“my bones pine to follow their naked path, be unknotted, enterprising and unafraid” – Donna Allard, International Beat Poet Laureate Canada (2019-2020)*
With three new books (Ghost in the Window (River Bones Press 2019), Three Times Around The World (River Bones Press 2019), and Cold Fire (SkyWing Press 2019)) added to her resume, New Brunswick based poet Donna Allard continues to not only follow in the footsteps of the original “Beat Generation” but to forge ahead with her own poetic style, interests and ideas.
Call her fearless like a warrior! If you follow her on Facebook, you will be inundated with posts not only about other poets but her interest in nature, social commentary, and other political views. She is not afraid to speak her mind and to reach deep into her psyche and to share her strong emotions with her followers.
Call her determined like an entrepreneur! When I first heard the name Donna Allard, she was the president of the Canadian Poetry Association and was resolute to promote poetry across the country which she has continued to do via her social media accounts.
Call her passionate like the “night’s caressing hand”! She lives, eats, breathes poetry. It is indeed her passion and if you read her poem “Beat Poets” in her book Three Times Around The World, you will discover her desire to be like them.
And now she is part of the new “Beat Generation”. In August 2019 in Connecticut, the National Beat Poetry Foundation, Inc. awarded her with the title International Beat Poet Laureate for the term 2019-2020.
A few days ago, I chatted with Donna (via e-mail) about her recent appointment and her interest in waving the flag of the beat poets.
First of all, belated congratulations re: your appointment. That is quite the honour! What types of activities are you expected to participate in as part of your poet laureate role?
Thank you Debbie. The activities are limited to the USA and my ability to attend certain National Beat Poetry Foundation Inc. events. These are all organized by other Beat Poet Laureates in the US and abroad. I am in the midst of organizing Canada’s 1st Beat Poetry Laureate event for July 2020.
Sounds like a busy year! I’m familiar with the term “People’s Poet” which can be loosely defined as a poet who is self-taught and who has often rejected the more formal work studied and written by academics. Where does the “Beat Generation or Movement” fit in? How is it similar to a “People’s Poet”? How is it different?
“Beat” and “People’s Poet” are almost identical like your description above. The charming aspect to this is that most “Beat Poets” are professors, indie publishers, creative writing professionals and people like myself who are involved in poetry and social justice on a deeper level (ie: organizing poetry readings, festivals, special events for charity and food banks). The beats are very generous with their time and very active in these areas.
Let’s go back in time. At what moment did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
Debbie, I never decided. Poetry found me sitting on a bench overlooking the Charlottetown harbor. I moved to PEI in 1983 and used to stroll along old Charlottetown often.
One day I met a weathered old man named Milton Acorn. We would sit together on a bench, (never said much, we just sat), and he was always scribbling on crumbled paper and throwing it to the wind. I found out after he died in 1996 that he was Canada’s People’s Poet.
I served on the executive board of directors for the National Milton Acorn Festival after writing a poem titled, “the ghost who is now me”. That poem launched my career and over the years earned me the honour of calling him, “Uncle Milty”.
I miss those days a lot.
To date, you’ve had eight books published including your three new books. How has your work evolved over the years? What is your favourite theme or topic that you like to write about?
Yes I have a few under my belt.
It has been a long training experience being a poet in Canada. It seemed people trusted me and years ago poet publisher and past president of the League of Canadian Poets Joe Blades from Fredericton, New Brunswick, gave me the position of Atlantic rep for the Canadian Poetry Association (CPA), a position he held.
Years later, poet publisher James Deahl phoned me in Riverview, New Brunswick and said he was to nominate me to CPA president, I told him he was crazy and said, if everyone votes yes I will do it, thinking that will never happen. lol.
Well I was president longer than anyone and had to retire in order to leave (haahaa). At that time Joe Blades was President of the League, and I swore to Joe that I was not taking over that too! It would have been way out of my league, pun intended.
I write free verse and usually about nature & social justice somewhere in between the lines but I have no formal training, and have an editor who understands what I am about maybe more than my husband lol.
My advice to all poets GET AN EDITOR and if necessary a PR person. Don’t think you can do this alone. It takes a team to make it all come together.
Describe your creative writing space.
Hmm, nothing in particular. Just let the muses do their thangggg when/wherever they choose.
What other hobbies do you have besides writing? What do you do to relax?
Musician, amateur photography, gardening, cooking, bird & people watching… I keep life simple.
What’s next for Donna Allard?
In the short term, I’m getting three manuscripts ready; for the long term I’ll be getting to know my reading audience better.
Is there anything else you wish the reader to know?
You will find my books easy to read and might read them more often than you think 😉 right Debbie?
Yes! Lol! Your books are indeed accessible but for those (like me) who like to dig for deeper meaning, there are enough bones, ghosts, coastal themes, and motifs to warrant additional readings.
Thank you so much for the interview. I’m always awkward doing things like this (I’m shy that way, I guess) and the best reason I know for embracing them. Also the Canadian Beat Scene welcomes you, so if you ever want to ‘join the round table’, let me know.
Keep sharing your beautiful light with the world, Debbie.
