Interview with Anne Marriot
Bob Harkins talking to Anne Marriot, a poet, who won the Governor
General's award in 1941 and lived in Prince George during the early
Harkins: They don't hand out the Governor General's awards too easily.
Could you tell us something about that honor and what it was
Marriot: It was for the verse chorus for the documentary radio play
about bush flying in the far north. The poems were called, "calling
Harkins: You spent some time in Prince George. That was in
the early fifties.
Marriot: Yes, we came here in September 1950 and
left in May 1954.
Harkins: You've seen a few changes.
Harkins: In that time a lot of dramatic things have happened. From a
town it's now a city. What did you do here?
Marriot: The first three
years I worked on the Prince George Citizen. I was the social editor or
women's editor. It was a very nice job. I think I enjoyed that
job more than any other I ever had.
Harkins: The Citizen was
a bi-weekly then, was it not?
Marriot: Right, yes.
Harkins: Those were the days when it was owned by
Nestor Isowsky, Cliff Warner and Harry Kennedy, some of the people you
would have been working with in those days.
Marriot: Yes, Terry Hammond,
Blaine MacLeod in the print shop.
Harkins: Also, you spent sometime
working at the Library.
Marriot: The last few months I was here I
worked at the Library just checking out books.
Harkins: That would have
been before the new Library was built at Brunswick Street. Now, of
course, it's the old library and the Senior Citizens activity centre
but you would have been here at the time it was a little old army
Marriot: That's right. Heat was from an oil heater. I remember once
turning it up to four or something. It was a very cold day and I
l was going to burn the place down.
Harkins: The Librarian then would
Marriot: Fran Gibbons.
Harkins: Of course, Fran has always been the
Librarian it seems to me. I remember the time the board brought in the
first graduate librarian who was Bill Fraser. You would have known
Marriot: Yes, and Paul Wright who followed him. I'm still in touch
with the Wrights.
Harkins: Paul did a lot of freelance work for the CBC
when he was here.
Marriot: Yes and he's worked for the CBC in Toronto
for a number of years now.
Harkins: Very interesting period in Prince
George's history in the early fifties. It was just starting to get its'
momentum, its' muscle to become the industrial centre that it is
Marriot: I remember one of the people I got to know here was Bob
Harlow who, of course, is now a very well known Canadian novelist. He
went down and worked in Vancouver for CSC. I did a series of radio
talks called, "Boom Town" which was about the growth
of Prince George at that
Harkins: Bob Harlow, of course, did a couple of his fiction books
based on Prince George and some thinly disguised characterizations of
actual people, a little bit controversial.
Marriot: One of the interesting
things was trying to pick out who they were.
Harkins: People could read
that and say that's so and so. Very, very intriguing. Of course, Bob
Harlow was head of the creative writing department at the University of
B.C. He was regional head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Whet did you do back in the fifties outside of work? What were some of
the activities you were involved in Prince George in those
Marriot: The in town activity was the Prince George Players. When we
first came here, we didn't know anybody. My husband came up to work for
the PGE. He was draftsman in the construction department. Through
someone he met there, we met the Gibbons. That was the lifesaver of
coming to Prince George. Through Fran and George we got into the Prince
George Players. I did publicity for them. The first play that was put
when we got here was "Arsenic and Old Lace". My husband was assistant
stage manager and also took two male parts. He was two
of the old men who were poisoned by the old ladies in that play. Our
outside interest was exploring the country around and camping. My
husband and I were great campers. We were some of the first people that
went through the Hart Highway. All that country was our
Harkins: That would be 1951, 52.
Marriot: I think it was
1952. We used to camp in the Pine Pass most weekends of the
Harkins: That was Bijou Falls.
Marriot: Right, all through
Harkins: Very interesting. In the days of the Prince George
choirs, your stage would have probably been the gymnasium and stage at
what was then the Senior High School, the Duchess Park. Now it's the
Administrative Building for the School Board. That was probably the
stage you used in those days.
Harkins: Interesting and your
writing. You've had a very long career as a poet and writer of short
stories. What form do you enjoy the most? Poetry or the short story.
Marriot: They are very different. I can't sit down and write a poem to
order. A poem is something that happens. I have to
wait for it. I can't force it. A short story is something I sit down
and do deliberately. In a way poetry is more fun if it works. One can
have a lot of abortive
Harkins: Your most recent book of poems, "Letters from
some Island", was published in 1985. That was up for prestigious award
well, was it not?
Marriot: It was one of the three books of poetry
short listed for the B.C. Book Award last year in the poetry
Harkins: I wonder if you could read some of your poetry for
us. We were just talking before we went on the air that you have
a poem about Prince George. I wonder if you would read that. We are
talking to Anne Marriot, a poet, who won the Governor General's Award
1941 and spent some time in Prince George in the early fifties.
