Foreword: A Few Thoughts About Home and Away

by Glen Sorestad

“Home is where one starts from”, wrote T.S. Eliot. A place to start, a place to ruminate upon, a place to write out of the heart and into words.

We all share a concept of home, though it may differ significantly from one individual to the next. Home is a place where we have our beginnings and our earliest memories, but it may also be a place of endings as well – nursing homes, palliative care homes, even the bed in the room in the house we call home.

Home is both a concrete and an abstract, a physical reality that may or may not involve a house, but more powerfully a concept, a remembered image, or series of images, that has more to do with feelings and emotions and the pulsing of the blood than with two by fours or panes of glass. That imagined or remembered sense of home may encompass a small piece of terra firma and possibly an actual building, or it may encompass an entire nation, a hemisphere or Mother Earth herself. Home stays with us, though we may travel the world and experience new settings others call home.

Small wonder then that this emotionally-charged and many-faceted concept of home is one of the most powerful themes in the literature of any country. Poets write of home from the time they first begin to struggle to find the words that will convey all those varied and sometimes contradictory emotions that emanate from their experiences.

Whether their roots are located in a pastoral countryside or war-torn city, an affluent suburban home or a slum tenement, poets write of the bittersweet, the mixture of intense pleasure and excruciating pain. Home can be a remembered place abundant with love, or one poisoned by enmities. Many poets have been so articulate in giving expression to the hopes, fears, aspirations and desires of a nation’s people that they have come to be seen as that nation’s voice, such as Robbie Burns or Taras Shevchenko or Pablo Neruda.

Whatever the make-up and blend of experiences writers recall, memories of home are indelible, inescapable, and inviolable. As an old west coast of Norway saying goes, “we carry our landscapes with us wherever we go”, which may be another way of saying we carry our images of home. Travel where we will, experience what we will, when we sit down to record our thoughts and experiences in a different land, everything we write is coloured by our sense of home, that touchstone that unconsciously shapes our observations and our responses. Folk wisdom expresses it this way: our feet may leave home, but our hearts never do. And it is our hearts that must inform the words we commit to the page.

Whether a concrete or an abstract concept, home is filled with people , the individuals who surround our beginnings. It is a place of love and a setting to give utterance to love in its manifold forms. Remember all those framed needlework hand-crafted adages that so often adorned parlour and kitchen walls, the ones that read “Home is where the heart resides”, “There’s no place like home”, “Home Sweet Home” and the like? They may all have been supplanted by refrigerator magnets bearing similar old maxims, but they were and still are simple reminders of the importance we have always attached to home as a place of sanctuary, security, comfort and of love. In our minds home is the place of unqualified acceptance. As Robert Frost’s character says in his poem “The Death of the Hired Man”:

“Home is the place where,
when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

For some, home is a desired end. For wanderers and the displaced, for refugees of diverse forms of persecution, for all of those who are in some way homeless, life can be an ongoing quest to find home. Literature, myth and folklore are filled with wonderful tales of heroic and un-heroic figures seeking that elusive place they can call home. The 13th century Persian poet Rumi said, “All language is a longing for home.” That nostalgic longing never leaves those of us who work with words.

Glen Sorestad is a well known Saskatoon poet whose 2010 book, That Flying Kid (Thistledown), will be his twentieth volume of poetry. Sorestad was the first provincially appointed poet laureate in Canada and served as Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate from 2000 to 2004. He is a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, a Life Member of the League of Canadian Poets, and in 2003 he was a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for his contributions to literature in Canada.

Read Glen Sorestad’s poetry:

Water Voices
Woman in Doorway
Lost and Found

Editor’s note: This post is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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