So What Will I Do? I’ll Write a Poem.

By Sharon Hamilton

Launch of Bill Massey’s Book of Poets and Pioneers

On Sunday, November 19 2023, the Artspace boardroom was standing room only for the launch of Bill Massey’s memoir, of Poets and Pioneers.  Three generations of family accounted for at least one third of the attendees, completely understandable for a book that recounts Bill Massey’s life growing up with his grandfather, Will Massey. 

The book begins with his grandfather’s early life and naval career in England and then traces his arrival in Canada where he embraced the challenges of farming life. Bill Massey combines reading and explanation with storytelling mastery, as though he were sitting in front of a warm fireplace talking to his grandchildren about his grandfather. Which is, of course, exactly what he was doing (without the fireplace)!

Both Will and Bill were farmers and poets. Farming and family provide the central metaphors for their vision of life. “Give me the farm with its hopes for the morrow,” Will Massey writes in one of his poems. The poem, “Give Me Her Soft Lovely Hair” is one of many poetic tributes Bill Massey writes to his wife.

Will Massey cleared his farmland in the rough hinterland of early Manitoba, broke the soil and established his farm. Bill Massey continues to use the traditional methods of farming, eschewing modern farming habits that have leeched the soil of its natural goodness. As I listened, I felt that he and his land and his family were one. When he spoke of the almost overwhelming challenges of farming, he concluded, with his response to being confronted with all these challenges: “So what will I do? I’ll write a poem.”

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