Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Homage to a Rural Life / Hommage à la vie rurale - Denis Palmer

Denis Palmer is an artist who moved to the Eastern Townships of Quebec 30 years ago. “I have been drawing and painting the people and events of Sawyerville and its surroundings since I arrived here in 1979. I am attracted to the character of the people, the work they do, the pace of their lives, the manner in which they seek to maintain harmony with their surroundings, and their responses to change and the passage of time. In conversation I record their knowledge of family, ancestry, community; their long memories for patterns of weather and the seasons, the joyful and difficult times of the past, as well as the flavour of their speech.”
Click on picture for full frame.
George Rowell of Clifton © Denis Palmer 1999
The year I went to school it was down here at the Legion hall
-- agricultural course

They was teachin' us about herbicides, animals, chemicals...

Most of the fellas who was there ain't farmin' today.
Afterwards, government sent me a paper

wanted to know how much I was making a day.
I told 'em two dollars and a half
and I wasn't lyin' much.
They never wrote back.

George Rowell mending maple sap spiles, East Clifton, Fri. Mar 21, 1997. © Denis Palmer 2002
Fixin' spouts –
They're bent, mashed
where the hammer face hits.
“I shoulda been watchin' you fellas
use a hammer with a flat face;
an don't drive the spout too hard;
Course, aluminum spout ain't too hard to damage.
Guess I'd prefer wood
They don't hurt the tree so much.

Sam Lake shears sheep at the Cookshire Fair, Sun. Aug. 18, 2002.
© Denis Palmer 2002. Thanks for your story, Sam.
“I's born 'n' raised here a mile outside 'a Sawyerville.
My grandfather built the place.

I's provincial champion shearin' sheep in '61 and '62.

My record was a minute an' 59 seconds.

Once sheared 101 sheep in a day.
Took me 10 ¾ hours.

I musta been – lotta time back

(pause, scratches his head, runs hand through thinning white hair)
...35, 36 years old.

Denis offers a drawing course to locals at Eaton Valley Community Learning Centre, recently showed and read his work at the Sense and Sustainability conference, and published Homage to a Rural Life / Hommage à la vie rurale (Sawyerville, Quebec: Rabbit Press, 2008; French translation by Aline Élie). It is dedicated to George and Myrtle Rowell of East Clifton, an older couple who welcomed Palmer into their lives when he moved to the area, and whose reminiscences (and others') are recorded throughout, in their own unpretentious words.

If you liked this, see artists Allen Sapp and William Kurelek of Saskatchewan (video, songs, art) and other poets of rural Canada: Alfred Purdy of Eastern Ontario, Milton Acorn of PEI, Alden Nowlan and Elizabeth Brewster of NB, Robert Kroetsch of Alberta. U of Calgary's Canadian Poetry includes interviews and audio. U of Toronto Library Canadian Poets has sample poems.

See also Wendell Berry, Kentucky poet, farm writer and philosopher
-- especially his “Idea of a Local Economy” (Orion 2001) and “Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits” (Harpers, May 2008); James Howard Kunstler's dystopia A World Made by Hand: A Novel of the Post-Oil Future (2008); artisan-designer
William S. Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity (Chelsea Green 2004, photography by Peter Forbes); Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN), Canadian Organic Growers / Cultivons Biologique Canada, Réseau québécois des groupes écologistes, Solidarité rurale, & Union paysanne.

"The idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence...": Wendell Berry.

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