A poetry collection by: Bernadette Wagner
I’m 10, he’s 12.
We play tag. He’s It. I race
Around the kitchen table, over chairs
Into the porch, around and down
To the rumpus room, deke him
at the lazyboy, charge past the TV
around the couch, through the laundry room
the workshop and back upstairs, weaving
an obstacle course of stacking stools
lamps and occasional tables then up
to his sister’s pink bedroom
where winded I flop
onto the chenille spread. He’s
beside me, giggling, his hands touching
my bud of breast, the space between
my thighs. I shudder, unwilling
to dodge the tag.
By: Bernadette Wagner
This Hot Place explores the socio-placement of women in the land and their resulting quest for worth and spiritual grace. It follows the growth from young girl to wise woman, and the poems are divided into these sections accordingly-- Maiden, Mother, Crone. Detailed images of family, homes, farms, and yards act as backdrop to the human discourse, and at times counterpoint the emotional politics and heaviness of a life weighted down with routine and questionable value. The insightful and powerful forces turned loose by the narrator stir emotions that are at once unique and universal in a woman's individual experience -ThistleDown Press
Bernadette Wagner grew up on a small family farm forty-five minutes north of Regina, Saskatchewan. The gently rolling parkland instilled in her a love of land, the spirit of the prairies, and a commitment to community. She is an award-winning, multi-genre author and community builder whose work has appeared on many platforms. She’s participated in international arts projects, served on several nonprofit boards and led workshops and classes for children and adults for more than 30 years. Her collection of poetry, This hot place (Thistledown 2010) was shortlisted for the Sask First Book Award. Her next book, The Dry Valley, is forthcoming from Radiant Press in 2019.
It is our pleasure to introduce to you… Bernadette Wagner. She is a true poet using few words to paint a very detailed picture of feelings. She is an accomplished writer, humanitarian, an environmentalist and feminist. We are truly honored that she took some time to be a part of our Vintage Gypsy community.
VG: So tell us a little bit about yourself. Please expand here as you feel. Tell us about your family if you like. Your other interests. Where you are now. Tell us about all of your great accomplishments and Awards. We want to know about you..xo
I’m a middle-aged writer, editor, and community-based organizer with two adult children and a husband of almost 30 years. I began pursuing a writing career shortly after the birth of our first child. She’s 26. After our second, I got serious about it. I found myself making coffee and turning on the computer around 4 or 5 a.m. so that I’d have an hour or two to write before he woke. He didn’t sleep a lot during the day and by evening, all I wanted to do was sleep! I believe it helped me develop a flexible writing practice while it also allowed me to be very active in my children’s lives and our community. As the children grew, so did my practice. I attended more literary events, participated in classes and workshops and the Sage Hill Writing Experience. I sent work out and it was published in literary magazines. I gave readings from my work. When I read the poem that contains the phrase, “This hot place,” a Saskatoon writer approached me and said that it would make a great title. I remembered that.
VG: What inspired the Idea for the Book? I like that its categorized in Maiden, Mother, Crone, was that the original idea, or just happened that way? Had you been writing it for many years throughout these phases in your life?
This hot place was a lifelong dream, really. I dreamt of being a writer as a teenager, but my parents couldn’t imagine it, wouldn’t support me pursuing it at university. Finally, in my mid-twenties, a prof in the U of R Faculty of Education did. She published a poem I’d handed it in a magazine she edited. A few years later I married, had children, and pursued book publication. The concept for the book evolved over time as I learned the craft, developed my voice, and tried to understand what I was writing. I studied not at university but with numerous writers from Saskatchewan and across the country. And I did it part-time. I took on contract work when my children started school, so it was a very part time writing career at times. That said, we writers are fortunate to have the Saskatchewan Writers Guild (SWG) and Sage Hill Writing for the excellent programs that foster our development. And the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Sask Lotteries, and Canada Council to help, too. I’d had the manuscript evaluated at different times over the years and my work continued to improve. I’m involved in an eco-feminist organization that places land and the environment at a high priority. We talk about the interrelationships of women, land, and spirit, about violence against women, the injustices of war, all the issues dear to my heart. When I looked at my work from that perspective, it eventually became clear that the Maiden, Mother, Crone sectioning would work, even though Grandmother appears early in the first section. I’d have to look at my computer files to know which poems came first, but I do know that Some Incidents was written at Sage Hill in 1996 and So Much You Love, in 2009.
Marriage, with Children
After the two a.m. feeding you enter my mind, invited by memories of Sundays spent fingering patterns on my breasts and belly until hunger lured you to the kitchen where you heated a pan, positioned strips of bacon and covered your nakedness with a bibbed apron. When you saw me come into the room wrapping my solid sweaty body with a sheer robe the apron tented, the bacon sizzled and the eggs didn’t crack.
