Notes on New Work: Sandwich Sonnets and the Windsor Group of Seven

A few months back, I was commissioned by Windsor Poet Laureate Marty Gervais and the City of Windsor to create some new work that explores the city’s oldest neighbourhood. The work is part of a larger project that brings together seven well-know Windsor-based poets to write poems about our history and share the stories of the physical space our city now inhabits. The works are being completed for the upcoming celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary.

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Sandwich in its old school sepia best

For those that don’t know much about the city of Windsor, we are the middle-sized Canadian city directly across the Detroit River from the legendary Detroit, Michigan. Sandwich is one of the smaller towns and townships that were amalgamated into Windsor over time. It was both a mission to the Huron Nation as well as the largest and first non-Indigineous town on this shore of the River for Canada/Britain. History is an ongoing and all-consuming aspect of the neighbourhood. For a city like Windsor that isn’t exactly know for preserving its past, Sandwich stands out in this regard. Among the treed residential streets and the well-intact commercial district you get the sense of our city’s origins. It’s a fine place to understand where it is we as a city come from and the places where we can go. It’s a great place to celebrate in poems.

Those that have read my first book, Big Medicine Comes to Erie, will know about my preoccupation with this region’s history. The poems in that work explore the arrival of my ancestors, the Lenape people, to the area as well as many of the key events in this areas recent and distant past. To say there is a great breadth of history here would be an understatement and a half. We are one of the oldest colonized portions of Canada and prior to that this land was home to the great Huron nation and the Neutral nation. My ancestors were part of the successive waves of refugees from America’s Wars of Greed and Colonization and the collection focuses in large part on what that border means and how the land itself shapes the individuals that come to inhabit it. It is personal with a clear dedication to a collective past.

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Vintage Postcard looking towards Sandwich from Assumption Church

So when it came to craft some new work, I had to choose something that was both different from the work I’d just wrapped with BMCE, reflected some of what that collection had done, and charted new ground in terms of my own personal poetics. So what I came to was a series of sonnets, little songs if you will, about Sandwich and the history of its people. This history is unique and there is a lot there over the 300+ years I researched into the area. What comes out is work that cuts across the many generations of those that came to inhabit that physical space. Truthfully, my biases do place a good-sized emphasis on the indigenous voices and little on the expected suspects one writes about when they write about Sandwich. Yet, I feel the current working drafts I have for the pieces reflects well the important, lesser-know portions of Sandwich’s history. From a public hanging to mimegwesi along the river to the furrows of Louis Gervais’s plow through never churned land, these a glimmers in specific times for the area. Sandwich is a critical part of Windsor today and the history of the region. These are songs for that place.

The anthology, that has yet to have a working title, will be brought out in 2017 by Black Moss Press. It will also feature the work of Marty Gervais, Carlinda D’Ailmonte, Peter Hrastovec, Dorothy Mahoney, Mary Ann Mulhern, and Vanessa Shields. Each poet has focused their work on a specific neighbourhood of the city. Each adding their unique lyric take on our collection history and our shared land. Look for more about these commissioned works in the coming months. 

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