I was recently at the League of Canadian Poets annual conference held in Saskatoon. There I met poetic entrepreneur extraordinaire, Wendy Morton. Morton is widely known in Canada for her Random Acts of Poetry work which she started almost a decade ago. “Poetry is the shortest distance between hearts,” believes Morton, and indeed her current work involving children interviewing their elders certainly proves that point.
The Elder Project, as it is called, had First Nations children in B.C. interview their elders, record their stories in short pithy lines of free verse, and then have their poems published in a booklet. Both children and elder benefited greatly from the interchange. In Xe’Xe (Cowichan Valley School District #79 and Wendy Morton, 2012), it’s striking how such simple and direct lines as “I went to Kuper Island/and Mission City residential schools/I was homesick and lonely./I cried myself to sleep.” can affect the reader. Some of the descriptions of the food and conditions the Elders experienced were also revealing. “I was born in the berry trails.” says one Elder. “We ate fish, deer meat, soup,/fried and baked bread./We played in our canoe.” said another.
Morton, in partnership with First Nations educators, has conducted this project with several groups of children and so far, five books have been put together. The books are published locally and distributed amongst the students and families involved in the project. A B.C. credit union assisted in financing the publication of the books. The Elder Project is indeed a unique initiative and Morton is enthusiastic about it. As she says in a recent Tyee article about the project, “I’ve got a lot of books, so I don’t care about having a book anymore. All I want to do is do this. I want to use my skills as a poet to get these stories into the world, and to give these kids a sense of self and elders a sense of pride, I just want that more than anything.”