Queen's University

The white noise behind my poetry

Under the cool shade of a gazebo, the writing retreat of Montreal writer-poet Heather Grace Stewart, Artsci'95, everything sparkles in the summer sun.

A pair of blue jays appear deep in conversation, at rest atop our backyard fence. They’re eyeing our fat orange tabby cat; perhaps discussing if he’s any real threat (he’s not). Their chatter, my cat’s haughty meows back to them, a crow’s call, the wind rustling through the leaves of these old oak trees —this is the white noise behind my poetry.

[The gazebo: an ideal writing spot]Heather Grace Stewart photograph

I’ve always written outdoors, surrounded by nature. At 10, I’d scribble ideas on loose leaf paper up in the tree house I built with my Dad. Looking out over the lake where I’d spent my summers since I was a baby seemed to evoke emotion in my writing.

Later, while studying Canadian Studies at Queen’s University, I’d spend any spare hours I had on campus writing on flat rocks alongside Lake Ontario, or under the shade of a row of beautiful oak trees near Summerhill.

Queen’s campus has always inspired me because of the authors who came there before me, and because my grandparents met at a skating party at the outdoor rink on Union street some 60 years before my first year at Queen’s (the little rink would later become Jock Harty arena).

Montreal winters for writers who love the outdoors require one item: gloves with removable fingers (I could really use a warmer set). If I’m struck by an idea on a winter walk, I’ll usually avoid freezing my fingers and instead memorize the phrase until I can get home to my laptop. I’ll write while I warm up in my favorite easy chair by the fire, which allows me to look out at our great white ash tree, blanketed in snow.

Over the years, I’ve learned to write ideas down in any place, to tend to at a later date. I’ll scribble titles, words and phrases in the many notepads I stash around the house, in my purse, in the car, and more recently, using Notes on my ipad; but the finishing touches of my poems always need to be written with the white noise of this beautiful country I live in set to ON —and if I’m lucky, SHUFFLE.

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Last updated at 4:16 pm EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
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