Chad Norman’s poetry recalls Maritime history

Nova Scotia poet releases new book of poetry.

Anyone who has ever driven through rural Nova Scotia might be familiar with the Masstown area, notable for its infamous country market and campy roadside antique sales. While these sights are now memorable fixtures of the province’s highway landscape, Chad Norman remembers a different version of the area, which he describes in his latest collection of poetry, Masstown. The book is a tribute to Norman’s grandparents, Bert and Gladys, and an homage to the disappearance of small dairy farms in the Atlantic region.

On Oct. 24, Norman brought his work to Mount Allison University, where he read a selection of his poetry to a small but enthusiastic audience in the Manning Room of the University Chapel. The English department’s Robert Lapp and the English Society organized the event.

During the reading, Norman shared poems that transported the audience into the intimate space of his old family farmhouse. He vividly re-constructed fragments of his childhood memory, recounting scenes like haircuts or “trims” in the kitchen, the process of canning preserves in the fall, and the quiet after-dinner hours spent with Bert and Gladys.

But Norman’s poetry is more than just a tender retrospect of his grandparents’ lives. His work also recalls the now increasingly obsolete culture of family farming in the Maritimes.

“I was honouring a way of life which relied on a once thriving industry, the family-owned and operated dairy farm,” said Norman. “In the beginning, the manuscript was titled Bert and Gladys, but I knew there was something larger than them and the farm history.”

From listening to Norman recite his work, it becomes clear that the meanings of his poems extend beyond the literal descriptions of his grandparents’ marriage. Each poem, written with a mix of fondness, nostalgia, and regional nuance, is imbued with a sense of rural history that many Canadians can relate to.

As I read his work—specifically the poem “Canning”—I was reminded of a distinct moment in rural Prince Edward Island making jam in my own Grandmother’s kitchen. I can guess that many Canadian readers who pick up Norman’s book will be flooded with memories of their own that are rooted in a similarly rural aesthetic.

Norman’s plainly and sensitively expressed details breathe life and colour into his poems. His straightforward anecdotes about the flour on Gladys’s apron, or the liquor Bert smuggled away in the bathroom, lend a light-hearted, even comedic, element to his writing. His verses use unadorned and sparse language that creates brief, but vivid, pictures that emerge and disintegrate just like memories.

Although his poems are openly personal and sentimental, there is nothing self-indulgent about them. The simplicity and subtlety of the scenes Norman creates render his work accessible and relatable without being overly individualistic or melancholy—a welcome change from much autobiographically derived contemporary poetry.

Masstown is a valuable addition to the Canadian contemporary poetry repertoire. It captures the importance of keeping traditions alive and honouring our memories. Norman’s observations allow his readers to see where history and the present diverge, and where they intersect.

Norman resides in Truro, Nova Scotia, where he works at a manufacturing plant and continues to write poetry. Masstown is his fifteenth book of poetry throughout his twenty-five year long career. The collection was published by Black Moss Press in Windsor, Ontario.

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