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Poet Victor Enns looks back at childhood in southern Manitoba

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Filed under: News

Winnipeg poet Victor Enns is about to launch a new book. It's called boy and it's a collection of poetry that harkens back to Enns' childhood.


 I grew up in Gretna, a small border town in southern Manitoba, with Neche, North Dakota across the border and the Pembina River. My parents were both teachers. My father was also the school principal, and a Mennonite lay preacher on Sundays. 

The boy poems are drawn from my Gretna experiences, real and assisted by my imagination, from the ages of 3 to 13, from 1958 - 1968, when we moved to Winnipeg. Those were the days (my friend) when the leather strap or wooden paddle were still acceptable tools to apply to the "seat of learning" by principals and fathers.

We are always reshaping our memories. Innocence and experience are parallel universes to me. E.L. Doctrow once said, "I avoid experience at all costs. Most experiences are bad." But what if we could also have "innocences," not even a word according to my spell check. 

It's possible my guilt, ever since I can remember, is shaped by being sexually molested by a stranger on an island in Lake of the Woods when I was 10. His tactics involved manipulating me to confess to having played doctor with my friends, threatening to tell my parents. This was more scary to me than the fish knife he used for insurance. I never told them.

While there were some real positives in those times of the benign neglect school of parenting, education about sexual predators or sexuality in general could have saved me, and many others like me, some grief. Childhood sexuality exists, childhood sexual experiences do happen, and a lot of these experiences are bad and sadly lacking in any healthy context. 

Poems about these experiences are few, including mine in this collection. The majority of the boy poems are about a mama's boy with a stern father who shared his love of reading (which I understood) and gardening (which I never did learn to appreciate).

Poems about a boy growing up on the prairies with his brother Gary and sister Margaret, to whom these poems are dedicated. Poems about reading and ordering books delivered by the University of Manitoba Extension Library to Box 184 in the Gretna post office every six weeks to savour on summer afternoons. 

A book in my hand, my back against a tree, the smell of cut grass in the air and the sound of the wind rustling the cottonwood leaves was and still is one of my happy places, and one of my innocences, which is why, even living in Wolseley, I still own a red Toro gas lawn mower. Now only if there was some grass to cut.

 Boy launches Tuesday May 8 at 8:00 - Prairie Ink Cafe at McNally Robinson.


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