Veronica Gaylie: The inspiration was the stories I grew up with in my ears. Glaswegian people tell stories—they’ve a story for every possible life situation. My mother, grandfather and uncle told these stories, over and over. It occurred to me that other Canadian children did not grow up hearing stories about headless ghosts in graveyards, or doomed pig-raising schemes, so I thought it might be fun for people to read. From there, the poems sort of spilled out my fingers.
IFOA: These poems are written in working-class vernacular. Why was it important that your story be told this way?
Gaylie: I would not really call it “working-class vernacular”—I think that’s more like a label to help identify the work for potential readers. It’s written in Glaswegian dialect, which originates in people who moved to Glasgow for work, from places they might not have wanted to leave (i.e. Ireland or the Scottish highlands). So, people naturally developed their own way of speaking, which was not the Queen’s English. Two hundred years ago, Robbie Burns was the first poet to write in Scots dialect, and he was pressured to change it. Thank goodness he didn’t or the world would not have known about that “wee mousie” turned up by a plough in the field. For me, it’s just important to tell the stories and honour them as I heard them.
IFOA: Your other work includes The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change. Tell us a little bit about that project.
Gaylie: This is a project for environmental learning and climate change education, which I’ve been very involved in for the past 10 years. I’ve been the poet at the side of the riverbed with the scientists. To me, science is poetic. I think we encounter nature through the heart. So, I’ve made these little materials called The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change to help people to connect with the natural environment. I teach workshops for school children, community and action groups, in gardens, forests and beaches. I led some groups into Pacific Spirit Park with The Poet’s Companion this past summer. More at sacreverte.org.
IFOA: Is there an author you are currently reading who you could recommend to our readers?
Gaylie: Yes, poetry in Canada is alive and well! I am now reading Philip Kevin Paul, Taking Names Down From the Hill; Pierre Nepveu, Mirabel, and Marco Melfi, In Between Trains. These are all from great independent bookstores in Canada. I am also reading The Global Forest: 40 Ways Trees Can Save us by Diana Beresford Kroeger. You can dip into it, like poetry or prayer, and come away feeling better. You will learn the most mind-blowing things from this book, for example: oak trees have their own sunscreen.
IFOA: What’s next for you?
Gaylie: Poetry, children’s stories, Words Aloud in Durham, teaching/learning organic agriculture in Kenya and whatever else is good for the soul!
Veronica Gaylie is a poet, writer, teacher and environmentalist. Her work has been published in literary journals around the globe, including Poetry Review (UK), Crannog (Ireland) and the Canadian journals ELQ/Exile Quarterly, Geist, Grain, Geez, Lake, Ditch, Room, Carte Blanche and Filling Station. She is the author of The Poet’s Companion to Climate Change. She has read her essays for CBC Radio Sunday Edition. Gaylie’s heart belongs to Glasgow, though her soul wanders on Canadian mountains and Irish peninsulas. She presents her first poetry collection, Sword Dance, a memoir-style poem that profoundly embodies the classic Canadian immigrant tale.