WF - The Legend

The Vancouver International Writers Festival commissioned Vancouver Poet Laureate George McWhirter to write a poem to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Enjoy; we did.

wf   The Legend 


Raven lands as though to speak,
On the Isle of Gulls, about this riddle,
The world spinning in its beak,
This spool of words, this gem-lit pebble.

For twenty years, a festival of phrases thinks
To do like, lands books, these bi-fold birds,
On the Isle of Gulls, where vision turns to ink
In the liquid obsidian of the words.

On the Island of Gulls, two sew that spell for twenty years
That builds a nest of scribbles for the eggs of conversation—
Fey Alma of the Lee, now Hal of the Wake—but why steer
Pen and patrons of the quill into this migration of creation:

wf, on the Isle of Gulls, where reader and rune
Meet, mate and soon outmatch the caucus gossip
Of the crows—if not for that kiss and jewels strewn
On the significance, the membrane of those lips?

2.        The Troth

The Moonies once did mass marriage,
            Man to woman, woman to man;
 Alma (Soul, if you are Spanish) Lee
            Wed Male and female readers
To books and authors, en mass,

Into conjugal trinities,
                        Renewing vows,
Annually, on an island
                        For eighteen years

Before passing the rite
            Of espousing vows to volumes
And their voices on
            To Hal, whose patronymic
Means he must awaken sleeping affinities
            To the verb in novels or verse, history
And sophisticated how-to.

Devotees and sponsors assist
            In bringing the sages
From the pages
            To podium and panel,
There to pronounce the buyer
            And the newly-discovered book
A couple—

            Let us to the marriage
            Of such finds
            Become the implement
                                                Says VWF,

This is the 20th Anniversary
            Of a literary nuptial.
Is there anyone, here present,
            Who can say why the writer
And the reader
            Should not be joined together
As words are
            To what they represent
For as long as this congress
            Between language and literature,
Lector and scribbler
            Shall last.

3.  The Contract on the Place of Operations

This year, for the first time, the metallic ding and ching,
Squeak of finches, halyards and winches, clink and clatter of poplar leaves
In the tall line of trunks and masts by Ocean Cement will be live items
For a Festival performance, inside, where only cement trucks
Churned out their stuff before.

For twenty years our neighbour, Bert,
Ran a dock down here at False Creek,
Where the words of the festival flow
And books float by with the boats.

He retired, like a cranky crane
Hauled up a rusty rail, as reluctant
To leave the place as the Festival goers
These twenty years, carrying their tools
Of literary-etceteras in shoulder bags
Past shops, where a turner at a lathe
Might once have looked around
To relieve his eyes and now this pen
Writes about a turner turning instead,
                                        His fine coil of metal,
Peeling away in spirals, into a glittering baroque
Post-modern plot by Umberto Eco

Or the other joiners and turners of the word
Trooping on and off-shift, grouchy
Or joyous at the latest bit of piece work
And chinwag on the business 
                                    Or on the founder
Of the enterprise, a woman
Would you believe—whose voice
Could have slid, as sure as porridge
And brown sugar in a bowl, from Edinburgh,
Then, down a slip at Clydeside.
She has a handsome face and jaw, a tidy body—
The men will give her that, and as ever in fighting trim
As the shop she ran these twenty years, minus
One or two.
      (Small rivets and fine welds
Hold the big plates of activity in place
Before the skids come out
On what will transport folk
All over the world with materials
Brought in from every kink and corner
Of its subject matters.)


            The question is—what variation 
            Of the quillphibious
            Vehicle will the designers
            Draft on Cartwright Street—
Each year?

            Spies tell what’s going down large
            In the Latin Americas, Asia,
            Europe—the new engines of invention

So neo, aficionado and apprentice volunteer,
Clean and tidy, cater and chaperone, canter after a bucket
Of blue steam, just to be near

The work du jour.

All the while the halyard clatter of the boats
Repeats indoors, in hall and entryway the natter
of the literati, and chut chut chut

Of credit card machines, connecting and printing sales 
For the au-courant content within the covers of the books,

                                                Which lift off
In a flutter and variety of lines,
                                                Those bi-fold birds
With black calligraphic feathers,

Dust jackets with the praises
Photos of the faces            
                                                That glide past
                                                And beside you,
These twenty years;
Art and artist,
                                                The souls
                                                In the sentences,
Regarding one another,
                                                Heads as askew
                                                As the crow

Who juggled the raven’s gem its beak, dropped this other world
And wondered why it was and wasn’t

As if its own eye had fallen out on the sidewalk
And looked back up at it—

Black artist of art as black
As the magicos’ of ink— visionary,
Self-reflecting through the medium
Of liquid obsidian.
                                    The crows and the gulls,
These twenty years, flying over the jewels of creation
In raven-black ink,
                                    The world hauled in
Over the old train and tram tracks
To Granville Island
By an Alma and a Hal.  Alma and Hal,

The proverbial propellers, bringing events
Up to and beyond the gates of Ocean
Whose grey dust falls
                                    As powder over the seal
                                    And signature of the authors,

                                    To harden

The wax into a permanent contract
Between writing
And the reality of this industry, here,
These twenty years.

*The poem formatting above best approximates the print format.