After she had completed the course work and comprehensive exams for her doctorate, Peggy's four-year Canada Council Fellowship ran out, so, on her own with her two children by then, she entered a world of work quite inimical to poetry-writing. She worked on the Philosophy of Science Journal at Western, then became Manager of Educational Services at St. Joseph's Health Centre. While there, she married London fiction writer and Fanshawe Professor, Roy Geiger, had baby #3, and finally finished her PhD thesis, Technology and Reverence: George Grant and Dennis Lee. In 2000, she became Director of Learning and Development at Western, focussed on leadership development and culture change. At the time, old Renga partner Patrick Deane was Chair of the English Department. He invited her to tip her work load into the crazy range by adding a contract teaching position in the Department. While leading her team in Learning and Development, and teaching Leadership courses to Vice-Presidents, Deans, Chairs, administrative Directors, Managers, and Supervisors, Peggy also taught 19 courses in Renaissance Literature, Introduction to Literature, Contemporary Canadian Literature, and Shakespeare. She semi-retired from her "day job" in 2011, retired from it fully in 2013, and finally retired from her role in the English Department in May 2015. After being retired for a whole 5 months, she took on a little part time role at her nearby church, writing parishioner interviews for the newsletter and generally stirring things up.
While working at Western, Peggy often ran into friend John Tyndall, London poet and Open Mike featured poet. John bugged her about starting to write poetry again and invited her to write a poem and come as a guest to his poets' group, which has been going strong for over 20 years. Finally, in 2012, she wrote a poem, the group liked it, and invited her to join. Reading and commenting on poems and exploring great ideas with the likes of John Tyndall, Patricia Black, Susan Downe, Julie Barry, John B. Lee, Mark Tovey , Jennifer Hedeges, D'vorah Elias, Mike Wilson, and Alice Braun, has been nothing short of an utter joy. In fact, it's such a rich experience, she has also joined another group with poets Christine Thorpe, David White, Ola Nowosad, Kelly McConnell, David Huebert, and Frank Beltrano. Peggy writes poems mainly to explore her past and to try to hold on to moments in her present before they get scattered by "the whirly-gig of Time."
THREE POEMS BY PEGGY ROFFEY
Always Time and Place
July 13, 2014
Sunday mid-afternoon on Manitoulin –
bliss it is
to find myself in the stillness of old Living Room
Sunlight on Dining Table there
quiet that only a Sunday in Summer can achieve
only movement the serene small floating
peace beyond all comprehension
and within the reach of joy –
to walk out into Manitoulin Air
to handmade homely Picnic Table
inexpertly covered in some imagination of sunflowers
on a cobalt background far deeper
than the fading Virgin-Mary-blue of Sky
to sit here in Wind as it raises the voices
of Trees, of high Grasses soon to be Hay
blows Songs of afternoon Birds my way,
house and yard for a few hours silent
of human sound
though loved and soon to return.
What door have I walked through
what ages passed
to find this so-long-dreamt-of, longed-for
this luminous afternoon held in such Sun
as if time had come at last to rest?
Nineteen degrees on November 1st
day’s blue sky a vestige of summer –
innocent of cloud as if it had forgotten
the heaping grays, burden of snow
gathering north –
now bowing out to dusk
with a final flourish of russet light
over the city into the West
one last sweet scrap
in this memorial feast of glory.
I wheel into evening
cycling home in the echoing air
songs of fallen leaves
sung quiet in dry whispers
speak of no pain
remnants of my day slip easy
from my shoulders.
I glide along, moving into last light
breeze on my face a silky weave
of warm air and cool
like your cheek, Mother mine,
under my last kiss
vestige of life the hour you slipped away.
Every weekday morning for six weeks
walking out the winter
through the rag ends of night
silent past the drowsy houses
glimpsing Mr. Anderson
safety boss at the refinery
winding up his daily fury of caution
that spilled over on weekends
to his five daughters:
“Don’t jump don’t climb don’t walk on the fence
don’t swing too high
don’t burrow in the snowbanks
don’t fool with the boys don’t … “
and there in her dim-lit picture window
young Mrs. Murray, newly widowed
awake already too – if she ever slept –
pacing back and forth, head down
hugging herself against the crumbling
while her children start to stir
Slipping out solitary
a teenager in flight
avoiding whatever fracas
would rip open the day
never knowing who would be the target
though likely it would soon be her,
for this Lenten walk:
“What are you getting up to, out in the dark,
what are you trying to prove?”
nothing worse than silence
nothing holy, or holier than …
brief peace of an empty high school
lit only by exit lights’ secular sanctuary glow –
scrap of solace.
