Guest Poetry Blog Series #6 – Calgary-based Poet Micheline Maylor Features Canadian Writer Kit Dobson – Part Two of Two

Canadian Writer and Teacher, Kit Dobson


Dr. Kit Dobson is an extraordinary professor and essayist at the University of Calgary. I call him extraordinary because he hasn’t let the grind of academia turn him into a corporate automaton. While he is not a poet, I chose his work because of its lyrical and poetic heft at the sentence level. Field Notes on Listening is a long meditation of the senses, connections, and the environment. Told in vignettes, the narrative is saturated with images and leaping fragments about family, the environment, and sound. The book represents the best of how lyric essay works to create something deep and meaningful.

Recovery as defined in part one of my own introduction is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” When I think of recovering, I am acutely aware of sound, just as I am when I hear the music in poetry. The sound of recovery has, not a silence but a quietness an almost reflective quality. Dobson states:

Snow has tremendous sonic properties. People who live in northern climates know this fact well. Snow muffles sound. It gives city-dwellers respite from the daily hubbub. In the forest after a fresh snowfall the air is crisp, deep and silent. Snow falling from a nearby branch cuts through the air, but most distant sounds fall away. Underfoot, the snow crunches and squeaks – different pitches, intensities and sound for degrees of cold – and it whooshes down from higher up. On mountains, snow makes a distinct whumpf sound when after building up in weight it falls down upon itself. That sound comes when heavy new snow fractures the crystalline facet layers that have built up underneath. Whumpfing snows are portents of avalanches to come.

Through these teeny-tiny essays, my ear turns toward the fine art of listening. Several times in my reading, I just had to stop and account for the sounds in my environment: the soft hum of the furnace fan, the neighbour up the way scraping snow and the tinny twang of the shovel echoing in between the houses, a car grrrrrr-ing past, the soft click of the thermostat, over the fence the dog next door and his one lone bark to be let in. All of these sounds moved me toward a meditation of the present moment. Certainly, that is an act of recovery, and certainly is the impulse of a poet. Tuning in is what we do as poets. Wordsworth proclaimed, poetry is emotion reflected in tranquility. Attention to sound is an observance, and the act creates tranquility. Dobson’s book makes me think, what is the soundtrack of tranquility and recovery? What is the soundtrack of connectedness to family; to love; of the very land on which I dwell and will perish and will undoubtedly return to?

To listen well is also to listen for a long time across many places. Historical listening; geographies of sound. I live in a place that is unlike Spain in so many ways. I live in a place, for instance, that loves to forget. Canada has a hard time remembering hardships. Remembering those means calling to mind injustices and wrongs that continue into the present.

Does forgetting itself mean to stop listening? To stop hearing? Of course, this brought up some interesting questions for me about the negligence of refusing to hear, even in my broken first marriage. How did we stop listening to one another, and when? Let silence be a harbinger. In our human history, wisdom itself has been passed from generation to generation in the telling of lore, myth, and fable. Storytelling is the aural artform of humanity’s knowing, the collective database of philosophy, ethics, and cautionary tales. Our aurality is the residence of morality and wisdom.

As writers we are told, write what you know. But what do we know if we aren’t tuned in with our senses? Field Notes on Listening reminds me what it is like to pay close attention. Of course, paying close attention leads to such wisdom. Listening is one of the essential contemplative practices that parallels poetry. Mirabai Bush, a founding scholar in contemplative practices says, The word contemplation derives from the Latin contemplating, to “gaze attentively,” but the word was originally linked to the act of cutting out or creating a space, as in “to mark out for observation.

Field Notes on Listening reminds me to create a space for becoming more attentive to my immediate environment, to pay attention to how my own senses contribute to knowing.

What happens when we think of the sky as having sound rather than colours? In itself it has neither – or perhaps both. When I take listening as seriously as I take sight, things shift. For me, it takes the rush of a cold winter’s night – the darkness after the moon sets, before the sun rises – in order to restore hearing, in order to place listening at the centre of my attention. Listening takes time. It is slower to process, and is therefore a challenge to the world of speed. Listening to the night sky in the northern half of Alberta, in other words, is an act of deliberate slowness. It is a gift that I have been granted by the place.

Wherever you are, grab the gift of listening.

By Micheline Maylor, December 2022

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