This one I composed walking along George Street on a very cold day.
It's called "Prince George January".
"Hardest to black and white.
white and black.
The place still aches of spectrum.
Eyes clench against
ice-light ice-cold dazzle.
And white and black caught in the frosted
Crack into flashing blues.
Crimsons cut eyeballs.
War past spirit
of orange spurt from every snow drift.
Black bulk of lumber track its
load horde white.
There's suddenly such fierce pressions for millions.
Mitts hurled to eyes in frantic barricade.
The city is burning up.
fire runs for rut to roof.
Lapping on cold like oil.
Till sky takes fire.
all the worlds one red blue bonfire.
Blazing, freezing flames."
That was George Street in the 1950's.
Harkins: That was
when we had a wooden sidewalk and a gravel street. It wasn't even paved.
Marriot: We lived in South
Fort George. We had outdoor plumbing and a well. I remember that cold
Harkins: Let's take a look at George Street. I can
recall seeing George Street. My first experience with it was in 1950. I
remember walking up the street from the CN Station early in the morning
because the train arrived at an ungodly hour, five o'clock. Nothing was
open. You couldn't get bacon and eggs. There was a club cafe with a
sign that really took my fancy, "Isowski and O'Rooke". I thought what a
wonderful combination. It was a club cafe and Tommy's Pool Room on the
corner, Blair's Outfitting and the Ritz Keefer Building and all those
neat places, MacDonald Hotel.
Marriot: That was quite the posh place. I
remember my husband came up first and then I came and joined him. He
took me to dinner at the MacDonald Hotel to celebrate.'
MacDonald Hotel, the motif was tartans and thistles. The owners were
fellows by the name of Shatsky and
Levine, obviously good Scots, Highlanders.
Marriot: I remember going to
a Burns Night dinner. I was writing up for the Citizen and the Haggis
was brought in by an Irishman and one of the Prudente's was the Master
Harkins: It has always been a melting pot. I think that's
what makes the city such an interesting place.
Have you made many visits back here since you've left?
didn't come back for quite a long time. I just don't remember which
we did eventually came back but when we came back, we thought it was
just the same city. In fact, when we came back two or three years
I thought I could stand on George Street and swear I'd never been there
before, certain parts of George Street. In a way I love it as it was.
It was just great when it was growing and the highway was new. There
were fish in all the creeks. It was a great time to have been
Harkins: You've been part of the writing scene in British Columbia
for some time. What do you think about the current crop of writers in
British Columbia? I'm thinking of a young man from Prince George by the
name of Brian Fawcett who has written many short stories. He's also
written a lot of poetry, not too much lately, but more into the
Marriot: He was another person who was short listed for the B.C.
Book Award last year. His book of fiction was short listed for the
award. Like me, he didn't get it but he got a nice certificate and
publicity. I think Brian's doing pretty well.
Harkins: What about your
favorite authors? Can you tell us about some of them, the people that
you like to read?
Marriot: Going back, I think T.S. Elliott was my
favorite. I went to a girl's private school when I grew up on Keats
and Shelly. When I suddenly discovered T.S. Elliott and wanting poetry,
that was a marvellous experience, a real revelation.
Harkins: A very
inspiring one, obviously.
Harkins: Considering what you
Marriot: In Canadian writers now, I think Alice Monroe is
the writer whom I would most like to write like if I could. I think her
stories are simply marvellous.
Harkins: And tomorrow night at Mosquito
Books at 535 Dominion Street, you will be reading some of your poetry
and I'm sure looking forward to meeting some of the people you knew in
Prince George in the early fifties to come out and listen to
Marriot: If any of them do, I will certainly be happy
to see them.
Harkins: I'm sure you will be signing copies of your latest book
of poems, "Letters from Some Islands". Is that based 'on geographical
areas? Would it be the Gulf Islands?
Marriot: Actually the Islands in
the title poem are the Queen Charlotte Islands and another section of
the book is about Denmark and the island there is Borinhome Island and
the Baltic where I visited several years ago.
Harkins: So it has an
Marriot: Yes, it's basically a book of travel
poems, different parts of the world but its more than just physical
travel. Hopefully, it has a few other meanings too.
Marriot, thank you so much for dropping in and talking to us this
Marriot: Your welcome.
Harkins: Your reminiscence of Prince
George and a very exciting era. We enjoyed hearing about your
experiences here and your writing. Again, Ann Marriot will be reading
her poems at Mosquito Books, 535 Dominion Street, Tuesday, tomorrow
night, at 7:30 pm. Thank you.