Ignored by the janitors
having a smoke at the entrance doors
hunched in their own muddles,
she leaves books and binder in her locker
heads across the empty field
past the melting creek
as it mumbles something incoherent
about coming of the Spring.
Simply seeking refuge
in a sleepy church
in a murmured Mass
where she can think or not
respond or not
and try not to ponder
Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Murray, the janitors
or anyone else
dragging their crosses through the day.
Open Mic: Does the phrase ‘Canadian writer’ imply any specific obligations?
Dr. Peggy Roffey: I’m big on obligations; I was raised Catholic. I’d take the “Canadian” out and just say writers in any genre have an obligation not to be fake. We have enough ephemeral crapola in our culture already.
O.M: What do you make of the statement that every poem is a self-portrait of its author?
P.R: Hmmm. “Self-portrait” suggests the author writes to project an image of her/himself – to perform a paper self. I think that enters in, for sure. Even if the poet isn’t writing lyric stuff, even if it’s not about the ‘self’, isn’t the poem the result of choices and mind-contents, and perspectives, and a certain sensibility AND that magical thing called a “voice” – all of which convey something of the person behind it?
O.M: In your view, which Canadian poet might have justly preceded George Bowering as Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate? If you would, explain your choice.
P.R: Well, when I looked up the criteria for the role, Al Purdy and Don McKay leapt out as people who fit the bill, in terms of their utter dedication to their art as their life. And then there’s Dennis Lee, a way less prolific poet, but one who, like McKay, has been a generous mentor of new poets. But as for the rest of the role, I can’t quite see Purdy or McKay wanting to write poems for ceremonial occasions; they might do it, but with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. They’d make quite a rumpus.
O.M: What degree of credibility do you allot to Margaret Atwood’s conception of victimhood of 1972 as crucial to an understanding of the Canadian psyche? As a corollary, is the extirpation of a sense of victimhood, as Atwood contended, necessary for different kinds of creativity?
P.R: Atwood tried, in Survival, to get a handle on “the” Canadian psyche; she is an audacious generalizer. Back then, she sort of slapped the label on with an exasperation that bordered on victim-blaming; the works she cited helped drive her argument home. Her “victim” framework lives on; in his latest volume of essays, Strangers and Others, Stan Dragland discusses Newfoundlanders’ sense of themselves as victims of historical betrayal and endemic folly; the burden of outrage and chagrin still sounds in their self-portrayal. So, maybe the sense of victimhood has not been “extirpated” but it sure doesn’t seem to be hampering the island’s artists. Maybe what Atwood called the “victim” syndrome portrayed in Canadian Lit could also be seen as a deep sense of life’s ironies and its tragedies. More recent works that convey that sense do so with a beguiling fondness, even admiration, for characters muddling through their lives and their pain. David Adams Richards gives us those characters. So do Michael Crummy and Miriam Toews. Without trivializing the terrible victimization of people, animals, and places that goes on as we speak, I do think that sorrows that shake and loosen the self can open us to empathy, if we can avoid the kick-back of ressentiment and revenge – a hard task for sure. And in empathy we can get a little closer to what I called in the dissertation, “the inviolable presence of the unrepresentable other.” A reaching for that ground of reverence is what I was picking up in various post 1960s Canadian poets. As for the second part of your question, if you were asking about me and creativity, whew! I’ve never felt like a victim. What I need to extirpate is an hubristic habit of self-sufficiency that gets in the way of learning new stuff and broadening my writing.
O.M: Especially with regard to mimetic aspirations, does language necessarily deteriorate that which it aims to signify?
P.R: Oh, that distrust of language gig. There’s always an approximation; reality or the signified is too huge and slippery for the slowness of language. But “deteriorate”? Only if the language is fake. Otherwise, if the words and intention are true, if the writing act is a reverential one that honours the subject, the sight, the experience, or the emotion that births the poem, then the dance of language with ‘reality’ is an act of love, a wooing.
O.M: How was your approach to the position of Director of Learning and Development at Western different from what your approach would be now? In what ways would both approaches be similar?
