Monday February 01, 2016

Mary Dalton celebrates the language and culture of Newfoundland

Celebrated Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton collected 30 years of essays, reviews and interviews in Edge.

Celebrated Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton collected 30 years of essays, reviews and interviews in Edge. (Palimpsest Press/Margaret Dalton)

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Mary Dalton was born and raised in Conception Bay, N.L., and is a professor at Memorial University in St. John's. She's published five books of poetry and won numerous awards, including the 2005 EJ Pratt Poetry Prize for Newfoundland and Labrador poetry. Her most recent book, Edge, brings together essays and reviews on Newfoundland writing and theatre, and interviews about her own poetry. She spoke to The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers from St. John's.


When I was in high school, a system of public speaking contests was introduced. In the first round I'd written something and won, so then the teachers got interested. And a very well-intentioned teacher was working with me and she'd listen to me read and take notes, and I'd look at these notes and the word would be "now" and she'd have written "n-a-o-w." So I was supposed to get the a out of "now." This really puzzled me, and it was a rather demoralizing experience. There are different ways of looking at this, but I think it does damage when, rather than encouraging children to explore the world through books and through experience, we tell them that their speech is faulty. Differing accents and idioms are beautiful, and the thing that stands in the way is a whole set of snobbish attitudes that extended not only into matters of language but into so many areas of life.


Newfoundland writers and other artists have come to be visible beyond the island in perhaps the last 20 years. Certainly matters have changed since Bernice Morgan was told by various publishers outside Newfoundland that there really was no interest in a book with Newfoundland subject matter, so really she should consider publishing locally, which she eventually did. Many of our writers, artists and filmmakers have moved outside Newfoundland now, and their work is very much appreciated. It's always an advantage to write from the margins. We are all exiles, we are all outsiders, that's the human condition, and I think every artist has to have some sense of that. I think it's marvellous the way in which the country now celebrates the visions and the voices of people from so many cultures. 

Mary Dalton's comments have been edited and condensed.

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