Now, you penetrate my reverie with a sigh, stand at the foot of our bed, your eyes circled dark as mine, scan the patterns of stretch marks on my breasts and flabby belly and, as if you’d read my mind, you ease onto our marriage bed, slide fingertips and lips from toes to thighs, hips to lips, making love until our baby cries.
By: Bernadette Wagner
VG: Are there other works in process, or in mind? If so when can we expect to indulge? What’s on your agenda over the next while, can we catch up with you somewhere?
Today, my Literary Resume looks good.
I have This hot place.
I edited PIVOT POINTS: A fragmented history of Mental Health in Saskatchewan and the anthology, A Gift of the Prairie: Writings from the southern shores of Last Mountain Lake.
And I have another manuscript of poetry, The Dry Valley, set in three different Saskatchewan locations, for which I’m seeking a publisher. I also have a children’s fiction manuscript I don’t quite know what to do with. I should probably send it out, too.
I’ve recently had essays published in the anthologies, Absent Mothers (Demeter Press, 2017) and Without Apology (Athabasca University Press, 2016), and I have a collection of essays in development.
My most recent work is a mixed genre manuscript that explores some of the impact the uranium industry has had on people and the planet. It's getting close to being finished.
I also have jot notes for some kind of weirdly erotic political thriller set in the boreal forest that I may attempt to write some day. And it feels like a new manuscript of poetry, based on my family history, may be underway.
VG: You are a huge advocate for women’s rights, tell us what that looks like. Can others get involved? And how?
My feminist activism started in my university days as I came to understand women’s oppression. Since then I have served on several boards of directors, worked at the YWCA, and founded a feminist organization.
I’ve also volunteered with many local, provincial, and national organizations but I’m much less focused on the Women’s movement than I used to be.
I know schools and communities are suffering now because of the austerity budgets and when that happens, it’s usually women who fill the gaps it creates. There are so many ways to get involved, so much activity all over the province, all over the country.
I feel called to take part in real and meaningful Reconciliation with Indigenous people so I’m reading Indigenous literature and attending events where Indigenous writers are featured. I am learning so much I should have known as a child! And I’m broadening the community of people I know who share my cares and concerns. I don’t know where that will lead but I’m excited to follow the call.
VG: What inspires you to keep moving forward?
Life is a curious thing. I am engaged with living. I love life!
VG: How do you find your life/family/work balance?
Finding a balance is certainly a lot easier now that the children have grown. I guess when I decided to stay home instead of return to the workforce after the birth of our son was the real test.
If I wanted to write, I had to find a balance. My kids have always been my top priority. Writing follows.
I soon learned that not writing was harmful to me and to my family. I learned to use the SWG retreat program and spend a week each February at St Peter’s Abbey in Muenster SK to write.
I think it was good modelling for my kids. They knew I was there for them and they knew they were ok when I was just a phone call away. And with the internet, well, no biggie nowadays.
VG: Do you ever feel uninspired or overwhelmed? How do you get yourself back on track?
I think that in some ways inspiration is overrated.
Yes, a good idea is a good idea. But it's the follow-through, the practice, that really matters.
Overwhelm happens. It's life, my life, anyway, and I learned early on that my writing practice needed to be a flexible one, so I learned to back off and breathe.
When our children were preteens, my sister-in-law died. They had a beautiful and close relationship with her and it was their first experience of loss, so it was a challenge to negotiate.
That's when I started to learn to meditate. I'm still learning to meditate. Meditation has become a fundamental part of my writing -- of my life-- practice!
So when I catch myself in a state of overwhelm, I move into breath work. I've written about this in an essay about my visit to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan.
VG: What is it you love most about the work you do?
Hard question. There's so much I love about my writing. It's flexible, portable, challenging, rewarding. It allows me opportunity for creative play, deep thought, and contemplation. It teaches me how to be in the world.
VG: What is your favorite place on earth? The place that makes your heart sing? Where you feel at Peace.
It used to be the farm I grew up on but that was sold a long time ago and modern agriculture has rendered it into a great grief for me. Yet, it's there, in my mind’s eye, and I can visit it in my imagination.
The closest things to it are St Peter's Abbey at Muenster SK and my inlaws’ family cottage on Last Mountain Lake. But honestly, I don't feel as though I need any specific place on earth to make my heart sing.
VG: If you could share some words of advice/wisdom to other women thinking about chasing a passion, what you tell them?
Do it! Living a dream is wonderful!
Photo credit: Julian Wotherspoon
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Thank You Bernadette for taking time to chat with us.
You truly have the heart of a Vintage Gypsy!