When Nova Scotian poet Chad Norman (Masstown, Learning to Settle Down) was a teenager, he and all his friends wanted to be rock stars.
"I bought a Fender bass, and a MusicMaster, a beginning Fender, and a small little amp, and wanted to be a bassist,” Norman said.
But the band needed someone to write their lyrics, and when they asked him, his perspective changed.
"When I got the request for the words, that was it,” Norman said. “I ended up selling both guitars.”
More than 30 years later, this Oct. 25, Norman brought his poetry to McGill as part of a reading tour of Canada. Norman read poems from his newly-published Selected and New Poems, a retrospective volume collecting poems from his 16 books of poetry published since the 1980s. Afterwards he sat down with The McGill Tribune for an interview.
Norman clearly loves reading his poems aloud. He was first inspired to recite his poems in an unlikely venue—a department store.
"I had a great influence, I never found out his name,” Norman said. “But believe it or not, he was hired by The Bay department store […] to read Robert Service poems at different locations of [the store]. They even set up a stage where there would be a mock cabin and an old rocking chair, a fake fire. But the guy could read!”
Ever since, Norman has paid special attention to his reading style.
"I want to satisfy the poems. They don’t get off the page often,” Norman said. “They’re usually in-between covers, covers of books, covers of magazines. So for them to have that opportunity to visit the world again is up to me.”
Norman last read at McGill 20 years ago, invited by Professor Brian Trehearne, Department of English, who again welcomed him this time around.
"Earlier when [Trehearne and I] were walking up to [his] office, we were looking at the stairs, and he brought to my attention all the feet that have worn those stairs, [like Leonard] Cohen [and] A.M. Klein,” Norman said with clear reverence.
Norman’s poetry is deeply personal. In his poem “Manhood,” he grapples with ideas of masculinity and his relationship with his own father, concluding powerfully: “A son can cry / He will be a man then.”
In writing about his own life, Norman hopes he can speak to others.
"[When I think of a poem, I ask myself,] ‘Why has it come?’” Norman said. “What has it come to teach me? How can I use this in my life, and can I give it back […] [to] help somebody else? One can always hope.”
The “new” poems in Selected and New Poems, from a currently unpublished manuscript entitled Simona, concern an equally personal topic: The poet’s cat. These charming poems contain such fine titles as “A History of Kneading” and “The Furry Beggar.” In the latter poem, Norman appropriates the language of love poems to amusing effect: “The vast allure of / Her batting yellow eyes / Combined with a meow.”
The reading began with the earliest poem in the book “Live at Marty’s,” written in the mid-’80s, when the poet was still in his early 20s. There was a beautiful symmetry in that moment; Norman, now an established middle-aged poet, reading to the next generation of young, aspiring writers.