P.R: I’d work less and write poetry more and spend more time with my family. I’d manage a more philosophical detachment. What would be similar is that I’d love the times when my facilitation work brought people together in honest moments for worthwhile purposes.
O.M: What has poetry workshopping afforded you that solitary writing precludes?
P.R: Oh, goodness, the delight of seeing how very various poems and poets can be. Perspective that makes inroads on that hubristic self-sufficiency I mentioned earlier. The discipline of HAVING to have a new poem ready twice a month. (Though sometimes I recycle old ones.) The great fun with which we, in the groups I’m part of, wrestle with ways to say things better. Talk about being present! Those “NOWS” are wows.
O.M: Please share with us a few words of advice for nascent leaders in our community.
P.R: Get yourself a good tough leadership and communications coach who will watch how you think, talk, behave, who will get you to think about how you’re thinking and to reflect on your intentions and values every step of the way, to keep you from becoming fake and/or hooked on power.
O.M: In an attempt to evoke your prescience, or maybe an extrapolation of trends, do you feel that technology together with the dominant ethic of the age, “which seems to define ‘good’ as whatever increases mastery and technical efficiency,” can get us out of the spiral of consumption that technology has enabled us? And how does literature fit in?
P.R: That’s what Heidegger previsioned, using Rilke – where the danger lies, there lies salvation (sic). If technology -- understood not as a collection of devices and techniques but as an ethic, and an orientation to the world and ourselves -- sickens us into a new consciousness, maybe. Right now, the orientation we call “technology” is behind “at all costs” oil extraction, species annihilation, and human trafficking alike. Can we, as a species, achieve a change of heart, a new way of thinking and seeing and being, a new ethos? I guess I have to believe “Yes” or why go on? On the way out of the “spiral”, we will indeed need new technological devices and some old reclaimed and refurbished methods. As for literature – the study of it should nurture good thinkers and the reading of it can help bring us face to face with life’s unanswered questions, and with the complexity and mystery of being human. I think that encounter can help KEEP us human, and remind us that the chimera of total mastery is just that. Besides, if we make art just because, with no ulterior motive, just for the sheer joy and imperative of it, then we’re already stepping out of the technological ethos.
O.M: After reading a sentence from your dissertation like “There may be a deep logic in the movement from the victim consciousness Atwood illuminates to this further consciousness that intuits the holy and inhabits the region of reverence.” one finds almost immediately, in Always Time and Place, the lines “Sunday mid-afternoon on Manitoulin - / bliss it is / to find myself in the stillness of old Living Room / Sunlight...”. And that stanza ends with the word, alone in its line, “here”, a concept and attitude integral to Atwood’s Survival.
I wonder whether your early writing struck you in retrospect as articulating in poetry that to which you were drawn in your graduate work?
P.R: That “here” is me fighting a habit of always running into the future, the next moment, a sick reflex from my years of work in fast-paced jobs and my habit of trying, quixotically, to change reality. That poem would fit in with a sort of series I’m sort of writing, tentatively called “In Search of the Present.” Here, now, this moment, this skin, this place. In the place I write about in that poem, NOW is a huge embrace and the place grows roots around my feet.
As for my poetry as a young person and my grad work: no, I just wrote out of the struggle with loves gone wrong.
O.M: When you write, does adherence to a theoretical framework ever feel directive, or even intrusive, or always intuitive and coincidental?
P.R: I write (poems) best when I think least. Having spent so many years analyzing literature, I find myself writing, in my head, clever little analyses of what I haven’t even managed to get on the page yet. It’s a real barrier. And if I start with a clever ‘notion’ I churn out something fake. I really just work best when the moment and the music take over.
WHERE: The Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, enclosed terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. The terrace is open to the parking lot behind. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: Wednesday, Dec. 2nd, 2015. Doors: 6:00 to 6:30 (It's a restaurant.) Event begins at 7:00
THE FEATURED POET: Peggy Roffey will open the poetry portion of the event at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: Following the featured poet, and an intermission at 8:00 pm, open mic poets will read to as late as 10:30. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Sign up on the reader's list, which is on the book table at the back. It's first come, first served.
COVER: By donation (in donation jar on back table, or use Donate Button on website Donate Page). Donations are our only source of income to cover expenses.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates at the event receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by Brick Books and The Ontario Poetry Society.