Thanks Donna, you too! It’s been nice chatting.
Allard’s next public appearance will be this Saturday, November 16 at the Annual Craft Fair in Rexton, New Brunswick. If you’re in the area stop by and check out her books.
Excerpts from my reviews of Allard’s three latest books appear below:
Ghost in the Window
River Bones Press, 32 pages I.S.B.N. 978-0-9738671-9-0
“Along riverbanks, old memories/wrapped in cigarette papers/dangle like a fish hook.” Wow! Lines like this one made me grab the bait and savour the word morsels thrown at me.
When International Beat Poet Laureate Donna Allard signed my copy of her chapbook with the words “‘True Story’ Deb, navigate slowly” I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Certainly the title Ghost in the Window intrigued me while the image on the front cover pulled me onto that haunted rustic porch where “gutted fish tales” could easily rise from an old rocking chair. Instead, the work exhaled with a more down-to-earth and authentic voice.
Easy-to-read and written in a linear style, this 32-page memoir used simple (almost too plain) titles to introduce heartfelt and sometimes grief-filled journal entries. However, the addition of original metaphors enriched the flesh of her storytelling. Filled with poems, prose and black & white photographs, many of the pages touched on difficult childhood challenges from moving to a new school, to discovering that a parent has cancer, to dealing with a future life without a mother.
Read my full review on Goodreads!
Three Times Around The World
River Bones Press, 64 pages I.S.B.N. 978-0-9738671-7-6
Shiver me timbers! What a surprise to discover that this treasure chest of 54 poems by International Beat Poet Laureate Donna Allard left more heartfelt imprints on the sand than torrid tales from the sea. For example, with a back cover blurb mentioning long lost sailors and an historical-looking front cover awash with a schooner and an Old World type face, I expected Three Times Around The World to rattle my bones with harsh pirate and fisherperson themed verses.
In total, I counted only a handful of these darker poems with “Salt” being the grittiest where she wrote “Don’t you like sitting on driftwood/salt whetting your lips/drifting along near naked bodies/lined up like cigars in a sandbox” and later “seaweed dangling from its opened armpits”.
Instead, the majority of Allard’s work felt either melancholy or pastoral with nature motifs equally spaced between more current themes: from coastal images to café scenes, from rock to water, love and relationships to death and other unexpected changes in life.
Written mainly in a free verse style, her words danced and flew free like gulls across painted skies with some haiku, senryu, and shorter work tossed in like polished pebbles along a shore. The work was often personal (written in the first person point of view) with many of the poems bordering on reflections and memories.
Read my full review on Goodreads!
Additional Information about Ghost in the Window and Three Times Around The World can be found on the official River Bones Press website.
SkyWing Press, 2019, 62 pages I.S.B.N. 978-1-9990964-4-1
Cold Fire: selected poetry by International Beat Poet Laureate Donna Allard left me speechless. So much so I had to return to her earlier work (as well as her two other new books) before I could comment.
Although I have only read four out of her eight poetry books, this collection (set mainly in rural and natural landscapes) was indeed the strongest but also the most complex and the most painful to read in terms of her subject matter. Leaves and humans are often interchangeable, but it is the changing seasons of autumn and winter (death, loss, grief, and coping strategies) that seem to preoccupy this collection of 51 poems.
This collection is definitely her grittiest! It included the odd profanity and took more risks in terms of style and depth and range of emotion. One of her great lines from the poem “strolling the blues” was “I am/deep in thought/like an ice cube/half-dissolved in whiskey/the still high sun/cracking ice.”
As Allard wrote in the poem “shoot the pen not the poet”, “This ink is my bloodline”. In this book, Allard had indeed spilled her blood into her writing and it is her unique insight and perspective that made this such an interesting and layered read. Every time I re-read it, I saw something new like the motifs of owls, herons, and eagles slipping in and out of sight. A “People’s Poet” to watch!
Read my full review on Goodreads!
Another review appears here on the Miramichi Reader where Cold Fire was long-listed for the Best Book Award 2019.
Information about Cold Fire can also be found on the SkyWing Press website!
My review of her earlier book Shore to Shoormal by Donna Allard and Nat Hall appears here. It is one of the first reviews and blog posts I ever created.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ALLARD
Donna Allard was raised in the fishing village of Richibucto, New Brunswick and currently resides in a 1909 farmstead near the Northumberland Straight in Aldouane, New Brunswick.
Her first published poem was in the Fredericton High Yearbook titled “Friends” in 1972. Her earliest poem performance was in 1988 at the National Milton Acorn Festival. She has performed with poets such as bill bissett, John B. Lee, Robert Priest, Nicole Brossard, Joseph Sherman, Fred Stenson, and Rita Joe.
From 2000 to 2011, Allard served on the board of directors of the Canadian Poetry Association as president (2005-2011). She was also an executive founding member of the National Milton Acorn Festival for 8 years and is presently a member of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick (WFNB), Road Scribes of America, and the Royal City Literary Arts Society East Coast Liaison.
She has spent her life seeking, observing nature, people, universal energy and its silence. Her experiences lead her to the shortest light – poetry.