New Poetry Book Collects Artists With Ties to Thunder Bay

By Matt Prokopchuk

“I’ve tried to write a novel and I always stall on, like, page five,” laughs Rick Asham when asked what draws him, primarily a visual artist, to also write poetry. “The reason I like poetry is because it’s so immediate.”

Ten of Asham’s poems—along with works from nine other multidisciplinary artists such as author Mary Frost, singer/songwriter Sunday wilde, and graphic artist and musician Rusty Brown—have been collected and released in a new anthology called Swan. The book features contributions from people who have over the years collaborated on various projects published by the independent un/speak/able/press, or its predecessor, Asham and Brown co-edited the book.

Another thread that ties the contributors together, Asham says, is that they’ve all lived in Thunder Bay, even if several (including himself and Brown) no longer do. The plan was to release what became Swan as a sort of 10th anniversary celebration of their publishing collaboration, but that changed with the 2019 death of Douglas Livingston, a poet and visual artist, one of the founding members of Definitely Superior Art Gallery, and close friend to those involved in the collection.

“The project changed from a 10-year retrospective… [featuring] new work to becoming a memoriam for Douglas Livingston,” Asham says. “It hurt.” However, what ties many of the poems in the book together, Asham says, are “a rumination on one’s own mortality without, hopefully […] becoming morbid.” Three of Livingston’s poems are also included, and several other poems by other writers are connected to him in some way.

Sunday wilde, the award-winning blues artist who is a staple of the Thunder Bay music scene, also used the book to memorialize a loved one: her late partner Reno Jack. Jack, a longtime musician, died in 2018 and wilde contributed some of Jack’s lyrics that she recorded as he was dying. “When he was dying in the hospital, I brought my little recorder and he wrote a bunch of stuff and that was one of them,” wilde says of Jack’s untitled work in Swan. “So I transcribed it from the recorder to this little poem. It’s kind of like a song-slash-poem, so that’s kind of neat. He would be happy that I had done that for him.” Wilde also contributed four poems of her own, one of which, “ON the WAY out,” deals with the decision of who to call when one knows they are dying.

Wilde has been writing poetry as long as she’s been a songwriter, and sometimes the former helps the latter. “When I’m doing my songwriting, sometimes I pull out my poems and sometimes they mesh together and sometimes they don’t,” she says. “In this particular selection of poems that I got in this book, there’s some concepts in there that maybe I’ll blend into a song one day.”

Asham and wilde both say that poetry remains a powerful artistic style in which to work. “The form of it is so completely open that it can be very very personal and introspective and subjective,” Asham says. “Or it can be very abstract and universal and objective.”
Swan can be purchased for $15 (cash only) by emailing Copies will also be available at Definitely Superior Art Gallery.