! At times the language itself is radiant.
And every spark spun with its spinning ring:
and they were numberless as the sum of grain
on the last square of the chessboard of the king.
The same records playing endlessly at home. Roused by his father and his buddies, drunk and sentimental, singing the songs after midnight. Poet-songwriters: Hart, Mercer, Parish, Hammerstein, Porter, Ira Gershwin, Webster, Cahn, Harbach. Exhaling star dust. "The melody haunts my reverie."
Teenhood. Tough. Cool. Beer and girls. Hanging with the the ex-grads who get him into the bars. They meet at nine. No one knows that at seven he goes to the library, randomly reads poetry. The first book is Collected Poems by someone named Edith Sitwell. Caring more for how they sound than what they say, her words shun the gravity of line. Exciting, how they break and reassemble, surprise with powerful images: "Baskets of ripe fruit in air/The bird's song seem . . ." The surge of possibilities.
On one pre-bar visit I find Eliot. I return to him many times, fascinated, puzzled. On another, it's Cummings. I am working as a CPR file clerk and steal away into a storage closet to write poems that careen from mock-dignity and despair to flippant brashness. From "Dust stuff puffing at their feet/designates the spilth path" to "Touch your bawdy, your realeyes/sacred as brasscuspidors." An authentic closet poet.
At university, I delight in Auden. How he makes superior poetry of urgent social issues. Browning, Pound, Rilke, Lorca (his sonidos negris), Neruda. And, through friends, the approachable, glorious Canadians, unsanctified by English courses: Layton, Birney. Klein and Scott.
Having graduated, where to live? I think about being a part of this place, apart from this place as I had planned. Mitchell, Hicks, Szumigalski and Currie are homesteading. I will try to file a claim.
Working in Toronto one summer, Yorkville crammed with earnest hippies, I see posters for a reading by a poet I've never heard of. There must be 400 people in the old burlesque theatre. A small dark woman in a spotlight, long black hair over a flowing white robe, looking like a priestess against the black curtains. Her lines as enchanting: "All my friends are dying of hunger,/ There is some basic dish I cannot offer." Yes! After that, I read everything I can find by Gwendolyn MacEwan. In bookstores, I find other poets who excite me- Atwood, Mandel and Newlove. Especially Alden Nowlan.
Summer workshops with real writers. "How do you describe a glass of water?" Kroetsch quoting a French novelist. And, "Every poem is a failed translation." Mandel challenging: "What are the rules of poetry and which ones can't be broken?" "Why the tyranny of the left-hand margin?"
Should you mention the women, from Charlotte to Sharon, who inspired so much of your worst material? No.
Crozier scathing in the poetry group: "Another so-what poem, Hyland." And, "People have to stop bringing their first drafts." And, "Great! That works!" Crozier reading poems for which you can offer no suggestions. Rock-solid. Full of daring, penetration, deftness. There is no formula. They are so much of her, you would have to be her to write one. You wish you were.
Crozier says, "Read this. What a book!" It is Praise by Robert Hass. What a book. She says, "Read this." It is Satan Says by Sharon Olds. What a book. She says, "Read this." It is Newlove's The Night the Dog Smiled. God.
Surly and suspicious you came to poetry, consumed it joyously, aimlessly. Influences? The book you read last night. Where do they stop? Where do you begin? Catch twenty-two. And still you cast your hook.
Part III. Dates and Details
B. A. (English/history), University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, 1962
B. Ed. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, 1964
Current: Freelance writer/editor/consultant
1995 - 1997: Sessional lecturer (English), University
1964 - 1994: Teacher, Department of English
Riverview Collegiate, Moose Jaw, SK
Chairperson, Dept. of English, 1967 - 1986,
1988, 1990, 1992, 1994
1958 - 1964: Miscellaneous Employment: construction labourer,
janitor, watchman, file clerk, hostler, map coder, boiler
cleaner, meat packer
PROFESSIONAL and VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES
1999 - present: Member, City of Moose Jaw
Ad Hoc Committee on a Cultural Campus
1998 - present: Director, University of Saskatchewan Community Services
1998 - present: Founding Member, Vice-President
Moose Jaw Arts in Motion
1996 - present: Founding Member, Coordinator
Living Skies Festival of Words Inc.
1996 - present: Director
SaskFILM And Video Development Corporation
1995 - present: Founding Member, President
1991 - 1997: Founding Member, President
Sage Hill Writing Experience
1994: Jury Member, Literary
Saskatchewan Arts Board
1990: Creative Writing Instructor
Prairie Winds Writers' Conference
Custer, South Dakota, April 16 - 22
1983 - 1985: Chairperson, Language Arts in Education Committee
Saskatchewan Writers' Guild
1982 - 1984: Creative Writing Instructor
Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts
Echo Valley Centre, SK
1981 - 1983: Director, Vice-President
Saskatchewan Writers' Guild
1981 - 1982: Chairperson, Readings and Workshops Committee
Saskatchewan Writers' Guild
1974 - 1988: Founding Member, Director
Thunder Creek Publishing/Coteau Books
1979: Creative Writing Instructor
Coteau Range Community College, Moose Jaw
1975: Instructor, Teachers' Summer Institute
Bridgetown, Barbados, July - August
1972, 1974: Coordinator, Accreditation Seminars for Teachers of English
Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation
1971 - 1973: Area Communications Officer
Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation
1969 - 1970: President, Moose Jaw Branch
Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation
1968 - 1972: Writer, Editor
Canadian English Language Achievement Test
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto
1962 - 1964: Founding Member, Station Manager
CJUS-FM, Saskatoon, SK