Stan Burfield knows a great deal about journeys. He’s taken a number of them during his lifetime — arduous and spectacular journeys. Some of his travels have been on foot and others one would categorize as more personal or spiritual in nature. Both types have had a tremendous impact on his path through life. A path that several years ago brought him to London where, it seems, a desire to share his poetry allowed him to find what he had been desperately seeking in his wilderness trips. Here, in London, Ontario, he found his voice and he found himself.
Born and raised on a farm in Alberta, Stan’s view of life was pragmatic. Life on the farm, any farm, teaches lessons not found on city streets or even in the bundles of houses that make up rural towns. Farm life is hard. It’s good, but it’s hard and children raised in wide open spaces often have views of the world that others find hard to see. Farm life is just that – life — not a job. It’s 24/7 and those who choose it are strong in every sense of the word. They toil alongside nature and they understand what can and cannot be changed. They learn to adapt and accept and get on with the task at hand.
Stan was a shy child, an uncomfortably shy child, who grew to be a shy adult. Anxious in social situations for most of his life, Stan says his journeys were attempts to find a remedy for his introverted state.
After finishing university in Calgary, where he studied both biology (in another life he would have been a scientist) and journalism, Stan began a career as a reporter. Stan says it was then that his father offered the only vocation advice he ever gave his son. Having read a book authored by a man who had walked across the United States and then wrote of his travels, Stan’s father suggested Stan take a similar journey.
He suggested to his son that he walk across Canada and then write of his exploits. Being an avid wilderness hiker and confident in his outdoor skills Stan considered the challenge doable. It had all the elements of a good story and he felt the degree of difficulty and required endurance might just push him past his anxiety and shyness. A journey this hard, both physically and mentally, would surely allow him to conquer his fears.
Stan set out from the Pacific coast and seven months later, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, he stopped. Having walked
Nevertheless his plan was to take a break over the winter then return to his singular journey in the spring. Life, however, had other plans and a chance meeting and a handmade poster provided Stan with an equally challenging adventure. This time he joined as a fourth member of a party headed by canoe from Calgary to Quebec City. Not alone and not required to walk every step of the way Stan signed on for what would be another seven-month adventure.
This time the greatest challenge was not the loneliness of the trip but the agony of required social interaction. Tenacity and what Stan describes as “sheer stubbornness” kept him in the bow until the journey's end, but again he returned no less comfortable in the company of others. What he did learn was that he could accomplish something extremely difficult if he really wanted to.
His forefathers had homesteaded in Alberta. They had built sod homes and made lives in a land that was harsh and unforgiving. Stan had stayed the course in his trek across the country and found in himself what he saw in his father. A grittiness and determination that didn’t allow one to turn back. Stan explains how he had watched his father, who was blind, not only farm but also build their home by hand without assistance. His example to his son was to push through adversity and that’s the path Stan took for many years. It didn’t occur to him until much later that there might be a better way to find an answer to his problem of anxiety than simply forcing himself to be tough or tougher. For Stan the answer ultimately lay in moving closer to what he feared – social interaction – and he took those important steps in London.
The move to London in 2008 came after working 18 years in the flower shop business in Vancouver, B.C. Stan and his wife made the decision to sell their business and retire in London so they could be closer to family. Shortly after arriving in the city Stan decided it was time to do what he had always wanted to do – what he had been encouraged by his sister to do – many years before - write poetry. Stan’s sister also attended the University of Calgary where she studied English.
He was still in high school when she found one of his poems and pronounced him to be “talented” and encouraged him to write more. She told him he was a poet. He says he often thought of her praise and at various times in his life he would pick up his pen or more often than not, sit down at the keyboard, and create.
Once in London he felt the need to be much more purposeful and proactive with his poetry and to that end he found a workshop to attend. He says it took him months to muster up the courage to attend the meeting and when he did he was astonished, pleasantly astonished, to find the others were just “normal” people like him.
From there his interest and activity grew to a place where he advocated for an Open Mic Poetry Reading group. Stan found himself not only helping to put the group together but leading much of the organization and, in doing so, working with others.
His anxiety dissipated and his confidence grew as did interest and participation in the group’s events. Now held monthly at Mykonos Restaurant on Adelaide Street the poetry readings attract 40 or 50 people - many more than an Open Mic session in Toronto will. London, it seems, not only has a fan base for poetry it has poets in abundance.
Events often begin with a reading by a better known or published author who then steps aside as neophyte writers or performers take to the stage.
Stan believes all roads were leading to London and he feels very lucky to have found the city.
He says, “If I had stayed in Vancouver it would have been too big and overwhelming for me and I would never have even tried to be a social organizer. This is just the perfect size city. In Toronto there are 10 poetry readings a week and each attract between 15 – 25 people – it’s very specialized. London needed something for the non-performance poet and at that first workshop I met some people, now my friends, who were also looking for an opportunity.” Stan was gathering up his courage and looking for a place to read one of his poems, as were his new companions. Sarnia offered an Open Mic event and so the group headed down the 402 with poem in hand.
The night went well and the discussion in the car during the trip home revolved around why London didn’t have Open Mic opportunities. The challenge was issued for someone to take the reins and organize a group and events. Stan took the challenge. It couldn’t be any more difficult than walking for seven months across the country.
In hindsight it wasn’t the same type of challenge but it wasn’t easy. Stan found, however, that his ability to speak in front of people, to connect and organize and communicate with others was becoming easier, more natural, and more enjoyable. “I’m not nearly as shy as I was before”, he says, “and I’d recommend getting out and becoming involved in your community as a great therapy for those who find themselves uncomfortable in social surroundings.” He says he put his big toe in and got stuck but he’s glad he did.
Jump forward to 2014 and Stan Burfield is announced as the winner of the Ted Plantos Memorial Award by the Ontario Poetry Society. Poetry is now a big part of Stan’s life, as it may have always been, but today it sits on the surface of his life.
What bubbled beneath for many years has reached the top and he comfortably shares it with others. His next project is one that would bring more poetry to more Londoners. He floated the idea last year and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Poetry in the sidewalks – written on the city streets – so all may read it. Stan says a similar project has been undertaken with great success by the City of St. Paul, Minnesota. He trusts London’s new council will be open to his idea. He expects there will be lots of questions and a number of meetings, presentations and appearances (possibly before City Council) but he’s ready for them. Stan Burfield always completes his journeys. He knows how to find his way home to the Old South. ◆
Concerning our Glorious Future
As I lift the spoon
from this morning’s coffee
I feel the same long pull of time
that my father did
that their parents did
and theirs a chain rattling down
into the well so far
I cannot imagine.
And up, out of that darkness
into this present,
all of it --
the slow ages of our reptilian forebears,
our fearful hominid ancestors,
the entire charging ascent of Man --
comes to a juddering halt
at this drop
falling from this spoon.
We are stranded here
at the endpoint
of time, banging
on the ceiling.
2nd Prize, 2014 Poetry London Poetry Contest
For more information about London Open Mic Poetry Night. Monthly “Open Mic” poetry readings are held at Mykonos Restaurant (Adelaide Street – south of Central Ave) – the 1st. Wednesday of the month.
Stan's Facebook page.
April is National Poetry Month. A special Open Mic gathering is scheduled in the Landon Public Library (large basement meeting room) – Wed. April 15, 2015.