Brockton Writers Series 11.05.22: Gavin Barrett

Gavin Barrett is the author of Understan (Mawenzi House, 2020), a CBC Books recommendation. His work appears in Ranjit Hoskoté’s anthology of 14 Indian poets Reasons for Belonging (Viking Penguin, 2001) and in many other reputed publications. He curates the Tartan Turban Secret Readings for IBPOC writers.

This twenty-fifth is a twenty-sixth

On the 25th of April, 1996, my daughter April was born in Tsan Yuk Hospital, Hong Kong. After she had finally made her entrance — she took her time shall we say — the applauding nurses and doctor left. Leah, my wife, slept. April was quiet. 

In that pure, still moment, I wrote a poem on a blank page in a hospital post-natal handbook. Sadly, the poem was lost as we crossed oceans and continents on our move to Canada. 

More poems were written for April to make up for it. And poems were even written about that one short lost poem, like this one, which appears in my collection Understan (Mawenzi House, 2020).

Fifteen Aprils

You turned,

swimming.

Broke from the water

with your hair wet

your feet together

entered light and day, 

you arrived

well timed

near midnight

a judge gave

your perfect dive

a ten.

You began loud

sang on the scale,

conducted me with your toes

caused an aspiration

of tired joy 

and woke a poem

spoken

written on a sheet

of hospital paper

and finally lost into

air.

This was yesterday, fifteen Aprils ago.

Though Understan is a collection of poems by an émigré poet, dealing with landscapes both global and internal, a great deal of the poetry in the book is domestic. What is life or poetry without those you love? Love infuriates and inspires. 

The longest poem in the book — 10 pages — is an unfinished poem called 10,000 Thoughts on Love. The book also contains several poems about my mother, a professor of literature and a force of nature — a one-woman warrior for justice. My grandmother appears in her last days. The very last poem in the book is titled My father, the sailor in his 80s. My brothers are there, and many friends float in and out of many poems. My girls Faith and April appear often, and my wife, of course — in a sense, the entire book is an epithalamion in a way, a poem on marriage. 

But that poem for April isn’t in the book. It’s not uncommon for a poet to think in terms of “chasing a poem”. In my case, it was no metaphor. I hunted that poem I wrote for April in that hospital room of her birth “down the nights and down the days and down the arches of the years”. The poem was my equal as a wanderer and my superior as a recluse. It kept itself hidden from me. 

Then, a couple of years ago, my wife discovered the escapee, hidden in a box of baby memorabilia.

And so, today, I choose to share with the Brockton Writers Series an image of my daughter’s original birth day poem.

Gavin Barrett visits Brockton Writers Series via our YouTube channel on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 starting at 6:30pm alongside Khashayar “Kess” Mohammdi, H. Nigel Thomas, and Victoria Mbabazi. Our guest speaker Caroline from ECW Press will help us with “Social Media 101 for Authors.

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