Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Writing, fatherhood (fragments,

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By rob mclennan

Writing. As the baby sleeps. As baby feeds. I type with one hand. Learn to think in short bursts. Pockets.

Think of William Carlos Williams, composing poems on prescription pads between patients. Patience. Short lines quick on paper scraps. How the when of his writing helped shape the what. My thinking exists in shards, in pieces. Fragments.

To write, one must continue to evolve, improve. These fragments of attention.

Therefore, to embrace. If I am to write at all.

At three weeks old, Rose asleep in her snuggly. She sleeps in fits and starts. She sighs, a twitch. She tenses. Sneeze. Awake. At four weeks old. At five weeks old. At six weeks old. The days and weeks begin to blend.

What do I recall from this time, this period of zombie drift, a constant state of half-asleep. Rose at six weeks, asleep in her morning snuggly. I stare at laptop screen. Rose at eight weeks, ten.

She is a terrible sleeper: every hour or two at night, only a half hour or so in the morning, after spending 45 minutes convincing her to sleep. Sleep.

Moments for writing are nearly impossible, borrowed, lifted and stolen. I thieve. Such sleepy rush. I knew this, I prepared for this. I push. Attempt to read a poem or two as she lies on her blanket, adrift in the living room. The cat wanders through. Rush to laptop as Christine nurses.

These are not complaints, but conscious efforts to adapt. I must re-shape, in order to continue. How must I continue.

Recently, at lunch, Brian Fawcett says: if either of you get anything written during the first two years, it will be a miracle. I am okay with miracles, the push of pure will.

I tell myself: I can do anything. Well. Except convince the baby to sleep through the night.

How did anyone else ever get anything done? Writers with children, learning the shape of a new perspective. One that directly feeds the writing, even if so little actual writing is accomplished. Biding my time. These bursts of twenty minutes, hoping. Living in the moment; moment, after moment.

As she sleeps in snuggly, I sit at writing desk, attempt to read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Two chapters in before I put the book down, lose track of where it ended up. The week before, I managed Rachel Zucker’s MOTHERs: to both read and review such with one hand, baby asleep in the other. It felt entirely appropriate. When I mention this to the author, she speaks of jealousy. Her three growing boys, long past when they were infants.

During this period, there was little else in way of thinking, or reading. There was only the space of that single book.

Rose at three months, thinking again of poems, possibly. A future in which I might work again on fiction. Poems exist as individual creations, small and accumulative. Impossibly small. A week in which if anything, ten words are added, switched around.

I spend more time on laundry, dishes, weekly garbage and recycling. Bouncing the baby to sleep again, again. How many times I might sleep with her. Required.

Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy admits in an email: all of her books began that way, composed with one hand, child asleep in the other. A twitch of envy in her written voice.

A new space. Errands that now include baby, carseat, diaper bag. Come spring, the stroller. I pack up Rose nearly daily to allow Christine her own space — to shower, breathe, and even think — but to also adapt to this new normal. We exist as we did before, but with a baby. We do not exist as we once did. Everything is unfamiliar.

Baby Rose our weekly jaunt to Silver Snail Comics: one week old, two weeks old, three weeks old, etcetera. Of course, they laugh, Rose was born on new comic day. She knows the staff by sight. At Silver Snail and then to Staples, picking up another run of photocopies, soon to fold and staple. Lucy at the copy centre, who asks why I didn’t bring her, on those rare days I arrive without baby in tow. At the post office at Billings Bridge they ask the same question. Where’s the baby?

I used to write every day, all day. Nearly twenty years. What do I do now?

At four-and-a-half months, Rose thrashes, cries. She falls silent, eyes follow the path of our indifferent cat. She reaches out.

To sleep, a morning, means a quiet space at laptop, if she lets me. Baby is a mouth, consuming everything. Consuming attention, time. Baby fills our space with amusement, warmth, joy. Write: more quick sketch than slow carve. Accumulate, accumulate. The writing shifts, can’t help it. I add a word, another word. A day or even a week might pass. I add another word, and rearrange.

If the how has changed. I so desperately hope.

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include the forthcoming notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the poetry collection Songs for little sleep (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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