“Being a poet is not a choice, it is a verdict.” — Leonard Cohen

February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I walked to town this morning, and found a page of Narcissus and Goldmund on the side of the road: “You are not a scholar, you are not a monk — scholars and monks can have a coarser grain. You think you’re not learned or logical or pious enough for me. On the contrary, you are not enough yourself.”

This finding was a timely one, as there has been so much reflection on the nature of the self these days. One thing that has incidentally sparked some interest on the island lately is the destruction of two old buildings in the village, which will be replaced by a much larger modern two-story complex that will house a clothing store.  A few people gathered to protest the other day, and there have been lots of grumpy letters to the editor in our local weekly paper.  The architect of the new project was quoted in one of the articles as saying, “after all this is a capitalist society,”  meaning that even Salt Spring Island can’t and shouldn’t be exempt from what the wider world calls healthy evolution.

When you grow up in a small town, on a tiny island, the landscape takes on a lot of meaning.  Living here, moving away, and returning periodically has been a continual process of letting go, and, as letting go often is,  has been mostly painful.  We get attached to buildings and landscapes:  a special tree, the shape of a park, the bends of the harbour, the narrowness of a road. Even the human-made constructs become imbued with a familiarity and integrity that’s akin to nature itself.  These are the places that hold our memories and bring our lives continuity.

As the landscape beings to change slowly over the years, and just like the cells of the body, is often completely regenerated as the decades pass, we may wake up one day and realise we are not in the same place we thought we were.   It is through our encounters with our landscape that we remember who we are; sadly, all too often these days, we only remember what we have lost.

I think about the artists and dreamers who moved here decades ago, because it was remote and cheap to live, and because, I think, there is always a small percentage of the human population that is sensitive, reclusive, and needs the safety and protection of a beautiful place like this.

I remember a favorite saying of Leonard Cohen’s: “Being a poet is not a choice, it is a verdict.”  I’ve started to think of Saltspring as the place where poets live out their life sentence, banished from what is, after all, “a capitalist society.”

The reality is that a changing landscape is also often reflective of a changing demographic.  The buildings we live, work, and shop in are expressions of who we are, but we, in turn, are expressions of them.  When our architecture becomes increasingly generic, what happens to the lives lived in and through those spaces?   How do these rooms, walls, and constructs not only change the expressions of our lives, but also our memories and meanings of them?

I have a gut feeling that even in a capitalist society, people still long to be able to come home.


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You are currently reading “Being a poet is not a choice, it is a verdict.” — Leonard Cohen at Safran Films.


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