Poet finds higher spirit, sensuality in nature and relays that impact through her work

Lorna Crozier may have lived on Vancouver Island for the past three decades, but her prairie roots still run deep in her soul. “I just feel my heart open up as soon as my feet hit the ground and I see this wonderful expanse of sky and that long mysterious horizon and smell the dusty grass,” Crozier told Shauna Powers on Saskatchewan Weekend.

Renowned poet Lorna Crozier returns to Moose Jaw for Saskatchewan Festival of Words

God of Shadows is a poetry collection by Lorna Crozier. (Chris Hancock Donaldson/McClelland & Stewart)

Lorna Crozier may have lived on Vancouver Island for the past three decades, but her prairie roots still run deep in her soul.

"I just feel my heart open up as soon as my feet hit the ground and I see this wonderful expanse of sky and that long mysterious horizon and smell the dusty grass," Crozier told Shauna Powers on Saskatchewan Weekend.

"Something in my blood and bones wakes up and gets excited."

The celebrated poet was in Moose Jaw this weekend as one of the featured writers at the Saskatchewan  Festival of Words.

Crozier's latest collection of poetry is called God of Shadows.

Crozier and her vast volume of work has an immediate and emotional impact on people. Her poetry reaches out to touch you, gathering insight into yourself and to the world's wonders.

Lorna Crozier spent many weekends as a young poet in Moose Jaw. (Lorna Crozier)

Crozier was born and raised in Swift Current. She moved to Victoria in 1991 after being offered a position at the University of Victoria.

"When you're a writer trying to cobble together a living by your writing wits, when you're offered a job like that you kind of have to grab at it or else you'll be poor as a church mouse all your life," she said.

"I can remember when I left people said, 'Oh, aren't you lucky. You're moving to Vancouver Island. And I was actually in tears saying, 'No, I'm leaving the prairies. So I always accept whatever invitations come my way to come back, particularly to Saskatchewan," Crozier said. 

Returning to the prairies

Returning to Moose Jaw and being among that community of writers holds a special significance for Crozier.

"It was started by my dear dear friend Gary Hyland when I was a young writer," Crozier said. "You know in my early 20s I was teaching high school in Swift Current and I would put a few poems in the back pocket of my jeans, buy a case of beer and drive to Moose Jaw on a Friday night when school is out. 

She and a group of writers would listen to each other's poems and critique them.

"So Moose Jaw always seemed to me like Literary Central. It was like living in Paris in the '20s and '30s."

Lorna Crozier's latest work is called God of Shadows. (Lorna Crozier)

When Hyland started the festival in Moose Jaw more than 20 years ago they thought he was crazy, Crozier said.

"Look what it has become," she said. 

"You know (Moose Jaw residents have) an MFA in Canadian literature because of where they live. And it's all because of this festival and the various book clubs that have grown out of it. So I always feel like I'm with the best of Saskatchewan when I come here." 

Crozier's work has garnered a multitude of awards and she is an Officer of the Order of Canada

Her works include What The Soul Doesn't Want (nominated for the Governor General's Award for Poetry), Everything Arrives at the Light and her Sex Lives of Vegetables series.

Her work is sensual and often inspired by the natural world.

Lorna Crozier uses poetry as a way of helping us connect with our deeper selves, the natural world, and the sexuality and sensuality of the world. She's a master at making us think AND making us care. Host Shauna Powers has a wide-ranging conversation with Lorna, in which she also describes how she's coping since her life partner, Patrick Lane, died earlier this year. 16:26

"Human beings are, you know, part of nature as much as an ant is or a yellow throated meadowlark," Crozier said. "And I find it odd sometimes we can actually forget that our bodies are animal bodies and the way we treat the earth influences the way the earth treats us."

She finds a larger spirit than herself when she is out in nature.

"Whether it's walking a path on the prairies, walking by a wheat field, walking by bull rushes and seeing a red winged blackbird... I'm reminded of all of my senses and I'm really reminded I think of why I'm here. And that's to lay my hands on the earth. As the poet [Rainer Maria] Rilke said, 'Act as if you're laying your hands on the earth for the first time.'"

Crozier said the older she gets, the more energy she draws from being out among the other creatures "that share this amazing planet with us. And I hope my poetry gets at that."

God of Shadows

That sense of a living spirit influenced her latest work, God of Shadows.

Before this book Crozier wrote a book on objects called The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things. She wrote about doorknobs and bobby pins and kitchen sinks and refrigerators and rakes and shovels and wheelbarrows, trying to find what was interesting and what the spiritual quality was of those physical objects had we spend our days around and never think of. 

"Then I thought you know what would be the opposite of a physical object? And I thought well that would be God. The most abstract thing we can think of. So I started to turn over in my mind how can I make God come alive in a way that's as palpable and sensuous as a garden shovel."

She said few religions are monotheistic and she thought the world would "be a more interesting, rich place if we were able to see that it's populated with more holy creatures than I grew up with in Sunday school when I was a kid."

God of Shadows offers readers a slew of gods no one else knew existed.

"There's the god of arithmetic, god of stones, god of goodbye, god of dogs, god of fire, god of sex, god of next to nothing. god of noses, god of last resort. And on and on and on," she said.

Many of her gods are female, something she said the religion she grew up with, Christianity, lacks.

"So [the gods] they're either male, they're female, sometimes they're plural," she said. 

Sensual works

Sensuality and sexuality are themes Crozier returns to time and again.

"I think it's equally important to us to express desire as it is to be intellectual, thinking, spiritual creatures," she said. 

She said getting older doesn't mean you lose desire.

"You do not lose your physical sense of being in the world. You do not lose love, physical love for another human being."

One of her most popular poems is about two old people making love. 

"I'm often asked to read that at festivals because it begins, 'Who wants to hear about two old bodies slapping together like water hitting mud' and so on."

Lorna Crozier has lived on Vancouver Island since 1991, but still considers Saskatchewan home. (Kamil Bialous)

"We have to have a sense of humour about it, but I don't think we want to lose our pleasure in the smell and taste and touch of one another. I think it's a blessing we've been given. Of course sexuality can be misused and can turn ugly. But that doesn't mean that we should deny the potential of it to make us close. 

"And sexuality also I think means just loving to run your fingers over a tree trunk. Loving to feel a blade of grass between your lips when you're trying to turn the grass blade into a whistle. Loving the smell of roasting turkey or cabbage rolls. Which makes me think of my mom and of home. All of those things have a sensual if not sexual basis and they're embedded in our bodies.

Crozier lost her partner, renowned poet Patrick Lane earlier this year.

She said Lane left her with many beauties and burdens, two of which are a wild cat and spectacular garden.

"I was afraid to pick her up because she would scratch and hiss and bite… He tamed her daily and by the time he died she just made a turnaround. I honestly think that he said to her, "You have to take care of Lorna now. And so she sleeps with me now. She cuddles me now and it's all because of Patrick."

Crozier said Lane also built up a huge beautiful garden.

"When I go out into the garden I sense him in... in the sounds of the breeze in the bulrushes, in the two turtles we have, in the in the flickers of the fish which he trained to come to the surface of the water at the touch of his fingers. So he's everywhere. But I wish he were beside me."

She said it's been a difficult time.

"It's one breath at a time. You know one word at a time, one step at a time. [There's] a huge, huge emptiness," she said.

"I think my new mantra, my new prayer is that when I wake up I will find beauty in the day and that the day will find beauty in me. I can use help from all the gods that exist to get me to both of those places."

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend