James Scoles is a Winnipeg based author and creative writing professor. In 2013 he was awarded the CBC Poetry Prize for his poem, The Trailer. Scoles, who is currently working on a novel set in 19th century Ireland and a collection of short works based on his world travels, was here in January as part of a Literary Arts winter residency.
Quarter to six every morning. Quiet cut by the cool crunch of
footsteps in the forest. A journey traded for the very latest hour
Effort will push to sate the appetite of whatever the muse begs
for. Whatever the words and work will feast upon this day.
Being born in northern Manitoba gave me a comfort with the cold, and a slightly sparser horizon generally gives one more room for deep thought, so I was more perplexed by Banff’s grand scenery than distracted (plus, Manitobans are not only known, but grown for their focus). In fact, Winnipeg and Vernon, BC (my other base) share a lot in common with Banff: trees, snow, cold, and it certainly isn’t rare to find the odd creature emerging from its lair or in mid-migration (including Elk, Lion, Kinsmen, and even Shriners have been known to feed and water here).
Being a relatively unpublished poet didn’t exactly prepare me for winning the CBC Poetry Prize this past year, and the notice I’ve received is remarkable: a single person hasn’t recognized me in the streets. At The Banff Centre, and in the Leighton Artist Colony’s Davidson Studio in particular, the pressure I felt was responsibility to the craft, which for me includes: non-fiction (creative and literary, and even all-mostly-true); short, long, medium, wide-ranging and even home-based (all-mostly-untrue) fiction; and poetry (self-explained).
While writing and working, I did feel a huge responsibility and debt (and reverence) to those who came before me: the artists and composers, the creators, the muses, as well as the patrons and board of directors, the staff, and all those responsible for keeping the dreams clean and the coffee hot on the coldest of mornings. But I also felt an immense sense of pride and accomplishment: I’d been granted a sacred opportunity in a blessed place. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t drink. And that certainly helped with the pressure of everything else.
Along with finishing my first collection of poetry, my main focus was the final draft of my novel—Spit in the Ocean—an awkward love story of survival based on my family history (the awkward part, especially) and a game of cards, set in late-1830s Ireland (it’s all mostly true, and proves, once and for all, that leprechauns exist).
On the grand piano and across every desk were the artifacts devoted to feeding the work—books, journals, 1834 ordnance maps, plot-notes, photos, note-cards, discards, strays, starts and stops—and on my table were the still-wiggling tails of short stories, poems, and one scattered pile of strung-out non-fiction. Success was the only option, so I brought enough work (sincere apologies to the bell hop/artist who learned the sheer weight of my wheel-less ‘Franken-bag’) to almost fail.
Logistically, everything was brilliant: the resources were plentiful, the working space(s) perfect, the food, countless cups of coffee (don’t adjust your budget; it’s just me) and view from Vistas (not to mention my room, the studio, and from all other angles) were beyond delicious and stunning.
For the deepest serenity for creating in peace, all while the very air around me hummed with the true religion of nature: thank you, Leighton Artist’s Colony and The Banff Centre, for each and every moment of the experience; arguably the most inspired two weeks’ worth of writing in all my life.
Aside from my next two weeks in the Colony, that is. Cheers.