Lorna Goodison, convocation 2019 honorary degree recipient

Lorna Goodison, convocation 2019 honorary degree recipient


I think it must be spring because yesterday morning on Spadina, there was a woman walking
wrapped in maximum eight yards of sari cloth. It was sheer, and a luminous color, like the nectar of pressed apricots. A red dot punctuated her brow, like a small and urgent point of energy had found its way to
the surface of her skin, and jeweled or a drop of blood, it was gleaming. I think it must be spring because there’s not a host, but a quartet of daffodils sprung up in the front yard of Gore Vale. This time, not straight but bowed over so. I think they might have had a hard time making it out of their frozen birthplace inside the earth. Nevertheless, they’re here and have come in first. The runners-up are the crocuses. But the evergreen never went under. It just spread its branches taut and took the worst winter had to offer. Do not go under. One day. Today. You may be crowned with evergreen. Where I am born, there is no such thing as a cycle of the seasons. Seasons just shift over a bit to accommodate the one following. Winters there bring
tangerine and pimiento winds, and spring here is a peculiar ascension of ice falls finally away. And I think it must be spring now because today, there is such tenderness towards all green things growing like you U of T graduates. Victorious. Exhausted. Glowing. For all of you today, it is undeniably spring. Thank you so much. It’s
so wonderful to be here. Thank you. Thank you. I know a teacher who happens to be a poet who tells her students that the first thing they should do upon receiving their degrees is to send flowers to their parents or whoever helped to put
them through university. If, like some of you here you have paid your own way then send yourselves flowers. You deserve it. Because some of us believe that to undertake a task, any task, in your case, a rigorous course of study and to see it through to completion is the best thing that you can possibly do and it is accepted by the universe as a form of prayer. Even if you do not believe in prayer. Puzzle me that. I used to feel self-conscious about saying such things out loud. Especially to well-educated
people such as you the 2019 graduating class of the University of Toronto. But when I learned that
no less a personage than Sigmund Freud once said that wherever he went he found that a poet had
already passed that way. So I took that as permission to freely share with others some of the odd, and
hopefully helpful, things I’ve picked up over the course of my now long life as a practicing poet. I often tell my creative writing students that the brilliant image, the heart-stopping phrase, the exquisite, yea balletic turn that will power your work so that it sings to all of humanity is often there in your early drafts waving up at you. But sometimes, you need
someone to point it out. I was once wandering
up and down the aisles of a certain department store determinedly trying to find a splendid new outfit to wear for a special occasion. When an older store clerk
called me over to her counter and said “Everything you have on is better than what is
being sold in this store.” She may well have been
a disgruntled employee or an activist with a strong
anti-capitalist sentiment working as an agent provocateur to overthrow the retail
system from within. But I took what she said as a message from a higher power and I went home and did some shopping in my closet. Serious, dear graduating class as you venture out there
into the great wide and utterly unpredictable world remember on your doubtful days that what you have been given here at the University of Toronto is deep and wide and precious. And it is more than
enough to help you cope with the unexpected reversals and unscheduled pit stops you will encounter as you press on to
reach your life’s goals. We with a straight eyes, and no talent for cartography, are always asking “How far is it to heart ease?” And they say, “Just ’round the corner.” But that being the
spider’s directions means each day finds us further away. So take up the vining again and go into interpretation and believe the flat truth left to dry on your tongues. Truth says that heart ease distance cannot hold in a measure. It says, “Travel light.
You are the treasure.” For you are the treasure itself as well as the recipients
of priceless treasures. The extraordinary minds to
which you have been exposed. The great books in one of the world’s great libraries to which you have had access. The world-class research laboratories where some of you have labored to make discoveries that
benefit all of humankind. All these things are within you now. You are the treasure. Never doubt how enriched you have become by being part of the great united nations of people from all over the known world with whom we are now fellow travelers in this shining city. I was a stranger here,
and you welcomed me. So say many of us here including my mother’s sisters who first came to this
country ninety years ago. Thank you, Canada, Thank you, Toronto and thank you, thank you,
University of Toronto. Yes, dear graduating class you have much of what you need to make your way through the world now provided you do not think
that what you’ve earned here makes you better than other people. Because what you now are are people who are appointed to help take care of the world. You are, from henceforth,
minders and menders and repairers of the breach. At first, it seemed it was just the alders extending their limbs to a few disembodied red dresses. But now the forest is redolent
with windsocked frocks twisting from branches of firs pines and arbutus trees where the shadow of a mother bear climbs up onto posters for native women missing. Bears’ cores at the hems of red dresses Many native women missing. Peace, oh peace be on them. For there is one last strange thing that some of us believe. That there is always, and has always been, from the beginning of time a certain number of people who were appointed to help
take care of the world. People like the philosopher
in the following poem who is probably my husband Ted Chamberlain who stubbornly refused to see anything but hope and possibility and the promise of spring no matter how cold the winters. All is for tumor-ending time when the ice garden revives full-color. The chill blanket,
provided we take care of it shields bulbs and forsythia. Rhododendrons, wheat, and azaleas need downtime under ice cover. Chaste monkshood, indigo,
iris, and lavender require annual dye bath of blue ice water. Still, then awake the ground water table, risen so high. The faithful, come springtime, arrive walking on water. Go forth now and flower oh University of Toronto
graduating class of 2019. Spring has sprung! Go send flowers to
yourselves, and to everyone! Good-bye! Thank you!

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