Afterword: Coming Home from Away

“All language is a longing for home,” claimed the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. Although our own writing is influenced by our musings on “home and away,” Angela and I hoped the theme would inspire the gifted poets of Alberta too. If we can gauge it by the deluge of submissions to this anthology project, Rumi’s statement would seem profoundly true.

By the time I came to the Peace Country in 1993, I had moved 28 times in almost 27 years. I had begun life in one world, speaking a language I almost lost from disuse years later. I had lived in the lee of two different oceans, in remote mountain valleys and in the inner city. I had lived in pup tents, one room shacks, ancient log cabins, snazzy apartments, crumbling brick row houses, postwar bungalows, and once, briefly, in a lovely old mansion overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I even lived in my van for awhile – a charming relic one year older than I was. None of that was quite as romantic as it sounds.

Many of these moves were not my choice of course. Children, like furniture, are moved at the whim or necessity of their parents. Growing up I thought homesickness was normal. I always missed something or somebody. I never quite rid myself of the sense that I didn’t belong – the unsettledness of constantly having to start over. Home was not a place for us – it was our meagre belongings, it was the love and familiarity of each other.

I longed for the “other” that I glimpsed around me. Christmas dinners around huge tables, elbows brushing generations of relatives. Before we emigrated from Holland, I too had doting grandparents and a sprawling extended family. Without them, and without a real sense of place, I never quite knew who I was. More than anything, I wished to be adopted by the Waltons, that marvellous TV family who all lived together under one forgiving roof. I wrote poems and stories to ward off the endless loneliness, and found a home in the amazing world of books.

My Irish friend Jacquie once told me that we immigrants are “trans-Atlantic people” because we end up belonging nowhere. We are not quite Canadian enough to belong here – but when we go back to our roots, we no longer belong there either. Our new country has changed us too much. Its ways have seeped into our psyche, altered our mannerisms, and sharpened the lens through which we look at the old world.

For me, it was only after I was married that I felt the deep sense of peace and belonging that I’d dreamed of – home grew out of two people building bookcases together for their equally ridiculous piles of books. Once we started a family, I became fierce about creating an environment for our children that would give them a sense of stability. I wanted them to feel they belonged, to grow up knowing their roots, to feel safe and accepted. I wanted them to know what home felt like.

So I followed my Alberta boy to the North, out of a pragmatism very similar to that of the people who broke this land only 100 years ago. It was cheap. There was opportunity. With hard work, anything was possible. I admit I was more than a little dubious. I hate the cold. Despise the wind. Was sure I’d wither with neither ocean nor mountains on any horizon. I also worried that given my outspoken opinions that lean more towards socialism than Conservatism, I would once again find myself as an outcast in an unfamiliar landscape.

I lost my husband to cancer a year after we moved here. I suspect that were it not for my children I would have lost my will to live too. Our home was all that was left of our dreams, and the kids’ wellbeing was all that really mattered. And writing was once again my refuge. I wrote to ward off the long icy nights, to make sense of the grief. Every night for years, my three kids and I would cozy up on the couch and lose ourselves in the poetry of a good story.

Ideals are never quite the same as realities. Now that my children are all nearly grown, I see a thousand ironies. Although unlike me, they have friends they have known since infancy, they are every bit as restless as I am. They cannot wait to move. Because I wanted them to know a little about all of my worlds, they have travelled an extraordinary amount. They are fearless about their dreams, curious to explore further. I am proud of that. Because of their upbringing, they too have always been the oddballs in their peer group, although I notice that for them it is more a source of mystique than the ostracism it was for me. I wanted them to know their extended family – but because some of these people never stay put, this has not always been easy. But it is clear that my children are passionately Canadian. They have seen enough of the world to value the riches we have at home.

It is these myriad riches and dilemmas that are so beautifully exemplified by the poems in this collection. The search for belonging. The epiphany of finding home in unexpected ways. The melancholy of exile. The passion for place. The scars of displacement. The joy of coming home. The deep and enduring love of the land. “I love her as my own skin” writes Paulette Dubé in her poem titled, “Home”.

Despite calling myself a “reluctant Albertan” this is the longest I have lived anywhere. I am lucky to have a nurturing community here in the Peace as well as spread across the world. In my oilpatch job, I’ll probably always be the weirdo who writes poetry, but interestingly, the guys seem genuinely curious about my “other” life. Some have even read my book. “I never thought I’d like poetry,” they say, sheepishly.

And perhaps that is why we have written these poems, and together worked so hard to bring them into the world, to be explored and shared. Because we want poetry to be at home in our world too, to be loved and accepted.

I hope that this anthology continues the ambassadorial work of our first project “Writing the Land”, which crossed many boundaries and borders and found its way home to all sorts of lovers of poetry.

~ Dymphny Dronyk

Dymphny Dronyk is a writer, artist, mediator and mother. She is passionate about the magic of story and has woven words for money (journalism, corporate writing) and for love (poetry, fiction, drama, mystery novels) for over 25 years. Her first volume of poetry Contrary Infatuations, (Frontenac House, Quartet 2007) was short listed for two prestigious awards in 2008. She is also the author of the memoir Bibi – A Life in Clay (Prairie Art Gallery, 2009). She is the co-founder/publisher of House of Blue Skies, Alberta’s newest micropublisher, and co-editor of the best-selling anthology Writing the Land: Alberta through its Poets, with Angela Kublik. The anthology is currently in its third printing.

“I am a trans-Atlantic vagabond. Home is where my loved ones share a meal. Home is where I keep my books.”

Read more of Dymphny Dronyk’s poetry:
Blue Sky Seeks No Definition
The Mothers
Christmas Eve
A World Without Bees
Colony Collapse Disorder
A Sunday Poem
Our Empty, Empty Bed
Ode to Al Purdy – A Litter of Poets

Editor’s note: This poem 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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