Agnes Walsh

Agnes Walsh was raised in Placentia, on the west side of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. She now divides her time between St. John's and Patrick's Cove, around the Cape Shore from Placentia, not far from the gannet sanctuary at Cape St. Mary's. She has published poetry in several magazines and anthologies and, recently, on the buses of St. John's. Her first book of poems is In the Old Country of My Heart, published by Killick Press of St. John's in 1996. Time Before Thought, her autobiographical collaboration with Mercedes Barry and Andy Jones, appears in Stars in the sky morning: Collective Plays of Newfoundland and Labrador, edited by Helen Peters. During the time she was part of Sheila's Brush, a continuing theatre collective, Walsh performed the role of cat/princess in Jack Meets the Cat, a modern stage adaptation of a traditional Jack tale, and in an audio version that was available until recently. For the past four years she has been gathering stories and songs about the Cape Shore for plays about the area: Answer Me Home (with Paul Rowe, 1999), To the City of Point Lance (2000) and, for the summer of 2001, a play about Paddy Judge, the Cape Shore singer and storyteller. A sort of war bride herself (she married a serviceman stationed at the American base near Placentia), Walsh is the right narrator for the documentary film, Seven Brides for Uncle Sam. Another work-in-progress is a stage adaptation of Halldór Laxness's novel, The Atom Station.

None of this work, not even the intimate lyric poetry of In the Old Country of My Heart, is mere self-expression. It's all about resoring to the culture of Walsh's own rich and distinctive region of Newfoundland the dignity it deserves. It has been too easy, even for natives, to dismiss Newfoundland as some sort of quaint edge of nowhere. A lot of Newfoundlanders resent what they see as E. Annie Proulx's reinforcement of that impression in The Shipping News.

The poem, “Percy Janes Boarding the Bus,” tells of speaking a revered name--Percy Janes--to hold a St. John's bus while the owner of the name hustles up. But Percy Janes is nobody to the bus driver. He waits out of politeness, not recognition.

As the bus rumbled on
I continued under my breath
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Percy Janes,
Newfoundland writer, poet,
just boarded the number something-or-other.”

If this was Portugal,
a plaque would be placed
over the seat where he sat.

As it is, you have me
mumbling in the street
like a tourist in my own country.

Here “my country” is Newfoundland, not Canada. And Percy Janes's House of Hate was the novel that moved Newfoundland writing into the 20th century. Agnes Walsh's poem is a back-handed manifesto. She wants the defining writers of her country known and valued by its citizens, like José Saramago in Portugal or Halldór Laxness in Iceland.

© 2002, Stan Dragland

Bibliography


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