Documenting dreams | Author says her poems reflect the pleasures and hardships of farm life
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Laurie Lynn Muirhead often wakes up at night with a poem formed during a vivid dream.
When that happens, she scrambles to her journal to record the thoughts that will later be massaged into a poem.
“Some poems I wake up with,” she said. “Eighty percent of the poems are there in the morning to greet you. You will dream your poetry.”
Writing has been Muirhead’s lifelong preoccupation, but more recently she has used it to preserve dimming memories of past days.
“I felt a loss of not remembering the little things that need to be remembered,” she said.
Muirhead recalled her childhood growing up as one of nine siblings on a grain and cattle farm near Davis, Sask. She would often retreat to her place in the bush to write.
“I’d sit on the fence and write to the cows,” she said.
Her life continues to revolve around the farm and cattle.
She runs a 400 head purebred Simmental bull operation near Shellbrook with her husband, Ward, and the oldest of two sons.
It’s a life well documented in a body of work that includes cowboy poems published in numerous magazines and performed live and on radio. Bone Sense, her first book of poetry, was published last year by Thistledown Press.
The former special education assistant and current school librarian counts Robert Frost, Glen Sorestad and Doris Bircham among her favourite poets, as well as Prince Albert area author and writing teacher Lynda Monahan.
Monahan called Muirhead’s book “a wild and difficult beauty.”
She said Muirhead is deeply connected to the land and ranching.
“She gives us that life with all of its pleasure and its pain both. She doesn’t sugar coat it.”
Monahan teaches her students to draw from such life experiences.
“If you write with courage and truth, someone else will care about those stories, too,” she said. “Everybody does have a story inside themselves. You just have to look inside yourself for what those stories are.”
Muirhead’s poetry touches on the traditional roles of women in a cattle industry still dominated by men, the midnight watches during calving, the highs and lows of life and death on the ranch, the consequences of farm accidents and the fallout from market downturns.
She said the life of a poet can be equally harsh, citing a small Canadian market and an even smaller market for poetry.
“You have to be prepared for rejection.”
Feedback is humbling and helpful.
“I feel OK if what I want to say is still there,” Muirhead said. “They make you see something I can’t see.”
She belongs to the Sans Nom poets’ group and attends retreats to mingle with other writers and focus on writing.
“I now know you are born a writer and you have to work at your craft.”
Anne Pennylegion, the Sask-atchewan Writers Guild’s retreat co-ordinator, said the guild offers retreats that provide writers with a peaceful place to hone their skills and be supported.
“They are with like-minded people and writing at a similar stage in their writing careers. It’s very beneficial for them,” she said. “It’s quiet time to get their work done.”
Pennylegion said the abundance of writers on the Prairies is likely the result of the extremes of climate and short winter days that drive people inside and force them to make the most of what they have.
“I think it provides people with something different,” she said.
Muirhead is in the midst of calving on the farm but has resolved to put aside 30 minutes a day for writing this year.
Her school’s summer breaks also give her time to write.
She plans to continue writing “accessible poetry,” build on her publishing credits and create a children’s book with her artist sister.
“I will always write,” she said. “I’ll never be rich, but I’m totally self-satisfied. That’s quite all right with me.”